THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES

It's A Game Of Four Halves

If you looked at the fixture list, or any of the previews, you might have been under the impression that Tottenham were due to play Chelsea last night. But you'd have been incorrect. As soon as Romelu Lukaku said the things that he said, then said he was sorry, Antonio Conte's Tottenham were playing against The Narrative.
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And the only way to beat The Narrative is to get out ahead of it. Take the story that's coming and redirect it somewhere different. Lukaku's redemption? Not if Spurs score two own goals first! Obviously there are other problems with this plan, but did Lukaku score? He did not. Tottenham win again.
Indeed, this major triumph we can add another: Spurs aren't out of the tie yet, despite getting resoundingly beaten. That they were better in the second half than the first is true, but then any object dropped from high enough will bounce, just a little. Perhaps a little rustiness from a rotated back three can be explained away. But Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg were overwhelmed in midfield, and that will be worrying Antonio Conte.
That overwhelming was down, in part, to Saúl Ñíguez finally remembering that he is a really good footballer. Indeed, it was an encouraging showing for a number of Chelsea's fringe players: Hakim Ziyech was menacing, Malang Sarr largely untroubled, and Kepa Arrizabalaga almost entirely accident-free. With Edouard Mendy away at the Africa Cup of Nations, Kepa is going to have to be no.1 keeper for a month or so, and Spurs afforded him a comfortable return to the first team.
As for Lukaku, his failure to score deprived the Warm-Up of the obvious hook for this write-up. But if Tuchel can forgive, then so can we. On balance, it was one of those Lukaku performances. Lots of good work with and without the ball, a couple of odd decisions, and one bumbling run into touch. Something for everybody, then, and everybody can feel confident that whatever they thought, they were right all along.
With both sides facing lower league opposition in the FA Cup this weekend, and so both sides almost guaranteed to rest, rotate, and otherwise Besmirch A Once Great Competition, next week's second leg poses an interesting selection problem. Spurs could, in theory, send out a well-rested first team and attempt to smash the tie back into shape. Chelsea could easily do likewise and try to kill the thing off. A teamsheet is never just a list of names. Sometimes it's "The Narrative" scrawled on the back of an envelope. Other times, it's a short essay on the meaning of the League Cup. We wait in anticipation for Tuchel and Conte to turn in their homework.

The Show Must Or Must Not Go On

But if you were hoping for more League Cup fun this evening, there's bad news. The first leg of Liverpool against Arsenal has been postponed, and will now take place after the second leg, which does rather make it sound like the tie is trying to do some kind of cool spin move.
Liverpool have players missing due to Covid, the Africa Cup of Nations, and good old-fashioned injury. Both Jürgen Klopp and his replacement, Pep Lijnders, are in 'rona-isolation. And the training ground is closed. Inevitable, then, although there will perhaps be one or two puzzled expressions at Leyton Orient, who were chucked out of last season's competition after Covid prevented them fulfilling their fixture against Tottenham. But there's a simple explanation for the inconsistency: Liverpool are much more famous and much more important than Leyton Orient.
England's footballing authorities have embraced the principles of postponement, deciding that future fixture pile-ups are preferable to playing through this latest surge. Over in Italy, with Serie A due to return from its Christmas holidays today, they seem to be taking a different tack. According to reports, games will go ahead if a team can muster a mere 13 players, including a goalkeeper, even if they have to call on their youth squads to do it.

Simone Inzaghi, head coach of FC Internazionale, is seen wearing face mask prior to the Serie A football match between FC Internazionale and Torino FC. FC Internazionale won 1-0 over Torino FC. (Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Image credit: Getty Images

At the time of writing all ten of today's games are on, despite positive tests in virtually every squad and a number of teams being unable to travel due to local quarantine orders. We're guessing the practical consequences of this go something like: home team turns up, home team hangs around for an hour or so, home team claims a 3-0 victory, and then some lawyers shout at some other lawyers until a compromise is reached that pleases absolutely nobody.
Obviously there's still time for postponements to come through on a case by case basis. Presumably some of the lawyers have already been activated. And if you, like the Warm-Up, were planning to celebrate the feast of Epiphany by sitting on the sofa watching Serie A all day, as is tradition, you may want to start thinking about your back-up plan.
Sit on the sofa not watching Serie A all day? Yeah, that works.

Not Very On Brand

The Warm-Up has nothing but the greatest of respect for Kieran Trippier: La Liga winner, England regular, competent and reliable free-kick taker. And in this world of bluffers and chancers hitting the ball into the wall, that last point might be the highest compliment of them all.
But we hope he won't be offended when we say that he isn't quite the right first signing for the Saudi Arabia-in-Newcastle project. The appropriate move would be (a) an attacking player with (b) a wonderful Youtube repertoire and (c) astronomical wage demands, that will (d) score three wonderful goals in their first four games before (e) leaving on a free to join their hometown club after (f) having a row with the manager and (g) spending a year in self-imposed exile on the bench.
Trippier? Absolutely none of that. As signings go, he's almost devastatingly sensible.
Presumably that suits Eddie Howe just fine. A simultaneous upgrade to Newcastle's defence and their threat from set pieces sounds like a pretty good strategy for a relegation battle. Down the bottom of the table, scoring goals is very important, and so is not conceding. Hang on, that's just football everywhere. See? Sensible.
So well done, Newcastle's transfer department. Although if you're reading this, Philippe Coutinho's still out there, you know. Go on. Give the people what they want.

IN OTHER NEWS

As is traditional, the Copa del Rey featured some of Spain's smaller teams scaring the hell out of the aristocracy. Real Madrid actually managed to beat Alcoyano in the end, but not before Dani Vega did this, just to make things interesting.

IN THE CHANNELS

Yesterday was the sixteenth anniversary of Nemanja Vidić joining Manchester United. To celebrate, the official Twitter account of the Champions League put out this lovely compilation of big tackles and delightful positional play. Interesting fact: the Twitter account is actually operated by the trophy itself. Does all the tweets with its handles. Amazing, really. The power of Gazprom.

RETRO CORNER

On this day in 1939, legendary coach and football thinker Valeriy Lobanovskyi was born in Kyiv. To celebrate, here is a masterclass in how to make a football video. Intersperse the highlights with ominous montage footage, slap some portentous strings over the top, and let the retro kits and colour-saturated footage do the work.

COMING UP

In theory, a whole load of Serie A, along with some more Copa del Rey. In theory, we should be getting a double bill of AC Milan vs. Roma and then Juventus vs. Napoli. In practice, your guess is as good as ours.
Whatever happens, and even if nothing happens, Andi Thomas will be back tomorrow to talk about it.
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