Another match preview for your delectation:
It never rains but it pours dept: Bolton have just issued a statement.
Due to a critical failure of the stadium’s IT system, Saturday’s Sky Bet Championship match against Ipswich Town at the University of Bolton Stadium is in doubt.
Engineers will be working through the night to resolve this issue and the club will provide an update at the earliest available opportunity.
Here’s how we think the teams might line up for tomorrow’s first FA Cup semi-final, as Brighton become the latest team to attempt to stop Manchester City winning a thing:
BONG! It’s Fiver of the clock!
You’ll never guess who’s going to start for Newcastle this weekend. Or at least you don’t need to guess, because we’ve done it for you:
Here’s a bit of nostalgia for fans of nineties and noughties Serie A:
Here’s a story from Reuters about Isaak Hayik, who has officially become the oldest player to play a professional football match at the age of 73:
Darting between the goal posts with his striking white hair, 73-year-old Israeli Isaak Hayik set a new world record on Friday as the oldest person to play in a professional soccer match.
Hayik, who celebrates his 74th birthday next week, broke the record after playing as a goalkeeper in an afternoon game with Israel’s Ironi Or Yehuda soccer club.
The Iraqi-born keeper was officially recognised in an award ceremony attended by representatives from the Guinness World Record organisation.
“I’m ready for another game,” said Hayik, who made some good saves in the team’s 5-1 defeat to Maccabi Ramat Gan.
“This is not only a source of pride for me but also to Israeli sports in general,” added Hayik, who moved to Israel when he was four years old.
The previous record was held by Robert Carmona of Uruguay, who in 2015 played a professional match with Uruguay’s Pan de Azucar at the age of 53, an official adjudicator for Guinness World Records said.
Afternoon/whatever-it-is-where-you-are everybody! I start with some fantastic news for Aaron Ramsey fans, the good news being that he will be fit to assist Arsenal against Everton at the weekend. Unai Emery says this:
Aaron trained normally and all the players are working. We are thinking game by game and we know seven matches, and five away, for us is a big challenge. We have confidence now but we know it is very difficult. It’s a long way for the last matches. We hope we can take the next matches. Three points like Sunday with Everton is the most important because we know also the other teams are going to demand a lot of us.
Strangely, apart from the bit where he says “we have confidence”, it’s hard to see a lot of confidence in there.
Good news, Newcastle fans: Rafa Benitez says the club has given him a ten-year contract and promised a £100million transfer kitty for the summer!
When asked about reports that he has engaged an agency to find him a club in France, Benitez said:
The only club that I am talking to now about my future is Newcastle United Football Club, and I am waiting for an answer.”
And then, asked if he could elaborate on that, he said:
I’m waiting for an answer. We have been talking and I am waiting for an answer.”
So everything’s fine then.
SARRI HAILS ‘COMPLETE’ HOMEGROWN CHELSEA YOUNGSTER
Nope, not that one…
Now tactically [Ruben] Loftus [-Cheek] is a very good midfielder. At the beginning of the season he was a very offensive midfielder. Now he is complete I think. Maybe he’s ready to start most of the games, but we need to check every day the condition of his back.
This morning he had only a recovery session. Because he needs time to recover after a match. The problem in this moment is only that probably he’s not able to play for 90 minutes.”
A little fixture update from the Champ.
Listen to Danny Rose, writes Barney Ronay.
It’s match preview time, oh yes. Here’s Bournemouth v Burnley.
…and just to catch you up on what he’s talking about…
A quick update about the Man City left-back situation from earlier: Zinchenko is out for “10-12 days” according to Pep Guardiola. Sounds like Sergio Aguero won’t be ready for this one but might be for the Champions League first leg against Spurs next week.
Here’s Watford top dog Javi Gracia on the FA Cup semi-final, and again, not to sound like a tedious old bore, it is rather nice to hear someone talking so enthusiastically about this. Not just the FA Cup and tradition and all that whiffle, but about tangible achievement. Trophies and whatnot.
I have never coached in a final. I have reached semi-finals in Russia (as Rubin Kazan boss) but a final I never played and it would be the best achievement in my career for sure.
“It is something special this season because we worked really hard in pre-season and in all competitions and now we have the opportunity to enjoy with the supporters at Wembley one special game.
