The Briefing: Chelsea and Liverpool’s Caicedo duel, a missing rule and Postecoglou’s example


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Welcome to The Briefing, where every Monday during this season The Athletic will discuss three of the biggest questions to arise from the weekend’s football.

This was the weekend when Newcastle United got off to the most storming start possible, Arsenal eased their way into the new campaign, the three promoted clubs were given a harsh reminder of how tough the 2023-24 Premier League is going to be and there was lots, and lots, and lots of stoppage time.

Here, we will ask what Moises Caicedo might have thought while watching the two clubs fighting for his signature duke it out, why one important thing was missed out amid the sea of rule changes, and whether more managers will now take players’ head injuries more seriously after Ange Postecoglou set a good example…

How did Liverpool and Chelsea get in such an ugly mess over Caicedo?

There can’t be many occasions when a professional footballer feels like a winsome young debutante in a period drama, watching two suitors duel for their honour/hand in marriage.

Moises Caicedo might have felt like that watching Chelsea vs Liverpool on Sunday, but rather than two clubs trying to show which is the superior prospect for a transfer with their positive qualities, the game seemed to be more of a contest between two parties attempting to lay bare their inadequacies, as if to display which one needs the object of their affections more.

Things levelled out a little in the second half, but the opening 45 minutes looked like two sides seeing who could leave the bigger holes in their midfield, the needle of a large “Who Needs Moises More-O-Meter” quivering above Stamford Bridge.

In the hours after the game, Chelsea reached an agreement with Brighton for a deal worth £115million ($146m). Caicedo is expected to undergo a medical today (Monday) and then sign to complete his move from fellow Premier League team Brighton & Hove Albion to Stamford Bridge.

At this point, it’s worth pausing for a moment to marvel at how two wealthy, supposedly smart football clubs had got themselves into a situation where they not only wanted a 21-year-old with 45 Premier League appearances to his name but really, really needed him.

And Chelsea can’t sign Caicedo and gradually bed him in for a year or so: he will have to play now.

Furthermore, Liverpool have made it extremely clear that Romeo Lavia, who at one time looked like their first choice, is now emphatically their second prize; the one they’ll have to settle for. For much of the summer they have seemed to up their offers to Southampton in increments of 50p (63 cents), before this week steaming straight in with a bid of £111million for Caicedo.

If they do end up going back for the young Belgian, it’s likely his enthusiasm levels for the move will have dropped a little.

Caicedo did not play this weekend after Liverpool’s bid was accepted but now Chelsea’s has been too (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

More than this though, there’s something quite ugly about the whole situation.

To reiterate, Caicedo is a kid whose budding career has been disrupted by a series of big clubs who can’t quite get themselves together. It’s not just Chelsea and Liverpool. Caicedo missed playing time in January when Arsenal suddenly realised getting Declan Rice out of West Ham in that transfer window wasn’t going to happen, and has done the same at the start of this season while the latest round of wrangling continued. Brighton can’t be entirely excused, either: was it really necessary for head coach Roberto De Zerbi to say he has “already forgotten” someone who is still their player?

Admittedly, there is an element of the world’s tiniest violin being played for a player who was courted by two of the biggest clubs in the world, and will now be paid a lot of money by one of them. And maybe sympathy will be limited for someone trying so hard to bust out of the club who gave him a chance in the Premier League so soon.

It might all work out in the end, but not many come out of this situation looking particularly good.

Shouldn’t Martinez have been more harshly punished than an encroaching coach?

The authorities have made a big thing about the rule changes introduced this season.

The vast amounts of additional stoppage time has been the most prominent so far, with fans at Brentford vs Tottenham on Sunday enjoying a combined additional 19 minutes of football after each half had hit the 45-minute mark. Which, as an aside, does make you think that it’s only a matter of time before some enterprising Premier League CEO uses the additional time as a justification for ticket prices — “Twenty-one per cent extra for your money! Step right up!”

