Villa crisis as Bradford go to Wembley, Arsenal linked to David & Diame, Man United eye Cesar (QPR) & Reina (Liverpool)

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “It’s history! I told them if they got me to Wembley I’d take them to Vegas… so we’re going to Vegas! There must be a God. I never used to believe in that. But if we lift some silver then I’ll definitely be a believer! My wife was just released from hospital after a major operation — she’s in tears and shouting ‘I told you it’d be 2-1.’ What a great night James Hanson had. He’s a big man up front and he stuck to the plan, which was basically get in their faces and mess them up! As soon as we scored, 35,000 fans got on Villa’s backs and some of their players didn’t want it any more — they didn’t want the ball. I don’t care who we get in the final, they will probably both batter us. Chelsea will have to declare at half-time if we play them!” – Bradford  co-chairman Mark Lawn.

Runner-up: “I am absolutely gutted, disappointed, hurt, everything. Everyone is hurt. You will never have a better chance to get to a cup final throughout your whole career, even the young lads. It may take them 10 or 12 years to get even close to one again. That’s the hurt. I am every bit as hurt as what the fans are. It’s my responsibility. I know exactly what it’s like and I know exactly what they’re feeling because I am feeling the exact same.” – Paul Lambert.

Bradford Are Going To Wembley: Villa In Crisis

Jim Hanson & the Muppets (Sun) Aston Villa were last night made to look like a bunch of muppets — by a League Two striker who played with a broken toe. James Hanson had not trained for 10 days but he was still too good for Paul Lambert’s Premier League millionaires as Bradford City pulled off one of English football’s greatest upsets. The Yorkshire minnows became the first club from the fourth tier to reach a big Wembley final — thanks to former shelf-stacker Hanson’s 55th-minute header.

Cheap and cheerful: Bradford’s march to Wembley is a true footballing fairy tale (David Anderson, Mirror) Parkinson’s side cost a total of £7,500 – the equivalent of what one of Villa’s stars earns in a day. In an age when money dominates more than ever in the game, ­Bradford’s story is a true footballing fairy tale. It is something straight off the pages of the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen.

Aston Villa hit new low against Bradford but things could yet get worse (Stuart James, Guardian) Fourth from bottom in the Premier League, a point and one place above the relegation zone, Villa are in crisis and there is a real threat that the season could bring further ignominy if Lambert is unable to drag the club clear of the dogfight at the bottom… Villa travel to Millwall on Friday night for an awkward fourth-round FA Cup tie and face their fellow strugglers Newcastle United the following Tuesday. There is, in other words, no respite.

Lambert’s Villa ‘project’ close to caving in after latest humiliation at hands of Bradford (Neil Moxley, Mail) The honeymoon is over. Paul Lambert’s Villa ‘project’ appears to be on its last legs. It is going to need major resuscitation to bring it back to life after this latest humiliation. Aston Villa have struggled in the Barclays Premier League this season. That might have been accepted, unwillingly, by a large number of Villa supporters. It was always going to be a period of transition and the acquisition of youthful players at the expense of more expensive alternatives was an idea into which they bought. But defeat in a two-legged semifinal against opposition from the fourth tier? That hurts, way more even than the eight-goal thumping European champions Chelsea dished out just before Christmas.]

Ragtag Aston Villa ponder where it all went wrong (Jack Pitt-Brooke, Independent) Villa are no football team, they are a messy assembly, the result of attempts to recraft the players too quickly last year, leaving a side even worse than the one they were trying to replace.

MOTD’s Shake Up

Lineker holds on to Saturday job after Beeb kick Murray to the curb for Chapman (Charles Sale, Mail) Gary Lineker is expected to sign a new contract soon with BBC Sport as the main presenter of their flagship Saturday night show Match of the Day… The former England striker will have to take a pay cut like his MotD colleague Alan Hansen.

Mis-match of the Day: Why the BBC should have sacked the useless pundits and kept Colin Murray (Andy Dawson, Mirror) The majority of football pundits are like zombies – slowly shuffling towards an easy target, namely a simple question from the presenter that they can answer by deploying a lot of words while not actually saying anything of worth… It isn’t Murray who should be ditched from the show, but the ex-pros. No mercy. Sure, they’ve got a unique insight having played the game at the top level, but that doesn’t necessarily make for good television. It’s time to completely rebuild MOTD2. For a start, it needs to be shifted back to BBC2, where it can afford to be a bit looser with its format.

Colin Murray loses battle of bland as ‘Chappers’ gets seat on MOTD2 sofa (Barney Ronay, Guardian) This is the deeper sense of sadness that lies beneath the MOTD2 reshuffle: on its surface little more than a decision to replace a slightly waspish man with another slightly less waspish man, but beyond that indication of a malaise that creeps back up the arm and towards the vital organs. Clearly the axe is falling on the wrong side of the coffee table here. It is the leaden heavyweights of the punditry sofa who should be in the process of being swept aside in a long-awaited punditry annihilation, a mass-junking of all that old, gruelling heavy-furniture, weathered by cliché, slumped in an attitude of belligerent complacency, silencing rather than starting debate, hugely over-remunerated for a service that offers, essentially, no service.

David Villa & Diame Linked To Arsenal… Again

Gunns eye Barca ace (Charlie Wyatt, Sun) Arsenal will attempt to land Barcelona ace David Villa on the cheap — at the end of the transfer window. Boss Arsene Wenger is ready to make a £10million move even though the Spanish giants insist he is not for sale. But Villa, 31, is keen on a switch to the Emirates and is ready to force his way out. Yet Wenger, as always, is likely to leave his move until the last 48 hours of the window. The Gunners will not pay £15m for a player of Villa’s age but they are desperate to land a striker and would pay £10m.

