Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: The most dangerous thing I’ve seen on a football field for many years. He could have been killed. Williams should be banned for a long time. It was absolutely deliberate. The whistle has gone, the game has stopped and he has done that right in front of the referee – he could have killed the lad. It was a disgraceful act.” – Sir Alex Ferguson on Ashley Williams.
Runner-up: “I tried to clear the ball, but it hit him on the head. He was obviously a bit angry about that. It was much ado about nothing. I tried to apologise but there wasn’t much time. I didn’t see him afterwards. I just lashed at the ball and I understand why he is angry but it is not like I am going to shoot and hit him square on the head.” – Ashley Williams.
Ronaldo to force his way back to Manchester United
Ronaround (Antony Kastrinakis, Sun) Cristiano Ronaldo has waited 11 months for Real Madrid to give him a new deal — now he can force his way out in the summer. Just like he did when he was at Manchester United. And it’s ironic how the Ronaldo story can come full circle as boss Sir Alex Ferguson wants the prodigal son back at Old Trafford. His £810million get-out clause gives Madrid the upper hand. Or does it? This summer, Ronaldo will have two years left on his contract. Snub a new deal and, get-out clause or not, Madrid will have to accept a much lower fee. In 2009, United lost their battle to keep Ronaldo who forced a move for a world-record £80m fee. Now the boot is on the other foot.
“Van Persie could have been killed!”
Rootten day for Fergie: Swansea hold United in feisty encounter (Mike Walters, Daily Mirror) This wasn’t what Sir Alex Ferguson had in mind when he set his heart on rocking around the Christmas tree. Instead of a knees-up under the baubles and tinsel, Manchester United’s lead in the title race was trimmed to four points in a rumble on the Mumbles. When that well-known Welsh clairvoyant, Maesteg Meg, stared into her crystal ball before kick-off, she didn’t see United’s first draw of the Premier League season coming. And she certainly didn’t predict Fergie complaining that one of his players could have been killed, or 15 players dancing round their handbags after Ashley Williams and Robin van Persie’s alleged life-or-death spat. United may live to regret these dropped points on a splendid day for wearing Santa costumes and pretending that nobody thinks you look ridiculous.
Michael Carrick’s high pass mark spoilt by Manchester United finishing (Michael Cox, Guardian) There are two major criticisms of Carrick. The first is his inability to perform well under physical pressure, a concern that has been exaggerated following United’s two Champions League final defeats to Barcelona, when he was pressed relentlessly by Pep Guardiola’s midfielders. Nevertheless, it’s certainly an area of weakness, which makes it surprising opponents don’t keep him permanently occupied. At the start of this game, Swansea’s most advanced midfielder, Jonathan de Guzmán, seemed to be staying close to Carrick and leaving Cleverley free; but the longer the game went on, the less obvious his marking was, and the more freedom Carrick enjoyed. He played 93 passes – 20 more than any other player on the pitch – and misplaced only six.
Chelsea hit 8 – Rafa Benitez is a genius
Rafa a barmy appointment? Not anymore… it could be inspired (Jamie Redknapp, Daily Mail) Everyone, including me, thought Rafa Benitez was a ridiculous appointment. It could be inspired. There was only one place Chelsea could go – up. Fernando Torres is scoring and playing David Luiz in midfield makes a lot of sense. There is lots to do yet but if they keep winning, Benitez will keep the fans happy.
Brilliant Benitez still needs a miracle to catch Man United (Mark Lawrenson, Daily Mirror) Rafa Benitez is proving what a good manager he is – but Chelsea still need a Christmas miracle to bridge the gap on Manchester. Manchester United got a point at Swansea without playing particularly well and you rarely see Wayne Rooney play as poorly. City just never give up. We saw that last season and this season they have been inconsistent at times and yet they are still within touching distance of the top. David Silva, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero showed glimpses against Reading of their best and will get even better. City will make one hell of a fight of it. Chelsea, meanwhile, are 11 points off United – eight if they win their game in hand – and that is one hell of a margin to make up when you consider how experienced Sir Alex Ferguson is when it comes to winning titles.
Chelsea’s David Luiz reinvents himself as Fulham Road’s Socrates (Barney Ronay, Guardian) If it was David Luiz’s energy as much as his daintier moments that helped set up the annihilating superiority of the final 20 minutes, afterwards Benítez was pointedly vague on his prospects of continuing in midfield. “We will analyse carefully,” the Spaniard said, keeping his tactical cards, as ever, close to his chest. “Maybe he can rest, he can relax and he can play more games in this position. Maybe he will have more opportunities in this position but, if he has to play as a centre-back, he can do it very well too, so he gives us many options.” It is to be hoped that such opportunities will be quick in coming, if only for the prospect of a repeat of the wonderfully sui generis performance served up here. Long before Villa had wilted there were party-trick quadruple stepovers and the occasional sense, not least when playing the ball one side of Barry Bannan and running round the other, of a man thrillingly confident of his own ball-playing gifts.
Chelsea’s 8-0 drubbing of Aston Villa will have no bearing on the Premier League title – it is going to Manchester (Alan Hansen, Daily Telegraph) There are only two clubs in contention, Manchester United and Manchester City, and the weekend’s fixtures served only to underline why Chelsea are a million miles from challenging their supremacy. Manchester City’s late winner against Reading was far more significant in terms of showing us who has the character to go the distance. It sounds like a contradiction, but the fact is you do not win titles by battering teams when you are playing well. You win titles by grinding out victories when you are playing poorly, something United possess in their DNA and City are beginning to replicate. We have seen it all before with this Chelsea team, earlier this season in fact, when they started with a flourish and then wilted under pressure. They were four points ahead and flying. In the midfield trio of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar they possess the most elegant, technically gifted players in the Premier League. What could possibly have gone wrong as they were brushing opponents aside, threatening the eight-goal feast we witnessed at Stamford Bridge? What happened was the reality that such easy afternoons are rare, and for the most part the Premier League is a slog requiring the kind of graft we have not yet witnessed in this new-look Chelsea team.