“It is very good for all the squad. We have 26 players who have all done well in different moments. It is a good reward for all of them, not just the 11 players who play the next game.
“It is something different for our supporters and I am happy they have the chance to enjoy going to Wembley.”
It is ten years to the day since MACHEEEEDDDDAAAAAAAAAAA.
The man himself is playing for Panathinaikos these days, and doing OK: he’s got seven goals from 21 appearances this season in the Greek Super League.
And so it begins. Or, so it continues. Relentlessly. Forever. Zinedine Zidane was asked about Eden Hazard at his press conference today, and this is what he said:
I will not give my personal opinion about what may happen because the season has not ended. I’ve always appreciated him, I’ve seen him a lot since he was playing in France, he is fantastic.”
Interesting little line from the Press Association here:
Britain’s richest man Sir Jim Ratcliffe is trying to add French football club Nice to his growing sports portfolio, a spokesperson for his petrochemicals company INEOS has confirmed.
The 66-year-old businessman bought Swiss football team Lausanne in 2017, invested £110million in a British challenge for the America’s Cup with Sir Ben Ainslie last year and then last month bought cycling’s Team Sky to rebrand them as Team Ineos.
Ratcliffe, worth £21billion, is not finished there, though, as he is understood to have made a bid for the Ligue 1 side in February…In a statement issued to Press Association Sport, an Ineos spokesperson said: “Ineos confirms that it has expressed an interest in the club and has had exploratory discussions but can say nothing more at this stage.”
A few days late and ultimately of not much use, but I suppose this is better than nothing. Max Allegri, on Leonardo Bonucci’s flamboyantly irresponsible words about the racial abuse of Moise Kean:
Racism must always be fought against and is never justifiable. With his mind still on the game, post-match, Bonucci expressed himself badly but realised this and apologised. These two things are distinct.”
You want goals? Watch the US Women’s team. But Caitlin Murray wonders if the old band was ripped up too quickly after their 5-3 win over Australia last night.
More Brighton-based nostalgia: Steve Foster tells Amy Lawrence about reaching the FA Cup final in 1983 but not being able to properly celebrate because of an infected elbow.
There are some other Premier League games on this weekend, relatively mundane though they are, but one interesting continuing line is from West Ham about Marko Arnautovic. Manuel Pellegrini said today (courtesy of Football.London):
I don’t think anybody can be happy. The fans are not happy, Marko is not happy but this happens to players, they are not in their best moment. They need support more than punishment. Marko wants to do things better, he is absolutely involved with our team. China is over. Anyone thinking Marko doesn’t want to be here, they are wrong. He is not in a good moment but supporting him, he will return.
It feels obvious that the FA Cup would mean more to Watford/Brighton/Wolves players than to Manchester City’s, but it is always interesting to hear one of those players say so. Watford’s Ben Foster told ESPN:
I won the League Cup when I was with United, but it was almost a given that we were going to win the game.
“I remember getting back on the coach after the game and it was basically, ‘Right, training tomorrow lads, we’ve got a Champions League match on the Tuesday.’ “It was all forgotten as soon as that. It was incredible. There was no celebrating, no kind of really revelling in it and that’s the difference for me, you know?
“I just couldn’t get my head around the fact that it was just another trophy. Do you know what I mean? But I think, if you win it with a team like Birmingham, West Brom or Watford, it does mean so much more.”
And now for the weekend’s second FA Cup semi-final. Interesting point raised here by Simon Burnton in our Ten Things to look out for: does this mean we should support Wolves because they’re more likely to give Manchester City – assuming they beat Brighton – a better game in the final?
In the nine games they have played over the last two months Wolves have beaten Manchester United twice, but also lost to Burnley and Huddersfield. In the same time Watford have lost to Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United, but beaten everyone else. The Hornets are extraordinarily consistent against teams around or below them in the table but pretty hopeless against the country’s finest sides. Precisely the opposite is true of Wolves, who have taken 27.7% of their Premier League points against the top six (and knocked two of them out of the FA Cup) while Watford’s figure is 6.5%. In all competitions, Wolves have won nearly as many games against the top six this season (five) as Watford have in the four years since their promotion (seven). All of which suggests that if Manchester City beat Brighton on Saturday Wolves will be considerably better-equipped than Watford to prevail in the final – but also that the Hornets are the more likely to actually get there.
