Sir Alex Ferguson set for touchline ban as Chris Smalling parties after Chelsea defeat

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “We are very much in the race. If we win our games, it depends on us. We’ll give it absolutely everything as the League is the most important trophy for us. We play Man United at home and we will see where we stand then. We dropped points at the start but since November, we are consistent at home. That will be vital. The run-in is tight and I don’t rule out Chelsea or Man City. If we maintain our consistency, we have a very good chance.” – Arsene Wenger.

Runner-up: “If I had to do it again I would do the same thing. With those other players I still don’t think we could have beaten Manchester City here tonight. The team I picked were all internationals and all doing well. We conceded a cheap goal very quickly and I don’t think Downing or Young could have prevented that going in. We were beaten by a team that is better than us at the moment and were ruthless in terms of goal chances. Am I still worried about relegation? Of course I am. We have a really important game at Bolton on Saturday.” – Gerard Houllier.

Carlo Ancelotti on Fernando Torres: “We don’t have to compare them. Torres didn’t score but I don’t ask my strikers to score. I ask them to play for the team. Torres did a very good job with that. People judge him on the goals he scored but I have to look at different things about his performance. He worked for the team, put pressure on the defenders, moved well in front and worked hard. That’s enough for me. Ask him, not me, if it will affect him but I don’t think it will. I’m not asking him to score.”

Today’s overview: There may have been plenty of football played last night but the Manchester United defeat at Chelsea on Tuesday takes up most of the column inches.

The Sun reveal that Chris Smalling “has been banned by a hotel after inviting drunken girls to a wild all-night party” just hours after the loss at Stamford Bridge.

All the papers report that Sir Alex Ferguson faces a suspension for his comments about referee Martin Atkinson. Graham Poll and James Lawton both leap to his defence although both Brian Moore and Tom Lutz question the thinking of the veteran Scot.

On Chelsea, the Daily Mail lavish plenty more praise on David Luiz and both Matt Barlow and Sam Wallace look into their crystal balls to see who will win the Premier League.

On last night’s FA Cup action, there are reports of another Mark Clattenburg blunder, criticism of Gerard Houllier’s team selection at Eastlands and Nicklas Bendtner is hailed as the answer for Barcelona after his hat-trick against Leyton Orient.

Chris Smalling parties after Chelsea defeat: The main story in The Sun this morning centres on the Manchester United central defender. “Man Utd star Chris Smalling has been banned by a hotel after inviting drunken girls to a wild all-night party – immediately after a crushing defeat. The Red Devils ace, 21, conceded the late penalty which clinched Chelsea’s 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday. He then asked the girls to his swish London hotel and partied till 4.30am, racking up a £2,400 room service bill. Lanky Smalling invited a bunch of pals and a bevy of beauties into his sumptuous £2,000-a-night suite. And the dozen-strong group got stuck into a noisy, booze-fuelled bash during which a wardrobe was damaged and other guests disturbed. It only ended at 4.30am yesterday after furious hotel bosses called a halt.”

Fergie set for TV trial: Andrew Dillon reports “Alex Ferguson faces ‘trial by TV’ after the FA demanded to see film footage of his Stamford Bridge rant against referee Martin Atkinson. And the refs’ union also demanded the Manchester United boss apologise publicly or come clean on why he thinks Atkinson is incompetent. FA chiefs have until 4pm on Friday to decide whether to hit Fergie with an improper conduct charge for questioning Atkinson’s ‘strength and fairness’ after United controversially lost 2-1 at Chelsea on Tuesday night. Ferguson already has a suspended two-match touchline ban hanging over him from blasting ref Alan Wiley in October 2009 and labelling him ‘unfit’.”

Daniel Taylor adds “Sir Alex Ferguson is facing the possibility of a minimum two-match touchline ban for his outspoken criticisms of the referee Martin Atkinson. The Football Association’s lawyers are deliberating over whether to open proceedings against the Manchester United manager following his reaction to the 2-1 defeat by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. United have already spoken to their own legal advisers and Ferguson has indicated he intends to plead not guilty if he is to face disciplinary action for the fifth time in as many years. The expectation within Old Trafford is that he will be charged and Ferguson already has two matches of a four-game touchline ban hanging over him as a suspended sentence for his condemnation of Alan Wiley in 2009 as not being physically fit to officiate in the Premier League.”

David McDonell points out that the FA need the help of MUTV. “The FA want MUTV, Manchester United’s own television channel, to drop Sir Alex Ferguson in it by sending them the tape of his potentially-incriminating interview. Fergie will learn today whether he will be charged with improper conduct following his outburst on ref Martin Atkinson following United’s 2-1 defeat at Chelsea. The United boss was fiercely critical of Atkinson in his post-match interview with MUTV, who have been asked by the FA to hand over footage of it. However, MUTV are under no obligation to comply with the FA request, because they, unlike United, do not come under their jurisdiction.”

