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Pool draw blank, back to the future

Few of us like Mondays 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.

Flat back five

What Liverpool needed to dispel the gloom that has gathered around their club in recent weeks, largely self-provoked by their pitiful handling of the Luis Suarez case, was a rousing home win over Stoke, a team who have scored a paltry eight goals on the road all season. But in his infinite wisdom, King Kenny decreed the way to blow off the Anfield cobwebs was to deploy a scarcely believable five at the back formation.

What Kenny should have done was play five up front. Liverpool's rear-guard quintet were so underused they may as well have conducted a bring and buy sale in their own half, or whiled away the hours with one of those oversized chess sets. They somehow managed to deal with the avalanche of shots on goal Stoke offered (three), and then spent most of the match whining about the roughhouse tactics (Glen Johnson's tackle on Wednesday anyone?).

Had Liverpool concentrated on being more ruthless at home, rather than parading round in ill-advised t-shirts, they may have converted their seven home draws into wins, and be sitting top of the Premier League table. Even Blackburn have scored eight more goals than they have. And yet a dazed Ken admitted after the match: "The boys at the back looked pretty comfortable - but they were only playing against one person."

Ageing rockers

It seems that to galvanise a squad these days you need to bring one of the old goats back from grazing. Paul Scholes crowned his comeback with a goal against Bolton, but the Trotters were so poor Fergie could have plucked Jesper Olsen out of obscurity with promises of a 'two grams of pipe tobacco' clause in his contract and still won at a canter.

So is there such a dearth of young talent on these shores? Is Robbie Keane really worth half a million quid to start on the bench and have no impact at all as a substitute? Not at all, but in morale terms it seems, Landycakes is worth his weight in Beckham-loving gold, while Thierry Henry invoked a short-lived pleasure dome with his smartly taken winner in the FA Cup.

Henry's honeymoon lasted less than a week though as Arsenal were outpassed and outclassed by a younger, fitter, stronger unit in the shape of Swansea. The shame even forced Wenger into his own Welsh conservatory, as his odd puffer jacket and white trainers combo offended the rest of his bench to such an extent they insisted he languish in his own postcode. Then Henry's bubble was burst by a contretemps with a fan. Welcome to the new Arsenal, Thierry.

A Hotspur backtrack

"I never said to anybody that we are going to win the league," warbled 'Arry, as he hastily edged away from the television cameras in the wake of Tottenham's 1-1 home draw with Wolves. But it's difficult to perform a noiseless backtrack when you've been thumping the title winning tub for the past three months.

'Arry's loose gob has been in overdrive in recent weeks, trotting out his "it's not impossible" line unprompted whenever anyone mentioned the Premier League, telling all and sundry that Demba Ba had a release clause in his Newcastle contract and lavishing praise on Chris Samba and Gary Cahill, all the while insisting he won't talk about other clubs' players. Thank God 'Arry's mouth is not in North Korean hands, or we could have a serious international incident on our hands.

Having ground out home victories against West Brom and Everton in recent weeks, Spurs came a cropper when faced with the Premier League manager least likely to get carried away on a tidal wave of his own bluster. Mick McCarthy doesn't do hyperbole - he barely does anything apart from piercing, unsettling honesty - and if he says his side were worth a point, then no-one's going to quibble with him.

Kean on a stroll

Rather than spend yet another 200 words examining the moral morass that is the Steve Kean reign at Blackburn, perhaps it's time we shone a light on this weekend's vanquished opponents, Fulham. The starting point for our exploration should be an interview with Kean on Saturday, where he revealed he couldn't walk the streets of Blackburn in the current climate, for safety reasons.

We shall come on to the Cottagers inquest presently, but I feel compelled to ask; why anyone would want to wander the streets of Blackburn anyway? Surely, you are better off staying indoors. In light of this first point, Martin Jol should not be permitted to walk the streets of any country and placed under permanent house arrest after his side slumped to a 3-1 defeat at Ewood Park, AFTER the Yak was dismissed for a chest-high lunge a certain Paul Gascoigne (circa 1991) would have been proud of.

Fulham might have been abject, but at least Jol shunned Kean's eerie tactic of accentuating the needless positive in favour of a good old fashioned "they were better than us", no matter how profoundly pathetic it made his team look. As for Rovers, their win took them off the bottom and into the lofty heights of 17th. There wasn't even a protest. Strange days indeed.

Look Hughes back

From the furthest recesses of the Sports Direct Arena @ St James' Park dot com or whatever it's called this week, it was hard to tell who was who; Alan Pardew and Mark Hughes, two greying technical area tap dancers wearing snappy grey suits, both more than capable of selling themselves as the epitome of the modern manager without a Michael Owen inspired double glazing-style brochure.

Hughes was seen in a Geordie tattoo parlour early on Sunday morning getting 'QPR' inked on the back of his hand while a man resembling Pardew was caught on camera edging into Derek Lambeze's casino to stick 15 grand on Alan Pardew to become the next England gaffer.

Hughes was only able to stir the filth as he deployed a talentless bunch of no marks, with Shaun Derry playing the role of chief antagoniser in the absence of Joey Barton. A gritty 1-0 defeat was Hughes' reward for a return to the top flight, and a slew of newspaper stories claiming his first port of call would be to flog Barton or at least stamp on his Blackberry so he can't tweet. I've no doubt, this is the start of a long saga.

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