BIG CUP IS BACK, BABY!
And then there were 32. After a total of 91 matches in its preliminary rounds, qualifiers and play-offs, Big Cup proper is finally back. While your Queen’s Celtics, your Feronikelis and your Slovan Bratislavas have been consigned to the dustbin of domestic competition or Big Vase, Europe’s elite – and the 16 other teams in there to make up the numbers – prepare to duke it out in the group stages. Ah, the group stages: 96 largely pointless and hugely predictable matches across eight groups in a complete waste of almost everybody’s time when history suggests that the 16 with the most money should just about be ushered through to the knockout stages.
“Yeah but what about Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, who nearly didn’t make it but still ended up contesting the final?” yeah-but-what-about Big Cup’s group stage cheerleaders, waving their Uefa-issue Gazprom-branded pom-poms and apparently oblivious to the incredible amount of heavy lifting being done by the word ‘nearly’ in their self-defeating arguments. Nearly never bulled a cow, as Weird Uncle Fiver fails to tire of reminding us, although if anyone can get one to do so it’s probably him.
Speaking of Liverpool, the defending champions are in Italy for a tricky opener against Napoli and both teams will kick off knowing the consequences of defeat for either side will be … almost totally inconsequential. Of course that won’t stop BT Sport giving it the big licks, mind, for a likely group-stage match audience of a tumbleweed rolling through an abandoned western town. Jürgen Klopp insists his players have not had their heads turned or swollen by last season’s success. “After that, of course, if you start taking drugs, drinking, buying new cars and leaving your wife, then it gets harder,” he said at his press conference, his notoriously blingtastic captain Jordan Henderson sitting beside him surrounded by an entourage of fawning flunkies and wearing a mink stole and a golden crown.
Meanwhile at Stamford Bridge, Frank Lampard’s Chelsea’s Frank Lampard makes his managerial bow in Big Cup as they entertain Spanish footballing basket cases Valencia, who have been plunged into their worst crisis since owner Peter Lim stuck a managerial contract under Gary Neville’s nose and handed him a pen. In another act of apparent self-sabotage, the Singapore-based businessman has just sacked a vastly superior gaffer in Marcelino, following a power struggle that played out over the summer. The upshot? Having got spanked by Barcelona over the weekend, Valencia travelled to London with a new boss in Albert Celades. And so miffed are his players by the decision to fire his predecessor that they’ve declared a media blackout, meaning that, unlike Jürgen, their hapless new boss was forced to conduct his press conference all alone beside a conspicuously empty chair.
LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE
Join Barry Glendenning from 8pm for hot MBM coverage of Napoli 2-2 Liverpool, while Simon Burnton will be on hand for Chelsea 1-1 Valencia.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“They did all the work and I took the glory, so it can’t be any better” – a mantra we can definitely get on board with, from Arsenal match-winner Daniëlle van de Donk after her dramatic WSL winner at Manchester United.
This Star Wars-facing David Squires cartoon ended up provoking a chat involving trendy King’s Lynn nightspot Dr Thirsty’s. Sounds like Weird Uncle Fiver’s shrink. You can get a copy here.
Football Weekly is right here.
Send your letters to email@example.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Rollover.
BITS AND BOBS
Neymar has had his three-match Big Cup ban for bellyaching about match officials after PSG’s ignominious defeat by Manchester United last season downgraded a game by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The most interesting thing from Aston Villa 0-0 West Ham was Anwar El Ghazi as good as planting the nut on teammate Tyrone Mings. “El Ghazi has a little bit of red mist in him, like most professional footballers,” parped Villa boss Dean Smith.
Get well soon to former Hearts manager Jim Jeffries, who is recovering after a heart attack.
And Macclesfield Town are taking action after a video emerged of staff members out in Swindon the night before Saturday’s League Two defeat. “The four individuals have let the club, staff, players, themselves and our fans down massively,” sniffed a club statement. “The individuals in question are being dealt with behind closed doors, as this type of behaviour is completely unacceptable.”
STILL WANT MORE?
Sid Lowe on the nonsense at Valencia.
Carlo Ancelotti has all the pieces in place. Now Napoli seek silverware, as Nicky Bandini reports.
Andy Hunter is with the European champions as they launch their title defence.
Suzanne Wrack on the alarming neglect of player welfare in the women’s game.
Banning fans’ free speech is not consistent with our vision of sport, or democracy, warns Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
We’ve also got some classic sports photos available for you lucky people, starting with this White Hart Lane in the fog classic.
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PASS THE REMOTE