IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN. OF COURSE IT IS
It’s hard to know what to make of Manchester United right now. Last weekend, they were beyond abysmal for an hour at West Ham, two-pass moves at a premium, yet by the final whistle Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s free-form jazz collective were stroking the ball around like Brazil at the Azteca. Against Basaksehir a fortnight ago, they wowed the continent with some old-fashioned United swagger, going three goals up in short swashbuckling order, before briefly threatening to fritter away that lead in a blind panic, which they would almost certainly have done were it not for the sturdiness of the Old Trafford woodwork. And then there’s Tuesday night in Leipzig, where, if you try to blot Harry Maguire and David de Gea out of your mind, United looked nearly as competent and only a little more skittish than the team they’d confidently swept aside by five goals just over a month ago. There’s no point asking us. All The Fiver knows is this isn’t normal behaviour.
Somewhere in a parallel universe, United were five goals down by the half-hour mark. Over there, Emil Forsberg scored when free, 10 yards out, while Ibrahima Konaté’s header nestled in the top corner instead of bouncing off the post and along the line, or Willi Orban wasn’t offside when he rammed home. But in another, Nordi Mukiele would have diverted Paul Pogba’s cross past his own keeper in stoppage time, instead of hitting the monumentally confused and unaware Péter Gulácsi, and United would have completed the most outrageous three-goal comeback in the entire history of All Football: soft penalty, crisp volleyball bump-set-spike routine, own goal. How The Fiver wishes it had come to pass, partly to witness the large mushroom-shaped cloud of fume forming over the other half of the country, but mainly because we’d have lumped large on United to win Big Cup outright, a licence to print money with things clearly meant to be.
But we’re here, in this dimension of the multiverse, and those things were most certainly not. United have instead been cashiered into Big Vase, where they’ll find themselves alongside other fallen kings of Europe such as Benfica, PSV, Milan and Red Star Belgrade. They’ll also discover an old pal in José Mourinho, waiting there with Spurs, a disconcertingly gentle smile playing across his troublemaking chops, another cigar on. “Of course United become one of the top favourites to win the competition,” he twinkled, ahead of his team’s not-particularly-vital match against Royal Antwerp. “United is one of the top teams!” With Spurs currently favourites for the trophy, José has clearly decided to start with the mind games early, ahead of the inevitable pairing at some point in the knockouts. No, we can’t wait either. Yes, we’ve also got a fair idea what he’s going to do if he wins.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY
“It was 4am [when we trained] … it was a very big surprise because you are upset, tired, and you just want to go home” – Barnsley boss Valérien Ismaël lifts the lid on life under Felix Magath at Bayern Munich and reveals how he has helped repair a Yorkshire brass band’s broken tubas.
The latest Football Weekly will be here soon.
“Neil Warnock has not been a manager since Herbert Chapman was a lad without learning a trick or two. When the 926th club of your never-ending career plays poorly and three of your players crock opponents with challenges so agricultural you can smell the manure, you need to do something to change the subject. Complain about ‘stinky dressing rooms’ and 72 hours later you find the nation’s favourite topical tea-time mailout is running a letter on that very topic from Mike Wilner, rather than asking why Middlesbrough can’t do it on a sunny afternoon in Stoke” – David Carr.
“Was that a good or bad performance? Are Manchester United in or out of Europe? Is a Scotch Egg a substantive meal? Ole is really Erwin Schrödinger and will meet FC Heisenberg in Big Vase. I’m just so uncertain” – Brendan Donnelly.
“With the Fiver Awards coming soon, may I nominate Fiver Chief Economist Noble Francis as Real Letter Writer of the Year? A Fake Letter Writer ‘honour’ could be awarded, but it would be awkward if the awardee was discovered to be real” – JJ Zucal.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Uefa will conduct a “thorough” investigation into claims that the fourth official, Constantin Coltescu, used racist language during PSG’s game against Istanbul Basaksehir. The Romanian official could face a minimum 10-match ban if found guilty of breaching Uefa rules.
The Queen’s Celtic manager Neil Lennon thinks everything will be hunky dory now that the board have given him a vote of confidence. “I think it sort of settles everyone down,” Lennon cheered. “It’s full steam ahead. We just need to try to get some consistency and wins now.”
Newcastle players have returned to full training after a Covid-19 outbreak led to last Friday’s match at Aston Villa being postponed.
Jamie Vardy has written a message of support to Leicester’s LGBT+ fans group, Foxes Pride, on the rainbow corner flag he shattered while celebrating his winner against Sheffield United on Sunday. “We are proud and grateful for the support that Vardy and Leicester City FC continue to show for Rainbow Laces,” tweeted the group.
Get the coach booked, Spurs fans. With away supporters unable to attend Tottenham’s FA Cup tie at Marine next month, the Merseyside non-leaguers are offering Spurs season-ticket holders free entry to one of their games next season. It’s an eight-hour round trip (at best – Fiver Travel Ed) from N17 to L23, but it’s the thought that counts.
And Fifa president Gianni Infantino has given himself a nice big pat on the back for providing $1.5bn in Covid-19 relief payments. “Fifa had its pandemic already five years ago and now we have our antibodies,” Infantino cheered. “We are strong, we are solid and we have been able to help.”
STILL WANT MORE?
Our annual countdown of the top 100 female footballers in the world continues apace with Nos 71-41 revealed today.
Leroy Rosenior may no longer be the best known member of his own family, but the former player and manager is trying to drive change through his work as an anti-discrimination educator and broadcaster. He speaks to Ed Aarons.
Oh Ole, oh no. But at least he has his old mates in the media, says Barney Ronay.
Moles in the goal, and badgers too. Plus: Lincoln United hitting the big time, and a famous 1989 field full of future pundits. All in this week’s Knowledge.
Chelsea and Manchester City face an uphill task in trying to unseat Lyon from their WCL throne, writes Suzanne Wrack.
Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!