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The Fiver

A little pushback against the punditocracy's blowhardista wing


Cristiano Ronaldo in action against Luxembourg.
camera.png Cristiano Ronaldo in action against Luxembourg. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Scott Murray


England played very well last week against San Marino, for 45 minutes, and were efficient if not exactly effervescent against Albania at the weekend. Nothing to worry about there, although exactly how much use it is to anyone in a world where Belgium’s second string are capable of walking in eight against Belarus, celebrating their goals with little more than an insouciant shrug, is a moot point. Belgium’s haul was one of several eye-catching scorelines in the Human Rights World Cup qualifiers on Tuesday, along with Gibraltar 0-0 Netherlands after 40 minutes and Luxembourg 1-0 Portugal after 44. If we could have blown the final whistle there and then, sat back, got out the popcorn and immersed ourselves in the lovely fallout, we would have, promise you.

As things transpired, the Dutch went on to rattle in seven, while Portugal turned things around easily enough on account of actually being awarded goals for shots that crossed the line this time. Even so, Luxembourg’s early success against the European champions will have made Stephen Kenny feel a little better about himself in the wake of that nul-points fiasco last Saturday. The beleaguered O’Ireland boss will also have experienced the strange other-worldly sensation of happiness when a lovely training-ground corner routine led to a goal for James McClean in their friendly draw against Qatar. At last, some proof that it is worth persevering with the implementation of a more expansive style! A little pushback against the blowhardista wing of the punditocracy, who think O’Irish fans should settle for hoof and hope until the rapture and be happy about it too.

It was also a good night for the Welsh, for whom things were looking grim until nine minutes from time, when Dan James, the Pocket Toshack, rose to claim the points against the Czech Republic with an unlikely header. That instantly upgraded their qualification status from Pipe Dream to In The Hunt, something Norn Iron and Scotland will also be hoping to achieve on Wednesday with home fixtures against, respectively, Bulgaria and the folk who chase Berti Vogts over broken glass in his dreams. All of which leaves us with England, who would have been hot favourites to beat a Poland side with Robert Lewandowski in it, and are hot favourites to beat a Poland side without Robert Lewandowski in it. Still, if things go wrong and the Poles best England for only the second time in their history, look on the bright side: at least the next time they meet, everyone should have finally stopped banging on about 197effing3.


Join Scott Murray from 7.45pm BST for hot MBM coverage of England 2-1 Poland, while Paul Doyle will be on hand for the rest of the HRWC qualifiers.


“I had to mark him a lot. Even when I tackled him, it was like: ‘Wow, I tackled Neymar!”” – Trevoh Chalobah gets his chat on with Jacob Steinberg and reveals the confidence-boosting upsides of being sent out on loan from Chelsea to Ligue Urrrrrrrn Lorient.


Look at his face! Just look at his face!

Jumping for joy: Turkey's Öztürk celebrates national team call-up – video


“I’m getting bored with the following usage: ‘O’Ireland’, ‘Tin’, ‘Queen’s Celtic’, ‘getting chat on’ and ‘knack’. Just so you know. Maybe time for a little creativity?” – The Man Tim Lynch.

“A couple of weeks off from competitive football matches and this is what happens to US soccer news. Apropos of nothing, No 1 is apparently New York City FC coach Ronny Delia (there’s a blast from the past) who, let’s remember, quit the Queen’s Celtic back in 2016 due to his failure of only winning the league. Ah, them was the days” – Noble Francis.

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 … Noble Francis.


Chelsea are the first team to reach the last four of Women’s Big Cup after a smooth 3-0 win over Wolfsburg secured a 5-1 aggregate triumph. Manchester City, meanwhile, are taking on Barcelona now, now, now.

Sam Kerr after getting the flamin’ second.
camera.png Sam Kerr after getting the flamin’ second. Photograph: Szilárd Koszticsák/AP

Arsenal Women are looking for a new manager to take the reins off Joe Montemurro, who is flamin’ well off at the end of the season. “I’m hugely grateful to the club for their unrelenting support during my time here and in understanding and respecting my decision,” he cheered.

Premier League clubs lined the pockets of Mr 20%s to the tune of £272m between 1 February 2020 and 1 February 2021, an annual increase of £9m despite the pandemic.

Adrian ‘Aidy’ Boothroyd has responded to criticism of his management of England U-21s in exactly the kind of defeatist manner that has been the hallmark of his side’s recent displays. “I think the job is the utterly impossible job,” he parped.

