‘S’ IS FOR STANDARDS
In remarkable scenes witnessed by astonished onlookers earlier today, José Mourinho was overheard blaming other people for stuff. The Portuguese perfectionist’s hackles were raised by the fact that his expensively assembled Manchester United side are being forced to play managerless opponents from the relegation zone at lunchtime on Sunday, little more than two and a half entire days following the completion of their humdrum 1-0 testimonial win over mediocre cannon-fodder in Big Vase. The greying great believes that if United had only been allowed to kick off later that afternoon, they could have enjoyed a nice lie-in and maybe read the papers and eaten crumpets. “We should be the last team to play in the weekend, it’s as simple as that,” he fumed. “At least let us sleep a little bit on Sunday. It’s just a little bit of common sense.”
As the coach of the only team in the Premier League’s top six still involved in European competition, Mourinho also made clear his concerns about fixture congestion and appealed for, well, The Fiver isn’t sure what he was appealing for. “It’s going to get worse and it’s going to get easier for the other five teams. Now it’s very difficult for us,” he sobbed. “I don’t ask for me, I ask for everyone. I think they don’t give an ‘s’ about the English teams in Europe. They don’t care. There are other interests that are more important.”
The latest fixture added to United’s bulging calendar is a double-headed Big Vase quarter-final match-up against Anderlecht. The Belgian side’s president, Roger Vanden Stock, immediately announced that, although it was “the hardest possible draw for us”, he would approach the tie in a mood of extreme optimism on the basis that “we didn’t think we would beat Zenit St Petersburg either”, a thought process which appears both profoundly contradictory with all previously-identified forms of logic and not entirely without merit.
In Big Cup news, Leicester were handed a tricky trip to Atlético Madrid in one of two quarter-finals which aren’t quite as exciting as the other ones. Craig Shakespeare announced the Ian Marshall memory-stirrer would be “a massive challenge” and “a brilliant occasion for our supporters and for everyone at the club”, which while undoubtedly true will not stop everyone else from watching Bayern Munich v Real Madrid, which will be on at the same time. Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund v Monaco will be overshadowed by Juventus v Barcelona, a saliva-provoking rematch of the 2015 final. “I believe this is the right time to be facing them again,” trilled Juve vice-president Pavel Nedved. “Of course we must show Barcelona the right amount of respect, but not too much because then you begin to feel fear and that’s completely the wrong approach.” In some quarters the belief that showing respect is often completely the wrong approach might be considered controversial. Not, The Fiver suspects, in certain corners of Manchester.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I told them I had a problem with their attitude in the training session, and to ask their opinion. Then after I told them the news I said I couldn’t understand why. But of course it’s fantastic for them and for the club” – Claude Puel brings the b@ntz to Southampton training after ‘pranking’ new England call-ups James Ward-Prowse and Nathan Redmond.
“Leicester winning the league at 5,000-1 was certainly remarkable, but if Romelu Lukaku manages to leave Everton, by his Mr 15%’s own estimation, that’ll be a 9,999-1 upset. Might come as some comfort to Douvan backers” – Philip Jones.
“May I add that Gary Johnson’s heart surgery (yesterday’s Bits and Bobs) was carried out by the father of Bristol City left-back Joe Bryan, who is of course managed by Johnson’s son Lee” – Sam Coles.
“The Fiver Narrative Ed (Wednesday’s Bits and Bobs) may also want to snip references to the Wimbledon dog [Snip – Fiver Narrative Ed] when referencing AFC’s plucky journey up the leagues” – Jonathan Symes.
“Morris Dancing Fiver doesn’t look out of place in that England squad (yesterday’s Bits and Bobs). In fact, he’s arguably one of the better options” – Dami.
“I always enjoyed Harry Enfield’s teenage ingrate Kevin, shuffling around in frustrated circles, huffing and puffing, communication reduced to uneven honks of ‘It’s so unfair!’ And I’ve been amused to see the Emirates packed with so many accurate impersonators. Now that Manchester City have gone out in the same Big Cup Round of Arsenal to a principality half the size of Burnley, what happens if they then are beaten by Arsenal in the FA Cup, who then go on to finish in the top four? I wonder if their fans might not benefit from the teeny tiniest of reality checks?” – Marten Allen.
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BITS AND BOBS
Gareth Southgate isn’t messing around now he’s got the England gig, jettisoning Wayne Rooney from his squad and calling Theo Walcott on his birthday to tell him thanks, but no thanks. “[Theo] wasn’t chuffed to bits to get the call,” Southgate chuckled.
In haven’t-heard-much-from-him-lately news, Yaya Touré’s Mr 15% says he’s talking to other clubs about the Manchester City midfielder. And asked if he’d be interested in Manchester United, Dimitri Seluk replied: “Why not? This is not a problem from Yaya or from me.”
Arsenal fans’ in-no-way-embarrassing plans to fly an anti-Arsène Wenger banner over the Hawthorns have apparently been scuppered by the weather.
Sponsors, officials and corporate hospitality have been allocated 24,500 of the 66,000 tickets for this year’s Big Cup final in Cardiff.
Mauricio Pochettino is hopeful Harry Kane can make a quicker than expected return from ankle-gah, with the Spurs striker possibly back in time for the FA Cup semi with Chelsea on 22 April.
Antonio Conte has refused to criticise José Mourinho’s decision to bundle Romelu Lukaku and David Luiz through Chelsea’s Do One gate. “It’s not simple to give always a correct evaluation for players,” he straight-batted.
And the Queen’s Celtic could wrap up the Scottish title on Sunday, with just the nine games left to play. Victory over Dundee will be enough, should Aberdeen lose to Hearts on Saturday. “It’s something I’m obviously aware could happen but it’s not something we’ve spoken about,” whooped assistant Chris Davies, folding out a deckchair.
STILL WANT MORE?
Get your Big Cup quarter-final, tie-by-tie breakdown from Michael Cox while it’s relatively toasty.
Dominic Fifield on Mamadou Sakho, a year on from that drug test.
Despite Manchester City’s European woes, Raheem Sterling is still in shape to show Liverpool he made the right move, writes Sachin Nakrani.
Championship managers are suffering from time deprivation in a division that never sleeps, reports Ed Aarons.
Preposterously, it’s the fifth straight Nottingham Forest v Derby clash with two new managers in each dugout. Nick Miller has more.
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