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Phil McNulty | 09:20 UK time, Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The Premier League is starting to settle down as we move into November - and England start their World Cup preparations with a friendly against Brazil in Doha on Saturday.

This gives us plenty to discuss so it is time for another Q&A session and the chance for everyone to have a debate around the title race and England's prospects.

Given my apparently controversial - and now it would seem completely incorrect - prediction that Liverpool would win the Premier League, we could have devoted one entirely to events at Anfield.

There are plenty of Liverpool questions to answer, and many others as well. I simply could not answer them all so apologies if I have not included you this time - there will be many more opportunities in future.

rb2_getty595.jpgLiverpool manager Rafael Benitez has created a lot of debate this week

We will start with the club (and manager) that is creating the most debate - Liverpool and Rafael Benitez.

Paul Loveuru on Twitter, along with countless others, such as TorreSamK9 on Twitter: "Can Liverpool win the Premier League title this season?"

I clearly felt they could, and of course mathematically they still can, but it is time to be realistic and accept that it would take a monumental improvement from Liverpool to do so - and one they show no sign of actually producing.

I do not see Liverpool making up 11 points on Chelsea, so it is time to bow to the inevitable and accept that my pre-season confidence in Liverpool was badly misplaced.

It might be worth me quoting BBC Sport's Alan Hansen (might as well drag someone else into it) from a conversation I had with him last week, because my thought processes about Liverpool this season mirrored his exactly.

He said: "I tipped Liverpool to win the Premier League before the start of the season. This was not a prediction based on old Anfield loyalties - it was based on the evidence of what I had seen from Liverpool in the last three months of last season.

"Benitez, after the way Liverpool had taken Real Madrid apart in the Champions League at Anfield, looked to have discovered the way to play against teams at home - namely by going out, penning them in and battering them.

"Liverpool had enjoyed good results against the other top four sides while Manchester United were inevitably weakened by the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. People talk about Eric Cantona and Thierry Henry, but Ronaldo was the biggest player ever in the Premier League, so United were never going to replace what he gave them."

Enough of blaming Alan though. Xabi Alonso's departure has hit Liverpool hard, but I am not so sure it is as big a factor as people say. There appears to be a malaise running through the whole team, with or without Alonso.

Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres have been injured, while Liverpool's defence has not looked secure as Jamie Carragher goes through a rare period of uncertainty. The central midfield partnership of Lucas and Javier Mascherano is built to destroy rather than create, a problem in itself.

And then we come to Alberto Aquilani. He may well prove a fine signing from Roma, but there is now the real possibility he will be fit too late in the day to have any serious impact on their title aspirations. Benitez knew this and took the risk. It is a gamble that looks likely to fail.

Benitez himself has been at the centre of speculation, but my view is that he will only have a serious problem if Liverpool fail to win a trophy and do not finish this season in the top four. This is more or less unthinkable and was almost the unspoken clause in the new five-year contract he signed in March. I do not think he is in imminent danger.

So to Paul and plenty of others. No I don't think they can win the title now. Feel free to throw the rotten eggs in my direction - although you never know. Well you do actually.

Matt Walker on Facebook: "After Ngog's disgraceful dive against Birmingham, what do you think is the best way to stamp this problem out of the game? I'd suggest an automatic three-match ban if video evidence proves cheating."

Lots on this subject too, including one from Chris Gospel on Facebook - and I would go along with Matt's suggestion completely.

If we have an open and shut case, which Ngog's clearly was, then the authorities should review video evidence and then hand down a three-match ban if this is confirmed. My only caveat is that this would have to be an obvious case of diving, which can be argued all sorts of ways and could create problems.

I was actually in the minority who thought Arsenal's Eduardo did not dive against Celtic. I felt there was slight contact, but if someone has clearly dived then three matches. No problem.

Phil Akeroyd on Twitter: "Do you think the Old Firm are good enough for the Premier League?"

Yes I do. I think they are good enough for the middle of the Premier League.

Not the top or bottom but the middle. Through a strange quirk of fate I actually saw Celtic's match at Falkirk on Sunday and they were awful and their fans are very pessimistic at the moment.

So I would say Celtic and Rangers would be mid-table sides in England, although I am totally against them joining the Premier League. What would that do to the rest of Scottish football and why should other teams in England see two others just parachuted in without going through the tiers of the game?

BrickCommo23 on Twitter: "How well do you think Arsenal can do this season? We're playing brilliantly at the moment."

This was a question also posed by Jaypreet Hothi, Bolarinwa Olajide and Dees Patel on Facebook.

I agree Arsenal are playing very well and with the usual flair associated with Arsene Wenger. I certainly agree they can be in the mix for the title, given the greater unpredictability of results this season.

I've seen the two sides of Arsenal this season, so I am still unsure whether they can win the title. I saw them somehow contrive to lose at Manchester United and Manchester City, where they got themselves into positions where you would have backed them as likely winners, and then saw them sweep aside Spurs at the Emirates.

What I can say is that watching Arsenal is nearly always a pleasure and it would be a wonderful vindication of Wenger's principles if they did win a trophy this season.

I can certainly see them claiming a cup competition, but I do have areas of concern. I am not sure about the goalkeeping position, where Manuel Almunia, Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone are adequate without being outstanding.

Another area was raised in a question by Matt Lewan on Facebook:"How important is Alex Song to Arsenal's Premier League title challenge and do Arsenal have adequate cover for the midfielder, or does Arsene need to buy?"

I think Song and Abou Diaby are good players, but if Wenger could just find that world-class midfield powerhouse to complement the brilliant Cesc Fabregas, then I would feel more confident about tipping Arsenal to win the title.

One thing is certain though, with players of the calibre of Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Andriy Arshavin they will be a real threat. And another thing - having attended plenty of Wenger media conferences this season he is 100% convinced they can win the title.

Ollie O'Neill on Facebook: "How do you rate Villa's chances of breaking into the top four ahead of Manchester City and Tottenham?"

No relation to Martin I take it, Ollie? I think Villa have started very impressively, as they did last season until they faded badly. They are a very strong side built in the traditional O'Neill manner, with pace and power down the flanks and up front in the shape of Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor and John Carew. And of course, they still have Stewart Downing to come.

I have been hugely impressed by the way O'Neill reconstructed his defence just before the transfer deadline with the signings of Richard Dunne, James Collins and Stephen Warnock.

Warnock was sold by Liverpool and is currently a better left-back than anyone they have, while Collins and Dunne are in the perfect mould of O'Neill central defenders. Bodies on the line to stop goals. A simple template and one that looks highly-effective.

If I was to have a query about Villa it might be a lack of craft and guile in midfield after the departure of Gareth Barry - although this might be where Downing comes in to help Stilyan Petrov.

But with Liverpool, Spurs and Manchester City showing signs of inconsistency, O'Neill will fancy his chances of at least maintaining a challenge to the top four.

Hope this also answers the question from Adam O'Connor on Facebook.

Corkertron on Facebook: Do you think Everton will be reduced to mid-table obscurity this season and that David Moyes deserves better support from the club?

Sadly for Everton, I fear that unless some form of major investment comes into the club then fifth place in the Premier League and reaching the FA Cup Final last season may well prove the high point of David Moyes' reign at Everton.

Everton's achievement last season was remarkable given serious injuries sustained to Mikel Arteta, Phil Jagielka and Yakubu. This season we have seen the big investments from Spurs, Manchester City, Aston Villa and even Sunderland - whereas Everton effectively paid for their summer outlay via the sale of Joleon Lescott.

The previous summer Everton's record buy Marouane Fellaini was more or less funded by the sales of Andrew Johnson and James McFadden.

Moyes has been at Everton for seven seasons now, and it will be intriguing to see how he handles this. He has always been fiercely motivated, but who will continue to motivate him if he sees Everton being overtaken?

A big day awaits Everton later this month when a decision is made on their proposed new stadium at Kirkby. The club have hung a lot on this, in terms of increasing revenues and attracting investment.

If it is turned down what then? Don't make the common sense suggestion of a shared stadium between Liverpool and Everton because they won't listen. Pride comes before a fall on that one.

On the subject of support for Moyes from the board the facts are simple - they cannot give him what they haven't got.

For two seasons running, Everton have been racing around trying to sign players as the clock ticked to the transfer deadline. This is not the sign of a well-thought out and structured policy, and while Kenwright has to take his share of responsibility, Moyes as the manager cannot be absolved from blame either.

Kenwright said in September 2008 he wanted a billionaire for Everton and it was suggested deal broker Keith Harris was searching for a buyer - but it looks no more likely today than it did then.

It is tough to see how the Kenwright regime can turn things around financially without that investment and that would leave Moyes effectively settling for make-do-and-mend management.

He has worked the oracle before, but I do not see top five this season. Everton need major investment - but I'm not sure if and when it will ever arrive.

Darren Fletcher celebrates a goal against Manchester CityDarren Fletcher has been impressive for Manchester United this season

Arbër Salihu on Facebook: "Does Manchester United have a good player for the future in Darren Fletcher? Is he the man to be a part of the famous midfield which once comprised of Paul Scholes and Roy Keane?"

Manchester United have a good player for the present as well as the future in Darren Fletcher. He is one of Sir Alex Ferguson's most trusted players and it was significant that United played a lot better with him in the side at Chelsea than they did without him at Liverpool.

He has a style that suits those high-tempo type of matches and is very under-rated, although not by anyone at Old Trafford.

Whether he would have got in the midfield that once housed Paul Scholes and Roy Keane at the same time is debatable, and indeed hypothetical, but those days have gone and Ferguson almost always picks Fletcher for the big games. This tells us a lot.

topheechrisp on Twitter: "With every England keeper faltering and Fabio Capello's promise to only play people who play for their clubs, why is Ben Foster in ahead of Paul Robinson?"

Good question. When I did a run down of the goalkeepers I felt England should take to the World Cup, I put Paul Robinson in ahead of Ben Foster.

I actually think Robinson is a better goalkeeper than Foster, and has rehabilitated his career well since leaving Spurs for Blackburn. I also felt he was very harshly treated for a goal that was not his fault when England lost to Croatia in a Euro 2008 qualifier.

His confidence was badly damaged by the subsequent criticism, but he has proved he is a strong character by rebuilding his career.

I've not been impressed with Foster when I have seen him this season. Not commanding enough and just looks too uncertain for me. The England goalkeeping debate is one we will be having all the way to South Africa and potentially beyond.

deovratk on Twitter: "Who do you think should cover Rio Ferdinand's absence? Matthew Upson or Gary Cahill?

This was also on the mind of Chris Smith on Twitter.

I would go for Matthew Upson ahead of Gary Cahill because he has done little wrong for England. Cahill has promise but Bolton have leaked a lot of goals recently. I interviewed Cahill with England recently and he certainly has plenty of confidence, but is modest enough to accept he has much work to do and is currently down the pecking order.

Joleon Lescott has been poor since his move from Everton to Manchester City, while it is a shame his former Goodison Park colleague Phil Jagielka is still injured because he would have given Capello a quality added option.

The question of Ferdinand's fitness and form was raised by many.

Michael Muldoon on Facebook: "Does Ferdinand go back into either Man U or England team directly? I don't mean Wes Brown for England, but still....."

I suspect if he is fit and playing well he will do both, but the issue of Ferdinand needs to be examined in a wider context. He is not a youngster any more and is increasingly troubled by injuries.

