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HAIL! GFOP

I type with fingers fully aware of the thin line between love and hate, light and darkness, the sweet caress of victory and the crushing vice of defeat. It is Merseyside Derby Weekend [Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET NBCSN]. A game that always means too much has higher stakes than ever. Everton swagger in on the back of their best start to the season since the 19th Century. Defending Champion Liverpool will have murder on their mind after the Shame! Shame! Shame! of their 7-2 Aston Villa debacle. No hyperbole to say: The future of global democracy may weigh on the outcome of this game.  

Against that backdrop, it was an honor and a joy to spend Tuesday morning filming a television special with Carlo Ancelotti. Carlo Fantastico. Carlo Magnifico. An icon whose arrival at Goodison Park felt like a deity descending from the cold, wet Merseyside Heavens. Above everything, he is a man who emits a deep love and passion for the game of football. We talked about his leadership techniques and transformation strategies. His core message was that he does not treat his players as footballers. “That is just what they do,” he said. However they are “human beings and must always be treated as such.” After the fast start we long-suffering Everton fans have savored, Carlo was eager to manage expectations. There will be challenges this season. “I tell my players Winter is Coming,” he said with a smile. “Yes,” I replied. “Winter is Coming, but we have Carlo and he’s bringing the Dragons!”

I want to be clear. For me, the Merseyside Derby has so often delivered only misery and last-minute pain. Of course I would love redemption and revenge. Yet, I would bite your arm off for a draw right now. I will watch the game with my entire family. My youngest two have never watched Everton win a Derby in their lifetimes. I will put on a brave face and project an absolute I do not feel and attempt to channel the “tragic optimism” espoused by logotherapist Viktor Frankl, who calls for optimism in the face of “pain, guilt, and death,” or “saying yes to life in spite of everything.” I long to be the, “kind of optimist who believes that man can make suffering meaningful, use guilt as motivation to improve oneself, and interpret the ‘transitoriness’ of life as a reason to find responsibility and meaning.”


2. Men In Blazers. Massive. Massive. Massive Monday

i. We Sorry. Men In Blazers returns to NBCSN on Monday 5:30 p.m. ET. And we do so by breaking down Everton’s last minute Derby agony as well as welcoming One Direction legend Niall Horan to the show. Niall is football mad (Derby County). To talk to him about the suffering of Derby County’s record-breaking 11-point Premier League campaign, Wayne Rooney’s resurgence, and the peculiar joy of football fandom was one of the joys of the year. It is an amazing interview, even though Rog is involved in it. Niall even gives us a quite fantastic Jose Mourinho impression.  

ii. Our Weekend Premier League Spoiler Alert Preview can be found here. A new feature powered by our partnership with those bookmaking monarchs at DraftKings. We are so grateful to them for our partnership, which has allowed us to grow our coverage. They are the Best King since Ledley. Access its Sportsbook here. For a limited time, all new users can get a sign-up bonus up to $1000. Just enter code MIB when you sign up.

iii. When Carlo met Rog. Here’s a Taste. #UTFT

iv. Today is WGFOP: The Bald Pod day, in which we preview the weekend’s big story lines with the aid of your questions. Call them in!!! (646) 450-9472.


3. To the Football

The stats for Derby Day make for brutal reading. Everton are winless in 19 Premier League meetings with Liverpool (since a 2-0 victory in October 2010). Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 22 meetings with Everton in all competitions – against no side have they ever had a longer run without defeat in their history. Carlo Ancelotti has exorcised so many of Everton’s demons. The inferiority they feel before they step onto the field against Liverpool is perhaps the one buried deepest in their psyche. However, even Jurgen Klopp is bigging up Everton, whom he hails as “The Next Proper Challenger under Carlo Ancelotti.”

However, the Merseyside Derby has historically been played in its own ecosystem that often decries form. Mark Ogden has written a fantastic must-read about the cultural significance of the game in the city since the 1980s and the role football has played in a region that has suffered economically, and in which the two teams, alongside music, meant everything.  

How do I think the game will go? Liverpool will play their High Line. I asked Carlo how many times he has watched the Villa game and he just laughed. If Everton can maintain their composure and unpick it with the passing of James, the speed of Richarlison and the clinicality from inside four-feet or less of DCL, there’s a chance… 

Here’s a fine profile on the resurrection of James by Miguel Delaney.

ii. Bald mentor meets helmet-haired mentee when Manchester City face Arsenal [Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC]. KDB is now out with an ankle knock, although Aguero is back in contention. With City’s backline bleeding confidence, Mikel Arteta will rarely have a better opportunity to deliver a signature victory. For Arsenal fans, the Thomas Partey-era is about to begin. The midfield pivot creator-destroyer, aged 27, has been coaxed into an Arsenal shirt to win NOW. More on the immense Ghanaian here.

