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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

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Fergie the untouchable; Ba humbug

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.

The FA (Fergie Association)

It must be a doddle being Fergie. The grizzled septuagenarian sits on his perch, dispensing his unique brand of skewed wisdom, free to abuse anyone he likes - whether it be a linesman that has ticked him off or a fellow manager who questions his persistent bullying tactics - all the while knowing the Football Association is so petrified of him he could flash Mike Riley and still incur no charges whatsoever.

In the last week he's proved how close he is to falling off his rocker by practically accusing Ashley Williams of attempted murder for hoofing a football at Robin van Persie's head, re-writing the offside rule in an attempt to justify his argument that Johnny Evans' own goal should have been disallowed, blasting Alan Pardew for having the temerity to question his rant at referee Mike Dean and dismissing Newcastle as a "wee club in the north east."

The wily badger knows he is untouchable, proof of which came when the FA looked nervously the other way rather than confront the bully and flush his head down the toilet.

Contrast the FA's dealings with Fergie with the treatment of Roberto Mancini, whose badly delivered joke about a referee chomping down too much turkey drew gasps of exasperation and a demand of explanation from the powers that be.

Ba humbug

The last thing Pardew needed was a shoeing from the Premier League's answer to Vito Corleone, for the silver-haired eight-year contract holder is having a stinker of a Christmas so far. Yes, his team notched a morale boosting six goals in two tricky trips to the Emirates and Old Trafford; the trouble is they also let in 11.

Newcastle's rear-guard is looking more porous than Swiss cheese on a pin cushion; so flaky that even the return of Titus Bramble and defensive coach Mark Lawrenson might help shore things up. That is now nine defeats since Pards was handed his ludicrous octo-deal by Mike Ashley, enough to knock that steadfast smugness off his kisser, and to have them scrabbling around to buy the reinforcements in January which they ignored during the summer.

It is also rather ironic that Demba Ba is the one man holding them together. This, after all, is the chap whose knee could explode at any minute and the man who has not one or two, or even three, but four agents desperately hawking him round the entire continent of Europe. It's hard enough to get a straight answer out of one agent in the transfer window, let alone four.

Going through the motions

One person I'm certain didn't enjoy her Christmas is Sandra Redknapp. Three defeats on the spin for her husband's new side, culminating in a first half whipping from Liverpool, saw 'Arry's jowls drooping a little lower than usual. A 12th defeat of the season saw Redknapp at his mixed message best: we're in dire straits but we'll stay up; I don't want the owners to get mugged again in the transfer window, but we need a few mercenaries on board to help us avoid relegation.

This first-half spanking came against a side brought to their knees by the norovirus and whose manager wasn't even in the same city. Brendan Rodgers' mob came flying out of the traps presumably as fast as the manager flew into them himself early on Sunday morning. Even assistant boss Colin Pascoe was under the weather and forbidden from entering the dressing room; £20 million man Jordan Henderson had a touch of it, but the last thing Liverpool want is him dropping some more pounds.

Despite their dicky tums, Rangers were overrun and with Luis Suarez having one of his controversy-free days, Liverpool had the game sewn up inside half an hour. By the time the second half came around the visitors were simply going through the motions - probably in exactly the same way Rodgers was, perched on his 'throne' back at his palatial Merseyside home.

Simian-lation

"Persecution," Spurs are now calling it. Cheating, I call it. Gareth Bale's latest yellow card for simulation at Sunderland is the third time he's been done for diving this season, and now he'll miss the match with Reading after picking up five bookings before the January amnesty. The timing is convenient, as perhaps he'll return with a few New Year's resolutions to help reform his character.

"If there is contact, then I'll fall over. What do you expect me to do? Hit my head on the floor?" Bale chirped after the game. The trouble seems to be his warped interpretation of contact. Yes, he can run quite fast but he clearly thinks the gentle brush of a gnat's wing on his leg is enough to send him poleaxed to the turf, arms outstretched as if he's been chopped down by a Taser gun. And no-one is suggesting he shouldn't try to break his fall, just that he might like to do it less theatrically in future.

If you listen to AVB the whole debate was plucked from thin air by a desperate media, which sounds a desperate argument in itself. The club has already invited a few referees to their Spurs Lodge base, presumably so they can watch Bale dive in training. The truth is this erroneous booking just evens up the one he should have received against Aston Villa, when he went down despite there being a good yard's worth of thin air between himself and Brad Guzan.

Can I be Frank?

The Rafa miracle continues apace with two slender away victories in four days. In fact, the Spaniard has now almost certainly guaranteed he'll be in charge at Chelsea until early January. Benitez even seems relatively distanced at present from the bitter, paranoid person he'd become by the end of his stint at Liverpool. It's amazing the perspective a few guest slots on Football Focus can offer.

Chelsea's hero at Goodison Park was the man who has proved their hero on plenty of occasions in the past, the so-called 'fat' Frank Lampard. Two goals sealed a seventh win in eight games and further perplexed those people baffled by Rafa's initial insistence that Frank could leave in the summer.

Chelsea's away contingent made their feelings known, but perhaps next time they should entrust the sign writing duties to some who isn't dyslexic. 'Dear Abramowitsch. Don't let him go Super8Frank,' is a nice sentiment, but when targeting such a message at your club owner it is usually considered good form to spell his name right, and not make him sound like a Hasidic blacksmith.

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