The Fiver | Telling schoolchildren how best to catch fog in a net


A MESSI NIGHT AT OLD TRAFFORD?

The Fiver didn’t get where it is today – chained to a radiator in a windowless crawl space with a face drawn on a tennis ball for companionship, since you’re asking – through ostentatious shows of false bravado. Unlike hardline Tory Brexiteer and occasional weekend warmonger (“I was in the [Territorial] army, I wasn’t trained to lose”) Mark Francois we’re quite content to be “held against our will” and in the face of adversity are more likely to be found cowering behind the sofa mumbling silent prayers than standing behind a lectern shouting Tennyson poems at pensioners for reasons that remain unclear.

Thankfully, Chris Smalling is made of sterner stuff, which is handy as he and his Manchester United are faced with the onerous task of keeping Lionel Messi in check when they face Barcelona in the first leg of their Big Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford. What with the diminutive Argentinian pocket dynamo being in what is arguably the form of his life you’d think Chris might avoid tempting fate by being what the great Terry Pratchett described as “the sort to stand on a hilltop in a thunderstorm wearing wet copper armour and shouting ‘All gods are b@stards!’”

But no, asked how he approaches the prospect of facing a maestro as majestic as Messi, Smalling maintained an admirably straight face while insisting it’s a challenge he relishes, before finishing up with a breezily confident: “I say: bring it on”. While The Fiver is fairly certain this is in an invitation Messi will be only too happy to accept, former Manchester United defender-turned-pundit Rio Ferdinand has been telling anyone who’ll listen how the Barcelona goal-getter can be stopped. “They can’t afford to give him space,” he explained, with the confident air of a man telling schoolchildren how best to catch fog in a net. “If they give him space to turn and front up he’s going to cause huge problems.”

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Reminding Manchester United’s players exactly who they’re up against, Rio went on to explain how important it is that they try to forget who they’re up against. “What the players have to do is make sure they’re not in awe of him, he’s a superstar, a legend, one of the best to ever play the game but they’ve got to take that out of their thinking before the game and that’s half the job,” he said, failing to explain why he and his teammates didn’t follow any of this sage advice in either of the two Big Cup finals in which they had their derrieres handed to them by Messi. An intriguing night’s football entertainment awaits. The Fiver says: “Bring it on!”

LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE TONIGHT

Join Paul Doyle at 8pm BST for minute-by-minute coverage of Manchester United 1-3 Lionel Messi in Big Cup, while Nick Miller will be on hand for Ajax 2-2 Cristiano Ronaldo.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“The first half was a comedy show … it was alarming … they wanted it far more than we did … it was like a cancer how it spread around the team … it looked like they threw the towel in … we looked scared … it’s a sad indictment … 80% of the team didn’t want to do the basics … we were a disgrace … you’re playing in front of 2,000 fans … what motivation do you need?” – Chester joint manager Anthony Johnson gives his fresh and funky feelings a public airing after his side’s 6-0 shellacking at home by Stockport.

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FIVER LETTERS

“Erik Samuelson (Tuesday’s letters) sounds like a top bloke but as Barry Glendenning knows all too well there isn’t anyone as nice in football as our dearly beloved Linvoy Primus MBE. He even sent me, a mere mortal fan, a birthday card once complete with a personal message. Beat that Erik!” – Ben North.

Linvoy Primus MBE



Linvoy Primus MBE being nice, earlier (well, 2007 actually – Fiver Ed). Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

“Re: Monday’s quote of the day – Kevin De Bruyne isn’t really endearing himself to Coventry fans when he says everybody has a stadium” – Jim Hearson.

“Let it not escape Wee Shortbread McFiver’s attention that the Scottish ladies defeated the mighty Brazil 1-0 in a friendly on Monday. Might we soon have the first mixed gender international side in history?” – John Myles.

“Martin Burke should stick to what he knows (Tuesday’s Fiver letters). There is no such thing as Hawaiian shorts in Hawaii. There ARE board shorts for surfing but they are generally relatively muted in color but otherwise no. There ARE loud Hawaiian shirts for tourists (which no resident of Hawaii would be seen dead in) but the real deal is the Aloha shirt which is semi-formal business wear. To be worn loose with chinos. The best are made by Reyn-Spooner and vintage examples are highly sought after. I expect better from The Fiver and I’m constantly disappointed” – Joe Mercer (current resident of Hawaii).

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is Jim Hearson.

NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

Harry Kane’s ankle-knack has left a dark cloud hovering over Mauricio Pochettino before Spurs’s Big Cup return leg at Manchester City. “It’s a worry for us,” sniffed Poch. “We are going to miss him – maybe for the rest of the season.”

Like a teenager on a first date in Paris, Manchester City are nervous in Europe, so says Ilkay Gündogan. “We were not brave enough in the game and we made a lot of simple mistakes,” he groaned. “I have the feeling we are nervous.”

The Cypriot FA has suspended all second division games amid suspicions of widespread match-fixing knack.

Phil Neville reckons his experience of World Cup heartbreak has given him the tools to let players down gently when he names his England squad for France 2019. “It happened to me three times so I am probably the best person in the world to experience it, to understand how you do it,” he said.

Fans of horrendously fluffed Panenkas will be happy to hear that Jan Vertonghen thinks VAR will bring around “20, 30, 40 more penalties” to the Premier League.

And a California-based Fulham fan is suing a state agency for banning him from having COYW on his licence plate because of a fear it has racial connotations. “It’s just a shirt colour … I pointed out that many clubs in Britain are known by their colour – the blues, the clarets. Nobody thought the Liverpool reds were communists,” gasped Jonathan Kottler.

STILL WANT MORE?

Floating football brain in a jar Jonathan Wilson wonders whether Pep Guardiola should try to be a bit less of a floating football brain in a jar himself.

Pep Guardiola



A cerebral overload, earlier. Photograph: Javier García/BPI/Rex Shutterstock

Sid Lowe on the priceless, abrasive value of Luis Suárez to Barcelona.

Nick Ames on Ajax v Juventus and why the Dutch side’s progress is good for Big Cup.

Don’t bother ranking goals, just enjoy them, toots Paul Wilson.

Birmingham’s Che Adams is so good he’s earned the nickname ‘Chelé’. Ben Fisher explains why.

Barney Ronay hails Son Heung-min’s contribution to Spurs’ Big Cup win over Man City, adding in passing that fans chanting for VAR represents a new nadir for our culture – and there’ve been a few.

Paul Wilson praises Boring Intense James Milner.

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





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