Benitez signs on at Liverpool, Sir Alex plays down United’s quintuple chance & the net begins to close in on Hull’s Phil Brown

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “My heart is with Liverpool Football Club, so I’m delighted to sign this new deal. I love the club, the fans and the city and with a club like this and supporters like this, I could never say no to staying. I always made clear I wanted to be here for a long time and when I complete my new contract it will mean I have spent over a decade in Liverpool. Throughout this process, I would like to thank the owners for their hard work in finalising the deal. All of us at the club want the same thing, which is to be successful by winning major trophies.” – Rafa Benitez.

Runner-up: “I remember the incident clearly. It was four years ago and I leant over to Michael Ballack, who was playing for Bayern Munich at the time, and I shouted at him because I felt like I did not make a bad tackle and I felt that the contact was minimal. I did not spit at him. It happens during matches that sometimes you have heated exchanges with your opponents. I am not proud of it, but I was 17 years old. The referee saw it and gave me a yellow card. People can try and find as many video clips as they like from when I was 17 years old or when I was 12 playing for my school team, but this does not change anything. The simple fact is that I did not spit at the assistant manager of Hull City.” – Cesc Fabregas.

Fabregas’ did he, didn’t he spitting-incident with Michael Ballack can be seen here.

Today’s overview: While Rafa Benitez brings an element of closure at Liverpool after finally penning his new contract at Anfield, new cans of worms are being opened in London with the continuation of the Carlos Tevez affair and the latest war of words between Hull and Arsenal.

The Guardian kick off the reaction to the news of Rafa Benitez’s new contract extension with an open thread asking “Is it good news for Liverpool that the Spaniard has now signed the contract? Or could it be perhaps that Benitez is what stands between Liverpool and that elusive 19th title?”

Oliver Kay fleshes out the details of the contract writing the five-year contract “will take his basic salary to more than £4 million a year… It is not yet entirely clear whether Benitez has secured all the conditions he was looking for… but the Spaniard would not have signed the deal without being offered certain assurances.” A slight difference of opinion is offered by John Edwards who reports that the deal is worth £5m-a-year. While Ian Herbert adds “the new contract also paves the way to new deals for Daniel Agger, Dirk Kuyt, Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabio Aurelio, whose own contract talks had been on hold pending uncertainties about the manager’s future being resolved.”

The Times scoop the interview of the day, having for a wide-ranging discussion on politics and football in which he names his greatest players, his most-admired rivals and even admits to his biggest error.” “AC Biggest disappointment? AF Not getting Gazza. He was a fabulous footballer and he would have done brilliantly here. AC Can you do the quintuple this year? AF No.”

Ripples of discontent continue to flow from the Arsenal-Hull match with Nick fearing the worst for the Tigers. “The danger is that Brown will come across as just another manager keen to blame everyone and everything except himself and his team.” Ian Herbert echoes a similar sentiment writing “yesterday, he sounded like a man under siege… Brown is a man who always has to be right.” Henry Winter extends the sphere of those likely to be censured, writing the events “could lead to Cesc Fabregas being charged for spitting, Hull’s assistant manager Brian Horton being asked whether he called Fabregas an ‘arrogant Spanish ––––’ and Phil Brown being charged for questioning the integrity of the referee, Mike Riley.”

The Daily Mail’s Matt Barlow adds fuel to the fire saying “Sportsmail can reveal that Hull City’s players had to be restrained from attacking the Arsenal midfielder and his teammate Emmanuel Adebayor in the tunnel.”

why he was even on the pitch in the first place. During my career, if you weren’t playing, you stayed in the stands. As for his Puffa jacket, jeans and trainers, I feel he should be wearing a club uniform.” And the no smoke without fire line of reasoning is continued by Sam Wallace. “Even if you take his version of events at face value it is fair to ask: what exactly was Fabregas’s problem on Tuesday night?… He might be a brilliant, visionary midfielder but his latest scrape demonstrates that he has a dark side, too.”

Another day and more fallout in the Carlos Tevez affair. Owen Gibson reports that the case may again have to go before the courts “if West Ham United fail to settle a claim from Sheffield United’s former squad, it has emerged.”

Harry Redknapp uses his column in The Sun to reassure Spurs fans about their end of season run-in. “Tottenham still have to play Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool between now and the end of the season – and I could not be happier. No, it’s not the first case of sunstroke this year, it’s my genuine belief that the end of the season is by far the best time to play the Big Four.”

Onto the transfer rumours, and the Daily Mail stick their neck on the line decisively reporting that “Antonio Valencia will sign for Manchester United during the summer transfer window.” The Sun table the whispers linking Luka Modric with a summer move to Juventus, while Matt Parker offers the mischievous comment that “Sebastien Bassong may quit Newcastle in May. The French defender, who has been a big success for the Toon since arriving from Metz last summer, has attracted admiring glances from Arsenal.”

Kevin Eason documents the growing pressure against the FA Cup semi-finals being played at Wembley, with the latest feat being that “employers and education authorities could be confronted with a Monday morning scene of hundreds of empty desks and deserted factories as weary Manchester United and Everton fans boycott work and school after their FA Cup semi-final.” While the FA is fending off criticism from one quarter, Henry Winter offers the organisation praise in it’s effort “for wanting to spread World Cup fever around England. Fifa’s confirmation yesterday that the FA has applied to host the 2018 tournament should set the bells pealing from Cornwall to Hadrian’s Wall.”

Dipping into the Championship, Dominic Fifield traces the demise of Chartlon Athletic. “It is a cycle of chaos and calamity to leave the locals pining for the safety of the Curbishley era.”

Heading into Europe, Jonathan Wilson publishes the story that “despite being public enemy No1 in Poland last summer, the suggested appointment of Howard Webb as Polish Cup final referee has been widely welcomed.” But the most controversial European story comes from John Lichfield who reports how one in five French footballers test positive for illegal muscle-building steroids.

In other news,