After a tedious interlude for the FA Cup and the monstrous excess of the January transfer window, this weekend, the Premier League was back once again with the ill behaviour.
Let’s take a look at the best of it right now.
The Art of the Three-Yard Miss
There is something absolutely glorious about watching a Premier League footballer miss a scoring chance from a very close distance. The beautiful final ball, the half-formed celebration, the preening hubris of the would-be goalscorer; the elegantly outstretched foot suddenly transformed into a clumsy great hock of ham. The hands on heads, the scream of anguish from the manager, the elated cry of "WHEEEEEEY", which seems to come from all directions as dads and their kids make wanker signs in unison. Close-range misses are football’s great leveller, a reminder that even the most talented player is capable of side-footing wide a shot that a Sunday League veteran could have poked home after a big night on the cans.
On Saturday, at Turf Moor, it was Raheem Sterling’s turn to be brought low by a three-yard howler. Towards the end of Manchester City’s 1-1 draw with Burnley, teed up wonderfully by Kyle Walker, Sterling stuttered like a human FIFA glitch and turned the ball round the post mere inches from the line. For all his team’s wealth and critical acclaim, for all his magnificent efforts this season, Sterling is now saddled with having missed a sitter which could feasibly have been scored by a well-placed training cone. Even better, he did so in front of Pep Guardiola – football’s answer to the final stage of the expanding brain meme – who subbed him off three minutes later in cerebral disgust.
Atom, Humber, Ominous Thunder
If you’re searching for evidence that humanity’s struggle against extinction is utterly hopeless, look no further than the football fans who make Atom and Humber banners. In case you were unaware, Atom and Humber are the names of Alexis Sanchez’s dogs. Previously a form of madness which only afflicted Arsenal supporters, the compulsion to display giant images of Atom and Humber has now reached Manchester United. One was spotted ahead of United’s 2-0 win over Huddersfield, though it was mercifully removed by the stewards at Old Trafford before long.
This phenomenon is not so much a damning insight into modern football as it is proof of our dwindling viability as a species. As our ailing democracies disintegrate around us, as nuclear annihilation grows ever nearer, we are too busy worshipping a couple of cute dogs to take notice of anything. Jacob Rees-Mogg could be named lifetime prime minister of Britain and we’d be too busy aww-ing at Alexis Sanchez’s golden retrievers to notice. Open your eyes, sheeple: Atom and Humber are not very good boys so much as they are the heralds of our doom and destruction.
Petr Cech’s Nightmare
Petr Cech has a recurring night terror which goes a little something like this: he awakes between the sticks at the Emirates, needing one more clean sheet to reach the 200 milestone, but because he plays for Arsenal this achievement seems further away with each passing game. Cech has been on 199 clean sheets since mid-December, since which he has played eight whole matches and over 720 minutes of football. Trying to keep a clean sheet has become a Sisyphean torture for Cech – when Arsenal aren’t losing 2-1 to Bournemouth or 3-1 to Swansea, they wait well into the second half of a routine win against Everton to pointlessly concede to Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Cech isn’t blameless in this, of course. Recent performances have been, if not quite at the level of manic former Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, at least on a par with Wojciech Szczesny back when he used to smoke cigarettes in the shower. That said, attempting to reach a clean sheet record with Arsenal is a fate no man deserves to suffer. Repetitive, demoralising and ultimately futile, at least Cech knows what it’s like being a fan who still expects Arsenal to win the league sometime soon.
Pitch Invaders: A Guide for Broadcasters
They may be some of the stupidest people on the planet, but there are few things funnier than harmless lone pitch invaders. They are merry-making clowns, idiot savants, medieval court jesters for the modern age. Truly, there is no greater sacrifice than getting a long-term banning order from a football ground for the sake of a chance to shout "WOI OI" in the face of an embarrassed teenage left-back. Case in point: the man who charged onto the Selhurst Park pitch on Sunday in the middle of Crystal Palace’s 1-1 draw with Newcastle, only to pour a bottle of beer over his face, expose his pasty belly and get brutally clotheslined by an overzealous steward.
To make it even funnier, Sky covered the pitch invasion with po-faced seriousness, refusing to broadcast images of the man in question to avoid giving him "the oxygen of publicity". This wasn’t something the viewing public wanted to see – except, of course, it absolutely was. Most of us would happily pay the Selhurst Park entrance fee to see a man cover himself in lager, flip everyone the bird and then get taken out by a tackle which wouldn’t have been out of place at the Super Bowl. In fact, most of us would much prefer it to actually watching Crystal Palace. That’s why the Swedish TV channel which ran analytical replays of the tackle as if it was an in-game highlight wins this week’s best broadcaster award.