Reaching the Phase of Missed Sitters, Embarrassment and Recrimination | Football


The busy 2020-21 season continues to hurtle along at breakneck speed. Big Cup returns this evening after a two-minute hiatus, and three of England’s representatives have the opportunity to make it through to the knockout stage in short order, giving themselves a little breathing space. Chelsea are on a five-game winning tear and, if they make it six tonight in Rennes, they’ll progress providing Euro Vase champions Sevilla don’t lose at Krasnodar. Frank Lampard will be praying it all works out, so he can effectively sack off the visit to Seville, which is sandwiched between next weekend’s annual donnybrook with Tottenham, and the visit of Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds and history (recent, ancient and personal). There’s a fair chance Chelsea won’t have a full complement of legs after that lot, so every little helps.

Manchester City have long outgrown the group stage as the platform from which to depart the tournament in ignominious fashion. They’ll almost certainly make it through to the Phase of Missed Sitters, Embarrassment and Recrimination on Wednesday, requiring merely a point against Olympiakos in Athens. That would give them carte blanche to swing the old trotters up on to the desk for the best part of three weeks, as they’d be able to send out experimental sides in the last two group games against Porto and Marseille, while Ederson can rush recklessly off his line as often as he pleases at home to Fulham and Burnley with it unlikely to make any difference to the result. The derby’s coming up afterwards, so go on, son, get it all out of your system.

Liverpool will make it through if they beat Atalanta at Anfield. You’d think that was a shoo-in, given they soundly beat the Italians at their own gaff, but you know how these things usually work. A draw would suffice if Ajax fail to beat Midtjylland, and most neutrals will be keeping their fingers crossed, if only because one more opportunity for Jürgen Klopp to improvise another free-form beat poem exploring soft-tissue damage and broadcasting contracts would be one too many. All of which leaves Manchester United, who can’t get through this week, but surely can’t play any worse than they did at Istanbul Basaksehir against the same opponents at home. Those who watched them struggle to overcome West Brom on Saturday, in a game which in retrospect would have been better hidden behind a £14.95 paywall, may demur, but the Fiver has faith. Good luck, everybody. See you on the other side!


Join Paul Doyle for red-hot minute-by-minute coverage of Rennes 2-2 Chelsea at 5.55pm GMT and Scott Murray for Manchester United 2-1 Istanbul Basaksehir at 8pm.


“A football team is like an orchestra. You have different people for different instruments and some of them are louder than others, but they are all important for the rhythm. Bobby plays like 12 instruments in our orchestra. He’s very important for our rhythm” – Jürgen Klopp waxes lyrical about the maestro Roberto Firmino.


It’s David Squires on … Being James Milner.

It’s Milner mania! Illustration: David Squires/The Guardian


Here’s Monday’s Football Weekly podcast.

Football Weekly

Pep, Pépé and penalties


“Is James Milner the Schrödinger’s Cat of football? He is just a best-days-are-behind-him wideman, and yet at the same time he is every Liverpool player at their Gegenpressing peak. If Millie the Cat gets past the 18-yard line and opens the opposition’s box then our universe might tear itself apart. Perhaps the secret lies behind that door at Liverpool’s new training ground” – Mark McFadden.

“I’m not surprised that Daniel Levy is wiping away a tear as a result of a Spurs balance sheet issued with a net loss figure on it (even if such an action could result in a nasty paper cut), given that the loss should be presented in the profit and loss statement and not the balance sheet. Perhaps the Spurs finance director can also help locate another mislaid and bloated figure, and shed some light on the whereabouts of Dele Alli” – Ian Potter.

“Well, the Fiver is certainly setting the bar quite high if it doesn’t think Alan Pardew is a ‘football specialist’. We can immediately rule out anyone who’s achievements are lower than – amongst others – scoring the winning goal in an FA Cup semi-final, being voted manager of the year or taking Newcastle into Europe. Which is quite a lot of us. Even those who’ve, y’know, done football for a living and stuff. Now, if you look up ‘hubris’ in the dictionary I do believe there’s a pic of him doing his silly little dance at Wembley, but even I think you’re being a tad harsh on the lad” – Matt Emerson.

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


Jack Grealish has pleaded guilty to careless driving after having being collared by the law.

Steve McClaren has returned to Derby for the fifth time in his career. On this occasion he has been appointed as technical director.

The goals have dried up for Manchester City, and Pep Guardiola is blaming one man.

Chelsea and Manchester City have found out their opponents in Women’s Big Cup.

Fans returning to games is a “lifeline”, according to Football League suit Rick Parry.

Mohamed Salah is back for Liverpool’s Big Cup clash with Atalanta, Jürgen Klopp has confirmed.


Atlético Madrid are back, baby, and this time they’re playing some rather nice football, coos Sid Lowe.

Sid’s also been getting his chat on with Nacho Monreal about life at the top of La Liga with Real Sociedad, Mikel Arteta, Arsène Wenger and how he ended up at Arsenal.

Pink boots are everywhere, and Nicklas Bendtner and Martin Keown have a lot to answer for.

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

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