“Benitez is far too cautious for the Premier League and Liverpool will always fall short if he keeps making such bizarre substitutions.” – Tony Cascarino

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “What you can’t control, you can’t change and maybe you have to understand it has to be like this for years. I don’t have any psychological battles with him [Ferguson]. He has been here for 22 years and you can see what it means. You can see what it means to stay here for 22 years. I will not say anything else… The second half was a crazy game and when it is a crazy game you can’t control things. Why was it crazy? Because it was crazy. In the last three games there has been something in common that I don’t like. I know what it is, but I can’t say anything.” – Rafa Benitez.

Runner-up: “Edwin is the best keeper I’ve played with. It’s as simple as that. The record, the stuff we’ve won together, the assuredness that he transmits from himself to the back four, is great. I also don’t think I’ve seen a better keeper with his feet to be honest either.” – Rio Ferdinand.

Today’s overview: A negative theme runs through the papers this morning, and the downturns for Liverpool, Arsenal, Middlesbrough, Hull and Wolves are all analysed by Fleet Street.

I cannot get my head around why he took off Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard last night. Would Manchester United sit back on a lead away to Wigan Athletic? Would Sir Alex Ferguson take off his best striker to try to sneak a win against a team that have never beaten a top-four side? Benitez is far too cautious for the Premier League and Liverpool will always fall short if he keeps making such bizarre substitutions.”

Rory Smith argues that Liverpool’s season may be defined by a series of what-ifs. “What if Benitez had not launched his attack on Ferguson? What if his contract had been sorted out? What if Liverpool had one more goal threat?”

Support for Robbie Keane’s Liverpool plight is offered by Lawrence Donegan. “Benitez must have given his approval for the signing of Keane. That being the case, he is hardly justified in behaving as if it was an out-of-body experience over which he had no control. Yet he persists with this implication at immense cost to the club and, more importantly, to the self-esteem of the player.”

In his post match analysis of Arsenal’s draw at Everton, van Persie’s equaliser “served only to paper over the cracks in a team who might have their work cut out finishing in the Champions League places this season… Arsenal were poor, Everton excellent.”

Turning to Eastlands, a club labelled with having “disaster in their DNA,” One can imagine Sheikh Mansour squirming in his palace while Abu Dhabi draws a collective sigh of despair.”

Reported in the Telegraph, the big transfer story this Thursday links Spurs with a £20 million move Roque Santa Cruz. Sam Wallace also picks up on the story, claiming Spurs “have been quoted £22m for Roque Santa Cruz… [after] Redknapp has decided that he would be unwilling to let Aaron Lennon go to Liverpool as part of a deal involving the England winger, plus money for Keane.”

Keeping with the transfer rumours, the Mirror claim “Sam Allardyce has put Bosnian goal machine Edin Dzeko on top of his wish-list as Roque Santa Cruz moves towards the exit at Ewood Park.” Meanwhile, John Cross announces that “Fulham have lodged a £2.5m bid for teenage Leeds midfielder Fabian Delph… [while also] lining up a move to sign Tottenham midfielder Tom Huddlestone.”

In a statement which usually leads to an immanent sacking, Dominic Fifield reports how the Pompey “board retain faith in their young manager [Tony Adams]… [providing] further financial backing before the ­closure of the transfer window as he seeks to add at least two further faces to bolster his squad.”

With Boro winless in 11 matches, Paul Doyle wonders whether “Middlesbrough need a new manager, new players or new ideas, or perhaps some combination of the three?” And the same theme is transferred on Hull (without a win in six matches) by Tom Dart, asking “is it time to place the Tigers of Hull City on the Barclays Premier League’s endangered list?” While dropping down into the Championship, Mikey Stafford investigates whether its deja vu again at Molineux as Wolves have conspired to see their 11-point lead shrink down to just two points.

In other Premier League news, Rory Smith praises Dimitar Berbatov’s role for United (“he is the pivot, his guile crucial as the team fluidly switches from defence to attack.”) and Urmee Khan reports how football highlights will be available on the BBC iPlayer for the first time under a new Premier League contract.

Finally, the excellent Jonathan Wilson, the Guardian’s Eastern European boffin, tells the story of how Stanimar Stoilov has become the favourite for the Bulgaria national job.


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