With questions and concerns growing at one end of the pitch over Wayne Rooney, the form of Matteo Darmian must relieve Manchester United fans. All praise Mr. Dependable...
That's the general consensus in a bumper Mailbox, which says we have reached 'Peak Brendan'. Also, Arsenal don't need a striker, and is Klopp being lined up by Chelsea?
Two superb nights of football this week and this column, for two, welcomes our new efficient overlords. Both German sides on display were terrific to watch - but what about the TV coverage?
We are of the firm view that watching Champions League football, and international tournaments, is so much more fun without the participation of a domestic team. We just love it. It's like a heavy weight is lifted from our shoulders. It also gives the media a freedom that is not afforded when there are English players for commentators to over-rate and be sycophantic towards. There is no assumption that we the viewer are supporting one specific side, thus the football, as it always should be, is centre stage and the action looked at more objectively. The lack of an English side in the semi-final took off everyone's blinkers and hey, look, football not played by Premier League teams turns out to be rather exciting. Who knew?
Another dynamic of such nights is that it automatically removes half the potential audience who only watch football if an English or British side is playing, leaving an audience who is likely to be a bit more knowledgeable about football. Okay, the usual Barca bores in their Messi shirts would have still been annoying us all on Tuesday but we can tolerate them in small doses.
Bearing the audience in mind, Jamie Redknapp's declaration that Robert Lewandowski had "introduced himself to the world" on Wednesday night was somewhat puzzling. Those who did not already know of the Pole would almost certainly not have been watching anyway. It was an even odder statement given that he was many people's pick to be a star of the last Euros. Maybe Redknapp's gig is to be the man in the pub who only watches British sides but we feel this sort of obvious ignorance devalues us all. He also took an absolutely ferocious kicking on the internet for his insistence that goal error Dortmund man Hummels "is all left foot". Alas, Jamie had called the 50-50 wrong: within a few seconds there were thousands on Twitter eager to tell him that Hummels is, in fact, right-footed.
A day earlier, it had been ITV's turn to bring us non-UK-related fun. Putting the boot into ITV's televised coverage has become an enjoyable hobby for many online, and while we cannot deny that the football coverage still absolutely has its moments of witlessness, on Tuesday, we detected signs of life in the patient, quite possibly because they were freed from the mentally clouding presence of an English team.
Not for the first time this season, we found the punditry from Gareth Southgate, Roy Keane and Lee Dixon to be enjoyable and crisply done. Dixon has definitely raised the ITV game, and there's a nice chemistry between the pundits and Adrian Chiles.
Chiles still divides opinion. Many can't stand the fellow, and that's their right, but by and large we think the alternatives could be worse even though we wish he'd learn to talk and listen to the messages in his ear telling him to go to the ad break without his...speech...becoming...very...halting. But the pitch-side stuff on Tuesday night certainly didn't spoil our enjoyment of the evening and, although it's in itself a sign of how low our expectations have become, we'll take that. There's also no doubt that standing pitch-side with a noisy crowd whooping it up minutes before a massive game such as Bayern v Barcelona is due to kick off simply makes proceedings more exciting than the sterility of the hermetically sealed box in the stands.
Sky was up in the stands for Wednesday's match but were in an open box, allowing for the noise and atmosphere to envelop them. They had the pictures from the host broadcaster and there was a rare moment of panic from Jeff Stelling as he attempted to go over to the commentators at anthem time only to see the words 'Waiting For Camera' on the screen, which sounds like some sort of challenging new Samuel Beckett-influenced play in which Jamie, Ruud, Souey and Jeff sit and wait to be filmed talking about football but the camera never arrives, leading them to consider whether they are actually alive at all or whether time and existence is an illusion.
They were all visibly excited (not like that - although those trousers were pretty tight) by the performance of Borussia Dortmund, and kept talking over each other, which has a certain lo-fi charm but did get a bit confusing. No gold star for the German TV director who missed most of the Ronaldo goal in favour of the penalty appeal aftermath. However, the pre-show package on Herr Klopp was a fantastic short celebration of the irresistible coach.
The German sides crushing the Spanish ones gave this midweek a feeling that we might be at a watershed moment for European football. The fact that both Southgate and Redknapp wanted to talk about false nines, albeit with Redknapp declaring "I hear young coaches talking about false number nines, Lewandowski is a proper number nine", suggests that the indie has come to the mainstream. These semi-finals were, in the UK at least, one for the purists, the cosmopolitan, dare we say it, for the hipster. Perhaps that's exactly why it was so enjoyable.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
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