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Butler: Boxing Day shopping for soccerholics in BPL

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Noel Butler
12/28/2012 9:40:07 AM
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Whilst the five best players on the planet ply their trade in the country that is World and European Champion, the Barclays Premier League reminded us yet again on Boxing Day why the top flight of English football is without exception the most compelling league on the planet.

Not ever failing to provide us with plots and sub plots, the popularity of the league shows no sign of slowing down.

We had Gareth Bale doing his best Lionel Messi impression as he single-handedly dismantled a highly demoralised Aston Villa who, just 72 hours earlier, had leaked eight goals.

Not too far behind was Stoke's Jonathan Walters, who gladdened all Irish hearts - and quite a few family members who pack Everton season tickets - as he teased his opponents within an inch of a return to the bottom half of the table.

Then we had Sir Alex with all his toys completely thrown out of his pram as he treated us all to a virtuoso performance in delivering the temper tantrum of the day (hair dryer not included). Every pantomime needs a villain after all.

He puffed, he puffed and in stoppage time, Chicharito blew the packed to the rafters Old Trafford house down. And for the eighth time in 19 matches this season, Manchester United did it the hard way.

Coughing up the first goal of the game before going on to beg, steal or borrow the winner. Incredibly, Newcastle took the lead on three occasions but each time they got their noses in front they allowed the league leaders back into it.

Having picked up an injury in training on Christmas Day morning, it must have made for a very angst ridden afternoon for Wayne Rooney - who watched the proceedings from an Old Trafford hospitality suite.

At least unlike the time he took in the pivotal title decider against Chelsea from a similar location a couple of seasons back, this time Rooney wasn't caught on camera sneaking a sly beer.

Rooney likely took his frustrations out on the heaps of roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts he's had to forgo all these previous Christmas Day pasts.

And Sir Alex was far from alone in the Boxing Day Gentlemen Behaving Badly Stakes.

The mind truly boggles following his very animated pitch side rant against anyone dressed up as an official as the teams were about to start the second half that Ferguson has managed to avoid a date with the league's department of justice.

Roberto Mancini and Harry Redknapp likely have not. Instead, they have been asked to help the FA with their enquiries - both managers very critical of officials following defeats on Wednesday.

Mancini's crime was in questioning the volume of food the referee may have eaten Christmas Day. At least the City manager spared blaming the young mascot who fluffed his lines during the traditional pre-match handshake as his woefully inept team slid to a third straight defeat at the Stadium of Light.

Redknapp came over all Boxing Day sales recommendations for the ref's assistant. Who Redknapp thought failed to see a push on his goalkeeper leading to West Brom's opener and then missed what the QPR manager believed was a clear penalty towards the end of the match.

In his post-match press conference, the not ever lost for choice words Redknapp suggested the official should take a trip to Specsavers, the largest chain of opticians in the UK. How very jovial of you Harry.

Who says the ghosts of Boxing Day pasts don't revisit? Due to a strike by London underground workers last year Arsenal had to postpone their fixture. Last week the red half of North London cancelled their scheduled Boxing Day encounter against West Ham for that very same reason.

One wonders what influence Wenger had in the decision. Wonder if he rides the London tube to work.

The worldwide football authority on rest and recuperation probably allowed himself an extra glass of Chablis in the knowledge his over pampered squad would only have to play the three matches over the 12 festive days of the BPL.

Whilst his opponents in the dog fight for Champions League and Europa Cup places have to contend with four matches over the period, Wenger will not have been happy to see two fellow contenders for European places Everton and West Brom both run their festive record to two wins and the maximum six points.

Nor would the Frenchman have enjoyed the sight come Boxing Day evening of a very rampant Spurs at Villa Park. Held to a scoreless draw at home to Stoke Saturday, then much of the same through the first half by Villa before Bale turned on the Villa Park after burners as he notched a second half hat trick in a little over 20 minutes.

The Jekyll and Hyde award for the festive season so far certainly goes to Liverpool.

