MONDAY’S BIG STORIES

The kid’s alright

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He dribbles, unpredictably, at high speed. He terrifies defenders. He wins penalties. He scores spectacular goals. He plays for Barcelona. The Warm-Up didn’t say his name, but you were thinking about him, weren’t you?

Yes, that’s right. Just a couple of days after some guy called Lionel Messi grumpily agreed not to drag Barcelona through the courts, Ansu Fati made his international debut for Spain. And it went very, very, very well indeed. A penalty won. A goal scored. And an overhead kick blocked in the six-yard box. That was just the first half.

All in all, Fati took to international football like a duck to orange sauce. Spain strolled out 4-0 winners, and Luis Enrique was just as blown away as Ukraine’s luckless defenders.

It’s not normal for him to have this spark and self-confidence at this age. … Even though I know him well and what he’s capable of, I can’t say I’m not surprised. He showed such bravery and daring to do what he did in the second minute, beating a player so naturally. I can’t remember him doing anything like this before.

Whether Ukraine are softer opposition than the average La Liga side isn’t the point here: the point is this kid stepped up to a new and potentially daunting situation with the easy confidence that comes when brilliance is buttressed by self-belief. We’re not saying he can replace Messi in any meaningful sense: that would be ludicrous. But it looks very much like he’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun, and that, you suspect, will be very much needed at Camp Nou.

That’s classic Nations League

The Warm-Up is unashamedly in favour of international football. It’s the make-do-and-mend, as much as anything: if there doesn’t happen to have been a decent left-back born within the spurious boundaries that have emerged from a few millenia of highly stressful geopolitics … tough! Improvise!

In such circumstances, strange things happen. And UEFA’s decision to effectively stream the continent, so that teams of similar strength get competitive games against one another, means that everybody gets to play to win. Look: the Faroe Islands scoring a last minute winner against Andorra!

Wales scoring a last minute winner against Bulgaria!

England, scuffing up the penalty spot against Iceland!

It’s just a pity that nobody was there to watch James Ward-Prowse getting all dastardly. The empty stands served as a reminder of the pandemic and also, perhaps, a nagging question as to whether this really is a useful time to be bouncing footballers all over the continent. Shout out to the Czech Republic who, after a positive test, have had to call up a whole new squad for their game against Scotland.

The Nations League is wholly, grandly unnecessary, and in normal times that’s part of the joy. Now it sits rather awkwardly, however many last-minute winners we get.

Manchester United 1-1 Voltron

Weekend one of the Women’s Super League, and we’ve already had a … shock? Perhaps that’s too strong. It’s not like Manchester United are complete chancers. Maybe “surprise” is better.

But definitely a surprise: this was against Chelsea, after all, who were the best team in the country before they made Pernille Harder the most expensive player in the history of women’s football. Harder only got a cameo, however, as United defended stoutly, kept Chelsea’s lead to 1-0, and then sprang the Londoners’ defence on the break with ten minutes to go.

As for the other members of the WSL’s big three, Manchester City beat Aston Villa 2-0 on Saturday, and Arsenal demolished Reading 6-1 on Sunday. That included this sound-barrier buster from Vivienne Miedama. Amazing what missing a few chances will do for a player’s speed through the ball.

IN OTHER NEWS

A flash. A loud bang. The world seems to swim around you. Everything melts away and then re-forms, but it looks strange. It’s all black and white. The men are all wearing hats. And — wait, what’s this? It’s the 1950s?! Hungary are the best team in the world?! Well, you can’t argue with the evidence.

IN THE CHANNELS

It had been 18 years — or 12 titles, one Champions League, and a World Cup final — since Arjen Robben last scored a goal for Groningen. Until this weekend.

HAT TIP

Here’s Jonathan Wilson over at the Guardian, investigating the mysterious forces at work behind Everton’s expensive habit of shopping for players that the big clubs don’t want any more. James Rodriguez is just the latest example.

Only the dourest of grown-ups, one who has long since forgotten how to fly, could not be inspired by the prospect of Ancelotti reigniting James’s talent so that he plays out a glorious autumn to his career at Goodison. It’s an audacious signing, one that services a fundamental but frequently overlooked demand of a mid-table side: fun.

COMING UP

More delicious, morally questionable Nations League action today: Netherlands vs. Italy should be the best game; Scotland vs. Czech Republic will almost certainly be the weirdest.

Here tomorrow to bring you news of A. Trialist’s last minute winner for the Czechs, Marcus Foley

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