Liverpool and the eerie channeling of that 1981 spirit | Soccer

FOOTBALL 81

The draw for the rounds of the Big Cup that don’t involve Paris Saint-Germain was made on Friday morning. At first glance, the runes read nicely for Liverpool, who face Benfica in the quarters, then possibly Bayern Munich in the semis and Real Madrid in the Stade de France showpiece. Could this be some sort of omen? Liverpool won the League Cup in 1981, you see, then went on to beat Bayern in the Big Cup semis and Madrid in the final … which, yes, you’ve got there before us, was held in Paris. Something something Coronation Street and royal family blah, and there you have it. Eerie or what?

Holders Chelsea and Manchester City might not be quite so ready and willing to channel the spirit of 1980-81, however. City did get to a final that season, that is true, but only to happily put through their own net before conceding one of the greatest goals of all time. Ricky Villa’s weaving run in that FA Cup final replay was unarguably City’s greatest inadvertent contribution made to the culture that season, though the sublime genius of the Granada documentary City! runs it close. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, set aside an hour, we guarantee you’ll enjoy it, even if you won’t get the rich smell of fag-ash and pomade out of your nostrils for a week.

Chelsea’s 1981 wasn’t quite so glamorous. They were in the old Second Division at the time, having failed to win promotion the season before, Devon Loch-ing it during the run-in. Picking themselves up to try again, they embarked on a nine-game goalless streak and ended up 12th. To think the current generation are feeling sorry for themselves following the fall of the Roman empire. Anyway, their 2022 model could meet City in this year’s semis, providing they get past Real Madrid and Pep’s lot beat Atlético. That would be a mouth-watering repeat of last year’s final, wouldn’t it, which Chelsea won 1-0 thanks to Antonio Rüdiger’s challenge on Kevin De Bruyne.

But the events of 1980-81 will surely encourage West Ham United. Euro Vase was lifted that season by Ipswich Town – for reasons too boring to go into, Alan Brazil wore just a dressing gown when he picked up his medal, a mental image you can enjoy all weekend – and West Ham’s magnificent performance against six-time winners Sevilla showed that another surprise English triumph is eminently possible. The Hammers face Lyon in this year’s quarters, then maybe the rabble masquerading as Barcelona in the semis, before a possible final showdown with O’Rangers, winners of… the 1981 Scottish Cup. Wow. The spooky alignment of stars across the space-time continuum, or four paragraphs of tenuous nonsense based on the flimsiest premise? You decide!

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Watching my son idolize players like Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan the same way he did Lionel Messi or Karim Benzema, I realized that amplifying female athletes could rapidly shift culture” – Natalie Portman talks to Adam Elder about the story of Angel City FC, who play their first competitive match on Saturday.

Possibly Natalie Portman’s first Fiver appearance. Photograph: D Robert Franz

FIVE LETTERS

“Your picture of three Spurs players dressed up for a 1950s charity performance (Wednesday’s News, Bits and Bobs) reminded me of those innocent times when footballers had to work for a living after hanging up their boots. George Robb was my biology teacher in the mid-1960s and I seem to remember him skipping over the human reproductive system as quickly as he used to nip down the wing for Spurs” – Bill Jones [have any other former players taught you? – Fiver Letters Ed].

“Re: Ben Curttright (yesterday’s Fiver letters). The Ricketts family are unlikely to get a look-in at Chelsea as the Premier League have a really effective ownership tes… ah” – Ian Richards (and others).

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… Bill Jones.

NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

Joey Barton’s trial for allegedly assaulting his wife during a drunken row has been delayed after she wrote a letter to prosecutors in a bid to “exculpate” her husband, a court has heard. The Bristol Rovers manager’s barrister Simon Csoka QC said Georgia Barton now claims she was accidentally injured when friends intervened in her argument with her husband after drinking “four or five bottles of wine each”.

Joey and Georgia Barton leave Wimbledon magistrates' court.
Joey and Georgia Barton leave Wimbledon magistrates’ court. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

Russia’s participation in the Human Rights World Cup is almost certainly over after a move to delay their suspension while an appeal was heard was rejected.

Middlesbrough boss Chris Wilder insists Chelsea don’t need anybody’s sympathy as he attempts to dump them out of the FA Cup quarter-finals. “For me, the noise that’s been coming out if it – the club is not in Jeopardy, is it?” I have tooted. “It’s not a situation like a Macclesfield or a Bury in the football pyramid, what happened and shouldn’t really have happened. It will go up for sale and it will be bought by a billionaire, who will possibly invest more money into it.”

Tommy T has dismissed speculation linking him with Manchester United and reaffirmed his commitment to Chelsea. “We have plenty of reasons to stay in the moment here, and this is what we do,” he cheered.

Trent Alexander-Arnold will miss a crucial stage of the season after being ruled out of upcoming Liverpool and England action with hamstring-twang.

Also knacked is Frank Lampard’s Everton manager Frank Lampard, who managed to suffer hand-snap while celebrating their last-gasp Premier League winner against Newcastle. “I think I just connected with something and then I realized about two minutes later my hand was shaky,” he sighed. “My bones must be going soft.”

And Leicester will meet PSV in the Tin Pot quarter-finals after edging past Rennes.

STILL WANT MORE?

It’s an FA Cup-Premier League hybrid in this weekend’s 10 things to look out for.

Let's get things.
Let’s get things. Composite: Getty, Rex Features

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