More on Hennessey and him not making a Nazi salute, here.
Options tonight for your football viewing: the Liverpool game is one, but England’s women are in action against Canada. Here’s Louise Taylor with some thoughts from Phil Neville on money. “Dollar dollar bill y’all,” Phil didn’t say.
An interesting little sub-plot ahead of the first semi-final is who will play left-back for Manchester City. Oleksandr Zinchenko has been surprisingly excellent but will probably miss the game with a hamstring twang, Fabian Delph is also out, and then there’s Benjamin Mendy.
The Frenchman has been out since November with a knee injury but there have, so the stories go, been questions about the Frenchman’s professionalism partly but not entirely because of 3am excursions to local discotheques, he was fit for the game against Cardiff on Wednesday but wasn’t in the squad and Pep Guardiola didn’t exactly sound thrilled at the prospect of picking him when he spoke yesterday.
We’ll see tomorrow how he feels and how he trains…We don’t have many options…Right now I don’t know which one [will play]. Danilo fought a lot to play in that position but it’s not his natural position. We’ll see the decision we will take for the semi-final of the FA Cup.”
Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz! Quiz!
That’s Premier League winner Ritchie de Laet, to you.
Crystal Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey has been cleared of making a racist
gesture during a club meal, the Football Association has announced.
Hennessey was accused of making a Nazi salute in the background of a picture posted on Instagram, but he’s been cleared.
For a team like Brighton, is the pressure of this potentially being their only shot at making an FA Cup final an inhibitor or an inspiration? Defender Dale Stephens said this week:
It’s a one-off chance, you don’t really get these opportunities too often. You’ve got to grasp it. No matter what age you be, you might not get this opportunity again. The older ones, like myself, it might be the last chance, so it’s important you don’t let it pass you by.
We get to look forward to what will be probably one of the biggest occasions that I’ve been involved in. The occasion, the stadium, it’s what you dreamt about as a young boy and hopefully we can get the job done.”
Of course to win that quadruple City will have to win their FA Cup semi-final against Brighton this weekend. The last time these two met in this competition was the last time Brighton were in the final, back in 1983: they absolutely leathered City 4-0 in the fourth round, featuring a glorious selection of scrappy 80s goals. Big deflections, bobbled finishes, an absolutely outrageous foul in the build-up to one. It’s got it all.
Manchester City. Quadruple. Could it happen? The answer is: maybe! Paul Wilson has more.
Paul Doyle went to see Yves Bissouma at Brighton this week. This is what he said:
It was hard to leave my parents because I’ve always been very devoted to them but I said to myself: ‘Maman and Papa have done their best for me, now I have to show I am a man and fight to achieve.’ We [Abidjan junior club Majestic SC] had played a tournament in Bamako and five of us were invited to join the academy. We all went. We became like brothers. They’re still the people I talk to most.”
Here’s Neil Lennon on Scott Brown, after the Celtic captain played assorted opponents in last weekend’s Old Firm game like St Vincent playing guitar, but has subsequently been given a SFA charge for failing to “act in the best interests of football.”
My players have been exemplary, absolutely exemplary, under immense provocation themselves. Scott Brown has nothing to defend himself for. I think his treatment on the pitch was nothing short of disgraceful.
He has been elbowed, he has been hit in the face, but he takes it, stands up to it, and comes back for more. That’s the character of the man. You get the usual nonsense and trying to put the same eggs in one basket. We are totally exempt from any blame for this whatsoever.
Some though, would probably like this Constant Football to cease. Take Christopher Schindler, captain of relegated Huddersfield, who says he and his colleagues are not just playing for pride, but potentially for their futures. When asked if his lot would slack off after their demotion was confirmed last weekend, he said:
There is no chance that this is going to happen because it’s about everyone’s future. It’s about the club and if it’s not about the club, it’s about players who want to leave, they need to perform. Players who want to stay, they need to convince the manager that the club has a plan for them for the next season.
