Juventus & Real Madrid battle for Liverpool’s Benitez, West Ham & Celtic want Pompey’s Grant while Newcastle are linking with realistic transfer targets

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “I know Drogba is a world-class player but he could play world-class volleyball for anybody on that evidence. And if it hit Terry on his shoulder then, in that case, he must have a shoulder that stretches down to his ankles. We didn’t need any luck tonight. We only needed the officials to get the big decisions right. I can accept it if they’ve not seen it if they’re out of position but, for the second one, he says it’s hit Terry’s shoulder. That’s not happened, so that’s a poor decision. I can’t recall any favourable decisions going our way since I came to Bolton. I can recall a few that have gone against us. It’s hard to take, but there you are. Chelsea are big favourites now and, if they keep getting decisions like that going their way, then Carlo will be rubbing his hands.” – Owen Coyle.

Runner-up: “Cesc has a place for Arsenal in his heart but he has Barcelona in his blood. He will want to win the biggest prizes in football and I expect him to do that at Barcelona. I don’t know exactly when that will be but I expect him to be my Barcelona team-mate again at some point. When you group up at a club, it is more than just a club. The players, the people in the club will be like family.” – Lionel Messi.

Today’s overview: While a small debate rages over whether Bolton’s performance at Stamford Bridge suggests that Chelsea may or may not canter to the Premier League championship, the other main stories surrounds Rafa’s Italian suitor  and the standard sprinkling of transfer lies.

Chelsea march on: After earning a narrow 1-nil victory over Bolton on Tuesday night to increase their lead at the top of the league, Paul Hayward refuses to entertain thoughts that the slender victory means the Blues are liable to blow it. “Some will think Manchester United should take encouragement from the desperation in Chelsea’s countenance as Bolton subjected them to a late aerial assault. More likely is that Ancelotti’s men now know they can survive the muck and nettles of English folklore. Goal-scoring records have been smashed but now the 1-0 win will do. United and Arsenal will cling to the belief that both Spurs and Liverpool remain capable of inflicting misery on the leaders at White Hart Lane and Anfield. On this evidence they had better be well-armed.”

Yet others do believe that Bolton proved that the title race is still very much alive.

According to Tom Dart, “this was far from comfortable, even after Chelsea seized the lead. The result suggests the title is near-certain; the performance tells another tale. It was nervous, not imperious… There are trips to White Hart Lane and Anfield ahead and near the end, as Johan Elmander and Ivan Klasnic, two Bolton substitutes, put decent chances narrowly wide and the Stamford Bridge crowd bayed and begged for the final whistle, this seemed less a march towards the title than a tip-toe on tenterhooks.”

Rafa, the Old Lady & Real: All of a sudden the conversation on Merseyside is not whether manager Rafa Benitez should be sacked, but rather whether the Spaniard will walk out of Anfield for Juventus.

Andy Hunter delivers the skinny that “Juventus have asked Benítez for a decision on his career plans within the next 10 days as they attempt to finalise their shortlist to succeed Alberto Zaccheroni at the Stadio Olimpico… Benítez is also under consideration by Real Madrid, as the club he served as player, youth-team coach, reserve-team coach and assistant manager discuss the options to replace the current coach, Manuel Pellegrini, should he fail to win La Liga this season… Despite firm interest from Real and Juventus, a poor season with Liverpool and his public frustrations with the financial constraints at Anfield, Benitez would prefer to remain on Merseyside providing serious investment materialises in the coming months.”

Ratcheting up the pressure on Benitez, Rory Smith barks “sources in Turin insist the Italian club are “90 per cent” confident of landing the Liverpool manager and hope to be given an indication of his intent by the end of next week… Whoever replaces Zaccheroni could be handed transfer funds of as much as £70 million, though that figure is likely to include money raised through selling off a number of established stars, including the Italian international goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, a target for Manchester City.”

Struggling Spurs: Ahead of Wednesday night’s north London derby, Rob Kelly lays into Tottenham as another disappointing season looms. “Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final defeat to Portsmouth may merely prove a precursor to greater disappointment to come. Tottenham’s Champions League hopes have not yet been extinguished, but with Manchester City four points clear it is hard to countenance Redknapp’s team usurping their rivals. Tottenham also face an unenviable run-in: following the Arsenal match they host Chelsea, travel to Manchester United, face Bolton at White Hart Lane, visit Eastlands to take on Manchester City and close the season at Burnley. Fourth place is starting to resemble a mirage hovering in the near distance, that Tottenham just cannot reach.”

Fighting fit & the walking wounded: Daniel Taylor gives a boost to England and Manchester United fans writing “Wayne Rooney has declared himself available for the remainder of Manchester United’s faltering title campaign after undergoing intensive treatment on his damaged right ankle.”

But for every up there is a down, and the Guardian balance out the injury news by announcing “Aaron Lennon has added to Fabio Capello’s concerns before the World Cup by breaking down in training, further delaying his return to first-team action.”

Grant in demand: Spinning the managerial merry-go-round, Darren Lewis coughed “Portsmouth will beg Avram Grant to stay on next season with the Israeli now one of the most sought-after coaches in football… Grant is highly regarded by West Ham’s new owners and there has even been speculation linking him with Celtic.”

Transfer Talk: Gordon Tynan kicks things off with a straight-forward, easy to swallow piece of news that “Alan Hutton is hoping to make his loan move from Tottenham Hotspur to Sunderland permanent in the summer.”

The Daily Mail begin their lies with news that West Ham, Wolves and Newcastle are all vying for the £5m signature of Spurs’ Jamie O’Hara. Staying with the Magpies’ recruitment drive, the Daily Mail also chug “Newcastle manager Chris Hughton is considering handing Swindon’s Charlie Austin a fairytale switch to the Premier League,” while Alan Nixon continues the theme scribbling “Chris Hughton wants Portsmouth’s Marc Wilson to boost his squad for the Premier League.”

The Daily Mail aren’t done there though, as they spin a woolly article reporting “Luis Suarez insists he is in no rush to leave Ajax for Chelsea. The Uruguay striker has been linked to both Manchester United and City, but the Blues were thought to be in pole position for his summer signature after reportedly securing first refusal with his agent Daniel Fonseca.”

An overreaching article from John Percy in The Star splutters “Wigan striker Hugo Rodallega, 24, West Ham midfielder Scott Parker, 29, and Real Zaragoza winger Jermaine Pennant, 27, are all ambitious targets on the Stoke shopping list. And Pulis is also desperate to reward winger Matty Etherington, 28, with a new contract after another excellent season from the £2m signing.”

Finally, the Daily Mirror spew news that “Stoke and Blackburn are gearing up for a summer scrap to land Joe Ledley,” while also adding that “Wigan boss Roberto Martinez is trying to sign Honduras World Cup star Emilio Izaguirre.”