There was a certain irony to Arsenal labouring to a 1-1 draw against relegation-haunted Fulham while the story broke that they were one of a number of Premier League clubs to declare their formal support for a European Super League. Those clubs currently rank first, second, fifth, sixth, seventh, and ninth in the Premier League.
But then, of course, that’s the point. After Leicester City won the league in 2016, the biggest clubs separately implored that they could never let it happen again.
One strategy to achieve that was to spend more money in a bid to inordinately improve their squads. The other was to collectively organise a means of ring-fencing their revenue, either by safeguarding places in the Champions League (Uefa’s idea) or participating in their own, invite-only competition (their idea). Both are grim.
Who knows whether this is football’s likely future. The story has been met with strong statements from both individual leagues and those leagues in conversation with Uefa, who have threatened legal sanctions and thanked those clubs who did not partake. It may be that this is part of a negotiation tactic to receive a greater share (or greater control) of Champions League broadcasting revenue.
But that’s not the point. This is a despicable power grab. It has been concocted at the perfect time to exploit the financial weaknesses of English football when they are most ripe for exploitation, and attempts to ring-fence riches and power into the hands of a self-appointed fiefdom.
Project Big Picture was bad enough, a shift of the landscape even further towards the many than the few. This is ten times worse and ten times more brazen.
And it also misses exactly what makes football so brilliant: Relegation and promotion, jeopardy, trepidation, heartache, competition, hope, glory. Destroy that and you destroy enough elements of football’s magic that you plasticise the sport entirely.
It sticks in the throat most not because of the wanton display of avarice — let’s face it, that’s never really been secret — but because clubs want it both ways.
Over the last 12 months, they have spoken at length about missing supporters in their stadia because it takes away a huge part of what the club means. They consistently talk about why the history of the club and its connection with the supporters and the city creates a special bond that nothing else can fill. And they coincidentally do it as part of marketing strategies intended to sell you stuff.
But now you know. Now you should be left in no doubt. If you support one of the clubs that has expressed its intention to participate in a Super League, they do not care about you unless they are trying to smother you with emotional blackmail as part of a means to increase your brand loyalty and monetary potential.
They did not consult you. They did not wonder whether you could afford more away trips in Europe. They can replace you.
An extraordinary half season is being sculpted by Thomas Tuchel, who arrived in England with a reputation for falling out with his bosses and doubts around his long-term suitability for the Chelsea job. It now feels like those scare stories did a huge disservice to Tuchel’s tactical aptitude.
It might be tempting for some (with an axe to grind) to sell this as partly down to the foundations Frank Lampard laid. Mason Mount’s form and the emergence of Reece James gives some credence to that claim. But so much has changed in Chelsea, from the defensive solidity that now defines them to the perseverance with Timo Werner — who assisted Hakim Ziyech’s winner at Wembley — that all the plaudits belong to Tuchel.
Chelsea’s season can still go south quickly. It isn’t unthinkable that they could finish outside the top four and end up trophyless. But five months ago they were long shots for the Champions League both in terms of winning the competition and qualifying for it through their league position. Chelsea’s form since then suggests that they have pulled off another masterstroke.
This is why winning multiple trophies is so hard. Pep Guardiola reasoned that he had to make some sacrifices with Manchester City’s league title not yet confirmed. His eight changes ended up costing them their FA Cup participation.
Guardiola was right to expect more from those who let him down at Wembley. Ferran Torres was badly off the pace, Raheem Sterling continues to go through a drought that has seen him left on the bench for City’s recent highest-profile matches, and Gabriel Jesus is still not entirely reliable. That is why City will continue to be linked with Erling Haaland and Romelu Lukaku.
There are signs that City’s schedule is beginning to take its toll, not only because Kevin de Bruyne left the Wembley pitch after feeling pain. Guardiola needs more from his fringe players and must now be reticent to make such wholesale changes again. The starting XIs against Aston Villa and Tottenham will be very interesting indeed.