Weekender: The Grim Reaper's efficiency drive

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1) Pride comes before a fall for promoted clubs
Last weekend all three Premier League newbies won their games – for the first time since February 10, 2007. That day Reading defeated Aston Villa, Sheffield United beat Tottenham and Watford won at West Ham – but things didn't go as well on the next matchday. On February 24, the Blades were battered 4-0 at Liverpool, Reading were beaten at Middlesbrough and Watford suffered a 3-0 home defeat at the hands of Everton. QPR, Norwich and Swansea, be warned.

2) Jon Parkin: the second tier's managerial Grim Reaper
New Doncaster manager Dean Saunders shouldn't make himself too comfortable in the Keepmoat dugout, not unless he quickly shifts the club's newest loanee. On Thursday Cardiff lent Jon Parkin to Rovers, who sacked Sean O'Driscoll on Friday morning. Nothing new for poor old Parkin: in the last 21 months, he has seen four managers hoofed out: Dave Jones (Cardiff, May 2011), Darren Ferguson (Preston, December 2010) and Alan Irvine (Preston, December 2009). With each successive manager getting a shorter time than the last before getting the elbow, we calculate Saunders was due for the sack around Friday lunchtime.  

3) How to get in the referee's head
If Kenny Dalglish was trying to influence referee Mike Jones ahead of Liverpool’s match at Tottenham when he publicly announced he'd have a private conversation with his board about condemning referees publicly (still with us?), he failed. All didn't end well for the Reds, who ended that game at White Hart Lane with nine men and with a 4-0 spanking. Still, don’t fret Kenny, here’s Robbie Savage to tell you how it’s done...
PERFORMANCE Savage on influencing referees

4) Many hands knocking at the league's back door
Want a close title race? Try Division Five. Ten games in, the Blue Square Bet Premier (as marketing men in Daffy Duck ties now insist on calling it) has Luton, Wrexham, Gateshead and Fleetwood tied up on top with 20 points, with Mansfield and Braintree only a point behind. That’s one point separating the top six, in a division from which only the champions go straight up, with the next four playing off for the second promotion slot. Much more exciting than last season’s canter by Crawley, who racked up 105 points – 25% more than sixth-placed Kidderminster. Long way to go yet, Brian, but long may the title race stay fresh.

5) Coming (very soon): Stats Zone over Europe
Ever wanted to know how many passes Xavi completes, how many times Arjen Robben gets fouled or how many shots Cristiano Ronaldo blazes a shot off target in a Champions League match? Well now you can, thanks to the latest addition to FourFourTwo's StatsZone app – due out in time for Tuesday's games. You can now access and analyse data from all of this and last season's Champions League matches, allowing you to gauge exactly how much better Barcelona are than everybody else. Yay!
STATS ZONE More on the analysis app created by FFT & Opta

Win! Xbox360 with FIFA 12
Nothing beats a good five-a-side football match with the lads. But with shoddy weather fast approaching, Wash & Go are giving you a warmer, indoors-based option...
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They say it never rains but it pours. Even so, the inclement Lancashire weather would’ve been the least of Arsene Wenger’s problems as he watched his Arsenal side collapse in comedy fashion away to Blackburn last Saturday lunchtime.

Their 4-3 defeat to a side who had previously propped up the Premier League only served to highlight the lingering problems plaguing the Gunners – not least a disorganised defence, especially at set-pieces. Manchester City showed weaknesses of their own, dropping deep to blow a two-goal lead at Fulham, while Liverpool looked a real mess in the 4-0 tonking at the hands of Tottenham.

Tuesday and Wednesday saw the biggest of the big guns (plus Stoke and Birmingham) join the League Cup fray. Of course, they all took it very seriously, and didn’t field teams full of kids or hapless fringe-players, or stick Dimitar Berbatov at centre back for 20 minutes. Not at all. Well, maybe a little bit.

Arsenal had to come from behind to beat League Two Shrewsbury, Spurs crashed out to Stoke, Liverpool edged past Brighton, Chelsea needed penalties to knock out neighbours Fulham, while Manchester United saw off old chums Leeds.

