Most think Man United have won the title, Arsenal’s Vermaelen gets shots, Spurs fine Ade £160k & mixed reports on Gazza’s health

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “As soon as I saw that result at Southampton, I thought that this was an opportunity for us to get a real comfortable lead. So the changes I originally planned to make, I scrapped, and I ended up making four changes. I was going to make about seven changes and then I thought this is going to be a more important game for us because it gives us a comfortable lead and we can make changes later on. The realistic part of it was that we knew if we could get a result today it puts us in a fantastic position.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.

Runner-up: “When you play football and you are a top player, you should take your responsibility, always. It’s not always the fault of the manager. The players should take responsibility — if they have big b***s. If not, they can’t play in a top team.” – Roberto Mancini.

Man Utd 2 – Everton 0

Dozen look bad! (Martin Blackburn, Sun) Alex Ferguson changed his team plans at the last minute after he smelled blood in the title race. Manchester United moved 12 points clear with just 12 games to go after Fergie went back on plans to rest his stars ahead of the crunch Champions League meeting with Real Madrid.

How Manchester United nullified threat of Everton’s Marouane Fellaini (Michael Cox, Guardian) Whereas defensive players usually concentrate on remaining goalside of opponents, in certain situations – when Fellaini was high up the pitch – Jones was content to get in front of his opponent. A key feature of Fellaini’s game is his ability to bring the ball down on his chest, shield the ball from his opponents, and play in onrushing midfielders. Jones’s brave positioning prevented this and Fellaini’s chest control was barely noticeable.

Leaders move 12 points clear of City and close in on title thanks to Giggs and Van Persie goals (Mail) The only United fixtures that should concern Mancini now are their very winnable Premier League games against QPR, Norwich, Reading, Sunderland and possibly West Ham before the Manchester derby at Old Trafford in April. It could be all over by then.

Match Report (Henry Winter, Telegraph) As City have regressed, United have progressed. Sir Alex Ferguson addressed the two issues that bedevilled his team last term: goals and concentration. Robin van Persie arrived to sharpen the attack and there is a superior resilience to close out games. Ferguson promised there would be no repeat of last April’s surrender of late points to Everton here and experienced players such as Nemanja Vidic did not let him down. Nor did youngsters like Rafael, who has improved markedly, developing his defensive strengths while maintaining his attacking brio. Rafael’s next challenge comes in the Bernabéu on Wednesday: Cristiano Ronaldo.

Is The EPL TItle Race Over? (Hint: Yes!)

It’s official, Manchester United have won the league! (According to Paddy Power anyway) (Sunni Upal, Mail) Manchester United have won their 20th Premier League title… according to Paddy Power anyway. The betting company have decided to ‘give punters an early payday’ as they started to payout on United winning the league before their meeting with Everton at 4pm on Sunday.

Manchester City’s demise – and United’s success – is an abject lesson in failing to spot the signs of complacency (Alan Hansen, Telegraph) I do not see the same spirit and togetherness in the City squad as United. If United gave a first half performance like we had seen from City at St Mary’s, we would have seen Ferguson on the pitch yelling at his players. However flawed City’s current squad is, a 12-point gap would have been inconceivable at the start of the season but it is a fair reflection of the difference in quality and, perhaps most telling, on-pitch attitude. City now have some major decisions to make to get back to where they were last summer. When a side wins the title for the first time, you would normally expect they would keep going at that highest level for another three or four years.

Manchester United make it clear to City: lightning won’t strike twice (Stuart James, Guardian) The title race is all but over. Sir Alex Ferguson will not admit it, and neither will any of his players, especially with the memory of last year’s capitulation still fresh, but there seems little chance of history repeating itself when Manchester United are disappearing into the distance, relentlessly grinding out victories and twisting the knife whenever their neighbours slip-up.

It’s over Roberto (Alan Shearer, Sun) The game is up for Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City. Until Saturday, I was sure they still had a chance of retaining their Premier League title. After all, I tipped them to do just that and did not have any great concerns as the gap at the top of the table between City and United stretched a little. But their display in the 3-1 defeat against Southampton has told me there is no coming back now.

Fight For Second Best (Jamie Redknapp, Mail) After Saturday, Chelsea might be looking towards Manchester City in second. Their 4-1 win over Wigan and the champions’ defeat at Southampton means only four points separate the teams. In the next round of fixtures, they meet at the Etihad. If Rafael Benitez can win, City will be getting nervous.

Champions League

Vermaelen ankle injury is a major worry for Arsenal (Mail) Thomas Vermaelen has had an anti-inflammatory injection in the hope of avoiding ankle surgery. It is Vermaelen’s second ankle injection this season.

