Mancini thinks Man City can catch United, Chelsea want Mourinho back, Spurs’ Bale praised, Stoke demand £15m for Begovic & Save Gazza

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “The title isn’t over, no. Absolutely no way,’ said Mancini. ‘Why? Because of last season, and also for the way we have played this season. In two games, it could open up again. But we probably need to win most, if not all, of the games. But this is football, it is not finished. I think like last year, we can get back in it. I don’t see why this can’t happen again this year. Last year we caught up eight points in six games, this year we still have 13 games and (United) still have the FA Cup and Champions’ League. It is not finished.” – Roberto Mancini.

Runner-up: “It was a beautiful feeling. One goal is for my family, the other for my agent and they go in the face of those who said I’m not a player for Milan. I should have been on the bench but Giampaolo Pazzini had a problem and I played from the start. It went well. I’m happy even if the game was difficult. My legs are still heavy.” – Mario Balotelli.

Mou Eyes A Chelsea Comeback

Jose: Let me save Chelsea (Rob Beasley, Sun) Jose Mourinho is ready to return to Stamford Bridge and rescue his beloved Chelsea. All the Special One is waiting for is the call from Blues’ billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, who is desperately seeking a new manager to take over from reviled interim boss Rafa Benitez.

Faltering Chelsea start to court legend Jose in bid to return to special way (Matt Barlow, Mail) Chelsea have started the process of negotiation with Jose Mourinho about his potential availability in the summer and his desire to return to Stamford Bridge. It is tentative at this stage but contact has been made and Roman Abramovich is interested in enticing the Real Madrid manager back to London.

Broken Bridge (Jamie Redknapp, Mail) The spirit we associate with Chelsea has disappeared. They collapsed like a deck of cards in a gale at Newcastle and have gone from being four points off the top when Roberto Di Matteo was sacked to 16 points adrift!  They are in danger of missing out on the top four unless they end this dip.

Man City 2 – Liverpool 2

Liverpool are not far from being a real force, says Brendan Rodgers (Andy Hunter, Guardian) “That game typified our season,” said Brendan Rodgers. “We were outstanding in our game and in our model of work but we were punished for our mistakes. It’s difficult, because it is a game we should have won. Once we eliminate those mistakes, and we will do because there is too much great work going on, the draws will turn into wins and we will be a real force.” Judging by the reaction of Liverpool’s travelling fans after the draw, more fervent support than Reina-style despair, that belief is shared.

Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge stretch Manchester City to the limit (Michael Cox, Guardian) Sturridge and Suárez have developed an impressive partnership – here, Sturridge offered pace in behind while Suárez found space between the lines, the variety stretching the Manchester City defence in different directions. Sturridge’s movement towards the left throughout the first half was particularly noteworthy – perhaps it was a coincidence, but with City playing the left-footed Matija Nastasic as the right-sided centre-back, something Roberto Mancini tries to avoid, there was some logic in drawing the Serb into an unfamiliar zone. But Sturridge and Suárez were also able to swap positions – the Uruguayan inevitably tried to dribble powerfully towards goal, while Sturridge’s excellent equaliser arrived after a very deliberate bit of movement away from the defence into a pocket of space 25 yards from goal.

Aguero’s flash of genius not enough to restore self-belief of doubting champions (James Lawton, Independent) The truth is that it will take more than the return of Kompany and Toure – and Aguero’s blazing refusal to accept the concept of defeat – to return City to any serious chance of retaining their title.

WBA 0 – Spurs 1

Popov showed all that’s wrong with the modern footballer (Graham Poll, Mail) Spitting at an opponent is a disgusting and cowardly act and has rightly been given its own category within Law 12. What then amazed me was the way Popov reacted to Mark Clattenburg’s quick intervention. The player appeared stunned and denied any wrong-doing. Having clearly committed the act, he should have left the pitch shame-faced.

Steve Clarke left fuming and ‘disgusted’ by Goran Popov’s mouthful (Stuart James, Guardian) It would be fair to say that West Bromwich Albion have had better weeks. If the sight of Peter Odemwingie parked up outside Loftus Road on deadline day, shaking hands with supporters of a club that he would never join, bordered on the ridiculous, the image of Goran Popov aiming a mouthful of phlegm at Kyle Walker represented madness of a completely different kind. Throw in two league defeats, against Everton and Tottenham Hotspur, and Albion will be glad to see the back of the past seven days.

Bale screamer sustains Champions League bid after Popov is sent off for ugly spitting incident (Neil Moxley, Mail) It was the winger-cum-full-back-cum-striker’s 11th goal of the season which lifted his club into fourth place, just four points behind Chelsea with a game in hand. And it capped a thoroughly wonderful individual performance from a player who is proving himself a man for all positions, never mind all seasons. The Wales international has already been acknowledged as one of the best wingers in the world.But much more of this and questions will surely follow as to whether he is one of the best players on the planet, full stop.