I have seen Ferdinand several times this season and it looks like his absences from the game have reduced his mental and physical sharpness - which is not to say they won't return with games, but they are currently a worry.

He was at fault for England in the Netherlands and the Ukraine, made a crass error to gift Manchester City a goal in the derby at Old Trafford and was swatted aside with ominous ease by Liverpool (and Spain!) striker Fernando Torres when he scored at Anfield recently.

A fit Ferdinand playing well will be an automatic choice in England's central defence, but he has work to do on both form and fitness.

Yusuf Bham on Facebook: "Many clubs have been linked with Valencia's David Villa. Which club do you think will suit him best in the Premier League and why?"

I think he would be the perfect fit for Manchester United, although he is a player of such outstanding quality he could join any club in the Premier League and not look out of place.

I say United because I do feel they are missing an extra, game-changing, sparkle in attack since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. They cannot rely on Wayne Rooney every time and I think someone of Villa's stature would flourish under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Jebtha Kapirial on Facebook: "Can you see Man Utd winning any trophies this year? I certainly can't!! How seriously can we take Arsenal's title challenge as they've sneaked under everyone's radar so far this year and are playing some wonderful football?"

Dealt with Arsenal earlier, so I'll concentrate on Manchester United. I can always see Manchester United winning trophies, but there is a vulnerability about them at the back this season that is worrying and of course Ronaldo cannot be replaced in attack.

Never rule them out of the Premier League, although Chelsea are starting to have a real air of authority. Do not see United having the quality to win the Champions League, but only a fool bets against any sort of silverware ending up at Old Trafford so I can certainly see them winning something.

WobyTide on Twitter: "Do you think Sunderland have what it takes to pick up a Europa League place this term?"

Not sure about that but I predict real progress for Sunderland under an excellent manager in Steve Bruce. He has been given money to spend and regular readers of my blog will know how highly I rate Darren Bent and what a great piece of business that was.

Lee Cattermole was starting to fulfill all his potential until injury, while Lorik Cana and Michael Turner are shrewd additions by a manager who really knows his way around the transfer market.

If everything went right and there were no serious injuries, they might just come into contention for the Europa League. I personally think it will be beyond them, but things are on the move at Sunderland under the stewardship of Bruce and I can see a top ten place.

This response was also in answer to Danny Williams on Facebook.

Chris Richardson on Facebook: "Will Jimmy Bullard's return reignite Hull's season and save Phil Brown?"

I think Bullard needs to play more games in succession to prove his fitness before we can make a definitive statement on that, but he certainly made a difference against Stoke. He just got on the ball, passed it, showed confidence and took responsibilty - all things some Hull players may have become reluctant to do during their struggles.

I think Phil Brown is still fighting for his future, but new chairman Adam Pearson is responsible and that last-minute win against Stoke has certainly given everyone at Hull some breathing space to regroup during the international break.

Owen CoyleWill Owen Coyle's Burnley side survive in the Premier League?

Chris Ellis on Facebook: "What do you think to Burnley's start to life in the Premier League and do you think they will be able to stay up this season?"

I said before the start of the season that I felt they could stay up and nothing has happened to change my mind. They have got an outstanding home record, bar a blip against Wigan, and the point the collected at Manchester City will give them added self-belief.

Home form will be the key, but having been to Turf Moor this season there will be some harrowing afternoons for teams there this season let me tell you.

And who cannot be impressed by Owen Coyle, not just for his personality but also his passing beliefs? Home form more or less kept Stoke City up last season, and I can see it doing the same for Burnley.

Gregor Fink on Facebook: "What do you think about Spurs' performance this season so far and will they be able to break into the top four?"

No-one can complain about fourth place at this stage can they? Spurs have a side full of goals and deservedly won against Liverpool, but were well beaten by Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.

They are progressing under Harry Redknapp, and for every team hoping to gatecrash the top four (and you would put Villa and Manchester City in that group) Liverpool's poor start will have given them renewed hope.

Consistency is all important, as ever for Spurs, but you cannot rule them out.

IN BRIEF

johal20 on Twitter: "Should referees come out and explain decisions they've made during games, if they're perceived to be controversial?"

As a member of the media I am biased here, but yes, I think they should. Why not offer an explanation of major decisions, not least of all to the fans? Not holding my breath on that one though.

Bolarinwa Olajide on Facebook: "Which goalkeeper has impressed most this season?"

Liverpool's Pepe Reina. Beachball incident at Sunderland aside, he is the best in the Premier League. Reliable, intelligent, consistent. He has surpassed Chelsea's Petr Cech in my opinion and is in a different league to other English goalkeepers.

Mahesh Soren on Facebook: "What if Birmingham gets relegated by one point or two? What will be FA's stance and yours?"

Obviously a reference to the David Ngog dive at Liverpool. If they got relegated by one or two points it would be very unfortunate, but my stance would be there would have been a whole season of decisions and teams tend to finish where they deserve. I do not think the Football Association would have any stance on it, to be honest, Mahesh.

Russell Irving on Facebook: "Do you think Martin O'Neill has taken Aston Villa as far as he can?"

No. He hasn't won a trophy yet at Villa Park so there is plenty of places to take them. He has good backing from owner Randy Lerner and Villa could be a good bet for a cup competition.

coastalpastor on Twitter: "Will Fellaini make it?"

Saw this one coming after I made some unflattering remarks about Everton's giant Belgian, and his choice of hairstyle recently. Sorry, do not see him being a major force in the Premier League. Decent enough, but too often games pass him by and at £15m was vastly over-priced. I make no more observations about his hairstyle.

Kush Kohli on Facebook: "Who should Chelsea go for because their ban is lifted and how much should they spend?"

I would love to see Chelsea add some quality width to their side, so my choice would be Franck Ribery - but I think he would also be a superb buy for Manchester United. I leave them to decide how much to spend but he won't come cheap.


Adam_Townsend on Twitter: "Could you imagine the scenario if Rafael Benitez was to get the sack at Liverpool and be replaced by Darren.Ferguson? Father/son rivalry would be immense."

Got to confess Adam I haven't imagined that scenario. Strangely enough I don't think it will happen - but would be quite a story though.

Thanks again for so many questions. It was impossible to answer them all but the Q&A will become a regular feature of the blog so there will many other chances.

You can follow me throughout the forthcoming season at http://twitter.com/philmcnulty and join me at Facebook (requires registration)


Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    Phil - you tipped liverpool for the titl at the start of the season and then stuck by them for a while after (controversially in some peoples eyes - based on comments on your blogs) - now they have lost 5 games and dropped points at home to Birmingham - do you still think they will or even can win the league?

    Sorry to bring up this question - as i know you get it rammed down your throat on every blog... i am just interested that is all.

    also - are you a Liverpool fan? - you always get criticised for pro-Liverpool bias ... but do you actually support them?

    cheers

  • Comment number 2.

    ps - the above comment is a joke... - it is the only question phil ever seems to get asked!....

  • Comment number 3.

    I think Man Utd have a track record that suggests you really should not count them out of anything. They lost Ronaldo, which is a blow, of course, but the team was becoming too Ronaldo-centric, which meant all other teams had to do was close down the supply to the winker, and a great deal of Manchester United's potency was lost.

    I am not actually that convinced with Chelsea to be honest - OK, they beat Man Utd the other night, but they were very lucky indeed to do so, and they will have to visit Anfield and Old Trafford in the second half of the season. Combined with losing key players for a month it might be closer than analysts predict.

    I think one thing that could come to their aid is CAS freezing the transfer ban until their appeal is heard, thereby allowing them to buy players in January. Their purchases in this window could be the difference.

    Also, I am unsure about Arsenal - I can see them having a crisis of Liverpool proportions in January/February which will rule them out of most competitions. I say that begrudgingly as they are a joy to watch, and as Phil has said, it would be a great boon to the sport if that sort of philosophy was shown to succeed over more negative approaches.

    I have to say i was really surprised (pleasantly) at Liverpool's stuttering start. After the end of last season i thought they would push on and drive the other teams hard for the title, but after only 2 months in their season is almost in tatters. If i was a Pool fan, i would not be happy with Benitez - while i agree that sticking by your manager is a good thing, there also has to be a time when you say enough is enough, don't you?

    The telling indicator of this is when the fans of your rivals are hoping that your manager does not get sacked so he can continue to mess up the club!

    My prediction is that the big four last year, will, come the final reckoning, be the big four this year. Some things never change....

  • Comment number 4.

    Another article about Liverpool? From the BBC? McNulty contradicting himself again? Surely not.

  • Comment number 5.

    Benitez should not get the sack. Sir Alex would be extremely disappointed if he did!

  • Comment number 6.

    'Xabi Alonso's departure has hit Liverpool hard, but I am not so sure it is as big a factor as people say. There appears to be a malaise running through the whole team, with or without Alonso.

    Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres have been injured, while Liverpool's defence has not looked secure as Jamie Carragher goes through a rare period of uncertainty.'

    Can you not see that Alonso's departure has had a direct effect on Liverpool's defence, a strong midfield of Alonso & Mascherano provided excellent protection for the back four, Lucas & Mascherano is a notably weaker partnership. Central midfield is too important of a position to have a passenger playing there, and while the criticism of Lucas may have been slightly harsh, the drop in class from Alonso to him is just too great.

    Do you not get sacked for getting your pre-season predictions so badly wrong?

  • Comment number 7.

    I think we need to readdress the diving issue - what actually constitutes a dive? Public opinion seems to be if a player goes down without contact then that is cheating, if there is a modicum of contact then it is not a dive and a penalty/free kick should rightly be awarded.

    But is this entirely fair? Darren Bent last weekend against Spurs was clearly on his way down before contact was made with the keeper. But as he touched him the penalty was deemed acceptable. Likewise certain replays seemed to show Wayne Rooney was already going to ground as Manuel Almunia slid in in the Man Utd-Arsenal game.

    David N'Gog and (probably) Eduardo were both going to ground and assuming they were going to be taken down by hard challenges, only for the opposition player to avoid contact at the last second.

    Is there really any difference between these four examples?

  • Comment number 8.

    Phil, now you have backed down on the Liverpool winning the league point, which both yourself and Hansen seemed to base on Liverpool's form towards the end of the season and Man Utd's losing Ronaldo. i.e. Overlooking the Chelsea factor who as a Utd fan i see as the team to beat every season... I have two questions to pose:

    1, Who will win the league? do you agree Chelsea are the team to beat?
    2, Will Liverpool make the CL places?

    And two points on keepers, Harper for England, and Reina is good but it is only because he is more highlighted (i.e. has more to do) than the others you mentioned, i personally believe there is no better keeper than Freidel in the league, but i'm glad VDS is back.

  • Comment number 9.

    I only want to comment on a couple of your early points. First of all of course Liverpool can still win the title. Why not? We are less that a third of the way through the season and with all teams dropping points, this looks like being one of the closest Premierships in years. Liverpool are only 3 points behind 4th place and as soon as we get something close to our first XI back we will be up there challenging. We will lose no players to the African Cup of Nations and also have the Jan transfer window to get some more strikers and hopefully a creative midfield player. Secondly, the more I see Carsley's challenge the more I think he ought to have been sent off for a reckless challenge. He clearly had both feet in the air and was no-where near the ball. If Ngog hadn't moved out of the way he would have been seriously injured. Reckless challenge in the box in my opinion and deserving of a penalty.

  • Comment number 10.

    What about Robinho?

