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Archives for February 2010

Capello will shrug off Bridge decision

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Phil McNulty | 11:53 UK time, Thursday, 25 February 2010

Wayne Bridge is no great loss to England, so expect coach Fabio Capello to have moved on to other business seconds after learning that Manchester City's defender had removed his "potentially divisive" presence from his squad.

For those who have been holidaying on Pluto for the past month, John Terry was sacked as England captain amid allegations he had a relationship with Bridge's former partner.

The naming of Capello's squad to face Egypt at Wembley next Wednesday was always going to be the tipping point as to whether Terry and Bridge could forge a purely professional bond.

Bridge has decided, in a statement released through his lawyers and in which he also effectively rules himself out of the World Cup, that this is impossible.

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Cool Carlo ready for Mourinho

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Phil McNulty | 16:20 UK time, Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Jose Mourinho will roll out the red carpet to welcome Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to Milan on Wednesday - whether the self-appointed "Special One" will afford Carlo Ancelotti the same privilege is another story.

Mourinho will be in touch with Abramovich via text before Inter Milan and Chelsea meet in the San Siro to ensure the Russian's every wish is met - apart from a place in the last eight of competition that is becoming an obssession for both clubs.

Ancelotti needs no assistance to find his way around Milan after five years and two European Cups as a player and nine years and two Champions League successes as coach of Inter's fiercest rivals - and Mourinho is unlikely to be in the mood to give it to him after the pair endured a fractious relationship in Serie A last season.

Mourinho, predictably and with the undisguised mischief that makes him so sorely missed in the Premier League, has already provided the vocal colour as a backdrop to the tie. And the great joy for Chelsea is that it will bounce off the impassive Ancelotti all day with supreme, even amused, indifference.

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Man City & Liverpool bore Eastlands

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Phil McNulty | 22:02 UK time, Sunday, 21 February 2010

In an old Monty Python sketch, the fictional East End gangland duo of Doug and Dinsdale Piranha used to exact revenge on rivals by nailing their heads to coffee tables.

It is impossible to imagine how this vicious form of comedy retribution might actually feel - but try the pain inflicted by watching Manchester City and Liverpool at Eastlands and you might just get a good idea.

Liverpool left with a point and £25,000 rifled from their less-than-bulging coffers by way of a fine imposed for collecting six yellow cards. This was a minor offence because the major crime on the charge sheet was committed by both City and Liverpool, namely impersonating teams with serious ambitions to reach next season's Champions League.

If fortune favours the brave then City and Liverpool will not be in the top four at season's end because Eastlands was littered with frightened men, on the pitch and in the technical area, and it resulted in a thoroughly wretched football match.

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Moyes revels in latest coup

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Phil McNulty | 16:45 UK time, Saturday, 20 February 2010

At Goodison Park

Everton will not win the Premier League title - but the way they swept aside Manchester United after inflicting similar punishment on Chelsea confirms they are intent on having a decisive say in its destination.

As David Moyes basked in his latest coup, a deserved victory after Everton proved too strong for the champions, he may just have allowed himself to think that a resurgent season could yet yield an unlikely reward.

Everton's hope of finishing in the top four still remains the longest of shots, but their upturn in form since the end of last year means they stand only six points behind Liverpool in fifth place and five behind Tottenham in sixth.

And as Sir Alex Ferguson's champions went the same way as Premier League leaders Chelsea in Everton's last home league game, Moyes will feel a tinge of regret that their season started so slowly and resulted in this game of catch-up.

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Rooney rides to Man Utd rescue

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Phil McNulty | 21:39 UK time, Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Sir Alex Ferguson described the closing stages of Manchester United's first win at the San Siro as "a carnival". It is unlikely his words will have been as benevolent behind closed doors.

It is churlish to downgrade the scale of United's achievement in beating AC Milan in their own formidable surroundings - but surprisingly a landmark result that helped Ferguson create another piece of history cannot be greeted with complete satisfaction.

Wayne Rooney showcased his world-class talent to put United in sight of the last eight of the Champions League, but the discomfort caused by a fading and unremarkable Milan side was an obvious cause for concern.

Ferguson's pleasure will be tempered by the defensive flaws and carelessness in possession that moved him to bound to the touchline in the first half and produce his infamous "hairdryer" in public, with Jonny Evans the unfortunate victim.

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Grant & Pompey fight on

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Phil McNulty | 21:05 UK time, Saturday, 13 February 2010

Avram Grant - the trademark dark clothes a sombre reflection of his low-key personality - bowed theatrically and uncharaceristically in front of ecstatic fans. It was as if victory against Southampton was his and Portsmouth's FA Cup final.

