EURO, A WORD THAT SOUNDS LIKE A YAWN
It was another great evening in Europe for English clubs who aren’t Liverpool. Arsenal took a stand by taking the knee, then saw off dubious shower Slavia Prague with amusing ease. Manchester United breezed past Granada, finally achieving closure for the 1987 FA Cup defeat at home to Coventry City, who that day sported shirts bearing the name of the bingo wing of the popular leisure conglomerate, and went on to win the final wearing the same. Sir Alex Ferguson was always a Top Rank man after that, Gala at a push if there was no other show in town when his dauber really started twitching. Some losses stay with you.
The results raise the possibility of another year in which both major European finals are contested by clubs from Blighty. It’s a situation that pleases nobody, boring and/or irritating everyone else on the continent and forcing English fans into a Hobson’s choice, as opposed to getting four-square behind whoever the Premier League representative is facing. So exactly why the bigwigs are continuing with their plans for an expanded “Swiss-style” Big Cup format (talks start again today!) isn’t exactly clear. Yes, yes, money – but the competition has been grindingly repetitive for some time now, with the golden goose showing signs of severe constipation. Cramming packets of Imodium down its neck isn’t going to help.
Even so, there are still benefits to doing well in Europe. A good run allows players to settle scores while the going is good, and United midfielder Paul Pogba has taken the opportunity while riding this high to fire a shot across José Mourinho’s bow, accusing his former manager of “going against players” and making them feel like “they don’t exist any more”. While this isn’t exactly breaking news, it’s worth noting because you can get long odds on Mourinho letting this lie, and we’ll need a reference point when he decides to escalate this already volatile situation.
Who knows, he might even decide to do that tonight, should the red mist descend after Spurs come off second-best in this evening’s big seventh-place play-off with Everton. Tune in, kids, another seven-minute soliloquy could be coming right up.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do too much of a team talk. My lip goes … as soon as I see Carl Dickinson [the vice-captain] I start to cry. Lee is very much here with us. His locker is still his locker, his armband will be his armband. We’ll carry him with us” – Yeovil Town manager Darren Sarll on how the club are coping in the aftermath of the tragic death of club captain Lee Collins.
“Spurs may have signed a sponsorship deal with a big paint company (yesterday’s Fiver) but perhaps they missed an opportunity. If the Lilywhites had instead chosen to associate themselves with the whitest-ever paint, they could have actually become cool again” – Peter Oh.
“A Spurs deal with Crown Paints (yesterday’s Fiver) would have been getting ahead of themselves? “One with Johnstone’s Paint would at least have had the ring of a trophy about it” – Richard Lowe.
“Former World Cup whistler Howard Webb recently got married to another referee, Bibiana Steinhaus. I will let your other readers insert their own VAR jokes as appropriate, while wishing the happy couple all the very best. I just wonder which one of them booked the church” – Alastair McGillivray.
“As a resident of Norn Iron and a follower of local football, I was delighted to witness two examples of our quality matches featured on your email recently. I noticed the lack of a crowd and was about to tut about Covid’s terrible impact, until I realised the video could have been from any league match in the last 30 years” – Shane Lockhead.
“A Big Vase Ajax v Dinamo Zagreb final (Fiver on, er, 8 April)? You’ve made a right Arsenal of that prediction” – Andrew Taylor.
Send your letters to email@example.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Peter Oh.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Roma defender Chris Smalling and his family have been targeted by armed robbers at his home, according to reports in Italy.
Sheffield Wednesday manager Darren Moore will take a further period of leave after developing complications from Covid-19, including pneumonia and blood clots on his lungs. Get well soon, Darren.
England Under-21s manager Aidy Boothroyd will saunter through the door marked Do One at St George’s Park when his contract with the FA expires this summer, after failing to guide the side beyond the group stage of this year’s Euros.
Paul Cook is settling in as Ipswich manager, so how does he rate his new team? “We don’t put crosses into the box, we don’t create chances, we don’t defend well,” Cook fumed. “We don’t retain possession of the ball, we’re not very fit and we’re not very athletic.” Apart from that, though …
Ralph Hasenhüttl is backing his Southampton team to do a Crystal Palace and kick Leicester – (one of) the team(s) that beat them 9-0 recently – out of the FA Cup semi-finals. “When we are hungry and when we know what we have to hunt for, then we are strong,” roared the Austrian.
Is there something in the Wembley water? Here’s Tommy T, coming out swinging at Manchester City: “From next year on, from day one of next season we will hunt them, we will try to close the gap between us,” he bellowed, arms outstretched.
Carlo Ancelotti has hinted signing a forward and a midfielder will not be near the top of his agenda in the summer. The Italian believes Jean-Philippe Gbamin will come good after battling a series of injuries and is still keeping a theatrically-browed eye on Moise Kean, on loan at Big Cup-chasing PSG.
And Burnley keeper Nick Pope can warm up for a busy Sunday at Old Trafford in style, after winning a set of goalposts from his old club, York City. Pope won the nets, which stood at York’s former ground, Bootham Crescent, in a charity auction.
STILL WANT MORE?
Norwich up? Sheffield United down? Get your rubber stamps ready for the weekend, because here are 10 things to look out for.
Arsenal Women defender Lotte Wubben-Moy gets her chat on with Suzanne Wrack: about her time at University of North Carolina and life in the “competitive cauldron”.
USA! USA!! USA!!! The new MLS season kicks off this weekend: Our panel of writers deliver their predictions for the MVP, the champions and a new team in Texas.
Match previews! Get yer match previews! And catch up on all the day’s developments with our Friday football live blog.
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