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3:00 AM UTC Feb 25, 2017
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Europa League round of 16 draw

Europa League

Transfer Rater: Bellerin to Barcelona


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.

Mind Games anyone?

Hang on, what? I've never seen a less offensive gesture from a manager. In case you've been on Mars this week, Sir Alex and Sam Allardyce have both voiced their disgust at Rafa Benitez's 'beyond the pale' offensive gesture after Liverpool's second goal last weekend.

I've watched this a few times just to make sure I didn't miss him flopping out little Rafa or sliding on two knees to give Sam the bird. No, he appears just to shrug, smile a bit smugly, and cross his hands as if to say, 'You were right to cross it Xavi, ignore my tactics'.

Either way, the puzzling workings of managerial mind games carried on this weekend. Scary Davey Moyes said Fergie was at it, 'by saying nice things' about Everton ahead of their FA Cup semi-final. And Moyes tried to climb into Mike Riley's mind ahead of the game by suggesting that the referee was a Manchester United fan. Ask Fergie if it worked.

But it's Phil Brown that has been left looking as stupid as, well Phil Brown, as his brand of mind games proved to be all the team-talk Ricky Sbragia needed for Sunderland's overpaid underachievers to leave Hull deep, deep in trouble.

Wembley semi-finals

Some bright spark put the hospitality seats at Wembley at camera shot level over the half way line. Images are regularly beamed around the world of a seemingly half empty national stadium; that section looking more like Walthamstow dog track did on a Friday night than the Mecca of English sport on big match day.

The pitch is a disaster as well. Every team that's played there has said so, including the New York Giants.

Forgive the moan, but it's just if your team isn't playing, I think the world's cottoned on to the fact that FA Cup semi-finals are just rubbish. The London first leg on Saturday was. Pull out something newsworthy from the action and it would probably have to be fourteen-year-old keeper Lucasz Fabianski skating around the pocked turf with the positional awareness of an 11-year-old to gift Guus a final spot.

As for Sunday, having trekked hundreds of miles for the game, both sets of fans got sloppy seconds on a pitch that looked like Aintree after the Grand National. And horses could have served up a better spectacle. Fergie was apoplectic at Mr Riley's failure to point to the spot (Moyes smiled knowingly), and penalties saw Everton through.

More Waves at the Britannia

Stoke City keep a red towel on each touchline at the Britannia to allow Rory Delap to dry the ball before each launch. Morten Gamst Pedersen looks like a man who likes a nice towel, but when he picked it up to freshen up for a Blackburn throw-in, the Britannia booed, and a Stoke 'towel boy' whipped it off him with a 'No! Not yours!'. Big Sam was not happy.

He's got a point though. Oh no, hang on, no points at all. Back to the dogfight for you, Sam. While Blackburn do have winnable home games left, the problem facing the beacon of managerial conduct, he says, is his absolute lack of strikers. Starting on Saturday were international strikers El Hadji Diouf and top scorer Benni McCarthy, supported by Gamst Pedersen, so surely the problem is system not personnel, Sam?

But Big Sam was lamenting the loss of Jason Roberts and suggesting Blackburn would need clean sheets to stay up as they were 'lacking firepower'. At some point while we all weren't looking, McCarthy has obviously forgotten how to play football, or more likely, Sam's one dimensional brand of football just isn't working.

We'll miss you, Tony

There's no denying it, this weekend's football has been high on tension but short on substance. Villa should have beaten West Ham, but they didn't. Sunderland shouldn't have beaten Hull, but they did. Newcastle just succumbed.

Stoke harried Blackburn. Portsmouth scraped home against Bolton via Kanu's knee and Boro bungled to a point with the blunted strikeforce that's failed them all season.

So thank the Lord for Tony Mowbray's swashbuckling West Bromwich Albion. He still says he's got the right squad for the Premier League, just missing a couple of key components (perhaps he means 'composure' and 'defensive ability') and that apart from his team's points tally, they are a good Premier League side.

Never has this been more clearly demonstrated than in their defeat at the hands of Mark Hughes' vastly more expensive underachievers. Brave and attack-minded, the simple fact for poor Tony is that two goals means no points when you let in four. Even once Felipe Caicedo had mugged Scott Carson for City to lead 2-0, the Baggies fought back to 2-2. Less than a minute later leggy Jonas Olsson had lunged at Elano and all the good football in the world could count for nothing.

Ups and Downs

So wins for Stoke and Portsmouth seem to leave things in clearer focus. West Brom down. Then two from Middlesbrough (almost definitely), Newcastle (probably), Blackburn (please), Sunderland and Hull.

On paper, it looks like being two from Hull, Newcastle and Middlesbrough. Hull have amassed ten points from a possible 48; a rewind will probably reveal the wheels fell off around the time Phil Brown decided to keep his team on the pitch at half time at Manchester City and berate them like naughty schoolboys. Mind games you see.

And Mick McCarthy's Wolves will play in the Premier League next season. If anyone is qualified to take them straight back to the Championship it's Mick; if his track record is anything to go by, expect dry and affable monotones from him all season starting, 'Look, I'd like to compete with the Chelsea's of this world, but...' as Wolves slip slowly off the pace and Tony Mowbray's buccaneers bounce straight back up.


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