There has been much discussion of Manchester United's departed or injured defenders, but far less of Michael Carrick. Will his return to fitness cause notable improvement?
Arsenal fans have been sucked back into believing Wenger can bring the glory years back after beating Borussia Dortmund. Plus, more on Liverpool's worrying decline...
Ahead of the Women's FA Cup Final on Sunday, BBC2 this week put out an episode of The Women's Football Show on Monday night. You can take a butcher's on the iPlayer here.
It was a decent show. Jacqui Oatley is a likeable host, obviously knows her stuff, and engages well with pundits Faye White and Sue Smith without it collapsing into a grating post-golf chumocracy. Oatley serves up a well-judged blend of sportsperson banter and asks the right questions to get the right answers to inform the viewer. White seems like a solid citizen, not perhaps the most exciting televisual presence the world has seen, but keeping it tidy with the sort of gravitas that ten league winner's medals and nine FA Cup winner's medals gives a pundit. Smith has more flair and charm and is more engaging; the studio bits worked well. They were able to communicate succinctly why the impending final between the mighty Arsenal Ladies and coming force Bristol Academy was worth a watch, providing insight into the styles of the teams and the managers.
We have to say we find ourselves annoyed by the use of the term 'ladies' in connection with women's football. The male game does not engage the expression 'gentlemen' so we don't see why the women's game so often defaults to using 'ladies'. Maybe we're getting up ourselves but surely the word 'ladies' has an almost moral quality and it certainly comes with baggage that 'women's' doesn't. It also calls to mind, to us anyway, that sort of golf-club tosser who thinks that calling someone 'a lady' is respectful rather than weirdly old-fashioned and patronising.
Back to the show. There was an outside-filmed package with PFA Player of the Year Kim Little, a skilful, two-footed number ten with a knack for a late run who we would be kindly predisposed towards even if she wasn't a former Hibee. She seems like a nice girl, not exactly the most thrilling interviewee ever, but fine. No-one in the UK plays women's football for the dollars, and even the best players are hardly driving around in a Baby Bentley, so perhaps it's natural that most of the players are down-to-earth, tough-minded people who have put up with a lot of bullshit sexism over the years and continue to play because of the love of the game. The lack of pampered egos and wannabe gangstas in women's football is just one of the things we like about it.
Overall, The Women's Football Show was every bit as good as the BBC's men's coverage, which is to say: it was alright. Some of the personalities were worth watching, others were dull. The dream of true equality, we guess, is that one day the BBC will be making okay-ish programmes about women's football alongside okay-ish programmes about men's football and people will say of a female presenter not "this woman isn't able to communicate her ideas very well because women don't know anything about football" but "this presenter isn't able to communicate ideas very well but it's BBC football coverage so what do you expect".
A mediocrity that sees neither colour, nor gender. That's the dream, Gary.
The appearance of Alyson Rudd on Sky Sports' Sunday Supplement earlier this month showed that this day is, for some, still a long way off. Rudd, who was absolutely fine on the programme and certainly no more or less formulaic in her opinions than the usual male hacks, was attacked by a sizeable number online for the crime of being a woman. Rudd, according to some on Twitter, was 'a slag' and 'a c*nt' who ought to get back in the kitchen/bedroom etc and 'no her place' [sic] for daring to be on the telly sounding off about football for money.
Rudd is well-respected by journo colleagues and is a qualified referee. We cannot personally claim to be exactly rushing to the newsagent every morning to get hold of her views but hey, that's not because she is a woman.
One thing we have noticed in such circumstances, whether sport-related or not, is that when women receive criticism it is almost always first and foremost appearance-based, quickly followed by something sexual. While this is occasionally true when Ollie Holt appears wearing his Alice band, mostly, critiques of Sunday Supplement lads are primarily confined to their opinions, not to their visage, their shagability or their haircut. And, you know, thank Christ for that. This may go some way to explaining why more women don't bother to appear. Not everyone wants to go on telly and immediately be photoshopped with a vagina in place of their face.
ALSO on the BBC this week was a programme about Hillsborough that was by its nature upsetting, with some previously unseen footage of the day itself. It did an excellent job in conveying the sheer scope and wretchedness of the cover-up. Well worth a look.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
Read Johnny's book, 'The Meat Fix' here
Alan's football and cricket books are all in one place here
Follow Alan on Twitter here
or Johnny here.