    He is being linked with a permanent or loan move to Barca in January but would Chelsea want him? They did before, albeit under a different manager. Would City be happy to recoup some cash now that Bellamy is flourishing or can Robinho fit into their potentially top four team.

  • Comment number 11.

    You talk about Eduardo and say "I felt there was slight contact" so it was a pen.

    sorry, but i don't think "slight contact" is enough to consider something a penalty.

    It is the other extreme of the argument that says a meaty challenge where although the man is completely taken the defender made the sightest of contact with the ball and so its not a foul.

    There are grey areas, but at either extreme its pretty obvious what the right decision is.

    You can understand why they do it (Bent failing to get an obvious pen, so diving successfully to get one the second time around) but both players and referees need to be stamped on until they get it right.

    God knows, it isn't rocket science, and the assistants at least have a side on view. Video evidence after the event is all well and good, but that just encourages the referees who already seem to lack the nuts to make those calls anyway an excuse to leave it to someone else after the game. And these calls can reverse results. They need to be right at the time.

  • Comment number 12.

    Regarding the diving issue, a direct quote from FIFA Laws of the Game, Law 12- Fouls and Misconduct: "A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player...trips or attempts to trip an opponent..."
    One could argue that Carsley had no hope to get to the ball first, therefore by sliding in, he could only have attempted to trip Ngog.

  • Comment number 13.

    What about Kevin Davies for England? surely he could have been tried in the friendly against Brazil, or in one of the arranged friendlies from here to the world cup. Always gives everything, and scores a goal or two,more than heskey anyway.

    Another question, why does Fergie NEVER EVER get punished by the F.A???? Amazing his outbursts have never led to a Touchline ban or a fine!!

    Villa and Ribery for the Bridge in January. The title is Blue this year!

  • Comment number 14.

    Bolarinwa Olajide on Facebook: "Which goalkeeper has impressed most this season?"

    "Liverpool's Pepe Reina. Beachball incident at Sunderland aside, he is the best in the Premier League. Reliable, intelligent, consistent. He has surpassed Chelsea's Petr Cech in my opinion and is in a different league to other English goalkeepers."

    A small point to comment on, but I'm not sure I agree. Not that Reina hasn't been consistent, but he's just not made that many saves. In my opinion Jussi Jaaskelainen has had a fantastic start to the season at Bolton and has made such a difference to several of Bolton's results. As for the England Goalkeeper debate, although I too am baffled by the inclusion of Ben Foster ahead of Paul Robinson, I think the decision not to include Robinson is one based on many England games where he just wasn't up to scratch. Then again, maybe Capello's just trying things out. He may well include Robinson (and maybe Hart and Kirkland) in later games.

  • Comment number 15.

    Thanks Adolfinho. Carsley should have been sent off. Clear case of him diving in.

  • Comment number 16.

    Brad Fridel is the best keeper in the EPL that is very true.

  • Comment number 17.

    I wondered how long it would be before you came out with stuff like "No I don't think they can win the title now, although you never know. Well you do actually."

    Predicting a Liverpool League win was a win-win situation for you. Should the unthinkable have happened you could have gritted your teeth and said "I was right". If they didnt then of course you could have hours of fun pointing out where they had failed.

    When you made your prediction at the start of the season I made exactly that point. Its so nice of you to prove me right. Cheers!

  • Comment number 18.

    How about John Terry's challenge on Valencia? Was that a penalty or not? Or the challenge on Fletcher sweeping both feet from under him in the United Vs CSKA game

  • Comment number 19.

    Carsley should have been sent off? I hope you are trolling as I'm not even entertaining how ridiculous that statement is.

    Liverpool to win the title was a ridiculous proposition before the season started. I think anyone who had watched Liverpool for more than 10 minutes last season would have seen how important Alonso was and without him, Gerrard's freedom and therefore Torres' service would be vastly limited, as well as the fact that they are undoubtedly a very one-dimensional team. It still amazes me that Arsenal are not taken seriously as a title contender. Obviously Chelsea must be considered favourites as both Man Utd and Liverpool have lost huge pieces. Arsenal on the other hand have only improved and strengthened an already entertaining and capable squad. I can see Chelsea winning the title and Man Utd battling with Arsenal for 2nd/3rd. Anything after that is a crapshoot.

  • Comment number 20.

    I dont really see the issue with tipping the team that finished second last year to finish top this. The only problem is they have played truly awful football this season.

    David Villa - he will join either Barca or Madrid in the summer. He wants to stay in Spain and both clubs want to sign him. I think the only way he will come here is if Real & Barca dont want him.

    Chelsea this transfer window should be great fun. They'll be linked with everyone that can kick a ball but i think they'll get possibly two big signings (i'd love to see them get Aguero & Mata, both young, skillful players) and maybe a squad player. I dont get the impression RedRom wants to go out and spend £200 million again!

    Man United are very fortunate to be where they are this season, the midfield just isn't good enough and i think they'll be found out by most big teams they play. They have already really; Liverpool & Chelsea both beat them and Arsenal played them off the park (but still lost??? only arsenal). Carrick, Fletcher, Anderson, Nani, Park, Valencia, Giggs - compare it to the midfields of Arsenal, Chelsea, City, even Spurs and Villa and really it isn't great. I think they might need to spend big in the next few transfer windows.

    Chelsea to win the league by 5 or 6 points for me, although i'd love to see the united nations at The Emirates do it.

  • Comment number 21.

    Comment #9 is a prime example of a deluded 'Pool fan. Optimism regarding Liverpool's chance at the title is great, but how anyone can defend that dive by N'Gog is unfathomable.

    I do believe Liverpool will end up fourth (maybe even third) this year though. They've dropped a lot of points needlessly, but aside from the whole injury problems blah blah blah, they have been desperately unlucky in a lot of games. Against Birmingham they were quite unfortunate not to score a winner (regardless of how farcical that penalty was), and I don't see this run of poor form lasting the length of the season. Even with poor results, they're in touching distance of 4th, so it would surprise me if the top 4 at the end of the season are anything other than the usual suspects.

  • Comment number 22.

    The Premier League as it stands, unlike many other seasons has a feel of more competition as it is taking shape. Having just completed just under a third of the season it is a little early to attempt to ascertain the "runners and riders for the title".

    There will be many twists and turns as more teams jostle for position and that is why the English Premier League is so fascinating. Yes, Chelsea look good at the moment but never discount Man U and the chasing pack.

    Liverpool have dipped in form but Tottenham are performing well at this juncture. How about the Gunners? They are second as we speak, will they win it? There is the Villa side who play without fear and the "super rich" Man City could surprise us all.

    So the Reds of Mersyside are seventh and some are questioning Raffa, but they have short memories. In his time at Liverpool he has been very successful and they will regroup soon. Perhaps not in time for the League but will be OK.

    As long as there is football there will be controversy. I love it.

    Bring on the second third (if you understand my maths!) of the season and if it is as half as good as the first third then the remaining two thirds will be something to look up to! Confused (me too)!

    http://jonnyontheball.blogspot.com/

  • Comment number 23.

    I think that like a lot of Villa fans I share your concern with the lack of creativity in our midfield. However I hope that too much is not being pinned on Downing's return from injury. In any case relying on him to provide the creative spark at Middlesborough never seemed to work as well as when he was left wide. Perhaps a better bet is for Downing to take Ash Young place on the wing and move Young inside where he has always looked to run when given the option. His final ball has never been as consistent as Milner, and I hope Downing's will prove to be, so letting him roam and find the positions he thinks he can be most effective in, may reintroduce saw of the dynamism which he filled last season with and has sadly lacked this year.

  • Comment number 24.

    I think Phil (and others) has demonstrated perfectly why video evidence for diving would not work. The idea that Ngog dived but Eduardo didn't is ridiculous.

    Let's face it, at any given time ALL players will take a tumble. Ngog and Eduardo the most glaring so far but no more a dive than Bent and Rooney. Now I would be ok with bans for divers, but only for all divers. Not just the so-called 'blatent' ones and no favouritism for certain English players who are pug-ugly and play for ManU.

  • Comment number 25.

    To post 8...I think Chelsea are looking formidable at the moment, but I am hoping for a really unpredictable title race and like the confidence coming out of Arsenal at the moment - even though I remain to be totally convinced they will win the league.

    On Liverpool, I genuinely felt they would win the league this season and do not tell me I was alone after the way they finished last season - but they just haven't performed with any sort of consistency.

    I'm sure many of you will praise my courage for being publicly prepared to revise my opinion.

    And I must admit I wondered how long it would be before some people suggested that it was actually a penalty when David Ngog went down the other night. Sorry but that really is nonsense and a very wayward re-writing of history.

    I have to presume the suggestion that Birmingham's Lee Carsley should have been sent off is a wind-up and will treat it as such.

    There was no contact whatsoever, or even near contact. I actually thought it was a penalty when Arsenal's Eduardo went down under challenge from Celtic keeper Artur Boruc. Yes the contact was slight but sent him down, penalty.

    The matter of the best goalkeeper in the Premier League is one of opinion. I was asked the question and my answer was Pepe Reina. I accept there is merit in Brad Friedel and Jussi Jaaskelainen but for me Reina is outstanding.

    How sad it is that he rarely plays international football for Spain because of Iker Casillas while England do not have any who are close to either.

    And on Kevin Davies for England, I would say he is a good Premier League player but not an international. I recall Peter Crouch being targeted by referees while playing for England because of his supposedly robust, all arms and legs approach, and he is a pussycat compared to Davies. No - not for England.

  • Comment number 26.

    13: Wycombeswanderer

    Another question, why does Fergie NEVER EVER get punished by the F.A???? Amazing his outbursts have never led to a Touchline ban or a fine!!
    -------------------------------------

    He does:

    2003: 10,000 fine, 2 match ban
    2007: 5,000 fine, 2 match ban
    2008: 10,000 fine, 2 match ban

  • Comment number 27.

    26. At 6:10pm on 11 Nov 2009, ravelston wrote:
    13: Wycombeswanderer

    Another question, why does Fergie NEVER EVER get punished by the F.A???? Amazing his outbursts have never led to a Touchline ban or a fine!!
    -------------------------------------

    He does:

    2003: 10,000 fine, 2 match ban
    2007: 5,000 fine, 2 match ban
    2008: 10,000 fine, 2 match ban


    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    Well, those punishments really appear to be working, don't they!? Shouldn't a punishment have a deterrent effect? I think the FA need to come down a little harder for persistent whinging.

  • Comment number 28.

    Phil. as i dont read the blogs to often i would like to know how highly you rate Darren Bent, as i also think is a a top player but my mates seem to laugh at the idea. I would also like to know how you rate his chances of going to South Africa with the England and also how you think,if any, will be a surprise name on in the squad going to South Africa

  • Comment number 29.

    Gotta laugh at post #9. How deluded can some fans be?

    And to claim it was two-footed - have you actually watched the tackle? His left leg was bent under him.

    If every lunge was an automatic red card, Gerrard would be sent off virtually every week (as would many others, e.g. Essien, Scholes, etc).

  • Comment number 30.

    #9 - Mark

    So it was a penalty? For what exactly? If no contact was made (which it clearly wasn't) then you're basically punishing Carsley for being in a certain part of the pitch at a certain time. I must have been in a cave the day they passed that rule. 10 other Birmingham players were also on the pitch at that time and made equal contact with Ngog that Carsley did. Should they have been sent off too?

