THURSDAY’S BIG STORIES

Socially distant beep tests

Juan Mata on an exercise bike. Bobby Firmino, new moustache but same old grin. Jamie Vardy with precisely the quarantine beard you’d expect. Slowly but surely — oh hush! you’ll startle them! — the Premier League’s footballers are returning to their training pitches. Rapacious entertainment-capitalism is healing.
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Little steps, though. Nobody’s going within two metres of anybody else, which sounds like a recipe for some terrible defending down the line. And a few players here and there are staying away for personal reasons: Chelsea’s N’Golo Kanté, for example, has been granted compassionate leave after concluding that it simply isn’t safe to return.
In this he has the full support of his club and his manager, Frank Lampard. The same principle is in place at Liverpool: Jürgen Klopp has told his charges that any player who wishes to stay away can do so.
We would never put anybody in danger to do what we want to do. Yes, we love football, and yes, it’s our job but it’s not more important than our lives or the lives of other people.
Which is, of course, the only reasonable position to take. Still, while a Kanté here and a Deeney there might be bearable, it’s not going to take many more players staying at home to leave Project Restart stalled on the runway. If England has an uptick in infections following the easing of social distancing rules …
… well, let’s just hope that doesn’t happen. For many, many reasons, with football far down the list. Look, here’s James Maddison pretending to hug somebody two metres away, the adorably sensible scamp.

11 days of summer

We don’t yet know for sure when Serie A will be starting up again — that depends how the return to training goes. A decision is coming on May 28. But we do know when it will be ending: August 20.
We assume they’ll be trying to get it a little before then, but it seems sensible for the league to give itself both a hard deadline and a bit of wriggle room. Which is why next season, 2020-21, won’t be starting until … hang on, it says September 1. That’s … that’s an 11-day summer! Barely time for everybody to get to Dubai and back.
Even if some semblance of normality does return to the schedule, we’re going to be mentally adjusting for this interruption for whole seasons to come. The Warm-Up already cuts players a bit of slack for a month or two at the beginning of the season if they had an exciting international tournament.
But a player that had to spin themselves back up to fitness after a weird three-month break, then got just 11 days off before the next season began? We’d be minded to let them off, ooh, an entire season of dodgy performances. And hey, if we all agree to do the same, maybe that’ll make things a little bit calmer.
“2020-21: Everybody’s knackered. Everybody’s confused. And everybody’s trying their best.” But in Italian. Call us, Serie A. Our rates are reasonable.

Don Caballero

We don’t know what the transfer market is going to look like this summer. Hell, we don’t even really know if there’s going to be a summer, in the usual footballing fashion. But if we had to guess, we’d go for no big moves, no big money, and lots of variations on Chelsea giving Willy Caballero another year.
For what is Cabellero? A back-up goalkeeper, sure. But more abstractly, he is exactly what everybody needs in strange times. A comfortable, well-worn t-shirt. That book you read when you were 12, that you go back to every time you’re ill. That eighth rewatch of Red Dwarf you started just three hours after you announced that you were going to use lockdown to finally get into Kurosawa.
He’s fine. He’s safe. He’s a known quantity. Not the best, perhaps, but a damn sight better than having to go and find a replacement with all this going on. Given the basic unknowability of almost everything about the future, having a Cabellero around for another year seems profoundly reassuring. Certainly much more reassuring than actually picking him to play in goal.

IN OTHER NEWS

Are you more likely to catch or transmit the coronavirus if you’re wearing trousers? We don’t know. But Rayo Vallecano manager Paco Jémez isn’t taking any chances, and for that we salute him.

RETRO CORNER

On this day 12 years ago, Chelsea and Manchester United faced each other in the Champions League final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Not the most entertaining game in the competition’s history, perhaps, but unbearably, unspeakably tense for the approximately million hours it took to get through normal time, extra time, and penalties.

HAT TIP

Over at the Guardian, Fabrizio Romano has a big interview with Atalanta manager Gian Piero Gasperini, the fascinating manager of a brilliant team who, by the sounds of it, builds quite the work environment. And would have been a terrible, terrible dentist.
[Pep] Guardiola has said playing against Gasperini’s Atalanta is like “going to the dentist”. The Italian approves: “That is my objective: create a team that would make any opponent struggle. Those who play against us must run a lot and be bothered. I think the dentist metaphor, it is perfect.”

COMING UP

Loads more pictures of Premier League players driving to work in their kit, an arrangement that makes even the most transcendentally luminous of these gods-among-men look a bit like a PE teacher.

Here on Friday to get your weekend started, Tom Adams

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