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Wasteful United frustrate LVG

Man Utd Ratings
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The Fifth Official: Season Preview

The Premier League is back and so is The Fifth Official. Here he looks forward to ten months of backslapping, in-fighting and Phil Brown's loose gob.

Egos for Hire

Well, there's a surprise. Manchester City have spent the summer throwing their weight around, unsettling players, making astronomic claims as to their own self importance and splashing an inordinate amount of cash.

Mark Hughes has rapidly assembled a dressing room full of some of world football's biggest egos to complement Craig Bellamy's unduly large head. I imagine training sessions resemble a primary school playground, except these kids can't be reined in with the promise of a glass of milk, a kit kat or a Teletubbies DVD (though the latter may well work in Carlos Tevez's case).

Expect things to spiral out of control towards Christmas when Hughes is barred from training and excluded from selection meetings by the Egos. One can only imagine this will be the last summer spending spree he goes on for a while. I'm sure you can work out why.

Ode to Ronaldo

I'm joking. Good riddance. La Liga is welcome to his pec-flexing, constant whining and laughable dress sense but I do admit the Premier League will be slightly less of a footballing spectacle as a result. Not that it will have the devastating effect on Manchester United many fans seem to think it will. I mean, you've signed Michael Owen after all haven't you?

Fergie's windfall remains largely intact and though he may have cost a full £63m less than Ronaldo, Antonio Valencia looks a tidy replacement. And of course, Owen galloped into town on a free with his head held high after four solid and professional years at Newcastle (£21m worth of wages in return for 30 goals and relegation = nice work if you can get it). It's good to see someone has done alright for themselves out of the Toon's embarrassing implosion.

We'll know by Christmas if Fergie has signed Owen to play football or to swap racing tips with. Word has it Sir Alex needs to win enough on the nags over the year to cover Owen's pay-as-you play deal which, given his injury nightmare, means one significant, long-odds punt should do it. I still have them to finish top though, with Owen making double figures.

I Could Feel It Coming In the Air All Trial

All of which means it'll be Chelsea and Liverpool scrapping it out for second. Freed from the shackles of normal law enforcement, Stevie G's next trick will be to try and remain fit long enough to carry the weight of Anfield's title charge on his broad, punchy shoulders. For morale to remain intact the first-team squad have been urged in the strongest possible terms not to object when he wants to stick Phil Collins on the ghetto-blaster in the dressing room prior to kick off.

How Gerrard's partner in crime (ahem) Fernando Torres reacts to the departure of his pal Xabi Alonso is another matter, though few can blame him for leaving. Ironic really that Rafa spent the whole of last summer desperately trying to get rid of him and the entirety of this one trying to hang onto him. Still, if I was up for sale to fund a move for Gareth Barry I might think seriously about packing it in too.

As for Chelsea, an encouraging pre-season, a foreign coach with a proven track record welcomed with open arms and supposed harmony in the dressing room. Sound familiar? Ancelotti is said to favour a diamond in the middle, whereas Tottenham are toying with the idea of a "diamond lights" formation, whereby Chris Waddle and Glenn Hoddle are plucked from retirement to anchor the midfield sporting two of the greatest mullets the game has ever seen. Champions League Crouchy? You're having a laugh. Again.

Phil Brown: Unstoppable mouth

After Phil Brown defecated on the KC Stadium's microphone upon Hull City's skin-of-their-teeth survival back in May, one afforded one's self the blissful thought that perhaps he'd pipe down over the summer and we could all enjoy England's "barbecue summer" in peace. How naive. On both fronts.

First he spoke of his "pride" at Hull City's supposed involvement in the race to sign Michael Owen, which presumably means Accrington Stanley could have phoned up the striker's agent, offered £50 for his services then expressed their joy that a League Two club such as themselves are in the "race" for an England international. He'll be beaming with joy now that a big club like Liverpool want Michael Turner now will he?

But Brown's coup de grace came less than 24 hours after one of English football's most cherished characters, Sir Bobby Robson, finally lost his long battle with cancer. He actually uttered these astonishing words: "We could say Bobby was a living legend yesterday. We can't say that today."

Expect a painful year for Brown, littered with preposterous hyperbole, touchline spats and FA fines. Oh, and expect Hull's relegation to be confirmed pre- April.

Crash and Burnley?

As a seasoned football commentator (part-time mickey taker) I make sure to organise my holidays around the football, which is why I'll definitely be out of the country on the weekends when Burnley and Hull play each other.

No offence to Owen Coyle and his men - plenty of offence to Brown and his - but to survive in the Premier League as a newly-promoted side you need to win a ten-month war of attrition, or fall plum lucky (like the Tigers) that Newcastle and Middlesbrough happened to exist last season and somehow managed to be worse. West Brom tried to play some half-decent stuff but that got them relegation and their manager the Celtic job. A fate we can all have sympathy with.

As such, most games involving any of the promoted sides will be dogged, cagey affairs that are thoroughly horrible to watch for their fans. Thumpings will be dished out with regularity, pride will yo-yo like Jordan's knickers and you probably won't survive. But look on the bright side, at least you won't have as bad a season as Newcastle did. Joe Kinnear anyone?

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