IT’S THE ROUND OF PSG!
When the draw for the first knockout phase of Big Cup was made in December, José Mourinho was still in charge of Manchester United, blissfully unaware he was just 21 fun-packed hours away from the sack. Suffice to say, it was pretty much universally expected that Paris Saint-Germain, with whom United were paired in the Round Formerly Known As The Round Of Arsenal, were going to give them an awfully hard smack in the mouth. But events, dear reader, events! And the world has turned quite a bit since then. Mourinho is gone, reinvented as a star of the stage, his music-hall tumbling act having taken Russian society by storm. This Ole Gunnar Solskjær seems like a nice lad. And poor Neymar’s feet have been found to have the load-bearing properties of a defence built around David Luiz. Oh Neymar! What have they done to you.
Suddenly, it’s back on! United can’t stop winning under their new interim boss, whose eagle eye for a player has unearthed a couple of gems in World Cup final goalscorer Paul Pogba and £57.6m Anthony Martial. Who knew? As a result, everyone at Old Trafford is in a good mood as Big Cup starts up again. By comparison, poor PSG have the collective face on, because Neymar isn’t the only one who’ll be missing on Tuesday night : Edinson Cavani felt a nip in the hip while slotting away a penalty against Bordeaux, while right-back Thomas Meunier was clumped upside the head on Saturday too. Factor in the way Neymar was worked over by Strasbourg, and French football increasingly sounds like a dystopian hellhole populated by packs of feral maniacs dealing in frontier justice. We really should watch more of it.
At least PSG can rely on wonderkid Kylian Mbappé, even if his form has been a bit patchy by his own standards. But that may not be enough. The reason the first knockout stage is no longer known as The Round of Arsenal is partly because the Gunners don’t compete at this rarefied level any more – you may as well be talking about Reims or Stade Dudelange. But it’s mainly because Arsenal’s clothes have been stolen by the flamboyant Parisians, who have embraced the concept of quartz-accurate failure and refined it for a new generation, folding in Barcelona one year, getting thrashed by Real Madrid the next. So how will the Round of PSG pan out this time? All logic dictates the damage will be done here, a weakened side picked off by in-form hosts. So The Fiver’s predicting an away win, followed in a couple of weeks by a capitulation of such scope that nobody will mention what happened during those infamous final seven minutes at the Camp Nou ever again. Lump on!
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QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I am glad he saved my header – because that act was the start of a friendship between us that I will always treasure. Whenever we met, it was always like we had never been apart. Rest in peace, my friend. Yes, you were a goalkeeper with magic. But you were also so much more. You were a fine human being” – Pelé leads the tributes to Gordon Banks, who has died aged 81. Here’s the obituary, by Brian Glanville, the save in Banks’s own words, memories from Alex Stepney and Peter Shilton, plus his life in pictures.
David Squires on … Maurizio Sarri and Chelsea.
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“I am very sad to read of Gordon Banks’s death, one of the heroes of my youth. He was the best goalkeeper I ever saw, and a really friendly and considerate person, extremely genuine. I got to know him a bit when I was at Keele University, where the Stoke team used to come and train and also helped out with the uni team (who were pretty poor). He was a good and tolerant friend of Neil Baldwin (perennial Stoke City mascot and main character of the wonderful BBC film Marvellous). He also made the best save I ever saw. In February 1970, Stoke drew at home 2-2 against Manchester United. If it hadn’t been for Banks, Stoke would have lost. Fairly late in the second half, George Best was near the halfway line when a long ball was played in his direction. He outsprinted a wrong-footed defence and found himself completely alone. Banks came off his line, up to about the penalty spot, and seeing this, Best set himself up for a perfect lob from the edge of the area. The ball was on its way and there was no way Banks could stop it … or so we thought. As the ball came towards him, Banks launched himself into the air, upwards and at the same time backwards. As the ball passed over, his body was angled at about 45 degrees back towards his goal, and he flayed out with his right arm, hitting the ball with a tremendous blow of his fingertips. Instead of continuing its intended path to the back of the net, the ball was diverted in its trajectory, clearing the bar by about three or four feet for a corner. The whole crowd was stunned into silence at this sheer brilliance, quite possibly the best save in the history of the game. Sadly there were no cameras there to record the event. It’s a memory that has stayed with me ever since, and although I’ve seen plenty of other good saves, and lots of other good goalkeepers, I am firmly convinced that Gordon Banks was the best ever, as well as being a very nice man. RIP” – Chris Weaver.
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our letter o’the day is … Chris Weaver, who wins a signed copy of Motty: 40 Years in the Commentary Box. Plenty more prizes to come.NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
A Burnley supporter has been charged with a racially aggravated offence after allegedly aiming abuse at Brighton’s Gaëtan Bong last Saturday.
Seventy-seven days after his arrest in Thailand on an Interpol red notice, Bahraini refugee Hakeem al-Araibiarrived back in Australia to a rapturous welcome.
Frank Lampard has distanced himself from the Chelsea job should Maurizio Sarri be bundled aboard the good ship Do One. “My job is here [at Frank Lampard’s Derby County] and I’m working very hard,” he yelped.
Aaron Ramsey will trouser more cash than any other British player in history when he joins Juve on an eye-popping £300,000 a week four-year deal.
After watching Willy Boly get up close and personal with Martin Dubravka before heading home a 96th-minute equaliser against Newcastle, Rafa Benítez claimed refs don’t know the laws. “The six-yard box is there to protect the keeper,” he blathered. “You have to protect the keeper.”
And Jürgen Klopp has Liverpool fans feeling nervous again after revealing he hopes to rush Dejan Lovren back from hamstring-twang for the Big Cup match against Bayern.
STILL WANT MORE?
“It hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to work for this.” Jadon Sancho gets his chat on with Ed Aarons about life at Dortmund.
PSG have rotated keepers all season and it’s the turn of Gianluigi Buffon to play in Big Cup, the one prize missing from his CV, writes Paul Doyle.
Like The Fiver and Tin, Brazilians and PSG have a long history together, writes Craig McCracken.
Everton Ladies’ boss Will Kirk tells Suzanne Wrack why he left Manchester and how the men’s game is a much more fickle place.
Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO !
ANOTHER ABSOLUTE BANGER
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