THOSE PLUCKY MINNOWS ASTON VILLA
Much has been made of the fact that Fifa's team of the year is comprised entirely of players from La Liga, with 10 of the 11 drawn from Real Madrid and Barcelona. But if the players of Bradford City and Aston Villa are feeling aggrieved by their exclusion from the star-studded and lank-haired line-up, they are hiding it well. Both sets of players will have the opportunity to stake an early claim for this year's team when their clubs meet in the semi-final first leg of the Fizzy Cup, a tournament whose confusing level of prestige can be gauged by its place underneath "watering the plants" on Arsène Wenger's list of priorities, even though it's one the Arsenal manager could really do with winning.
He won't be getting his hands on it this year, however, as his side have already been eliminated by the plucky minnows of League Two Bradford, who go into tonight's encounter as 11-2 outsiders to make the final against Premier League opposition that are – depending on which way you look at it – a whopping 60 places above them in the league pyramid, or, only the malfunctioning shambles that are Aston Villa.
"The Bradford lads will give it everything they have to try to turn us over," said Aston Villa's manager, Paul Lambert, perhaps grossly overestimating how much the Bradford lads will have to give it to turn over a side that has shipped 18 goals in their past four games. "It will be a tough game for us and a really good atmosphere; Bradford have got nothing to lose and everything to gain," he continued, prompting a flurry of ticks from nearby hacks playing cliche bingo.
For all the Fiver's stat-massaging and uproariously funny MEGALOLS at Villa's expense, while it would be no big shock for a team who have already eliminated Arsenal and Wigan to beat the side from the Midlands in a one-legged affair, their chances of doing so over two matches are comparatively slim. "For this club to get to Wembley again this year would be extraordinary," said their manager, Phil Parkinson, ahead of tonight's set-to at Valley Parade, perhaps grossly overestimating how ... etc, and so on ... a side that has shipped 18 goals in their past four games.
In an encounter where the world and his wife seem to be predicting victory for the underdogs, it's different to know exactly what outcome would constitute an upset. As things stand any number of results could be considered a surprise, few more than an emphatic Villa win.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"It's a standard League Two challenge for me, and he [the referee, Kevin Friend] is trying to make friends. He was calling them all by nicknames and referring to us by numbers, maybe he got carried away with the situation" – Cheltenham's captain, No15, bemoans the award of a penalty to Everton and reveals the class divide that exists between top-flight reducers and their Football League equivalent.
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"First edition of the Fiver after the Christmas holiday and I was delighted to see a mention for the mighty Wild Beasts (Monday's Last Line). I must confess to be a tad disappointed the song chosen was not Woebegone Wanderers, the Beasts' rather homoerotic celebration of lower-league football, but this is the Fiver we are talking about and a vague sense of dissatisfaction is entirely normal" – Simon Reid.
"Re: the humour injected into this year's Ballon d'Or Gala (yesterday's Fiver). Presumably this will be a look back at some of the decisions, statements and punishments issued by Fifa/Sepp over years gone by?" – Antony Cook.
"I know everyone's probably bored of the managerial shenanigans going on at Wolves over the past 12 months, but I thought our new appointment might have got a one-line mention at least in Monday's Fiver?" – Ian Payne.
"I wonder if I am the only one of 1,057 dejected individuals who had believed that Christmas 2013 had arrived outrageously early only to have had my joy extinguished at the sight of the world's most teatimely email making a teatimely-ish return to my inbox?" – Stan Vassilev.
Send your letters to email@example.com. And if you've nothing better to do you can also tweet the Fiver. And to placate certain readers, the Fiver awards prizeless Fiver letter o' the day to: Simon Reid.
BITS AND BOBS
Plain old JT will don shinpads, boots and a freshly laundered kit and travel to Stoke this weekend. But get this: he may actually play. "Now he is training and can play so I think we are obviously closer," chirruped Rafael Benitez.
Barcelona president Sandro Rosell has told Arsenal they can do one if they think they will sign David Villa this month. "I completely rule out the transfer of Villa during the winter market," he said, scuppering the dreams of a thousand transfer gossip columns. "He is ours and we need him, there is a lot of the season left."
Blackeye Rovers have issued an apology to their former manager Big Sam over allegations made by his successor, Steve Kean-Out. "Sorry about that," said Blackeye in a statement we've paraphrased slightly.
And Silvio Berlusconi admits he was interested in bringing in Pep Guardiola as Milan manager. "He said that at Milan he'd have fun and felt admiration towards me, and appreciation for Lake Como, where I could offer a beautiful villa," said Berlusconi (contact his estate agent if you're interested in the villa by the way). "At this moment, I have to say the percentage for him to come to Milan is very low."
STILL WANT MORE?
Jonathan Wilson is so committed to the Africa Cup of Nations that he once cut out silhouettes of every country in Africa and put them in a mug. Just so he had his own Africa cup of nations. You try making the outline for Guinea Bissau – it's dead hard. So listen up when he says history has shown that the team rather than the individual is always paramount in the tournament.
That Lionel Messi, he's good isn't he, says Sid Lowe.
Liverpool aren't worried about Luis Suárez's handball high-jinx. They're worried he'll leave them alone, broken and on the floor.
Barry Glendenning did some proper journalism today and actually rang some real people up to bring you this blog on why, when you think about it, all footballers are cheats.
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