Blackpool hit the big time
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 five-star weekend.
A Tangerine title tilt
Given our long, footy-laden summer and the overwhelming feeling of fatigue floating about, the Premier League not so much burst back into life this weekend, but crept in the back door in the dead of night hoping we wouldn't notice. It is many things, but predictable is not one of them, which is why I was left open mouthed at 4.45pm on Saturday having witnessed Blackpool thump Wigan 4-0 and record arguably the highlight of their season within the opening two hours of it.
Not so much because of the scoreline you understand, given that Wigan were as woeful as ever, but because I find it utterly astonishing that a team can take Titus Bramble out of their line up and actually look less solid at the back. Chris Kirkland has clearly been unsettled by the big man's departure, and wants his 'liability' tag all to himself. Not a single Wigan player emerged with any scrap of credit, and Roberto Martinez's gentle rebukes won't wash this season - the man needs to get deep down and dirty, firing hysterical bullets of guttural Spanish all over the dressing room until his idiots get the message. The aggregate score in their last two Premier League games is 12-0.
Let us take nothing away from the Tangerines though; they were all the things relegation certainties shouldn't be - bold, brave, fearless, adventurous and clinical. Just before the season Ian Holloway was wibbling on about compiling the hardest jigsaw of his life, but it looks pretty easy to me - it appears to have four pieces, and one of them is in the previously unseen shape of a prolific Marlon Harewood. Fantastic stuff.
Carson hits the wall
West Brom were another side who were left pining for their all-inclusive Caribbean enclaves of the summer recess after a predictable humbling at Stamford Bridge. It's a good job the last visitors to west London lost 8-0, then promptly shipped another four at home to everyone's nailed on candidates for relegation, so the full glare of criticism was spread a little farther and a little wider.
I sincerely hope Roberto Di Matteo hasn't asked any of his players to construct some of the walls of his Midlands mansion, because he'd currently be dwelling in a flimsy shack with a heck of a through draft. Of course, the last thing you need behind a dodgy wall is a dodgy 'keeper, so it begs the question why the Baggies were seemingly so intent on handing Chelsea free-kick after free-kick within shooting range.
Whatever happened to standing still in the wall? That way, the ball can't be slipped under you or in between you and the only way to go is over or around you - angles that should be covered by a reasonably competent goalkeeper, basically anyone but Scott Carson. When he's playing well that gap between his front teeth makes him look quirky - when he plays like this is makes him look like Worzel Gummidge's thick mate. Still, at least he had six opportunities to perfect his 'plucking ball from net' routine, because one gets the feeling he'll be doing plenty of that this season.
It never Reina's - it pours
At least Kirkland and Carson can take solace in the ricks made by other members of the goalkeeping union, and especially those on Merseyside, as Tim Howard and Pepe Reina cost both the red and blue half of Liverpool points with truly stupendous howlers.
Roy Hodgson's opening day of Premier League action with Rafa's rejects had already been somewhat derailed by his prized new signing, as Joe Cole's frustration at not being able to follow simple tactical instructions nearly led to him detaching Laurent Koscielny's leg from its socket. For some reason, a series of half-baked pundits proceeded to harp on about how Cole "isn't that type of player," as if it were a reason not to dismiss him. It's a phrase so inane it might as well have been written by Robbie Williams. Would we say the same if he'd just hacked somebody's arm off with an axe?
Still, the ten men took the lead thanks to a combination of David Ngog's fierce strike and Manuel Almunia's positional incompetence (is he the goalkeeping version of Cole?) before they were then deprived of wantaway terrier Javier Mascherano. Daniel Agger was the next to drop after he took a ball in the face and spent the rest of the afternoon staggering about like he was drowning in a can of super strength lager.
Yet, despite all that, they were seconds away from three precious points before the supposedly reliable Pepe Reina was rendered so shocked when confronted with the fact that Marouane Chamakh was still on the pitch, he ended up flapping at a cross, then chucking the ball over the line after it rebounded off the post. A stunning slice of ineptitude but still, Liverpool had far more to take from the game than Arsenal, who face the might of free scoring Blackpool next week.
Given takes it to Hart
Given the incredible amount of egomania and money sloshing about the Manchester City dressing room, it came as something of a surprise that two of the more genteel members of the club were the first to become embroiled in an unseemly, public spat. Joe Hart and Shay Given might be two of the more measured characters in City's ranks but it seems they've been loading their prams with an extra weight of toys this last week, in preparation to hurl them everywhere the second Roberto Mancini posted the team sheet. Heck, I've seen less acrimonious Hollywood divorces.
As it was, the selection of England's No.1 triggered an automatic transfer request from Ireland's No.1, despite the fact that Hart went on to play a blinder, and prevent Tottenham from inflicting a Mark Hughes style battering on a particularly inept first half City. They improved marginally in the second but still looked as sketchy as a team of renegades brought together by the common purpose of cash.
Mancini was more successful in his battle to oust Craig Bellamy from the club, even though he was one of City's best players last season, but he's replaced him with Italy's answer to the Welsh charlatan. Mario Balotelli may have shown a modicum of talent in his tender years to date but he's still demonstrated his enormous potential to fracture a squad's unity into tinier pieces than Bellers could ever manage.
At present he's about 30% promise and 70% rage, while maintaining an impressive 100% record of poor judgement. His first utterance on joining City wasn't an odious ode to the fans, but a moan that he'd had to leave Italy in the first place. Start as you mean to go on, Mario.
Large Dona for Villa?
Aston Villa's predicted implosion failed to materialise as Kevin MacDonald guided them to a comprehensive victory over West Ham in his own, understated way. Apparently, he is so quiet he's the quiet man's quiet man - positively inaudible in fact. Mind you, he did have the gumption to play James Milner and coax a treat of a performance out of him, topped with a goodbye goal.
Stiliyan Petrov has already called for K.Mac to get the job full time, while the list of managers in the running to succeed Martin O'Neill carried the unmistakable whiff of the inevitable. It seems it is unlawful to have a market on a vacant job these days without Alan Curbishley being on it at about 12-1. Next secretary general of the U.N.? Oh look, Curbs is 12-1. Next winner of the X-Factor? Why not have a punt on Curbs at 12-1? Just behind Sven. Oh look, Mark Hughes is in there too, despite the fact he got a job about ten days ago.
But nestling in among the usual suspects on Sunday came one name from way west of leftfield: a certain Diego Armando Maradona, who according to his European agent (does he have one for each continent?) loves the English countryside and our respect for privacy - something Peter Crouch may be inclined to disagree with at the present time.
I can only pray to God (and his hand) that Randy Lerner takes leave of all sense and hands the gig to Diego. The portly lock picker would write this column for me in a way Phil Orange never could, and I think we would all welcome that.
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