Early Doors

On a hiding to nothing

Early Doors

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If ever there was a shining example of damning a sportsman with faint praise, it came during the commentary from Anfield last night.

"David N'Gog just can't stop scoring in the Europa League!" came the cry from the commentator as the French striker banged his second goal and Liverpool's fourth of their 4-1 win over Steaua Bucharest.

That game kicked off not long after Manchester City had sealed a 2-0 win at Red Bull Salzburg (prompting groan-inducing headlines such as "Mancini: Silva's gold" and "Silva lining for City") which must have led Yaya Toure to keep reminding himself how much he earns a week as justification for leaving Barcelona.

The wins, capping off an unbeaten week for British clubs in Europe, means City are atop Group A and the Reds have the lead in Group K (that's K, the 11th letter of the alphabet), just the sort of boost they need ahead of their trip to Old Trafford on Sunday. Isn't it?

Well, perhaps, although there will be many at the club who would rather have had the week off than have just a two-day break before setting off to play their greatest rivals, who won't have played since Tuesday.

If the Champions League group stage is a tiresome obligation for the biggest clubs in Europe, then the entire Europa League must feel the same for the nearly men of the continent's top leagues.

It's always nice to get some silverware in the cabinet, but unless they win it then clubs like Liverpool and City are on a hiding to nothing.

Exiting before the latter stages will bring forth embarrassment and coax derision from your peers; fail to make the final and you'll have around a dozen largely forgettable fixtures to look back on. Even if you win the whole shebang, you may be greeted with almost universal indifference.

Both City and Liverpool could do with lifting a trophy in order to avoid another wasted season, but you wonder how much they would rather eschew trips to Poznan or Utrecht in favour of launching a concerted effort on the Carling Cup - a competition which requires less than half the number of matches and a whole lot less travelling.

City didn't spend £26 million on David Silva to win football's equivalent of a Smash Hits Poll Winners' Party award for best haircut, but the club's owners will be soon become desperate for any kind of silverware once their title ambitions evaporate for another season.

They may not yet be capable of winning the league, but they should have more than enough quality to take either of the second tier competitions by storm.

Therefore, poor old Roberto Mancini will be feeling the pressure to win a trophy neither he nor any of his players care for, just to keep the wolves from his door (if he even lasts that long).

Liverpool, meanwhile, are beginning to look a little too comfortable at this level, but at least Roy Hodgson got to rest Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard. With Alex Ferguson also resting a raft of his best players in midweek, there are no excuses for Sunday's clash not to be a humdinger, something we probably won't be seeing in the Europa League until after Christmas.  

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "What concerns me, and I've watched the game twice now, is that there wasn't a bad tackle in the game at Fulham. We're not a dirty team but at the moment it looks like we are because of circumstances. But it's wrong, a whole pile of nonsense actually, but such is life." - If by "circumstances" Wolves boss Mick McCarthy means 16 yellow cards and one red in just four Premier League games this season, Bobby Zamora's broken ankle and Joey Barton's bruised torso, then there is certainly some nonsense being spoken somewhere.

PAROCHIAL STIRRING OF THE DAY: "All these people who pretend to support Leeds and come from Doncaster, it's quite unbelievable. If you are from Doncaster you should support Doncaster Rovers! We're better than Leeds anyway!" - Doncaster chairman John Ryan sets things up nicely for tonight's all-Yorkshire Championship clash at the Keepmoat Stadium.

INJUSTICE OF THE DAY: Algeria striker Rafik Saifi has been fined less than £2,000 for slapping a female journalist after the World Cup defeat to USA in June.

FOREIGN VIEW: "Sacchi needs to learn how to shut up. He seems jealous because he talks too much. He needs to talk less about me on TV and in the newspapers. If he wants something he can come and see me about it. If you don't like the way I play, don't come and watch me. He also said things about me when I was at Barcelona." - Zlatan Ibrahimovic has a row with ex-Milan boss Arrigo Sacchi live on television after the Rossoneri's Champions League win over Auxerre. This section would be a lot worse off if it wasn't for Zlatan.

COMING UP: There's live action for you this evening under Friday night lights: follow text commentary of Doncaster Rovers v Leeds United at 19:45, plus live scoring on the action from League One and matches all over Europe.

England take on Pakistan in the third one-dayer at The Oval this afternoon. Scrutinise ever no-ball and wide by following our live over-by-over commentary from 13:00.

The Vuelta a Espana is nearing its saddle-sore conclusion, with Britain's Mark Cavendish still wearing the green jersey. You can keep updated on today's ride from Piedrahita to Toledo (10:45) and the weekend's final stages with our live comments and peloton tracker, or watch them on British Eurosport or via the Eurosport Player.

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