THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES
USA! USA?! USA?!?!
How do you like to begin your football tournaments? Speaking personally, the Warm-Up likes to begin with a resounding loss for the heavy favourites. Keeps things interesting, keeps everybody on their toes.
'A special, special set piece' - Rapinoe scores direct from corner kick
This kind of thing, in fact. The USA lost 3-0 to Sweden yesterday, as the women's Olympic football competition got going across Japan. And this wasn't just a weird 3-0: an early own goal, say, and then a couple on the break. Oh no. This all-conquering talent-stacked utterly brilliant USA team didn't just lose. They were beaten.
Or as Megan Rapinoe put it, "We got our asses kicked." In the interests of balance we should also point out that the USA, even in the middle of that ass-kicking, did manage to hit the post twice. But it seems that even the best side in the world are vulnerable to sluggishness, to those days when the head is fogged and the legs leaden. 44 games unbeaten, and done.
They are also vulnerable, apparently, to good crosses that hit big strikers. Sweden's first goal was headed in at the near post; the second rebounded off the far post for a tap in. Then, to complete the set, the third went right down the middle, as Alyssa Naeher's momentum took her across and away.
By the time of that third goal, it was starting to look like a cheat code, and we can assume New Zealand and Australia were taking notes. Of course, it may just be the case that Sweden, as well as being pretty decent in their own right, are some kind of Olympic curse on this great USA team. They knocked them out on penalties in Rio, and they've rather mucked up their route through the tournament here.
If Sweden can hang on to first place in the group, that guarantees them a game against a third-placed team in the quarter-finals. And that would mean the US could finish second at best, which would match them up with the winner of Group F. That F stands for "flippin' heck! Brazil or the Netherlands!" Also, apparently, for fun. A rematch of the World Cup final in the last eight? Yes please.
Preseason Is Creaking
F also stands for Florida, which allows us to make an only slightly forced segue into the news that the Florida Cup, a four-team friendly tournament due to kick off on Sunday, is now a two-team tournament. Millonarios and Everton are already there, ready and willing. Arsenal and Inter Milan will not be joining them.
Arsenal are staying in London thanks to a small number of Covid cases. Inter are staying in Milan because they don't want to risk picking up any Covid cases. You can't really argue with either decision, although there are probably conversations to be had about the wisdom of arranging the jaunt in the first place. Even Manchester United, more brand than club, are staying at home this preseason.
Elsewhere, Manchester City's planned game against their City Football Group stablemates Troyes has also been cancelled. And it's not just the fancy big teams scrambling: if you've any interest in non-league football, you'll have seen the calls for new opponents spreading across the country. Officials booked. Pitch prepared. Opponents pinged ... help?
Obviously there will be far more important consequences of this current phase of the pandemic than a few cancelled football matches. But this flurry of changed plans does rather illustrate how tenuous, how thin and fragile, any claim of a return to normality might be.
And at this point, even the most optimistic football follower must be admitting to themselves that this season, just like the last one and the one before that, is going to have a big old Covid-19 footnote. At best, at absolute nothing-else-bad-happens-from-here best, there are going to be a fair few undercooked teams going into every league. It's going to be another weird one.
Spend, Spend, Spend
Still, if you have to cancel your exciting holiday at the last minute, how better to cope than some retail therapy. Arsenal have already agreed to spend £50m or so on Ben White, and if the rumour mill isn't lying to us — why would it lie? — then he'll soon be joined by Aaron Ramsdale and James Maddison.
There's probably a joke here somewhere about Arsenal trying to get in on the England fever of the summer but not being able to attract any of the first team. But that would be unnecessary, and besides, they've already got Bukayo Saka, King of the Rainbow Unicorns.
Maddison seems to make immediate sense, at least for Arsenal. If Ødegaard doesn't come back then they'll need some craft in the middle, and if Granit Xhaka joins Roma they'll need somebody to shoot from distance quite a lot. It would fit, too, with Leicester's "buy low and sell high" policy, particularly if they can pick up Ainsley Maitland-Niles in part exchange. Whether Maddison will want to drop down the league is perhaps the sticking point.
The mooted move for Ramsdale is the more interesting, in the Warm Up's amazingly humble opinion. The suggested fee, more than £30m, says two things. One, it says that Aston Villa committed absolute burglary getting Emiliano Martínez out of there for less. And two, that Ramsdale is going to be Arsenal's no.1 goalkeeper.
Maybe not immediately. Maybe next season. But with Bernd Leno slowly transforming into the shrug emoji, there'll be a job going soon. Ramsdale is 23 and, at that kind of price, this feels like Arsenal trying to solve the goalkeeping problem for the next ten years. And that means that between Ramsdale, Dean Henderson and Jordan Pickford, England could suddenly have three first-choice goalkeepers at three big clubs. Or Big Clubs, or "big clubs", or however you prefer to group Manchester United, Arsenal and Everton. A new golden age of English goalkeeping is upon us. Maybe.
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You'd think a manager resigning a few weeks before the start of a season would be a bad thing, right? Well, maybe not. Here's The Athletic's Stuart James digging down into the Swansea situation, and why Steve Cooper's departure form the dugout might be the best thing for everybody.
Few imagined it would take this long. Crystal Palace were keen on him but not keen enough and instead chose Patrick Vieira. Fulham also gave serious consideration to appointing the Welshman before deciding to go for Marco Silva. West Bromwich Albion turned to Valerien Ismael, Scott Parker switched to Bournemouth and suddenly all the horses on the managerial merry-go-round were taken.
More Olympics in the morning, as the men's tournament gets under way. Mexico vs. France and Brazil vs. Germany probably the pick of the games. Mind you, don't listen to us. We missed a 10-3 yesterday.
Not many people know that Tom Adams is Arsenal's emergency sixth-choice goalkeeper, and at all times he wears a full kit under his other clothes, just in case. But assuming they don't need him, he'll be here with the Warm-Up tomorrow.
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