THE AGONY OF THE ETIHAD
If managing Manchester United is hard, something we scientifically proved beyond all doubt yesterday by equating Ole Gunnar Solskjær with Frank O’Farrell on the basis of five results, then managing Manchester City is all but impossible. Even the greats struggle. Howard Kendall, who turned relegation-haunted Everton into the best team of the mid-80s, couldn’t see how to make the job work. Sven-Göran Eriksson, who inspired Lazio to their first Serie A title for 27 years, had no routemap to revival. Kevin Keegan … and there’s the rule of three working its rhythmic magic again.
So it’d be a bit much to complain about Pep Guardiola, especially as he’s already won City one league, is five wins away from another, and has thrown in a couple of League Cups for good measure. He’s also not got them relegated, not got them relegated as reigning champions, not got them relegated along with another club in the same season, not got them relegated after ordering his players to take it to the corner instead of looking for the goal that might stop them getting relegated, and lasted in office for more than 33 days. He’s taken standards up a notch in so many different ways.
And yet that won’t stop folk pointing out his inability to totally eradicate the Cityitis virus that has plagued the club since the get-go. Last night City managed to discover yet another creative way to experience soul-liquidising heartbreak, another bizarre fiasco that slots seamlessly into their unique canon of ill fate and farce. Our hearts go out to Raheem. We pity poor Pep. We feel the pain of the fans, whose ear-splitting celebratory roar suddenly became a deafening silence, the nearest anyone’s got to recreating the eerie vibe of Brazil v Uruguay at the 1950 World Cup. The Etihadaço. It’s surreal. It’s unprecedented. It’s so very City - who for the record have consistently voted in favour of the implementation of VAR. Of course they have.
While ghoulishly obsessing over the vanquished is the British way, we should also take a minute to congratulate Tottenham. Their superb performance over both legs has earned them a place in the semi-finals of Big Cup for the first time since 1962, when reigning champions Benfica knocked them out … but only after goals by Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Smith were disallowed for offside, Smith’s effort being chalked off despite two Portuguese defenders loitering on the line. So it’s fair to say the competition has owed them a little something. In return, City should take succour in the fact that, if what goes around continues to come around, they’ll get the benefit of a Big Cup break in 2076. They should also be pretty pleased that miracle-worker Mauricio Pochettino won’t be going to United in the summer. In that sense, it was a great night for City.
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Join Rob Smyth from 8pm BST for hot MBM coverage of Chelsea 3-0 Slavia Prague (agg: 4-0), while Scott Murray will be on hand for Napoli 2-0 Arsenal (agg: 2-2; Arsenal win 5-3 on penalties).
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“The SFA have acted, they’ve taken Alex out of the firing line but it’s up to somebody else to now come in and carry the can forward” – former striker Kris Boyd responds to Alex McLeish’s Scotland sacking with the novel concept of pre-emptive blame shouldering. Don’t all rush at once, guys.
Football Weekly Extra is here!
“Re: your Stone Roses comment, Ole will probably be Driving South (we already know he’s at the wheel) if that lot down the road end up in their Mersey Paradise in a few weeks’ time. And even if the whole thing does end in tears, he will always be remembered for putting a smile back on peoples’ faces after the club finally said Bye Bye Badman” – Tom Mann.
“As someone who has had to increasingly cover UK political uncertainties (i.e. Brexit) for their economic forecasts, I could never understand why anyone, literally anyone, would want to go into politics … until I saw the Ecuadorian president defending a photograph of him on a hotel room bed eating lobster: ‘It was my birthday. I was watching soccer in bed. It was a great day.’ We should all aspire to be the president of Ecuador” – Noble Francis.
“Given his devotion to food over football [yesterday’s quote of the day], Shay Given should pack in punditry and open a restaurant, ideally a French-influenced fine dining establishment. He could call it ‘Chez Given’” – Andy Korman.
“So Blackeye Rovers have suffered their moniker for a whole 11 years?! Pshaw! Mere nicknamery whippersnappers! My team, so-called-but-actually-never-were-anyway Dirty Leeds, have had to put up with such slander for over 50 years” – Rob Heath.
“As a man who was once a ballboy called a ‘c%#t’ by Paul D!ckov, I too believe they should keep their bully boy nickname. D!ckov at this point was Oldham manager, and I was a 16-year old ballboy for Southampton. My crime? Being the nearest thing to him when Saints scored” – emotionally scarred Jordan Florit.
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 … Jordan Florit.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Olivier Giroud wants to feel something more. “Next year, I will need to have a more important role to play in the team,” cried the Frenchman. “It is in Chelsea’s court, we are still waiting to find out whether the club will have the opportunity to buy players or not, so maybe it’s a bit confusing now.”
Maverick manager Unai Emery – get this – has said Arsenal’s “first target is to win” their Europa League quarter-final second leg in Naples.
Mauricio Pochettino: happy! Pep Guardiola: sad¡
Perennial underdogs Manchester United have clawed their way to Women’s Super League promotion with just three games to spare after a 5-0 win over Aston Villa, who they beat 12-0 back in September.
Somebody shoved a microphone in front of Jürgen Klopp after Liverpool’s win in Porto. “Now we are in the semi-final against Barcelona. I’m really happy about the fact we play them,” he said, fooling nobody.
And for your bulging away-fans-going-to-similar-sounding-but-very-different-destinations scrapbook a Benfica fan has today wound up in Frankfurt (Oder) for his team’s Big Vase tie against Frankfurt (Main) around 600km away.
STILL WANT MORE?
How do you make sense of last night’s Big Cup mayhem in Manchester? Barney Ronay has a go here, dubbing it “mind-bending”. While floating-brain-in-a-jar Jonathan Wilson questions whether it’s fair to call Pep a Champions League choker.
From Neymar-Mbappé to Fraser-Wilson, Martin Laurence muses on the best striking partnerships in Europe this season.
Liverpool’s resilience stands them in good stead for their Big Cup semi-final, chimes Sid Lowe.
Stuart James on Ajax’s “babies” making the big boys cry, and everyone else cheer.
Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!
ENJOY YOUR EASTER WEEKEND. WE’LL BE BACK ON TUESDAY