A long way to go before challenging the elite

Barry Glendenning
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian


It’s been a very disappointing week for English clubs in Big Cup. Frank Lampard’s Chelsea’s dismantling at the hands of Bayern Munich on their own patch means that Johnny Foreigner has won three out of three against representatives of The Best League In The World™ in first-leg games in the knockout stages, with our brave boys failing to score a goal between them across 270 minutes of football. After Tuesday night’s humiliation, Chelsea medical staff prepared for a busy day spent untwisting the blood of Cesar Azpilicueta, Marcos Alonso and Reece James, while Frank Lampard’s Chelsea manager Frank Lampard admitted his side have a long way to go before challenging the elite.

“It was a harsh lesson, a reality for the players of the levels we want to get to,” sighed Lampard, as a confused looking Ross Barkley wandered past seeming even more dazed than that time he got blindsided by a cowardly punch in a trendy Liverpool nightspot. “This is [Big Cup] football and we haven’t been fighting in the knockout stages, getting through to the back-end of it, for some years and this is the reality of what it takes.” And as somebody more clever than The Fiver once observed, reality is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it.

Related: The forgotten story of ... Manchester City flouting finance rules in 1906

Of course not everyone is in touch with reality, as any number of tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorists on the internet regularly go out of their way to prove. While The Fiver would like to be more specific about who we’re talking about, we are unable to do so without receiving permission from fellow agenda-peddlers on the pertinent, increasingly well-documented and totally non-existent WhatsTok group.

Tasked with restoring the honour of English clubs in Big Cup, Manchester City go into Wednesday’s match against Real Madrid with no shortage of motivation to drive them on. Enraged by entirely accurate reports that their club has been handed a two-year Big Cup ban for breaking financial fair play rules, their fans are ready to stick it to Uefa, the media and everyone else who is out to do these humble underdogs down. Meanwhile, their double-denim players are fired up by the knowledge that this season could mark their last chance to participate in Big Cup until next season, when they may well have abandoned ship and gone to play for other European heavyweights.


Join Nick Ames from 5pm GMT for hot MBM coverage of Braga 1-1 Rangers (agg: 3-4) in Big Vase, before Big Cup at 8pm and Real Madrid 2-1 Manchester City with Simon Burnton, plus Lyon 1-3 Juventus with Barry Glendenning.


“I’ve got no complaint at all about passion. I played like that, I manage like that, I like personality. I like character, I like a winning mentality and if there is an argument at full-time then it will boil down to the fact we didn’t win the game” – Cardiff City manager Neil Harris attempts to play down the altercation between Callum Paterson and Leandro Bacuna at full-time of Tuesday’s 1-0 Championship defeat at home to Nottingham Forest.

Callum Paterson and Leandro Bacuna with some up-close-and-personal chat. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images


The latest Football Weekly podcast is right here. Meanwhile, tickets are also on sale for the next live show in London.


“Re: Frank Lampard’s Chelsea’s Tottenham impersonation against Bayern. At least Frank called it” – Craig Fawcett.

“So Matt Dony thinks a 30-second cut-off for the VAR is too rushed (yesterday’s Fiver letters). But this should be seen along with my view that VAR should only be used where there is a clear and obvious error. If it can’t be seen in 30 seconds, I reckon it’s neither clear nor obvious” – Peter Thew.

“Matt’s view ‘that rushing to meet a deadline rarely leads to quality output’? Well, that’s all very well but, quite frankly, if it wasn’t for deadlines, some of us would never get anything finished at all. And something, even late and poor quality, is better than nothing, which I believe is The Fiver’s motto” – Noble Francis.

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Noble Francis.


Manchester City have registered their appeal to Cas against their two-year Big Cup ban and £25m fine.

Barcelona can count themselves glad to have got out of Naples with a 1-1 draw from their Big Cup first leg. “It’s a positive result for us overall,” hollered Quique Setién. “We controlled most of the game, but we lacked something in the final third against such an organised defence.”

Lorenzo Insigne and Leo Messi after the match. Photograph: Ciro de Luca/Reuters

Lucy Bronze has been replaced by Alessia Russ in England’s squad for the SheBelieves Cup after sustaining calf-knack.

F91 Dudelange striker Danel Sinani fancies a move to Norwich City next season, whether they avoid relegation or not. “I can confirm that Norwich are very interested in my services, but I haven’t signed yet,” he cheered. “I’m not scared of that second division. Have you seen the games they play there? It remains very strong.”

After Oxford United manager Karl Robinson was randomly linked with the Málaga job, the U’s have now rejected an approach from Blackpool over their vacancy.

And Barnet chairman Tony Kleanthous has defended the Hive’s pitch after Tuesday’s National League game against Dagenham & Redbridge became their latest home postponement or abandonment. At least it wasn’t like last month’s FA Trophy tie with Farsley Celtic (380-mile round trip), called off two minutes before kick-off. “The pitch sits low on the site and by design will hold water in a one-in-100-year flood eventuality,” he tooted. “We have barely had a day without rain since September and the forecast one-in-100-year event has now become our reality.”


It’s Sven!

Sid Lowe on the good-natured battle of the smooth scalps, as Zinedine Zidane faces an “hour of truth” against his old buddie Pep Guardiola.

Hansi Flick restored Bayern’s old fire to tear strips from Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, writes Jonathan Liew.

Simon Burnton on an alarmingly prescient Forgotten Story from 1906.

A Knowledge special: footballers in communal bathtubs, necessitating some extremely delicate cropping on the part of our picture desk.

Easy now, that is Mick McCarthy in a bath. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty Images

It’s nearly MLS season 25 over in the USA! USA!! USA!!! – Tom Dart on the story so far, and how Mexico could be key to what’s next.

£25m and one Kepa Arrizabalaga for Jan Oblak is the kind of wishful thinking to be found in today’s Mill.

Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!