Mohamed Diame can earn Arsenal move by helping West Ham beat them (Mirror) Diame fears Hammers are trying to block a dream move to the Emirates by playing hardball, even though there’s £3.5million buyout clause written into his contract.

Diame threatens to report West Ham over dirty tactics to avoid release fee being activated (Mail) Mohamed Diame is threatening to report West Ham to FIFA over fears the club are trying to renege on his £3.5million release clause.

Man United: The Keeper Search & Wilfried Zaha

Manchester United’s David de Gea is testing Sir Alex Ferguson’s faith (Jamie Jackson, Guardian) There is talk that Ferguson may cut his losses on De Gea, though it is difficult to see that happening in the current transfer window. Ferguson switched between the Spaniard and Anders Lindegaard earlier in the season, before he abandoned the experiment after the Dane shipped three goals in 23 minutes at Reading in December. Barcelona’s Victor Valdés and Iker Casillas of Real Madrid, each with uncertain futures, are being mentioned as possible recruits in the summer, though by then De Gea may have finally proven that he can dominate aerially while developing the technique to parry shots away and out of danger. You feel, however, that he is running out of second chances.

Cesar can save the day for top clubs (Shaun Custis, Sun) Manchester United and Arsenal are making checks on QPR’s Brazilian keeper Julio Cesar… QPR need to get rid of either Cesar or Robert Green due to their high wages. However, Cesar’s form is such that he has become vital to Rangers’ relegation fight.

Manchester United tell Liverpool they want £15m Pepe Reina (Star) Manchester United are weighing up a sensational swoop for Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina… Reina looks set to leave Anfield at the end of the season, and Liverpool rate him at around £15m. They would be reluctant to sell to their bitter rivals, making Barcelona a more attractive option… United are also said to be keeping a close eye on Stoke’s Asmir Begovic, as are rivals Manchester City.

Football League could block Wilfried Zaha’s planned Manchester United move (Mirror) Manchester United’s deal to sign Wilfried Zaha and instantly loan him back to Crystal Palace is facing a Football League probe. United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has agreed a £15million swoop for the England starlet, with the clubs also proposing he is returned to Selhurst Park until the summer. However, the Football League want to see the paperwork on the transfer and check their rule-book as there has been a tightening up on these kind of moves.

The Rest Of The Transfer Lies

Liverpool poised with improved bid for Inter’s Philippe Coutinho (Mirror) Liverpool are preparing a second bid, worth £8million, for Inter Milan’s Philippe Coutinho – but are unwilling to meet the Italian giants’ £10m asking price.

Liverpool hopeful of signing Philippe Coutinho from Internazionale (Guardian) The Anfield club had a bid of around £8m rejected for the 20-year-old Brazilian last week but negotiations have continued and Liverpool are confident an improved offer will be acceptable.

Balotelli puts Manchester house up for rent which fuels rumours of AC Milan switch (Mail) Speculation surrounding a possible move for Mario Balotelli to AC Milan will be increased after the Manchester City star gave notice on the house he rents in Cheshire. The striker has been strongly linked with the Italian giants and now his house is available to the public at the eyewatering rate of £13,495pcm.

Celtic reject Norwich’s improved £5m bid for free-scoring Hooper (Mail) Celtic have rejected an improved offer of £5million plus Steve Morison from Norwich for striker Gary Hooper… Tottenham have also been linked with Hooper but, while they were due to represented at Tuesday’s game with Dundee United, they are understood to be monitoring Arsenal target Victor Wanyama, as are Manchester United.

McGeady on Martinez’s radar as Wigan boss plots loan move for Spartak star (Mail) Wigan manager Roberto Martinez is investigating a loan move for former Celtic winger Aiden McGeady.

Chelsea’s Manager Search

WANTED: A coach who can stop Roman from looking a mug (Martin Samuel, Mail) What does Benitez have to do to pass the Abramovich test? The truth is, he doesn’t know. Even those closest to Abramovich cannot always say for certain. But it may involve making the boss look smart… Now Abramovich has broken with this convention, we are all guessing. Did it matter that Benitez failed to win the Club World Cup against Corinthians? Probably not, considering Abramovich did not even bother to attend the final. Had Benitez succeeded, would it have played any part in securing his position? The evidence suggests otherwise. Equally, Chelsea could win by three at Swansea tonight, with the owner unmoved. They could lose and Benitez’s stock may hold firm. Who knows any more, now that football is no longer a results business at Stamford Bridge?

Spurs Lose Cash

Spurs in £4m loss (Vic Peacock, Sun) Tottenham’s failure to qualify for the Champions League was a major factor in the club making a £4.3million loss last year. Spurs yesterday made the announcement for the 2011-12 financial year. It compared to a £700,000 profit they recorded the year before when they were competing with Europe’s elite. Total club revenue for the year was £144m, 12 per cent lower than the year before while Spurs said “profit from operations” dropped to £23m from £38m.


Fabrice Is Gonna Be A Dad

Muamba baby miracle (Sun) Football miracle man Fabrice Muamba is to be a dad again — a year after he “died” of a cardiac arrest on the pitch. Pals of the ex-Bolton midfielder, 24, said he and wife Shauna are “elated” about their second child, due in June.