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Anfield defeat leaves Fergie speechless

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 week brimming with potential victims.

Choke hold, radio silence

It's a beautiful thing to watch a team choke, especially when it is Manchester United doing the choking. Two wins this week and they'd have been out of sight, instead they played the role of subordinate neighbours to Liverpool, looked leakier than a field full of leeks and are proud new owners of a rising tide of self-doubt. All we needed was a dewy-eyed Fergie to limp out of a broken dressing room and scream "I'd love it if we beat them, love it," down the camera.

I couldn't care less who wins these games - I just tune in for the handbags. Perhaps Jamie Carragher knows this, because all was pretty pedestrian until his assault on Nani, a tackle worthy of two red cards let alone one. Incredibly, the squeaky Scouser's saviour was the man whose leg he'd just disfigured, as Nani clocked the gash on his leg, promptly got up, and hobbled in front of the referee, so he could fall over again. Then he burst into tears. It was the moment Ronaldo's hissy-fitting protégé finally came of age. I bet Ron had a tear in his eye watching at home in Madrid.

Rafael set about exacting revenge with a tackle in which his feet somehow managed to sail towards his opponent at a higher altitude than his curly bonce. Cue football's specialist brand of shoving, and a hair-pull from Luis Suarez for good measure. In fact, the only thing that could have made this derby spicier was the late introduction of El-Hadji Diouf.

This combustible mixture was topped off by a wall of silence from Fergie's camp to round off a media performance as sketchy as their two awful displays on the pitch. The press would want the Roonatic "electrocuted" after his elbow at Wigan he whined, while Mike Phelan insisted we all leave the referee alone. Then Fergie gives that idea three days before slating Martin Atkinson on the club's own TV channel after losing to Chelsea, attracting an FA fine which prompts him to shut up shop for accurate reporting of said events.

You reap what you sow old man, and you've been cross-stitching for 29 long years.

Fault Lines

If Arsenal were a motor vehicle, they'd be a ramshackle Vietnamese bus shedding vital parts as it limps slowly towards its destination, which at this rate will be a trophyless depot in the middle of Nowheresville. They are so knackered, teams just pitch up at the Emirates, take the weight off while the Gunners run around for a bit, then skip away with a point, or sometimes three.

Rather than accept their own failings in the finishing department after firing another blank at home, Arsenal prefer to look for an easy target to blame, preferably one with a flag or whistle in his hand. Everyone gets poor decisions over the course of the season, but how come the ones against Arsenal seem to dominate the headlines for a full week? Wenger's team are rarely lacking in the silk department, but their want indicator is running on empty - and that's the last thing they need going into this next six days.

After the Carling Cup meltdown the quadruple became the treble, and that could quickly become the single after the small matter of Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday (heavy defeat) followed by Manchester United in the FA Cup on Sunday (narrow defeat).

Hou knew?

You can tell what a rotten week it's been for Gerard Houllier when he chooses to distance himself from the decision to let Gary Cahill leave Aston Villa, even though it happened a full two-and-a-half years before the Frenchman brought his particularly nauseating brand of Gallic touchiness to the black hole in the middle of the country we like to call the Midlands.

Perhaps Hou thought he'd be on safe ground slagging off Martin O'Neill's decision to flog the centre back, given the jack-in-the-box's standing among Villa fans, but he clearly forgot his predecessor has previous when it comes to dodgy team selection too (CSKA Moscow anyone?). Quite why Hou decided to hand Manchester City a bye in their midweek FA Cup clash is beyond me given that the competition offered Villa's only route to glory after a terrible season. His pathetic defence that Nathan Delfouneso and Emile Heskey were both England internationals was as laughable as it was incorrect. The fans are livid, and rightly so.

Still, all might just have been forgotten had Villa trounced Bolton, but they didn't, so it isn't. The fact that one of their old boys scored two highly preventable goals just made it far worse. In a short week Hou has managed to dismantle any momentum Villa had after thumping Blackburn last Saturday. Having committed suicide in the cup, perhaps now he can concentrate fully on the league - and getting the club relegated.

The Kolo Toure diet

Judging by his laboured recent performances, I was willing to bet good money the banned substance imbibed by Kolo Toure that led to his ban was valium. But it turns out the 'specified substance' is even funnier than that, because the Ivorian has apparently been scoffing his wife's diet pills, for some unknown reason.

Perhaps, like Atkins, the Kolo diet will fast become the new Hollywood fad of choice, requiring you to find a job that requires you to stay fit and healthy full-time while nibbling on the odd diet pill in your spare time. Just think, he could make millions. "Which one are you on at the moment, Angelina?" "The Kolo. It's amazing, you HAVE to try it."

It looks like Kolo may have been handing his wife's pills round in training because Manchester City looked awful against Wigan, perhaps expecting them to roll over and die as Houllier's ramshackle outfit had done on Wednesday. But for Ali Al Habsi's uncanny Gomes impression, and a late miss from Conor Sammon, City might well have lost.

Roberto Mancini spent the entire game barracking his players from his technical area, with Mario Balotelli and Gareth Barry attracting most of his ire. Not that they looked bothered, more entertained. While Mancini ranted and raved, Roberto Martinez applauded everything his players did incessantly, whether it was good or bad. Perhaps only one of them is a winner, brimming with tiger blood.

Snood bathing

Is it an affront to anyone else that the same group who have flip-flopped on the issue of goal-line technology more than a goldfish emancipated from its tank and squashed into a George Foreman grill have also found time in their supposedly vital schedule to decide on the most pointless ban in football history?

Don't get me wrong, I'm no fan of the snood, and in my opinion any player who wears one is a big girl's blouse, but surely our lawmakers have better things to do than outlaw the pampered Premier League poodle's fashion accessory. If we kept them, and insist Mario Balotelli wears his a little higher - say, as a gag - I definitely think there's a place for them in the modern game.

But what do you expect from the most self-congratulatory organisation on the planet? Their critical snood intervention, which doesn't even come into force until July, came in the week they announced they had wrung every penny out of the World Cup in South Africa to the tune of $3.6 billion, a result that made FIFA's chief buffoon "very, very happy".

Could that be because now he gets to scatter his record profits around the member organisations ahead of his bid for re-election? I couldn't possibly comment.

Don't forget, you can help The Fifth Official's bid to attract more followers on Twitter than Sepp Blatter at www.twitter.com/fifthofficial

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