x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Premier League best and worst: United star-struck by lightning Bolt

Another bad week for the men between the sticks, while Steve Clarke shows his something special, writes John McAuley.

Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert. Glyn Kirk / AFP
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert. Glyn Kirk / AFP

Best mascot - Manchester United

Arsenal players share an embarrassing embrace with Gunnersaurus Rex when they alight the bus at the Emirates Stadium; Liverpool probably pledge every second Saturday to make Mighty Red's life a misery; Manchester City's freakish Moonbeams would compel anyone to howl through the night; Norwich City have Delia Smith.

Top-flight mascots are not supposed to be cool. Yet none come any more fashionable than the one whipping the Old Trafford crowd into frenzy on Saturday. Move over Fred the Red, Usain Bolt's in town.

Manchester United's most distinguished supporter was the guest of honour for their match with Fulham, the Olympic legend even wishing well his favourite players in the tunnel beforehand. Cue awkward snap with fan looking both awestruck and bemused. At least smile for the camera, Wayne Rooney

Worst deja vu - Aston Villa

Oh to be a Villa fan. It was only last season they were subjected to one of the worst campaigns in the club's history, led by a man who the year before was in charge of their arch-rivals (he did get Birmingham City relegated, though).

Alex McLeish was quickly, and quite rightly, shown the door, his side's seven wins from 38 games proving Villa's most pitiful Premier League return. Replacing him with Paul Lambert, one of the division's bright young managers - he has a Champions League winners' medal, with a continental team, you know - was supposed to herald a new dawn.

However, an opening day defeat was swiftly followed by Saturday's woeful capitulation at home to Everton. Groundhog Day, anyone? Lambert could soon find himself playing the role of chief Villain.

Best protege - Clarke

He may not be as suave as Andre Villas-Boas, or as committed to tiki-taka football as Brendan Rodgers, but Steve Clarke seems to have made best use of those Stamford Bridge days spent in the company of a certain Jose Mourinho.

The former Chelsea assistant, now the West Bromwich Albion manager, was pitted in the first two weeks against old West London colleagues - Villas-Boas used to be Mourinho's chief scout, with Rodgers the reserve team coach - yet the Baggies followed their trouncing of Liverpool by bouncing out of Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday with a much-deserved point.

The second-half introduction of Romelu Lukaku was a masterstroke, the Belgian bruiser, another Chelsea old boy, wreaked havoc among the Spurs backline. It is Clarke, not Villas-Boas or Rodgers, who is proving a "Special One" indeed.

Worst position - Keepers

What is it with the league's custodians this season, eh? Last weekend Rob Green and Adam Federici, of West Ham United and Reading colours respectively, were culpable for gifting goals, and on Saturday that intolerable trend was continued by Shay Given, Tim Howard and Jussi Jaaskelainen: formerly three of the Premier League's most reliable shot stoppers.

Given blundered to let Marouane Fellaini double Everton's lead; Howard, presumably feeling sorry for his opposite number, responded by failing to palm away Karim El Ahmadi's 25-yarder; Jaaskelainen could only divert into his own net an Angel Rangel cross as West Ham crumbled at Swansea City.

It was left to Brad Friedel, Tottenham's veteran goalkeeper, to save his trade's reputation with a fine display against West Brom. A wise head beats two flimsy wrists any day.

Worst fans - Stoke Cty

Tottenham supporters on Saturday applauded and serenaded Ledley King throughout the 26th minute against West Brom, in celebration of the injury-ravaged defender's service to the club. King, who wore the captain's armband together with the No 26 shirt, was forced this summer to retire when he should be in his prime.

It is a shame, then, that a section of Stoke fans could not show similar respect yesterday to Aaron Ramsey, the Arsenal midfielder who two years ago at the Britannia Stadium suffered a double leg break in a challenge from Ryan Shawcross.

The Welshman has spoken publicly about the tackle and was resoundingly booed when introduced in the second half. That Ramsey's career was not cruelly curtailed like King's does not make his treatment any less sickening.