Early Doors

The glory of Schadenfreude Sunday

Early Doors

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Roberto Mancini

After a month when all anyone has done is talk about racism, it is nice to get excited about football again.

The New Year's weekend saw the Premier League's biggest fish gasping for air while some guy in a lumberjack shirt held them aloft for a photo opportunity.

Sure, they'll get thrown back into the sea and start devouring everything in sight, but goodness wasn't it sweet to see them flapping around helplessly for a while?

***End of dreadful metaphor***

For the first time in five years, both Manchester clubs and Chelsea lost on the same weekend, and though Early Doors happily embraced the Schadenfreude, that was not the only reason to be happy.

Only a small handful of clubs can ever hope to win the Premier League, and if you want to alter that you won't get much change out of a billion quid.

So any small nod to parity must be welcomed. If Steve Kean's Blackburn can win at Old Trafford then, against all odds, this is still a division where anyone can beat anyone. Hurrah.

The three big upsets were actually brilliant for a variety of reasons - here's why:

Manchester United 2-3 Blackburn Rovers

What made it great: Defiance of all normal expectations.

United have dug themselves out of so many holes over the years that we know precisely what is coming when they fall behind against lesser opposition.

Even at 2-0 down you fully expected United to pull through, and they duly equalised in double-quick fashion, giving themselves fully 28 minutes to plunder an inevitable winner.

Nobody saw Grant Hanley's winner coming, and United's suffering was made all the delicious by the desperate introduction of debutant Will Keane from a threadbare bench.

Nothing against Keane, who may very well be a fine player one day. But this is Manchester United. Normally their worst-case substitution in that situation is Michael Owen.

Chelsea 1-3 Aston Villa

What made it great: Confirmation of what everyone knows except the Chelsea manager.

David Luiz cannot defend. He just can't. We all know that. Well, nearly all of us.

Andre Villas-Boas has stuck obstinately by the beleaguered Brazilian, refusing to call on the far more solid Alex and reacting furiously to Gary Neville's amusing suggestion that Luiz is being controlled by a 10-year-old on a Playstation.

The Chelsea man's failure even to pay lip service to the notion of marking Stiliyan Petrov proved the game's crucial moment, as the Villa captain gave his team the lead late on.

AVB may very well be right when he says Luiz will be one of the world's best centre-backs in a few years - hair lookalike Fabricio Coloccini also had a torrid first year in English football but now looks superb.

But right now, Luiz is costing Chelsea on a weekly basis, and he may very well cost Villas-Boas his job.

Sunderland 1-0 Manchester City

What made it great: The little guy getting the rub of the green.

When Early Doors calls Sunderland 'the little guy', it realises this is a little guy with a £100m squad. But you know what ED means.

After a slow first half, Roberto Mancini had the luxury of bringing Sergio Aguero and David Silva off the bench, and City duly laid siege to the Sunderland box for a good half-hour.

A combination of excellent defending and wasteful finishing (that means you, Dzeko) put Sunderland on course for a famous point when the unthinkable happened.

Sunderland broke, and rather than heading for the corner flag they tried to score a goal. With the final kick of the game, Ji Dong-Won delivered a massive sucker punch to City's title ambitions, and it was truly glorious.

The fact that Ji was half a yard offside arguably made it even better. In a league where we have become accustomed to big clubs getting the marginal decisions, it was nice to be reminded that money can't buy you luck.

- - -

Ji's goal also provoked an outpouring of appreciation for Martin Tyler, who went justifiably mental as the net rippled.

Tyler's signature hook is the way his voice cracks when he gets really excited.

It shouldn't sound good, but it just does. Quality examples include Emile Heskey's goal against Germany and Federico Macheda's for Manchester United against Aston Villa.

Yesterday produced another beauty. You can watch the highlights here. Contractual reasons mean Early Doors can't link to Tyler's commentary, but it doesn't take Glenn Mulcaire to find the clip online.

"Twenty seconds of the added time left. Martin O'Neill's saying: 'Get forward, we can nick it here!'. Ji. Sessegnon. To JIIIIII!!! HE'S ROUND THE GOALKEEPER, HE'S DONE IIIIIT!!!! ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE!!"

Tyler's only mistake was to keep talking after that point, when he could have just let viewers savour the noise of a beserk Stadium Of Light, but ED is splitting hairs.

In the Twitter age when everyone is a critic (and a thoroughly bitchy one at that) it is hard to win praise, especially when you're the voice of football you have to pay for.

But Tyler is easily the best football commentator of the present day, surpassed only by the god-like Barry Davies in ED's lifetime, so it was nice to see him get some well-deserved props.

- - -


Manchester United and Wayne Rooney stay silent over widespread reports that the striker was fined and dropped over a Boxing Day night out with Jonny Evans and Darron Gibson.

Rooney's £170,000 fine makes that the most expensive meal of the festive period, surpassing Mario Balotelli's £150,000 curry last month.

There is, however, no suggestion that Rooney was sword-fighting with rolling pins.

COMING UP: More football. Seriously. Ridiculous, isn't it?

Five Premier League games today - four at 15:00 UK time then Fulham v Arsenal at 17:30 UK time.
There is also a full slate of action in the Championship, League One, League Two and the SPL.

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