As Manchesters United, City and Spurs are all earmarked as potential title winners, Aston Villa are in freefall

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “How long have you lot [the Midlands press] known me? Am I going to wallow in some sympathetic fucking syrup like this when I’m bottom of the fucking league? If it ends in tears then some of you might say: ‘He was a nice fella and he did a good job.’ But I’m not getting involved in this shit and caramel. We are bottom of the fucking league, we got slapped on Sunday and we were shit. I know it. You lot know it. Thank God I’m not 11th or 12th, I’d be out of a job… We can get out of this. I have confidence because of the players. There’s no question that anyone will be throwing the towel in or packing it in, or thinking that this can’t be done.” – Mick McCarthy.

Runner-up: “He [Mario Balotelli] is homesick. He’s 20 years old, it’s the first time he has been away from his family and it’s normal that he misses his family… He is a good guy. He is not like he appears on the pitch. He likes to give this image, this impression, that he’s hard, serious and doesn’t like to play. But he is a different guy off the pitch… Brian Kidd told me that Cristiano Ronaldo had the same problems as Mario when he arrived at United, and needed time to adjust. He [Balotelli] is learning. Even a World Cup winner like David Silva struggled here at the beginning.” – Roberto Mancini.

Fergie’s bitch of the day: “It was handball and a foul on the centre-half. He went straight through him. If the referee can’t see that what chance have you got? In a game of that importance you expect to have a referee who can see that. I have no complaints with my team. They fought hard, they worked hard after a two-day rest. They ran their socks off to get a result and it’s hard on them.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.

Wake-up call of the day: “The problem is in the team; I thought the fans were fantastic. But we need to turn the corner. It’s a really big job and the players know we’re going through a difficult run.” – Gerard Houllier.

Lovin’ It quote of the day: “Asamoah Gyan and Darren Bent cost them £23m; our entire squad cost £3m at the most. We deserve some credit. I can’t tell you how proud I am. I get so much enjoyment from getting my players to play better than they’ve ever played in their lives.” – Ian Holloway.

Today’s overview: Although Lee Bowyer’s equaliser is widely recognised as being a highly dubious goal this Wednesday, sympathy that Man United failed to win at Birmingham is in short supply.

Surveying the other stories emerging from Tuesday in the Premier League, the knives are out and sharpened for Gerard Houllier, Spurs are talked up a title challengers, Chris Baird’s shock double is thumbed over while Carlo Ancelloti’s woes at Chelsea are also tabled.

Standing out from the crowd, Sibylla Brodzinsky delivers a superb piece into Colombian football, the drug cartels and how the government are looking to clean up the beautiful game.

In the transfer Wolves are trying to bring a former striker back to Molineux while Manchester United’s pursuit for a holding midfielder heats up.

Birmingham-Manchester United: For Kevin McCarra “regardless of the sense of injustice, Birmingham City can only be admired. They may have been short of the artistry to cause United real alarm, but Alex McLeish’s side are still formidable at St Andrew’s, where only Everton have defeated them in the last 28 matches… United were wronged, but will reproach themselves a little for not finishing off the opposition. Wayne Rooney had another of his vapid performances and the dependence on Dimitar Berbatov up front was therefore marked… The tenacity and endeavour of Birmingham ensured that there would be no swift assumption of command by United.”

Tooting on the same trumpet was Henry Winter. “Manchester United left St Andrew’s smarting at the injustice of the manner of Birmingham City’s late equaliser, muttering darkly about the referee Lee Mason. It hardly required Perry Mason’s detection skills to spot the offence, a push and handball by the 6ft 8in Nikola Zigic in creating Lee Bowyer’s goal. For all the frustration at the referee, United really have only themselves to blame for not wrapping the points up earlier. So often the masters of the late rally, the biters were bit on Tuesday night.”

Bummed Balotelli: It’s day two of the new Mario-Balotelli-is-homesick saga, with today’s bottom line being that the mega-money City striker is going nowhere fast.

Daniel Taylor announced “Roberto Mancini admitted Mario Balotelli was struggling to adapt to life in England despite the striker’s hat-trick in Manchester City’s 4-0 defeat of Aston Villa… Mancini shook his head when he was asked whether it could lead to the player wanting to leave but he admitted the £25m signing from Internazionale was not enjoying playing in the Premier League.”

Villa’s City Massacre: Reflecting on Man City’s 4-nil thumping on Aston Villa, consensus opinion is to laud Mancini’s men while paying lip-service to the appalling form of Villa.

Daniel Taylor got the ball rolling scribbling “Roberto Mancini’s side were rampant, full of hard running and inventive forward play, on another painful day for an Aston Villa side who appear to be in freefall… On this evidence [City] can be regarded as authentic challengers, although they will be fortunate to face another side as vapid and rudderless as Villa, who were subjected to derisive cries from the away section.”

Mark Ogden continued the theme writing “Balotelli is unlikely to score an easier hat-trick, however. Villa, in a tailspin that could yet end with them plummeting into the Championship, were abject as they slumped to their sixth defeat in seven games, and their defensive frailties gifted all three of Balotelli’s goals.”