  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 32.

    Hi.

    Gooner here

    Before I add my bit i hope i am permitted to offer my sympathies for the death of the German keeper, very sad indeed, to read about persons who take thier own lives should give us all pause to reflect on such a tragic loss for all those concerned. I would say god speed to the guy but as i dont believe in such a fellow I will just say,

    Shine On


    As for Phil,s prediction i can see perhaps why he thought this following last seasons campaign.

    In fairness i think a lot are surprised at pools poor showing, to be fair they are missing some very influencial players however the fact they have to play on without them has perhaps also proved those right who said pool were a 2 man team. Without SG and T they are going to struggle. hence i suppose all the gloating about thier predicament at the mo.

    to the pool fans, there are words in your anthem which refer to a " storm " I hope you weather this particular one and that you dont just think by having Rafa's head on a pole all will be right, it wont be!
    you have a good manager there, changing managers is not the answer so as they say, hold the line and get behind your team dont join the ranks of others who just want to hire and fire just to get thier paws on some silverware. when you think about it you have been there, done it, got the t-shirt and starred in the film, your past success's can never be taken from you and you have a lot to be proud about! a few seasons rebuilding etc is not the end of the world.

    i wont join in the spatts about liverpool nor benitez and i will not gloat over the position pool find themselves.

    I am slightly miffed at Ngog's non-sportsmanship but he's not the 1st or last either to try and gain an edge in desperate times I wont scapegoat the lad but i non the less agree that players who are shown to be guilty of deciept, cheating should be defo banned for a minimum of 3 games and i dont just mean players who seem to fall over in the penalty box, im talking about the tumbles all over the park by players of all clubs.

    The Sanctions for play acting, diving etc need to be far more stringent and to the FA i would say this;

    stop this utter nonsense about celtic and rangers joining the EPL ( they are not wanted anyways ) and sort out far more important issues spend some time thinking about how you can act to bring to an end the cheating that goes on in this game now.






  • Comment number 33.

    "2003: 10,000 fine, 2 match ban
    2007: 5,000 fine, 2 match ban
    2008: 10,000 fine, 2 match ban"

    Whoop-di-weeee!

    Can't really argue against Phil's Liverpool comments - any of them, good (Reina) and bad (pretty much everything else). It's a nightmare being a Liverpool fan at the moment (I'm sure real Man Utd fans know exactly how we feel, having gone through all of this early in Fergie's tenure.

    We'll come through this, as they did, stronger and better equipped for the future. It's not like Benitez is doing anything different to last season, just been hammered with injuries and a shocking loss of form from key players - the trick is, as it was with them, to ride the storm and come through the other side.

    After all, Benitez, like Fergie, has a points-per-game tally of 1.93, so he must be doing something right.

    Now, bring on the bitters...

  • Comment number 34.

    The rules of the game are that if you throw a punch at someone without it even landing you will be sent off, as it was an attempted punch. The same goes for penalties/free kicks. And nobody has yet mentioned that Liverpool should have had a penalty before the Carsley incident...Bowyer pulled Ngog`s shirt. So whether the dive resulted in a pen or not is kind of irrelevant, as a pen should have been given earlier anyway!

    Liverpool will finish in the top 4 no problem. We will improve in form and get players back from injury...and the other teams around us are not exactly making the most of our malaise.

    But I want to finish by saying how very very sad it was to hear about Robert Enke. Prayers and condolences to his very brave wife, and his family and friends. This tragedy puts it all in perspective...even if Liverpool got beat 5-0 every week and ended up in the Conference, it would be nothing compared to what Enke`s family must be going through right now.

    Robert Enke RIP

    May his family never walk alone

  • Comment number 35.

    Why is it that Phil McNulty's blogs always end up (in the after comment section) in a mass of anti-Liverpool vitreol?

    I'd rather the attention wasn't on our club this season but I accept that our caticlismic failings so far are a big talking point that need to be discussed. Fact is, no one saw this horrendous run of form coming. And it wasn't just McNulty biting the bullet and tipping Liverpool for the title.

    As for the N'Gog dive the other night. He was wrong. He didn't need to do that. All he had to do was stay on his feet, or jump the tackle. Either way he'd have been awarded a penalty as Carsley's tackle was poor and nowhere near the ball. When Carsley came out and talked about how ashamed the boy must feel, then maybe he should look at himself and think he shouldn't have given him the opportunity to dive in the first place with his shockingly mistimed tackle. It's a shame that this is overshadowing the game as Liverpool absolutely dominated Birmingham during the 90 minutes and should have won comfortably. But alas teams going through such on-field crises will fail to win such matches.

    And as for Phil McNulty, he is most certainly not a Liverpool fan. I've read many an article of his which have been disparaging, Daily Mail like-assesments of the club.

    But today Phil, I think you summarise the situation regarding Liverpool quite succinctly in your opening gambit.

  • Comment number 36.

    Are the people who suggest that David N'Gog's dive was not a dive completely and utterly myopic?

    Lee Carsley says he didn't even go in for a tackle, he anticipated a ball being slipped across the box and went to ground to block it, something he has every right to do without fear of nascent does slipping all over the shop as if newly emerged from the womb.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-1226784/Divers-beware-FA-use-video-ban-cheats-like-David-Ngog-referee.html

    I think we should implement a system they have in Germany whereby the referee asks you, the alleged 'fouled', if you were fouled. If you say you were fouled and video evidence proves you lied, you get a retrospective ban.

    I don't think it would rule it out, as you can never rule out diving, but there would be some justice for those that have been wronged.

    On another note, I think at the end of the season, people will be eulogising about Alex Song in the same way that they eulogized about Mathieu Flamini two years back.

    Phil's opinion mirrors that of the majority when he says that Arsenal need to buy a "world-class midfield powerhouse". People seem to forget that Patrick Vieira was unhearalded when he joined, as was Emmanuel Petit, Gilberto Silva and Edu and they all turned out alright.

    Alex Song has been a revelation this season and at the back end of last, and is the platform that has allowed Cesc Fabregas to plunder 6 league goals and ten assists in 12 games, and much as Denilson, Diaby and Ramsey are able deputies, I, for one, am hoping that Cameroon get knocked out of the African Cup of Nations very early come January.

  • Comment number 37.

    To davidgilmourthe3rd...well said about Robert Enke and everyone here must echo those sentiments. This puts everything into perspective doesn't it?

    And to TheRealSam. I rate Darren Bent very highly. He is a goalscorer and I have always remember how he had an outstanding goalscoring record in a struggling Charlton team. Never sure he was given a fair crack at Spurs, up against some stiff opposition.

    I am not sure he is international class, but his goals record at Sunderland suggests he is worth a try at least. I hope he does well and he is a great signing by Sunderland manager Steve Bruce.

  • Comment number 38.

    Credit where it is due, Phil, you've admitted your mistake about Liverpool.

    However, of greater interest to real football fans will be how the Manchelsea strangle hold on the title can be broken.

    If a team like Liverpool are so far off the pace (and have been mostly for the last 15 years), what can anyone else do to get a look in?

    The last outsider to win the title was probably Leeds back in 1992, unless you count Arsenal.

    Is City's money the answer or maybe Redknapp's nouse? The table says no!

  • Comment number 39.

    And as for Phil McNulty, he is most certainly not a Liverpool fan. I've read many an article of his which have been disparaging, Daily Mail like-assesments of the club.
    ________________________________________________________________________

    I'd echo that sentiment. I understand that it must be difficult to be the BBC chief writer and to also retain a balanced view but ultimately what happens on these blogs is the making of incendiary devices for Man Utd fans and others to lob in every Liverpool fans direction. Whether that's deliberate or not is open to conjecture.

    Here's another trend.
    Liverpool fans (yes, even sensible ones) voice an opinion and are imediately labelled as being deluded. So..

    If I accept that I'm actually deluded, then does that actually make me deluded or does being deluded mean I'm delusional and therefore....not?
    I scouse threrefore I delude- Sorry Monsiuer Descartes....

  • Comment number 40.

    @thewelshboycott

    Don't think Man Utd will win the EPL this season. Will just be grateful for a top 3 finish and a cup win as long as our young squad continues to develop. Chelsea are favourites for me 'cos their top players know full well that time is not on their side. That is the only reason why I fancy them to pip Arsenal.

  • Comment number 41.

    "Is City's money the answer or maybe Redknapp's nouse?"

    Redknapp's nous? Even ignoring the poor spelling this is the funniest thing I've ever seen on this site.

  • Comment number 42.

    As a Liverpool fan I'm tipping, and hope that Arsenal win the title this season. Their attacking resources are by far and away the best in the league. And like no other time in the previous few seasons their forwards can bail out their defence when need be reliably. Wenger's shrewd spending policy (that of investing tens of millions in youth, and having one of the highest wage bills in the country) may prove too good this season.

    Chelsea look strong at the moment, but they have the same squad which has been getting 80 odd points the last 3 seasons, and further back the same sort of team that won titles. They're always going to be strong with such experience. But there is nothing special about Chelsea. They haven't improved, nor do they have the dynamism to win the title this season I think. United will have a strong second half of the season. You'd be a class A fool to write them off. Not only will they invest some Ronaldo money in January as Fergie will definitely think he needs to, but they always always always have very good second half of the seasons. In the end it will probably be a three-horse race, but I can't see Chelsea running away with it at all. They looked hot under Scolari for a while, but then it emerged that they lack a bit of x factor. They've been playing nice this season, but look at what happened on Sunday. They were a characatiure of their footballing persona. Narrow, defensive, goals from set pieces, lots of power, height and fight. Will this be enough to see them to the title? I hope not as it will be bad for football, and I don't think it will.

    Arsenal to win title with 84 points my prediction.

  • Comment number 43.

    Regarding Liverpool, don't you think that Sami Hyypia's departure over the summer has also made Liverpool ridiculously streatched at the back. He didn't play much last season but was reliable and experienced, as he shown in the 4 - 1 win at Old Trafford.

    This isn't to downplay the departure of Alonso, who is a big loss, but I think at times this season, particularly with injuries to Agger, Skrtel and a suspension now to Carragher that he would be invaluable.

  • Comment number 44.



    " unless you count Arsenal. "

    erm excuse me you would be defo wrong to count them out, it is by no means the finished article but i kid u not they are going to take some stopping.

    as they say its a long season but what must be of some concern to the other sides that will play Arsenal is,

    the goals are comming from all over the park admittingly the odd deflection here and there, but hey that chip by eduardo was goal bound anyways.

    and yes Phil McNulty - BBC Sport

    i agree it does indeed put it all into perspective.



  • Comment number 45.

    Glad you all liked my "Carsley should have been sent off" comment. Happy blogging all!

  • Comment number 46.

    @Mark

    Are you really glad that you have been classified as a WUM? Is your name missing its normal 'insane' suffix? Would explain a lot if it were.

  • Comment number 47.

    @davidgilmourthe3rd

    Your lot will finish above my lot. And, if Chelsea do something silly in January and you don't suffer a March/April blip, you might win it.

  • Comment number 48.

