Five things: Mancity, Zola, predictors, Henry, Hibs

After a few months off for ‘logistical’ reasons, Five Things returns with absolutely nothing new to say at all.

1. Roberto Mancity
Bloody foreigners, coming over here, stealing our women and jobs.

I’m not sure if Mrs Hughes was part of the deal but Roberto Mancini certainly did take Mark’s job at Manchester City. The spray painters were hard at work last summer making sure that all the writing was on the wall for Hughes – it was just unclear how many matches would be a match too far for the Welshman.

While on one hand it’s easy to have sympathy for Hughes I do recall some of his more crass behaviour last summer when attempting to lure players such as Joleon Lescott and John Terry from Premier Leauge rivals. As novice gardeners would tell you, you reap what you sew.

His downfall has been mainly about results (far too many draws more than watered down the fact that they have lost less league games than anyone else). But in spite of having one of the best goalkeepers in the league and spent around £50m on Wayne Bridge, Kolo Toure and Lescott , the defending has been shambolic at times.

His best signings have probably been Craig Bellamy and Shay Given, two moves that were given a lot less column inches than the more high-profile captures of Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tevez and Toure. And now with Mancini at the helm one wonders what the January transfer window will bring: more reliable, home grown talents or risky imports from the Italian league?

2. Nice guy Zola to finish last?
Another defeat for West Ham today has left Gianfranco Zola’s team looking vulnerable in the bottom four. Today they managed 3 attempts on goal compared to Tottenham’s 21. That’s a hiding.

True, they are only a few days removed from a good home win over Portsmouth and three points from 11th position. But with an injury list that includes Mark Noble, Carlton Cole, Danny Gabbidon, Kieron Dyer and the retired Dean Ashton (and today Scott Parker and Herita Ilunga were added to it), Zola has a very limited collection of players to choose from.

Matthew Upson looks set to leave in January and the future of Scott Parker is also unclear. Losing one of them (it’s unlikely that both would be allowed to go until the summer) is hardly going to aid their survival battle, but the club needs the money.

Will nice guy Zola be jettisoned in a panic? History would suggest he might be if results don’t pick up in the next four weeks.

3. Schizophrenic predictors
A few months ago Chelsea were running away with the league, Arsenal and Liverpool were out of it. Then Liverpool were back in it – and now they’re out of it again – while Arsenal can now be considered contenders once more. Manchester United are struggling but Chelsea are struggling more so United might be favourites again. The tiresome habit of fans and pundits making premature predictions will be with us forever.

Many Arsenal fans suggested that they were out of the title race a month ago when they lost to Sunderland and Chelsea then hammered them at home. But often this is just the human way of dealing with disappointment – and football fans are not exactly known for their rationality or sense of perspective. If they win their two games in hand on Chelsea they will be just one point from the top.

Predictions are made in such a knee-jerk way these days that nowhere near enough analysis goes in to reaching the conclusions that pundits, fans and even professional players do. Excluding clubs like Arsenal and (to a lesser extent) Liverpool from the title race in November and December is complete folly.

Sure, it is unlikely that Liverpool will win the league but all it takes is a for Chelsea and Manchester United to drop 6 points in January and Liverpool to win four in a row and suddenly they are only two wins from the top again. Pundits can also ignore upcoming battles between the top four if they are not on the immediate horizon – it’s not just the bottom six that compete in ‘six pointers’.

Other factors like injuries and key players missing because of, say, the African Nations Cup, can also play a huge role.

For what it’s worth I tipped Liverpool for the title and I don’t think they do have much hope given that they have lost so much ground in the last four weeks. But it’s only now that pundits should be able to make that call – not back in October as many did. The fact they may have been right is irrelevant.

4. Cut Guilty Henry Some Slack
I was MIA during Thierry Henry’s Handgate drama in France’s World Cup qualifier against Ireland.

Yes, it was a hard pill to swallow for Ireland given that they should have been played off the park but against all the odds competed admirably against a laborious French side. Yes, it was an illegal goal. Yes, it was poor officiating and poor sportsmanship.

But why vilify Thierry Henry? If he had done this in a Spanish cup game when Barcelona were 4-0 up against Cadiz, no one would have cared less. Why should Henry suddenly become some bastion of righteousness because it was at a crucial moment in a crucial match.

It’s not Henry’s fault that the referee and his assistant failed to see it. It’s not his fault that the world’s governing body refuse to introduce video replays while making impotent changes such as introducing two extra officials.

Henry was guilty – but he’s not to blame.

5. Can Hibs turn two in to three?
Is the Scottish Premier League set to become a three horse race for the first time since the 1980s?

Rangers and Celtic are at the most insipid they have been for some time although the former has shown signs of life recently with five league wins in a row, scoring 19 goals in the process. Celtic have struggled away from home, losing at Dundee United and Hearts in the last month but have kept in touch with their rivals in spite of this. They can close the gap with a home win over Rangers next weekend.

But it’s third place Hibernian who should be stealing the headlines right now. They blotted their copy book with a 1-4 reverse at home to Rangers this week but before that they were 12 games unbeaten and find themselves within four points of second place Celtic.

A league challenge might be beyond them given the resources available to their illustrious rivals (which, while in decline, are still vastly superior to Hibs). But if they can cause one of the Glasgow giants a few sleepless nights (metaphorically – I don’t mean they should play brass instruments outside the player’s houses) then it might add a whole new dynamic to the title chase.


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