Today the Special One embarks on an attempt to become something that he never imagined he would become. Even in his saddest dreams – the ones that don’t feature Marouane Fellaini – the Special One did not envisage himself having to compete for the right to be called a notable knick-knack amid the bric-à-brac of managers to have led an English club to the Big Vase final. Mr Roy has done it. Schteve McClaren has done it. Even Arsène Wenger has done it. So just imagine how mortified José Mourinho will be if he fails to do it? Why, he’d be so ashamed he’d have to discover new planets just to find enough people to blame.
He won’t be able to blame the unavailability of Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones or Paul Pogba, however, because they have all been declared fit enough to start. Not just by the Special One, but by an actual doctor, reportedly.
The team hoping to prevent Manchester United from becoming Big Vase finalists in the grand lineage of Casino Salzburg, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and the Pope’s O’Rangers are none other than Celta Vigo, the pride of Vigo. Their main threat is the ex-Liverpool striker Iago Aspas, who has reportedly come good since escaping the Anfield toilet in which he was stuck for two years. There are nine worse teams than Celta in La Liga so they are not to be taken lightly. “How do you beat Manchester United?” implored their manager, Eduardo Berizzo. Then he had a squint at the hacks in front of him and decided he’d best try to answer the question himself. “By being faithful to who we are. I think this team has an identity and they believe in this identity. A lot of pressing, a lot of possession. Believing in a sustained attack. The only way is to be faithful to our identity.”
Sustained attack? A manager who believes in the club’s identity? This tie seems set to be a meeting of contrasts.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Some people look at my body language and think I don’t care. But that’s me” – Mesut Özil responds to criticism of his perceived lack of effort the only way he knows how, with a nonchalant shrug.
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“I quite like Ed Taylor’s suggestion of ‘I’m with 1,056 others’ T-shirt. It does have that illusion of exclusivity. But is it the kind of exclusivity and coolness that Guardian Soulmates readers would be turned on by? Will the Fiver share in that illusion of being part of said group? Or will the exclusivity part be what will come across, as most pedants really are excluded from most polite company?” – Nigel Assam.
“Can I be one of 1,057 (or is it 1,317 now?) ethically dubious Indian pedants to point out that Aizawl FC’s I-League winning heroics are a truly inspirational story of dedication, grit and defiance against the established order of dominance of clubs from the heartland of India (context – Aizawl are from the North-East of India which is very much separated from the Indian mainstream on racial, social, cultural and economic undertones and they have become the first ever North-Eastern club to win the league). It really is an achievement to rival even that of Leicester’s Premier League triumph last year given their humble beginnings and so their being left out from the upcoming Super League’s instalment is a mammoth travesty of justice! I’m only joking, of course. We only ever watch the bigger Premier League clubs, Real-Barça, Big Cup and lately the Big Vase due to the quite not-so-heroic efforts of Liverpool and Manchester United in recent times” – Yash Anand.
“Mike Wrall’s missive (Wednesday’s letters) reminded me of a failed attempt by Ada Colau, the Mayor of Barcelona, to name a road after Barca’s Brazilian superstar. Alas, the Catalan capital remains a place where The Streets Have No Neymar” – Dave Docherty (with head hung appropriately in shame).
“With Uefa toying with the idea of switching the penalty shootout system from ABAB to ABBA, I can’t help but think that the governing body have forgotten the name of the game. When all is said and done, the winner takes it all, regardless of the order of the kicks having been taken. Time will tell if Uefa chief suit Aleksander Ceferin has money, money, money on his mind, and if he can persuade the fans to ‘take a chance on me’. Knowing Me Johnny Connelly; Knowing You, the Fiver – Aha” – Johnny Connelly.
