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Rog's Courage Bulletin - The Handshake Heard Round the World

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The Handshake Heard Round the World

Tuesday morning. Week 2 is in the books. Both Liverpool and Manchester United owe a debt of thanks to Tuchel and Conte’s Handshake Warz for overshadowing the damp performances of their teams. Both have as many wins as Everton Football Club. Which is never, ever a good thing. Let’s break it all down together. And thank you Conte and TT for giving us something slapstick, and old school, and petty, and truly human to revel in. At MiB, we are not experts in many things. But Managerial Handshake Spats are right in our wheelhouse, and we delighted in breaking each of the three Rounds down in yesterday’s podcast. Roll on February 25th, when Chelsea travel to Tottenham for the re-match. We Live For This.

One quick note. Godspeed to Salman Rushdie in the wake of the senseless attack which is a human darkness. As I said in the pod yesterday, Salman may be a high-culture novelist, but he has always been a massive football fan. He wrote a stunning (subscription-only) piece in the New Yorker back in 1999 about his love of Spurs. These lines are a human truth: “This is what it means to be a fan: to wait enduring decades of disillusion and yet to have no choice in the matter of allegiance. Each weekend I turn to the sports pages and my eye automatically seeks out the Spurs result. If the team has won the weekend feels richer. If the team has lost a black cloud settles. It’s pathetic. It’s an addiction. It’s monogamous till-death-us-do-part love.”

1. Liverpool Stumble: A bug or a feature?

2 games in. Manchester City have a 4 point lead on Liverpool. Is this Klopp Rope-A-Dope? At home to an incredibly organized Palace, this was a draw that felt like a defeat, with Darwin Nunez becoming the first Liverpool player to be sent off on his home debut since Joe Cole in 2010, after he put his head in the proximity of Joachim Andersen’s face in the semi-controlled way that only footballers do. Expect Premier League defenders to wind Nunez up for the rest of the season.

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Crystal Palace had the audacity to take the leads off this exquisite moment of Zaha-finished counter-attacking wonder. Nunez then lost his mind. Within 4 minutes, Díaz ran over 4 defenders, before smashing a howitzer into the net. A moment that made it seem he has Bobby Firmino DNA.

I fully expected Liverpool to come on and pull out Victory - a movie I have seen so many times - but the excellent Palace, who gave a substitute debut to Birmingham, Alabama's Chris Richards, held on. While young Harvey Elliott impressed, it is hard to tell whom Liverpool missed more. Thiago? Mané? Or Divock Origi’s last minute heroics? The stakes could now not be higher for the clash at Old Trafford next Monday night.

2. Manchester United: Is this the Nadir or are we in a Season of Freefall? 

I have rarely witnessed a more insipid performance by a reputedly “Big 6 Team” than United leaking four times inside 37 minutes against Brentford. Chelsea occasionally flatlined at the end of Mourinho’s reign. But that is the key – this is the beginning of the Ten Hag tenure. This is his “new manager bump.” We are witnessing a human being shellshocked and flailing. The move from Ajax to Old Trafford akin to a regional bank manager in over his head after being plucked to be the CEO of the whole enchilada. Did he ever have a chance? A rotten squad poisoned by a seething superstar. In-fighting amongst the front office. Owners who value commercial decisions over footballing ones. A fan base on the cusp of rebellion. Having said that… they will be a point above Liverpool if they win next Monday. So there’s always that. Big Love to Brentford. What Thomas Frank has done with this squad – the idea of football he has inculcated so deeply into the collective – is truly admirable.

More: A United Clear-Out is Needed.

Even more: United fans plan large protest ahead of Liverpool clash. "A fish rots from the head."

3. Chelsea Tottenham: Let's Get Ready to Rumble? 

How good did that feel to watch? The guiltiest of pleasures. Two managers under intense pressure of expectation letting it all out right in each others’ faces with the world watching. From a footballing perspective, Chelsea were phenomenal, even though they will be devastated by the result, and the sense of injustice surrounding both Spurs goals. Tottenham will be elated for a different reason: They were rendered impotent for long stretches by the way Chelsea smothered their midfield, and hemmed them back by pushing Cucurella and Reece James up high. To escape with a point earned in the 96th minute is a narrative Conte will revel in and build off. The headline is that both teams are serious contenders for Top 4 and we are blessed with a race for the ages.