Lavish spending has bought Madrid 10 years in the European wilderness (Sam Wallace, Independent) Mourinho is Real’s 10th coach since Vicente Del Bosque, who won the club’s last Champions League title in 2002 and was sacked. And what has he done since? Apart from win a World Cup and a European Championship? In the meantime Madrid have had a collection of misfits and yes-men, with the honourable exception of Fabio Capello. Bernd Schuster, who won a title in 2008, is a difficult one to explain. He has done very little since then. Of course, Madrid are not the only club who spend a fortune on transfer fees. But in a world where constantly lavishing top money on the superstars is unsustainable, Madrid appear to be pressing on with the notion that signing everyone else’s best players is the easiest route to success. But not everyone has been a Ronaldo.

Kenny’s Liverpool

Liverpool form proving that Dalglish was right after all says former assistant Clarke (James Nursey, Mirror) Steve Clarke believes Liverpool are now the form side in the Premier League – thanks to Kenny Dalglish’s signings… Luis Suarez was an instant success at Liverpool and has added a further 22 goals this term. And the recent fine form of Henderson, Downing and Enrique has helped Liverpool lose just once in seven League games. Clarke insisted ahead of Albion’s trip to Anfield tonight: “I am not surprised at all. “Some of the more experienced ones that Kenny signed, it can take a period of time for players to settle into a club the size of Liverpool. Luis Suarez has really settled in the club. But now Stewart Downing is in the team and Jordan and Jose Enrique are doing really well.”

Getting Hammered

No new contract for Allardyce until survival is sealed, says Gold (Mail) West Ham co-chairman David Gold says the club will not talk to manager Sam Allardyce about a new contract until their Barclays Premier League survival is ensured.

Adebayor Isn’t FINE

Late Ade cops £160,000 fine (Sun) Tottenham are set to fine Emmanuel Adebayor £160,000 for returning late from the African Nations Cup… Spurs had to send a private jet to bring back the £80,000-a-week star.

Adebayor set for £160k fine after Spurs are forced to hire jet to get striker back in time for Newcastle (Mail) Adebayor infuriated some Spurs fans this week when he waited until five days after Togo’s elimination from the African Nations Cup before travelling back to London even though he is the club’s only fit striker. He is likely to be fined two weeks wages (a total of £160,000) after Villas-Boas confirmed Tottenham would punish the striker.

Management Malaise

Blame owners like Al-Hasawi for the likes of Neville and Carragher choosing the media, not management (Martin Samuel, Mail) We are in the age of the owner-manager, where the coach is a menial who gets what he is given according to the whims of the chairman and his transfer advisory panel of agents. And these days, the best players, often the best minds, can afford to say no. There is a saner option to be had, observing the madness from a television studio. Gareth Southgate did not want to be the Football Association’s technical director but he is more than happy to discuss the national team as an employee of ITV… Football’s loss is the Press team’s gain. Carragher, Gary Neville, Jamie Redknapp, all would have gone into club management three decades ago. Yet, given the recent events at Forest, is this trend any wonder? Players can afford not to be Al-Hasawi’s latest stooge now. They no longer need to be at the mercy of agents and their dilettante clients. They have nice families and nice lives. Carragher can talk all day about football, which is what he loves, without any of the attendant hassles.

England Are OK

Let’s play like England, with nothing to fear but fear itself (Kevin Garside, Independent) The most pleasing aspect of Wednesday’s victory was not the result but the debunking of the myth that English footballers are somehow technically deficient, that when it comes to the finer points of the game we cannot compete. Along wanders Jack Wilshere into Neymar’s world and plays him off the park. The “samba rhythm” was set by a kid from Hitchin. And, lo, it also turns out that Theo Walcott is not bad either and that England’s creative range extends beyond the capable feet of Wayne Rooney. No wonder Neymar was flummoxed.

Gazza Fundraiser

Gazza Aid (Sun) The Sun is today calling on England football stars to help save stricken legend Paul Gascoigne. New Three Lions sensation Jack Wilshere chipped in £5,000 and said: “I want to do anything I can.” Alcoholic Gazza, 45, faces a £100,000 bill after being rushed into intensive care in the US — and could be in rehab for months.

He’s up and walking about! Gazza fears allied despite rush to hospital after bad reaction to rehab treatment (Mail) Paul Gascoigne is ‘up and about and walking around’ as he shows signs of recovery from the health scare which prompted his dash to an intensive care unit in America last night… Today, Dr John McKeown, the psychotherapist who has worked with Gascoigne for ten years, said there are ‘no fears for his life.’

Match Fixing

Football match-fixing is no surprise – what we need now are solutions (Sean Ingle, Guardian) On Saturday Sepp Blatter insisted that match-fixing affects a tiny percentage of games. But we have seen how interest in leagues across Asia, including China, has dwindled because of the problem. It could yet happen here. Sportradar, which monitors betting markets for Uefa among others, fears up to 1% of matches are fixed every week in Europe – that’s 10 a week. As Forrest points out: “It’s also worrying that many cases, such as the Bochum investigation, which began by looking at prostitution, come to light only by accident. It adds to the fear that this is the tip of the iceberg.” That should make us all pause. Match-fixing could be even bigger than we think. And we may yet be the parents who found their child was smoking marijuana, when they had already moved on to crack cocaine.