“Villa have atoned for that early flop in impressive fashion, while the form of City and Spurs has fluctuated in a way that frustrates their supporters” – Paul Doyle

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “I’ve said since the start of the season that the champions will come from Chelsea or Manchester United but after that it’s up for grabs. Anything is possible this season. Look at Arsenal, you would have expected them to go up and win at Burnley after beating Liverpool, but they didn’t so that shows you how hard it’s going to be. People over-react to one result. One defeat and you’re finished, out of the race. People say ‘same old Tottenham, they’re going to fall flat on their face.’ Players who are great one day are useless the next – it’s unbelievable, but that’s how the game has gone unfortunately. We’ve been consistent. People go on about no win in three matches but in the draws at Everton and Villa our performances were very good. A lot of teams would be happy with a point away at Everton and Villa. It’s possible for us this year, we just have to keep picking up results.” – Harry Redknapp.

Runner-up: “It’s sad but what can I do? It’s not up to me. We will compete with Manchester United over 37 games instead of 38 this season. This is a problem for the international credibility of the Premier League… I think the Premier League has a basic promise to organise the fixtures in a normal way. The guy who organised the fixtures this season must have come out of a special school, because he is more intelligent than I am. For sure, he has never played football, organising midweek games in a week when you have a Europa League. We have some teams who do not play at all. We play Sunday and Wednesday away and at home on Saturday against Hull, who have not played all week. It is also damaging for Burnley.” – Arsene Wenger.

Today’s overview: Two main topics dominate today’s sports pages; Manchester City’s woeful defeat at Spurs and the continued debate of Mick McCarthy’s selection policy at Old Trafford.

Using pop-culture references to analysis Spurs’ victory over Manchester City, Russell Kempson details how the Lilywhites dominated the Citizens. “Simon Cowell and his fellow panellists, thankfully, were not in attendance in North London. Yet there was a certain X Factor feel about the meeting of two of the new potential top-four finishers this season. Who could impress the most? Ultimately and almost embarrassingly easily, it was Tottenham.”

After Mark Hughes admitted “at the moment we are having a bit of difficulty when balls come into our box,” Paul Doyle jumped at the opportunity to chastise Manchester City’s defence. “That is tantamount to an admission that his extravagantly priced central defensive pairing of Joleon Lescott and Kolo Touré has not worked out, though the injury to Lescott, missing last night after undergoing surgery yesterday to repair a floating bone in his knee, and Touré’s imminent departure for the African Nations Cup, meant he would probably strengthen anyway.” Also wholly unimpressed with City’s capitulation at White Hart Lane was Kevin McCarra. “There was also a tameness that indicates a lack of appetite or a frustration over their style of play. The danger is that they will not maintain the momentun to realise their grand ambitions.”

Sam Wallace chose to call out two of City’s star players for their poor performances against Spurs. “Hughes struggled to defend his players, especially the dismal Robinho and Emmanuel Adebayor, who barely put up a fight in what could prove a crucial game in the battle for the fourth Champions League place.” And in a separate article, Wallace twists the knife in Robinho further. “Robinho was already showered and suited by the time the final whistle blew, waiting in the tunnel like a man anxious to get off somewhere else. He could at least pretend that he is bothered or would that be too much to ask, with his manager under pressure and his club struggling for the kind of form that will make them Champions League contenders?”

Poor Robinho is then further torn apart by Ivan Speck. “Unlike Tevez, Robinho is either unable or unwilling to tackle. Sylvinho was exposed and the result was that Tottenham found the means to drive into City’s soft underbelly. The question, as it has been too often, is how long Mark Hughes is prepared to wait.  The first City galactico barely touched the ball in the opening 10 minutes of the second half. Exasperated, Hughes could take no more. After 59 minutes, Robinho departed from the game for good and disappeared straight down the tunnel. The conundrum remains. At least until January.”

Stepping back to view the broader Top Four gatecrasher picture, Paul Doyle makes the obvious point that today (at least) Villa are the team to catch. “Villa have atoned for that early flop in impressive fashion, while the form of City and Spurs has fluctuated in a way that frustrates their supporters. City’s best result of the season – the 2-1 triumph over Chelsea – was sandwiched between eight draws, including decried ones at home to Hull and Burnley, while Spurs have mixed impressive wins – such as the opening day defeat of Liverpool and the 9-1 massacre of Wigan – with losses at home to Stoke and Wolves. Hughes and Redknapp must find a cure to their inconsistency quickly.”

Wolves decision to deploy a second string XI at Old Trafford continue to focus minds on Fleet Street, with three schools of thoughts emerging: the defenders of Wolves, the defeatists and those baying for blood.

Fence-sitting as to the implication of Wolves’ selection policy, Richard Williams fears for the precedent which may have be set. “McCarthy may have opened a Pandora’s box. Defending himself with the argument that, by exerting themselves to the maximum against Spurs, his Saturday squad had rendered themselves less fit for Tuesday’s match than the reserves available to replace them, he exposed the difficulty of framing rules to deter such behaviour.”

