Fitba is back in earnest on Saturday and it’s always fascinating to see how teams have limbered up for the big kick-off. Full speed to Tynecastle, then, where Hearts return to the big time and face the Queen’s Celtic while riding the wave of back-to-back Skol Cup triumphs against Stirling Albion and Inverness Caledonian Thistle. So far, so normal. But what about the Queen’s Celtic? They’ve prepared in the fashion they know best: by tumbling out of Big Cup qualifiers against opponents who, historically, they would have expected to dismiss in relative comfort.
If we exclude the glaring aberration that was last season, then, the theory might go that Wednesday’s defeat to Midtjylland should set Ange Postecoglou’s Bhoys fair for domestic domination. It would be inaccurate to describe the Danish side as minnows nowadays: Artmedia Bratislava or Shakhter Karagandy these guys are definitely not. More accurately, they are a club from an almost identically-sized country that has thought things through, done things differently under visionary ownership, and belied its size spectacularly while the old giants from Scotland slept on the job.
All par for the course these days, then, and Postecoglou took umbrage when a journalist suggested the result had been “a catastrophe”. The manager raged: “It’s pretty strong language mate, I don’t know what your version of catastrophic is but it certainly doesn’t fit my definition of what happened tonight. Catastrophic to me means the end. This is far from the end. You are suggesting this is a club falling apart and our season is finished, I don’t see it that way.” In fairness who on earth would, when the Queen’s Celtic still have a Big Vase third qualifying round assignment with Jablonec to savour? Getting through that might represent progress; Postecoglou is desperate to bring in fresh blood and having to stagger through where the summer takes them. “I obviously haven’t done a good job convincing people we needed to bring people in,” he sighed, ominously given he is seven weeks into the job.
What a contrast to life at the Pope’s Newc O’Rangers, who pipped the Queen’s Celtic by a mere 25 points last time out and didn’t even lose a game. $tevie Mbe and company host Livingston on Saturday lunchtime and it would be a brave punter who predicted the tide turning at this point. They have a Big Cup qualifier of their own to contend with against Malmo, coincidentally their opponents the last time they appeared in the competition, a few days later. It will be another opportunity to put their dearest rivals to shame and, on the flip side, a new opportunity for Scandinavian opposition to inflict a hefty dose of embarrassment. Perhaps you have only really arrived as a dominant Scottish force when you have a few chastening blows on the continent to your name. At the moment, that seems as positive a slant as Postecoglou can hope for.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I had a fantastic 19 years with the Royal Mail … I became an operations manager and then a planning manager, which was really, really good. That helps you coming into football because a lot of people are always in football but I had a good background in organising. The training scheme was about teamwork” – Preston’s Frankie McAvoy gets his chat on with Richard Jolly about how 19 years in the postal service gave him the top, top tools to make it as a reluctant football manager.
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“Re: Wayne Rooney (yesterday’s Fiver). He really should have known better than to go for a big night out, especially after he already got a big Knight out earlier in the week” – Tom Murray-Rust.
“Re: the Queen’s Celtic (yesterday’s Fiver letters). Noble Francis was right, but could have taken this one step further. How about, in light of yet another failing at this hurdle (I’m losing track myself and I say that as a fan), we now name this qualifying round as the ‘Round of the Queen’s Celtic’?” – Paul Dixon.
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Tom Murray-Rust.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Ellen White scored a hat-trick but Team GB only went and flamin’ lost 4-3 in extra-time to Australia at Big Sports Day.
USA! USA!! USA!!! are through to the last four, sneaking past the Netherlands on penalties.
Virgil van Dijk thanked Liverpool and his family for their support after he made his long-awaited return to action in a 4-3 friendly defeat by Hertha Berlin. “The work doesn’t stop now. It’s only just starting. We keep going,” he tooted.
Raphaël Varane has surprised absolutely no one by officially telling Real Madrid fans he is doing one. “After 10 incredible and wonderful years at Real Madrid, a club that I will always carry in my heart, the day has come to say goodbye,” he sniffed. “A new chapter begins …”
Marcus Rashford might be out of Manchester United action until October after deciding to have surgery on his shoulder-gah!
Former Swansea winger Nathan Dyer has decided to hang up his boots and focus on mentoring youngsters. “I am better equipped now to give my advice and be a shoulder to lean on for those that want and need it.”
And Union Jack Grealish may soon be wearing sky blue socks below his bulging calf muscles after Manchester City got on the blower to Aston Villa about a potential transfer.
STILL WANT MORE?
Roma fans have already given José Mourinho a mural so little wonder the former Spurs boss is keen to rediscover the art of winning, writes Nicky Bandini.
Some archive quiz action! Name the missing clubs in these playing careers.
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