Arsenal & Spurs battle for Carlton Cole while Barca & Real Madrid fight it out for Fabregas

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “I’ve got to say if we don’t win with this squad then I can’t see England winning the World Cup ever. I can’t see us challenging for a long, long time. If you now look at the Under-21s, Under-18s and Under-19s, what talent is coming through? Is there anyone who smacks you in the face where you think: we have him, him, and him coming through? There aren’t the five or six players, top youngsters, that we need coming through. I look at it and think: ‘What are we going to do when Gerrard is finished? What are we going to do when Lampard is finished? What are we going to do when Rooney is finished? What are we going to do when Terry and Ferdinand move over?’ Have we got top-notch players coming through behind them who will be able to say: ‘I’m going to knock the likes of Gerrard off his chair’. There’s no-one at the moment. I can’t see anyone.” – Chris Waddle.

Runner-up: “Yes, England have a good chance of winning the World Cup, although I do not want to jump on the euphoria which exists here. Every time you say, ‘Okay, we will win the World Cup’, and what happens when you don’t is that the players get hammered. So I say for this one, ‘Go low key’. If England do well, fantastic, if not, next time.” – Arsene Wenger.

Today’s overview: There is a mixed bag this Sunday as Chelsea and Liverpool are subjected to criticism, Paul Scholes is doused in praise, while England’s World Cup hopes are again placed under the microscope.

Petr Cech is under fire for arguably the first time in his Chelsea career this Sunday after the goalie was singled out in the Blues’ defeat at Eastlands. Paul Wilson commented “Petr Cech had another of his relapses. The goalkeeper was at fault for both goals, never looked commanding throughout, and with hindsight Chelsea may have been better off sticking with Henrique Hilario.”

That said, many refuse to believe the City are capable of competing at the top level consistently. Tim Rich commented “the team Hughes has built resemble the one first Gianluca Vialli and then Claudio Ranieri created at Stamford Bridge, which could effortlessly raise their game against Manchester United and then with equal ease be shot to bits at Sunderland. They could put on a show but not for 38 matches.” Similarly snootily, Duncan Castle concluded “City’s grand day won’t win them a League title. But it might cost Chelsea one.”

After Liverpool’s goalless draw at Blackburn, it comes as no surprise to read criticism of the Anfield giants across the backpages. Jamie Jackson calls out the Liverpudlians, scribbling “[Liverpool were] dour, functional and lacking in zip, and, by the close of the game, Rovers were worrying the visitors. A draw is a fine result for Allardyce’s bunch, but frustrating for any follower of Liverpool, who had woken up 13 points behind Chelsea and are now two worse off than Tottenham, who occupy the final Champions League spot.”

Paul Scholes, a day after his retirement was tabled by the fourth estate, entertained the Upton Park crowds with a masterclass in Manchester United’s away day victory.

Praising the ginger genius, Roy Collins spouted “the 35-year-old gave a masterclass in the sniping role in front of the back four, and delivered a cherry on the top via a superb opening goal that set United on their way to a sublime and far too easy victory against the pitiful Hammers.” Harry Pratt also saluted the fantastic Scholesy. “When the Manchester United ace, 35, said pre-match he may well call it a day in May – because of indifferent displays – you sensed he was just being his normal humble self.  After all, poor form in Scholes’ eyes would be more than good enough for the majority of his fellow top-flight stars as he underlined in emphatic, thumping style yesterday at Upton Park with a trademark piledriver on the stroke of half-time.”

Staying with Manchester United, the News of the World’s Neil Ashton exposes how the Mancunians spent a whopping £94m over a two-year period to “287 firms on the United payroll cover the most diverse range of professions – from magicians to demolition experts; from cabinet makers to pilots; from dry cleaners to wine merchants; from surveyors to school teachers; from drainage experts to frozen food suppliers and from clowns to estate agents.”

Fleet Street toff Pier Morgan uses his weekly Mail on Sunday column to compare Arsene Wenger to David Icke. “More worrying than all of it, though, is Wenger’s own bizarre behaviour. He’s been swearing at journalists, refusing to shake opposition manager’s hands and moaning and bleating about unfair injuries (as if we were the only team who ever suffers them)… It was like when David Icke appeared on Wogan in a purple suit and announced he was the Son of God. Add to that, his ludicrous forward line selection of pint-sized strikers – Arshavin, Eduardo and Vela – to try to tackle one of the biggest, strongest, defences in Britain… Arsene, I can cope with losing (Stoke doesn’t count) but I can’t cope with you going mad. Please get a grip.”

The World Cup remains in sharp focus, and England’s favourable draw is again reflected on by the scribes throughout the paper-divide.

Fabio Capello must feel he has pulled off that trick of whipping a table cloth from a table while leaving the cups and saucers still standing. A World Cup draw is a game of risk. England have engaged in it and their aspirations remain untoppled.” Staying on the Three Lions front, Jonathan Northcroft sat down with Spurs forward Jermain Defoe. “Just as goals are rocketing in from all angles for the little striker, so answers to the big question arrive from all directions. He is stronger and sharper than ever, the result of a new gym regime that includes boxing training. His finishing skills are being honed by Clive Allen and Les Ferdinand, two former strikers who coach for Tottenham.”

