“The real challenge is to work out what to do as an alternative, to make sense of a post-Rafa landscape” – Matt Dickinson

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “I think it’s a bit strong to say it was one of the worst decisions ever, but it’s fair to say it was a mistake. You look at Anelka now – he was top scorer in the Premier League last season. It’s in the past now, but it was probably something that never went our way.” – Jamie Carragher.

Runner-up: “I am not in favour of the Arsenal system. The more English youth players you have in your team, the better it is for your football and popularity of your game. Perhaps, in the future with Fifa rules on the transfer of minors, you have to work with English youth. Why can’t the English play for Arsenal? They have to come to France to play. It’s about identity. Manchester United have to develop players of that region. It’s getting worse for England. We have to protect national teams so that at least England play with 11 English players because there could soon be places for those with residential qualifications. The European Commission says that people who are working the country can play in the national team. Perhaps Didier Drogba can play for England after five years. We have to protect against that.” – Michel Platini.


Today’s overview: The bad news keeps flowing for Liverpool this Tuesday as both Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres are said to be touch and go for surgery to help cure their ailing fitness issues.

Tony Barrett delivers the prognosis for El Nino. “Torres has a hernia that could require surgery if he is overplayed… It is hoped that the combination of rationing the striker’s appearances and occasionally allowing him to miss training will allow Torres the rest time he needs for surgery to be averted. Benítez is aware, however, that even these precautions may not be enough to spare his £22 million record signing from having to have an operation.”

Showing little sympathy however for Benitez’s plight as manager of the walking wounded is Andy Hunter. “No squad in the country is immune to 10 absent players plus the finest talent available hobbling with injury, as is currently the case with Torres. Although, and this is the failure costing Benítez most of all, it is doubtful any club with consistent Champions League income and designs on the title would enter a season with such woeful cover for their one world-class, and injury-plagued, striker.”

Continuing the Benitez-bashing is Richard Williams, who mocks the Reds’ boss for “the inescapable conclusion… that Benitez takes the media’s response into consideration when it comes to making his selections… Surely someone of Benítez’s standing should not be allowing the views of the media even to cross his mind.” A different line of abuse is dished on Benitez by James Lawton, who compares the Spaniard to Gérard Houllier. “Benitez, like Houllier before him, has the knack of pulling out notable victories against United. However, and as also it was with Houllier, for every such triumph there are half a dozen performances which reveal both a desperate lack of developing rhythm and a critical shortage of players for whom mere adequacy is the most basic of starting points.”

Loudmouth Ian Wright also jumps on the anti-Liverpool bandwagon. “I would like to know how on earth Rafa Benitez thinks he is going to crack the championship with just one top striker. Benitez has been unable to attract a top-class second striker like David Villa. He fought with the club’s owners to have total control in the transfer market but has not addressed a blindingly obvious issue. Liverpool are no longer that far ahead of Manchester City, Aston Villa and Tottenham.”

So Rafa should be turfed out on his ear, right? No, argues The real challenge is to work out what to do as an alternative, to make sense of a post-Rafa landscape… ‘King Kenny’ would certainly command the acclaim of the Kop and, in doing so, buy the club’s American owners some breathing space… [But] could he joust with Arsène Wenger, Sir Alex Ferguson and Carlo Ancelotti? Consider for a moment if Arsenal, Manchester United or Chelsea would put Dalglish on their shortlist the next time they need a manager.”

Offering a broadbrush analysis ahead of this week’s Champions League games, Pete Jenson looks at five of the big boys who are fighting for survival this week.

Eastern European super-scribe Jonathan Wilson discusses how “following the ill-fated reigns of Zico and Juande Ramos, CSKA Moscow finally believe they have the right man in charge ahead of tonight’s game at Old Trafford… [Leonid] Slutsky has made a point of highlighting how little time he has had to work with the players and, in fairness, he can’t really be held responsible for any results in the final few weeks of the Russian season.”

Assessing last weekend’s results in the Premier League, Kevin McCarra looks to cut Sparky some slack. “Despite it all, Hughes had and retains the credentials of a manager ready to make his mark. His travails simply illustrate the difficulty of putting to flight an establishment that has been well dug-in for several years.”

Hull’s Premier League future looks increasingly bleak after the club need to find at least £18 million before the end of the season to remain solvent and [new executive chairman Adam] Pearson knows that he cannot sustain a crippling annual wage bill of £40 million, one of the highest in the top flight.” Ian Herbert then lines up those Tigers ready for the chop. “The ‘champagne’ players – though the beleaguered manager, Phil Brown, may not view them that way – who look destined for the exit are George Boateng, Bernard Mendy, Richard Garcia, Peter Halmosi, Caleb Folan, Daniel Cousin and Ibrahima Sonko.”

So how have Hull fallen in to this mess? Matt Lawton has a few answers, scribbling “Hull City are believed to have spent a staggering £5.5million in agents’ fees in the two years Paul Duffen was the club’s chairman and chief executive.”

In the transfers, the Telegraph lead with Emmanuel Eboue’s quotes that one day he’d like to play for Paris St Germain. Staying in the broadsheet, Rory Smith claims “Chelsea are planning to launch a £15 million move for Benfica winger Angel Di Maria should Fifa lift their 18-month transfer embargo.”

The Daily Mail excite Hammers’ fans by announcing “Spurs flop Roman Pavlyuchenko and Antonio Cassano at top of Gianfranco Zola’s West Ham United shopping list,” while over in The Sun, Phil Thomas goes about splashing the Citizens’ cash. “The Manchester City boss is eyeing a swoop for Yaya Toure after Barcelona hinted they are ready to let him go in January… SunSport revealed how City are keen on Inter full-back Maicon, but have earmarked Azpilicueta if they fail to land the Brazilian.”

Elsewhere, Shaun Custis reports that “Sunderland look to have won the race to sign £3million Middlesbrough star Adam Johnson,” James Nursey splashes will news that “Birmingham owner Carson Yeung wants to hand Chelsea flop Andriy Shevchenko a shock Premier League return,” and Darren Lewis claims “Portsmouth want old boys Benjani and Gary O’Neil back at Fratton Park once their cash-crisis eases in January.”