Something For The Weekend (309)
It was a big disappointment to see Villa got bullied at Blackburn last week,and even worse that Lawro was proved right with his prediction that they would lose. Villa revealed that they didn't quite have what it takes to take on the rib-cracking qualities of Blackburn, or quite enough nouse to avoid falling victim to their manager's renowned tactical innovations.
Big Sam's latest tactical innovation of ensuring that goalkeepers are obstructed and generally bashed about, at every set-piece, as already highlighted on Match of The Day earlier in the season, seems to be rather nearer to American football than the association kind, but as we are led to understand by the pundits of the game, that the only ruling sentiment amongst professionals is that anything is legitimate if you can get away with it, any complaints would be dismissed as mere sour-grapes.
While the referees ignore Sam's innovation, teams will have to learn to deal with it, until the ruling bodies and referees associations, decide whether it lies within the spirit of a law which seems over-protective to goalkeepers in other situations. The only consolation is that one inventive innovation usually begets another, and it can't be too long before a goalkeeper decides that an accidental done a purpose punch in the bracket, is the best remedy. And as Harald Schumacher famously demonstrated, the opportunities for goalkeeping tactical innovation are many.
Of course, this is not going to stop us in the interim, from having a good hearty chuckle whenever Big Sam tells us, in the third-person, how Sam Allardyce should really be managing Real Madrid. And we might roll on the floor laughing when some dumb patriot, mentions him as a legitimate candidate for the England job. Yeah right, with Neil Warnock as his assistant, no doubt.
But you can't blame Sam, he must do what is best for his club until the referees say otherwise, and Stephen Warnock needs to learn not to give stupid free-kicks away when he's niggled.
As for referees, its very amusing to see them being hoisted by their own petard up in chilly Jockoland.
In cold blood it has to be admitted that referees are amazingly good, if not amazingly consistent, and that when it comes to getting decisions right first time and without the help of a replay, they are much better than most fans give them credit for. Its only when they get all precious and, as in Scotland, tell lies to protect the myth of their own infallibility, when they invite the most derision and disgust.
No one can doubt that they operate under totally unfair circumstances, and are judged by standards which no manager or player is expected to reach. Worst of all they are handed the responsibility of creating a spectacle of a game, even when both teams are desperately trying to push, kick, dive and niggle for their own advantage.
It seems likely that it is this responsibility which creates most of the problems and intrudes upon what is generally considered their main responsibility, to ensure the game is played within the rules.
Asking then to decide which of two players is cheating the most in any given challenge, is a huge demand. And being given the responsibility of protecting the value of the football industry's media product, has damaging effects on the game.
Whole areas of innovative cheating by the top brands are expected to be ignored, in the name of preserving the spectacle for the billion dollar TV audience. This leads to de facto rule changes because cheating has become part of the top teams' game plan. Increasing the number of officials at a game, just means that more officials are looking the other way when avoiding seeing infringements which would lead to controversy, if they were punished.
As Big Sam would say in his own defence, if holding, wrestling, balking and blocking of attackers is routinely ignored, in the game, then how can doing the same to a goalkeeper be wrong? And he would have a point.
And as Mark Albrighton has found to his and Villa's cost, during his first games in the top flight, some rules which have yet to be removed from the rule book, have gone out of usage. Most notable of these is obstruction. As Mark found out, if a player nips in front of another, and is not within playing distance of the ball, he is not punished; the player who collides with him and causes him to fling himself to ground is, instead.
The player simply nips in front, waits for the contact and falls over - job done, free-kick, or penalty and with a bit of luck, a sending-off. This has been achieved by the gradual movement away from the idea that when a player falls to the ground, his fall should somehow comply with the laws of physics, rather than acrobatics.
Referees and players have all co-operated in this interpretive drift, egged on by pundits and commentators.
When the rules get blurred like this and no one can really say what is and what is not a foul, then you can't blame fans for getting a bit paranoid because interpretation begins to look partial and arbitrary.
When referees as controversial as Mark Clattenburg face no real sanction for their failures, fans can't be blamed for feeling that there is some kind of Masonic conspiracy going on, which may include a tacit agreement to favour certain of the top brands and certain top players.
When referees like Clattenburg combine the toxic mix of massive personal debts and outrageous decisions, no fan can be blamed for suspecting the worst.
And as they say, just because someone is paranoid, it doesn't mean that we don't have enemies.
Of course, having contemplated the problems of dealing with the Blackburn's muscular gamesmanship, Arsenal are scheduled to turn up at Villa Park and pose a whole new set of different ones, which consist of mesmerising triangular passing movements, augmented by the blistering pace of Walcott.
I don't suppose the Villa faithful will be too disappointed at not getting to see the injured Fabrigas, and hope that their team can emerge without too many weaknesses exposed. With Albrighton off waiting for those stitches to heal, it certainly looks like a possibility for Robert Pires to show the Arsenal fans why they rated him so highly, and it should be a game when Stephen Ireland might show the Villa fans how his range of passing compares with Samir Nasri's.
A loss for Villa and Saturday night could offer the miserable prospect of seeing Man United sitting top of the Premiership and Villa being below Birmingham in the table.
Problems, problems, always epic problems!
Keep the faith!