The FA is deploying psychological profiling to help Hege Riise select the player to replace Steph Houghton as England’s captain in friendlies against France and Canada but, as far as we’re aware, no crime has been committed.

Pep Guardiola has described Sergio Agüero as “irreplaceable” so he can rush to replace him at Manchester City with, most likely, Erling Braut Haaland.

Stand-in Wales boss Robert Page can’t get enough of his defensive troops for holding strong against the Czechs. “They would have enjoyed that little battle at the end: five minutes, ‘put your tin hat on, dig a trench, and rise to the challenge,’” he roared.

And under-fire Republic O’Ireland boss Stephen Kenny says sticks and stones may break his bones but words will never hurt him. “[Criticism after the 1-1 draw with Qatar] doesn’t hurt me because you know what? I don’t care,” he tooted. “I know what I’m doing, I’m very clear what I’m doing.”


Producing serious flashbacks of being chased down the high street by harried Rumbelows staff at 4.30pm on a Saturday afternoon, courtesy of Steven Pye.

Some memories right there.
camera.png Some memories right there. Composite: Rex/BBC/ITV/Getty

“We’re not little kids”: leading Mr 20%s are ready for war with Fifa over new rules, reports Ed Aarons.

Bob Lewandowski-less Poland are hoping for a repeat of 197effing3 against England, writes David Hytner.

What are football’s biggest wins or comebacks by teams with 10 men? The Knowledge knows.

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


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The Fiver

Jogi Löw's stock falling further than an Oxo cube dropped from space


Oh Timo!
camera.png Oh Timo! Photograph: Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images
Barry Glendenning

Barry Glendenning


When Jogi Löw announced three weeks ago that he would stepping down as Germany coach after this summer’s European Championships, few in his homeland shed too many salty tears. Despite masterminding their fourth World Cup victory and steering them towards the business end of other tournaments, the once-revolutionary 61-year old’s stock has plummeted further than an Oxo cube dropped from outer space – so much so that many of his compatriots would have been happy to bid him “auf wiedersehen” before this summer’s European jamboree even started.

“I have great respect for Joachim Löw’s decision,” roared FA suit Fritz Keller last month, pointedly not mentioning that the German still had more than two years left on his contract. “It is thoroughly decent of him to inform us of his decision early; he has given us the necessary time and space to appoint a successor.” Herr Keller is likely to have woken up on Thursday morning with a great deal more respect for Löw’s decision, if not Löw himself, following Germany’s surprise home defeat at the hands of North Macedonia in their Human Rights World Cup qualifier.

Having put the ignominy of their November Nations League disgrace against Spain behind them with an emphatic victory over Iceland and a laboured win over Romania, Germany undid all their good work against a country that, since changing its name two years ago, only sounds like a fraction of its former self. “This is bitterly disappointing,” lamented Löw. “We were not fresh enough, we made mistakes. When we played quickly we were dangerous but we did not find the tools to be really threatening.” Among the tools Löw did have at his disposal was Timo Werner and the less-than-sharp striker was brought on to help rescue his nation from embarrassment as a substitute. With the North Macedonia goal gaping, he proceeded to go more viral than a Scottish rugby commentator’s Labradors with a miss so astonishingly bad that even an opposing defender was seen to throw his hands to his head in stunned disbelief as the ball trickled wide.

“Most players from TV Dornholzhausen or SG Bissenberg would have looked better in that moment, even if they had a glass full of beer in their hand,” harrumphed Oliver Fritsch in Die Zeit, going so far as to compare the 25-year-old confidence vacuum to the German equivalent of a hungover Sunday League clogger. On the plus side for Timo, he may at least get the chance to put things some way right this weekend, when Chelsea host the top-flight Sunday League cloggers that are Big Sam’s West Brom. For Jögi, the future remains less clear but he remains in place for now.


“We had a plan B and my staff were going to take charge of the game instead. It wouldn’t have made a big difference if I hadn’t made it” – Luis Enrique somewhat talks down his own import after almost missing Spain’s 3-1 win over Kosovo due to being trapped in a hotel lift for an hour before being rescued.

Ferran Torres fires home Spain’s second goal.
camera.png Ferran Torres fires home Spain’s second goal. Photograph: Miguel Angel Morenatti/AP


Come get some Football Weekly Extra.


