FRIDAY'S BIG STORIES
For an hour or so, a certain section of the internet got very excited indeed. A video taken by a fan showed a black van outside a house, apparently near Birmingham, apparently belonging to a footballer. Another enterprising fan then claimed to have found some traffic camera footage showing that same van on its way to London.
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Lord Lucan at the wheel. Shergar riding shotgun. And Douglas Luiz tucked up in the back, thumbing through a contract offer from Arsenal. Apparently.
Maybe he did head down to London, just on the off-chance. Or maybe Villa Twitter and Arsenal Twitter got carried away, got pranked, got right into the deadline day festival spirit. It's certainly a step up from Wesley Sneijder at the airport. A slightly terrifying step up.
According to the papers, Villa rejected three bids from Arsenal over the course of yesterday; the Londoners didn't get close to the asking price of £40m. Also not on the move was Youri Tielemans, who had been linked with Arsenal and everywhere else all summer, but instead spent his evening actually playing football. Real football. Not very deadline day behaviour, that. Must do better.
Both Luiz and Tielemans are, therefore, heading into the last year of their contract. And both their clubs seem relatively relaxed about this fact. The pressure to cash in on players in this situation has been a reliable staple of windows past, and presumably Arsenal were hoping it would do some work for them. "Here's £25m. That's 25m more than you'll get in a year's time. What do you mean, 'Stick it'? Stick it where? Stick it in your bank account? Oh. Oh right."
Perhaps the winter World Cup is having a vaguely disciplinary effect here. No player with even the vaguest international ambitions can afford to get into a serious dispute with their club over the next few months, as the January escape window will come after the main event.
Or perhaps Leicester and Villa simply looked at the Premier League table, and looked at their squads, and concluded that this is not a gamble they can afford to take. Neither side will be seriously expecting a sustained relegation battle, but flogging one of their best midfielders at the beginning of September seems like a decent way to get one. Brendan Rodgers in particular seems agitated by the state of his squad, by the imbalance between those going out and those coming in. It's not clear if anybody actually enquired after Tielemans yesterday, but we're betting Brendan Rodgers had his phone off, just in case.
Or maybe they just straight up don't need the money. The Premier League's middle class has more financial power than the equivalent teams anywhere else, and also has the really rich teams lumbering around above them, forever willing to pay a premium for Premier League experience. Leicester's ownership referred yesterday to "difficult, short-term decisions" being taken to "protect the club's long-term interests", presumably in a nod to Wesley Fofana. And yet here they are, with a depreciating asset strolling around in midfield.
With Premier League spending outstripping the rest of the world's spending by an order of magnitude, the pressure to maximise every possible transaction has lessened. Lose a little on Tielemans, make a lot on Fofana. Lose a bit on Douglas Luiz, save a lot (and perhaps make a lot, a few years down the line) on Boubacar Kamara. As long as a club doesn't get relegated, what could possibly go wrong?
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We said Brendan Rodgers seemed agitated by the state of his squad, and that's only half the story. He also seems agitated by the state of his team, and unlike the business side of things, the responsibility for that comes back to him. Against Manchester United last night, Leicester were undone by a moment of startling defensive incompetence, as one stray pass turned their back four into something like a wonky back two and a half. Pass, pass, touch, goal.
This was not unexpected. Leicester have been a reliable source of defensive brainfades for a good couple of seasons now, and that was never going to vanish overnight, what with Fofana gone and his replacement, Wout Faes, watching from the stands and - presumably - thinking hard thoughts about his future.
But Leicester were also undone by a kind of existential flatness. United were the better team in the first half, but as befits a side still riddled with nerves and getting used to their latest new system, they began to creak in the second. Into that space roared Leicester, up-punching underdogs, scrappy top-four contenders, cup winners and humblers of the mighty. Except they … didn't?
James Maddison took a couple of nice free-kicks, but Leicester created almost nothing from open play, as United found the blocks and tackles they needed. Jamie Vardy looked knackered and partly absent, and it's a mystery why Patson Daka had to wait 87 minutes to replace him. In the end, and with the introduction of Casemiro, United were able to protect their slender lead without too much stress.
There are good reasons why Leicester will lose football games, particularly to the bigger clubs. The defence, mostly: Fofana gone, Çaglar Soyüncu dropped, Wilfred Ndidi filling in from midfield, and Faes an unknown. But there is no obvious reason why a team that can call on Vardy, Daka, Maddison, Harvey Barnes and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall should be so flat, so uninspired. So boring. Entertainment isn't a guarantee of points but it does help get the crowd on your side. And we can say one thing for sure: if this team is going to get out of the relegation zone, it isn't going to be on the back of clean sheets.
As for United, they remain a work-in-progress. This is fine, because it contains the word "progress". And you could see where Casemiro will drop in, and what Antony's been bought for, and how Jadon Sancho will work coming in from the left. You can see the shapes starting to emerge in attack, and the spirit coming through in defence. It almost looks like there's some kind of plan. Strange times.
It is, perhaps, a little peculiar that three of the Premier League's Big Six went into the final day of the transfer window looking for an emergency midfielder. Arsenal didn't get their man, but Chelsea and Liverpool each picked up a spare part on loan from Juventus, Dennis Zakaria and Arthur Melo respectively.
Injuries are inconvenient, impolite things. If only Thiago and Naby Keïta would take it in turns to pick up their knocks, then Arthur probably wouldn't be necessary. If only Mohamed Elneny could arrange to have his long-term injury on a kind of time-share basis with Thomas Partey, Douglas Luiz wouldn't have had to go through that kidnapping.
Perhaps the clubs should have realised this earlier in the summer; perhaps they did, but they just couldn't activate the long-term deals they wanted. But if we are to read anything into this, it might be that the Premier League, this season, is going to be a numbers game. With midweek after midweek after midweek all the way to the World Cup, and all the way after, an unreliable player might as well be no player at all.
IN OTHER NEWS
Things of note in this clip from Match of the Day in 1982: Ernie Hunt's goal, Bob Wilson's jumper, and Bob Wilson saying - actually saying out loud - the words "come and get me plea". We'd always assumed this was just a written thing.
IN THE CHANNELS
Here we go!
Here we don't…
Fortunately for Leyton Orient's trigger happy admin, they did eventually get to announce an eighth and final signing. Jayden Wareham arrived on loan from Chelsea to save the galaxy… and admin's job.
ALSO IN THE CHANNELS
Well played Saint-Étienne, for digging up this adorable picture of a younger Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and a really young Wesley Fofana. Isn't football adorable?
A very happy birthday to the very great Carlos Valderrama, hero across three continents. Watching the compilation videos, what really stands out isn't the skills, or the swagger - or the hair - but the fact that it looks almost impossible to get the ball off him. Look at these poor defenders, hacking away to no avail. Like trying to tackle a tree.
No rest. No peace. We've got some qualifiers for the women's World Cup today: Wales are off to Greece and Scotland are off to the Netherlands. Club-wise, it's Borussia Dortmund vs. Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga, and West Brom host Burnley in the Championship.
Off to the weekend you go, safe in the knowledge that, for the first time in months, Nottingham Forest aren't going to leap out of a bush and try to sign you.
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