Southampton proves that football makes no sense with League Cup triumph over Manchester City – The Warm-Up

THURSDAY’S BIG STORIES

Well Now

Put your hand up if you saw that coming. Now put your hand down, you big lying liar, you. In the league this season, Manchester City have 27 more points than Southampton and have scored 30 more goals, while conceding 17 fewer. In the League Cup, however, they scored no goals to Southampton’s twoand Pep Guardiola’s most reliable and trustworthy competition will be going elsewhere this season.

League Cup

Saints stun City to reach semis of League Cup

A DAY AUG

Football is a very silly place.

Actually, having said that, you may keep your hand up if – and only if – you are a member of Southampton’s playing or coaching staff. (Also, hello and well done.) Because this wasn’t a smash and grab. This was a team that had a plan, and one that amounted to more than just ‘survive for a bit and see what happens’. They went to City, got themselves a lead that they deserved, doubled it, and then rode out an hour of football against one of the best teams in the world with comparatively little fuss.

Obviously they had a little fortune in the granular moments. Why Stefan Ortega was standing 10 yards off his line and waving a cardboard sign that said “Go On Then, Lob Me, I Dare You”, only he knows. But Manchester City are a smooth and well-oiled machine designed to cruise through fixtures like this at half-speed. Rotation is built in. Rotation means a second team better than most clubs’ first teams. What happened?

Southampton happened, and they kept happening. Even without his perfectly taken dunk over Ortega’s wandering mind, Moussa Djenepo was the best midfielder on the pitch. Kyle Walker-Peters played like he heard you laughing at those links to Manchester United and Chelsea, and he was really quite put out. Duje Caleta-Car was huge, Gavin Bazunu was a faultless sweeper. City didn’t manage a siege; they didn’t even muster a shot on target.

All managers demand aggression and intensity when they come into a new club because these are things that failing clubs usually lack. Sometimes they even get it. And Nathan Jones’s new side has now put together three consecutive halves of precisely both. Whether we’re dealing with some kind of cup exception remains to be seen, but we’re guessing that Frank Lampard’s feeling a little more nervous today than he was a week ago. Everton host Southampton on Saturday, and it’s the biggest game of the weekend.

What? Oh, right, there’s a north London derby and a Manchester derby. Well, end. Common sense suggests that City’s performance here won’t have too much to say about City’s approach at the weekend. But we’re guessing that De Bruyne, Haaland and Rodri were supposed to have a night off, which they didn’t get. And we’re hoping, in the interests of chaos, that this persuades Guardiola to try this “ridiculous” plan he’s been teasing us with. Treat it like it’s a big Champions League tie, Pep. Go on. Go on.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 11: Moussa Djenepo of Southampton celebrates after scoring their side’s second goal Kyle Walker-Peters and James Ward-Prowse during the Carabao Cup Quarter Final match between Southampton and Manchester City at St Mary’s Sta

Image credit: Getty Images

What Happens Now Then?

Friends, we are in uncharted territory. As a combination, Guardiola and City have never before failed to make the semi-finals of the League Cup. They’ve won four of the six previous to this season. They love this three-handled peculiarity, they love their day out to Wembley at the end of winter and the beginning of spring. And anybody that wants to deny it to them has had to do it over two legs.

Well, no longer. Of the four teams left, Manchester United last won it in 2017, which was also their last domestic honour. Forest last lifted it in 1990, their most recent cup win. And Southampton and Newcastle have never won the thing; Southampton’s last cup was either the FA Cup in 1976 or the Football League Trophy in 2010, depending on how you feel about the latter tournament, while Newcastle last won a knock-out pot in 1955, when Jackie Milburn scored after just 45 seconds of the FA Cup final. Unless you want to count the Texaco Cup, which we probably don’t.

There are two competing stories going on here. Wins for either Forest or Southampton will be shafts of light in otherwise complicated domestic seasons; glorious odds, to be remembered in the city for years. And wins for either United will be folded into a wider story of Oh Dear, This Lot Are Going To Win Loads More, Aren’t They.