After toiling most of the season as they became fully reliant on Suarez hitting the target and not various people behind the goal - on Saturday against Fulham Liverpool finally displayed through the 90 minutes what Mr. Rodgers has been telling the Anfield neighbourhood all season long.

Suarez only accounting for the fourth goal in added time was yet more reason for the club and its over patient fans to rejoice.

The cheers that echoed round Anfield Saturday night reverberated round the Britannia Stadium early on as Gerrard put Liverpool up at Stoke on Boxing Day. Then Tony Pullis ripped up the happy ending as his team showed Liverpool what they've been missing most of the season.

The ability to dig deep, deny the opponent and make a mockery of so called bigger teams. Talent bereft of desire only carries you so far.

The January sales can't come soon enough for a manager who is renowned for his meticulous preparation. Even he wouldn't have forecast that this deep into the season his team is yet to find any type of a consistent groove as they languish in 10th place.

Or to Brendan Rodgers, merely eight points away from the rarified air of a Champions League spot.

No rest for the wicked as another full slate of fixtures and festive hilarity ensues this upcoming weekend as the Barclays Premier officially kicks off its second half of the season.

Strap or bolt yourself in. The action gets underway with today's traditional pre-match press conferences.

Which are sure to be highly entertaining affairs with the likes of Sir Ferg, Mancio and Wheeler Dealer 'Arry in starring roles.

HILLSBOROUGH CHARITY SONG TOP OF THE UK POPS 

How fitting it is the highly prestigious No. 1 slot in the UK Charts this Christmas is a charity single that benefits families of the Hillsborough tragedy. The song 'He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother' is a remake of the 1960's song from Manchester band the Hollies. Recorded under the Justice Collective kop legend Kenny Dalglish is amongst a number of people associated with Liverpool Football Club who together with a variety of iconic UK singers led by Sir Paul McCartney to record the song. The funds raised will go directly to the families who continue to fight for justice for the 96 innocent fans who lost their lives that fateful day back in April 1989.

WILSHERE FEARS BURNOUT

It was good knowing you, Jack. A young man who likely suffers severe vertigo by just watching Juan Mata play and play and who it seems collects medals and trophies just for fun. Well Jack let us know yesterday courtesy of an interview in the Arsenal magazine that his 14-month injury lay off will likely stave off burnout. A psychological condition defined as a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by extended and excessive stress.  The highly talented Wilshere has impressed since his return in late fall but why the need for a 20-year old to be discussing such matters in his only interview this season with the in-house club magazine says much more of Wenger's way than anything else. Wilshere revealing in the same interview that when he broke into the senior team the club captain at the time warned him off playing too many matches. At least we now know the real reason Fabregas left for Barcelona.

PRISON INMATES COME TO CHELSEA'S RESCUE

With a winter storm gripping much of the country it brings to mind a 1982 Boxing Day visit to QPR for a certain West London derby.  With heavy snow falling in the area and with a police escort to Loftus Road it was a quite unorthodox bunch that shoveled the snow off the pitch – a plastic pitch at that. This particular crew of snow removers were all inmates from local prison Wormwood Scrubs. When the match eventually started the freezing crowd had to wait till very late on for the goals. A brace for the visitors as Chelsea did a smash and grab job. Rangers went on to finish the season Champions with Chelsea barely avoiding relegation. For the football trivia buffs QPR has not ever won the English title. This Boxing Day match was played in the Second Division. If Chelsea had not avoided relegation the following season they would have played in the third tier of English football for the very first time in club history. Greatly assisted by the Wormwood Scrubs inmates those very precious two points won at Loftus Road that snow filled Boxing Day allowed Chelsea to stay up. The rest they say, is Roman History.

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca or on Twitter @TheSoccerNoel
 
Manchester United v West Bromwich Albion live from Old Trafford airs across the TSN and TEAM Radio Networks this Saturday, with coverage kicking off at 10am et/7am pt.

Gareth Bale (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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