“You have to question the Liverpool board’s decision to give a five-year contract to a manager who has failed to deliver a league title” – Terry Venables

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “My objective is to maintain and keep this position for a long time. I can do this if I do a good job. Up to now the club is happy with the job I’ve done, I think. Ten years? Why not 20? I’m a young head coach. For an Italian coach, it’s very difficult to think about staying at one club more than five years. I stayed at Milan for eight years and, for an Italian coach, that was a record. In England it’s easier to stay at a club for a long time.” – Carlo Ancelotti.

Runner-up: “Until the appeal court comes forward, they [Chelsea] can buy. That suits them well. They used a loophole in the rules. You can’t blame them for that. If it’s legal, it’s legal. But I think they used that loophole because of the African Cup of Nations. I can understand they want to do the same as we have done at Arsenal, but what is hard in this job, with this policy, is to integrate players into the first team. The challenge is not to bring them into the club or give them an education. It is to make room for them and allow them to play. That demands, of course, that you believe firmly in your policy… We spend the money we get, which is not the case at Chelsea. We live within our resources, something the other clubs don’t do. It is the same when you listen to the clubs that build new stadiums. “I want to see them show me a new stadium, pay £25 million back every season, and stay at the top. I want to see that.” – Arsene Wenger.


Today’s overview: Forget Saturday. Today’s backpages are all about the big matches waiting for us on Sunday.

Ahead of super-duper mega-Sunday where league leaders Chelsea travel to Arsenal, Richard Williams explores the theory that the Gunners have adopted new tactics this season which shifts focus from defending to attacking. “For Wenger, in contrast to some of his predecessors at the club, the goals-against total is currently less important than the figure in the preceding column, which shows that they have scored 36 times, a gluttonous three per game. But some observers are disturbed by the apparent change in Arsenal’s mentality and by the reflection in the statistics of what they see as an increasingly loose approach to the job of defending.”

Sam Wallace surveys the team news ahead of Arsenal-Chelsea to conclude the Blues head into the macth with the upper hand. “William Gallas is “50-50” to play and Wenger is down to his third-choice left-back, Armand Traoré. Contrast that with Chelsea who will have Frank Lampard back from his thigh injury and are at full strength having already beaten Liverpool and Manchester United this season. Arsenal’s backs are up against the wall once again but this is often the kind of situation in which they come out fighting.”

In news the will warm Arsenal supporters’ hearts, Matt Lawton speaks to Cesc Fabregas about moving to Barcelona. “And what of the future? What of all the talk about moving to Barcelona? Never will it happen, he insists, because that would mean he had failed Arsenal and, more importantly, failed Arsene Wenger.”

Working off the premise that parallels can be drawn between Barcelona and Arsenal’s playing styles, James Lawton examines the weakness in their tactical games. “There can be little doubt, certainly, about the question which most haunts Wenger, and which is bound to have already disturbed Guardiola as he considers his chances of becoming the first coach to successfully defend the Champions League title. It asks simply if there is any team in Europe currently equipped to stop the march of the team most likely to rip up into small pieces the weekend dream. Of course it is Chelsea.”

Shifting focus onto Sunday’s Merseyside derby, Chris McGrath bemoans those Liverpudlians who are against sharing a new ground with their rivals. “To an outsider, the notion that Liverpool and Everton should both build a new stadium is crackers. Tomorrow’s game is certainly timed to clarify some home truths, so soon after the demise of Everton’s Kirkby project, and Liverpool’s failure in Europe. To an outsider, in fact, they stand over an abyss… Something special would be lost, to all of us, if Anfield or Goodison were abandoned. But while Arsenal may miss the old Highbury atmosphere, Arsène Wenger has guaranteed a new kind of allegiance – one that dovetails tradition and a vision for the future.”