The last time a team without Champions League aspirations won this thing was Swansea City in 2013. Accordingly, the morally righteous will be hoping for Southampton and Forest to be walking out at Wembley on February 26th. But the big dogs have the advantage, in that they will both be playing the second leg of the semi-final at home. We’re not ruling out any further shocks, but we’re bracing ourselves for United vs. United, for old money vs. sticky new, and for ‘We’re back! Hey, why are you all booing?’ vs. ‘We’re here! Hey, why are you all booing?’

Portuguese Army Knife

Quick, time for a fun game. Without thinking about it too hard, make a list of all the positions in which Chelsea are a bit lacking. Now, how high up the list is “the second forward” who plays “like a No. 10, with a guy in front”?

It wasn’t top of our list, we’ll say that. We went something like: proper striker; cover at right back; more cover at right back, just to be sure; didn’t they used to have a midfield? what happened to that?; wide forward in the modern style… then, maybe, a No. 10.

Of course, Joao Felix – that’s his own description of his best position up there in those quotes – can play as a striker and can play wide. He can play more or less anywhere across the attacking end of a football team, which is perhaps what makes him such an appealing loan prospect. Everybody’s injured; get somebody in who can cover for everybody.

The question of what’s going to happen with Felix and his sublime talents is one of European football’s more intriguing subplots. So too is Chelsea’s constantly misaligned attack. But there’s no clause to buy in the deal, there’s Christian Nkunku coming in the summer, and there’s the chance that Diego Simeone may well be on his way out of Atleti at the end of the season.

A marriage of convenience, then, between a club whose best chance of getting back into the Champions League is winning it, and a player whose best chance of succeeding at his current club is getting out for six months. If it works, great! If it doesn’t, everybody involved can move on with their lives. It’s only a small number of millions, plus wages. loose change. A rounding error.

IN OTHER NEWS

Lionel Messi is extremely good at controlling a football.

IN THE CHANNELS

Say what you like about Arsenal Football Club, but when it comes to all that squishy stuff around fan engagement, content, and putting history to work in the present, there really is nobody better. No, not even Liverpool. Look, they’re doing a spot of redecoration at the Emirates.

Pure catnip to Arsenal fans, presumably, and it’s not like anybody else’s opinion really matters. But it’s probably about time that Arsenal’s women’s team were invited to the party on the stadium wall, and putting the 2007 quadruple winners alongside the Invincibles is a nice touch. That said, the Warm-Up is going to miss looking out of the window of a northbound train from Euston and seeing a load of giants in Arsenal kits all standing around as if they’ve just found something weird on the floor.

HAT TIP

It’s strange. Tweak one of the rules of football a little bit and we get all flustered. What are you doing? We’ll ask. Why change something that’s basically fine? Did anybody ask you to change it?

But blow the whole thing up and invent an entirely new sport, like one of those How Football Will Be In The Year 3000 articles we haven’t seen in years? That’s the kind of nonsense we can get behind. Our eternal gratitude to Gerard Pique, then, whose new seven-a-side Kings League project kicked off on Sunday and includes sin bins, VAR reviews from the players, and water-polo style kick-offs. That is, everybody starts on their own goalline and then races to the middle when the whistle goes.

However, the true stroke of genius is the golden card system. As described here by ESPN’s Sam Marsden, coaches select one card from five before the game, but do not know what they’ve chosen: “instant penalty, rob a card, remove an opposition player for two minutes, any goal scored in the next minute counts double, and a joker card. With the joker card, coaches can choose to use any of the aforementioned cards … The most drama stemming from the cards came in the first game. At 3-2 down, Casillas’ 1K played the joker card, choosing a penalty, but Aguero’s Kunisports swooped in to rob the card and give themselves a penalty, going on to win the match 4-2.”

Yes, that’s Iker Casillas and Sergio Aguero – Pique has important friends and is not afraid to use them. Even, apparently, when they’re not officially allowed to take part. Here is Enigma, apparently a current La Liga player who has to play masked for fear of his club and agent finding out. Nice.

COMING UP

It’s Fulham vs. Chelsea. It’s seventh against 10th, but possibly not the way round you’re expecting. It’s ‘can Chelsea get Joao Felix’s paperwork through in time?’ day. And it’s time to find out how deep this crisis goes.

Assuming he gets the right form through from the FA, Andi Thomas will be here again tomorrow.

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