The theory is that this will provide more time in every game for dramatic football, but in practice, it might just make games more interminable. Across the nine Premier League games played over the past three days, there were 117 added minutes in total, an average of 13 minutes per game. Which, put another way, over a 38-game season means each team will effectively be playing an extra five-and-a-half matches. Maybe Raphael Varane has a point.

That could go either way in terms of improving the game, but the other new rules seem like nit-picking.

Does anyone really care about players gesturing for their opponents to be booked? What’s the point in decreeing that only one member of a backroom staff can be at the front of their club’s technical area, when you know that sort of thing will be basically impossible to really police, as the Arsenal and Newcastle coaches (among others) proved this weekend?

A clampdown on dissent probably is a good thing, and an amusing by-product of this was the slightly passive-aggressive responses to adverse decisions sprinkled over the Premier League weekend. The sarcastic thumbs-up that Yves Bissouma gave to Robert Jones during Brentford-Spurs was a particular favourite.

Is all of this really going to make the game better, though?

It feels quite piffling when there was a good example over the weekend where a rule change would do that — namely, punishing challenges like Emiliano Martinez’s minor assault on Miguel Almiron properly.

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The aftermath of Martinez’s challenge on Almiron (George Wood/Getty Images)

Aston Villa goalkeeper Martinez got away with a yellow card because his clothesline on Almiron was while the Newcastle man was running away from goal, and thus not in an obvious goalscoring opportunity.

But shouldn’t a challenge that is even illegal in rugby be punished more harshly? Shouldn’t a red card for fouls like that, which didn’t hurt Almiron on this occasion but could have done, and certainly had nothing to do with football, be a more useful rule change than asking coaches to be more polite on the touchline?

You could even extend this to the phenomenon of “tactical fouling”, so beloved by some teams. It might feel a bit harsh to make the punishment for a cynical trip the same as for a punch in the face, but both make our game much worse.

The other changes feel like fiddling around, pedantically.

A red card for offences like Martinez’s would improve the spectacle of football much more.

Will Postecoglou’s stance on head injuries inspire more managers to do the right thing, more quickly?

Maybe people would take it more seriously if we used a scarier word than “concussion”. Say the word to yourself: feels quite nice, cushiony, soft, gentle. If we called it what it actually is, which according to the UK’s National Health Service is “minor traumatic brain injury”, maybe more people would act like Ange Postecoglou did this weekend.

Cristian Romero was clearly in some trouble shortly after he glanced a header home to give Tottenham an early lead against Brentford, having clashed heads with Bryan Mbeumo. And while he tried to stay on the pitch, as most players do in that situation, his new boss Postecoglou was adamant that he came off just 14 minutes into the match.

“The medical team were monitoring him as he progressed from there and then he scored with his head,” Postecoglou said. “They were pretty sure we needed, for his own benefit, to get him off and obviously what we know about head injuries, for me it is not even an issue. We will always err on the side of caution.

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Romero, second left, was substituted soon after scoring (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

“People like me should shut up and listen to the doctors, so that is what I’ll do. We’ve gone beyond the stage of managers or players trying to get funny about these things.”

This was a vitally important game for Postecoglou. His first as Spurs manager, the club’s first without Harry Kane: all involved would have been desperate for a good performance and a good result. But Postecoglou materially made his team worse, withdrawing their best central defender, who he had named as one of his vice-captains and who had just scored a goal, before the first half was even half over, because he knew it was the right thing to do.

These are Postecoglou’s honeymoon days, when people are enthused by his football and warming to his gruff amiability, certainly in comparison to Tottenham’s last few managers.

That may fade if they lose a few games, and if his straight-talking becomes perceived as rudeness. But for now, the hope is that more managers will follow his lead and take concu… sorry, minor traumatic brain injury, more seriously.

Your Monday reading list
– Introducing Manchester City’s new centre-back – goalkeeper Ederson
– Harry Kane’s first 24 hours in Munich
– Kylian Mbappe stays at PSG… for now: Meetings, bonus idea and what comes next
– Tag teams and Trojan horses: Howe and Tindall tackle touchline rule designed to split them up
– Moises Caicedo: The £4m bargain Brighton turned into a £115m midfielder

(Top photos: Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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