IT’S BIG CUP FINAL, BABY
After a season that has become more extraordinary with every passing week, it all comes down to this. Two teams fueled by a sense of destiny, competing for a huge prize at a gleaming modern football cathedral; it’s just a shame somebody has to lose. And yet, when The Fiver submitted its 3,000-word opus on the League Two playoff final to The Man, it was sent back to us in a thousand pieces, the confetti arranged on what passes for a desk to spell two words: BIG CUP.
And if that opening gambit was more telegraphed than a $tevie Mbe Hollywood pass, Saturday night’s showdown in Paris promises to be far less predictable. Liverpool will start as favourites, but Real Madrid have shown they can destroy a carefully-built Big Cup project in 90 seconds, let alone 90 minutes. After increasingly dramatic late comebacks against PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City, we’re expecting Karim Benzema to pop up with a late winner halfway through Liverpool’s trophy parade.
So if you’re the sort of fan who likes to post your chosen team’s number of “UCLs” across all available Social Media Disgraces, as if you somehow contributed in any meaningful way, here are some patented Fiver analytics for you. Liverpool can move to seven Big Cups, moving them level with Milan – but, more importantly, spoiling the flow of that dread “we’ve won it [x] times” chant. Madrid have, of course, won 13 – not that they like to talk about it. That’s right, The Fiver is poking fun at teams for winning too many Big Cups. But what else is there?
Both teams have earned their place, and both are coached by likable doyens of the modern game. Carlo Ancelotti’s in-game tactical tweaks may amount to a chat with Luka Modric and a theatrical raise of the eyebrow – but hey, it works. As for Jürgen Klopp, he remains the Big Cup-winning manager most likely to keep spirits up on a team-building weekend – closely followed by Roberto Di Matteo. To the naysayers who might point out that this is just a repeat of the 2018 showpiece, and that six of the last nine Big Cup finals have featured at least one of these clubs – fair point. But then again, one of these teams lost at home to Sheriff Tiraspol in the groups; the other qualified thanks to a last-gasp headed equalizer against West Brom. By their goalie. Hard luck, Mansfield and Port Vale – this is the true underdog story of the weekend.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“There were a lot of dark days and there will be in the future but I felt ready to be able to lead my staff and my players” – Vale manager Darrell Clarke on returning after a close family bereavement this year, as he prepares to lead them to Wembley on Saturday.
“Within hours of you gracefully printing my letter in yesterday’s Fiver, Soccer Canada canceled their friendly against Iran. I knew you were a global power in the football world, but that is simply remarkable” – Alan Etherington.
“Interesting that the Norwich suit described his team as being average (yesterday’s News, Bits and Bobs). I would think if they had reached the lofty heights of averageness they would still be in the Premier League” – Dominic Dawson.
“Stirring the last dregs of ‘applauding the money on TV’ (Five letters passim). You only have to watch Antiques Roadshow to understand applauding the money. Low value gets no applause from the attending crowd, big value gets lots of applause … but no one has done anything, they’ve simply received the news of a big chunk of money linked to them. Well done you! Newcastle fans may understand this idea” – Paul Sanderson.
“Like John McKay (yesterday’s letters), I cannot believe I’m lowering myself to writing a letter to The Fiver. Especially since I really have nothing witty to say. Kind of like The Fiver” – Steve Mintz.
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Dominic Dawson.
Get your ears around the latest Football Weekly Extra. And while we’re at it, Max, Barry and the pod squad are going back on tour. Tickets to live shows in June and July are available here.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
It sounds like Sadio Mané could be staying at Liverpool after all. “Come back to me on Saturday and I will give you the best answer you want to hear, for sure,” he teased. “It’s special. I will give you all you want to hear then.”
Forest Green reckon their handling of tempting manager Ian Burchnall from Notts County is one in the eye for Watford. “Between us we’ve shown how moves in football can still get done properly and above board,” whooped chairman Dale Vince.
Another non-league boss on the move is Pete Wild, who has swapped Halifax for the gig at League Two Barrow.
England captain Harry Kane has been getting his chat on at Jimmy Fallon’s late-night talkshow in New York. “We have a great team, really good players, really good coach, and we have been building nicely to this World Cup and I’m really looking forward to it,” he cooed, giving it the old glance to a relatively blank audience. “Hopefully I can try and break that goal record while we’re there.”
That high-pitched whine you may be able to detect is the ongoing spat between French and Spanish football suits, over this whole Kylian Mbappé business. “When Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos and others left your league – by choice – last year, rather than acknowledging their [greatness], you commented on their age and brandished our league as being ‘like the league of legends given the age of some players’,” sniffed the LFP’s Vincent Labrune in a letter to counterpart Javier Tebas. “Now your disrespectful smears seem to be directed towards Mbappé, who is widely acknowledged to be one of the world’s greatest players and who simply didn’t join your league, by choice, despite having received a similar offer.”
And in more grown men news, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry have been having a go at each other on Social Media Abomination Twitter, over the former’s ranking of the Premier League’s best centre-backs – with himself at No 1 and Terry at No 5. It’s too tiresome to go into any further.
STILL WANT MORE?
Want to know where the Big Cup final will be won and lost? Then lend Jonathan Wilson your eyes [he’s written a tactical breakdown, he’s not gone serial killer – Fiver Ed],
Karen Carney previews Liverpool v Madrid, while Philipp Lahm offers his thoughts on the big game.
Liverpool’s Ibrahima Konaté tells Andy Hunter about his thrill at returning to Paris and Sid Lowe hears from Thibaut Courtois. Meanwhile, Steve McManaman reveals his truest allegiances lie with Liverpool. Shock!
It could be quite the weekend if you’re of a Huddersfield persuasion, reports Aaron Bower.
Another Final Premier League 2021-22 review, this time picking over the pre-season predictions.
And if it’s your thing… you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!