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The last look at the weekend

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.

By a hair's breadth

Well I never, Liverpool are second. How did that happen red half of Merseyside? And there I was fretting my fearless prediction of December 8th - that Liverpool would have relinquished top spot by mid-January - would force me into the unenviable position of chowing down on my own sanctimonious arse grumble. Still, it nearly didn't happen thanks to Manchester United naffing off to Asia for the eminently vacuous World Club Championship.

But thanks to a hat-trick of wins this week - over Chelsea, Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers - Manchester United have reclaimed their lofty perch atop the Premier League, equalling Chelsea's record of ten consecutive clean sheets in the process. With Vidic and co providing the shut outs, "boring boring United" need only to produce one telling moment going forward these days.

At the Reebok Stadium on Saturday Sir Alex brought on geriatric wonderkids Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes to bag the points as the game seemed destined for stalemate. Carlos Tevez and the ghostly assassin Dimitar Berbatov combined beautifully to break Bolton hearts in the dying moments.

And no, I'm conveniently going to ignore the fact Liverpool don't play until Monday night when they can regain top spot with a win over Everton. Its mid-January, it's the day I pen my piece and they're not top. So there.

Arsene's real world crumbles

Never one to pass up the opportunity for a philosophical grimace, Arsenal Wenger turned macro economist this week. The master spendthrift loves a bargain, especially if it involves relieving another club of their finest young talent, but he has had his nose distinctly put out of joint by this Kaka business.

With his blood pressure already rocketing in pursuit of the fully grown Andrei Arshavin, he delivered his prognosis on Operation Kaka: "It goes against the economic situation … this for me is abstraction, I don't feel in connection with that at all, because we live … in the real world". Steady on Arsene, we watch football to get away from all this doom mongering.

Luckily Arsene was back in touch with reality post match, reminding us of his genius despite having to shoulder the nation's economic woes, after Arsenal's latest late late show won this one at the KC stadium. Under his tutelage, this Arsenal team scores more goals in the last ten minutes than any other side you see. If only Arsene was in number 10, there wouldn't even be a recession.

Unreality bites for Phil too

With new signing James Beattie joining Danny Higginbotham, Andy Griffin and quarterback revelation Rory Delap, this Stoke City team reads like a south coast Premiership relegation outfit from the 1990s, but reasonably sized Phil had quite publicly nervous about them prior to kick off. Stoke, said Phil, are the most dangerous team from set pieces. In the world.

Pre-match was abuzz with 'zonal', 'man-to-man', and of course, the 35% of a world class striker left out of the Chelsea squad, but it started badly and got worse for Chelsea. Well proportioned Phil wouldn't have enjoyed Alex and Petr Cech's interpretations of his tactics to nullify the world's greatest set piece exponents in the opening minutes, and when Delap of all people trotted through the Chelsea defence like Thierry Henry in slow-mo to put Stoke ahead, it seemed Phil may well be signing on with the masses come Monday.

But then up stepped Juliano Belletti and a fairy tale roof-lifter from Lampard, and suddenly Phil was babbling incoherently in the glow of victory. Who knows what he actually said in his interview, but the conclusion was clear, his world had turned full cycle, "I want to explain in. I think they like me".

Know what I mean 'Arry

Poor old 'Arry has really been taking transfer speculation to heart; in fact him and Arsene are thinking of going on a week's reading holiday in Devon to get away from it all. "I went to watch a game, nothing else, that's as far as it went," said Harry of his midweek trip to watch Inter.

On being linked with Hernan Crespo the old deal-maker wrung his Bassett hound cheeks, "I just went to watch a game… Hernan Crespo's still playing I thought… I wonder what the wife's done for tea". Just then a complete stranger rang about Craig Bellamy, "Someone has told me he wants to come here and play. If we can do a deal, good".

Ask Ricky Sbragia what he thinks about Harry's simple life. Sick of the Spurs pursuit of Kenwyne Jones (with the hapless Darren Bent offered as make-weight) the mild mannered Scot snarled, "They are after every player in the league".

In the needle tie of the weekend, Bent's hammer horror header had 'Arry's dangly jowels heading floor-ward, as the two sets of fans vied for the honour of most vitriol directed at former staff - conveniently, the points were shared both on and off the pitch.

An unreal Premier League weekend

So while this week reads like an homage to the effect of football's crazy goldfish bowl on league gaffers in the January sales, its worth looking over a weekend that really did come from another planet.

Barriers are being smashed by the Abu-Dhabi trillions, Spurs are bidding for every player in the league including Nicky Hunt and you'd be forgiven for thinking the whole football world had gone even more insane in the membrane than usual. Ashley Young in two footed tackle horror, Rory Delap nearly writing the headlines for his footballing ability, Amir Zaki nodding over an open goal from four yards, and a refereeing performance from Mike Dean at the Stadium of Light that seemed to actually encourage the use of hands by Villa players. Stamford Bridge became a cauldron of giddy joy at beating mighty Stoke and Kaka's value hit the £2 billion mark.

In a week of almost unprecedented intrigue and excitement it would be very easy to get carried away. Luckily Newcastle United exists for times like this.


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