“The only way Mourinho can be a comparable figure with Ferguson is if he throws in his lot with a club for the long haul, instead of the butterfly existence you expect he will lead all his coaching life.” – Sam Wallace

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “Clearly it is more difficult now. It is a bad result. We have to beat Middlesbrough and Sunderland and start thinking about if we can win at Old Trafford. You never know what can happen but clearly they can win games and win games without playing well. I have confidence that we can beat Middlesbrough and Sunderland and then it will be a different situation. There are still 12 games to go, you can’t say anything is finished.” – Rafa Benitez.

Runner-up: “[Wenger] believes profoundly in his youngsters. He doesn’t like to blend them too much with older players. What astonishes me is that he always buys attacking players, like Arshavin. He is a good player but he already has Nasri, Adebayor, Van Persie, Bendtner, Eduardo, Walcott. I don’t think he likes buying defenders. That lacks balance… [Real Madrid] lack pace. They have great players, Heinze, Cannavaro, Gago but they are not fast. There is Robben. He is the only one who can give them some tempo but he is not a very courageous player.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.

Today’s overview: A raft of hot topics fill the backpages as a new week begins. Chatter continues to intensify ahead of the Champions League with the Inter-Manchester United clash taking most of the focus, while domestically in England many are happy to call time on Liverpool’s title challenge.

With Manchester United gearing up to take on Inter in the Champions League, Daniel Taylor puts the cat amongst the pigeons suggesting “that Ferguson will have to play either Darren Fletcher or Michael Carrick as an emergency centre-back in Manchester United’s biggest game of the season to date.” James Ducker fleshes out the defensive headache for Sir Alex noting “only Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra of United’s first-choice back four are available, while Ferguson could also opt to play Darren Fletcher at right back instead of Rafael Da Silva… If Evra is asked to move into central defence, Fábio Da Silva could be deployed at left back, but whatever the scenario, the injury crisis could not have been more poorly timed, coming before arguably United’s most important game of the season.”

Keeping with United, Oliver Kay compares and contrasts David Beckham to his former peers at Old Trafford. “Beckham [has become] rich beyond his former team-mates’ wildest dreams, but would Giggs, Neville and Scholes swap their medals for the life and the wealth he has built for himself? Not a chance.”

From Inter’s perspective, Sandro Modeo traces how the Special one has transformed the Nerazzurri. “Mourinho’s handiwork shines through. He has changed the way Inter move up the field, involving more of the players. That is why defenders like Maicon, Maxwell, Iván Córdoba, Walter Samuel, Nicolás Burdisso and Marco Materazzi have been scoring goals, not to mention midfielders like Patrick Vieira, Luís Figo, Sully Muntari and Dejan Stankovic.” While It doesn’t matter how many of my team can get into theirs, because my team is more than the sum of the parts. Players don’t play individually, and United is not better than us.”

Martin Samuel gets to the root of why Mourinho is so great, claiming “Mourinho’s brilliance is the way he can take a top player and elevate him… The cleverness of the man is what happens behind closed doors.” Sam Wallace follows this up by delivering a standout article highlighting the distinctions between Ferguson and Mourinho. “Mourinho will not be Ferguson’s equal, even if his team eliminate United come 11 March, as his Porto side did five years ago. He will not be Ferguson’s equal if he picks up his second Champions League title in May, although that will mean he has won that competition as many times as Ferguson. The only way Mourinho can be a comparable figure with Ferguson is if he throws in his lot with a club for the long haul, instead of the butterfly existence you expect he will lead all his coaching life.”

Taking a step backwards, Alan Hansen talks up English chances in this season’s Champions League. “All four English teams capable of winning the competition. The obvious threat would be Barcelona, who look unbelievably good, but then they looked similarly good last season and Manchester United beat them.”

It’s all over for Liverpool’s title dreams according to Henry Winter, who opens his analysis writing “another year wasted, another title campaign in ruins and another blow to Rafa Benitez’s reputation: Liverpool’s credibility this season now rests on progress in the Champions League – and that’s a fact.” Sam Wallace tries to understand how Liverpool has conspired to throw the title away. “Factor in Steven Gerrard’s injury and a general loss of nerve and you have some idea how Liverpool find themselves seven points behind today.”

On Rafa’s ongoing contract talks, Oliver Kay reports that the “sticking points remain about the job security of his backroom staff and his concern at the delays in the decision-making process, given the dysfunctional relationship between the owners.”

David Pleat dissects Newcastle’s home draw with Everton. “The frustration for Moyes was that his players made such comfortable progress into the final third, but never managed to drag the central defenders out of position and upset the home side’s defensive balance.”

Finally, Gabriele Marcotti takes time out to salute Espanyol’s marvelous win at Barcelona. “The amazing thing about upsets is that they don’t need to make a difference to have a lasting effect. Barcelona will probably win the league. And Espanyol will likely be relegated. But the magic of what transpired lives on. It fuels the fire of possibility every time teams step on to the pitch. It serves to remind us that beneath the pay cheques, the hype, the talent and the reputations, it’s still 22 men chasing a ball. Which means anything can happen, even if it probably won’t. And that’s why we continue to watch.”