Leicester exited the Champions League at the hands of Atletico Madrid on Tuesday. They were the last English side to be knocked out of the competition. That fact is not lost on Neil Ashton of The Sun.
‘Simeone rested five players last weekend, leaving Antoine Griezmann on the bench for 90 minutes during Atletico’s workout against Osasuna.
‘They won 3-0 at the Vicente Calderon and nobody thought anything of it.
‘Back in England, Shaky went full-strength, convincing his players he wanted momentum going into a do-or-die game against their Spanish opponents.
‘The intensity, the competitive edge, the physical demands of every Premier League fixture means players must dig deep every week.
‘Leicester were 2-0 up at Selhurst Park before their legs finally gave up on them and allowed Palace to salvage a 2-2 draw. Just over 72 hours later, Shaky was throwing them into the biggest game of their lives against a team with years of Champions League know-how.
‘Atletico, finalists twice in the last three years, are old hands at this. They were fresh, focused and fit for the second leg.’
Ashton goes on to lament the Premier League’s poor recent history in the competition, adding that having just two semi-finalists in the last five years is ‘a dreadful record’.
Whether that is true or not is open to debate, but surely the most pertinent point of Ashton’s article is not that Premier League scheduling has rendered the Champions League ‘a distraction’, but more that ‘Shaky’ made a mistake in not resting more players? Atletico and Leicester both played league fixtures against struggling opposition on Saturday, three days before their quarter-final second leg. Atletico rested six players; Leicester rested two.
Premier League fixture scheduling can be blamed for many things, but not for Leicester, 12th in the top flight and safe from relegation, failing to score more than once against an Atletico side who had conceded twice in their last eight games.
John Cross has some Arsenal news for us on this fine Thursday morning. He reports that Arsenal want to sign Virgil van Dijk for £50million in the Daily Mirror:
‘Arsene Wenger wants to hijack Chelsea’s move for Virgil van Dijk as he prepares to switch to a defensive back three.
‘Arsenal have enquired about Southampton’s Holland centre-half as part of a major squad overhaul this summer.
‘Wenger needs a new centre-half and his players believe he is considering a new formation, having used a back three at Middlesbrough on Monday.
‘The Gunners boss has always favoured a back four during his 21-year reign and could revert to that system for Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City.
‘But he has been working on the different formation in training.
‘Chelsea boss Antonio Conte began the trend for a back three and more clubs now use it to good effect.’
Does this mean we can all look forward to Cross asking Wenger over his formation switch in future press conferences?
I hate it when teams play a back 3 because the post-match presser is then full of journos trying to look clever and ask tactical questions.
— John Cross (@johncrossmirror) November 6, 2016
Writes Neil Custis in The Sun, of Michael Carrick’s Manchester United testimonial in June:
‘While it will be Carrick’s day, it will end up as Rooney’s farewell before he heads to a footballing backwater in China or America.’
It must have been a different Neil Custis who reported in March that United would pay Rooney £31.2m for him to leave and complete what was described as a ‘sensational return’ to Everton, that famous Chinese footballing backwater.
Where the Hart is
More Custis now, because more Custis makes everyone happy.
‘Joe Hart is on his way back to the Premier League with Liverpool’ – Neil Custis, The Sun exclusive, April 19.
“He’s a fantastic keeper, the highest quality, but it’s not for us at the moment, nor in the future” – Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool manager, April 20.
One of the two is telling porkies, and we’ll find out who this summer. Yet Mediawatch might have an inkling.
‘The Manchester City keeper will move to Anfield this summer after completing his loan spell in Italy with Torino,’ Custis’ back page exclusive on Wednesday read. No doubt there, then. All sorted.
Fast forward 24 hours – and the arrival of those Klopp quotes – and the online version of Custis’ story has mysteriously changed.
‘The Manchester City double-title winner will finish his loan deal with Torino at the end of the season and is set to make a move to Anfield,’ it now says.
But you reported it as fact yesterday?
Mike Walters has conducted an interview with Harry Redknapp in the Daily Mirror. The new Birmingham manager is already busy pointing out what a difficult job he has undertaken.
“I knew it would be a challenge at Birmingham – then I looked at the fixture list and realised it was an even bigger challenge than I realised,” says Redknapp, in a classic tactic for ensuring he is in line for as much praise as possible if he does ‘rescue’ Birmingham (who are three points clear of the relegation zone), and as little criticism as possible if they go down.
As if to ram home the point further, the Mirror have come up with a wonderful little sidebar to the interview. ‘He’s not called ‘Harry Houdini’ for nothing’, it reads.
‘In 2005/06 Harry Redknapp was at Portsmouth. They looked doomed.
‘With 10 games to play, they were eight points adrift of 17th place.
‘They then claimed 20 points from nine games and were safe with a game to spare.
‘After the 2-1 win at Wigan that guaranteed survival, Redknapp said: “People talk about great escapes but this has got to be one of the all-time great ones.”‘
They must have run out of room to include the 2012/13 season, where ‘Harry Houdini’ guided QPR to Premier League relegation. Or two seasons later, when he quit as QPR manager on February 3, 2015, with the club firmly entrenched in the relegation zone. They also ran out of room to say that Portsmouth took one league point between December 31 and March 11 to put them in that mess.
Shout out to my exodus
Everyone loves a good exodus, particularly when it pertains to a struggling Premier League squad. And no Premier League squad is struggling quite like Sunderland’s.
According to the Daily Star, ‘crisis club Sunderland are facing a mass exodus of players this summer’. Batten down the bloody hatches, folks, because ‘up to 16 could leave’ the Stadium of Light at the end of the season.
What the Star fail to mention is that of the 16 players in question, nine are either out of contract or currently on loan at the club. Does Javier Manquillo’s return to parent club Atletico Madrid really count?
‘Southampton are plotting a £15million summer swoop for Swansea ace Gylfi Sigurdsson’ – Alex Crook, Daily Star.
‘Southampton have joined Everton, West Ham and Newcastle in the chase for Gylfi Sigurdsson. The 27-year-old Swansea midfielder is valued at £35million’ – Simon Jones, Daily Mail.
What’s £20million between friends?
'What looks like chicken and chips.'
Also: Argentinean man enjoys 'what looks like the least Italian meal ever'.
God bless you, The Sun. pic.twitter.com/zzrGS5Co5q
— Football365 (@F365) April 20, 2017
Greatest introduction of this or any other day
‘Pep Guardiola appeared to decide against watching his former club Barcelona crash out of the Champions League as he was spotted wining and dining in some of Manchester’s finest culinary destinations’ – Alex Martin, Daily Mail.
‘Appeared to decide against…’ More as we get it.
Headline of the day
‘Manchester United legend Roy Keane says something NICE about a player’ – Manchester Evening News.
Recommended reading of the day
Jonathan Wilson previews Tottenham v Chelsea.
Richard Jolly on Alexis Sanchez and Jesus Navas.
Rory Smith on Barcelona.