 In terms of the handshake-madness. We delved in deep on the pod. The Daily Mail revealed today it was Conte’s foul mouth which triggered it. There was something magical about it all. The fact that it was impossible to tell who was really to blame in this one, nor to truly understand any of it. Above all, the release it gave us to witness. Two obsessive characters who live perpetually on the border between obsession and madness, letting it all out in the burning heat. A moment of pure emotion that was all the more powerful for its lack of rationality, its childishness, and true slapstick execution. We needed that.

4. City Ominous

Haaland may have only had 8 touches, but the first goal – in which he received the ball on the edge of the area, drew the attention of the entire city of Bournemouth and was able to slip in Gundogan unguarded - was further proof of his power. In truth, it was hard to read too much into this performance. The game was such a mismatch. Bournemouth fans were probably relieved it was just a 4-0 loss as opposed to a true defenestration. City have the Gulf Derby against Newcastle, then a relatively kind run of games (Palace, Forest, Villa). Let’s keep kidding ourselves - titles are not won in September.

5. Arsenal Good Vibes roll on

The polar opposite of last season, when the first three games were bare bottom spankings which left Arteta on the ropes. It’s Brodge’s turn in the ducking stool this season as his Leicester look old and leggy and undermined by injury. This first goal by Gabriel Jesus is born of confidence and swagger. First time audacity. Has any Arsenal player had that kind of finishing ability since Alexis Sanchez at his peak? 

It would not be Arsenal without a few moments of anxiety. Huge respect to Xhaka who, playing a role that is not always natural, led, and fought, and scored, and hearted the fans. Respect to both player and coach for perseverance and man management.

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6. Forest. 23 years on Premier League Glory returns.

I loved this game. Yes, the performance was luck-blessed. But to watch Forest fans sing before the game (watch this now, and turn up the volume on your speakers) was to witness all that is good about football. Three generations of fans – only one of which remembers the Glory Years – consciously reveling in a moment they have dreamed of, and yearned for, for decades.

7. Leeds. Can't Win Them All  🇺🇸

We all tuned in breathless after last week’s Brenden Aaronson inspired heroics. This week’s installment was a draw that felt like a loss. America’s team charging to a two-goal feelgood lead, then bleeding out in the heat and the sun, and ultimately hanging on. Jesse Marsch will learn from this moment and trust his substitutes bench more than he did on Saturday. He will face Chelsea next weekend in what will prove to be a true test of Leeds’ weight class, as well as his ability to go nose to nose with Thomas Tuchel in the Managerial Fight Club Ladder.

PS. Our Tyler Adams Podcast drops today. It will bring you joy. 

More: Meg Swanick. A lovely post from an American in Leeds.

8. Everton: A Season of Agony in 38 Parts

How often do you see two MLS legends coach against each other in a Premier League rumble?

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 This game showed that Villa without Buendia are poor, but Everton without a true striker are terrible. How bad is it? I am thinking ahead to next weekend’s clash with Nottingham Forest, fully aware of our almost perfect record of handing newly promoted teams 3 points over the past two seasons, and quaking. Everton’s salvation will be slow this season. New ownership rumblings must come to fruition before there is real change, and we cannot field the potent Lucas Digne every week.

9. I loved all of these

Emma Hayes reflects on her 10 Years at Chelsea building a super team from scratch

PSG torn between Neymar and Mbappe. 2 Warring Kings

Jozy Altidore first goal in Liga MX and is reminiscent of so many of his old ones

Timo Werner scores on Bundesliga second coming

Romelu Lukaku drops to his knees in front of traveling Inter fans after Inter score winner in last seconds

That is it for today. Keep sending me your Indie Bookstore recommendations via meninblazers@gmail.com so we can shout them out during the pre-order period for Men in Blazers Present Gods of Soccer: The Pantheon of the 100 Greatest Soccer Players (According to Us)." Your response has been absolutely in-cred-i-ble. We cannot tell you how grateful we are. We know how counter-intuitive it is to order a book weeks before you can get it – but it means the world to us. And we want to use this launch to shed light on this nation's great Indie Bookstores, the cornerstones of communities across America. Send us the name of your favorite Indie Bookstore via email - they have been flooding in - and we will spotlight one a week going forward. Pre-orders make or break a book, so please grab your Signed copy of "Gods of Soccer,” support our two incredible Indie partners, Elliott Bay in the Magical Kingdom of Seattle and New York City’s The Strand, and receive a limited edition Print with the copy. We will host a special night of celebration to which all those who have pre-ordered the book will be invited.

Big Love

Courage

ROG