“Re: Tim Lynch’s ennui concerning the over-familiarity of some of The Fiver’s stylings (yesterday’s Fiver letters). Predictability is the very essence of a catchphrase – indeed that quality alone has proved sufficient to launch at least one notable (though, with hindsight, slightly problematic) career in comedy, the writing of children’s books and then proto-national treasure. The Fiver just wouldn’t be the same without them, just as – even though it’s a dreadful piece of ancient cheese – Saturday nights just wouldn’t be right without the raucous tootling of the Match of The Day theme” – Steve Allen.

“Stephen Kenny is trying to modernise the way O’Ireland play, but now he’s discovering the hard way that there hasn’t been any real quality in the side since around 2002. I fear the same might happen if The Fiver takes Tim Lynch’s advice about updating its jokes” – Bernard O’Leary.

“Reading Tim’s letter surprised me because he was reading The Fiver … and looking for ‘more creativity’. Any would be a start! I’m off to discuss creativity with Stephen Kenny over some Tin” – Bobbie Isabel Davis.

“Got to love Tim pleading for a bit of creativity from The Fiver, only to be followed by a missive issued by Noble Francis” – Jim Hearson (and others).

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 … Bernard O’Leary.


Yeovil captain Lee Collins has died at the age of 32. “Lee sadly passed away yesterday and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends,” said the club.

RIP Lee.
camera.png RIP Lee. Photograph: Harry Trump/Getty Images

New research suggests home teams still retain a statistical advantage, even when games are played behind closed doors. “I was always convinced that me being at the games and supporting the team, at least changed something, sometimes,” sighed Prof Matthias Weigelt of Paderborn University. “But what can you do? It is science and the large data set of more than 40,000 games, [in] the study, cannot be ignored.”

Erling Haaland’s Mr 20%, Mino Raiola, has held talks with Barcelona after meeting Dortmund earlier this week to discuss their asking price for the striker this summer.

England manager Gareth Southgate is chuffed to bits that John Stones helped atone for his error in their 2-1 HRWC qualifying win over Poland. “The pleasing thing was John regained his composure quickly, recovered in the game and thankfully had an important part in the winning goal,” he cheered.

Adrian ‘Aidy’ Boothroyd thinks England have some soul-searching to do after another premature booting from the U-21 Euros. “I’m confident I know what I’m doing for this job,” he honked. “We should look a bit closer at ourselves and examine where we can get better.” The Fiver thinks it knows where they could start.

Former Bayern president Uli Hoeness wants Germany to pull its finger out over Covid vaccinations. “It’s a matter of fighting against a disease we haven’t experienced before and so we must stand together,” he tooted. Vaxx, yes. Taxx, er 

And Sergio Ramos is a doubt for Real Madrid’s Big Cup tie against Liverpool due to calf-twang. That sound you may hear over the coming days is thousands of Big Cup preview pieces being shredded.


The Euro 2020 power rankings are a curious thing. Make a one man weep (Jogi Löw), make another man sing (Bobby M).

Pow, pow, power rankings!
camera.png Pow, pow, power rankings! Composite: Reuters, Rex, EPA, Getty

In the first of a new Women’s Super League series, Lydia Williams, the Arsenal and flamin’ Australia goalkeeper, says she’d “love to inspire the next generation of Indigenous athletes”.

Roberto Baggio and Andrea Pirlo against Alessandro Del Piero and Zinedine Zidane: Juventus 1-1 Brescia in 2001. Emmet Gates remembers the Divine Ponytail’s greatest goal.

The very much misunderstood Raheem Sterling was a lone attacking spark amid England’s sludge against Poland, writes Barney Ronay.

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


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The Telegraph

Friday April 2 2021

Football Nerd

How Everton's misfiring attack could see them miss out on Europe


By Daniel Zeqiri

Ask Everton fans what Carlo Ancelotti has brought to the club and their answer is likely to include several intangibles: prestige, a winning mentality or added confidence in the biggest matches.

In short, necessary rather than sufficient qualities. A closer look at Everton's numbers and football suggests they are still a long way from being serious Champions League contenders.

They have won just four league games at Goodison Park all season. They are averaging just 9.8 shots-per-game, their second lowest total in a Premier League season since records began in 1997-98.

Their defensive statistics are not particularly impressive: in the bottom half for shots conceded, shots on target conceded and xG conceded.

In this week's Football Nerd, I take a closer look at Everton's season and ask if they are really heading in the right direction.