“I enjoyed Jason Tew’s letter in Wednesday’s Fiver immensely. He’s absolutely right – in the 70s and 80s a team could wiggle its way to the semi-finals of Big Cup with a bit of luck in the draw. Liverpool memorably thumped OPS Oulu 11-2 on aggregate in Big Cup 80-81, and the Finnish champions probably couldn’t believe their good luck when they drew Liverpool again the following year and lost only 0-8 on aggregate. After that double humiliation OPS developed learned helplessness, eventually moved to Ykkönen and haven’t had a sniff of Big Cup since. Anyway, Jason’s claim that the current big Big Cup teams (and Monaco) were largely created by Big Cup doesn’t really hold water. A table of the winners of Big Cup from those 70s and 80s seasons reveals that, yes, Bayern Munich won three and lost two but Liverpool (who?) were the dominant force, winning four and losing one, while mighty Big Vase hopefuls Ajax (not to be confused with a bathroom cleaner) had a three wins no losses record, and the powerhouse that is Nottingham Forest (what’s THAT?) were there or thereabouts with two wins no losses. Yes, yes, perennial plucky Big Cup underdogs Juventus won one and lost two, but a little further down the table come the surely-a-dead-cert-for-Big-Cup-this-year Steaua Bucharest (won one lost one) and, of course, the best team in-or-around Birmingham, well, let’s go with ‘in Aston’ to reduce controversy, the Villa! Soooo, a little too much variance unexplained by your model, Jason – come back with a new one that fits the data better” – Kevin McKee.
“I quite enjoyed my travel circuit from Cyrillic characters (Wednesday’s Fiver) to English via the Google translator. I didn’t know ‘Joint Stock Company’ was a brand name for alcohol but am always willing to learn. I suspect the Fiver found the Cyrillic characters by itself consulting the Google translator. Here we go loop de loop — and I, at any rate, did the ride without alcohol” – James Yeager (and 1,056 others).
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NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
It could be that Ronald Koeman is in it for the long haul at Everton after saying he won’t coach Barça until he’s taken the Toffees into Big Cup.
West Ham may have the rare treat of Andy Carroll up front for their dust-up with Spurs this weekend if the striker survives a thorough prodding of his groin-gah.
Monaco have said thanks, but no thanks to a £72m bid from Manchester United for their teenage goal-magnet Kylian Mbappé. The sort-of-French club are holding out for at least £100m, because well, you know, Ed Woodward.
The number of footballers seeking help for mental health problems is rising, according to the PFA. Michael Bennett, the organisation’s head of welfare, said that their welfare department, set up in 2012, received 160 enquiries from current and former players last year.
A Millwall supporters’ group is planning to stand in upcoming Big Vote. The AMS group intends to field an independent candidate in a Lewisham constituency to highlight the club’s continued concerns over their treatment from the local Labour council.
The whole 39th game thing has reared its head again – but this time it might actually be necessary with Swansea and Hull potentially on course for a one-off relegation battle royale.
Arsène Wenger says he is willing to end his epic beef with José Mourinho one day. “I am open always in life to everything, for peace” Wenger mused.
And Liverpool’s Centenary Stand will be renamed in honour of former player, manager and all-round club legend Kenny Dalglish. “His name is synonymous with our club, with our home and the city of Liverpool” cooed principal owner John W Henry.
STILL WANT MORE?
Has Taxpayer FC’s first season at the London Stadium been the first step into a bold thrusting modern future or an atmosphere-less soul-sapping damp squib? Jacob Steinberg assesses the first campaign after the move from Upton Park.
EFL suits may be all over Huddersfield for their mass team changes in their match at Birmingham but what constitutes a weakened team anyway in the modern game, ponders Paul Wilson.
Dani Alves – not yesterday’s man at all: Sachin Nakrani purrs over the full-back’s formidable display in Juventus’s expertly executed Big Cup win at Monaco.
Some of Francesco Totti’s best moments, as well as a remarkable goalscoring goalkeeper and Chris Wilder’s open-top bus trophy tumble are among the clips presented for your delectation in this week’s Classic YouTube.
José Mourinho will be glad of the fresh defensive options at his disposal for Manchester United’s Big Vase trip to Celta Vigo, who are no mugs going forward, writes Jamie Jackson.
And celebrating 30 years of the play-offs: Richard Foster charts how a controversial quick-fix has become a fixture of our footballing calendar.
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