The Daily Mail also add that “Referees are demanding a public apology from Sir Alex Ferguson for an apparent slur on the integrity of Martin Atkinson. Last night the referees’ union weighed into the row as the FA deliberate on whether tocharge the Manchester United boss over his comments following his side’s 2-1 defeat at Chelsea on Tuesday night. Alan Leighton, whose union Prospect is engaged to represent match officials, said: ‘The ball is in Sir Alex’s court. I’m less interested in whether he’s charged than removing this stigma from the referee at Stamford Bridge.”

For the second day running Graham Poll defends Fergie. “Ferguson’s side suffered from a series of poor decisions by Martin Atkinson. Chelsea won the game thanks to a penalty but United were denied a more obvious spot-kick of their own, and David Luiz somehow managed to avoid a red card despite three separate challenges which were worthy of bookings. So I understand that, when Ferguson gave an interview minutes after the game, the defeat was still raw and he was angry at the effect Atkinson’s decisions had on the outcome. If you prod a hornets’ nest, expect to be stung.”

James Lawton also blames “shocking refereeing.” “Was the old guy right or wrong? Did referee Martin Atkinson make a travesty of his control of Tuesday’s otherwise excellent collision between Chelsea and Manchester United? Did he create still another mockery of the insistence of the football authorities that the referee is an all-seeing, infallible arbiter of every situation?Or was Ferguson just emitting his usual bile when he didn’t get the right result? There are no prizes for guessing the majority view. It is that he is damned by his recurring voice and his utterly subjective view of anything that happens on the field.”

Brian Moore lays into Fergie. “Regardless of whether Atkinson was right not to give Luiz a second yellow card, that Ferguson will be allowed to publicly doubt that Atkinson is a fair referee will eat further into the Football Association’s Respect campaign, for it shows no respect at all. Phelan’s comments after the Chelsea loss also show that his respect for officials and their right to make independent decisions, and their inevitable mistakes, exists only to the extent that it benefits his team. Such partial respect is no respect.”

Tom Lutz downplays Manchester United’s refereeing complaints. “So Atkinson got one big decision wrong on Tuesday and made another questionable call. But that’s not enough to justify the accusations from many fans in the chatrooms that he’s somehow biased towards Chelsea. The statistic that has been pulled out is that Chelsea have never lost a game when Atkinson has been in charge. However, nine of those 11 games have been at Stamford Bridge during a period when Chelsea have lost only five out of 51 Premier League games at home. That’s around one game in 10, so Atkinson’s record isn’t a statistical freak. Additionally, in those 12 games Atkinson has actually shown more cards to Chelsea (16 yellows, one red) than to their opponents (14 yellow, two red).”

Despite the defeat at Chelsea Kevin McCarra highlights United’s “canny use of resources.” “Nothing has gone gravely wrong for the Old Trafford side yet. Indeed, they are accustomed to wearing a rueful expression as they leave Stamford Bridge, a ground where they have not won since 2002. The main thought really should be of the impact Ferguson might have with a budget even a little closer to that of City or to the one that Abramovich seems to be authorising once more.”

Phil Thomas reveals that Rio Ferdinand may make Anfield on Sunday. “Alex Ferguson will give Rio Ferdinand until Saturday to prove he is fit for Sunday’s trip to bitter rivals Liverpool. Manchester United boss Fergie is set to provide key centre-back Ferdinand with every chance to make the game, despite writing him off in public.”

Luiz loving: Ivan Speck and Ashley Grey continue to hail the Chelsea’s Brazilian defender. “Chelsea fans looked through the transfer window and saw a difference-making goalscorer coming to Stamford Bridge on deadline day. What they didn’t realise until Tuesday night was that he was called David Luiz, not Fernando Torres. To describe the frizzy-haired Brazilian as a defender is to ignore the extraordinary range of talents which lurk within. Yes, he should have been sent off for wrestling Wayne Rooney to the ground, but the exquisite technique of his equalising volley against Manchester United masked the fact that he was the furthest Chelsea player forward in open play. That is Luiz. A £25million international stopper with an inner belief that allowed him to overcome rejection in his teens. His bright mind allowed him to rationalise matters in his youth just as it does on the pitch.”

Martin Keown has a word of warning though. “He’s susceptible to an over-eagerness to win the ball when he’s facing one-on-one situations. I like the way he’s dominant and the way he smothers his opponents – that’s unusual as young players are naturally cautious – but he must be careful when he gets so tight. It’s refreshing to see a young defender try to dictate to strikers, but he was so intent on winning the ball back from Rooney that he was all over him. He needs to get the balance right. Luiz needs to learn to be more like Ricardo Carvalho – stealing and pinching the ball rather than steaming in.”