    I have always believed Benitez will be history by the end of this season.He will either take a walk back to Spain or get kicked out of the club because there is no way Liverpool win win the premiership with him in charge.
    Liverpool always save their best for matches against Manchester United,and then save their worst for the mid table teams such as Sunderland and Birmingham. They are already out of the Carling cup and have to rely on other teams to do them a favour in the Champions League. Their season is a disaster already and we are only in November!
    Mr McNulty and others like him committed the error of predicting a team winning the League without seeing a game played,which as far as I am concerned is poor journalism.
    Pepe Reina is not the best goalkeeper in the Premiership,I believe that honour belongs to Shay Given of Manchester City.
    Arsenal and Chelsea are playing the best football in the League right now but they will have their own blips before the season is over,because this is a marathon and not a hundred metre dash.
    Finally if Darren Bent is not international class,how does Heskey get into the team ahead of him?

  • Comment number 49.

    Based on the back end of the season you could well assume that Liverpool would be in the running for the title.
    Thing is, this would only be true if the right players would have been purchased, i.e. missed out on Barry, due to Benitez's attitude and any of the other players David Silva etc.
    If Benitez had made sure that he got hold of a handful of quality players to take the load off Gerrard's and Torres's (even Kuyt's) shoulders.
    Instead of that he made sure he was in full control at the club and got an expensive contract for himself and an injured Italian for 20 million to replace Alonso.
    You could see it coming really, especially a member of the press, don't know why Phil didn't?

  • Comment number 50.

    Liverpools faltering start his season has proved one thing, that neither Gerrard nor Torres are Liverfools best players. Xabi Alonso was. It was never a surprise that Liverpool would falter for me and I cant see them making up ground they have lost now. I say this because the likes of Lawro and Hansen seem to base their decision on last season, if they sold their best player in the summer how were they going to challenge for the title!?

    Rafa is under pressure and rightly so. He's been there for how many seasons and still hasn't assembled a squad capable of winning the title. They havent really signed anyone who is a title winner, save for Torres. I can't see him being sacked (yet) but I believe if they carry on like this then its curtains for the fat controller...

  • Comment number 51.

    Some crazy comments here...and some classy ones too (johngilmourthe3rd, take a bow). First of all, how can it be ridiculous to tip a team that finished 4 points off the top last term to win the title? Liverpool looked pretty good at the end of last season and every one knows it was those home draws early in the season that did them in. Of course, it's easy to say now that it was obvious they would struggle without Alonso - even though such comments keep coming from the same crowd that said (and still say) that Liverpool is a 2-man team! If Liverpool weren't - at the least - a 3-man team last term, how come all teh talk has been about Alonso's loss all season?
    Alonso is a big loss - few players in the world pass the ball as well - but the main reasons the defence has been shaky this year don't in my opinion include his departure. First, it's a brand new back line - remember Hyypia and Arbeloa left in the summer (that's two of last year's top five) and Aurelio has been injured. Then, Agger and Skrtel have been injured for spells as well, and Carra hasn't been at his best. So while last year they could count on a solid back four that had been together a while - and Hyypia in reserve - this year they've had to start with 2 new faces in Johnson (who's been excellent) and the young Insua, with another new face Kyrgiakos as reserve. Teamwork at the back is more crucial than any other part of the team.
    What is ridiculous are those calls for Rafa's sacking. Now they say Rafa should go because he hasn't won the title in 5 years. Like Liverpool were winning the title - or even close - in the 15 years or so before he arrived. The truth is, we weren't even thinking in title (or Champions League) terms before Benitez arrived. If anything, it's precisely bcos he has raised expectations that many are so disappointed with what has transpired in the last couple of months.

    Finally, yes, Ngog dived and the ref got it wrong, but we'll take it! When Voronin was mauled at White Hart lane, the ref got it wrong and we took it. When the beach ball scored at Sunderland, the ref got it wrong and we took that too!

  • Comment number 52.

    We have a mountain to climb, make that a few mountains, but it is still far too early to rule out Liverpool.
    It's November 11.
    We can't keeping on dropping points, there's no avoiding that but I'm certain a few wins and an injury-free period would bring a chasmic change in attitude.
    The team that won nearly all of its games between March and May this year is by and large still the same.
    You could argue when Aquilliani is fit - and with the signing of Johnson - it's even better.
    Don't count us out yet

  • Comment number 53.

    Ngog dived yes, bu so did bent and rooney. Intent is always the deciding factor. But of course you cannot prove intent. All teams have players who dive from time to time but of course some players do it more than others eg Drogba and Ronaldo. The only thing about diving that angers me is that English people believe that they are the most honest people on earth. A lot of English players dive. Gerrard, Rooney and Bent to name a few. In this country you tend to blame the foreigners for all the bad things happening in football, but remember without them this league was nothing and miles and miles behind the Serie A and Primera Division. I think the EPL is the best in the world right now and most of it is because of the foreign talents like Henry, Ronaldo, Torres, Fabregas, Drogba and many more..
    I'm just saying appreciate what you've got before it's gone.....

  • Comment number 54.

    Chelsea to win then United or Arsenal second, Arsenal look great at the moment but they did a couple of years ago before the Eduardo/Taylor incident. Of these 3 it would be nice for Arsenal to get it but think they'll just fall short.

    City, Villa and Spurs need to get the points on the board now as Pool struggle, they will come good just depends on how adrift they are cos at the moment despite their problems they are still comfortably in touch with 4th place. Looks like being the most open battle for the top 4 in years, at least since last year anyway

  • Comment number 55.

    There is neither an anti Liverpool sentiment and not all 'Pool fans are being treated as deluded. It's just the people who think Ngog didn't dive who are being treated as deluded! Soccerlifer on the other hand, can see it was a dive as is clearly sane!
    Liverpool are hardly being written off, they just aren't anyone's pick to wint he league anymore because of their current position and form.

  • Comment number 56.

    Phil,
    Why when asked a question about Alex Song's role in the team do you feel the need to mention Abou Diaby?

    Arsenal are playing a 4-1-4-1 this season and Song is the holding midfielder in front of the back four whilst Diaby has played as one of the midfield four. Diaby is a very attacking player, he is in no way, shape or form a defensive midfielder and the two players are not in any way interchangeable in our current system. Hence the question about the possible need to buy a back-up for Song as currently the best option would seem to be to move Denilson back one when he return from injury Iin the absence of Song), though most Arsenal fans would agree that Denilson is far better as one of the four ahead of Song and not a back-up for Song.

  • Comment number 57.

    "I was actually in the minority who thought Arsenal's Eduardo did not dive against Celtic. I felt there was slight contact"
    ================================================
    So if contact is made, however slight, that's not a dive?
    That's just bizarre!
    In my book, it's a dive if the player throws himself to the floor when with a little effort, he could have stayed on his feet.
    As to Eduardo's DIVE, the trivial contact was made to the back of his leg which wouldn't have been there if Eduardo wasn't already on his way down.
    I would have agreed that success for Arsenal would have been "a wonderful vindication of Wenger's principles" were it not for the fact that by supporting Eduardo's obvious cheating, Wenger has proved that he has no more principles than your average football manager or player.

  • Comment number 58.

    I dont see how you can say that Ronaldo is the biggest player the Premier League has ever seen, you say he was bigger than Henry but Thierry didnt require a team built around him and still single handedly destroyed the best defences in the world, scored 30 odd goals a season and usually got 20-30 assists to go along side, there are others such as Scholes and Gerrard who have shown more so far, if he went back to Man Utd and proved himself a bit more then maybe but he went missing in too many games against big teams...

  • Comment number 59.

    Lets talk more about Arsenal.

    Liverpool WILL NOT win the Premier League title now. That is a 99.99% certainty. No team has ever won the Premier League when they have been in 7th place in Novemeber. And that will not change this season.

    Phil and Alan were well within their rights to tip Liverpool to win the league this season on the back of an outstanding finish to last season but I can't help but think that the prediction did have a touch of one eyedness to it.

    I predicted at the start of the season that I tought Arsenal would win the league, because I thought the fact that they were being written off by all and sundry would work for them this time unlike last season.
    I predicted that though, with a fair touch of hope laced with a sprinkling of doubt.

    But after the torrent of abuse and barbs thrown the way of Arsene Wenger and his boys after the Champions League semi final second leg roll over last season, I was somewhat confident that they would use that as an inspiration as long as they managed to get rid of Adebayor, which fortunately they did.

    Remember when Arsenal did the double in the 2001/2002 season ? They then went on the next season and shot themselves in both feet, with defeats by Bolton and Blackburn handing the title on a platter to Man Utd. And how they were derided and criticised(probably justified)for it.

    Well the season after, they did what no team had done before and are unlikely to do again anytime soon. And that was win the Premier League without a single defeat in 38 matches !!! I can't even do that on my FIFA game.

    And they did a similar thing to 2002/03 the season before last(07/08), where at the Birmingham game, with the Eduardo broken leg, the Clichy brain explosion and the Gallas sit down (which I could understand at the time) derailed those title hopes.

    And while Arsenal didn't challenge for the title last season, mainly because of Adebayor's lack of effort and the disharmony and dividing influence he helped cause, they still showed glimpses of quality like the 2-1 defeat of Man Utd at the Emirates which was one of the best matches in Premier League history.

    But now with Adebayor gone, and the little Russian Andriy Arshavin fit and firing, and the marvelous addition of a certain Thomas Vermaelen, Arsenal can really be counted as a title threat.

    The matches between Arsenal and Chelsea will likely decide the Premier League champions in my opinion, as Chelsea again have that look of a steam roller which they had in the days of the self annointed special one.

    Those two matches will decide whether it is Pace and Power that prevails, or Pace and Skill. I'm sure everyone can work out which team has those qualities, and I'll give you a tip, neither of them are Liverpool.

  • Comment number 60.

    comment no. 50 - gooonerific

    but i thought liverpool were a two man team last season? and a one man team before the arrival of torres..don't remember the 'experts' including Alonso here..
    the rest of your post is equally amusing. to say benitez is under pressure and rightly so is ridiculous. i believe wenger amassed 8 wins in his first 22 league games last season but then again you were probably caling for his head then were you?? in fact over the last few seasons benitez has a better record than wenger.
    you say benitez has only signed 1 winner , torres, yet you gloat about alonso in your opening piece - who was it that signed him? along with mascherano and reina (other players currently in the world's top 60)




  • Comment number 61.

    As a Gunners fan, I would love to agree with redagast about Arsenal conquering the Premiership this season. But in the last couple of years, we have seen our form peaking too early, usually by Christmas. Even after Christmas, we were exposed to glimpses of hope, which nevertheless proved to be just glimpses at the end of the season. Various unfortunate events have left us in mediocrity for too long. And, this sense of mediocrity seems to be gradually taking residence in the mentalities of our players. As a result, consistency got hurt.

    While Fabregas is providing world-class creativity for the attack, our back four are unfortunately exposed and shaken by their roots. This isn't helped by the fact that our wing-backs are far too busy getting forward, which is great, but not so great when we concede after having scored goals that define the beauty of football. In our young guns like Alexandre Song, Aaron Ramsey, and Denílson Pereira Neves, to mention a few, we see prospective world class midfielders. However, I think that Arsene Wenger is being far too optimistic.

    It occurs in the thought of almost everyone who follows the Premiership that what Arsenal needs right now is an energetic, experienced destroyer to protect the back four. Look back at our immaculate squad in the glorious season of 03/04, or any other successful teams in the history of our favourite sport; a true defensive midfielder. Same old story! Lob all your bottles and profanities at gunners for being far too critical of the finest football club in England, but we have to wake up. And our trustworthy mastermind of the game, Mr. Wenger certainly needs to. And if he does in the up-coming January transfer, I dare say, the this season is rightfully ours to take.

