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.
For Whom the Bellamy Tolls
Well, who had mid-February? I think we can all be agreed time has been shouted on Liverpool's misplaced title tilt - like an Irish barkeep's patience with the latest Scandinavian tourist desperately trying to locate the 'craic' on a 'McCarthy's Bar' trail.
And how fitting that it was Craig Bellamy - the nation's favourite footballer - who drove the final nail into the coffin of Anfield's deluded heart. Perhaps befitting the enormity of the situation, he was suddenly struck by a dash of humility after he'd netted the opener (by way of a massive deflection) and dampened down the celebrations.
The truth of it has been clear to plenty of us for quite a long time - Liverpool don't have the personnel, or the approach, to clinch the Premier League crown. They aren't won by the likes of Aurelio, Babel, Kuyt and Ngog are they?
I take no comfort in their failure, believe me, it's just that I, and the rest of the sane world, smelt its inevitability like a rabid mouse in a backpacker's napsack.
Bendtner as a bottle of crisps
Two snippets of Arsenal news this week - one heart-warming, one vulgar in its arrogance. I refer of course to the warm and cuddly return of striker Eduardo after a 12-month absence, and the recent quotes attributed to patchy-at-best striker Nicklas Bendtner.
Despite having next to nothing to back it up the 21-year-old blustered: "I'm very sorry to see Adebayor injured...but it does not really matter to me who is fit and available. I should start every game, I should be playing every minute of every match and always be in the team." Needless to say the inevitable "misquoted" line was trotted out soon after but given his previous, few were buying it.
How fitting then that the Croatian's return underlined his importance with a brace and a MOM performance in the Cup that saw him contribute more in 90 minutes than Bendtner has in the last three seasons. No-one could begrudge the Gunners' striker his glorious return, which he later described "as the best night of my life".
But fate being what it is, Eduardo's hamstring niggle afforded Bendtner a chance to justify his claim against Sunderland and, my word, didn't he deliver? I mean, one weak header towards the far post in 90 minutes is surely reason enough to rip up Arsene's rule book and cement his place for ever eh?
They've had Mavericks, now its time for Guus
Saturday pitched stony faced project manager Hiddink, the international consultant keen for 'challenges' and on a favour to the Russian federation, against that bundle of furied adolescent passion that is O'Neill - the quintessential tracksuit boss.
If ever a team played in the image of its manager, it's Villa. This is a British team and its methods are simple. Big Emile Heskey plays target man; Agbonlahor possesses searing pace, bustle and industry from Milner and twinkle-toed trickery from his wing-twin Ashley Young. Gareth Barry plays pass and link - the epitome of British industry. Martin O'Neill was once Brian Clough's Ashley Young in Nottingham Forest's glory years, and Old Big 'Ead will be smiling down at the moment at a real team playing football the right way. However, they were always going to lose this one.
Hiddink had barely got in the door of his first press conference before barking at the gathered hacks he was just a loan signing from Russia (with love), meaning Chelsea will continue to ooze temporary for the rest of the season. Better men than Guus have reversed bigger decisions, but one gets the feeling this Dutchman's flying visit will be as fleeting as he promises and, as such, everyone has an excuse.
The game itself was unremarkable in the extreme - save for Frank Lampard's rare fleet of foot and another Anelka goal. Guus looked on with the candour of an extra out of Eastenders. Chelsea got the points. Sorted.
Milan or Busst?
Jose Mourinho seems to think we are too often starved of real football on these shores. Watching the Milan clash, and comparing it with the Mersey derby trilogy he may have a point. Inter versus Milan was a game of football as chess, pure and classy and yet still imbued with the niggly passion that fuels all great derbies.
Possession of the ball is key; great artisans subsume within a team, playing simple balls, shifting and jousting, and then suddenly an individual component explodes like a speeding bishop (chess analogy here rather than controversial clergy slander) to change the state of the war. Forget David Beckham and the media circus, this game was Harlem Globetrotter good.
"This league is better for people who understand football very well. In England you should get the chance to watch it," opined the quiff.
But Jose, we have our magic in the Premiership, there is no doubt of that, even if it often emerges from chaos and graft (remember Rory Delap's delightful dribble shimmy and dink?). Where else in the world would Stoke's titanic clash with Portsmouth arouse such interest?
Jose just wanted to remind us that he could bring the thinking man's game back to England once Italian adulation runs out for the Special one. The reality is he can't stop bleating on about the Premier League and deep down, he misses all that Stoke versus Pompey has to offer. Their 2-2 draw will linger longer in the memory than Udinese versus Torino.
I'm the manager, no I'm the manager
Sunday saw the first episode of a series we're all bound to fall in love with, namely, the power struggle at Newcastle between Chris "I'm the manager" Hughton and Colin "No, I'm the manager" Calderwood as Newcastle closed shop against Everton.
I can't see anything but comedy gold emerging from the constant duel between the two who now find themselves thrust into an almighty scrap over who gets to sit next to the driver on the coach and whose lap Dennis Wise gets to sit on this week.
In terms of credentials neither candidate stands out. Calderwood spent three successful years at Northampton before taking Nottingham Forest to the Championship. He was sacked before Christmas after just six wins all season. Hughton's CV isn't in much better shape, having been number two to no less than ten average managers at Spurs - finally falling on his own sword in the debacle that saw the rest of the world find out that Martin Jol had been sacked before Martin Jol.
Sunday was a classic case of one-upmanship. As soon as Calderwood got up and patrolled the technical area so did Hughton. Calderwood would shout "push up", Hughton would counter with "stay back". At one point it looked like it was going to descend into arm wrestling and name calling on the touchline at which point Mike Ashley would have to rush pitch side while the two of them lay on the floor shouting: "Mike, tell him to stop it!" "Stoooppp itt!" "Owww!" "You're hurting me!"
In the end, the pair's lack of managerial authority was camouflaged by a sending off for Kevin Nolan, and an unholy situation whereby the entire nation watched on television hoping Maroune Fellaini and Fabricio Colocinni weren't designated to mark each other at a corner, or else their mad hair may have become entwined like velcro for the rest of the season.