x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

An unhappy reunion for Aston Villa's former Man City players

Premier League best and worst: Three former Man City players returned to take on their former employers and it did not go very well.

Aston Villa’s goalkeeper Shay Given was caught in the stomach by the boot of Mario Balotelli.
Aston Villa’s goalkeeper Shay Given was caught in the stomach by the boot of Mario Balotelli.

Worst celebration - Liverpool

Liverpool have been without their on-field general for far too long, and it is not difficult to see what it means to have him back among the men in red at Anfield.

If Steven Gerrard goes sliding on his knees towards the corner flag in front of the Kop, they all must go sliding on their knees towards the corner flag in front of the Kop.

Having had six months out through injury, Gerrard has had plenty of time to think up a snazzy goal celebration.

However, seeing as his first goal back arrived in a crucial meeting against Manchester United, his club's bitterest rivals, maybe it is understandable the euphoria took over and he responded like a child at a wedding, skidding on to the dance floor on his knees.

"I took football for granted before, and only realised how much it meant when it was taken away," Gerrard said in his post-match televised interview.

Best celebration - Milner

If you score a goal of such magnificence as James Milner managed for Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, you are excused a cheeky gloat.

Having sprayed a sublime cross-field pass to Adam Johnson, on City's right wing, Milner bolted into the middle, then smashed a first-time shot straight into the top corner of the net.

Players have done an impromptu lap of honour, followed by double-somersaults with triple toe-loops for less.

Milner, though, barely cracked a smile. The strike was delivered, after all, against his former club, Aston Villa, and the England midfielder decided discretion was the better part of valour. Good on him.

Worst reunion - Given

At least Richard Dunne, Stephen Ireland and Shay Given can say they were there when it all started.

However, rather than staying on for the jelly, ice-cream and fireworks show, they opted to leave the party just after showing their faces and forcing down a quick glass of water. If they were wondering what they were missing out on when they all decamped Manchester City for Aston Villa, they were given graphic evidence on Saturday.

While his former fans were singing songs lauding "England's No 1" at the other end of the field, Given, the former City goalkeeper, had to pick the ball out of the net four times.

That was not the worst of it. In attempting to repel another City attack, he took a boot to the stomach, leaving him with nasty stud marks blemishing his washboard stomach.

He did well to control himself when Mario Balotelli, the smiling perpetrator, playfully poked him on the wound.

It could have been worse for the former City charges. At least Dunne got away without scoring an own goal, and no one took the mickey out of Ireland's haircut.

Best free kick - Stoke City

"If anything, that was a little too intricate." Not the words you usually expect to hear from the commentator at a Stoke game.

Usually, their set pieces entail whacking it in the box and letting the big blokes do their stuff. However, Tony Pulis's side tried the most deliciously convoluted free kick in their game against Fulham, which has probably been forgotten by most supporters already, given they got nowhere near scoring with it.

It was much like Argentina's classic in the 1998 World Cup against England, only the players involved were less luminous. Where back then Gabriel Batistuta, Juan Sebastien Veron and Javier Zanetti concocted a goal of beauty, this time the more workaday names involved were Rory Delap, Jermaine Pennant and Andy Wilkinson.

It came to nothing, but it was nice that they tried.

Worst planning - Arsenal

Talking of free kicks, there were a couple of good ones at the Emirates Stadium yesterday. There were also some shockers.

How Arsenal go about deciding whose go it is to take one remains a mystery. As they turned the screw on Sunderland, they won a succession of well-placed free kicks on the edge of the box. It appeared their thought process each time was as follows: shall we let our very best player, the only one of us who knows the way to goal without the use of a Sat Nav, have it?

Nope, let's let everyone else have a dart instead. First, new boy Andre Santos was given a go. He placed it neatly into Row D.

Mikel Arteta gently curled the next one into Row R. Theo Walcott blazed the third deep into the North Bank.

When the fourth opportunity arose, it was time to stop messing. Up stepped Arsenal's one-man team, Robin van Persie, to place the winning goal into the top corner.

pradley@thenational.ae


Follow The National Sport on @SprtNationalUAE & Paul Radley on @PaulRadley