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WhoScored: Zabaleta-Sterling a key battle

Tactics And Analysis 8 hours ago
Read
Dec 27, 2010

Christmas cheer

Praise be to footy

Players and managers hate Christmas, but we, the salivating footy public, love it. While we fill ourselves to the stitching with turkey, roast potatoes and, for the freaks among you, sprouts, all washed down with a concoction of wine, beer and port, the Premier League's finest have to put their chiselled limbs through the trauma of four games in ten days.

The only thing that could be said to be marginally in their favour is that at least they get 90 minutes away from screaming kids, a drunken Grandad spouting jokes that were even deemed inappropriate back in the 1960s and the occasional lager-fuelled stand-off in the garden between smoking in-laws - if they lived in my house that is.  

For us, who have no intention of moving more than four yards away from the sofa - not even that far if your toilet is closer, it is the perfect scenario. The games come so thick and fast there is barely time to smash a turkey sarnie down your neck before Villa-Spurs is kicking off. It's like having a mini World Cup bang in the middle of winter. So take your winter break, and stuff it up your chimney.  

Avram's wish Grant-ed  

One chap whose Christmas prayers were definitely answered by the fat, bearded postman so revered at this time of year was Avram Grant, as his team produced a vaguely competent display to see off new relegation certainties Fulham. Given the task of procuring one win over the Christmas period to avoid the sack, the massage-lover recorded it at the first attempt. Hallelujah.   

This was largely due to his decision to hand Carlton Cole a rare start, probably using the logic that made those Dr Pepper adverts so popular a few years back. But hey presto, Cole pops up with two poacher's goals, to register his first Premier League brace ever. Given the lad has been plying his trade in the top flight for nine years and has also represented England, that stat is shameful in many, many ways.   

A wry smile will have also crossed Avram's face when he heard fans singing 'You don't know what you're doing', and realised that for once those chants were being directed at his opposite number instead. One swallow doesn't make a summer, but it does make a start.   

Chicken tikka messiah  

They may be more experienced in the business of chickens but Venky's are already doing a pretty fine job of impersonating turkeys since their mid-range takeover of Blackburn Rovers. The bright new future they promised upon taking over the club armed with a huge January transfer budget - £5 million, about enough to buy one of Fernando Torres' arse cheeks - is rapidly becoming as gloomy as Christopher Samba's mood.  

Since Sham was reduced to staring into the wilderness (his words not mine), the new chicken tikka masala messiah Steve Kean has claimed precisely one point from two eminently winnable home games with West Ham and Stoke. This is a man clearly not lacking in self-confidence, who watched Sham's deposition with a detached calmness, before easing his baldy-heed into the fray.  

But less than a week into the job, the man with no previous managerial experience who has been charged with changing Blackburn's playing style mid-season, has been booed off at home twice, has been outmuscled at set pieces by Stoke, slapped with a transfer request by his captain and is already trotting out the "keep faith, stick together" line.  

One fears Rovers' winter of discontent has only just begun.  

Wolves? More like anorexic kittens

  

Replacing West Ham on planet rock bottom were Wolves, whose defenders were nothing like the wise men in performance terms, but did come bearing gifts for that most enigmatic of outfits, Wigan Athletic. The last thing those largely unfit folk at Molineux needed after two days of binge-eating was a start so nightmarish it hitched their blood pressure sky high.   

Goals from Hugo Rodallega and Tom Cleverley ensured a round of musical chairs among those fighting for their lives in the lower reaches and at least did allow Wolves manager Mick McCarthy a chance to adopt that tone in his post-match interview as if he will stride straight into the dressing room the second he's finished his last answer and punch all his players and staff in the face one by one.   

West Ham have been rooted to the foot so long that Avram's got his bottom-of-the-table patter down perfect. Mick needs work, if this gem is anything to go by: "There is only one way for us to go at this moment in time, with the games we have got remaining. I know ultimately there are two ways we can go, but at the moment there is only one." Hardly a prophet are you, Michael?   

Merry Manchester  

Wins for the two Manchesters - United and City - on Boxing Day created a slice of history as the two sat side by side at the top of the table for the first time in Premier League history. Given the two clubs immediately below them are Arsenal and Chelsea, it looks as if this year's title race could truly be a battle between north and south.  

United swatted away an old boy and his depleted side without so much as a stutter at Old Trafford. Dimitar Berbatov had clearly laid off the mince pies as he chose to operate on the former of his two settings, which are brilliant or rubbish. Wayne Rooney was a bit of both, and still has the unwanted record of scoring more hookers than goals this season. Delightful.  

Up on Tyneside, any scrap of goodwill Alan 'the gaffer no-one in Newcastle wanted' Pardew collected during the win over Liverpool evaporated in four minutes as Carlos Tevez displayed why he'd be a much more likeable character if his snood was surgically attached into his mouth and he let his football do the talking.  

Of course, the problem with the north-south divide is that both the northern divide and the southern divide, also have a divide, in that they truly hate each other. The season of good will is over.

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