Bashing Berbatov, should Benitez have subbed Torres, why Thierry Henry is a Barca outcast & Everton eye Ajax defender

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “I’m bitterly disappointed with it, it wasn’t a red card. Maybe a yellow card, but I think I would still have been screaming at the referee, so to get a red card for that is an absolute disgrace. Denilson has dropped Rosicky short, I’ve gone in to win it and I’ve nicked the ball. Their player has come in, [Thomas] Vermaelen and whoever else, trying to get me sent off. Two minutes later, Rosicky’s up running around and absolutely fine. That’s what they do here. I don’t think it’s pretty, it’s not good. Their players moan when they get tackled, when they get hit hard, and so does Arsène Wenger. I certainly wouldn’t be running over trying to get a player sent off. We know that’s the game we are in – I think here in particular. Arsenal moan a lot, their players go down like a sack of spuds. They get hit hard like any other clubs do and we are hearing about it for weeks and weeks. To get sent off is a disgrace. They are a great side and we love Arsenal’s great football, but when they are rolling around getting people sent off, it makes you not want to see them do so well.” – Karl Henry.

Runner-up: “Rooney is a fantastic player who is difficult to replace with another player. Berbatov is good but Rooney is totally different. Rooney can sometimes come back to receive the ball and use it for all the team and then he can attack in any direction. He is an unbelievable player. It is not a good moment for United after losing to Bayern during the week and because they have lost a very important player. It’s not easy for United to maintain their characteristic and momentum without Rooney. But they have the possibility to move on and I hope they get to the semi-final.” – Carlo Ancelotti.

Today’s overview: Dimitar Berbatov finds himself under a barrage of criticism again this Monday for having failed to sparkle in Manchester United’s 2-1 home defeat to Chelsea on Saturday.

Daniel Taylor though suggests that Sir Alex Ferguson has made errors in dealing with his attackers over the longer term. “Berbatov will inevitably find himself grazing in the scapegoat’s paddock but one also wonders whether Ferguson, somewhere at the back of his mind, wishes he still had Tevez. Ferguson is not usually one for regrets and Tevez might not have the touch of Berbatov or the appreciation of space. But he has 22 goals in 21 league games for Manchester City this season and could yet squeeze on to the shortlist for Footballer of the Year, behind Rooney, Didier Drogba, Cesc Fábregas and a couple of others.”

Following a similar line while looking forward to the Champions League, Alan Hansen calls out Berba as a “luxury” player. “Sir Alex will stick with Dimitar Berbatov because, without Rooney, he has run out of options. The Berbatov situation poses a dilemma for the United manager because he is a totally different player to Rooney. If you are a centre-back lining up against Berbatov, you know that you will not be troubled by him mentally. He doesn’t run the channels or offer a physical threat… Berbatov is a luxury player. He is a very talented player, but he is a luxury and, when you have one of those, the other nine outfield players have to perform. If only five or six perform, then the luxury is still a luxury. Carlos Tevez, who Sir Alex allowed to leave the club last summer, is anything but a luxury player. He could play 100,000 games and not run out of enthusiasm. We have been over the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo many times, but losing both him and Tevez was a double whammy for United.”

Heading off a slight tangent, all the papers suggest that Wayne Rooney could make a surprise return for United against Bayern Munich this week, while Ian Herbert goes a step further by offering percentages. “The possibility of Wayne Rooney completing an astonishing recovery from his ankle injury in time to face Bayern Munich at Old Trafford on Wednesday has not been ruled out, with the Manchester United striker understood to have a 40 per cent chance of making an appearance.”

Widening the Manchester United discussion, Patrick Barclay believes that Fergie is under the microscope. “Even after all these years and all the success he has brought to United, Ferguson finds himself under pressure. To be outmanoeuvred by fellow Champions League winners — first Louis van Gaal and then Ancelotti — in individual matches is no disgrace, but to finish the season with nothing at the age of 68 might subtly alter perceptions of him.”

Unable to Chalm Down: Another awful weekend for LIverpool saw the Scousers drop two crucial points at Birmingham. Yet the story of the match was Rafa Benitez’s decision to sub Fernando Torres.

Backing up Benitez’s call was Sandy Macaskill. “The fact that Fernando Torres was replaced by David Ngog after just 63 minutes offers some idea of how limited Liverpool were offensively. Punishment for a quiet performance or protecting him for Benfica on Thursday? Take your pick, but this was one of the Spaniard’s less convincing performances.”

