Depending on which way you look at things, it was either a good or bad weekend for Liverpool. Let’s start with events at the Scottish Tin Pot final, where Pope’s Newc O’Rangers thrashed the Queen’s Celtic by nil goals to one. Poor $tevie Mbe, standing there in the pouring rain, soaked to the bone, cursing Steve McClaren, unable to shelter under a brolly lest the tabloid press brands him a dry ponce. What must have been going through the poor man’s dripping noggin, history repeating itself as a furious South American striker ran around kicking people for no good reason while his team’s hopes of a title went up in smoke. At least he didn’t slip over in a puddle, eh ladies and gentlemen, am I right, etc.
Anyway, that’s all terrible news for folk on Merseyside eagerly tracking $tevie’s fledgling managerial career, hoping to see evidence of tangible success and/or vague signs of basic competence, either of which would come in useful when he inevitably succeeds Jürgen Klopp in 18 months’ time. But it was more encouraging for those at Anfield who would argue for a less emotional appointment, based on Shearermetric data gathered by the Ljungberg Institute on their patented Olegunnarometer. (Admittedly this isn’t the best day to be referencing Solskjær in such an offhand manner, given Manchester United are now officially back, baby, on account of scoring two goals and missing a hatful of chances against a circus troupe purporting to be Manchester City. But it’s a low bar at Old Trafford these days and you get the general point.)
The Manchester derby was another double-edged sword for Liverpool. Sure, they’re now 14 points clear of City, and no team in top-flight history has ever overcome such a gap to win the league. Problem is, that’s really going to crank up the pressure on Klopp’s side – just wait for the coverage next time they draw, never mind lose a game – and in any case City are currently third in a two-horse race. Leicester are now Liverpool’s main rivals, a mere eight points back, scoring for fun, unencumbered by 30 years of expectation, and with Brendan Rodgers in charge … well, it doesn’t bear thinking about, does it, Liverpool fans?
It doesn’t bear thinking about because there’s no need, it writes itself. Best to cross your fingers and hope the Foxes are 2020’s version of Graham Taylor’s Aston Villa, a surprise package from the Midlands that falls away quietly in March. That would complete a three-decade cycle of narrative purity. Yes, cross your fingers and keep telling yourselves that.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY
“The club will continue to vigorously defend its rights against all parties involved in tampering of staff so the club recovers all damages incurred. All recovered damages will be reinvested in our squad” – Barnsley claim new Hearts boss Daniel Stendel was hoofed through the door marked Do One because he was in discussions about a managerial post at a rival Championship club. Perhaps Tykes fans who bought him a tequila at his impromptu leaving do can make a claim too.
“Every so often you amaze and delight with your literary acumen. No, really. Your description of Woodgate’s Boro with ‘… we could only imagine a team under his tutelage playing as though Hunter S Thompson was managing them’ could well have been penned by Joyce or Bellow. The vivid imagery explodes in the mind. It may not attain the renown of ‘Total Football’, but ‘Gonzo Football’ would at least be more readily copied by modern managers” – Mike Fichtner (and no others).
“I’m sure I’m just one of 1,057 readers who’s pleased to see the return to the Premier League of a man capable of providing ostrich-based entertainment not seen since the days of Bernie Clifton” – James Taylor.
“After Friday’s revelation about the David Beckham sleep video (Friday’s Quote of the Day), I wondered if there was a screen large enough to show the weekly recording of the whole of the Arsenal defence getting 40 Harrys” – Craig Derry.
“Richard Morris (Friday’s Fiver letters) on patron saints had me thinking wich patron saint The Fiver might be named after. I would propose St Clotilde, patron saint of disappointing children” – James Wilson.
Send your letters to [email protected]. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our letter o’the day is … Craig Derry, who bags a copy of The Next Big Thing. We’ve still got more prizes to give away, so get scribbling.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
The World Anti-Doping Agency has voted unanimously to ban Russia from international sport for four years for doping offences, meaning the national team cannot compete at the Ethics World Cup or Tokyo’s Big Sports Day.
The 36 players on trial in Spain’s most high-profile match-fixing case have been cleared of wrongdoing. The accused players could have faced a six-year ban but were all found not guilty by a Spanish judge. The charges related to a 2011 La Liga game between Levante and Zaragoza.
England will face Italy at Wembley in the first of four pre-Euro 2020 friendlies. The game on 27 March will be known as ‘the Heads Up international’ as part of a partnership with the Heads Together mental health initiative. Gareth Southgate’s boys will also face Denmark, Austria and Romania.
Wales will also host Austria at home on 27 March, with Ryan Giggs keen to tackle alpine opponents after landing in Group A with Italy and Switzerland.
It’s a watershed day for AFC Wimbledon, with the club set to decide whether to end their supporter-owned structure in order to secure investment for their cash-knacked stadium.
Cruzeiro fans clashed with Brazilian fuzz and ripped out seats after their 2-0 home defeat to Palmeiras confirmed their first ever relegation. The match was abandoned shortly after the visitors’ second goal, as home fans started scuffling among themselves.
And Manchester City could plug the chasm in the middle of their defence with Samuel Umtiti, according to reports in France.
STILL WANT MORE?
Mönchengladbach’s win over Bayern is good for their title hopes – and the Bundesliga, whoops Andy Brassell.
Goooooooooooal Laaaaaaazio! The free-scoring side from the Italian capital are gatecrashing the Serie A title race, writes Nicky Bandini.
“It’s the first hat-trick of my life and I don’t think I’ll be able to get another one” – Betis legend Joaquín, 78, reflects on his 18-minute treble against Athletic Bilbao. Sid Lowe’s got all the details on a La Liga record-breaker here.
You don’t have to be a floating football brain in a jar to see something ain’t right with Manchester City – but Jonathan Wilson reckons they can still go after Big Cup.
Our Ligue Urrrrn aficionados Adam White and Eric Devin on an eventful week at Bordeaux.
Big Dunc wore Howard Kendall’s watch, hugged everyone within a 40-foot radius and got Everton a thumping great win. Job done, sez Andy Hunter.
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