Something For The Weekend (402)
Judging by the outcome of Villa's solid gold TV spectacle against Man United last week, it was easy to see why the likes of BT and SKY were so eager to stump up the £3bn they needed to secure the broadcast rights to the Premiership over the next three years. Start to add in massive earnings from the global market and it is easy to see why the English top-flight is taking on a shape which looks likely to appeal to consumers who prefer a few top brands who win every week and a majority of plucky losers, who lucratively provide the cannon-fodder.
Only sacked BBC Director Generals are better rewarded for failure, than the Premiership's also-rans.
Once the financial forces which operate on the game are understood, the outcome looks more or less predictable - the title decided by a refereeing intervention, and games which follow a similar pattern by ensuring that the biggest brands stay in contention. Even the result of England's midweek game against Sweden, looked like it had been engineered, as an ordinary England side looked like they might prove to be party-poopers, as Hodgson weakened his already weakened defence by bringing on players who seem unlikely ever to feature in meaningful competition, which opened the floodgates. By the time Wilfred Zaha had been given his first cap based upon his performances in the lack-lustre Championship, the game was up.
Similarly, neutrals were pointing out that Villa's game with United turned on the intervention of the referee, after he instructed Villa's midfield to stay away from Paul Scholes, who, it seems should be allowed the time and space to pass the ball at his leisure. This he duly did, once he was liberated from the attention of the Villa's midfield and he picked out HernŠndez with a leisurely pass, which, with the blessing of some good fortune, the sprightly Mexican opened United's account.
This refereeing intervention was just enough to give a team as good as United all the advantage they needed and the siege began. A little fortune from a deflection and the promised spectacle was all but complete. A very nice header from HernŠndez and the job was done. This was a perfect outcome from a perfectly subtle intervention from the referee, which the scoreline was meant to obscure. Unfortunately for the referee, his intervention was a little bit too obvious for it to go unnoticed by the neutrals and Villa looked too good not to have deserved something from the game.
But no one can deny that it was the sort of football product broadcasters demand, or that the creative intervention of officials, is as essential as having brands being able to spend hundreds of millions on top players, while the lesser clubs are shackled by the financial fair-play regulations.
But even if the referee's creative intervention was understandable and United's come-back was inevitable, there was a lot for Villa fans to enjoy from the game, and as plucky cannon-fodder goes, Villa were top quality. The very fact that the referee felt it necessary to intervene, was a huge compliment to Villa and Lambert's men can be proud of their overall performance.
Andreas Weimann scored the sort of goals we have waited a long time to see and but for an inch difference in contact with his head he would have been stowing the match-ball in his spare-room, instead of the little Mexican trying to make his fraudulent claim of a hattrick.
Christian Benteke proved once again what a good player he is and his combination of knocking over the six-feet-four of Chris Smalling before providing the assist for Weimann's unstoppable opener, he provided one of those moments guaranteed to bring a smile to every Villa fan's face.
Add the goals to the assists and Benteke looks like he just might be the real deal.
Obviously, having led so convincingly for most of the game, Saturday was a huge disappointment but most fans would have accepted a one-nil defeat, during the nervous build up to the match and for those who dread that Villa might need superior goal-difference to keep them out of the bottom three at the business end of the season, there were crumbs of comfort to be had.
This week sees another Mancunian candidate on Villa's itinerary and perhaps might encounter one or two ex-Villa mercenaries, who might be considered worthy of a place in the City team. If City's Champions League performance is anything to go by, City are not quite firing on all cylinders these days, and as it seems that the powers that be would prefer the Premiership title to move out of Manchester and return to the Trafford, Villa might just get a better crack of the whip, all other things being equal.
With City looking capable of making a come-back in the league due to their purchasing power, a win for Villa might fit the broadcaster's remit, and they might even be allowed a point if they work as hard as they did against Man United. If not, then the narrowest loss possible defeat would not be a disaster.
So barring something rather special from Villa, I suspect we'll be looking for consolations come Saturday night.
Keep the faith!