The title race: Matt Barlow gets excited. “Whether you are Ray Wilkins and subscribe to the view that this is the most exciting title race in the Premier League era or count yourself among sceptics who fear this season’s champions will be crowned by default, it won’t be boring. Arsenal will be within a point of leaders Manchester United if they win their game in hand and their duel at the Emirates on May 1 already has the air of a title decider. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has had it in his sights for weeks, since starting to develop the theme that the extent of his team’s success in the Barclays Premier League this season would be defined by results on home turf.”

Sam Wallace thinks he knows how it will all end. 1st Manchester United “They are no match for the team that won it three times in a row between 2007 and 2009 but this United side are surely the least brittle of the contenders this time around. Their big games are against Arsenal at the Emirates on 1 May and Chelsea at home six days later. Realistically, they need only to draw these if they can mop up the wins in what is otherwise a fairly straightforward run-in. This season so far, United have won three out of the six games in which they have faced a fellow top-five team. Their defeat to Chelsea on Tuesday was their first to a club from that group. Their remaining fixtures, aside from the Arsenal and Chelsea games, will set some interesting tests. Saturday lunchtime kick-offs next month against West Ham and Newcastle are not simple.”

Another Mark Clattenburg blunder: Ian Ladyman reports “Referee Mark Clattenburg was embroiled in another elbow controversy on Wednesday night. Clattenburg booked Mario Balotelli for felling Aston Villa’s Chris Herd in Manchester City’s 3-0 FA Cup win. But the clash appeared far less serious than Wayne Rooney’s challenge on Wigan’s James McCarthy on Saturday, for which the referee failed to show a card. Clattenburg was faced with another big decision in the second half of City’s fifth-round success. With Villa players and coaching staff on their feet imploring him to take action, the official issued just a yellow card.”

Aston Villa’s weakened team: Ian Herbert pinpoints Gerard Houllier’s weird team selection at Eastlands last night. “For a manager who had claimed that the 4-0 Premier League defeat here had been the low point of his Aston Villa tenure, Gérard Houllier’s team selection was as baffling as it was bold. The absence of Stewart Downing, Ashley Young and Marc Albrighton from the starting line-up left Villa’s young side looking vulnerable. Chris Herd’s selection for a debut at right back was particularly unfathomable. Just as vulnerable against a much brighter City side than of late was Ciaran Clark who, when Aleksandr Kolarov’s testing fifth-minute corner into the box was headed into the six-yard box by Patrick Vieira, flapped a shoulder at it and watched Yaya Touré gratefully lash it home. It was not marking as Houllier has come to know it.”

Mark Ogden adds “Villa manager Houllier chose to start with England wingers Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, plus midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker, on the substitutes’ bench, despite the prospect of last eight tie at home to Championship outfit Reading. The Frenchman’s decision prompted an angry reaction on radio phone-ins in the Midlands following Villa’s 3-0 defeat, but Houllier defiantly claimed he would have no qualms over the making the same decision again.”

Arsenal bounce back: After a hat-trick against Leyton Orient, David Hytner backs Nicklas Bendtner to play at the Nou Camp next week. “His hat-trick performance featured some of the usual foibles that can, on other days, infuriate the crowd. But his goals were of the highest order, particularly the second, which he curled with dead-eyed precision from 20 yards, having popped up on the left. He embraced his licence to roam. His 30th-minute leap and headed finish were ripped from the pages of the old-fashioned No9’s manual. Bendtner scored at Camp Nou last season, as Arsenal threatened to pull off a famous upset before they were taken apart and he is the favourite to start ahead of Chamakh.”

Jeremy Wilson hails the impact of both Bendtner and Chamakh. “Bendtner, though, has never much worried what people think of him and confidently claimed the ball when Kieran Gibbs was fouled to complete his hat-trick from the penalty spot. Definite conclusions cannot be reached against such limited opposition but, in Chamakh and Bendtner, there is genuine hope that Van Persie’s injury will be rather less cataclysmic this season.”

Where do Everton go from here: Paul Wilson wonders after their FA Cup defeat to Reading. “Everton supporters are nothing if not fatalistic. No sooner had Phil Neville’s final penalty hit the back of the Stamford Bridge net than the possibility of following a blaze of glory with a damp squib at Goodison Park was being discussed, so going out meekly to supposedly inferior opposition did not necessarily take everyone by surprise. It just seemed to confirm suspicions that the club clock has not just stopped but started to turn backwards.”

Transfer gossip: The Sun claim Arsenal are after another Barcelona player, Victor Vazquez. And Aston Villa are set to sell 11 players in the summer. The Daily Mail say Chelsea target Paulo Ganso is close to signing a new Santos deal and Manchester United are not put off by Fernando Llorente’s mega transfer buyout fee.

The Daily Mirror chip in with the news that Manchester United have confirmed their interest in Manuel Neuer, Everton may face the “nuclear option” of selling Jack Rodwell, Udinese have recieved a bid for Alexis Sanchez and Newcastle are eyeing John Arne Riise. The Daily Telegraph chips in with the claim that Liverpool are tracking Paul Robinson in case Arsenal move for Pepe Reina.