Without pushing the boat out too far, f body language counts for anything, he is one unhappy Spaniard, a mood not helped when he picked up an injury to his right knee and was replaced by David Ngog in the 65th minute. The look of puzzlement on Torres’s face, like a little boy lost amid the general malaise at Anfield, said it all. The jeers of the home fans as he trudged off, to place an ice pack on the knee, completed a picture of misery.”

Always happy to stick his neck out, Tony Cascarino ramped up the negative analysis of Benitez. “Rafael Benítez suggested that Alberto Aquilani’s injury problems are in his mind; well, I can’t work out what’s going on in the Liverpool manager’s head. He’s like the Riddler, full of puzzles. Liverpool looked great playing 4-4-2 against Sunderland last week, but he ditches the formation; then he brings on David Ngog for Fernando Torres yesterday. Baffling.”

Also happy to slate Benitez, Martin Samuel mocks the Spaniard for his treatment of Alberto Aquilani. “All we ever hear of Rafael Benitez is his thoroughness and obsessive attention to detail. So how come he was the only manager on the planet who did not know that Alberto Aquilani, his £17million replacement for Xabi Alonso, was injury prone? He was injured when Liverpool bought him, for heaven’s sake.”

Blowing Bubbles: West Ham salvaged a creditable point at Everton on Sunday, but can the Hammers stave off the drop?

Tony Barrett fears for the Eastenders after they lost their best player for the next two games. “[Scott] Parker was the embodiment of that spirit, chasing causes that were seemingly lost, hassling, harrying and beseeching those around him to do likewise. It is how West Ham cope in the absence of their midfield heartbeat — Parker will miss their next two games through suspension having picked up his tenth booking of the season — that will go a long way towards determining if the East London club can avert relegation.”

Is Thierry Henry in or out: Two very different angles are given over the likelihood of Theirry Henry facing Arsenal in the Nou Camp this week.

Starting with the positive,

Countering that view, Pete Jensen detailed how Henry is out of favour at Barca. “The injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic that has ruled him out of tomorrow’s second leg Champions League quarter-final with Arsenal is unlikely to hand Thierry Henry a starting berth as doubts continue to be cast over whether the Frenchman will ever start a game for Barcelona again… Critics were unhappy with the way they perceived the Frenchman allowed his warm-up ahead of his second-half introduction at the Emirates to be disturbed with handshakes and smiles to old Arsenal acquaintances. He was also blamed for the Gunners’ second goal, having given the ball away ahead of Carles Puyol’s penalty on Cesc Fabregas, and was slated for his decision to remain in the centre-circle at the end of the game to applaud home supporters while his devastated team-mates disappeared down the tunnel, having thrown away a two-goal lead for the first time in over a year’s football.”

Op-eds: Pining after technology in football, James Lawton decries Drogba’s winner at Old Trafford as proof that things need to change. “Didier Drogba’s almost laughably illicit goal might just be the decisive factor in an enthralling season-long battle… Presumably, most officials are keener on football justice prevailing at all times rather than the mere burnishing of their egos. A word in the ear of Saturday’s offending linesman, sorry, assistant referee, would surely have been welcomed by him if it meant that he might not always be remembered as the man who so haplessly made a possibly crucial contribution to the 2009-10 title race.”

Turning to La Liga, Gabriele Marcotti investigates the imbalances in La Liga and the problem of unpaid wages and costs for many top flight Spanish teams. “Inequalities in La Liga have always been stark. But this season they seem especially steep… The Spanish league has sported plenty of strength in depth over the past decade or so — witness Valencia’s two league titles, Uefa Cup win and two Champions League finals; Seville’s two Uefa Cups; and Champions League semi-final appearances from Villarreal and Deportivo La Coruña — but that success was also a function of gross overspending as clubs tried to keep up with the big two. Now they are paying the price.”

Transfer Lies: We begin with a believable transfer story as

Far more unlikely, the Daily Mail spews “Everton are trailing Ajax defender Jan Vertonghen,” before also farting news that “Blackburn Rovers want to tie up a deal for Aruna Dindane this week and follow up with a summer move for Stuttgart striker Cacau.” The Daily Mail also has room for the rumour that “Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish is lining up a summer bid for Cardiff City’s £2million-rated Scotland winger Chris Burke.”

Off-beat: We end with an interesting story from Ian Herbert in football tackling anti-semitism. “Another detestable bias which football is preparing to tackle. This column can reveal that Frank Lampard has been signed up by David Baddiel for a two-minute film, The Y Word, which seeks to highlight the abhorrence of anti-semitic chanting and consign it to the past. The film by Baddiel and his writer brother, Ivor, both Chelsea fans, will highlight the use of the word “Yid” in chants. Securing the support of players to deal with homophobia in football is a more challenging task but it must be the next.”


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