THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES

Four goals, Kevin? Four?

Did you think that catastrophic defeat to Real Madrid might lead to a Manchester City collapse? You weren't alone. The Warm-Up was right there with you. Newcastle next, we thought. Tricky. And then Wolves. Also tricky. Everything's a banana skin, if you're already stumbling.
Premier League
De Bruyne named Premier League Player of the Season
21/05/2022 AT 13:12
Well, 10 goals and two wins later, don't we all look very silly. Erling Braut Haaland is on his way to brutalise the coming seasons, and Kevin De Bruyne is here to take care of the business end of this one.
A goal, a brace, a hat trick. These are the accepted and sensible units of goalscoring. You get a note on the result for one goal, you'll probably get man of the match for two, and three means you get to take the football home. Football understands goals when they arrive in these quantities.

Guardiola 'pretty sure Haaland will adapt quickly' at Man City

Four is not a sensible number of goals. Four suggests some glitch in the game, some interruption to the usual order of things. An early red card, perhaps, or a youth teamer in goal. A particular nightmare for one or a more defenders. So the fact that De Bruyne scored four against Wolves while nothing particularly weird was going on is, perhaps, testament to just how good he is.
Or perhaps, to help preserve some sense of order, he is the weirdness. The weirdness is him. He isn't just wonderfully good; he's weirdly, wonderfully good. The fact that he scored the first three with his notionally weaker left only helps our case here.
So, too, the fact that he scores all kinds of goals. His first against Wolves was a Sergio Aguero goal: a well-timed run through the defence, a tight angle made to look straightforward by the power and precision of the finish. The second was vintage Frank Lampard: turn up in the right place at the right time and earn yourself a friendly deflection. And then, just to mix things up, he scored a Steven Gerrard: pick up the loose ball in midfield, run with legs and shoulders pumping, and then slam the thing home. There's the solution to playing them together. Stick them both inside a single Belgian.
Earlier this week, the internet spent some time amusing itself with the question: how many goals would any random civilian score if they played a full season up front for Manchester City. The answer, obviously, is zero. But watching De Bruyne make a mid-table Premier League side look like a collection of ordinary humans, we can at least take consolation that the zero wouldn't be particularly embarrassing.
It's not that you'd miss chances. There wouldn't be any chances to miss. De Bruyne wouldn't be putting the ball anywhere near you.

Kevin De Bruyne kopiert die Jubelpose von Erling Haaland

Image credit: Getty Images

From The Marsch Into The Mire

Credit where credit's due: Dan James does have a very innocent face. He turned it to the referee last night, the very picture of surprise. A red? Sir, surely some mistake. Barely a yellow. Barely a foul. And this air of bruised outrage followed him all the way off the pitch, right up until we all saw the replay. Then it was Kovacic's bruising that became the concern.
If Leeds were hoping to foul their way to safety, two red cards in two games plus a broken leg for Stuart Dallas suggests they need another plan. And if Jesse Marsch's big file of inspirational sayings includes "KICK THEM, KICK THEM ALL — Gandhi", then he probably needs to stop looking up quotes on the internet. At least Don Revie's Leeds were good in between all the kicking. This lot, not so much.
If there is a consolation to be found in losing after an early dismissal, it comes in persuading yourself that things would have been different. For Leeds, it's a tricky case to make. By the time James trudged from the pitch they were already one down, and it was a pretty awful one to have conceded. Mason Mount arrived on the edge of the box and passed the ball into the net without once being inconvenienced by that mysterious thing called "defending".
The arguments for replacing Marcelo Bielsa were sound arguments: Leeds' form was wretched and getting wretcheder. But as well as the normal gamble that comes with any managerial replacement, there's a particular risk that comes in swapping a manager everybody likes for a manager nobody really cares about. Get relegated under a hero, and the memories of the good times will serve to take the edge off the bad. It will be an occasion for tearful farewells. It's hard to be really angry when you're saying "thank you".
Go down under some stranger, and what's to do but be miserable?
When Marsch was appointed, he was given a contract until 2025, and much was made of his philosophical fit with the club. This suggests that Leeds' hierarchy have at least considered keeping him on after relegation. But as auditions go, this violent stumble into the relegation zone is impressing nobody. It's not just that Leeds are losing. Teams are allowed to lose to Arsenal and Chelsea. It's that Leeds seems to be enthusiastically beating themselves.

Mustard

Generally speaking, here at the Warm-Up we like to focus on exceptional goals. We're snobs like that. And you'd think that would exclude penalties, and yet: look at this glorious creation from Hakan Calhanoglu. Toppest of top bins. Tiniest of postage stamps. Right between the eyes of the sleeping owl. 9.2, maybe 9.3 on the Pressman scale.
Later, in extra-time, Ivan Perisic scored another penalty that was almost as good, and on the back of these two perfect spot kicks Inter won the Italian Cup.
Why are well-taken penalties so satisfying? It's something about the simplicity of the task, the fact that excellence isn't necessary to get results. A well-taken penalty is like a well-made sandwich. Any fool can make an acceptable sandwich, one that does the job of postponing hunger for a bit; any old footballer can take and score a penalty. But when the ingredients all come together, when the balance of condiment to filling to garnish is just right and the bread is fresh and well chosen and the whole thing harmonises: that elevates the sandwich from something functional and humble into something beautiful. A job that didn't need doing brilliantly, done brilliantly nonetheless, and all the more appetising as a result.

IN THE CHANNELS

Forest Green Rovers simply never stop innovating. There's the veganism, of course: their rise from non-league to League One has been powered by nothing bloodier than beans. There's this all-wooden stadium that's coming, slap bang next to the motorway. And now, as manager Rob Edwards departs to take over at Watford, there's this statement.
Such grandiosity! "This kind of behaviour gives football a bad name." Well, maybe, but it's some way down that particular list. This is a game that invites whole countries to launder their reputations through the enthusiastic application of money, money and more money. Watford not giving Dale Vince a shout on WhatsApp rather pales in comparison.
And such magnanimity! Off-hand, the Warm-Up can't recall a statement like this ever explicitly offering to "forgive the manner" of a coach's departure, but we really hope it catches on. To err is human. To forgive, divine. To forgive while making a massive show of just how provoked you have been: that's entertainment.

HAT TIP

Today we're heading over to ESPN, where Tim Vickery explains just why the Brazilian Premier League hasn't happened yet. Spoilers: it's because Brazil is really big, and because Brazil's football schedule is really, really bloated.
For that, we can thank the state championships. "These tournaments are of huge importance to the history of the Brazilian game - the lack of travel infrastructure meant that a genuinely national championship did not fully come into play until 1971. But they have now outlived their usefulness, and survive largely for political reasons." Except Sao Paulo's, that is, which "is a state championship that makes sense. The state's biggest clubs see it as giving them a competitive advantage, and would not want to see it go".
And then there's the travel, and the climate, and the state of the pitches and the refereeing. And the money. The clubs are meeting this week, in the hope of coming up with some kind of functional breakaway plan. We'll believe it when we see it.

COMING UP

A happy coincidence that the north London derby should fall on a Thursday night. There's a Champions League spot at stake, and the real prize there - beyond the money, beyond the glamour - is not having to play football on a flippin' Thursday.
Andi Thomas will be here tomorrow. You'll forgive him the manner of his return.
Premier League
Salah, De Bruyne, Son and Saka on shortlist for Premier League Player of the Season award
13/05/2022 AT 10:40
Champions League
'The only criticism we can get' - De Bruyne on City's Champions League chase
04/05/2022 AT 10:31