BIG CUP IS BACK, BABY!
If the recent international break taught us one thing, it’s that herding entire squads of footballers on to airplanes and shuttling them to different locations around the world to play matches during a plague is in no way feckless or irresponsible. After all, it’s not like the Republic O’Ireland or Scotland had their teams decimated for Covid-related reasons, while the virus seemed to account for as many withdrawals and absences from various other nations’ line-ups as the usual more common-or-garden niggles and knacks. Covid saw to it that the Czech Republic had to maroon half their squad on a Mediterranean island with enough food and water to last them a fortnight and Ukraine were forced to bring a 45-year-old goalkeeper out of retirement, while even Cristiano Ronaldo proved susceptible. He remains in quarantine – a period of splendid self-isolation with nobody for company but his own reflection in the mirror, a state of affairs one suspects isn’t a hugely radical departure from normality.
Despite the inherent and obvious risks of all the travel it entails, Uefa has decided to press ahead with Big Cup, albeit in a condensed form that will force participants to play six games in 50 days on top of their already packed schedules. The fiendish scheme was hatched in June, when Covid had lured an unsuspecting global public into a false sense of security that it had done its worst, but now in the event of its resurgence Uefa has elected to soldier on regardless of the fact that flying football teams from a dizzying array of countries to all four corners of the continent to play matches in empty stadiums seems, on the face of it, utterly pointless and A Really Bad Idea.
So why play it? Because money, of course. Uefa’s “broadcast partners” got a €575m rebate after being sold reformatted pup in last season’s Big Cup and Big Vase, which were both played out to a bio-hazardous, knockout-stages-reduced-to-one-leg summer conclusion. With countries around Europe facing increasingly tight restrictions, the chances of completing this season’s Big Cup currently seem slim, but would be negligible to non-existent if it doesn’t actually get started. So off we go again, then … and there are no shortage of games worth watching.
Frank Lampard’s Chelsea and Manchester United will be representing the Premier League on Tuesday, as players representing 16 teams from nine different European countries cough, huff and puff in each others faces in the name of elite football entertainment. As defensively sound as a fishnet face mask, FLC entertain reigning Big Vase champions Sevilla in what could be a cracker, while Ole Gunnar Solskjær returns to Paris, the scene of a famous Manchester United victory that landed him the job quite a few people now think he is incapable of doing. While his players bought him time with a much-needed victory at Newcastle, the prospect of facing a side boasting Neymar and Kylian Mbappé is an altogether different prospect for a defence that has conceded 12 goals in four Premier League matches. It’s a mouthwatering match and like the virus, our excitement is contagious.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I made 1,235 games for Arsenal and didn’t miss one. I can’t remember when I stayed in bed to miss training in 22 years. But, after defeat, you never sleep. You have an internal film that goes through your mind. It’s a sense of anger, humiliation, hate. The next day you have to put that into perspective but every defeat is still a scar on my heart” - Arsène Wenger gets his considerable chat on with Donald McRae.
A tale of two Jordans, the Virgil vigil, grabsplaining and David Moyes’s laughter crevasses. It’s all in this week’s David Squires cartoon.
“In a fit of self-righteous rage, I decided to stage a one-man boycott of the Premier League due to my disgust over £15 pay-per-view extras, Project Big Picture, poor management of the game in the face of Covid, generally disinterested players, and VAR. The upshot? I got to miss: an apparently entertaining run that saw my beloved Manchester United stage a late show in the style of Lord Ferg; Spurs, Liverpool, and Chelsea all drop points in wild fashion; and Manchester City committing a PR no-no. What I got to see: my also-beloved, knack-ridden Queen’s Celtic outplayed in the derby. ‘Integrity’ is overrated” – Matt Richman.
“I was very interested to hear Pep Guardiola saying that Sergio Agüero was ‘the nicest guy I have ever met in my life’ (yesterday’s Fiver). In 2014, after Pep’s Bayern had routed Roma, the Bayern team and their manager had a meeting with a certain Pope Francis. I’m a big fan of Agüero’s, but saying he’s nicer than the Pope is taking it to a whole new level” – Paul Dixon.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Bruno Martini, the former France goalkeeper and deputy director of Montpellier’s training centre, has died aged 58. “French football mourns one of the greatest goalkeepers in its history and one of Montpellier’s most loyal servants, on and off the pitch,” the club said in a statement.
Greece has made a sharp handbrake turn on a decision to let 3,500 fans watch Olympiakos v Marseille in Big Cup. “[It would have] sent the wrong message to members of the public,” said prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Slaven Bilic reckons charging fans £14.95 to watch scintillating games such as West Brom 0-0 Burnley on pay-per-view TV is baloney. “Football is not polo or golf,” roared the tub-thumping Baggies boss. “Football is the sport for masses, a working-class sport, and it should be affordable to everybody.”
West Brom's Slaven Bilic on PPV matches: 'Football should be … not free, but affordable, and I always used to say that football is not polo, football is not golf. Football is sport for masses, you know? It's a working-class sport and it should be affordable to everybody' pic.twitter.com/LFVNUx507V
— Guardian sport (@guardian_sport) October 20, 2020
Manchester United forward Alessia Russo has withdrawn from Big Phil Neville’s England squad to face Germany after suffering thigh-knack.
Leeds were “neutralised” into a 1-0 defeat by Wolves, according to some words that came out of cuddly genius Marcelo Bielsa’s mouth afterwards.
And despite collecting more cards than anyone else in the Scottish Premiership this season, Ross County boss Stuart Kettlewell thinks his team’s disciplinary record is nothing to worry about. “I’m a combative person, I was a player who picked up more yellow and reds than most,” he thundered. “I’m not encouraging that but I still want my team to be competitive. I don’t want us to roll over and get our belly tickled.”
STILL WANT MORE?
Jonathan Liew on the needless exile of Mesut Özil.
What Sergio Agüero did to Sian Massey-Ellis was not OK – just ask any woman, writes Suzanne Wrack.
Manchester United’s late flurry at Newcastle bought Ole Gunnar Solskjær a little room to breathe before the PSG tie, writes David Hytner.
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