As Allardyce fears that Blackburn have spread swine flu, Rio Ferdinand is tipped for the axe at Manchester United

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “I would not have [commented] to the extent I have today [on Blackburn players having swine flu], but reading in the paper that the Premier League said we made no request to get the game called off, that’s just sitting on the fence – normal splinters up the backside as usual. They know that we went through the right procedures and that we did not call it off because we couldn’t. There was no point [trying] because [last season] they told us we had to get a team out there no matter what. It is their responsibility to consider how dangerous it might be to allow this to spread throughout football, so they have shirked responsibility, not us. I don’t think they have put much thought into it at all.” – Sam Allardyce.

Runner-up: “I’m very happy about the interest that Barcelona have in me, playing in the Nou Camp it is much easier to be the best player in the world than at City. But I’m not forcing a hypothetical exit from England and neither do I have problems with my coach.” – Robinho.


Today’s overview: After Blackburn played Chelsea with swine-flu doing the rounds around their squad, is H1N1 set to cause havoc in the Premier League?

Tom Dart announces the current official position of the Premier League on swine flu. “The Premier League said that it will consider postponement requests on a case-by-case basis. It is reluctant to call off matches except in extreme cases, taking the view that most clubs have squads large enough to cope with a couple of absences.”

The Independent call on the paper’s health editor Jeremy Laurance to separate the fact from fiction on the issue if swine flu. “Sam Allardyce’s caution over swine flu is overdone. Flu is highly infectious and easily transmitted, and is spreading through Blackburn’s squad in the same way it has gone through schools and families around the country. But out on the pitch, where the contact between players is fleeting, the chances of passing on infection are low. The players might consider avoiding shaking hands because they are a key route of transmission for viruses.”

After witnessing a weekend in which only two of the top eight won, Kevin McCarra celebrates this season’s title race. “A Premier League in decline is heading in the right direction. This season’s competition should remain engrossingly entertaining now that the leading teams are no longer good enough to feel safe.”

Picking up the baton, Jeremy Wilson asks “Is this the most open Premier League title race ever?” “What explains this unpredictability? A common thread is a sudden defensive vulnerability. Such reliable Premier League performers as Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Jamie Carragher and Ricardo Carvalho have all been creaking, while at Manchester City, Tottenham and Arsenal there remain doubts about the quality or fitness of the defences.”

Delving into specifics, Oliver Kay risks criticisms of knee-jerking by picking apart the problems with Manchester United. “Ferguson is a manager who looks for performance. And at the moment he is not getting performances from Vidic, Ferdinand, Vidic, Berbatov, Nani or Michael Carrick, whose struggles can be traced back to the final months of last season, farther in Nani’s case.” Carrying on the United-bashing, Matt Dickinson fears for Rio Ferdinand. “The centre half, once high on the list of reasons why England could win a World Cup, has turned into one of our greatest anxieties. We are more dependent than we dare to admit on him managing his body through to the World Cup finals in South Africa next summer. England need him to be fit.”

Mark Ogden continues the fashionable character assassination of Rio. “Make no mistake, Ferdinand’s position at Old Trafford is now under threat. Sir Alex Ferguson has already warned the 30-year-old that his World Cup spot with England is by no means guaranteed and, with Jonny Evans breathing down his neck at United, it could be a case of who falls first between Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.”

The Sun’s Neil Custis injects a large dose of sensationalism into the mix, farting “Ferdinand is facing the axe from Alex Ferguson as fears grow at Old Trafford that the defender is past his best… Now the club management are concerned that Ferdinand has lost two yards of pace and that he might never recover his best form.  The change could come as soon as Saturday’s home game to Blackburn as boss Ferguson is ready to give Jonny Evans an extended run in the side alongside Nemanja Vidic.” Happy-clappy Ian Wright, though, is quick to throw a comforting arm round Rio. “Rio is having a little bit of a blip by his standards but it’s nothing to worry about. He’s still England’s most naturally-talented defender… I don’t think Rio did that badly against Liverpool. But there are people queuing up to have a go at him.  Whether it’s because he’s a Londoner playing for United, I don’t know.”

Keeping focus on United, concern is growing that the FA are growing increasingly limp-wristed after Sir Alex Ferguson again publicly criticised a match referee.

