BIG CUP OF SORROW
It’s fair to say Xavi could have asked for an easier start to life as Barcelona manager. First up in the league at the weekend was the derby – although, yes, admittedly Espanyol enter into these affairs with about as much chance of claiming local bragging rights as, say, Red Star Paris, 1860 Munich or Everton – and now comes a crunch Big Cup tie that could make or break their season.
It’s been a while since Barcelona went out in Big Cup’s group stage. The last time was in 2000-01, when Leeds edged out a side featuring Rivaldo, Phillip Cocu and, er, Xavi. This time it’s Benfica in the role of Dominic Matteo and co. Barça were battered 3-0 on their trip to Lisbon in September and their only points (and only goals) in the group so far have come from a pair of 1-0 wins over Dynamo Kyiv. Ordinarily that would put them on the brink, but Benfica – third in their domestic league, the Portuguese equivalent of being anchored to the bottom of the table – have not exactly taken advantage, shipping nine goals to Bayern since that victory.
So, for two European giants down on their luck, there’s everything to play for at the Camp Nou, with Barcelona desperate for a win before their daunting trip to Bavaria. “I see an opportunity, no pressure,” cheered Xavi. “Football always gives you a rematch. We’re Barça and we’ll go for it. I love challenges like this. Talking is easy, we need to show it on the pitch. Against Espanyol we were better. Barça aren’t in a situation to show off but we have reasons to be optimistic. If we win, we’ll qualify. We need to be brave and try.”
Elsewhere, the Manchester United clown car clatters into Villarreal for a crucial Group F tie, while Chelsea – needing a point to reach the knockout stage – welcome Juventus to Stamford Bridge. In Group G, there’s the potential for fireworks where all four teams – Lille, Energy Drink Salzburg, Sevilla and Wolfsburg – can still top the group or finish bottom.
LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE
Join our writers for hot Tuesday night Big Cup action, with Simon Burnton covering Villarreal 2-1 Manchester United (5.45pm GMT) before Will Unwin guides you through Chelsea 1-0 Juventus (8pm).
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I gave a tackle to [Spain’s César Azpilicueta]. I did it on purpose. I’m not ashamed to say it because he did something stupid to my player. Acting big to my player. It was a stupid thing, but I would still do it to make him understand: ‘You don’t [effing] do that. You don’t have balls to do it against me. But I will show you what happens if you do it to me.’ That’s why I did it” – it’s safe to say Zlatan Ibrahimovic pulls no punches (or shoulder barges) in this big, big interview with Donald McRae.
“Re: Richard Hirst’s suggestion (yesterday’s Fiver) that The Fiver set up a judge-led public inquiry into disparities in Premier League goal differences. High hopes for an email whose only previous contact with the Beak has followed charges for Tin-fuelled hijinks” – Simon Riley.
“As a Watford fan, not only do I get the joy of a new manager to fall in love with every nine months or so, but we are also now the Premier League’s official Bringers of Crisis. Our 13 points have been gained from wins against Villa, Norwich, United and Everton, plus a draw with Newcastle. All but one of these clubs later dispensed with their managers – and Rafa is looking nervously over his shoulder” – Jeff Lloyd.
“May I be among the child-rearing pedants to note that it was Bambi’s mother who was shot (yesterday’s Fiver)? Also, Ed Woodward would have missed” – JJ Zucal.
“In his Big Website interview, Zlatan Ibrahimovic says: ‘I did a stupid thing. But I will do it again.’ Is he going back to United?” – Krishna Moorthy.
“Manchester United – not so much a football club, more a non-fungible token” – Tony Timms.
Send your letters to [email protected] And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Jeff Lloyd.
Richard Dunne! Harry Enfield! The Eurasian Lynx! It’s David Squires on the hot mess at Manchester United.
No Christmas party again this year? Then you’re cordially invited to Football Weekly’s very own one on … checks notes … 30 November. Tickets are available now.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Mavys Álvarez, a Cuban woman who had a relationship with Diego Maradona two decades ago, has alleged that the Argentinian player raped her when she was 16. Álvarez, now 37, gave testimony last week to a Ministry of Justice court in Argentina.
Rory Dames, head coach of NWSL side Chicago Red Stars, has resigned amid multiple allegations of abuse, ranging from verbal attacks to inappropriate communications.
Tottenham have announced pre-tax losses of £80.2m for the financial year ending June 2021, with total debts increasing from £605m to £706m.
Captain, leader, legend – that’s the verdict on Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini, according to Plain Old John Terry, who praised the Juventus centre-back in an interview with Italy’s Gazzetta dello Sport and was particularly enthused by Chiellini’s foul on Bukayo Saka in the Euro Not 2020 final. “To do what Chiellini did is not easy,” POJT swooned. “If you just think about it, it’s clear that you are a legend.”
Pep Guardiola has been bigging up Mauricio Pochettino’s credentials before Manchester City’s Big Cup clash with PSG. “He is an excellent manager,” Guardiola hooted. “You can be a top manager and not win titles.”
Liverpool have already won their Big Cup group and may make changes for Wednesday’s game against Porto with knack worries mounting. “We always respect the competition but we have to think about ourselves,” trilled Jürgen Klopp as he perused the club’s wide array of skinny, big-fringed youngsters.
And Markus Anfang, the coach who quit Werder Bremen over allegations he faked his Covid-19 vaccine passport, is in more heißes wasser after being pictured living it up at a restricted local event. “His visit to the carnival in the middle of the pandemic is absolutely irresponsible,” fumed German tabloid Bild.
STILL WANT MORE?
“In the past when I was making little things in the studio it was more like bragging … but that wasn’t interesting for me. I wanted to be as authentic as possible and share my truth.” Former Liverpool winger Ryan Babel gets his chat on with Andy Hunter about the autobiographical rap album that has ruffled feathers in the Netherlands.
“The puritan urges us: forswear ketchup, that you may know the greater glories in life. The hedonist counters: what is the point of life without ketchup?” Yes, Jonathan Liew on football’s ketchup wars is as tasty as it sounds.
Kylian Mbappé was an outcast at PSG as the last transfer window closed – now he’s le grand fromage with Lionel Messi and Neymar trailing behind, writes Eric Devin.
And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!