Siding with the defendants, Andy Hunter plays down thoughts of Wolves being punished for their actions.”Given that McCarthy’s starting XI at Old Trafford had all featured in the Wolves first-team this season, and included six internationals, it could be difficult for the Premier League to disprove the manager’s defence that: ‘I said I would play my best team and that was the fittest, strongest team I could pick.'” Oliver Kay is also of the opinion that Wolves will avoid any serious repercussions, saying “Wolves will be subjected to a stern warning, but heavier sanctions are not expected.”

Also defending Wolves is Paul Wilson who argues that world of squad rotation means that knowing what a team’s first XI is becomes hugely complicated. “Champions League squads, Carling Cup teams, seven substitutes and the dreaded rotation have blurred all the old boundaries, and McCarthy was within his rights to describe his Old Trafford side as drawn from his first-team squad. It may even have been his strongest side, there is no way of knowing.”

Adopting a defeatist tone, Oliver Kay believes that Wolves cannot be punished for their actions. “The Premier League is right to seek an explanation from McCarthy, but, when it receives it, when he cites his need to rest his players before a critical (and, he feels, winnable) match at home to Burnley on Sunday, it has no choice but to accept it. If it did otherwise, the league would stand accused of the worst kind of double-standards, having been happy to allow Liverpool and Manchester United to field reserve teams in recent seasons, only to come down on one of the poor relations.”

Seemingly foaming at the mouth, Tony Cascarino counters his colleagues by calling for Wolves’ head. “Mick McCarthy’s team selection was bad management and bad for the game. The Premier League must punish Wolverhampton Wanderers for breaking rule E20 – what’s the sense in having that rule if it won’t enforce it?…  What he did is not pragmatic, it’s defeatist. The goodwill and positive momentum after the win at White Hart Lane on Saturday has disappeared and Mick’s made a rod for his own back.”

Moving on, Brian Moore picks up the Benitez-bashing stick as the Liverpool manager gets in the neck once more. “To rectify the holes in Benítez’s squad will require further spending. Irrespective of whether Chelsea and Sir Alex Ferguson at United have spent more, it is legitimate to say that for the cash Benítez has gone through, gross or net, Liverpool’s squad should not look as it does; a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous.”

England have named their 17 proposed host stadiums for their 2018 World Cup bid, with Milton Keynes’ inclusion being the main talking point. Sarcastically, Barney Roney scribbled “it might not exactly have the romance of stadiums such as Rio’s Maracana or Madrid’s Bernabéu, but it is conveniently close to the dual carriageway and a really big branch of Asda.”

Far more optimistic about England chances to hold the 2018 World Cup, Henry Winter celebrates how the nation’s bid has come back on track. “As seen in the naming of historic grounds like Wembley, Old Trafford and Elland Road, the exciting legacy potential of Plymouth, Bristol and Milton Keynes and the remarkable community feel to a revamped Hillsborough, England always had a good technical World Cup bid. It just needed a human face, a famous one like Beckham, to make it more appealing.”

As standard, we close out with the transfer gossip.

Loan deal are in hot demand this Thursday. The Independent report that “Liverpool are reportedly close to agreeing a six-month loan deal for Ruud van Nistelrooy,” while over in the Daily Mail we learn “Everton have claimed they have agreed a ‘deal in principle’ to sign Landon Donovan on loan.” Everton’s recruitment drive stretches further though, as John Cross pens that “Moyes is weighing up a cut-price deal for Atletico Madrid midfielder Maxi Rodriguez.”

Wigan are poised to bolster their squad according to the Daily Mail. “Wigan manager Roberto Martinez is considering a move for versatile Velez Sarsfield player Waldo Ponce. Martinez is also ready to bring in a striker, with Colombian Jackson Martinez and the Honduran trio of Carlos Costly, Roger Rojas and Melvin Valladeres in the frame.”

Spurs, as usual, are linked with a host of names that are never likely to arrive at White Hart Lane. The Sun fart that “Tottenham are poised to make a move for Chile’s highly-rated striker Humberto Suazo,” Nick Ive claims “Redknapp could be tempted to make a £6million move for Wigan left-back Maynor Figueroa when the January transfer window opens,” and John Cross details how “Redknapp is considering a move for Valencia striker Nikola Zigic – who is even taller than Peter Crouch.”

In the rest of the news, Geoff Sweet trots out the tired rumour that “Joan Laporta will ‘fight’ to land Cesc Fabregas next summer. The Champions League kings plan a £40million raid for the Arsenal and Spain midfielder – and Laporta is determined to capture the ex-Barca youth team star, “and The Sun reports that “Eidur Gudjohnsen is looking to return to the Premier League.”

Finally, in the managerial-merry-go-round, Alan Nixon crashes in with news that “Paul Hart will be named as the new manager of QPR – in a dream ticket with Mick Harford – after sealing the deal last night,” as Nick Ive chirps up with “Reading are pondering a move for Darren Ferguson after Brendan Rogers paid the price for Reading’s poor start to the season with the sack.”