An admission that maybe the Premier League is the ‘best in the world’ | Soccer

BIG CUP BYES

The Fiver has a recurring nightmare. It’s October 1992 and Richard Keys, his signature plantation of chest hair fighting its way out of a mustard blazer, is forcibly suggesting that we join him for five hours’ coverage of “The Best League. IN THE WORLD. ” We sit through Oldham 1-0 Everton, in which Ian Marshall and Robert Warzycha fight to the death for the Miss of the Season award, only to realize that all our European friends are in another room watching Baresi, Maldini, Van Basten, Rijkaard, Boban, Baggio, Möller, Kohler, Vialli, Casiraghi and AC Jimbo while being fed tagliolini pasta with fresh lobster and black truffles and supping glasses of vintage Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva DOCG.

Slowly, the full horror emerges: the Fiver is doomed to watch Oldham 1-0 Everton on repeat for eternity, and there’s no tagliolini pasta, either. Then we wake up and realize that such a peculiar torture is probably still preferable to real life. For much of the last 30 years, the insistence – one part smug, two parts Brexit – that the Premier League is the best in the world has felt on the desperate side of pathetic. There were a couple of spells of relative dominance, particularly from 2006-09, but they were usually ended by an unsheathing of the Real Madrid checkbook. This time it feels more sustainable, and not even your nostalgia-leaning Fiver can deny that the Premier League is the strongest around.

Two of the last three Big Cup finals were all-English affairs, and there’s a fair chance of another this year. The reason for that is fairly $ impl £, but it doesn’t change the fact that English football is as superior as at any stage since the early 1980s. Even Big Cup quarter-finals are starting to feel like a bye, not to mention a backdrop to a league game of far greater importance at the Etihad on Sunday. Few people seriously think Atlético Madrid and Benfica have anything more than a Foinavon’s chance of beating Manchester City or Liverpool over two legs. Those ties get going tonight, and tomorrow Chelsea begin a quarter-final against Real Madrid – Real bloody Madrid, whose 13 Big Cups is only one behind all the English clubs combined – in which they are strongish favorites.

The last time there were three English semi-finalists in Big Cup was in 2008-09. The assumption that it will happen again this year is probably restricted to supporters, neutrals and teatime emails. Pep Guardiola, Jürgen Klopp and Tommy T are allergic to complacency, which is one of the 478,124 reasons they are among the world’s best coaches.

Liverpool were beaten by Benfica when they last met in Big Cup, but that was 16 years ago and the world – not to mention the quality of Liverpool’s full-backs – has changed a lot since then. All things being equal, Klopp’s men will win in Lisbon tonight and finish the job next week. On their last three visits to Portugal, Liverpool have won 5-1, 4-1 and 5-0. Sure, they were playing Porto each time but our stereotypical English cousin, $ exually Repressed Morris Dancing Fiver, insists that Benfica and Porto are basically the same team.

There is no side in world football quite like Atlético Madrid, who bring their Traveling Circus of $ h! Thousery back to Manchester. Atlético are an awkward side who are also in decent form at the moment, with six league wins in a row. But there’s a reason why they are 10-1 to win the first leg at the Etihad and 11-4 to qualify for the semis. It’s because for the first time in the Fiver’s primarily futile existence, the Premier League is indisputably TBITW. It should be a cause for celebration. And yet, despite the recurring nightmare, we still have a soft spot for the days when Keys brainwashed the population of the UK into believing that a goalmouth scramble like this was the pinnacle of world football.

LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE

Join Nick Ames at 8pm (BST) for minute-by-minute updates of Benfica 0-2 Liverpool in Big Cup, while Rob Smyth will be on hand at the same time for Manchester City 2-0 Atlético Madrid.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Kick it in the net” – Sean Dyche dispenses some sophisticated instruction for his Burnley players, without a goal in four games, as they prepare for Wednesday’s relegation six-pointer with FL’s Everton.