A bonus beautiful read for Arsenal fans, long-time Gunner Scout Francis Cagigao reminisces about Wenger, Messi, Fàbregas and why a title challenge may be on.

iii. In other notes: Newcastle United host Manchester United [Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on P’cock] with United captain Harry Maguire under the microscope after his latest humiliation, a red card on England duty. Whether he will play or not is the story the media are obsessed with going into this one. I feel for Maguire. His decline is born of true human suffering and I hope he is able to summon the strength to rise again. The real story is after their 6-1 loss to Spurs, United are in 16th place and have taken just three points from three matches. Must-win for Ole Part 27.

b. Chelsea face Southampton [Saturday at 10 a.m. ET NBCSN] without new (already injured) goalkeeper Mendy, but with Ben Chilwell, Christian Pulisic & Hakim Ziyech (not ready to start) in the squad. That backline against Danny Ings tho...

c. Gareth Bale is poised for his eagerly anticipated Tottenham Hotspur return, in what would be his first Premier League appearance in 2,710 days, against West Ham United [Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET NBCSN]. Throw the iconic winger alongside that Jimmy Butler-Tyler Herro-esque duo of Harry Kane and Sonny, and Spurs fans can dream… 


4. Football Business. Must-Reads about how the Sausage is Made 

i. After an international break purpose-built to spread COVID, FIFPRO announced, “Some international friendly fixtures 'irresponsible.'” Just some?  

ii. After the Project Big Picture Opening Gambit collapsed, an attempt to call for independent oversight of English Football. The Game cannot regulate itself.

iii. Premier League will continue even if England returns to lockdown. I pray this is true. I need football more than ever right now.  

iv. How can Premier League fans not be allowed back in stadia when there are packed audiences at the London Palladium? Decision to shut down plans to allow supporters back into games has been labelled “a legacy of prejudice against football crowds.” “It’s optics, not facts.”

v. There are so many reasons to revere Dortmund. Haaland! Gio! The Yellow Wall! This, though, is next level. The club have confirmed they have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemtism in a move the club said would send “a strong signal against hatred.” I raise my glass to all at the club for using their platform as a force of good. 


5. A brand I adore: STARTER JACKETS

One of the ways I have killed time in lockdown is by buying up old Starter Jackets on eBay. They remind me of the time when I first traveled across America. I spent a summer on a camp in Maine and first encountered the brand via the Boston Celtics jackets two out of three human beings I encountered wore. I have never coveted an item more, and snapped one up at the Maine Mall at the earliest opportunity. I have rarely owned an item that had more personality and swagger. No matter what grim challenge I was about to face, nor how lousy I felt inside, just pulling it on filled me with joy. The brand is back and thriving. I now own many. Peruse this website and tell me it does not make you feel better about life. The style and aesthetic reminds me of so much of the wonder that drew me to America in the first place. I am interviewing Big Boi today and am so excited to unleash an ATL Braves jacket. I honestly do not understand why they are not everywhere.  


6. Not Football and all the better for it

i. The day we've been waiting for has finally arrived. Matthew McConaughey wrote a book on Matthew McConaughey. Have heard that there is not a chapter on his MIB appearance. Can only assume that is because there is a second volume forthcoming?

ii. Don't be a Tom Hanks in “You've Got Mail.” Your Local Bookstore is struggling. It needs help. 

iii. The inimitable Wesley Morris going longform in this week's NYT Magazine on Pandemic Mustaches, Self-identity, Blackness, and Carlton Banks. A must read.

iv. At least someone's taking the global political situation seriously: A New Space Pact Seeks to Ensure Peace and Prosperity—on the Moon.

v. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is officially older than your high school-age children, who, if asked, would no doubt assume that Larry David was merely the president of your local synagogue. Here's What It's Like to Appear on 'Curb.'

vi. David Byrne's lockdown despair: 'I'd wake up and ask – What am I doing today and why?' A truthful and gentle look inside the fascinating mind of David Bryne. Watch American Utopia when it comes out. It is a wonder. 

vii. New Yorker on a National Treasure whose appeal is so universal, her concerts look like local demographic breakdowns. It's Dolly's world, we're just living in it: The United States of Dolly Parton.

viii. Why British Police Shows Are Better. When you take away guns and shootings, you have more time to explore grief, guilt, and the psychological complexity of crime.

ix. I am currently devouring Missionaries by Phil Klay and it is one of the best novels of the year. 

x. Here is a song that will lift you with its empathy. Trick To Happy by Bahamas.


That’s it for today. Let’s approach the weekend with the relish and trepidation that it warrants. And remember. The Premier League football we will watch and be thrilled by is being played against the backdrop of an England grappling with a massive COVID wave that is causing many parts of the country to lock down. Including my beautiful Mum and Dad in Liverpool. I genuinely yearn for the distraction and human nourishment that football provides, but will partake of it this weekend with my heart going out to all those in England who are unable to be with those in their wider family they love. May the results of the games lift their spirits. Especially those whose hearts bleed blue.  

“Everton, we never shone so brightly
Everton, the spirit of the Blues.
Everton, we never shone so brightly
Everton, the spirit of the Blues.”
UTFT

Courage, 
Rog: @rogbennett 

On behalf of
MiB: @meninblazers
Davo: @embassydavies
Producer JW: @JonoWilly

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