BIG CUP IS BACK!
The best thing about lockdown was that it gave The Fiver a newfound respect for life. In particular, we started to appreciate the little things that we take for granted. Now, with each easing of the lockdown, we get to experience these joys anew. First it was inane chat at the barbers, then McDonald’s breakfasts, and now Big Cup is back!
Everyone’s favourite elite association football competition will dominate our existence for the next 17 days. There will be 11 matches in that time, culminating in the final in Lisbon on 23 August. First we need to sort out the remaining quarter-final places. There are four second legs in the Round of 16, which will be played on Friday and Saturday, before the last eight head to Portugal for the World Cup of European Football. Saturday’s games are Barcelona v Napoli (1-1 from the first leg) and Bayern Munich v Chelsea, who return to the scene of their greatest night for possibly the most pointless game in their history. They trail 3-0 from the first leg at Stamford Bridge, and slim is self-isolating.
On Friday, Juventus will attempt to overturn a 1-0 deficit at home to Lyon, while Manchester City entertain Real Madrid. City won the first 2-1 in the Bernabéu, on 26 February, back in those innocent days when sales of toilet paper were stable, and are strong favourites to qualify for the quarter-finals. City have been a reliable source of mirth in Europe in the last few years, and a 2-0 defeat would add to an admirably varied portfolio of Big Cup defeats. But the emphatic manner of their comeback at the Bernabéu hinted at a new maturity, and Pep Guardiola was in unusually bullish mood at his digital press conference.
“I have the feeling today we are ready to play tomorrow, have a good performance and win the game,” he said, presenting his waters for scientific analysis. “That’s my feeling: we are ready. We want to win this competition, for sure. To win it, you have to beat teams like Madrid. We have to win tomorrow and the next rounds.” Madrid’s biggest strength is their defence, which isn’t ideal for a team that need to score at least twice. They do have Eden Hazard, who inspired Chelsea to a 3-1 win at the Etihad in Pep’s first season, the sort of result that would do Madrid just nicely, and a never-better Karim Benzema. But Gareth Bale has declined the opportunity to be pictured yawning in the stands.
“It was a personal conversation I had with him,” blathered Zinedine Zidane. “He preferred not to play. The rest remains between me and him but he said he didn’t want to play.” It’s all a bit sad, really, to see a fine club career go to seed. On the plus side, it’ll make for some searing chat next time we visit the barbers.
LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE
Join Rob Smyth at 8pm BST for minute-by-minute coverage of Manchester City 2-2 Real Madrid (4-3 agg), while Tumaini Carayol will be on hand for Juventus 2-0 Lyon (2-1 agg).
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“It is now clear the players visited a bar. In doing so they blatantly broke the rules, which to put it mildly is completely unacceptable. High-profile players in a city bar also bring the risk of attracting crowds. That was not responsible behaviour” – Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon gives Aberdeen players a high-level and unprecedented ticking off after their game with St Johnstone was called off following two players testing positive for Covid-19 after a visit to a trendy city centre nightspot.
The Europa League is go
Sorry your browser does not support audio – but you can download here and listen https://audio.guim.co.uk/2020/08/06-62341-gnl.fw.20200806.ic.europa.mp3
“At the beginning of last season Aston Villa were predicted by every pundit, hack, social media follower and phone-in ‘know it all’ that they were ‘Doing a Fulham’. They failed even though for most of the season they looked like they were trying very hard to do so. With Fulham’s return to the top flight will they now be hoping to ‘do a Villa’ or will they be careful, spend very little and ‘Do a Norwich’ or revert to type and go crazy, crazy, crazy spending on players who don’t even know what a football is by doing back-to-back Fulhams?” –Brendan Dunne.
“There were just two letters published on Thursday including one from Noble Francis, but sadly (for him, and him alone) the noble Mr Francis failed to win the prizeless letter o’ the day award. It was a noble effort nonetheless … so let’s give him the equally prizeless Pontus Jansson award instead. Just like sports day at school, everyone gets a lollipop” – Allastair McGillivray.
Send your letters to [email protected]. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Brendan Dunne, with the Pontus Jansson award for taking part going to Allastair McGillivray.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
It looks like Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard will be somebody else’s Jesse Lingard next season, with the club willing to listen to offers for the footballing fashion brand.
Everton Women have snapped up Valérie Gauvin, a signing described as a “real coup”. Meanwhile, Chelsea will begin their WSL title defence at Manchester United on the weekend of 5-6 September.
Bournemouth suits have shaken their heads at Sheffield United’s opening £12m offer for Aaron Ramsdale, who started his career with the Blades.
There will be a salary cap in League One and Two after clubs voted in favour of it.
And Ex-Watford defender Neil Cox is the new manager of League Two Firewall FC. “Let’s start building this football club back up again,” he roared.
STILL WANT MORE?
Nick Ames writes about Arsenal’s bloated sense of status
Zidane has taken Real Madrid back to basics, explains floating football brain in a jar Jonathan Wilson.
It’s the Fishers! Check out Ben’s Football League gongs.
Pep Guardiola is looking to recreate past glories in Big Cup, pens Jamie Jackson
Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!