BIG CUP IS BACK, BABY!
Like a hoof in the unmentionables from Harry Maguire, Big Cup is back with an eye-watering bang on Tuesday, as the first couple of last-16 ties get under way. If you were on the edge of your seat for a group stage which took a total of 96 matches to send 15 preposterously rich clubs and this season’s plucky minnows Atalanta through to the knockout rounds, well … The Fiver is going to go out on a limb and guess you must have been wearing a massive rucksack.
As is customary in February, Big Cup becomes far less predictable, each game coming with its own kind of jeopardy. Last season alone, such high-profile European aristocrats as Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Ajax, not to mention the humble, put-upon, church mice of the people that are Manchester City were among those to have their noses violently bloodied in entertaining style before Liverpool hoisted the trophy at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid.
The Reds have returned to the scene of that particular triumph, this time to face an Atlético who, even in their recent pomp, would have had their work cut out to beat the champions over two legs. Fourth in La Liga having won just one of their past five games, they are currently an entirely unconvincing Spanish equivalent of Chelsea, except with a far more streetwise manager who might turn out to have a couple of tricks up his sleeve. “Criticism is necessary and it helps us to improve,” seethed Diego Simeone, who has not ruled out sounding Atlético’s $hithouse klaxon and handing Diego Costa a return after a knack spell on the sidelines. “We are where we are and we have a tough opponent in front of us. Our stadium will help us a lot and the only thing that counts is what happens on the pitch.”
In the night’s other match, Borussia Dortmund have first dibs on getting to put a comedy end to PSG’s latest hopes of winning that elusive Big Cup their football-crazy Qatari owners have craved since the beginning of that long and historic association with the club back in 2011. In what may or may not be a boost for the mega-rich French club that has exited the tournament at this stage in each of the past three seasons, Neymar is expected to start in Germany after four matches out with protracted birthday celebrations rib-ouch.
LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“It’s a bit like a panto and there’s always someone that’s got to tick the box of certain characters and we seem to have had to tick the box of the villain of the piece and the one people like to beat” – Salford City manager Graham Alexander on why League Two teams like to get the better of a club owned by billionaire Peter Lim and a group of multi-millionaire former Manchester United players.
“Harry Gregg was my hero back when I was an aspiring goalie for my village’s pick-up games. Note in the picture (yesterday’s Quote of the Day), making a sideways horizontal save, he isn’t wearing gloves, at a time when the ball on a rainy day weighed something like half a tonne, and he would probably land in a foot deep sea of goo as the goalmouth got churned up. And to think Manchester United signed him from Doncaster for a record fee of £23,000. He was probably paid about a tenner a game” – Maurice Mandale.
“Congratulations should be extended to Dean Smith for his marvellous ability to make VAR seem like a principled and upstanding member of the community (yesterday’s News, Bits and Bobs). Undoubtedly Mr Smith was right that ‘42,000 people in the stadium did not have a problem with [the referee’s] decision’, but could the fact that the vast majority of those 42,000 were fanatical Aston Villa fans – none of whom had a view as clear as the VAR in Stockley Park – in any way colour the judgment of such a thumping majority?” – Colin Reed.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
A consultants’ report written for the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi stated that the Abu Dhabi government, not Etihad airlines, was “covering” the sponsorship of Manchester City in 2010, according to a 2015 US aviation industry document.
FC Cincinatti coach Ron Jans has resigned in the midst of an MLS investigation into allegations he used the n-word.
Frank Lampard’s Chelsea manager Frank Lampard is in a bit of a huff after losing to fellow nostalgia-appointee Ole Gunnar Solskjær for the third time this season. Invoking the dreaded V-word, Lampard said goalscorer Harry Maguire should have been sent off: “a universally wrong decision,” he reckons.
Not that Solskjær had a completely trouble-free day. Moments before kick-off, fabled Mr 20% Mino Raiola took to Social Media Disgrace Twitter to lay into the United boss over his treatment of Paul Pogba and further crank up the longstanding tension between player and club.
Real Madrid have shelled out €30m on teenage Flamengo midfielder Reinier. “It is our obsession to look for players who could be the big stars of tomorrow,” cheered Florentino Pérez.
Phil Neville has taken time out from restocking his fridge to unveil a squad littered with young players for the Lionesses’ defence of the SheBelieves Cup. They kick off against USA! USA!! USA!!! on 6 March.
And yet more good news at Spurs HQ, where José Mourinho’s only fit senior centre-forward can no longer be described as such. Son Heung-min is knacked with arm-snap and could be done for the season. Time for an emergency Martin Braithwaite move?
STILL WANT MORE?
Jonathan Wilson on FLC’s Frank Lampard and why the excuses for a mediocre Chelsea team will soon run out.
“Does a regime serially defying a United Nations arms embargo in Libya – according to the UN’s own reports – strike you as the sort that places a high premium on bureaucratic process?” – here’s Jonathan Liew on why Manchester City’s owners won’t take Uefa’s ban lying down.
Manchester United’s midfield has felt like a metaphysical puzzle: if it doesn’t do anything, can it actually be said to exist? Enter Bruno Fernandes.
Sid Lowe’s La Liga blog features Real Madrid, Celta Vigo and a picture of Zizou being booted in the face.
Giving our Oxbridge-educated, whites-wearing, Pimms-sipping, willow-wielding, stat-obsessed cousin The Spin a bump.
Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!