    If not, I ask you Mr. McNulty, what are the consequences Arsenal would have to pay? The recent outflow of our topflight players has been the result of mediocrity. In the case of Adebayor, that kind of worked in our favour. But, with treacherous speculations flying around about a certain Cesc Fabregas transferring to the Catalan club, or even worse to the band of mercenaries in Madrid, if Arsenal finishes this season without a worthy silverware once again, would such an absurdity become a reality?

  • Comment number 62.

    Unless Liverpool buy some big players in the January transfer window, I doubt they'll make the top four this season.

    United to win the title after Chelsea's African players leave for the Africa Cup of Nations.

  • Comment number 63.

    citizen - what kind of Gunners Fan you are? You do not have belief in the ability of this team to win the league this year. Like the fans of other clubs always want their clubs to do; you too want Wenger to sign a combative defensive midfielder. I ask you one question - cant you see that market is over priced and there arent any defensive midfielder available on transfer? All teams understand the importance of CDM role and hence no body is ready to let go players in that role. Only player who Arsenal can buy at the moment is our beloved Patrick Vieira and he too will have to come and play a mentor-player job. He wont get matches week in - week out, if he does get then why sing praises of Song today. We need to bring in Vieira types just to help out the young Gunners in DM role and may be play Vieira in FA Cups and imp EPL games and allow the already blooming players fulfill their true potential.

    I think this team is very much balanced and they know what has to be done on the pitch to produce results. Wenger has got it right this time and is correct in believing this side will win the league this year. Do we still need to buy in January window? - Yes, probably another Right Back. Sergio Ramos anyone??

  • Comment number 64.

    #33 Beyond The Pale...
    "It's a nightmare being a Liverpool fan at the moment (I'm sure real Man Utd fans know exactly how we feel, having gone through all of this early in Fergie's tenure.

    We'll come through this, as they did, stronger and better equipped for the future. It's not like Benitez is doing anything different to last season, just been hammered with injuries and a shocking loss of form from key players - the trick is, as it was with them, to ride the storm and come through the other side.

    After all, Benitez, like Fergie, has a points-per-game tally of 1.93, so he must be doing something right.

    Now, bring on the bitters..."

    You're not really expecting Citeh fans to comment on that, are you? :-)

    Instead, I just need to take issue with a couple of your points; so its' a nightmare being a Livepool fan at the moment? I can follow that but what has it got to do with Fergie's first three and a half years? We United fans had gone through about 16 years of 'the odd cup and occasional (fading) league flourish', so don't narrow it down to Fergie's organisational / settling in period. You can see from that that your situation is more akin to the years when United couldn't win the league.

    Points per game tally? Lies, damned lies, and statistics! Where do yoiu get Fergie's average from? 23 years at the helm? If that is his average then that is only a simple fact and dangling it alongside that of Benitez doesn't show parity. This season alone Harry Redknapp's done that, does that make him as good as Fergie? Or, for that matter, Benitez? 38 games at 1.93 is pretty consistenly 4th (a couple of 3rd's) in the league for the past 10 years - is Fergie's record ONLY that good?

    As for fines and touchline bans - all managers do something! Sir Furious of Govan (nod to Chick Young there, quality!) often says stuff, but why shouldn't he? (Benitez polishes glasses, Wenger can't see through his but says "Oldtraffordish" etc, let's not start on Mourinho...) SAF gets highlighted for it for the media's end; he wasn't 'raging' after the CSKA game but that's how it was reported, so two weeks later the report is taken as gospel. Yes, Fergie comes out with some crap but so do you, I, and every other blogger on this earth. If I catalogued all the nonsense spouted by, for example only, you (no offence) and took the comments in isolation I could probably paint a picture of you being serially blinkered, biased, daft, whatever. Or make you out to be a sage of Socrates' proportion. Can you, hand on heart, say that you wouldn't open your mouth (threat of a ban or not) if your team were denied the Carragher sending off, the CSKA pen foul on Fletcher, the Terry pen foul on Valencia.....and that's just the last 2 weeks!! You don't expect them all but in the big games you hope for some - and I couldn't bite my tongue in the face of that.

    Diverse ramble over....

  • Comment number 65.

    Regarding David Ngog's blatant dive against Birmingham city,I would like to look at the event from another angle.
    When Sir Alex Ferguson came out to say referees in the Premiership are unfit everyone condemned him for his comments.At that time I felt Sir Alex was off the mark,but if you watch replays off Ngog's dive you will see that the ref was so far behind the ball that there was no way he could get the call right.Secondly if the ref was so far behind play what about the referee's assistant on the other side of the field? How could he miss such a blatant dive?
    As for Ngog I think he should be ashamed of himself.I wonder how he feels when he watches replays of that incident? By the way it was not even a good dive so how come the officials were conned?

  • Comment number 66.

    59. At 01:37am on 12 Nov 2009, redagast wrote:
    Lets talk more about Arsenal.

    Liverpool WILL NOT win the Premier League title now. That is a 99.99% certainty. No team has ever won the Premier League when they have been in 7th place in Novemeber. And that will not change this season.
    _________________________________________________________________________

    100% is a certainty - so you clearly arent certain.
    Going by your logic, (No team has ever won the Premier League when they have been in 7th place in Novemeber. And that will not change this season.) Roger Bannister should never have attempted and succeeded to run a four minute mile as "nobody had ever done it before".
    I also seem to remember a side who overhauled a twelve point deficit and pipping Newcastle Utd to the title. So it most certainly CAN be done.

    Admittedly the Premiership title looks unlikely but please try to be sensible and apply logic arguments on actual logic rather than a flimsy whaft of your hankey.

    and finally...

    "Lets talk more about Arsenal - Liverpool WILL NOT win"......Oh dear.

  • Comment number 67.

    13: Wycombeswanderer

    Another question, why does Fergie NEVER EVER get punished by the F.A???? Amazing his outbursts have never led to a Touchline ban or a fine!!
    -------------------------------------

    He does:

    2003: 10,000 fine, 2 match ban
    2007: 5,000 fine, 2 match ban
    2008: 10,000 fine, 2 match ban

    ------------------------------------

    The same question, why does Fergie NEVER EVER get punished by the F.A???? Amazing his outbursts have never led to a Touchline ban or a fine!!

  • Comment number 68.

    Citizen

    I am sorry to be rude but what absolute tosh.

    Wenger has been moulding this side for years and this season it is quite clear it is coming to fruition. All these lads know each other inside out and the signings that have been mad (Vermealan & Arshavin) have fitted in to our system of play seamlessly.

    You say you are an Arsenal fan yet you refuse to be optimistic about what this team can achieve!!! wel let me tell you this team is capable of absolutely ANYTHING we score goals at our leisure and yes we may concede at times but the essence of this team is to attack and long may it continue and i have NO DOUBT that this team WILL win siverware.

    Mark my words.

    UP THE GUNNERS!!!!

  • Comment number 69.

    RedArmband...excellent point about Sami Hyypia. A truly outstanding defender for Liverpool, a model professional who was still excelling last season.

    All reports say he has been a revelation in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen and it was an example of his professionalism and desire that he decided he wanted to play regularly at this stage of his career, despite the potential lure of a coaching job at Anfield.

    The departure of his influence and experience has possibly been overlooked.

    Love to hear from Manchester City, Villa and Spurs fans on whether they will break the top four - or what they need to do to achieve it.

    And Everton fans, am I right in thinking last season may well eventually be seen as the peak of David Moyes' reign at Goodison Park?


  • Comment number 70.

    Diving will always be contentious.

    At the start of the 2006/07 season, live on Sky, Sheff Utd were beating Liverpool 1-0 with ten minutes left when Gerrard jumped over a tackle from Chris Morgan in the area, who didn't touch him at all, he carried on albeit losing his balance on landing a little and had a shot, then when he missed it was brought back for a penalty, which they scored and we drew 1-1, went down on goal difference by the way ;-)

    The referee gave an interview on Sky after and said he gave it for intent. Some pundits at the time said it should have been given but the vast majority (Hansen / Shearer) thought it was a ridiculous penalty, especially after the referee had allowed the advantage, giving Liverpool two chances to equalise in effect.

    Not once since that day has a penalty been given for intent, all the discussion around these incidents looks at whether there was a slight touch on the player.

    I personally didn't think it was a foul, and Ngog's wasn't either and I don't agree you can give a penalty for intent, there must be contact in my opinion because there is intention to tackle in every tackle, it's called going for the ball, if you miss and make contact fair enough, but to challenge and miss altogether then get penalised for trying to tackle is ridiculous.

    Can you explain to me Phil, why Rob Styles gave an interview on TV and said you could give a penalty for intent but this had not been used before and it has not been used since? And, did intention in any way affect Peter Walton's decision?

    Thanks. UTB!




  • Comment number 71.

    At the moment I have to say I can't see Liverpool finishing in the top 10. I know it sounds mad, but if the teams around them had a won one more match their position would be almost precarious. I think they will turn it around but only after it's way too late.

    For United, I watched them play a lot of rugged football last season and everyone thought they would win nothing. This season on the whole I think, as team the football as been better. But as Arsenal know it gaurantees nothing.

    What about Hull winning at the weekend? Will they and porthsmouth survive this season... I think Everton once they recover from injuries will put in a strong run and finish in the european spots.

    I think it's safe to say there is no question of teams breaking into the top 4, because this season anyway there is only a top 3. Spurs City, even Sunderland, Everton Villa could all be up there ahead of Liverpool at the end of the season, easily.

  • Comment number 72.

    As much as I love Arsenal football, I don't see them winning the premier league. Their first real test was the match against Man U in which they failed miserably. Despite playing better football, they lost to Man U and that only proved that they are still not strong enough to win big titles/ matches. The moment Man U got the equalisier, Arsenal looked like a bunch of young kids, horrified and without any self-belief. Anyone could see the second goal coming.

    However they are keeping a good run since then and their next big test is against Chelsea. If they are able to win the match then only we can start believing in them.

  • Comment number 73.

    70. At 09:40am on 12 Nov 2009, UnitedUnitedWeStand wrote:
    Diving will always be contentious.

    _________________________________________________________________________

    Waxing lyrical about two dives by Liverpool players which were years apart seems a bit strange when you could have given numerous examples of Ronaldo doing exactly the same. Or even Rooney who contends that he is "an honest player" who apparently never dives.

    But this blog really is the focal point for Man Utd fans (mirroring their manager) to highlight misdemeanours by rival players whilst ignoring their own. I accept that N'Gog and Gerrard dived and its just plain wrong. Problem is Ronaldo and Rooney have been getting away with it especially at Old Trafford , but that's perfectly OK.

  • Comment number 74.

    Gilesy_v is an idiot. N'gog was going down, flapping his arms (drogba-esque) like he'd just taken a bullet from a sniper..........not like he was trying to evade a tackle.......and carsley was a good 6 - 8 inches away from making contact. idiot

  • Comment number 75.