James Lawton barks, “does the FA have the cojones to take on Ferguson, tell him that no one can separate himself so frequently from some basic demands of discipline – and of setting a proper example in a game which is so relentlessly cheapened by the one-eyed self-interest so rampant in most corners.” Fergie’s fury is also picked up by Louise Taylor and Andy Hunter in the Guardian, who detail that “referees have responded forcefully to Sir Alex Ferguson’s criticisms of their abilities by claiming the Manchester United manager’s knowledge of football’s rules is alarmingly hazy and that his twin attacks on Alan Wiley and Andre Marriner should prompt a stadium ban.”

Yesterday saw the first day of Marlon King’s trial for allegedly punching a female in the face and breaking her nose, and King, 29, a Wigan Athletic striker, was said to have become angry after the woman rejected his advances, and told her: ‘Don’t you know who I am? I’m a millionaire. You’re not even in my league.'”

Bad news for English football fans, as Rosa Prince explains that supporters will soon have to pay a lot more to see their teams. “Football fans face substantial hikes in season ticket prices under plans to increase local tax rates for Premier League and Championship clubs by £12 million… The new rates are based on the latest revaluation, which take place every five years and which are established from an estimate of a property’s rental value.”

Tuesday and Wednesday night see the League Cup swing back into action, and Glenn Moore argues that the competition is in rude health. “For a competition that was written off at the very start, and looked doomed anew a decade ago, the Football League Cup is in rude health as it marks its 50th running by racking up sell-out crowds from London to Yorkshire this week.”

The Guardian roll out their usual European round-up, starting with Paolo Bandini rejoicing in Milan’s win at Chievo in which Alessandro Nesta stole the headlines. “In the 81st minute he headed in the equaliser after Borriello hit the crossbar; then, in injury-time, he got the winner, again with his head, from a corner. To put that into perspective, he had previously scored a total of four goals in 16 seasons in Serie A and never twice in the same match.”

Sid Lowe picks apart the mess at crisis-club Atletico Madrid. “Changing coach probably will change Atlético’s results in the short term… but it will not address the real problems, from the €300m debt to a desperately imbalanced squad, from the rank incompetence of the club’s two majority shareholders, and the childish feud that destroys them, to the presence of a failing sporting director, from the lack of a coherent plan to a poisonous atmosphere in which disillusioned fans attack their own.”

Over in Germany, Raphael Honigstein looks at the financial problems facing Schalke. “Schalke have spent all this money upfront and need to plug a €20m gap in the budget for this season. Magath will either have to sell players or reach the Champions League, otherwise S04 need to raise new equity by selling parts of the stadium. If they default on the €85m loan, they even could be forced into insolvency.”

Onto the transfers, where transfer-embargoed Chelsea are again set to splash serious cash according to The Times. Quoting figures of £50m, the broadsheet claims “Chelsea have been told that they will have to pay a huge fee to sign Sergio Aguero from Atletico Madrid.”

New Middlesbrough manager Gordon Strachan has set tongues wagging in the North-East after the Scot was pictured with a list of footballers as his was unveiled at the Riverside on Monday.

The Daily Mail report “when he arrived at the Riverside Stadium to be greeted by Boro fans, Strachan was pictured carrying a team-sheet of prospective new signings. Several supporters saw Strachan’s secret list, which included Arsenal midfield ace Jack Wilshere and Manchester United striker Federico Macheda, who could both be available on loan.” fills in the blanks. “Kyle Naughton, of Tottenham Hotspur, and Andy Griffin, of Stoke City, were the full backs. In midfield, Marc Albrighton and Isaiah Osbourne, of Aston Villa, have drawn his attention, as has Jack Wilshere, the Arsenal tyro, and Hayden Mullins, of Portsmouth. Kevin Phillips, the Birmingham City veteran, and Federico Macheda, of Manchester United, were in attack.”

According to Ashley Grey, “Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has joined the chase for Georgian wonderkid Zhano Ananidze. Arsenal are already tracking the 17-year-old Spartak Moscow midfielder,” while the Daily Mail cough “Wigan are the latest club to show interest in Middlesbrough’s Adam Johnson.”

Wrapping up the lies, The Sun claim the “Villarrael goalkeeper Diego Lopez is a £15million target for Manchester United,” while Alan Nixon toots “Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce is ready to snap up former Monaco midfield star Camel Meriem – after he missed out on a move to his old club Bolton.”