MONDAY'S BIG STORIES
North London Is Red (With White Sleeves)
One odd quirk of the Premier League is that, when it comes to big games, it's much easier and much more tempting to talk about the losers. When it comes to content, crisis beats competence every time. And so, the morning after Arsenal produced their best north London derby performance in years, all we want to talk about is Erik Lamela.
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In fairness, he did have a pretty eye-catching performance. And that was just the second yellow! Ho ho ho. Bit of face humour there.
But it's rare to see a player have such an on-brand performance. Lamela's devotion to the rabona is either adorable or a crushing indictment on a player with only one functional foot, depending on how joyless you're feeling. But to actually pull one off, with a bonus nutmeg, in the derby… you can see why Reguilón looked so pleased.
That he followed that up with his first red card for Spurs is surprising only because it wasn't his fifth or his fifteenth: he's one of those players who can make taking a throw-in look like a bookable offence. Honestly, we assumed he'd be a starter under José Mourinho. There can't be many footballers more possessed with the spirit of Rui Faria.
Of course, the spectacularity of the goal — no, it's a word, really — does rather distract from the fact that it was Spurs' only shot in the first half. In fact they didn't wake up until they were losing and down to ten men, which isn't really the ideal circumstances for an attempted siege. The fact that they managed one anyway suggests Arsenal were there to be got at. But then, they're Arsenal. Always there to be got at.
It's tempting and probably correct to assign this to the general sense of Mourinho miserability (also definitely a word): that endless search for control from a team that can't ever quite close the door. The odd thing is that, coming into this game, Spurs had been pretty entertaining: scoring goals, making chances, having fun. Then along comes the big game and suddenly the whole plan hinges, once again, on Toby Alderweireld becoming Franco Baresi.
It's just strange. Here is a team blessed with a deep and exciting attack, and cursed with a wobbly-as-hell defence. And they spend a lot of their time trying to win games with the latter at the expense of the former.
As for Arsenal, they won the game, and kept the twin dreams of European qualification and St. Totteringham's Day alive. They looked pretty good value, too, until those last ten minutes, when their collective head went. But most importantly, with a performance that will sing down the ages, Emile Smith Rowe made history.
Hunt for the Wilder-manager
Football is all about timing. If Sheffield United had been a bit more sensible with their points distribution, saved a few of last season's wins for this campaign, they'd be nearly through their second season of comfortable, unspectacular survival, and Chris Wilder would still have a job.
Instead, feast and famine. Wilder's gone. And so has the one positive about Sheffield United's season: that they hadn't ever been on the thick end of a proper thrashing. Whatever the opposite of a new manager bounce is, this 5-0 loss at Leicester was it. A new manager splat. A new manager [sound of air leaking slowly from a balloon].
The Warm-Up has long suspected that the main reason football managers are so vulnerable is that they are the one part of the organisation that can quickly be changed. An owner can't sack and replace the entire squad (too expensive), quickly wish injuries away (that would be magic), or unilaterally defy Covid restrictions to get their crowd back (though some have certainly thought about it).
And so Sheffield United, who will be wanting to get promoted next season, have sacked a manager with a proven record of getting clubs promoted. As they descend into the Championship they will almost certainly be passed by Norwich City, coming the other way, a glittering advert for the benefits of sticking with a manager even after relegation.
But on the other hand, if the club owner decides, with some justification, that their manager isn't very good at spending money and needs some help in that regard, the manager's choices are ultimately going to be "accept a director of football" or "get sacked". Aaron Ramsdale has improved, and Sander Berge was decent until his injury, but Oli McBurnie and Rhian Brewster represent an exchange of over £40m for precisely one goal.
United's loss will be another club's gain: we foresee an almighty scramble for Wilder's services, involving at least one of the clubs that go down with them and any number of those that miss out on promotion. Chris Wilder's West Brom. Chris Wilder's Newcastle United. Just make sure the DoF is already in place, that's all we're saying.
The size of Sheffield United's defeat was largely the work of Kelechi Iheanacho, who scored Leicester's first, third, and fourth, as his excellent form continued. This was his first Premier League hat-trick. And we liked it not just because Iheanacho seems a lovely guy, and it's good to see all that evident talent turning into goals.
No, this hat-trick was particularly pleasing because each goal doubled in distance from the one before. First, a tap in. Then, a clip from near the edge of the box. And finally a dismissive slap from well outside. If they'd carried on playing his fourth would have come from inside Leicester's half, his fifth from somewhere outside the stadium, and before too long he'd have been firing them in from a low orbit.
Returning to earth, this partnership with Jamie Vardy seems to be coming along nicely. And back to that "lovely guy" thing… if you see a sweeter post-match interview all season, we're betting it's because Iheanacho has scored another hat-trick.
IN OTHER NEWS
Sometimes, celebrating against your old team is not only correct, but art.
Happy birthday to Sandro Raniere, arguably the complete modern midfielder. For a start, he was pretty good; for a middle, he was loads of fun; and for an end, he has his own YouTube channel. Sandro, by Sandro.
Via the Guardian, Nutmeg Magazine's Liam Kirkaldy investigates one of world football's strangest and most delightful mysteries: why, in Nigeria, the words "Dundee United" used to mean "idiot"?
It is an upsetting thing to think about, for a United fan. This is a country of over 200 million people and they have apparently been using Dundee United as a byword for a fool for years … As Yewande, a Nigerian-Scot based in Glasgow, explains: "When I was little, living in Nigeria, it was quite common. People would say 'you’re just a Dundee United', or 'don’t be a Dundee United', and it basically means an idiot or a loser."
Taking care of some left-over mid-table business in the Premier League today, as eighth-placed Liverpool travel to 13th-placed Wolves. Be nice for Diego Jota to catch up with his old colleagues.
And Ben Snowball, arguably the complete Warmer-Upper, will be here tomorrow.
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