The Fiver | An unpredictable stramash but an anti-climactic Premier League race

The Guardian - Fri Jan 14 15:56

OFI FRIDAY

It’s a big weekend in the Premier League, which is The Fiver’s stock opening gambit for very quiet Fridays. But to be fair, it is a big weekend in the Premier League, which is what The Fiver always says to justify trotting out its stock opening gambit for very quiet Fridays. Come the evening, towards the end of this, a very quiet Friday, Brighton host Crystal Palace in the latest edition of the A23 derby, one of only four synthetic confections from the 1970s to still retain cultural cachet in the 21st century, alongside Spangles, Monster Munch, and Son of my Father by Chicory Tip. Hey, does anybody remember, etc.

Palace have had the better of the coffee-infused rivalry in recent times, winning on their previous two visits to Falmer. Brighton are in good form, though, having won two of their last three, so this stramash is nicely unpredictable, not least because the last three meetings have all ended with perception-bending, 90th-minute goals, Brighton scoring a couple of equalisers and Palace securing an absurd smash-and-grab win last February after being thoroughly played off the park. Hey, does anybody remember Mr Roy?

A big match all right, yet it’s just a mere curtain raiser for some proper humdingers to follow over the next couple of days. Aston Villa look to play Manchester United off the park for the second time in five days, with a view to maybe getting something out of it this time. In theory, Spurs and Arsenal contest the north London derby, a cauldron at the best of times, never mind with both teams dreaming of a seventh- or even sixth-place finish this year. There are two big relegation six-pointers between Newcastle and Watford, and Norwich and Rafa’s Everton. And perhaps best of all, Chelsea travel to Manchester City, who will wrap up England’s latest anti-climactic title race at approximately 12.47pm on Saturday, when John Stones rolls in their fourth. Yep, big weekend, coming right up (which, for the record, is our stock closing gambit for when we don’t have a pay-off).

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Thanks to God and the work of these heroes I was saved” – former Mali international Ousmane Coulibaly, who suffered a heart attack on the pitch during a Qatar Stars League match last week, thanks Al Rayyan’s James Rodríguez and Al Wakrah teammate Saoud Al Khater for helping to save his life.

FIVER LETTERS

“Re: yesterday’s Fiver letters. Reading the first English team to score seven more than once away from home since 1895-96? I must have dreamt Hereford United beating Forest Green Rovers 7-1 and Dagenham and Redbridge 9-0 in 2003-04. Just the 91 points and 103 goals that season, and they still didn’t get promoted” – Neil Turner.

“Anwar El Ghazi, completing his move to Everton, says that he wants to put a smile on the faces of the club’s fans. Shortly before Macbeth murders him, King Duncan, reflecting on the treacherous Thane of Cawdor, says: ‘There is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.’ When would a smile on an Evertonian’s face have anything to do with what is going on on the pitch? Are FSG planning to move Liverpool FC to Boston?” – Hanford Woods.

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 … Neil Turner.

NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

Burnley v Leicester has been postponed after a Covid outbreak, collective-knack and Chris Wood hotfooting it to Newcastle left the Clarets short of players.

It’s not going well for Tunisia at Afcon: having been left in a red-hot funk by bizarre timekeeping in their defeat by Mali, six of their players have now tested positive for Covid.

Pre-tournament favourites Senegal and Guinea are closing in on the Afcon knockout stages after their 0-0 stalemate.

Senegal’s Sadio Mané in action earlier on Friday.
Senegal’s Sadio Mané in action earlier on Friday. Photograph: Sunday Alamba/AP

Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies has stopped training due to a mild inflammation of the heart.

Mikel Arteta has been paying tribute to Arsenal’s “spirit, fight and brotherhood” [subs, please check – Fiver Ed] after his Granit Xhaka-impacted 10 men drew 0-0 at Anfield in the Worthington Cup semi-final first leg.

Meanwhile, Jürgen Klopp says that “scoring” is the only way to stop his ears being burned by questions about Mo Salah’s Afcon absence.

English clubs splashed more ca$h on international transfers than those of any country and completed seven of the 10 biggest deals in 2021, according to Fifa number-crunchers.

Ralph Hassenhütl is enjoying a test-drive of Chelsea’s Armando Broja so much that he wants him to stay in the go-faster stripes of Southampton. “As long as he is our player, we will have as much fun with him [as possible] and make him better,” he vroomed.

And Crystal Palace have offered to subsidise the coach travel costs for Hartlepool fans coming to Selhurst Park for their FA Cup fourth-round tie. “This kind of gesture restores your faith in the football family,” trilled Hartlepool suit Stephen Hobin.

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Get your listening gear around the latest Football Weekly Extra podcast.

STILL WANT MORE?

Ten things to look out for in the Premier League this weekend, right here.

Here. We. Go.
Here. We. Go. Composite: Shutterstock, Getty

Arsenal’s 10 men seized their chance to be heroes … just for one day, croons Jonathan Liew.

Steven Pye’s DeLorean takes us back to 1989 and a time when Manchester United were in even more of a state than they are now as they prepare to face Aston Villa.

Is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Turin-bound? Is Youri Tielemans off to Arsenal? Probably not, but they make a good headline for the Mill.

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

‘YOU WANNA RUMBLE IN MY JUNGLE? I’LL TAKE YOU ON’