    I hear all the liverpool fans in the city saying how much they miss Alonso and they are probably right, but not once have i heard we also miss Hypia. Lots of the goals liverpool have been conceding have come from set pieces, this is were i believe Hypia is missed as he was a good organiser, calming figure and allround quality player. I dont think Carragher looks the same player without Hypia alongside him and Skrytle and the Greek are not a patch on him, (sicknote) Agger just dont play enough games. When you need to score three times to win a game it just aint going to happen enough in order to make a challenge for the title. Its not somebody who makes lots of tackles what liverpool need but a defender who can cut the danger out before it happens, Carragher will atack the ball all day long so could be a good foil for a new man. Now as for my own club Everton i hope your wrong in saying fifth and the cup final is the best we can expect without major investment and have to believe you are, but have we now reached a stage in football were the champions can be picked before a ball is kicked from three or four clubs without there being a chance for a dark horse or surprise team? How long before me and others stop paying are £550 season ticket money because its impossible to challenge and break the monoply the top four have? I believe all fans are realistic and know being able to challenge for honours takes time and the correct management. How long before the honours are given out not to the best football team but to the richest club in the land? Having to watch my club play at anytime other than 3 o clock on a saturday afternoon because people want to watch from there homes is not helping, half empty stadiums and full living rooms is not imo good for the game, apart from the top clubs i expect attendances to drop and many of the smaller clubs going to the wall.

  • Comment number 76.

    69. At 09:30am on 12 Nov 2009, Phil McNulty - BBC Sport wrote:
    RedArmband...excellent point about Sami Hyypia. A truly outstanding defender for Liverpool, a model professional who was still excelling last season.
    _______________________________________________________________________

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
    Sami Hyypia was number 4 in the central defender order at Liverpool last season. During the close season it was expected that Carragher Skrtel and Agger would fill those places on a more regular basis than last season.

    This was the catalyst as Sami would not have been registerd for a Champions League place in the squad. Taking into account the talent at centre back of the other three, Sami realized that if he wanted a certain level of football, he would need to move. He made that decision despite the fact that an offer was made by Liverpool offering him a new contract and the possibility for him to join the coaching staff at the club.

    Although Benitez's decision was the correct one, injuries have clearly upset his well laid plans.

  • Comment number 77.

    Just noticed somebody else as mentioned Hypia.

  • Comment number 78.

    There seems to have been a signficant drop in stanards or increase in competitiveness in the league .In deciding where the title goes . The January transfer wind will play a big role .


    Phil you are resigning too early ! Liverpool are not out of it for sure but they have a razor thin margin ! Its just a third of the season done .Twists and turns to come for sure . They just need to rediscover their winning mentality and keep their key players fit . Who knows ? True that you never know ! They need a quality forward to help Torres .


    Mr. Chesea is sounding a bit overconfident with 'catch us if you can comment' . But he is right with 3- horse race as it stands. You do not see obvious flaws in the chesea team do you ? But it is still the same squad that has been getting around 80+ pts for the last 3 seasons. Do they want to win the league that badly ? are motivated enough? What has changed is Carlo Anceloti ! The team Nothing new ,nothing exciting ! They need to freshen up , with young blood.


    I will agree with post 42 . Anyone writing off manchester united at this stage of the season is a class A fool ! Ronaldo is big miss that is for sure . Can they win without Ronaldo ? Bar Ronaldo the squad is still intact , but with the present team it is a big ask. The other question is do they want no. 4 on the trot that badly? remains to be seen. But My take yes they can they have the know-how. Manchester is known to peak in second part of the season and they need to if they are to win it again .So you write them off at your own peril . Hansen may have another monkey on his back with the TV comment that manchester have lost too many already to win the title . A creative spark going forward needed.


    Arsenal very exciting going forward and playing fluid football. They have bags of goals in them and the defense seems sound . There still remain an unknown quantity about them. At them moment they do not lack in confidence . can they maintain the momentum ? They get found out when teams come with a physical game , they need a plan B when Plan A is not working. Maybe they should adopt the mentality of if you score 4 we score 5 and see what happens ?.Having said that a powerhouse midfielder is do them much good.

    The team that does the best business in transfer window january of top 3 will be a big shot for the title .

    Manchester city and Spurs were touted as big for gate-crashers ?There chances of top 4 ? nah ! not unless liverpool remains in current state . The door is ajar but they do not seem to want to push it open and will be slam shut pretty soon. Manchester city where like a kid have a new toy . The novelty wears-off pretty fast !




  • Comment number 79.

    To be honest, im amazed so many pundits who do this for a living actually gave Liverpool the nod to win the title. I could understand them picking 'Pool for a one off cup game, but for the EPL? I con't care how good their run was last year, you don't pick a team with only one good striker to win the EPL. It's not like it has never been mentioned either, when Keane left everybody was aware that Ngog, Babel and Veronin weren't going to get the goals required. Personally I think Rafa should have went for a top drawer striker, rather than Glen Johnson, and especially Aquilina. The latter wouldn't have been too bad if he wasn't injured for half the campaign, but to pay 18 million when your in dire need of quality up front? Just silly, and it not's like Liverpool are lacking quality in the centre of the park either. Come January, if Rafa wants to be anywhere near the top, he needs at least 1 top striker, and in truth 2 would be better. Then sell Veronin (if he can) and Babel who's potential has long since not been realised, and that'll leave Ngog as back up.

  • Comment number 80.

    #73

    Hi Charlie,

    I think you are missing my point, it just happened to be against Liverpool that the penalty was given but I'm not bringing it up because it was Liverpool and diving has happened numerous times since by lots of teams. This isn't a Man Utd v Liverpool thing for me, I couldn't care less about either team.

    My point is that in 2006 a referee gave a TV interview stating he gave the penalty for intent, even though it had not been used before and it hasn't happened since. I wondered what Phil's take is regarding intent and whether it had any bearing on Peter Walton's decision, and what Phil's own views on giving penalties for intent were.

    I hope that clears up any confusion.

  • Comment number 81.


    On the subject of the best goalkeeper, I did not see the name of Shay Given mentioned at all. I was thinking if Arsenal had him between the sticks they would have a great chance of wining the league.

    I have to laugh when people are so opposed to Celtic and Rangers joining the EPL. It's all about money these days. The owners, the managers, the players, I bet even the tea ladies would move to a bigger club if paid more. Tradition and the game itself are now secondary to the greenback. And who is paying for all this? The fans of course. The latest fad is selling the stadium's name to get even more money to put in the players bank accounts. Celtic and Rangers joining the EPL will just be a business move.

  • Comment number 82.

    If my last post was not clear I am a Sheff Utd fan, not Man Utd.

  • Comment number 83.

    Phil, Good to see you have bowed to the inevitable. However, what amuses me is that both you and Mr Hansen thought that Liverpool were going to have the depth of squad to step up (even if Alonso had stayed).

    Any independent view (and I admit that I'm not impartial), would have looked at how, under Benitez, Liverpool have regularly had good finishes to the season, once they could no longer control the title's destiny. Any independent view would have identified that Benitez needed a support striker to Torres rather than yet another full-back (impressive though Johnson has been). Any independent view would have recognised that Benitez has not brought through enough youngsters to bolster his thin squad. Any independent view would have recognised how well Chelsea (sadly, my tip for the title), finished last season and with greater squad depth, greater resources and a proven TOP manager, they were going to be an everpresent. Any independent view, would have realised that City, Villa & Spurs were going to put more pressure on that important 4th spot and it was always LFC that were going to struggle (Arsenal always looked better than last seasons results with Arshavin for a full season, Eduardo & Rosicky back and the benefit of more experienced youth)

    My question, therefore, has to be WHY? Why did you EVER think Liverpool could win it?

  • Comment number 84.

    lorus59 - good point regarding Shay Given. He has been, in my opinion, Mark Hughes' best signing at Manchester City, with Gareth Barry a close second.

    Won't change my opinion that Reina is the best, but Given arguably second. Will be intriguing to see them both facing each other at Anfield next week - and I'll be there to see two top keepers in action.

  • Comment number 85.

    Matt Walker on Facebook: "After Ngog's disgraceful dive against Birmingham, what do you think is the best way to stamp this problem out of the game? I'd suggest an automatic three-match ban if video evidence proves cheating."

    Phil, you oversimplified this answer. On what grounds are you saying that diving to win a pen is as bad as a red card for a violent or dangerous tackle? Or are you comparing it to a professional foul?

    The reality is that football A)is supposed to be weighted in favour of the attackers, and B) allows a player to avoid a tackle without losing the freekick/pen.

    If you are using the 'clear goalscoring opportunity' argument that Robbo tried, then you have to do the same and give a red card for attackers handling the ball into the net, climbing on defenders or even just pushing at corners.

    And how can you 'prove' cheating, and that Carsley wouldn't have made contact if N'Gog had kept his feet on the ground?

    I just don't think diving is that bad, and the level of hysteria is ridiculous.

  • Comment number 86.

    50. At 10:14pm on 11 Nov 2009, gooonerific wrote:

    What a load of rubbish, Alonso was one of my favourite players for Liverpool, but in his 5 years at Liverpool he only had 2 brilliant seasons and last season was not one. Secondly you contradict yourself by saying torres and gerrard don’t make us a two man time but then say rafa has only signed one world class player in torres and gerrard is world class everyone knows, (along with the likes of reina, mascherano, Johnson, aquilani, kuyt). Correct me if im wrong, but weren’t arsenal falling behind last season, and a lot of the fans were getting on wengers back (like whats happening with rafa at Liverpool now), wenger was then very strongly linked with taking over at real Madrid (like rafa is being as pellegrini isn’t doing to well) but arsenal bounced back and made the top four?!?!? Or was I just imagining what happened last season?!? Finally rafa is known as the fat Spanish waiter not fat conductor!!!

    Rant over…

    What I want to know is what the Liverpool fans have as their perfect starting line up (no injuries)??? Also who would you like to see us go for in window, it said to we have been linked with a loan move for van der vaart, pavlyachenko and carlton cole!!

  • Comment number 87.

    reina

    johnson agger Skertl insua

    mash lucas

    yossi stevie g kuyt

    torres

    with kuyt and yossi to switch during the game

  • Comment number 88.

    how long will i be a new member, mods? i've been here a month or so now

  • Comment number 89.

    van der vaart is unlikely, unless his wife has recovered. he wants to move to an area where she can get the best possible treatment. i don't see where the money comes from in these fantasies of Liverpool buying players, especially given that next year might be even leaner with no CL money.

  • Comment number 90.

    Regarding diving, if a ref sees a player deliberately play for a penalty, then I think it should be a straight red card instead of a yellow.

    If a defender gets a red for deliberately stopping a goal-scoring chance, then an attacker should also see red for cheating to make a goal-scoring chance.

    Both situations have the same impact on the game, and should be treated the same.

  • Comment number 91.

    ok Phil, I really can't believe you're going to stick to your guns and say that the Eduardo incident was a penalty.

    If you are, I would like you to state your view on the following (from the top of my head), just to get a clear view:
    - the Bent penalty, the one given, rather than the obvious one (i assume you'll say correct decision)
    - the Carragher on Carrick situation (I assume you must say a penalty)
    - the Fletcher on Arshavin (I assume you must say a penalty)
    - Fletcher on Cole (i assume you must say a foul)
    - the Drogba tug on Brown (I assume you must say a foul).

    Cheers

  • Comment number 92.

    They're always going to be strong with such experience. But there is nothing special about Chelsea. They haven't improved, nor do they have the dynamism to win the title this season I think.
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Stats would show Chelsea have improved and I think they have showed dymamism this season. They have created more chances,had more shots on goal and scored more goals than at the same stage in previous seasons. In the majority of their games they have been much more fluent and have moved the ball at a faster pace than in previous seasons.

