Fifth Official: Rage against the Man-cini
Few of us like Christmas, and neither does The Fifth Official. It does bring with it a feast of football, however, and here he picks out the finest and funniest filaments, from the festive fixtures.
Rage against the Man-cini
Who does Roberto Mancini think he is, eh? Look at him, just sat there, in Mark Hughes' still warm bumgrooves, while Brian Kidd gently massages his neck, all the while wearing the most camp woven apparel since the Village People discovered earmuffs. Does he know he's not in Italy now?
His first sight of the Stoke bench must have convinced him he was in pastures new. There he was, keen to keep up the time honoured tradition of shaking hands with his opposite number pre-match, but forgetting that he didn't have a freaking clue who it was. Peter Reid received a high five quizzically, before Roberto donned the sceptical look when Reid insisted the tracksuited, trucker cap wearing Tony Pulis, was indeed the Potters' manager.
Still, the new man certainly seems to have configured a way to make sure City don't concede a bucket load of goals in his short time at the club, and it just so happens to coincide with Joleon Lescott's knee injury. Ouch. If Stoke put up minimal resistance then Wolves were the perfunctory, albeit well rested, stooges. Mancini probably thinks this Premier League lark is easy, and looking at City's immediate fixture list, you'd have to say he's right. Poor old Sparky.
Rage against the ref, Rafa
The Roonatic is doing his level best to ensure Manchester United keep pace with faltering Chelsea, and turned in a man-of-the-match performance against Hull, but Rafael Benitez was again indebted to the officials for preserving his doomed reign at Anfield that little while longer after a squeaky win over Wolves.
The mark of desperation felt over the red half of Merseyside could be seen when Pepe Reina charged a full 60 yards downfield to insist the referee had made a mistake in carding Christophe Berra, and had to issue another yellow card to Stephen Ward, the whipper-snapper signed from Bohemians of Ireland, with just eight Premier League games to his name in his entire career.
Liverpool laboured on to win the game, after Steven Gerrard played another of his get out of jail cards (ahem) and latched on to an Emiliano Insua cross, to bag a rare win for Rafa. Perhaps 2010 will bring with it some respite. Or perhaps it'll bring the long overdue bullet.
Jury's Inn? Jury's Out more like
Hmm. For Carlo Ancelotti, read Luiz Felipe Scolari? This is what Chelsea fans are asking themselves after two unconvincing performances over the festive period made it two wins in eight for the Blues. Birmingham away and Fulham at home should have been six easily-gobbled points, but it seems their cool as a cucumber manager starts to freeze like a sea cucumber when Plan A goes awry.
Just like the Brazilian before him, Ancelotti has dazzled pundits and players alike with his amiable qualities and his exquisite Elton John references in press conferences, but he appears to be lacking a Plan B, like a Tiny Dancer holding a Candle in the Wind. Athankyou.
A Didier Drogba special, and a Chris Smalling own goal (Who? Yes, I know) prevented a full scale Christmas crisis, but a New Year meltdown is surely in the post as Drogba and Michael Essien swan off to the African Nations Cup. I think Salomon Kalou and John Obi Mikel are going as well, but no-one at the Bridge seems to care if they come back or not.
The award for finest Christmas cameo has to go to Cesc Fabregas, who lurched off the bench for Arsenal against Aston Villa, to prove exactly why he is needed to win tight games, and exactly why he shouldn't be risked in tight games.
The game was heading nowhere before Fabregas was clearly tipped the wink that I'd dropped him from my fantasy league side due to definite injury and begged the boss for a short stint on the field. On he popped, and two goals later, he promptly popped off again, after aggravating the hamstring that I was told would definitely keep him out of the game.
This is why it doesn't always pay to pour over the form and the fitness stakes, as Mrs TFO's mother found out to her benefit, by ignoring the chance to make her two allotted transfers, keeping the supposedly crocked Fabregas as her captain, and reaping nearly 30 points for her lack of attention. She still leads our mini league by quite a distance, and the Gunners are still in their own title race.
A short McLeish
It's about time we acknowledged Alex McLeish knows what he's doing. Don't forget, this was the Birmingham manager who was booed by his own fans at the start of the season because he wasn't adventurous enough, as he wasn't prepared to stick his ginger wig on the breeze, and chuck his pipe and slippers at a 4-4-2.
But it seems he always had it in the back of his mind, for wee Alex has gone balls out with a brassy four, four, och-aye-the-two formation since the leaves fell from the trees. His reward is a whopping 11 games unbeaten, which for a newly-promoted side, is not to be sniffed at.
McLeish's latest victims were Stoke, who appear, to the untrained eye, to be suffering from second season syndrome, which loosely translated means, now Rory Delap the quarterback can't chug them in the box with the same precision he's used to, you're a bit stuffed. That, and the fact their manager seems to be having an identity crisis, after a naked altercation with James Beattie at Arsenal (allegedly) and a stylish blanking from Mancini.