Ian Ladyman stokes up the Meseryside rivals by arguing that Everton, unlike Liverpool, can boast a successful youth structure that should help provide for their future. “While boss David Moyes’s weekly Premier League first-team roster features the likes of Leon Osman, Tony Hibbert, Jack Rodwell and Dan Gosling, Liverpool rely heavily on stalwarts Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard when it comes to injecting a streak of home-sourced talent into Rafael Benitez’s eclectic squad.”

The biggest criticism of Liverpool, though, is delivered by Terry Venables. “When Rafa signed a new five-year contract in March, he not only won the Lottery, he won the Boat Race and Grand National as well… You have to question the Liverpool board’s decision to give a five-year contract to a manager who has failed to deliver a league title and, arguably, blew his club’s chances of landing that elusive crown last season with his infamous ‘That’s a fact’ rant. It is an indictment on a top flight which now considers fourth place a success. Years ago, winning the title was the only true gauge.”

Moving on, Des Kelly explains why “Stoke City fans have to be the happiest supporters in the land right now. They should have expected a relegation battle as the dreaded second-season syndrome kicked in. Instead, they could leapfrog Liverpool and Manchester City if they win at Blackburn this weekend. And although Stoke might not bring much joy to rival fans, that will only heighten their sense of satisfaction. At the other end of the scale, some of the most depressed and disappointed supporters in the land will gather on Merseyside tomorrow to battle for some local pride.”

With a bee firmly in his bonnet, David Lacey moans about the concept of Premier League records.”The habit of declaring something “a Premier League record” is irksome since it implies that nothing of significance happened in football before the First Division clubs decided that they wanted a bigger slice of the financial cake being baked by satellite television. From the playing point of view almost everything of significance in the game had been achieved by then, including victories by huge margins.”

In a standout article, Patrick Barclay curses football’s new entrepreneurial personality. “The more football subjects itself to the spirit of entrepreneurism, the more money is frittered away, the more debt rises and a wonderful, simple, globally popular and potentially very profitable game with power to do good comes to resemble something awful at which, if you recall, we began to peer a couple of years back and which refuses to go away: the outside world.”

In the Saturday interviews, Daniel Taylor met up with Diniyar Bilyaletdinov to find out how the Russian is settling into life at Everton, while in a far more sombre article Michael Ballack opens up to Mark Fleming about the passing of Robert Enke. Ballack: “I knew Robert since he was 13 because we played each other in East Germany, when he played for Carl Zeiss Jena. He was one of the players that I had known for such a very long time. It was terrible for all the players. You lose a friend.”

Have the wheels for off at Notts County? In short, no, but the more serious questions about the viability of the League Two-ers to achieve their lofty expectations has now arisen.

Matt Scott delves into the latest problem at Meadow Lane. “Eriksson is understood to be increasingly concerned that the expectation that Notts County can shoot for the stars and challenge for the Premier League within five years might not become reality. If Eriksson decides to quit Meadow Lane – and it must be stressed he has made no decision yet – it would be a major blow to Qadbak’s stewardship of the club.”

The offbeat article of the day comes from Kevin Rawlinson. “Nicky Blair, the son of the former prime minister, is to open his own football agency. The Oxford-educated school teacher has decided on a change of career, starting up a company with a university friend. Mr Blair already runs a computer gaming business with his housemate, 22-year-old Gabriel Moraes. Now the pair have reportedly set themselves up as football agents. However, they are not understood to have any players on their books yet.”

Bring on the transfers.

The Telegraph report that Diego Forlan is ready to return to the Premier League. “With [Atletico Madrid] sitting uncharacteristically low in the league, speculation surrounding Forlan’s future is rife, with Tottenham and Liverpool understood to be interested in the 30-year-old.” Next, the Daily Mail report “Real Madrid vice-captain Guti is taking English lessons ahead of a battle between Manchester United and City for his signature in January, it has been claimed.” Lastly, gossip-guru Alan Nixon farts “Everton boss David Moyes has stepped into the chase for Plymouth’s teenage centre half Jamie Richards – and wants to beat Tottenham to his signature.”