    I don't know if Chelsea can last the pace, because the squad is not the youngest,but at the moment they have shown they can play quality attractive football, and when that is not possible, they have also shown they can grind out results.

    Arsenal still have to show they can grind out results, but if they can, then they really will have a chance to become champions this season.

    The title looks destined for North or West London, unless United do something effective in the January window.

  • Comment number 93.

    I don't understand the fuss over England's keepers?

    Nicky Weaver is one of the best candidates for England's No. 1 jersey, yet he never gets mentioned.

  • Comment number 94.

    To norapeti:

    Chelsea will be severely weakened during January and unless they buy some big players their chance at the title will be all but over.

  • Comment number 95.

    "12. At 4:50pm on 11 Nov 2009, adolfinho wrote:
    Regarding the diving issue, a direct quote from FIFA Laws of the Game, Law 12- Fouls and Misconduct: "A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player...trips or attempts to trip an opponent..."
    One could argue that Carsley had no hope to get to the ball first, therefore by sliding in, he could only have attempted to trip Ngog."

    All this quoting of rules is fine but if you watch the 'attempted tackle trip' - 'No-one can argue' that Carsleys right boot lands squarely on top of the ball - FACT. This whilst NGOG was doing a belly flop with single somersault. He cheated and all this rule quoting will not detract from the fact he conned the referee.

    The Premier League Refs association have acted and demoted Mr. Walton from officiating as a referee for the next premier league round of matches. This endorses that (as their governing body) they have found him culpable of being conned by NGOG.

    The worrying thing is Birmingham are denied 2 points and NGOG gets away with it knowing he can do it again in the next match. It also encourages other attackers to do theatrics for prizes. The FA should set an example and ban him for a match - the same punishment dealt out to the Referee!!

    Rant over...

  • Comment number 96.

    No idea where to post this, but in the bbc article http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/teams/m/man_utd/8358195.stm there is no way Rooney was talking about Christiano Ronaldo - if you look at his next couple of sentences he was obviously talking about the Brazilian Ronaldo.

    Where do we post errors we've spotted?

  • Comment number 97.

    If Ngog should be banned for 3 matches for cheating, should Terry also be banned for 3 matches for cheating by pulling Valencia's shirt in the penalty area and getting away with it when he was the last man between Valencia and the keeper?

  • Comment number 98.

    Hey Phil, I just wanted to say most people are counting Manchester United out of the race. People do not realize that United have played, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Man city, Tottenham and they will be playing Villa soon. United always go on a 10 game winning run in the middle of the season. Chelsea has some tough games coming up, Arsenal, Man City and Everton in a row. So, I will say whom ever is on the top of the table by the end of December is the team to beat.

  • Comment number 99.

    RE: Officials explaining controversial decisions.

    The NFL does something like this. Each week Head of NFL Officiating Mike Perriera joins the NFL Network and explains penalties and why the were called as such. The rules of the NFL are intricate and vast in number. What this allows the fan to do is better understand on two fronts: the call from the officials point of view and insight into obscure rules.

    I think something like this could work in football but I believe the officiating and, to greater extent interaction with the officials during NFL games is very different from football.

    Given the way managers (like SAF) say things about officials and thier decisions, maybe they might be unwilling to participate in something like this.

  • Comment number 100.

    "I was actually in the minority who thought Arsenal's Eduardo did not dive against Celtic. I felt there was slight contact, but if someone has clearly dived then three matches. No problem."

    OMG, I certainly hope you are in the minority, Mr. McNulty, because you are dead wrong on this issue. Perhaps you are confusing the game of association football with tennis? Because unlike tennis, soccer is a contact sport. Therefore making physical contact with another player is perfectly within the rules of the game. It is HOW you make contact that determines a foul and that decision is solely up to the discretion of the referee. The rules of soccer are actually guidelines written for the referee and his assistant officials ... because they, and ONLY they, make the determination of what is and what is not a foul during a game. BTW, someone needs to explain that basic concept to Sir Alex, because apparently he seems to have gotten it into his thick head that since he has been so successful as a manager he is now entitled to interpret the events of any game his team plays in for the rest of us!

    The only rules of the game of association football (soccer) that a player at any level has to know are to play to the whistle and that the referee's decision is final. Those two basic rules apply equally to the game of soccer as it is played in the park on Sunday morning as they do to how it is played in the Football Conference, the Football League, the Premier League, UEFA competitions in Europe, or FIFA competitions anywhere in the world. The referee's interpretation of what occurs in the game is FINAL. It's not what YOU think, Mr. McNulty, nor is it what John Motson, Alan Hansen, Gary Lineker or any other BBC or Sky TV commentator thinks that matters either ... it is ONLY what the person put in charge of officiating the game thinks that counts. Quite honestly, everything else is just blather.

    The FA fully recognizes this basic principle of the game which is why it will NEVER overturn a referee's decision even when it's wrong. For example, referee Mike Jones' decision regarding Sunderland's "beachball goal" was clearly erroneous ... the rules of the game state that a drop-ball restart should have occurred as a result of the ball hitting an extraneous object on the field in that manner. It is kind of worrisome that a Premier League standard referee did not know that rule because he's a well-paid professional referee and we have an expectation that only the very best referees should be officiating Premier League games ... that is, the Premier League deserves/expects premier referees. However, no matter how much Liverpool F.C. nor their whinging fans complain about it, the FA will officially stick by that referee's decision to allow the goal to stand because it was his interpretation of the events at the instant they occurred. In the mean time, in the background, that referee's bosses have had some serious words with him about that bad decision, and he was dropped down to officiate at a Football League game at Peterborough the next weekend as a consequence.

    With respect to the issue of of diving, simulation, feigning injury and the general malaise of bad sportsmanship that is now so PREVALENT in the sport (and note that those aspects are nothing new and that they have ALWAYS been in the game), the responsibility for ridding the game of these unsporting aspects has to ultimately lie with the FA and its officials. The fact that neither Arsene Wenger nor Rafa Benitez sanctioned their players in any way for either of their clearcut dives means that those managers tacitly condone what they did, and that getting a result from the game "under any circumstances" is more important to both of those managers than that they get the result by deservedly fair play. So the impetus for change (meaning a move to a more sporting attitude to the way the game is played by its best practitioners) will not come from the football clubs themselves. There is far too much money and greed at stake. Such a change of approach to the game can only come by means of the way referees penalize players at the time the dives and simulated injuries occur.

    However, in order for that sort of change to come about the referees themselves must be better trained in detecting these antics as well as possibly given better technology (such as additional line officials or strategically placed cams that can be immediately consulted) to aid them in better making that detection. Without both of those things in place nothing much is going to change in the sport from the way it is today. And maybe that is not so bad a thing because the alternative school of thought is, as 'captainlazytim' pointed out, that "diving is (not) that bad, and the level of hysteria is ridiculous." What old Fergie doesn't seem to realize when he rants and raves about referees not being fit enough (which IMO was indeed an indefensible personal attack on the integrity of the referee in question and it fully deserved to be sanctioned by the FA, and probably somewhat more severely than it actually was) is that if they were fitter - or more eagle-eyed, or whatever else old Fergie might complain about them - then it might just as easily be the antics and dives of his own star forward Wayne Rooney that get called out as those of other players such as N'Gog, Eduardo and Drogba (whose great talent as a footballer is totally undermined by his dirth of talent as an actor). So IMO Sir Alex should be very, very careful what he actually wishes for!

    To return back to Phil McNulty's comment that the Eduardo incident was a penalty because there was some contact from the goalkeeper, that is a totally irrelevant criterion - at least taken in isolation it is. Every time a goalkeeper jumps to punch a high ball crossed into a crowded six yard box he probably makes contact with opposing forwards also jumping to head the ball, and every time a goalkeeper dives at the foot of a forward that has broken through the defense he almost certainly makes contact with the opposing player. The issue is NOT whether the goalkeeper makes physical contact with the opposing player but whether the goalkeeper robs the attacking player of a scoring opportunity by taking him out without playing the ball. If the goalkeeper plays the ball first but in doing so also makes serious physical contact with the opposing player causing him to fall over (thereby robbing him of any further opportunity of scoring), that is NOT a foul. If the goalkeeper misses the ball and makes physical contact with the opposing player, but not in a manner such as to knock him off balance or hinder his progress in any other significant way, that is also not a foul.

    Contact with the other player is NOT a criterion for a foul in of itself ... a determination (and this is why you need a referee) has to be made that the contact was both NOT after playing the ball first AND that the contact significantly impeded the player thus preventing him from scoring when he might possibly have scored without such contact being made. Any physical contact that Boruc may have made with Eduardo - and I've personally watched the video of that incident many times and I still cannot detect any contact between the goalkeeper and Eduardo so I have no idea what contact you are claiming - did NOT cause Eduardo to fall down and lose his scoring opportunity. The only reason Eduardo fell to the ground was because he threw himself there once he realized he had kicked the ball too far forward and there was no way he was now going to be able to kick it again before it went into touch. So he decided to make the most of the situation and try and con the referee ... and, of course, he succeeded. Boruc was perfectly entitled to be as angry as he was about the incident and if I had been in his position I might well have not exerted anywhere near as much self control as he did, because I probably would have been tempted to kick the cheating pratt Eduardo in his smirky little face and gotten myself sent off for it.

    Furthermore, that poor penalty decision did not seriously affect the final outcome of that Celtic-Arsenal tie; it really only inflated the final scoreline. So as blatant and worthy of ridicule as Eduardo's dive was it is still not as pernicious as N'Gog's dive which literally stole 2 points away from Birmingham City. There has also been a lot of stupid and very confused blather posted on this thread about intent ... that Carsley's tackle should have been penalized because his challenge was intended to take out N'Gog and the only reason he didn't do so was because N'Gog leaped over it as part of his embellished swan dive. But intent is also NOT a criterion for awarding free kicks and penalties. In most soccer situations the intent of a player cannot possibly be divined by another person - even a Premier League standard referee! Which is why there is absolutely no distinction made between the way an "accidental handball" and "deliberate handball" are penalized by a referee ... both result in a direct free kick, or a penalty if the handball occurs in the 18 yard box.

    The only reason the terms "accidental handball" and "deliberate handball" even exist are because of the possible need for a referee to further sanction a player in addition to awarding the direct free kick against him. If the referee believes the handball was deliberate - because, for instance, the full back dived full length across the face of an open goal to punch a shot over the bar thereby preventing a certain goal - then it is up to his discretion to caution (yellow card) or even send off (red card) the offending player for his action. The concept of intent in this case is used to determine whether further sanctions (yellow or red cards) are merited and it has nothing at all to do with whether the handball should be penalized or not. So when people say that the referee should not have penalized Joleon Lescott with a penalty in the Manchester City versus Burnley game because he was merely protecting his face, and thus it was an unintentional handball, are confusing two completely different concepts and talking through their nether regions!

    The concept of penalizing a slide tackle based on its divined intent is as equally stupid as arguing about the intent of a handball. All that matters is if there is or is not contact, and if there is, the nature of the contact (e.g., two footed, studs showing, etc.). The issue is completely moot if no contact is made as in the case of Carsley's attempted tackle. And whoever the person was that said that his tackle was two-footed, his leg was up in the air and his studs were showing, etc. needs to go get the prescription for his red-tinted contacts renewed because the attempted tackle was none of those things ... it was actually a very "clean" attempted slide tackle that just happened not to make contact. Hence it could not possibly be a penalty.

 

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