That match at Elland Road was somewhat overshadowed by the pathetic chanting of a minority of morons, who saw fit to make light of the death of two Leeds fans in Istanbul in 2000, or the 23 who perished in the Munich air disaster. More pathetic still has been the resulting finger-pointing session and accompanying cries of ‘but they started it’. These are grown men. Amazing.

Oh yes, and Fernando Torres missed a sitter in Chelsea’s 3-1 Premier League defeat at Old Trafford, but you’re bored of that now, surely...?

Zonal Marking's Stats Zone EPL preview: Moyes's plan, Coyle's dilemma

Italy: Inter sacking the only predictable thing in a mad week

Video: Jose Mourinho loves shaving and, apparently, chairs

Spain: Catalan press beg beaten Mourinho to stick with Madrid

Fan's Eye View: Was Fernando Torres ever really that great?

France: Meet the Mexican goalkeeper so popular he crashed the internet

Iffy's Inside Write: Stupefying sackings and mystifying money moves

More features uploaded every day at

No, you DON'T need a 20-goal striker

One of football's most enduring clichés returned last Saturday, when some ex-pros watching tellies with Jeff Stelling decided that Newcastle front-man Leon Best "isn't a 20-goal-a-season striker".

They're right – he isn't – but not many are. Last season's Premier League top scorers, with exactly 20 each, were Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez – both arguably available, but not cheap. Two seasons before that, nobody reached 20. Indeed, since the top flight reduced to 20 teams in 1995, only 21 players have reached 20 – and 10 of those were playing for that season's champions.

Clearly those who score more than a goal every other game are at a premium. But are they essential? Having one go-to guy leaves teams at the mercy of suspension, form, fitness and hatchet men, as well as risking tactical one-dimensionality.

Sir Alex Ferguson knew that. Ruud van Nistelrooy scored 20 or more in four of his five seasons at Old Trafford (he was injured for half of the other one) but in that half-decade Manchester United only won the league once. They sold him to Madrid and won three successive titles. 

Having a league-leading goalscorer is undoubtedly a source of pride but football is a team game and it's far better for the unit to have a spread of players chipping in regularly rather than one spectacularly. Last season's runners-up Chelsea had Florent Malouda on 13, Didier Drogba 12, Salomon Kalou and Frank Lampard on 10; apparently they signed a big-name striker in January, but it didn't work out too well.

Although either solution would suit Alan Pardew, they do (as we're constantly reminded) love their No.9s in Newcastle. And the reliance on one goalscorer dates back to the archetypal centre-forward – the Jackie Milburn, the Nat Lofthouse, the Tommy Lawton – at the vanguard of a 2-3-5 formation designed to feed him in an era when even relegated teams would score 50 or 60 goals, the lion's share from the iconic centre-forward.  

Tactics, expectations and defences have changed. Even if built around a contemporary battering ram – Drogba for Chelsea, Kevin Davies for Bolton, Grant Holt for Norwich, Emile Heskey for Fabio Capello – fluid forward formations frequently find the goals coming from other players. And as any defence knows, the more varied the angle of attacks, the harder they are to defend.

Here's another angle. Steven Fletcher's 10 goals for Wolves last season were enough to keep the Molineux side in the top flight, but Andy Johnson’s 21 in 2004/05 couldn’t save Crystal Palace from the drop. Be careful what you wish for.

– Gary Parkinson, editor

We're busily transferring over 15 years of FFT interviews to our online archive. Among the 400 we've uploaded so far:

"I wouldn’t dream of trying to learn to fly a helicopter"
One on One, Mar 2007: Michael Owen

"I'd rather break a limb than listen to non-stop hip-hop"
Ask a Silly Question, Dec 2007: Marcus Hahnemann

"My players have to watch out or I'll come in the dressing room and kill them"
One on One, Nov 2003: Claudio Ranieri

This Weekender was brought to you by James Maw, Gary Parkinson, Gregg Davies, Huw Davies, Vithushan Ehantharajah, Huw Davies, Ryan Peasland, Nick Ford and the Lithuanian basketball team for trying