THURSDAY’S BIG STORIES
FODEN S***HOUSERY AND A SAVIC HAT-TRICK OF AGG
Opinion: Liverpool-Man City rivalry lacks key ingredients, but that can quickly change
It was, as Will Magee notes in his match report, in a football sense, a fairly entertaining affair for a nil-nil. In terms of agg, it was a complete masterpiece.
The less-than-sophisticated part of Diego Simeone’s tactical plan: kick anything that moved – and if that thing was Phil Foden all the better – meant the match crescendoed with agg until Stefan Savic and Jack Grealish went at it in the tunnel.
Kicker-in-chief was Felipe. He escaped a yellow on 12 minutes when he left the England man with a bandaged head after clattering into him in mid-air. After that he clattered other players – most notably Kevin De Bruyne for which he acquired a yellow – defended a bit, and then clattered Foden again late on.
Felipe’s foul on Foden in the 88th minute was undoubtedly snide, a bit malicious but, more than anything, defied logic. The home side had been applying pressure when Foden collected the ball and galloped towards the corner flag. Felipe won the ball cleanly enough with a robust challenge but then decided to leave something on the England man with a pronounced and unnecessary follow-through.
Foden took the open invitation to make the most of Felipe’s challenge rolling around clasping his ankle. He showed great – and this term may very well be made up – s***house intelligence, to roll back onto the pitch to waste time and, crucially, puncture Atleti’s momentum. This enraged former Manchester City player Savic, and set in motion a hat-trick of sorts.
First, he attempted to fling Foden back off the pitch literally by the scruff of his neck. That sparked a 22-man brawl in which Savic threw a tame – but definite – headbutt at Raheem Sterling. Then, after Grealish steamed in with a less-than-polite pejorative that BT deemed so offensive it pixelated it out when showing a replay, he pulled the Man City and Gucci forward’s mane.
For his services to agg, Savic received the sum total of one yellow card, which, given each offence could have been a red, was a remarkable achievement. Felipe was astonished when he received a second yellow card for a yellow card offence, and off he went.
The melee contributed to 12 minutes of added time that City managed to see out. However, the extended added stuff did not serve to settle or calm tempers with reports suggesting that Grealish and Savic were – amongst others – going at it in the tunnel.
It was a complete rarity to see these sorts of goings on at the very elite level of European football and, truth be told, it was riveting stuff. Football – at its best – is theatre; it is tension and it is suspense. And this agg was that tension and suspense spilling over a little. And, as long as that spill over does not descend into actual violence – and at the time of writing, there was no suggestion of that other than some superficial pushing, shoving and hair pulling – it should be treated as such: pure theatre.
KNOCK ME OUT, SAYS KLOPP
“If the day comes that we qualify for the semi-finals of the Champions League and I am not happy, please come and knock me out,” said Jurgen Klopp after his side drew 3-3 with Benfica to seal their spot in the semi-finals courtesy of a 6-4 win on aggregate. They will face Villarreal next.
Given the standards the club have set, it was a loose performance by the Reds. However, it must be said, Klopp made seven – SEVEN – changes from the team who faced Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday. Those changes were a nod to their FA Cup showdown on Saturday, again against City.
It was at times a jittery performance, but, as Klopp intimates in his “knock me out” comment, it is illustrative of the other-worldly standards he has imposed at the club that there would be even the suggestion of any other feeling than elation at making a Champions League semi-final.
The decision to ring the changes ahead of the FA Cup tie is also illustrative of the fact that Klopp is going head on for the quadruple – this was not a one-game-at-a-time mantra, this was Klopp backing his second string to hold onto to a lead in a Champions League quarter-final, so that he could rest the big hitters for the City game.
It was a brave gamble and one that could reap substantial, unprecedented reward.
‘Benfica were on fire’ – Klopp
A CHAMPIONS LEAGUE VETO
Manchester United are set to appoint Erik ten Hag. The Manchester Evening News report this is against the wishes of their players . In isolation, that is pretty unremarkable news. Players do not appoint – or, more accurately, sanction the appointment of – managers. Or they shouldn’t. Yet, according to the same publication , the appointment of Antonio Conte as United manager was vetoed by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Now the report does not go into great specifics and is a little light on details, but with the near-constant briefing coming from that dressing room, it does not seem beyond the realms of possibility.
And if the report is true then it is astonishing.
The idea of consulting senior players on the appointment of a manager has some sense if there were doubts over said manager’s credentials. This is not the case with Conte. His credentials need no examination. He has proven this once more at Tottenham, who now look in pole position to secure the fourth and final Champions League spot.
If the appointment of Conte was vetoed by United players, they more-or-less vetoed a spot in the Champions League.
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