THE FIVER TALKS BALLS
So that’s the last 16 of this season’s Big Cup decided, then. Not too many shocks to report, certainly not if you had Juventus and Barcelona’s number from the get-go, which, let’s face it, practically everyone did. But who will go on to win? In lieu of stories in The Fiver’s NewsBarrel™, the bottom of which having been totally worn through by decades of frenzied scraping with The Fiver’s DesperationScoop®, we’ve looked into our crystal ball and answered that question in the time-honoured reverse-order rundown style. Listicle full-steam ahead! Possible unemployment ahoy!
16) Benfica: Béla Guttmann sure did a proper number on these lads when he chipped off in high dudgeon in 1962. Not sure there’s a way around it.
15) PSG: Only because we can’t have two No 16s.
14) Manchester City: The best team in the tournament, but an awful lot will be riding on the tactical surprise Pep springs in the second leg of the semi by stationing Erling Haaland and Jack Grealish as overlapping inverted full-backs.
13) Liverpool: Domestic form notwithstanding, there’s a fair chance they’ll make the final yet again. It’s what they do. This low rating therefore reflects a conversion rate that makes modern-day Juventus look like the pre-Guttmann-curse Eagles.
12) Internazionale: Historically only win Big Cup when concentrating on defence to a degree that would alarm catenaccio extremists. Inter scored the most goals in Serie A last season. Something doesn’t add up.
11) Milan: A cobbled-together collection of up-and-coming hopefuls and superannuated misfits that shames the history of a once-proud multiple Big Cup-winning franchise. Think Barcelona, only slightly less of a shambles and without the absurd preening mes-que-un-equity-release-mortgage self-regard.
10) Brugge: Simon Mignolet!
9) Borussia Dortmund: On the one hand, Jude Bellingham will be worth about £350m by the time the knockout stage comes round. On the other, he’s in a team currently fourth in a two-horse race in the Bundesliga.
8) Porto: A round-of-16 record of such consistent failure that they put serial knockout-stage nosebleeders Arsenal to shame. Then again, their Big Cup honours roll puts Arsenal to shame as well, so it’s swings and roundabouts.
7) Bayern Munich: Will have long reeled in Union Berlin by March, so have little else to do.
6) RB Leipzig: Big Caffeine is marginally preferable to Big Oil.
5) Chelsea: The intersection on the Venn diagram between folk who have managed Brighton and won Big Cup is surprisingly well populated: Brian Clough, Jimmy Case, Sami Hyypia. This surely can’t be a coincidence.
4) Tottenham Hotspur: We’ve droned on about Antonio Conte’s miserable Big Cup record so much recently, we’ve come all the way round to thinking the awkward so-and-so might just finally pull it off. The usual Lads It’s Etc caveats apply.
3) Napoli: Inadvertently set the wheels of modern Big Cup in motion when their great Diego Maradona side were drawn in the first round with, and knocked out by, Real Madrid in 1987. The footballing gods appear to have finally got round to forgiving them.
2) Eintracht Frankfurt: Liverpool and Porto have both won Big Cup the season after lifting Big Vase, so it can be done. Payback for the 1960 final would also be nice, though asking them to stick seven past Thibaut Courtois is probably pushing our luck.
1) Real Madrid: They could and probably should have shipped five or six goals against Celtic. And yet … and yet … yeah, we’re not exactly going out on a limb here. Probably the most boring outcome possible, though it would at least annoy Barcelona.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“We are Halland. He is Haaland. The popularity of the football phenomenon is completely suffocating our online presence. To our despair, we now see that all of our efforts promoting Halland are rapidly being wiped away” – Jimmy Sandberg, director of the Visit Halland tourist board, bemoans clumsy-fingered fans whose spelling mistakes are sending anyone looking for the Swedish coastal county online towards endless posts about the Manchester City goalmonster. “We have been overwhelmed by his presence in our hashtags and in search engines,” sighed Sandberg.
LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE
Scott Murray is on deck for hot Real Sociedad 1-1 Manchester United Big Vase action at 5.45pm GMT, while Will Unwin will have Arsenal 2-0 FC Zürich MBM updates from 8pm.
“Oh Fiver! How could you? Resorting to the cliches of the tear-and-snotter-stained Scottish tabloids when their beloved Old Firm are humiliated in Europe (yesterday’s Fiver)? If the strength of the Scottish league is such an issue for Rangers and Celtic, they could always try to actually do something about it with a more even distribution of finance. The gulf between the smallest clubs in Scotland and the two cheeks is far larger than that which exists between them and even the likes of PSG. Similarly, when Dundee United, Motherwell and Hearts exit Europe, it’s generally accepted that it happened because they’re crap. Which is entirely fair. And then when Rangers and Celtic do likewise, that’s apparently still the fault of clubs like United, Motherwell and Hearts for being crap, conveniently overlooking the fact that the Old Firm are actually pretty crappy too. Finally, there were several clubs from leagues that are hardly considered traditional powerhouses that made a considerably better fist of things than either Celtic or especially Rangers managed. Apologies for going on – I’m clearly just disapp … no, I’m just surpr … actually, yeah, I’m just upset” – Alan Cormack.
“Did you really have to remind this fan of our inglorious Big Cup campaign of 1995-96 (yesterday’s Fiver)? The chaotic campaign culminated, of course, with the fisticuffs between Graeme Le Saux and David Batty during a 3-0 defeat in a freezing Moscow. There was, however, some comedy in the midst of misery, when in the immediate aftermath Rovers manager Ray Harford issued an unfortunately phrased rallying cry, insisting his players had to ‘keep punching on’. Now younger readers might appreciate how we acquired the Fiver sobriquet Blackeye Rovers” – John Myles.
“I liked Jason Loeb’s fine suggestion (yesterday’s Fiver letters) about donating $5/£5/€5 per Human Rights World Cup game to the charity of choice. But as I’ll be forced to watch the whole thing on Fox Sports here in USA! USA!! USA!!!, I’m already donating more than that to Jerry Hall’s alimony. But yes, for those of us over here, let’s also drink to the kind of at-risk workers who made the stadia that facilitate those rich ar$es in air-conditioned Qatari seats; let’s donate the Fiver-a-game to a group like the National Immigration Law Center” – Justin Kavanagh.
“You can reassure all of your Scottish readers that they will have plenty of regionalised content to enjoy during the Human Rights World Cup (yesterday’s letters). With 31 teams to support, starting with Iran, they have a good chance of glory” – Jim Smith.
Send your letters to [email protected] And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winners of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Jim Smith.