Early Doors

May the least bad team win

Early Doors

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Yesterday's
Guardian featured a piece discussing the weakness of both teams competing for
the Ashes.

It was headlined: 'May the less bad team win'.

ED has shown its appreciation by pinching the title to describe this season's
Premier League race (but substituting 'least' for 'less', pedantry fans).

Xabi Alonso's imminent departure from Liverpool
to Real Madrid
means that all four of the main contenders go into the present
campaign in a weaker position than last year.

While the slide
may not be as drastic as Australia's from 2005 to 2009, you feel the champions will be
the team who deteriorate the least.

Manchester United are obviously worse after swapping
Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez for Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen.

Arsenal are weaker having sold Kolo Toure and Emmanuel
Adebayor, whatever the effect on the dressing room. And memories of Gooner excitement
over Arturo Lupoli and Jeremie Aliadiere are too fresh in ED's mind for it to read too much
into Jack Wilshere's pre-season
performance.

Chelsea have signed Yuri Zhirkov,
but his arrival is counterbalanced by the fact they have yet another new coach
and nearly lost their captain to Manchester City. Plus key performers like
Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba are the wrong side of 30.

Liverpool have signed a
decent right-back but the loss of Alonso will hurt them badly. It will be tough
for the present squad to play any better than they did last season, even if
Fernando Torres stays fit.

On the other side, Manchester City's buying spree has been so spectacular that they
have not so much Hoovered players up as used a Dyson Dual Cyclone.

However, all the big arrivals have come from other Premier
League clubs, so their massive wealth has not improved the quality of players
in England.

In any case, they won't
be competing for the title this season. They just won't.
Give it a couple of years.

Having thrown an ill-judged cricket comparison at you, ED
will now compare the top of the Premier League with post-war Britain.

In the 1950s, the government had to manage decline, as the
country lost its empire, its superpower status and its manufacturing industry.

For the Big Four, this season is all about managing decline.
Whichever manager does the best Harold Macmillan impression will be holding the
Premier League trophy in May.

- - -

Just when it looked like an entire pre-season might pass
without a meaningful training-camp brawl, Portsmouth
oblige with a beauty.

The Daily Mirror claims exclusive dibs on the gory details
of a potentially booze-fuelled ruckus in the corridor of the club's hotel in Guimaraes,
Portugal.

Under the headline 'Hartbreak
Hotel' (geddit?) the Mirror has the
sub-header: 'Pompey star Nugent hit
by lump of wood.'

Leaving aside the dubious categorisation of Nugent as a star,
ED wonders what precisely the one-cap wonder did to so antagonise the lump of
wood.

Did he spend the evening making snide remarks from across
the bar, or crack on to the lump of wood's
wife? Either way, it is clear the lump of wood just snapped and whacked Nugent across
the legs.

Reading on, ED discovered the mystery timber was allegedly
just the conduit through which defender Marc Wilson expressed his
dissatisfaction with Nugent.

Rather disappointingly, team-mates stepped in to defuse the
situation at this point. ED would rather a convention be established as in ice
hockey, where any one-on-one fight is allowed to continue until somebody hits
the deck.

Although in the case of footballers, that could easily
happen before the first blow is landed.

A Pompey spokesperson confirmed the two players had been
disciplined for a "breach of discipline", but refused to answer the
question on everybody's lips,
namely: table leg, fence post or good old-fashioned two-by-four?

What is it about these foreign 'training
camps' that makes players behave
less than decorously?

Craig Bellamy's alleged
Mashie Niblick attack on John Arne Riise took place in Portugal, while La Manga has seen all manner of bad
behaviour, including the night of excess that saw the Leicester City
squad ejected from a bar after Stan Collymore let off a fire extinguisher.

This unfettered rowdiness is just a Pavlovian reaction
experienced by most English males the moment they travel south of the Isle of Wight.

Would any of these high jinks take place if teams took their
training camps to Market Drayton? It seems unlikely.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Rafa Benitez earlier this year: "Xabi Alonso must be here for the future. He has
just signed a long contract and I made it quite clear that Xabi is going
nowhere, he will not be allowed to leave. We talked because there has been
speculation in the Spanish media. But I told him that he is an important player
for Liverpool, both now and in the future."

FOREIGN VIEW: Pavel
Pogrebnyak's move to VfB Stuttgart
got off on the wrong foot after he missed his flight and lost his luggage.

The Russia striker, who
joined the Bundesliga club on a three-year contract from Zenit St Petersburg
last week, was late for his presentation in Stuttgart
after missing a connecting flight in Frankfurt.

"The Frankfurt airport is so big I simply got lost there and missed my
flight to Stuttgart,"
he said.

"To make matters worse, I also lost my suitcase there," the
25-year-old added.

COMING UP: Plenty of live action this evening. First off,
the crucial Dinamo Moscow v Celtic Champions League qualifier at 17:00 UK time,
then pre-season action with Lyn Oslo v Liverpool (18:00) and Manchester United
v Valencia
(20:00).

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