He's not sprinting as much as last season, he's not contributing to as many goals, he's not breaking up as many attacks. The stats tell a story of a man doing little...
...lots more in a mailbox that takes in Manuel Pellegrini's woes, Steven Gerrard's future, Carlo Ancelotti, Alan Pardew and Alan Pardew's daughter. A fine read...
If there's one thing we love more than the Premier League, it's innovation. And cheese. Cheese, innovation, and raspberry-flavoured Yop are three things we love more than the Premier League. And happiness. Innovation, cheese, raspberry-flavoured Yop, and happiness. So four. By the way, if you put a raspberry-flavoured Yop on the radiator for a few days, you can have all four in one overheated plastic bottle.
Today's diary comes fresh with all four of those, apart from the last three. You'll have doubtless noticed that this column is, typically, a quiet experience. You read our words in silence, except for perhaps the occasional gentle murmur of agreement, or a quick phone call to your entire family to read them a particularly good joke. But no more. Open this link to find The Inception Button, and then whenever you see this symbol in the text - [!] - click on that button to inject this column with the drama it deserves. Do a test run now. [!] Got it? Good. We press on.
There are Sundays. There are Super Sundays. And then there are Sundays like the Sunday just gone, so Super as to transcend superlatives. [!] Certainly, Sky had no intention of trying to find one, so just counted the games and went with 'Hat-Trick', which seems a bit lame. And if this was a hat-trick, then it wasn't so much Rivaldo against Valencia, more pulling a dead rabbit from a battered titfer and scaring the bejesus out of a room full of children.
At White Hart Lane [!], the Tottenham Hotspur faithful were treated to another episode of Andre Villas-Boas's frustrating experiments in bloodless geometry. There are times when Spurs move across the pitch like the very vision of progressive and penetrative football...and then Andros Townsend blasts the ball into somebody else's shins [!], or Roberto Soldado hides behind an opposing centre-back [!], and the moment is gone. Multiply that by Alan Pardew's genius in first telling Loic Remy to kick the ball into the net [!], and then telling Tim Krul to do lots of saves [!], and Super Sunday was off and hobbling.
Next, to the Stadium of Light [!] where a team from the north-east, wearing stripes, overturned their supposed betters with a performance that began with the snaffling of a rare chance, ended with some stolid defending, and featured the wearing of stripes throughout. For Alan Pardew, read Gus Poyet; for Tim Krul, read Wesley Brown; for Loic Remy, read Phil Bardsley...hang on. Phil Bardsley? [!] That's what it says here. Is that a typo? Is there some other Phil Bardsley?
Anyway, City huffed, puffed and completely shafted fantasy football teams everywhere by failing to score. Quite why they're so dreadful away from home is mystifying everybody, including Manuel Pellegrini, but at least this result had a simple explanation. We've been saying it for years, and now we've got the proof: Jack Colback [!] is significantly better than Yaya Toure.
Finally, to Old Trafford. [!] Things were a bit different here, not least because Manchester United weren't exactly underdogs coming into the game. They were, though, not in any particularly impressive form, whereas their opponents Arsenal were playing football so achingly beautiful that a win here would immediately end all war around the world. Sadly for the innocents that are dying and will continue to die in their thousands, though, they were rubbish. [!] Worse, they did what all the naysayers had been predicting they would, and looked like Arsenal again: occasionally vulnerable at the back, generally overpowered in midfield, and largely irrelevant up front.
United - their fans having spent the build-up dealing with a rumour that Robin van Persie had fallen victim to David Moyes's innovative training regimes - played ... okay, on balance. Wayne Rooney [!] did lots of running around, Antonio Valencia [!] did lots of running up and down, and Van Persie [!] showed up every single one of these muted celebrants as the self-regarding charlatans they truly are. And, as we've been saying for years, Phil Jones [!] is significantly better than Mesut Ozil. They certainly had too much about them for the visitors, who didn't manage a shot until 13 minutes after the game had ended. It went wide.
It was a fitting ending to an underwhelming weekend for the teams at the top of the league. Of the top eight, only three won: [!] United, at Arsenal's expense; [!] Liverpool, who were playing [!] the shambling corpse of Fulham; and [!] Southampton, who were playing Hull [!]. It's shaping up to be as open [!] a title race as the Premier League's seen for many a season [!], and yet the suspicion [!] remains that none [!] of the contenders are [!], ultimately, all that Super. Let's [!] just [!] make [!] the [!] award [!] on [!] [!] [!] [!][!][!][!][!][!][!][!][!] relative merit, give Southampton the trophy now, and all take the rest of the year off. [!]
Andi Thomas and Alexander Netherton