MONDAY'S BIG STORIES
Four Merseyside derbies, all at the same time
A lot of football matches are, on balance, quite dull. But every now and then, as if in compensation, a game comes along that isn't just a good game, or even a great game, but seems to be three or four massive games all at the same time. Layer on layer of excitement and pain and misery and football.
So, layer one: Everton's 2-2 draw with Liverpool was an extremely fun game, between two very good teams, with four differently excellent goals and chances for both teams to win the thing. Everybody enjoyed it. Almost everybody had a good time. Football!
Except football is never just football. This — layer two — was important. There was narrative at stake. Everton weren't just facing Liverpool; they were facing up to the Premier League's longest running inferiority complex and, while they didn't win, they didn't fall to pieces. Just about. By a millimetre or two.
As for Liverpool, they came into this game with a 7-2 loss to exorcise and they didn't quite manage it. The blue team still look better than anticipated; the reds ever so slightly more vulnerable. That will be compounded by the news that Virgil van Dijk will miss most of the rest of the season …
… for this was also — layer three — a travesty of sorts. Penalty or not, Jordan Pickford should have been sent off for flying through Van Dijk at knee height, and if there's a loophole in the laws through which challenges like Pickford's can pass, then that's a loophole that needs closing. Liverpool should have played most of the game against ten men. Not hard to imagine the result being different.
And the final layer, down at the heart of things, was the confirmation that things are still weird and will be staying weird; that this season will be remembered in years to come as That Weird Season, You Know The One. If Henderson's goal had stood, if Liverpool had won that game 3-2 … maybe that would have been a sign that the Premier League was healing. But in stepped VAR, and so Everton stay top — with Villa second! — and nothing makes sense anymore, again.
Oh, Tottenham …
You know that thing teams do when they score the first goal of a comeback, when they rush into the net to get the ball back? You know how it's always a bit feeble, but it shows, at least, that the team believe? Well, after scoring their first against Spurs, and cutting the lead to 3-1, West Ham didn't bother. They knew they were still beaten.
12 minutes later Lanzini had his top off and the whole team were in a huge pile, laughing.
It's tempting to blame Gareth Bale, partly because he came on just before the collapse started and made, then missed, a lovely chance to kill the game. And partly because you can stick his name into words: UnbelievaBALE. IncontrovertiBALE. PredictaBALE. Similarly, it's tempting to blame José Mourinho because, well, that's always fun.
But Spursy is bigger than one man, even Mourinho. Spursy is a feeling, a vibe, a powerful haunting that seeps out of the ground and settles into the bones. These mistakes have all been made before and will all be made again. And Mourinho knows it.
It was exactly when we were in control that we conceded the first and their belief went up. My guys were not strong enough to cope with it psychologically. The last few seconds, we lost two points.
It's easy to lose patience with Zlatan Ibrahimović's whole schtick. Yes, Zlatan. You're a lion. Roar. Scary. But the Warm-Up has always found it quite fascinating: an attempt to hold back the creep of age and decrepitude by sheer cartoonish force of will.
Also it seems to work. That's important too. 39 years old and he's winning Milan derbies. And even when he admitted that he was tired, his manager, Stefano Pioli, just flat out ignored him. That's the kind of support every lion needs from their … pack co-ordinator? It's a bureaucracy out on the savannah.
He was very tired and asked me for a substitution, but I didn’t listen to him and he stayed on the pitch until the end. He is a champion in everything he does, an exemplary professional who always wants to win and his contribution to the team is very important.
Inter had their chances, and missed them, and Antonio Conte was "sorry to have lost a game where we played well". But nobody, however much they jump and wave on the touchline, can fight the momentum of That Weird Season. After this weekend there are exactly two teams in Europe's 'big five' leagues with a perfect record: AC Milan and Aston Villa. What times we are living through.
IN OTHER NEWS
Happy birthday to Sam "Big" Allardyce, born this day some 66 years ago. YouTube is understandably thin on highlights from his playing days, so here's five minutes of Jay-Jay Okocha dancing around the Premier League.
Oh hey, the Champions League starts this week. Here's Jonathan Wilson over at the Guardian to get you in the mood.
Because United are fallible and because the group also contains RB Leipzig – who may have breached the spirit of German regulations on club ownership but are undeniably well-run, football’s degenerate economics somehow rendering a global brand a plucky outsider – Tuesday’s game against PSG feels significant. But a slightly different draw and this would be an effective exhibition between sides who know they will progress. Or project into a super league future and this could easily be a weary wrangle of sides too flawed to win but too rich to fail.
Two Premier League games tonight: first West Brom face Burnley, the last side with no points at all, and then Leeds take on Wolves, which should be fun.
And Marcus Foley is already squatting by the touchline, ready to take it all in for tomorrow's Warm-Up.