Shambolic Manchester United are a wounded animal at crisis point

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “We’ve opened up the title race. But if you ask me, I still think United will win it.” – Roy Hodgson.

Runner-up: “When I saw the results I thought this was a good opportunity for us to take advantage of the other results and get closer to the top. You never know. Even if it’s a chance out of a billion we want to fight and come back as close as we can to the top team. We feel we are on a very good run and we are improving from game to game. We have a very young side and the spirit is great and quality is there and we feel that we go forward from game to game. People don’t realise how we are very young and today you had six or seven players between 20 and 22 on the pitch.” – Arsene Wenger.

Today’s overview: Manchester United, quite rightly, are put in their place this Sunday for their poor performance at Fulham.

Amy Lawrence barked “the wounded animal is flailing,” Malcolm Folley farts “Sir Alex Ferguson reached crisis point,” Ian Chadband charges United with “serious question marks over both his side’s temperament and ability to stop the blip turning into a full-blown crisis,” while Steve Tongue titled his match review under the heading “Shambolic United submit to Murphy’s law.”

The Observer pen an open letter following on from United’s loss. “Have United shot their bolt? Are they bottling it? Or did they simply lose today because Scholes committed an act of monumental stupidity?”

Fulham were magnificent, feisty, resolute, intelligent, controlled by United’s old bugbear Danny Murphy in the first period and kept intact by Mark Schwarzer’s heroic goalkeeping in the second.”

The big question is whether Liverpool can capitalise as they face Aston Villa today, with Henry Winter pointing out the Reds’ captain fantastic for inspiration. “Anfield will look to Gerrard over the obstacle-strewn finishing straight… The onus rests on Gerrard.” Steve Tongue however has his doubts of a Reds’ win, highlighting “in Villa they face a wounded animal whose instinctive reaction may be to lash out.”

Guus Hiddink’s first loss at Chelsea could be long-lasting, “you suspect that the Blues’ title aspirations crashed and burnt here.”

Hugh McIlvanney uses his weekly column in the Sunday Times to hope Arsenal win the Champions League. “It seems an injustice that a football man as brilliant as Wenger, one so gifted in building and deploying teams committed to playing beautifully, has been denied a fulfilment he plainly craves with a consuming fervour.”

With the imminent return of international football, Amy Lawrence investigates why Italian managers are so respected. “Consider the stock of Italy’s top footballing masterminds right now. Marcello Lippi is the world champion. Capello has made England unrecognisable from the bewildered underachievers who made such a disappointment of their last qualifying campaign. Giovanni Trapattoni is doing something similar with the Republic of Ireland.”

Henry Winter takes Ashley Cole to task bitching “he could be a decent role model if he wasn’t such a serial prat in other parts of his life.”

Picking up on the latest developments in the never-ending Carlos Tevez affair, Rod Liddle laments how money is at the root cause of most issues in modern football. “The motivation for this clamouring is pure financial greed, where chance must not be allowed to intrude. And yet football is at heart also a game of chance.” Rob Shepherd is right behind echoing the same sentiment, arguing “the blame culture must stop now. If football allows ambulance-chasing lawyers run amok the next thing we’ll see is clubs being sued for playing rubbish football.”

Piers Morgan takes layers off of Phil Brown for his behaviour following Hull’s defeat at the Emirates. “Phil Brown is football’s answer to John Prescott. And I find that rather sad. Because both men worked their socks off for their respective causes, achieved genuinely great things in their careers, and should have earned universal admiration.”

Onto the transfer rumours, and we start with tales of a potential manager merry-go-round. According to Bob Cass, AZ Alkmaar boss Louis van Gaal is being primed for Sunderland (after losing a load of cash in the Madoff scandal), while over in the Sunday Express John Richardson bleats “Chelsea are ready to appoint former Barcelona boss Frank Rijkaard as their new manager in the summer.” But the Chelsea manager situation is muddied by Steve Stammers, reporting that “Guus Hiddink is paving the way for his permanent transfer to Chelsea.

The Mail on Sunday kick things off refusing to let the David Villa-Man City link lie announcing Sparky “fancies another crack at Valencia marksman Villa if the Spaniards halve their £50million valuation” before writing that Elano, Benjani, Caceido, Fernandes, Schmeichel, Jo, Garrido, Hamann, Mills, Vassell and Ball will all exit Eastlands this summer. Rob Shepherd promotes a different striker on City’s radar penning “Manchester City have made the first move to offer Thierry Henry a sensational return to the Premier League.”

The £100 million Liverpool war-chest is being readied, the Sunday Mirror claiming “Benitez’s list of targets includes David Villa and David Silva of Valencia, Gareth Barry at Villa and Antonio Valencia at Wigan.” But the Reds are also said to be looking to tie up their own assests, Chris Bascombe writing that “Steven Gerrard will be offered a new £30million deal to spearhead the rest of Rafa Benitez’s reign.”

Other rumours included the NOTW’s report that “Everton  have lined up PSV whizkid Dirk Marcellis,” with the red-top going on to claim “Arsenal want to make a move for Lille star Yohan Cabaye.” The People add the story that “Stoke will make a summer move for Paris St Germain forward Fabrice Pancrate – if they stay in the Premier League,” before closing out with rumours that “Manchester United youngsters Rodrigo Possebon and Federico Macheda are wanted on loan by Scottish giants Rangers for next season.”

The Sundays carry the usual selection of interviews. With reasons to be chipper,

Petrol-head Jeremy Clarkson admits that he has now becom a Chelsea fan. “Chelsea are the only team that can play. Chelsea players have by far the most impressive reproductive organs. Stamford Bridge is my church. The men who play there are my Gods. In short, I have a team, and that’s what’s always been missing. Because I was born in Doncaster.”