Manchester City provide the schadenfreude
Let’s be clear: there is nothing funnier than watching someone who thinks they are clever, do something stupid. We can all laugh at anyone happening to trip up on the pavement and smack their nose on the concrete - big deal. But the real laughs are watching a professor set fire to his hand by mistake, or Alain de Botton not knowing what the Transformers are.
Pep Guardiola might be one of those kinds of people, but from this distance it’s hard to tell. Yes, there’s the silly jumper-and-tie combo. There’s the whole self-conscious comportment, and the self-important books written above him. He probably farts above his arse, but there’s no concrete evidence as yet, just as there isn’t about doping in football.
The people who aren’t as clever as they think, though, are the tactics bloggers. Not the stats analysts, who at least admit they have work to do and can point to examples of success in other sports. No, the tactics bloggers. They are no better than astrologists, and their daft diagrams and bizarre embrace of exclusionary jargon, to no useful end, is as pretentious as it is patently insecure. No phrase is more emblematic of this than ‘sweeper-keeper’ and the idea that Guardiola redefined goalkeeping. He did not, he just liked a goalkeeper to come out quite far. He isn’t the first, and he won’t be the last.
But, but, but. It is still very funny when a sweeper-keeper, that modish buzzword used for Claudio Bravo, passes straight to an opposition player outside the box and then gets sent off for handball. It is watching Lehman Brothers staff getting sacked. It is watching Brexit campaigners having their pensions fall apart. It is watching vegans getting food poisoning. It isn’t big or clever, but neither are they, deep down. Schadenfreude is the lifeblood not just of football, but of the world. Thank you, Pep. Thank you, Claudio. Thank you, your funny little matching pre-game outfits.
Leicester focussing on Champions League makes sense
To win the Premier League once takes an enormous amount of effort. While everyone plays by the same rules, it will also take favourable fortune to take advantages of the vagaries of luck that afflict your competitors. Leicester, with limited resources, seized on the failures of others, as the rest under-performed. They made the most of their own talents, breaking through their opponents and grinding them down when it became the only option. They had few injuries, and capitalised on their consistent energy levels and startling attacking, and it won them the league.
Given the resources of their competition in the league this year, to hope to do the same again is foolish. It seems even more foolish if you consider that Leicester have to compete in the Champions League as well. Claudio Ranieri has not been a fool. He has stocked his squad with players who are dangerous, and better than most of the competition he will face over the course of the season. They won’t win the league. They won’t win the Champions League, either. But as they showed against FC Copenhagen, Porto and Club Bruges, they can be the best side of two often enough, to make serious progress. They might never have seriously entertained winning either competition, but they are sensibly achieving as much as they can in both.
Juventus show Lyon experience and ruthlessness
Lyon had given Juventus a tough match. They’d had a boisterous crowd behind them, urging them on to greater exertion and to chase their potential. They had an opponent who were off their game, and their ‘keeper Gianluigi Buffon had just last weekend made an embarrassing mistake. This was the time to take advantage of their resurgence, and to take three points off a team that - if not on the ropes - were set up for a sucker punch.
Alexandre Lacazette, the great young hope of Ligue 1, one who will be tediously compared to Thierry Henry for depressing reasons, would have been their greatest hope before the match, along with Nabil Fekir. Lacazette, though, was awful. He had, in technical terms, an absolute Rooney of a match. Lacking serious speed, the ability to control the ball and the care to pass accurately, the game and chances passed him by. Even when Juventus went down to 10 men, they could not open them up.
Instead, Juan Cuadrado, another bargain picked up by Juventus this summer, scored an absurd goal with little left of the match. It was the archetypal performance of an excellent side playing poorly, but still able to drag themselves over the line. At this stage of the competition, Juventus already have the mentality to challenge again.
Lionel Messi is good at football
He’s stopped doing a great deal, with age, injuries and tax avoidance hampering his focus, but what he does is still undeniably brilliant. There is no point in trying to sum up his genius using something as limiting as words.
Arsenal are yet to fall
apart this season
Arsenal, let’s not forget, are Arsenal. They have the ability to go Full Arsenal at any time. But, right now, let’s pretend to be objective. Their defence is not as pathetic as it used to be. Their midfield could be something worth the name if Granit Xhaka grows into the role. Just as importantly, they have a couple of players who are starting to dominate the side and take responsibility. Theo Walcott, despite his beard, is one. Alexis Sanchez is the other. It is easier to believe that Sanchez can keep this going, because he’s played for a proper side in the past, and because he is of the age where Arsenal players generally get sick of the mediocrity around them and burst into a supreme run of form before ditching them for a titles elsewhere. For now, Walcott and Sanchez scored impressive goals to suggest they are making a play for their own sense of achievement. It is tempting to believe that Arsene Wenger has finally cracked it, and that he might have a team that can do damage in Europe - but this is Arsenal.