Bradford dream ends; Wigan wake up
Few of us like Monday, but The Fifth Official does, for it brings with it a chance for him to point the finger and laugh. Here he pulls out the pretty, the puzzling and the downright pig-ugly from a week brimming with potential victims.
Bantamweight of expectation
The football world has revelled in Bradford City's tumultuous journey to the Capital One Cup final - tittered as they beat Wigan, laughed so hard that they cried after the toppling of Arsenal and celebrated wildly as that bet on them to beat Aston Villa made us the easiest £20 ever earned. But at one point during their thrashing by Swansea, there came a time when one wanted it all to stop.
As goals rained in and Bradford's fans bravely waved their flags, Matt Duke was sacrificed by an old Friend (Kevin) and, just as I did for most of Channel 5's Being: Liverpool, I watched the rest of the match from behind the sofa, petrified that the Bantams' glorious run to the final would be scarred by a spanking that everyone generally agrees has been in the post for a good while - all the while swearing at Nathan 'look at me' Dyer, of course, who tainted an otherwise life-affirming occasion.
But this turned out to be as uplifting a hammering as it gets, as Bradford's fans rejoiced in the showpiece, the players held their heads up high, Swansea gave their fallen opponents a guard of honour and Michael Laudrup, with his impressively chiselled jawline and lion-like mane of hair flapping in the wind, proclaimed: "This final will remain in history, a small part because of us, a large part because of Bradford." Awwww.
He's all Hart
Poor old Rafa just can't catch a break. A tight encounter away at Manchester City lurched decisively in his favour as Joe Hart decided it was time to hit the Ba. Frank Lampard, reasonably lethal from the penalty spot and on 199 Chelsea goals, was about to find the net and give rise to another wave of adulation and bafflement as to why the club won't budge on offering fat Frank another fat contract.
But Joe fancied a slice of Hart-break and pulled off a save he clearly felt was so good that one thought for a moment he might set off on a lap of honour before Chelsea's corner. One save he probably wishes he could make is to recall that dreadful advert for a dandruff-busting shampoo that is so cheesy I wouldn't be surprised if gorgonzola oozed from the bottle should I ever purchase one.
Rafa used this as his cue to remove a clearly steaming Lamps so he could sit and bounce ideas off an equally furious John Terry - benched for Chelsea's big game - as to who might be next through Roman's revolving door. The options are thinning and, with City linked with a move for Manuel Pellegrini over the weekend, it looks like a straight fight between the two for a certain Jose Mourinho.
Bienvenue a Geordieland
There was a certain je ne sais quoi in the air at St James' Park on Sunday, a distinctly garlicky whiff. You see, the city of Newcastle has gone a little bit ooh la la over the overwhelmingly French flavour of the club' playing squad. So much so that, in pubs across Le Toon before their clash with Southampton, men could be heard saying: "Je voudrais une pinte de Newcastle Broon Ale please, petal."
Never one to miss a trick, Mike Ashley shipped a truckload of berets into the club shop, La Marseillaise was played before the match (as well as a French version of The Blaydon Races), and placards representing the French flag were revealed as the players emerged. And, despite the plunging temperatures, there was still the odd Geordie insisting on going au naturel - on the top half at least.
One thing the club hadn't envisaged was how at ease all this would put Southampton's sole Frenchman Morgan Schneiderlin, who promptly put them 1-0 up inside three minutes. But Le Toon roared back, two of their goals scored by Frenchman, one by a misguided Dutchman and the pick of the bunch from a French-speaking Senegalese striker who momentarily recaptured the joie de vivre he seemed to bathe in last season. A magnifique PR exercise.
RVP's candid camera
At various stages throughout his epic managerial reign, Fergie has revelled in dishing out his famed hairdryer treatment to the media, accusing them sporadically of writing scurrilous stories that have harmed his team. On Saturday at Loftus Road, the media took their revenge in an episode that made Robin van Persie look anything but flash.
So impressive was Rafael's opener that RVP's stumble down a black hole and into a photographer's pulpit was largely ignored.
It is down one of these murky passages that QPR's season is disappearing. Fergie's lot treated them like an annoying kid brother, swatting them away disinterestedly and landing two decisive blows when they felt they could be bothered. After Rafael's opener, Tony Fernandes' face looked as though he'd only just realised that he'd loaned the wrong Da Silva.
On an impressive weekend for United and some of their rejects - sorry, old boys - Dimitar Berbatov woke from his recent slumber to score a goal even better than Rafael's while, in a corner of Paris, the French fell truly, madly, deeply for a certain David Beckham. He's still got it, judging by the turn of pace he showed to celebrate with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and ensure another iconic front page shot. You'd never catch Becks falling down a snapper's ditch.
It is a measure of the miserable week Arsenal have had that a narrow victory over relegation candidates Aston Villa was welcomed as warmly as the League Cup trophy was in Swansea. I'm sure the irony won't have been lost on all who visited the Emirates that Bradford can claim to have put up a better fight in the Wembley final than the Gunners did against Birmingham a few years ago.
Santi Cazorla was the Arsenal hero against Aston Villa, and after being Blackburned and Bayerned it was easy to forget that this was the Gunners' third straight Premier League win. Villa performed valiantly yet still slipped into the relegation zone. Despite this, a belligerent Paul Lambert gave another post-match interview that made it seem he still hasn't actually considered the fact that his club might well be relegated in a few months' time.
The chances of that happening increased as Wigan finally saw fit to launch their customary patch of Champions League form in their latest bid to saunter towards survival by the skin of their teeth. Reading were duly dispatched with some champagne football as Roberto Martinez, clearly with one eye on the Oscars, labelled their away performance As Good As it Gets. Reading's display, to continue the Jack Nicholoson theme, was more like The Shining.