RECOMMENDED LOOKING

Here’s David Squires on… the comeback story of the season.

Zing! Illustration: David Squires / The Guardian

MOVING THE GOALPOSTS

The Fiver has a new sister email, folks! It’s a weekly roundup of the wonderful world of women’s football called Moving the Goalposts. You don’t need to be told that it’s smarter and wittier than us – so sign up here.

FIVER LETTERS

“In my experience, Richard O’Hagan (Monday’s letters), it makes little difference if there’s a prize or not. I ‘won’ a letter o’the day prize on 9 December. Still waiting for my book. And this is the third time that’s happened! (Well, I say third time. One of those times I neglected to reply to a request for my address from a third party, so I suppose I probably have to take responsibility for that one. We’ll call it 1-2 to The Fiver) – Matt Dony (and no other disgruntled ‘prize’ winners).

“Can I be one of the 1,057 who predict that today you are going to whale on Richard O’Hagan by giving a prize to a reader who notes he didn’t get a prize for predicting he wouldn’t get one? Not to me, obviously I write bad letters ”- Jon Millard.

“Would it be rude to ask the Fiver to clarify the difference, apart from the obvious, between being ‘Spursy’ and ‘Arsenaling things up’? (readers? – Fiver Ed) “- Christophe Brown.

“Jürgen Klopp asking Liverpool fans to stay away if they had laryngitis (Friday’s Fiver) made me wonder if Frank Lampard might be considering doing a reverse ferret and asking Everton fans to stay away from future games unless they had laryngitis. That way the players won’t be able to hear those hoarse boos and rasping gasps of dismay and despair after yet another dismal performance ”- Steve Malone.

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our letter o ‘the day is… Matt Dony (obviously), who wins a copy of Jon Spurling’s Get It On, a joyous retelling of how the 1970s rocked football. And it’s also available here.

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Get your ears around the latest Football Weekly podcast here. And after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, the pod squad are going back out on tour, baby. Tickets to live shows in June and July will be available here from midday (BST) on Wednesday.

NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

After the roaring success of Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s stint as manager, it makes perfect sense for Manchester United to make another retro appointment. So it is no surprise to learn that, should Erik ten Hag become the club’s new manager, Steve McClaren might be appointed as his assistant to him. The Fiver cannot wait to hear the effect such a stunt would have on his famously versatile accent di lui.

After their 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is angry with his players, which sounds terrifying and not remotely hilarious. “We were late to every ball, we were soft in the duels and we didn’t earn the right to play,” he snivelled.

Leah Williamson has been named as England’s captain for this summer’s Euros. “Steph Houghton is one of this country’s all-time greats and to follow in her footsteps di lei – and all of those special names who have led the team in the past – means so much,” trilled Williamson.

Clad in what looked liked a Christmas special version of their famous red and black stripes, Milan moved further ahead at the top of Serie A – but their 0-0 home draw with Bologna did not suggest a first title in 11 years is on the agenda .

It's a crime against football kits.
It’s a crime against football kits. Photograph: Michele Maraviglia / NurPhoto / Shutterstock

And Mohamed Salah has been advised to find a new club by none other than Ashraf Sobhi, Egypt’s sports minister. “I have advised him to continue his journey at a club other than Liverpool,” said the renowned football expert, “but his direction of him now is to renew his contract with Liverpool. There are campaigns against Salah directed by some to bring him down, but I asked him not to pay attention to them. “

STILL WANT MORE?

The Big Cup reforms herald the return of the European Super League by another name, says Jonathan Liew.

Barcelona, ​​and Sid Lowe, get very excited over Pedri.

Ben McAleer has all the Big Cup predictions you need this week.

Red-hot Big Cup composite action, right here.
Red-hot Big Cup composite action, right here. Composite: DPPI / LiveMedia / Shutterstock; LightRocket via Getty Images; NurPhoto / Shutterstock; Soccrates / Getty Images

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