In a passionate article, Henry Winter tries his best to convince readers and Fabio Capelli that Michael Owen should be on the plane to South Africa. “Capello needs Owen as an impact sub. He is the king of the intelligent penalty-box run. Unlike Defoe, Owen rarely runs offside. He keeps checking where the last defender is, holding the line until suddenly peeling away when the ball is delivered. Owen is a master of his predatory craft simply inhibited by injury in recent times. Manchester United’s former Liverpool player is a good tourist too, a natural mixer who can count most of England’s leading players as personal friends. If fit, Owen must travel. The record books, showing 40 in 89 internationals, demand it. So do the history books.”

Anyone hoping to see England’s World Cup opener with the United States needs to get their skates on soon. Harriet Alexander noted “outside of hosts South Africa, no two countries have bought more advance tickets than England and the United States.” Brian McNally sheds further light on the ticket situation, writing “the FA’s official allocation for Fabio Capello’s opener is just 4,125 tickets for the 42,500 capacity Royal Bafokeng Stadium (above). This is certain to create a black-market scramble.”

Talking more specifically about the match with the United States, Duncan White warns England to to be wary of their opponents. “You ask almost any Premier League manager and they love American players: disciplined, professional, receptive and hard-working. In unison, those qualities should make for a dull and predictable team. When England breezed past them 2-0 earlier this year, that is exactly what they looked like. But things have changed.”

Arguably putting the cart before the horse, Andrew Warshaw considers the psychological obstacles to England succeeding at the World Cup. “The England manager is concerned that his World Cup players could be psychologically damaged if any of them lose this season’s Champions’ League final… English clubs have lost the past four Champions’ League finals, and although, as an adopted Englishman, Capello would love Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea to go all the way, he is anxious about the timescale needed to recover.”

Staying on the World Cup footing, Fulham manager Roy Hogson makes the case for Argentina in the the Sunday Times. “Another top contender is Argentina. That might surprise some people, since they struggled in qualifying, but they have some exceptional talents. The finals are a stage set for the best players in the world to strut their stuff and in Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano the Argentinians have got two of the best players in football in their positions. People are dismissing Diego Maradona, but I’m not so certain that it’s coaches who win World Cups. At this level it’s the players.”

Over to the transfer lies.

Steve Stammers opens the Mirror on Sunday with the EXCLUSIVE report that “Carlton Cole is the number one target for Arsenal as manager Arsene Wenger looks to bolster his strike force in next month’s transfer window… Zola will not want to sell Cole but cash-strapped West Ham will find an offer of £15million difficult to resist.” The battle heats up in the People where Tom Hopkinson announces “Harry Redknapp will ignore Carlton Cole’s knee injury and try to sign the West Ham striker in the New Year… The Hammers do not want to lose their star man and have slapped an £11million price-tag on his shoulders.”

Staying with sought-after strikers, Simon Mullock trumpets “Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City are locked in a battle to land Wolfsburg’s £10m striker Edin Dzeko,” while Aiden McGee claims “Chelsea have opened talks aimed at bringing Sevilla striker Luis Fabiano to Stamford Bridge.”

The big tabloid EXCLUSIVE in the People reports “Real Madrid are trying to trump Manchester United and Chelsea over Everton superkid Jack Rodwell… Real’s agents have been instructed to contact Everton to sort out a price. Everton boss David Moyes will demand at least £15million – a sum Real sources consider ‘very high.'” The People also claim “Spurs are ready to take Sunderland’s former West Ham star Anton Ferdinand back to London to help solve their defensive problems.”

Tom Lawrence spread the rumour that “Chelsea are lining up a shock move for Inter Milan star Patrick Vieira in January… Chelsea would offer the tough-tackling midfield star an 18-month deal worth around £50,000 a week to beat off interest from Arsenal and Tottenham.”

Its been a couple of week since Cesc Fabregas-La Liga rumours did the rounds so the Mirror on Sunday take it upon themselves to regurgitate the old rumours. “Barcelona and Real Madrid are preparing to enter into a January bidding war for the services of Cesc Fabregas, according to reports in the Spanish press.”

Are Liverpool about to lose their holding midfielder? Simon Mullock announces “Liverpool have priced Javier Mascherano out of a move to Barcelona and now Rafa Benitez believes that he will sign a new contract to stay at Anfield. The Merseysiders refused to be drawn into negotiations with the European champions unless they received written confirmation from Barca that they would pay £35million for Mascherano.” The price comes tumbling down in Chris Bascombe’s report, the hack writing “Benitez is braced for a £30million New Year showdown with Barcelona over Javier Mascherano.”

Elsewhere, Steve Millar links Everton with Diego Forlan, the News of the World detail how “Blackburn have agreed a £3million fee to sign Hajduk Split midfielder Senijad Ibricic,” Peter Jensen announces that “Arsenal central defender Philippe Senderos has admitted he would welcome a January switch to Atletico Madrid,” while Aiden McGee lists how “Avram Grant wants to bring Chelsea pair Daniel Sturridge and Juliano Belletti to Portsmouth on loan next month.”

Lastly, Steve Bates shouts “Guus Hiddink has been blocked by Roman Abramovich from becoming Manchester City’s next boss – because the Russian wants him at Chelsea.”