SO IT’S official: this seasons Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester City will now not be played in İstanbul on May 29. Finally Uefa came to the correct decision. It should have been a no-brainer, two English clubs meeting in the Champions League final in İstanbul would, in normal times, be a cracking opportunity for plane-loads of English fans to spend a couple of days in one of the world’s best cities before enjoying what promises to be a great game; but these are not normal times. The plan was to permit 9,000 fans from England into the stadium with a further 16,000 or so locals, sponsors, and Uefa/Fifa bigwigs also attending. But at the time of writing Turkey is experiencing a massive Covid wave and has been added to the UK’s travel red list, which meant that any supporters going to İstanbul would, on their return to England, have to quarantine in a hotel for 11 days at a cost to them of £1,750. Additionally, the players would also have to quarantine, jeopardising their participation in the upcoming European Championships. The solution? It should have been to move the game to England – no internal travel restrictions, no after-match problems. Instead, owing to the fact (at the time of writing) the UK government wouldn’t wave quarantine restrictions on behalf of said important attendees, the game will now likely take place in Porto, which at least has the benefit of being on the UK’s green list meaning that fans and players of Chelsea and Citeh will not have to quarantine on their return home. Not ideal but a decent compromise.
Jolly jest of the week
Arsenal fans are excited by a bid for the club involving Gooner greats Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, at the same time Manchester United fans are crossing their fingers for the success of a bid backed by United legends Howard Webb, Mark Clattenburg and Mike Riley.
Safe, or so they think
Derby County fans were certainly put through the ringer last weekend as the club barely escaped relegation to the third tier, but there is a possibility that the club may yet be hit with sanctions due to financial irregularities. The sanctions may take the form of a financial penalty but the most likely punishment is a points deduction which, if applied, this season will relegate the club and keep Wycombe in the Championship. My own feeling is that any points deduction will be tacked on to next season in the same way that Sheffield Wednesday’s 12-point penalty (later reduced to six on appeal) applied in the season just ended. It should be noted that without the six-point deduction Wednesday would have survived, instead they start next season in League One.
Team of the week
Dean Henderson United, Stuart Dallas Leeds, Victor Lindelof United, Marcos Alonso Chelsea, Reece James Chelsea, Ezgjan Alioski Leeds, Bukayo Saka Arsenal, Jonjo Shelvey Newcastle, Edinson Cavani United, Callum Wilson Newcastle, Jack Harrison Leeds. Manager: Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea.
It’s merely speculation but if Tuchel had replaced Frank Lampard earlier, then it’s a reasonable assumption that Chelsea may well have given Citeh a run for their money in the title chase. As it is, they have to settle for the FA Cup final and the Champions League final. The one real blot on Tuchel’s tenure thus far was Tuesday night’s game against Arsenal, when he made seven changes and in doing so literally gifted three undeserved points to the Gooners. A win would have just about cemented a top four place but now they have to win out while looking very nervously at how Liverpool are doing.
This week’s games
FA Cup final today 7:15; Chelsea vs Leicester. Premier League today 2:30; Burnley vs Leeds. 5pm; Southampton vs Fulham. 8pm; Brighton vs West Ham. Tomorrow 2pm; Palace vs Villa. 4:05 Spurs vs Wolves. 6:30; West Brom vs Liverpool. 9pm; Everton vs Sheffield United. Tuesday 8pm; United vs Fulham, Southampton vs Leeds. 9pm; Brighton vs Citeh. 10:15; Chelsea vs Leicester. Wednesday 8pm; Everton vs Wolves, Newcastle vs Sheffield United, Spurs vs Villa. 9pm; Palace vs Arsenal. 10:15; Burnley vs Liverpool, West Brom vs West Ham. EFL Play-offs semi-finals Championship first legs Monday 8pm; Bournemouth vs Brentford. 10:15; Barnsley vs Swansea. League One Tuesday 8pm; Oxford vs Blackpool. Wednesday 8pm; Lincoln vs Sunderland. Second leg Friday 9:45; Blackpool vs Oxford. League Two Tuesday 10:15; Newport vs Forest Green. Thursday 8pm; Tranmere vs Morcambe.
USPGA, Kiawah Island, Thursday through Sunday. Having broken his long losing streak at Quail Hollow two weeks ago, where he won for the third time, Rory McIlroy returns to the scene of his first USPGA victory in 2012. That year he obliterated the field winning by eight shots so can we hope for a repeat performance this time around? Probably not, but for me the best thing about his one-stroke victory at Quail Hollow was the fact that he had to scramble his way to the trophy rather than dominate the field. If any one thing has been absent from Rory’s game of late, it has been the ability to dig deep when needed, and particularly on the final hole in Charlotte that is exactly what he had to do to come out on top. If you don’t fancy Rory then who else is worth a look? I like Jordan Speith for this course but he’s just getting over a dose of Covid, so I’m looking at Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, and I wouldn’t discount Collin Morikawa and Hideki Matsuyama, while it may be worth an each way on Tyrell Hatton, Paul Casey and Patrick Cantlay. Best tip at decent odds? Matthew Fitzpatrick or Matt Wallace.
Last week’s question: which club has played Real Madrid five times in European competition without once playing at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium? The answer is Chelsea, who first played Real in the 1971 Cup Winners Cup final in Athens, which they won after a replay at the same venue. Next up was the 1988 Uefa Super Cup final in Monaco, where they again came out on top, and finally both teams met in this season’s Champions League semi-finals, where Chelsea again emerged victorious with the first leg played not at the Bernabeu because of building works but at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano. This week: Steaua Bucharest, Red Star Belgrade, Shakthar Donetsk, Dynamo Kyiv, Slovan Bratislava, Dinamo Tbilisi and FC Magdeburg; what do these “Eastern Bloc” clubs have in common?