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May 4, 2009

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.

Man Uni-tired

As usual, Fergie was moaning before his side's trip to Middlesbrough. You know, about it being really early, and on TV and that. But when you've a squad of about 250 (and yes, I am including Howard Webb in that) you can afford to play a game every two days for a month.

Middlesbrough were so poor you could have transported the entire United squad from Old Trafford on Wednesday night to an underground bunker in the Cheshire countryside, with just a litre of water between them; forcing them to go without sleep for four days by playing 'Who Let the Dogs Out' on repeat at ear-splitting volume before releasing them back into the wilds of 'Boro on Saturday lunchtime. Mind you, had they done just that, they wouldn't have looked out of place. That glazed, slightly menacing look would have gone down a treat.

As it was, the PFA Player of the Year (snigger) settled early 'Boro nerves and reinforced the inevitable, that they'd be lucky to keep United out of double figures and get nil themselves.

Arshavin slash Napoleon

Thankfully for Arsenal, it appears Andrey Arshavin has a chronic case of Napoleon Complex, or Little Man's Disease to me and thee. For the uninitiated, LMS bequeaths on those men who fall below average height an overwhelming desire to prove one's self or punch above one's weight (sometimes quite literally).

This intrinsic desire in our new Russian 'Peter Beardsley with looks' meant he turned in a pearler of a display at Pompey, creating all three goals and generally looking like a fully decent footballer. I swear at one point in the second half I saw him nutmeg Sol Campbell by actually darting between his legs with the ball in tow.

Arshavin at least proved his case of LMS was a mild one (or equally, non-existent) after imploring referee Lee Mason not to give the Gunners a penalty after he was tackled by Sean Davis inside the area. Ok, it wasn't particularly vociferous, but it's the thought that counts.

And what did the great Arsene Wenger make of this obscene show of sportsmanship? "I didn't see it," said the Frenchman. Well, at least he's consistent.

Your Championship Destiny

Liverpool kept up their ultimately doomed title chase with a comprehensive demolition of Alan Shearer's hopelessly inept Newcastle. Not that Shearer is to blame for their sheer incompetency. Oh no, Joe Kinnear and Mike Ashley have no competition in those stakes. The game is probably best summed up by the following stats: Liverpool had 27 attempts on goal, Newcastle had one; Liverpool hit the bar three times, Newcastle didn't. At least Big Al could muster a chuckle at The Kop's witticisms, smirking when they launched a chorus of "You should have stayed on the tele".

At least Michael Owen looked bang up for it, pretending to lose his shins pads for about half an hour before coming on. It must have been a wrench for Al to drop him, but despite them being bosom buddies, the most convincing argument in the conversation must have been the fact that little May-cal hasn't scored for about four years.

No-one could deny that Joey Barton was up for it though, after his maiming of Xavi Alonso. Love him or hate him, Shearer was at least frank. Setanta's interviewer asked three telling questions. "Should Barton have been sent off? Did he apologise? Did he let you down?" "Yes," was the answer to all three.

El Gran Clásico

I've had the pleasure of watching many good games of football this season but nothing comes close to the sheer thrill and excitement offered by 'El Gran Clasico' on Saturday, which saw Champions-elect Barcelona thrash arch rivals Real Madrid 6-2 on their own turf. How there were only eight goals scored is beyond me; it could have been double.

And it wasn't like we were watching mugs at the back either. Puyol was there, Cannavaro was playing, and Pique, but such was the wealth and depth of attacking talent on show, the football was sublime. Messi was mesmerising, Henry was back to his silky best, and Eto'o didn't even score for heaven's sake.

It's the latest (and best) in a long line of brilliant games from La Liga, which seems to serve up a six or seven goal game every week, and not just from the usual suspects. All of it is played as a high pace, with sumptuous technique and clinical accuracy.

Such a wonderful game makes a complete mockery of the persistent claims we have rammed down our throats by Sky that the Premier League is the best in the world. What absolute drivel. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad league, and we do get the odd thriller, but it just isn't a patch on La Liga.

Ibrahimovic: Ronaldo minus talent

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, discuss. I mean, is he really that good? I must admit to having only seen him in action sporadically over the past few years, but whenever I do I'm left with an overwhelming sense of disappointment, akin to the feeling one gets upon leaving the cinema after witnessing the latest Bond monstrosity.

Zlata is thick with stick in Milan at present for making waves about leaving Inter because of their persistent failure to get anywhere meaningful in the Champions League, which to mean seems utterly hypocritical. After all, was he not in a relatively decent position to do something about it for the last three years?

I'm not one for directing stick at one of my own players, but after such a spine-crunchingly crass set of comments, I can fully understand the Nerazzurri's wrath. It's like the baker decrying the bakery's baking; it just won't do.

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