The Warm-Up: United draw, Ole blames the ball for some reason
Reasons can sound like excuses. Particularly when you offer no explanation for them whatsoever and they just sound really weird...
FRIDAY’S BIG STORIES
Solskjaer blames…the ball for United not beating Brugge
Being a football manager asked to give reasons for your team not winning a game must be a perilous business, given that inevitably any reasons you give could very easily sound like an excuse, needless whining to distract from your own incompetences. You therefore have to choose your words carefully, and where possible offer full explanations for everything you say, to give full context and establish why your comments are in fact reasons, rather than excuses.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer didn’t quite manage that after Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Club Brugge on Thursday night. “It was a difficult game against a well organised team in difficult conditions. The conditions with the pitch and the ball made it hard. It’s different and difficult to play with, but it’s the same two teams. The conditions weren’t nice.”
He did not expand on why exactly the ball was an issue. Too heavy? Too light? Not pumped up enough? Pumped up too much? Too round? Not round enough? Ugly design? Reminded players of a beloved relative which made it distracting to kick? “We get the balls from UEFA, so it’s not our ball,” shrugged Brugge coach Philippe Clement, as baffled as the rest of us.
Maybe that was the reason that Solskjaer’s defence let this apparently objectionable ball sail over their heads for Brugge’s goal, Simon Mignolet’s long punt landing in the path of Emmanuel Dennis who delicately lobbed Sergio Romero. The ball was fine, however, when Anthony Martial smartly nipped in and robbed Brandon Mechele before finishing neatly to equalise and put United in the box seat for the return leg at Old Trafford.
Let’s just hope the ball is fine for that one.
Wolves beat Espanyol 4-0, by the way.
We support Bukayo Saka now
We’re starting it right here. Well, perhaps not starting it, but continuing it: Bukayo Saka for England. Get him on the plane. Well, actually, England will be playing most if not all of their games in London at Euro 2020 so he won’t be getting on a plane – but get him on the figurative plane.
Arsenal’s Europa League first-leg against Olympiacos was mostly not good, a classic Thursday night affair with everyone involved quietly ticking over the things they would rather be doing in their heads, but right at the end, there was Saka to provide the most dainty of slide-rule passes to give Alex Lacazette – who had stood out as being dog dirt in the mediocrity – an open goal and his second goal in two games.
Saka does this sort of thing routinely now: if he’s not embarrassing Newcastle players he’s making delicate little passes like this which give players opportunities that they quite simply could not miss even if they wanted to. He’s the most exciting left-back in the country, and he’s not even really a left-back, only pressed into service there this season because Arsenal needed him to be a left-back.
He’s great, and we won’t hear otherwise. Saka for England. Make it so.
HEROES AND ZEROS
Hero: Jurgen Klopp
We feel like fools when we go for this stuff, credulous rubes tempted in by heart-warming content. But it’s the manager of the best team in the world and Premier League champions-elect responding to a ten-year-old Manchester United fan who wrote him a letter asking him not to win so many games. Caaaammmmmm aaaaaaaaahhhhnnnnn – it’s a nice, uncomplicated, pleasant thing in a broadly abysmal and heartless world.
Zero: Ryan Babel
There’s labouring a point, and then there’s Ryan Babel.
"At the same time Graham was one of the central figures in murky dealings that involved a Norwegian agent who had arranged the transfer of several players to Arsenal and had given the manager £425,000 in cash. As he would later explain in his book, The Glory And The Grief, accepting what he insisted was an “unsolicited gift” was something Graham wished he had never done"
The Athletic’s Amy Lawrence tells the story of how George Graham was sacked by Arsenal, back in 1995.
For no particular reason, here’s a compilation of every goal at Euro 2012. Plenty of Peter Drury, too.
Your football itch this evening can be scratched by Derby v Fulham in the Championship, but beyond that it’s a weekend of hi-jinx ahoy: Chelsea face Spurs in the battle of the two-good-teams-who-are-nonetheless-going-into-this-one-in-absolute-messes; Manchester City travel to Leicester, unexpectedly competing with them for second place; Arsenal face Everton in the Shouldn’t Those Managers Be In Charge Of The Other Team? derby, plus lots, lots more. Enjoy your football responsibly.