Continuing to give Villa a good kicking was Ian Ladyman. “Villa were a shambles. They have lost all cohesion, confidence and purpose under Gerard Houllier. Yesterday their own fans lampooned them. This must be what it’s like to be an Australian cricketer. The visiting fans afforded their players ironic cheers when they strung passes together and when they won a corner. Certainly Houllier’s record is poor. He has fallen out with players and results are yet to justify his methods. There was, though, enough talent in his team yesterday to offer more resistance than this.”

Jamie Redknapp tries to identify why it’s going so wrong for the Villains. “Aston Villa need leaders, but the manager seems to have alienated experienced players. The supporters will be asking: ‘Where are people who worked so well for Martin O’Neill?’ Richard Dunne comes to mind. It is ok having good kids, but that can be an excuse when you are losing games. It seems that not too many are pulling in Gerard Houllier’s direction. They were smashed at City.”

Super Spurs: After beating Newcastle, once again Spurs are lauded.

Jason Burt believes the north Londoners can achieve massively this season. “This started off as a ‘messy game’, according to Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, and ended up as a ‘Messi’ game with Gareth Bale scoring yet another in his breathtaking repertoire of fantasy goals to help propel his side into fourth place ahead of Chelsea… There is certainly a lot of twitter around Spurs at present. No longer is Redknapp’s trumpeting of his side’s potential being laughed off as a motivational boast. Spurs are genuine contenders. For the top four certainly and, yes, why not the league title itself?”

Brilliant Baird: Unattractive Fulham, and their modest utility player Chris Baird, force the fifth estate to talk about them this Wednesday after the Cottagers won 2-nil at Stoke.

Saluting Chris Baird was Richard Jolly. “A result Hughes branded ‘season-defining’ came in the most productive game of Baird’s career. The utility player has filled many a role but he had a new job description: scorer. His prowess from distance had been concealed in a 45-month, 101-game run that did not produce a single goal. But, within the space of seven surreal minutes he had two, scored from similar positions.”

Rory Smith was next to chew over Baird’s double. “Both goals were scored, spectacularly, by Chris Baird. Chris Baird the full-back. Chris Baird the full-back who had not scored since March 2007. Even his team-mates – let alone the visiting fans, who had travelled more in hope than expectation – could not believe their eyes.”

Keeping Carlo: Against the swaths of negativity levelled at Chelsea after their recent slump, Jason Burt reports that Carlo Ancelotti has been given the dreaded vote of confidence. “The Russian billionaire insisted that he not only wanted Ancelotti to carry on but accepted that he needed to support him in the transfer market and, it is understood, also acknowledged that mistakes had been made in the manner of the sacking of Ray Wilkins as assistant manager… The club are no longer in the top four and are in real danger of finishing out of the Champions League places.  Chelsea cannot afford for this to happen and however much Abramovich wants to back his manager, he will not want the slide down the table to continue for much longer.”

Rather than focus on Carlo, James Lawton calls out Abramovich’s lack of football knowledge. “If Ancelotti goes the way of Mourinho and Luiz Felipe Scolari, Abramovich’s gunbelt notches will provide the darkest evidence of his extraordinary belief that in football matters he knows best. He will have culled the winners of a World Cup and two South American Cups and four Champions League trophies and a hatful of league titles… Does Ancelotti really want the confidence of Roman Abramovich? He might be reflecting soon that when another Champions League winner, Guus Hiddink, was told he had it, he couldn’t get on his Harley-Davidson fast enough.”

Colombian Football & the Cartels: Sibylla Brodzinsky delivers an excellent in-depth report into the seedy world of Colombian football to reveal how the government are trying to get drug money out of the game. “The latest revelations of money laundering have finally forced the Colombian government to act. President Juan Manuel Santos, a lifelong fan of Santa Fé, has announced a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for narco-football, which he denounced as “repugnant”. In a recent speech he said he would put and end to the ‘macabre relationship between criminals and football.’ The links between Santa Fé and the El Dorado cartel started to emerge last spring in reports from informants and undercover police agents… The Colombian congress is one step away from approving a bill that would make financing of football clubs more transparent, creating incentives for football clubs to become private companies and imposing a requirement for each club to report transactions and player trades to a special unit of the finance ministry that investigates financial crime and money laundering.”

The Gossip: The Daily Mail report on Liverpool that David Ngog is set for a new long-term deal, a loan bid from Birmingham for Ryan Babel has been rejected and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a target for the Scousers.

Staying in the Mail we learn that Fulham want Chris Samba, West Ham are still chasing Dieumerci Mbokani, Curtis Davies is attracting attention from Wolves and Werder Bremen, Manchester City are loosely linked with Pepe, while Colorado Rapids striker Omar Cummings is set for a trial at Villa Park.

The Mirror link Richard Dunne and Stephen Ireland to Celtic, Valon Behrami is trying to force a move to Roma, while Wolves are trying to snare Robbie Keane on loan.

Rounding things off, The Sun claim Manchester United are to bid £12m for Lassana Diarra, while both Villa and Spurs are sniffing around Lyon midfielder Jean Makoun.