Take it as if we are playing for everything, this is the mindset we have to have. Not giving one yard less because (of relegation) but seeing it as a situation where we can prepare for next season against some of the best players in the world and some of the best teams in the Premier League. We have our pride as well, we want to catch Fulham because we are better. I am convinced.
On the issue of Constant Football, a correction:
So if you throw in the last two days of March and the first week of May, we could potentially have a run of 41 days in which there are only three without football. The TV games haven’t yet been decided for the penultimate weekend, and you can bet your A that we’ll have games on the Friday and Monday.
Liverpool will probably have to win all their remaining games to take the title ahead of Manchester City, who Jurgen Klopp seems to rate:
City look like the best team in the world, that’s how it is. Barcelona struggled a little bit [against Villarreal on Tuesday] but still did the job. Juve look pretty impressive in Italy but you don’t exactly know how it will be in the Champions League if Cristiano Ronaldo cannot do it. With City, those are the three big Champions League favourites and you think, OK, City look a bit more stable than all of them.
And that all starts tonight, as Liverpool travel to Southampton. There’s a fair case to be made that this is Jurgen Klopp’s side’s toughest remaining Premier League game: Southampton have already beaten Arsenal and Tottenham at their place, and despite their league position have looked revived since Ralph Hasenhuttl’s arrival. Liverpool have a couple of other theoretically tough fixtures: Chelsea at home, which might give them 2014 flashbacks but you’d hardly expect a Mourinho-esque shutdown from the current mob, and Wolves on the last day, but that could potentially come a week before they are in their first FA Cup final since 1960.
The generous deities that govern football have blessed us. In the entire month of April, there will be just four days on which there will be no Premier League, Champions League or Europa League football: one of those was yesterday, and another is the 30th. So basically for the next 24 days, you’ll only have to think about how to fill the hours yourself for two days. Is constant football necessarily a good thing? Is it actually bad for you? Possibly, but don’t let minor things like consequences stop you from watching it all.
Eni Aluko’s column this week is on Manchester United: why have just one club legend running things when you could have two?
It’s really important for Solskjær to have a good relationship with United’s executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward, but how much easier would that be if he had other players working with him on the board or as a sporting director? I think Gary Neville would be the perfect choice to fill that role. He is a proven businessman and has football experience, having coached at the highest level. Neville understands the fabric of the club and what is required to continue its success – if you surround yourself with good people then you can make good decisions.
Your semi-regular reminder that Raheem Sterling is the absolute best.
David Hytner wrote about Rose, a footballer unafraid to speak, for better or worse.
Here was an established England international saying he longed for retirement, so sick was he of the cancer in the game. It is supposed to be a dream to play professionally and it was for Rose when he started as a trainee at Leeds. But it seems to have turned into a trial, marked by unpleasantness, which cannot end soon enough. “I just want to get out [of football],” he said. “I just can’t wait to see the back of it.”
Read what Danny Rose had to say, and if you’re ever tempted to tell players/people that suffer racist abuse to just brush it off, think again.
I’ve had enough. At the minute, how I programme myself is that I just think: ‘I’ve got five or six more years left in football and I just can’t wait to see the back of it.’ Seeing how things are done in the game at the minute … It’s just – whatever, isn’t it? I just want to get out of it.
That’s how I feel. I feel I’ve got five or six more years left and I just want to enjoy football as much as I can. There is so much politics and whatever in football and I just can’t wait to see the back of it, to be honest.
Begin your day by consuming pointers for the weekend’s football in ten easy bitesize chunks.
Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome, to another Friday, ahead of another weekend, as another season stumbles towards the finishing line. Plenty to be talking about today: Liverpool can go back top of the Premier League if they beat Southampton tonight, there are a few other Premier League games to be looking at over the coming days, there’s a pair of FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday and Sunday, a spicy selection of games in the Championship, we’ll have a decent idea of who will win the Bundesliga after Dortmund face Bayern on Saturday, Juventus could effectively win Serie A for the eighth (8th) time in a row should they beat Milan and Napoli lose to Genoa, PSG will be Ligue 1 champs once more should results go their way, plus a whole bunch of other stuff.
Football! Great, isn’t it. Even when it’s not great, it’s always here. Reliable. Dependable. Here to enjoy, to be annoyed by, to generally tune out the noise of life.