SQUEEZING THE MIDDLE
We don’t want to get too excited, but there are signs The Fiver’s tireless STOP FOOTBALL campaign may be finally bearing fruit. With the hastily-convened Respect Break rolling into the international break, a number of Premier League teams are looking at four full weeks between fixtures. The knock-on effect is that, with an extended Human Rights World Cup sabbatical looming, the top-flight table will be an uneven, unsatisfying jumble for some time. Just look at the state of it!
It’s hard to extract too much narrative from this particular set of data, but by running the numbers through our Fivermetrics™ supercomputer, we can predict a rough year ahead for the top-flight’s midlands giants. Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest, Wolves and Leicester City have won 48 major trophies between them. Sadly, this season they have already collectively conceded 56 goals, and are all currently in the bottom six. Leicester are bringing up the rear after giving up on the whole enterprise of being a football club – signing players, marking at set-pieces, stuff like that. New centre-back Wout Faes, a sort of ersatz David Luiz, is unlikely to improve matters.
The next/first assignment for under-fire boss Brendan Rodgers/new manager Sean Dyche will be a Monday night derby against Forest’s … ah, under-fire boss Steve Cooper/new manager Sean Dyche, whose side are starting to resemble a cruel mid-2000s reality TV experiment, where a historic club punch their ticket back to the big time, only to have their entire squad replaced overnight. At least it’s likely to be entertaining, which is more than can be said for Wolves. Across England’s top six tiers, only Gillingham have scored fewer than the three goals mustered by Bruno Lage’s lukewarm-shots so far this season.
Then there’s Aston Villa, who at least saw off Southampton in a match broadcast on Sky Sports, then described by Sky Sports’ Jeff Stelling “as up there with the worst ever PL games”. And what about Steven Gerrard? Is he successfully instilling some much-needed grit in his side, or sending an expensively-assembled team out to play meat-and-potatoes football while he searches Tyrone Mings’ locker for ketchup sachets? The jury remains out – and the return to TV of old mate Rafa Benítez, ghost of sackings yet to come, may warm up that hot seat even further.
Still, as The Fiver knows all too well, it can always be worse. Stoke and West Brom are caught in a post-Pulisball feedback loop. Birmingham, Derby and Coventry have all suffered years of financial woe. But is treading water the only alternative? Rather than play out a regional relegation battle, perhaps they should stick two fingers up to Todd Boehly and form their own Midlands All-Stars. With Leicester’s attack, Wolves’ defence, Forest’s manager and Villa’s budget combined, they might just stay up. Might.
LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE
Join Niall McVeigh at 7.30pm BST for Arsenal 3-0 Ajax in the first leg of their Women’s Big Cup qualifier.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I realised we had to change things inside, but I couldn’t do it straight away because I was [a] Red and it could be seen as ‘Oh, he’s come in to change our club’. In another club, I would have made those decisions. I did it in the past, because you know very clearly that is the way to improve, but at Everton I couldn’t do it” – Rafa Benítez explains how that huge elephant in the room trampled all over his chances of success at Goodison Park.
It’s David Squires on … the Premier League’s attempts to get the tone right.
“It feels wrong to write to The Fiver on a pedantic point [yet here we both are – Fiver Ed] but the home of National League Boreham Wood/Arsenal’s back-up ground/Strictly Come Dancing is not in ‘deepest’ Hertfordshire (Friday’s Fiver). The area even has a London phone number, such is the proximity to the Greater London hot spots/ends of tube lines that are Edgware and Stanmore” – Neil Rose.
“Now that Hartlepool have pushed boss Paul Hartley through the door marked ‘Do One’, does this mean they’ll need to rename the club?” – James Vortkamp-Tong.
“Spain alluding to cycling in the coverage of their latest squad announcement (Friday’s Quote of the Day) was an interesting decision. While the men’s football team were dominating the international game between 2008 and 2014, Spanish cyclists were dominating the Grand Tours. Since then, Spain’s cycling successes have been restricted to winning the team classifications, which are well-earned but still considered secondary competitions to the overall, individual races. However, as a way to generate interest in the Nations League, it’s probably perfect” – Ed Taylor.
“Presumably we can now have Gareth Southgate, in full cricket garb, announcing his next squad while smacking some poor sucker (probably James Maddison) for six in a tribute to Bazball?” – Noble Francis.
Send your letters to [email protected] And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our letter o’ the day, who also scoops a copy of Jonathan Wilson’s Two Brothers, which is also available to buy here, is … Ed Taylor.
Max Rushden and his European-focused pod squad ask: are Bayern and Juve in crisis? And the Women’s Football Weekly pod picks over the opening WSL weekend.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
La Liga has vowed to “bring to justice” fans who chanted racist abuse at Real Madrid forward Vinícius Júnior before the derby at Atlético.
Jude Bellingham, Jordan Henderson and Declan Rice have been deemed only fit enough to train indoors at England training before their Nations League defeats against Italy and Germany.
Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is a doubt for the north London derby on 1 October after leaving the France camp with a pesky case of thigh-knack.
Keith Curle is the new manager of Curleypool.
And David Unsworth is the latest contestant to take on the challenge of trying to survive for more than a year at Oldham. “I genuinely think this club is a sleeping giant,” he soothed, while replacing a picture of John Sheridan’s family on his new desk with one of his own.
STILL WANT MORE?
Months before the Human Rights World Cup starts, migrant labourers at Qatar’s stadiums face poor living conditions and say they still pay illegal fees and cannot change jobs. Pete Patisson reports from Doha.
When Jess Hayes was young she was groped, stared at and cat-called when at Premier League games but, she writes, the WSL shows that attending a match can be fun and safe.
Son Heung-min’s weekend hat-trick brought a collective sigh of relief in South Korea, explains John Duerden.
Todd Boehly’s arrival as soccer’s ideas man suggests foreign money wants to talk as well as spend, suggests Jonathan Liew. Meanwhile, Aaron Timms says the creeping USA! USA!! USA!!! influence in football need not be a universally bad thing.
Forget PSG. In Ligue Urrrrrrrrn the real fun is to be found in a relegation battle that threatens to take in over half the teams, yelps Adam White.
And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!