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Monday, February 4, 2013
Horsing about

The Fifth Official

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.

Horsing about

The UK is currently gripped by a culinary scandal, as you may well be aware. It seems some ready meals have been masquerading as beef products when they in fact contain up to 100% horse meat. Trust is low. So much so that when asked what I wanted on my burger in the pub last night I replied: "A fiver each way." 'What has this to do with Manchester City, TFO?' I hear you cry. Well, dear reader, the parallels are plentiful. Trust in Roberto Mancini is also lower than a snake's belly, and his team, lauded as champions on the tin - the fillet steak of the Premier League - turned in a performance so rotten at Southampton it is entirely possible they contain up to 100% donkey meat. This was what I like to call an NRF display - that of no redeeming features. Narrowly outdoing Joe Hart in the chief culprit stakes was Gareth Barry, who revealed a predatory side rarely seen when casually slotting home the Saints' third goal. If this performance were a racehorse, we'd be slowly drawing a white curtain round it and easing the bolt gun out of our holster. Can City retain their title, on this evidence? I'd have to say "neigh."

The final furlong

City's humbling caused much merriment across Manchester, as Fergie coughed and spluttered his way through a bottle of fine Bordeaux claret watching Mancini's men do him the courtesy of halting their title challenge even before the lambs start getting frisky. By the end of 90 minutes at St Mary's, Fergie's teamsheet for Everton had been pulled apart more times than City's rearguard. In preparation for his love-in with both Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo, Fergie was about to field a team so threadbare that even Bebe was waiting anxiously by his phone. But having seen Barry's blemish and Hart's howler, he sent word to Mike Phelan to fish his frontline stars out of the nearest tanning salon and ready them for action. How could he pass up a chance to secure the league before Valentine's Day? Ryan Giggs duly obliged, though Fergie's description of him as a "wonderful human being" may have raised a few eyebrows in his brother's house. So, with Premier League honours all but secured the Scot's date with his perfect E-harmony partner draws ever nearer. Jose has been over to Old Trafford twice recently, invited into Fergie's inner sanctum both times. He's probably just checking the place out so he knows where everything is ahead of his summer appointment.

All hail Bale

By now you will be well aware there are recurring themes in this Premier League merry-go-round, and I'm not just talking about my penchant for plagiarism. So allow me to officially reopen the 'Is Gareth Bale as good as Messi and Ronaldo debate?' briefly, before screaming 'no' in its face and slamming it shut for at least another few months. Mind you, given what a one-man team Tottenham have become, there is an argument to be made that he is the best in the Premier League at present and there's no doubt he's far more important to his club than either of La Liga's two titans are to theirs. Barcelona and Real Madrid have other players to pick up the pieces if Messi or Ronaldo were to leave, Spurs have Lewis Holtby. A destructive display on a Saturday afternoon is one thing, but it came against Newcastle, not at the Nou Camp. While the world and its wife lined up to lavish superlatives on Wales' finest export since Katherine Jenkins, let's not forget he should have had a hat-trick and must strive to do better when attempting to slot into an empty net from five yards out with his right foot. And don't get me started on that celebration.

Samba style

They'd conceded one goal in five games before his arrival, but it hasn't taken long for Christopher Samba to realise why QPR are injecting a significant amount of their future parachute payments into his bank account after a potentially seminal stuffing at Swansea. Despite their predicament, and despite 'Arry's most startling spell of transfer window hypocrisy to date, there has been a nagging feeling among many that QPR will still somehow scrape out of danger. That might be over now. Like so many before them they interpreted the Liberty Stadium far too literally, as they allowed Laudrup's tiki-taka tradesmen to pass their way to one of their most comfortable wins of the season. With Manchester United up next, that leaves Rangers just 11 games to thrust uncomfortably towards the 40-point mark, or else the drop beckons. If it does, the scene at Loftus Road come May could resemble a war zone, with mercenaries Loic Remy, Samba et al tearing up their contracts as Tony Fernandes watches his empire crumble before his very eyes.

I can't get no sleep

If you totalled up the amount of sleepless nights endured by Aston Villa's fans over the past seven months I'd wager you'd have a tally well into the millions. Paul Lambert has probably racked up half that amount on his own. Mind you, I bet Randy Lerner still sleeps soundly. Anyhow, given this mass sleep deprivation perhaps it was fitting Villa were offered some temporary relief by Charles Insomnia. This is a player who is the closest rival to Dimitar Berbatov in the battle to be crowned the top flight's enigma of choice. "He's got that X-factor," quipped Paul Lambert, who completely failed to mention N'Zogbia's "sulk factor", "demand a move factor" and "flit in and out of games factor." Still, it was nice of him to ease the considerable burden on the shoulders of Christian Benteke, who grabbed his customary goal. Villa's win lifted them out of the drop zone and provided the first real bout of good news since Alex McLeish was sacked in the summer. Their joy was Reading's misery, as the Royals dropped back into the bottom three. This despite getting Stoke exactly where they wanted them - two goals ahead. Adam Le Fondre's inevitable deployment came earlier than usual but perhaps the curse of the Player of the Month tag applies to super subs too.

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