Gareth Bale the bullet makes light of Tottenham Hotspurs’ striker shortage against West Bromwich Albion (Sam Wallace, Independent) Some days you just have to sit back and admire the ability of Bale, as powerful and sleek as a bullet train gliding through the suburbs on the occasions when he ran at the West Bromwich Albion defence, and capable of the kind of explosive shooting that brought him the game’s only goal… It was Bale’s 11th league goal of the season, nine of which have come away from White Hart Lane. He is starting to make that race for third place look interesting.

Ashley Cole: The Centurion 

Ashley Cole will richly deserve his 100th cap – he is the perfect player at both end of the pitch (Alan Hansen, Telegraph) If you win one international cap, it does not necessarily mean you are a great player. If you win 10, the jury might still be out. There are even those who have played over 20 times for their country who you could look at and say they are no more than decent. Once you have reached 100, there is no argument.

Just as Cole reaches the elusive century, he is no longer England’s best left-back (Sam Wallace, Independent) Cole, 32, is a brilliant footballer in so many ways. It is sad, when compared to the other England centurions, that the public perception of him is so negative – an outcome partly, but not entirely, his own fault. Now, on 99 caps, and about to join a select group currently comprising only six men, he has finally been overtaken on the field. If Roy Hodgson had to pick the best current English left-back to face Brazil on Wednesday, that would be Leighton Baines.

QPR: They Had To Spend

Attacking QPR for spending is like asking a drowning man not to swim (Martin Samuel, Mail) So what else were Queens Park Rangers to do? Bottom of the league, the Championship and a financial disaster looming, what was the mysterious plan B that they should have tried? Accept your fate? Go quickly and quietly? Kiss your ass goodbye, perhaps? Criticism of Rangers chairman Tony Fernandes for spending big in the transfer window is akin to castigating a drowning man for trying to swim. No, it wasn’t the most auspicious start on Saturday, and those predicting doom and economic despair for the club will believe their fears justified by a goalless home draw against Norwich City.

Transfer Lies: Stoke Hardball Over Begovic

Stoke will demand £15m from Manchester United for Asmir Begovic (Alan Nixon, Mirror) Manchester United will have to pay £15million for keeper target Asmir Begovic – as Stoke City dig in for a transfer battle with the Premier League giants. Boss Sir Alex Ferguson has made the Bosnian international his top choice to replace David de Gea but the Potters want a massive fee for their bargain capture from Portsmouth.

Injury Watch

Defoe KO hits AVB (Sun) Jermain Defoe is out of England’s friendly with Brazil and could miss the next three weeks for Spurs… With Emmanuel Adebayor only just ready to return from African Nations Cup duty, the Spurs boss has Clint Dempsey as his only fit frontman after failing to bring in another attacker last month.

Harry: R’s will cash in (Sun) Loic Remy faces THREE MONTHS out after picking up a groin injury in training on Friday. He will get the results of a scan later today.

Fears Grow About Paul Gascoigne

The shocking picture of Paul Gascoigne which shows how far the football legend has sunk (Mirror) The photo of the dishevelled ex-footballer – seemingly unashamed to be relieving himself outside – will shock his many fans.

Save Paul Gascoigne (Jerry Lawton, Star) An international rescue mission was last night underway to save Paul Gascoigne’s life after a booze meltdown… Yesterday alcohol counsellors were trying to get him an emergency passport so they can jet him to a specialist rehab clinic in Marbella, Spain. Gazza, 45, has lost his travel documents. In the meantime, the former footballer continued to hit the bottle as his bender lurched into a fourth day and he was spotted urinating from his balcony in Boscombe, Dorset.

Gazza’s battle is tougher than any he faced on the pitch (Alan Shearer, Sun) I do not want a call telling me that the life of another pal, Paul Gascoigne, has also ended tragically early. The difference with Gazza is that all the warning signs are there and have been for some time. For those who will be quick to criticise a player who had it all and has lost his way should be careful. Gazza has tried very hard to beat his demons — travelling as far as America for lengthy treatment. He moved to Bournemouth to find help there. A year ago I met Gazza on a flight to Newcastle where he was with someone who would travel with him to keep him safe from the addictions. Unfortunately that battle is a much tougher one than he ever faced on a football field.

Don’t let Gazza die like George (Sun) Alex Best, 41, spoke out after The Sun revealed how former England ace Gazza was back on the booze. Alex said: “Seeing Gazza in such a bad way brings back the most horrible memories of George when he was in the grip of the drink that eventually killed him. It’s heartbreaking to see Paul so deeply gripped by his addiction again.”