It may turn out to be just that after Pompey were given only a week to draw up a statement of the club's financial affairs and given a provisional High Court date of 1 March to hear their winding-up petition.

This comes five days before the scheduled FA Cup quarter-final, so a win against the despised arch-rivals from 15 miles down the south coast may yet prove their last fling in a competiton they won two seasons ago.

The only winding-up Portsmouth were subjected to on Saturday came courtesy of Saints' fans waving wallets and cash in their direction, and the sight of fake sheikhs dotted around St Mary's.


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Title race takes more twists

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Phil McNulty | 11:58 UK time, Thursday, 11 February 2010

Sir Alex Ferguson and Martin O'Neill walked off Villa Park with glasses half-empty - only to reach the dressing room and find this most unpredictable of Premier League seasons offering them a refreshing refill.

Ferguson will have felt Manchester United's superiority, even with 10 men after Nani's deserved red card, made the draw against Aston Villa an opportunity missed. Chelsea's defeat at Everton may just have transformed this into a point gained.

O'Neill will have suffered the same emotions about Villa's top four aspirations following the failure to take advantage of United in reduced circumstances until he was cheered by defeats for Liverpool and Tottenham.

Throw in Arsenal's mini-revival with that win against Liverpool at the Emirates and it was confirmation that the only thing that can be relied upon in the Premier League this season is its unreliability. Drawing quick conclusions is a dangerous occupation.

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Terry among friends as Arsenal fade

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Phil McNulty | 09:00 UK time, Monday, 8 February 2010

John Terry relinquished the captain's armband for the second time in 48 hours - only this time it was with victory as the backdrop rather than a humbling and brutally brief encounter with Fabio Capello.

Capello took only 12 minutes to sack Terry as England captain on Friday, although the business end of the conversation took a lot less by all accounts, but the defender was mostly among friends at Stamford Bridge.

And at the end of a traumatic week, with Terry swamped by allegations of a relationship with the ex-girlfriend of England team-mate Wayne Bridge, he responded to the warmth of his reception and the satisfaction of an easy win against Arsenal by milking the moment.

Terry concluded a one-man lap of honour after the final whistle by throwing his Chelsea shirt into the crowd and carefully presenting a supporter in the Matthew Harding Stand with the armband. Redemption time.

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Capello right to sack Terry

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Phil McNulty | 17:11 UK time, Friday, 5 February 2010

Fabio Capello's message was short and sweet - delivered in a 12-minute meeting at Wembley that left John Terry no time to wonder about his fate as England captain.

Terry was hastily and brutally reduced to the ranks after Capello had taken time to sift through the fall-out of the Chelsea defender's alleged affair with the ex-girlfriend of England team-mate Wayne Bridge.

And having seen the evidence, the 63-year-old Italian clearly reached the conclusion that his side could not be led into the World Cup by a captain who threatened to fracture the unity of squad and purpose essential to success in South Africa.

Capello made a football judgement - not a moral one - on the claims made against Terry and decided his skipper's credibility and ability to lead by example had been irreparably damaged.

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Phil McNulty Q&A blog

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Phil McNulty | 09:30 UK time, Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The transfer window is closed and the jostling for position at the top and bottom of the Premier League continues. Can Manchester United overtake Chelsea? Who has done the best business in the transfer window? Time for another Q&A blog.

It will come as no surprise to learn that one topic has dominated the questions I've received - and that's the England captaincy and John Terry. It is impossible to answer them all, so I plan to tackle this issue in a stand-alone blog if and when England coach Fabio Capello makes any decision.

Anyway, once again loads of questions via Twitter and Facebook - again I have tried to address as many as I can but it is just not possible to answer them all. Please keep sending them in and there will be another Q&A soon.

Wayne Rooney's wonderful form for Manchester United has provided plenty of interest - so we will start with him.

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Manchester United expose leaking Arsenal

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Phil McNulty | 07:30 UK time, Monday, 1 February 2010

Arsenal's day of indignity and embarrassment reached a fitting conclusion as the ceiling in the Emirates Stadium's opulent media theatre came out in sympathy with their defence - and leaked like a sieve.

Panic was swiftly avoided with the use of a bucket and a presumably a plumber. Crisis over. If only Arsenal's own problems could have been solved so simply as Manchester United made it a harrowing afternoon for Arsene Wenger and his team.

Wenger, as he did before the heavy home defeat against Chelsea in November, talked up the meeting with the champions as a measure of his side. Once again Arsenal failed their big examination. Miserably.

The moods of the two old foes Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson could not have been more contrasting - in keeping with the performances of their teams. No fine margins here, United were superior in every department while Arsenal were flimsy, lightweight and bore no resemblance to serious title contenders.

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