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Paranoid on a red sabbath

RIGHT, where have we seen this before?

Referee Howard Webb can't escape mind gamesPhotograph: Getty
Referee Howard Webb can't escape mind gamesPhotograph: Getty

Folk pointing out that bookmakers reduced Manchester United's odds of defeating Liverpool this afternoon immediately after Howard Webb's appointment as the man in the middle.

Ryan Babel's tweeted Photoshop job of Webb in a United shirt (which got him in trouble at the time) doing the rounds on Liverpool websites.

And Anfield manager Brendan Rodgers pouring fuel on paranoid waters by declaring he hopes "we don't have the decisions against us that went for United in the game at Anfield earlier this season ... the sending-off and penalty cost us".

Then, of course, there is the flip side. Luis Suarez, crucified in some quarters for that handball against Mansfield in the FA Cup last weekend, gets depicted as the uber-cheat, the cynical monster whose game is based on deceiving officials.

Enter at this point Sir Alex Ferguson: "The lad is laden with controversy – I don't know whether he enjoys it or not – but it is something we hope don't suffer from. I just hope we don't suffer from some of the decisions that have gone his way in terms of that ..."

Same old song. Try to get the edge any way you can. Tell everyone Webb is pro-United so that maybe, just maybe, in his desire to appear impartial he errs in the opposite direction.

Point out a billion times that Suarez is a cheat and, maybe, just maybe, Webb will get the message too and not give the Uruguayan the benefit of the doubt the next time there's a controversial incident.

It's all part of the familiar Super Sunday ritual. In Rodgers' case, though, there is a bit of a twist. Liverpool may be eighth in the Barclays Premier League, a full 21 points behind United. But, in his view, they deserve to be much higher.

"We are as good as any team in the league," he says. "In some games our dominance has been great. In one-off performances, we are as good as anyone."

So why aren't they higher up the table? Rodgers cites lack of depth as the main reason. But the impression is that bad luck with officiating decisions is a close second in his mind. Which is why, like Sir Alex, he is scratching for any advantage he can get ahead of today's clash.

Since we're on the topic of predictability, how about the outrage at the £62 that 2088 Manchester City supporters paid to watch their club away to Arsenal today? The anger stems from the fact that home fans are charged less than visiting supporters for comparable seats and is compounded by the usual grumblings over rail fares. This is seen as exploitation.

Well, it's not. Slavery is exploitation. Pharmaceutical companies price-fixing for medicine required to keep folks alive, that's exploitation. Children in sweatshops half a world away working 14-hour days for the equivalent of a tenner a week to make cheap athletic gear for your high street shop, that's exploitation. This, on the other hand, is somebody charging what they think they can get away with. And – guess what – they couldn't get away with it. If they had, they would have sold the entire 3000 allocation.

It's basic economics. Arsenal's gross take for the tickets they did sell is £129,456. There is a price at which they could have sold all the tickets. Say, for argument's sake, it's £45. At that price, their take would have been £135,000 on tickets alone.

But, in fact, their overall revenue could have been expected to be considerably higher for this reason: of the extra 912 City supporters at the Emirates, a fair chunk would likely have bought drinks and snacks. Indeed, Arsenal could possibly have charged as little as £40 and still made more than what they will earn today from their visiting support.

What this suggests is that Arsenal got their sums wrong and that next year they'll revise their ticket prices downwards. Why? Because it is in their interest to do so. When the free market works, that's how it works.

That said, if supporters feel strongly enough, it doesn't mean they have to take it. They can organise. They could buy up the tickets and then stay at home, sending just a few of them to the game to drape a banner over the empty seats lambasting Arsenal's pricing policy.

They could ask their club – they do have a fairly wealthy owner – to subsidise their away travels: chipping in £17 towards the price of a ticket would cost Sheikh Mansour just over £50,000, but that would buy him an enormous amount of goodwill. The reality, though, is that most recognise the way the system works.

Prices are high because the product is good and the stadiums are nice, and all that costs money. We can debate whether clubs are being short-sighted or clever with their pricing policies (often, it's the former), but the reality is that they are running a business and the grounds are full.

Between 1981 and 1987, Arsenal played some 150 home games and only once passed the 30,000 mark. There's a reason it's not like that today, when 60,000 plus will watch the game against City. And that reason costs money.

OK, so you are voted Bundesliga Player of the Year in 2010-11 and then you play a grand total of 578 minutes of league football in the next 18 months. Clearly something is not quite right. Nuri Sahin has left Liverpool to rejoin Borussia Dortmund, where he was already on loan from Real Madrid. He's quickly becoming the classic mystery wrapped in an enigma.

Injuries don't fully explain it. Jose Mourinho made a big deal out of signing him for Madrid and then couldn't find a use for him. Liverpool paid a hefty loan fee and then Brendan Rodgers could not fit him in the line-up (with Joe Allen, Lucas and Steven Gerrard there, it is perhaps not surprising).

He'll be by no means assured of a spot at Borussia, though, given the presence of Ilkay Gundogan. Don't be surprised if Sahin is back at Madrid in the summer, waiting for a placement somewhere else.

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