How Everton's paltry attacking output could see them miss out on Europe

Football Nerd: Everton fans love having Carlo Ancelotti as their manager but are they really going in the right direction?


Carlo Ancelotti reacts during the English Premier League soccer match between Everton FC and Burnley FC 

Everton fans are positively smitten with Carlo Ancelotti: he has given them their first league win at Liverpool for 22 years, a season-long challenge for the European places and a general sense of progression with a new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock on the horizon. 

A closer look at their football however, reveals Everton are a long way from being considered serious Champions League candidates. After a home match against Crystal Palace and a trip to Brighton they face Tottenham, Arsenal, Aston Villa and West Ham in successive Premier League games. They could be in an uphill battle to finish in the top eight, which would be a disappointing conclusion to a promising season. 

The first problem Everton need to address is their home form. They are fourth in the away table with nine wins from 14 games, but 15th in the home equivalent with just five wins in 14 at Goodison Park. Ancelotti's team have lost home fixtures against Fulham, Newcastle and Burnley. 

This poor record reflects the fact Everton struggle to put teams under sustained pressure. Everton are averaging just 9.8 shots-per-game, their second lowest total in a Premier League season since records began in 1997-98. Only Burnley, Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and West Brom take fewer shots per game. 

Everton fare slightly better when it comes to expected goals, testament to Dominic Calvert-Lewin's talent for getting high-quality chances in the six-yard box, but their output is still pretty mediocre. Their average of 1.22 xG per game puts them 12th in the rankings, behind West Ham, Leeds, Brighton, Aston Villa, Tottenham and Arsenal. 



They have relied on the efficiency of Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison to score 40 league goals from a season-long xG tally of 34.14. Everton's shot conversion rate is 14.7 per cent, their highest in a Premier League season since 1997-98. Is that sustainable?  Their defensive statistics are not particularly impressive, in the bottom half for shots conceded, shots on target conceded and xG conceded. 

Big name appointments give fans comfort, but are Everton really going anywhere? There are certainly positives. Ben Godfrey has proved an excellent purchase at the back, precisely the kind of young talent Everton should be targeting, and they have one of the best strike partnerships around in Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin who are the right age at 23 and 24. 

The concern is Everton went big on Allan, James Rodriguez and Abdoulaye Doucoure last summer - 30, 29 and 28 respectively - yet central midfield still looks an area lacking intensity out of possession and quality on the ball. 

Ancelotti is not a great builder of teams and clubs; his best work has been fine-tuning squads filled with elite players. Everton fans love having the Italian as their manager, but whether he is exactly what they need remains an unanswered question. 


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You should stop looking above. We will have huge troubles with the teams behind.

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Where did Tottenham come from?!

Hopefully Arsenal can do us a favour...in a way its good we still have some rivals to play but then also bad as dropping points against them and uh ohhhhh time. Saying that think it's just West Ham we have.  But also got a bunch of other horrible fixtures for their own reasons coming up...yayyyy

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20 minutes ago, Laylabelle said:

How lovely we've given Liverpool a boost...urghhhh 

We give most teams a booster around the most fucked up times.....sadly

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I can't believe Spurs are going to finish above us. Its a fucking travesty and Frank is most accountable in my book. TT fucked up royaly today but he has down a great job upto this point. We would be in the top 3 if he had started the season in charge. 

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Just now, DDA said:

I can't believe Spurs are going to finish above us. Its a fucking travesty and Frank is most accountable in my book. TT fucked up royaly today but he has down a great job upto this point. We would be in the top 3 if he had started the season in charge. 

I didnt realise how close they were suddenly..there were miles behind at one stage! Then again so were Man U and they're off and away above..annoying 

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10 minutes ago, Laylabelle said:

I didnt realise how close they were suddenly..there were miles behind at one stage! Then again so were Man U and they're off and away above..annoying 

Imagine how smug Jose is going to be when they finish in 4th. Lord give me strength.

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3 minutes ago, DDA said:

Imagine how smug Jose is going to be when they finish in 4th. Lord give me strength.

They won't...they can't..dont think it should happen lol. Think be Liverpool 

Oh marvellous..City are 4 wins from the title...and if they win the next 3 guess who the 4th game is against...yay

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For a moment we actually believed we might finish above Liverpool 😄

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Just now, Milan said:

For a moment we actually believed we might finish above Liverpool 😄

How naive we were haha. Then again I thought they'd win the league sooo

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