Wilshere urges Walcott to stay at Arsenal
Walcott needs to go in One Direction and sign, says Jack (Ian Gordon, Sun) Jack Wilshere will sing the same old tune to Theo Walcott — urging him not to quit Arsenal’s boy band. The England ace committed his long-term future to the club in midweek along with four other young Gunners. And now the midfielder wants Walcott to end his contract stand-off with the club and keep the Gunners’ own version of teen idols One Direction together for several more years. Wilshere, who will be 21 on New Year’s Day, said: “Everybody at the club wants Theo to re-sign. I’m always winding him up, saying ‘C’mon Theo, sign’. “But that is something he has got to sort out. It is up to him and the club to reach an agreement and I hope they do.
Stevie G set for new Liverpool deal, maybe
Liverpool to open contract talks with Steven Gerrard after Brendan Rodgers highlights how crucial captain is to club (Chris Bascombe, Daily Telegraph) Liverpool intend to open contract talks with Steven Gerrard after Brendan Rodgers reiterated the enduring importance of his captain in reviving the club. Gerrard has only 16 months of his current deal left, and Rodgers is keen to remove any doubts the England captain can play on for much longer at Anfield. The 32 year-old has a guarantee of an ambassadorial role at his club when he ends his playing career, but there is an expectation he will play on for several more years following an exceptional performance in Liverpool’s 4-0 win against Fulham on Saturday, when he was one of the scorers along with Martin Skrtel, Stewart Downing and Luis Suarez. With Gerrard’s current terms ending after the World Cup in 2014, it is essential that Liverpool tie up their captain for a longer period. “He is vital to us, and I recognise that,” Rodgers said. “I know he has 16 months left on his contract, but I would want him to go beyond that for this club and this team. “This is a guy who has led his life right as a football player and that allows you to play well into your 30s. Absolutely I would want him to stay beyond his current contract and extend it – there is absolutely no question about that.
Daniel Sturridge heading to Liverpool after Chelsea pay off
Sturridge handed a £1.5m goodbye from Chelsea as star closes in on Liverpool deal (Sami Mokbel, Daily Mail) Chelsea are putting together a £1.5million golden goodbye for Daniel Sturridge to make sure that he joins Liverpool. The clubs have agreed a £12million fee for the striker, who underwent a medical on Sunday and who is expected to sign a three-and-a-half year deal in the next 24 hours. However, it needed the addition of a cash sweetener to facilitate the move after Sturridge indicated that he would be happy to stay at Stamford bridge and fight for his place until his contract expires in 18 months. The on-off transfer hit a snag last week over the payment of agent fees and Chelsea were keen to avoid any more hitches as they seek to off-load Sturridge and his £60,000-a-week wages.
Roy Hodgson says England can win the World Cup
England can win next World Cup, claims Hodgson (Gordon Tynan, Independent) He’s only gone and said it. Roy Hodgson, the England manager, has gone on record to claim that it is not “impossible” that the country could win the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. His reasoning? Chelsea’s against-the-odds Champions League triumph last season, when they knocked out Barcelona and then beat Bayern Munich on penalties. Hodgson did acknowledge it was unlikely that his team would triumph in 18 months’ time, but his assertion that the Three Lions’ task is not impossible is one that could haunt him if the national team under-perform in Brazil. He said: “You could say we are far from being favourites so therefore [winning it] is not a likelihood. But you’ve got to shy away from ‘impossible’ in football. “There are plenty of events that we could point to in footballing terms. It wasn’t likely that Chelsea would become champions of Europe, especially having to change their manager in mid-stream but they did. “That was by beating Barcelona and Bayern Munich, two of the best teams in Europe along the way, so I’d like to keep that dream alive.”
Iker Casillas accepts José Mourinho dropping him for Málaga game (PA via Guardian) Iker Casillas has played down his controversial omission from Real Madrid’s line-up against Málaga, saying he must accept the coach José Mourinho’s decision and focus on regaining his starting berth. Mourinho caused a major stir after choosing to start with the back-up goalkeeper Antonio Adán for the Primera Division match at La Rosaleda in place of the captain and long-serving No1, Casillas. Mourinho said after the match, which Madrid lost 3-2 to fall 16 points behind the leaders, Barcelona, that his decision was “purely technical”. Speaking on Sunday before a charity match in Madrid, Casillas told La Sexta television: “The coach decides which team he thinks is best for each match and you need to accept the decision. “I’m not used to being a substitute but above Iker Casillas or any player is the team. What I need to do is continue training and try to recover the confidence of the coach.”
He’s Mour or less finished (Antony Kastrinakis, Sun) Jose Mourinho is on the brink at the Bernabeu after dropping keeper Iker Casillas. In fact, it will be a Real shock if boss Mourinho limps on until February, when Manchester United take on Madrid in the Champions League. Mourinho diced with death by dropping iconic captain Casillas away to Malaga. And, after a 3-2 loss left Real 16 points behind leaders Barcelona, it would be no surprise if Mourinho is out of a job by New Year’s Day. Sergio Ramos, skipper for the day, said: “We were surprised Iker was on the bench. He’s the captain, our leader and, above all, the greatest goalkeeper.” Among 83,000 fans voting in a poll conducted by newspaper Marca last night, 90 PER CENT wanted Mourinho sacked. Nine out of 10 among 63,000 polled by AS newspaper believe Mourinho WANTS to be sacked.