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Opponents have somehow rumbled his most cunning Big Cup plans

Paul Doyle
·6-min read
<span>Photograph: Paul Childs/EPA</span>
Photograph: Paul Childs/EPA

MARSEILLE IT AIN’T SO

On Tuesday morning, Pep Guardiola leapt out of bed, ready to attack the day. But first, breakfast. Oat flakes and milk, the stuff of champions. “But wait,” thought Guardiola, “it’s Big Cup today.” Milk was too obvious. What his porridge needed was ketchup. “Hehe!” thought the Manchester City manager before adding a splash of vinegar, too. “No one will guess this is how I’ve been preparing!” chortled the tactics Yoda triumphantly. But then he felt a shudder. What if someone knew what he was up to?

Ever since his arrival at City four years ago, opponents had somehow been rumbling his most cunning Big Cup plans. In his first campaign, the ploy of dropping the free-scoring Sergio Agüero for a trip to Barcelona had not worked. Had Barça sensed what was coming? How come the ruse of deploying Fernandinho at left-back against Monaco in 2017 did not pay off? That same year even Shakhtar Donetsk seemed to figure out Guardiola’s scheming in advance: how else to explain that the Ukrainians beat City despite the presence of a 17-year-old Phil Foden at left wing-back? And just last season he unveiled a back three for the quarter-final against Lyon, behind a central midfield of Rodri and Ilkay Gündogan, and yet City struggled to penetrate. Hmmm. Why exactly is it that Guardiola’s most elaborate Big Cup wheezes have fooled no one? At times even his own players have seemed nonplussed by that mystery.

Guardiola reflected on all this again on Tuesday morning. Little wonder, he winced as he tucked into his ketchupy porridge. Then he had a brainwave. What if, even though City are riddled with injuries, Guardiola wrongfooted Tuesday’s opponents, Marseille, by doing the obvious thing? But there was a problem: even in the Premier League the obvious thing isn’t working for City any more. “Every team knows how we play,” sighed Bernardo Silva. “We find ourselves against teams who don’t want the ball, they just wait to counterattack. Since the start of the season we have not managed to be dangerous or create many chances and we have not been clinical.”

So even though Marseille lost their first group game to Olympiakos, maybe Guardiola does need to try something different for this Big Cup clash? Or maybe he just has to remind Riyad Mahrez that Marseille took him on trial when he was 18 and got him thinking they were going to sign him … before turning the winger away because they saw more potential in [Fiver double-checks notes] Billel Omrani. D’oh là là!

LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE

Hot Big Cup action ahoy! Join Barry Glendenning for Marseille 1-1 Manchester City and Paul Doyle for Liverpool 5-2 Midtjylland, both kicking off at 8pm GMT.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I dream of being able to score another goal against England, this time with the right hand” – all Diego Maradona wants for his 60th birthday is to stick it to Shilts and co one more time.

RECOMMENDED LOOKING

Marcus Rashford takes on rightwing blowhards, giant poppy men and an end-of-level toff in David Squires’s latest masterpiece.

FIVER LETTERS

“Re: Everton’s new nickname [Monday’s Fiver]. I’ll start the bidding with the Stinky Toffees” – Mike Wilner.

“The Slovenian women’s team visited Estonia for a friendly last weekend – and managed to rack up enough positive Covid tests to account for a third of all those in the country, sending it over a threshold that triggered tighter restrictions. Positive coverage of women’s football, but not of the good sort” – Robin Hazlehurst.

“Re: club crests repurposed [Fivers passim]: in Canada, we have a restaurant chain called Brown’s Socialhouse. It is considered a premium casual restaurant, which is code for food that’s far too expensive and generally sh1tty. The similarities are endless” – Thabo Caves.

“In a perfect metaphor, Jordan Junk [Monday’s Fiver] is best known for his work on a film called The Saddest Boy In The World. This is one of very few things I can share after my online search for ‘Jordan’s Junk’. Now, I must away and find my eye bleach” – Simon Mazier.

“Given his fabled choice of abode in Wetherby, Marcelo Bielsa wouldn’t need to go all the way to Villa Park in order to take possession of a large bag of sweeties” – Jim Hearson.

“Don’t you think it’s time to dump the Dirty Leeds sobriquet? They’re playing with some real class” – John Brotman. [No – Fiver Ed]

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Robin Hazlehurst.

NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

The FA has launched a new diversity code to improve ethnic and gender imbalances off the field in English football. Clubs from the Premier League, EFL, WSL and Women’s Championship have signed up, along with the England national teams.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino has tested positive for Covid-19 and is self-isolating with mild symptoms. “Fifa sincerely wishes president Infantino a speedy recovery,” a statement said.

Mesut Özil has chipped in to provide 1,400 schoolchildren with free half-term meals. Kids in Enfield, Barnet and Hertfordshire are set to benefit from the German’s initiative, backed by local charities.

Proper Journalism’s David Conn has exclusively revealed that FA chairman Greg Clarke raised the threat of a European breakaway at the start of Project Big Picture talks with assorted big-six suits.

The Fiver didn’t have Ole Gunnar Solskjær down as a John Sitton type of manager, but maybe the cracks are starting to show. “I realise the topic is Donny van de Beek and it’s nice for some players or commentators to have a little go,” he hissed at today’s presser. Let’s hope the assembled hacks brought their dinner.

If there’s one thing Mike Ashley hates, it’s seeing football fans being ripped off – so the Newcastle owner is urging the Premier League to cut the cost of pay-per-view. Ashley’s concern has absolutely nothing to do with grim viewing figures for the first PPV games, which have reportedly averaged below 40,000. Yikes!

With Sergio Agüero set for another month out with a fresh bout of hamstring-ouch, Pep Guardiola says he thought about bringing in another striker this summer, “but we cannot afford it.” Oh, the humanity …

And Julian Nagelsmann has been offering hints about his planned rig-out for Leipzig’s Big Cup trip to Old Trafford. “‘I have a special one for Wednesday,” he swooned. “Not as special as the suit against PSG but it is OK. It is a bit British style.” Consider our hooks tentered and breath bated.

STILL WANT MORE?

Nadiya Nighat, Kashmir’s first female football coach, is determined to lift other young women up in the war-torn region. “I never lost the hope to keep trying,” she tells Tahir Ibn Manzoor.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær: diarist, thinker and pupil. Jamie Jackson cribs from his new book on the former striker’s rise to become Manchester United’s manager.

Harrogate host Skelmersdale United, plus half-and-half scarf opportunities for families in the A5106 corridor as Chorley take on Wigan … it’s the FA Cup first-round draw!

Martin Dunlop is rightly aghast at the thought of the iconic San Siro being knocked down.

Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!

HALLELOO