Given the predictably ludicrous levels of hype – Sky Sports News’s Countdown To Kick-Off timer tells us there’s (eek!) just two more days to go! – it’s tempting to suggest that, as with New Year’s Eve, the Phantom Menace, the Seinfeld finale and lists of things in tea-timely emails, anticipation inevitably leads to disappointment. But somehow Liverpool and Manchester City, who meet in The Game To End All Games And Definitely Decide The Title on Sunday, seem able to dodge that old cliche.
We were spoiled in 2017-18 when the four-game series between the sides was a 9-9 aggregate thrillfest, but even last season’s more sedate affairs had their memorable moments: Riyad Mahrez missing that late penalty in the 0-0 at Anfield and John Stones’s goalline clearance when City ended Liverpool’s 20-match unbeaten run to reignite the title race at the Etihad in January. No wonder there is plenty of mutual backslapping about. “For me Pep is the best manager in the world,” cheered Jürgen Klopp. “Right now Liverpool is the strongest team in the world!” right-back-atcha-ed Pep Guardiola.
This time around, though, the signs aren’t good for City. They’ve not won at Anfield in November since 1930, they’ve never beaten Liverpool in the league on a Sunday despite umpteen attempts and, obviously, Mercury is in retrograde which is, of course, bad news for Guardiola, the Catalan Capricorn. Perhaps of slightly more relevance, they’ve also been Not Quite As Good this season, although when it comes to City that is very much a relative criticism (and we’re not talking about Weird Uncle Fiver’s Tin-fuelled “friendly feedback” sessions), given they’ve averaged 14,798 points over the past couple of campaigns. The blithering idiots have mustered a mere 25 points from 11 games so far this time around, scoring a frankly embarrassing 34 goals in the process. Ederson is knacked. They’re second. Losers.
Jürgen Klopp’s side are favourites, then, but he isn’t taking anything for granted. “Everyone has to be in top shape,” he roared. “The guys who sell the hot dogs have to be in top shape!” Which presumably they will be as long as they stick to selling their wares rather than eating them. Guardiola, meanwhile, was full of praise for his back-up goalkeeper – “We’re not going to lose because of
Kyle Claudio” – which must have been music to Bravo’s ears.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY
“The club’s working so I don’t have to go there on Sunday. I just want to know what’s going on. I’m fully focused on the game and I’m certain I’ll be playing. If needs be I can sleep at home, go down to the station, and then get myself to San Mames by car” – Levante keeper Aitor Fernández could miss this weekend’s La Liga game at Athletic Bilbao after being called up to attend a polling station on general election day.
Watch a clip of the new documentary, Busby.
“Having been a Fiver subscriber for a year or two now (it’s a blur, but certainly time I will never get back), it’s clear to me that it is written and read by no more than a few dozen people, many of whom are in the same room. Your tedious insistence that you reach at least 1,056 subscribers is clearly a Trumpesque factasy trotted out in a half-ar$ed effort to conceal from the bean-counters the absolute waste of time and salaries the whole sorry exercise represents. At a rough estimate, 98% of Fiver letters are from Fiver staffers or their mates, at least 50% of whom use the nom de plum ‘Noble Francis’. A transparently nepotistic farrago – but that is not a criticism. I have trouble sleeping and The Fiver is cheaper and quicker than own-brand vodka. I’m generally out for the count by line two or the word ‘Arsenal’, if that occurs earlier. So keep up the good work” – Steve Butler [it’s 1,057 – Fiver Ed].
“I wasn’t expecting this plot twist, but is Oliver Billenness (yesterday’s Fiver letters) suggesting Noble Francis’s emails are ‘prepared by some deepfake Russian bot’?” – Paddy Reilly.
“Re: yesterday’s letters. So, we’re writing to The Fiver to point out mistakes elsewhere on Big Website now? We’re going to need a bigger Fiver Letters” – Matt Dony.
“Is the ‘Morris-Dancing Fiver’ in your coverage of England’s squad (yesterday’s Bits and Bobs) the son of longtime stalwart ‘Morris Dancing Fiver’? Or has he simply changed his name to ride the wave of double-barrelled surnames in an effort to secure that elusive first cap?” – R Reisman.
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 … R Reisman, who bags a copy of The Pride of the Lionesses. We’ve got more prizes to give away, so get scribbling.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
England face Germany in front of an 86,619 near-sellout at Wembley on Saturday and Big Phil Neville can’t wait. “It’s the biggest game the team have ever had in terms of the size and I think – emotionally, physically and tactically – we need to be at our very best,” he parped.
The quarter-finals of Women’s Big Cup are set: Arsenal v PSG, Glasgow City v Wolfsburg, Lyon v Bayern Munich and Atlético Madrid v Barcelona.
Manchester United, Wolves, the Pope’s Newc O’Rangers and the Queen’s Celtic are all basking in the toasty afterglow of Big Vase victories. “We have qualified after four games. That is unheard of for [the Queen’s] Celtic in Europe,” roared Neil Lennon.
Stoke City have appointed Norn Iron manager Michael O’Neill. “Naturally, we are extremely disappointed Michael is leaving,” tooted IFA chief suit Patrick Nelson. “However, we are delighted Michael will be in charge for the games against the Netherlands and Germany and potential Euro 2020 play-off matches in March.”
Club Brugge striker Mbaye Diagne has been fined and dropped after missing a penalty he wasn’t supposed to take in their 1-0 Big Cup loss to PSG. “It was a dumb mistake and we are all very cross,” harrumphed coach Philippe Clement.
And Sol Campbell is looking forward to Sunday’s FA Cup first-round trip to Dover, despite Southend having picked up a frankly pathetic five points from 17 league games so far this season. “It won’t be the first time I’ve had one of these rough and tumble games but this is a warm distraction at the moment,” he tooted.
STILL WANT MORE?
Ten! Things! To! Look! Out! For! In! The! Premier! League! This! Weekend!
What can Stoke expect from Michael O’Neill? Ewan Murray has the skinny.
Der Klassiker this weekend pits second against fourth – what’s happened to the big beasts of the Bundesliga? Marcus Christenson finds out.
Louise Taylor gets her chat on with Germany’s Dzsenifer Marozsán.
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