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Phil McNulty | 00:40 UK time, Thursday, 22 April 2010

Chelsea and Manchester United are ready to take the Premier League title race down to the season's final day. The battle for fourth place is fierce. The World Cup is only weeks away. What better time that to have another Q&A blog?

England's World Cup campaign has attracted a lot more attention - a sign that the clock is ticking down to kick-off in South Africa - and Dimitar Berbatov is a subject that is exercising the minds of many Manchester United fans it seems.

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.

And remember the debate continues here - there will be plenty of questions to come out of the questions. If that makes sense.

foolhandy and kopdoc on Twitter both asked about England's World Cup starting line-up, with foolhandy asking: In 09/09 Q&A I asked your England team if World Cup was this Saturday - you said : Green, Johnson, Ferdinand, Terry, Cole, Lennon, Barry, Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney, Defoe. Now?:

If the World Cup was starting this Saturday my line-up would be (and I'll take the liberty of assuming everyone is fit) James, Johnson, Ferdinand, Terry, Cole, Lennon, Barry, Lampard, Milner, Gerrard, Rooney.

I think we can safely assume this WON'T be the team as the spell Emile Heskey casts on England managers appears to live on under Capello. I name David James as the keeper on current form but without huge confidence, while I also have deep concerns about the fitness and form of Rio Ferdinand and John Terry. Also Aaron Lennon needs to be getting games pretty soon.

Ask me again in a couple of weeks and it will probably be different - confirmation that the World Cup is upon us.

FingyM asks on Twitter: Should John Terry and Rio Ferdinand start for England in the World Cup? Both in awful form. Upson and Dawson?

I would stick with them as the tried and trusted pairing, but with the confession - made in the first reply - that I am concerned about Ferdinand's constant vulnerability to injury and Terry's current form. Chelsea's captain was run ragged at Spurs at the weekend.

Not sure Matthew Upson's case is strong enough, but I had lots of questions about Michael Dawson, who has plenty of admirers out there.

With Joleon Lescott injured, and never fully convincing for England anyway, there may well be a spare berth at the back and Dawson is playing superbly for Spurs, as he has done for most of the season.

He was almost faultless in front of Fabio Capello, who knows a quality defender when he sees one, when Spurs beat Chelsea and I think he must be in his mind. Everton's Phil Jagielka is another defender for who Capello has great admiration, but the World Cup will come a little too soon for him as he returns from a serious knee injury.

No surprise that Liverpool (and yes I know, my tip for the title this season) have also attracted plenty of questions so we will stick to these three and try to give a general answer to their problems.

edlee on Twitter asks: What do Liverpool need to do to challenge next year and beyond? On the pitch and off the pitch.

7Shoaib7 on Twitter: If Liverpool finish fourth, how does that rank among Rafa's achievements? Will it be a chance missed for Man City and Spurs?

Shaneel Chetty on Facebook: What will happen to Liverpool should they miss out on European football next season (I mean both the Champions League and the Europa Cup?) Will some of their top players leave?

I thought Liverpool would not just challenge this season, I thought they would win the league. I could not have been more wrong.

To challenge next season, they will need an injection of major investment to give them the financial firepower to bring in better players to challenge the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea, and then to keep pace with Arsenal, Spurs, Manchester City and Aston Villa.

This process is already under way with the appointment of British Airways boss Martin Broughton as chairman and owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett signalling their intention to sell the club.

All indications, however, are that this will not be a quick process, especially if reports coming out of the United States that Hicks has set his sights on raking in £800m for Liverpool prove to be true. This simply will not happen and the owners will have to get real about the price.

As for the statement from Hicks and Gillett claiming they have "grown the club" - deluded does not even cover those remarks.

If Liverpool finish fourth, I actually do not think it ranks anywhere in Rafael Benitez's list of achievements. It would simply be achieving the very minimum requirement that would have been expected by the club and the supporters at the start of the season.

benitezblog595.jpgBenitez has been in charge at Anfield since the summer of 2004. Pic: Getty.

As for Manchester City and Spurs, they would both regard this season as a huge opportunity missed, especially given Liverpool's limitations, if one of them does not claim fourth place.

Spurs are in prime position now, while City will be edgy after losing so late in the day at home to Manchester United on Saturday.

I know a real fear for Liverpool, expressed to me by some inside the club, is that City will finish fourth and respond to reaching the Champions League by throwing almost unfathomable amounts of money at player recruitment.

In answer to the final question, I do not think Liverpool will miss out on European football completely next season, and they have to believe they can still finish fourth. The question remains whether the Europa League will be enough to fire the imaginations of their star men such as Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

I still believe Gerrard will finish his career at Liverpool, despite renewed talk of a move abroad, but Torres is another matter and it will be interesting to see what happens if he has an outstanding World Cup. He is sure to attract interest from clubs using huge wages and the lure of the Champions League in an attempt to entice him away from Anfield.

johnmicol on Twitter: Don't you think if Manchester United win the league for a fourth successive time it will be bad and make the Premier League boring?

No I don't. If they win it for the fourth season running it means they have been the best team again. It is up to the other challengers to try and make life more interesting for themselves by taking action to try and stop Manchester United. I am sure Sir Alex Ferguson, his players and United's fans do not get tired of winning titles.

It might get a little tedious if they were doing it without being given a run for their money, but this season will go right down to the wire and, of course, they may not win it yet. So boring? No.

Phil Williams on Twitter: Put your neck on the line. Make a prediction how much longer Fergie will keep going and who will replace him.

Put my neck on the line? After my Liverpool prediction? Oh go on then. It has been very interesting to read stories by journalists who have an inside track at Old Trafford suggesting in the last couple of days that next season will be Sir Alex's last.

No reason why they should dream that up out of thin air - although suggestions about a successor have varied, with both Jose Mourinho and David Moyes getting strong support.

So, climbing off the fence, I would guess Ferguson will stay at Old Trafford next season, or until such time as Jose Mourinho is ready to take over. But don't quote me.

fergieblog595.jpgFerguson replaced Ron Atkinson in the Old Trafford hotseat in November 1986. Pic: Getty.

Sam Fiske on Facebook: Are some Arsenal fans correct in believing it is the right time for Arsene Wenger to leave?

Ahad Shaukat Gooner on Facebook: Has Arsene Wenger lost the plot ? Where did he go wrong in Arsenal's trophyless years ? And do you expect an Arsenal side managed by him to seriously compete for silverware on all fronts?

Andrew Chrysostom on Facebook: Have Arsenal over, or under-achieved this season?

Jason Busby on Facebook: Where do Arsenal go from here?

I was attacked by lots of Arsenal fans for criticising their team after the defeat at Chelsea and accusing Wenger of being "delusional" for somehow arriving at the mistaken conclusion that they had been the better team.

I believe I have been proved correct about them. They have not been strong enough or good enough and Wenger's belief in his team has been exposed as flawed again.

What I do not believe, however, is that any Arsenal fans would be right in suggesting Wenger should lose his job. This is a total nonsense, but the time is coming when Wenger needs to start winning trophies.

His obvious disregard for the FA Cup and the Carling Cup would find more sympathy here if Arsenal actually looked like they might win the Premier League or the Champions League, where they were outclassed by Barcelona.

Wenger needs a trophy next season, and if it means swallowing his pride and accepting one of the domestic cup competitions, then so be it.

I think he made a serious mistake by not buying a quality goalkeeper. Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski have let Arsenal down and Wenger has stood by without correcting an obvious problem.

In answer to Andrew's question, I am afraid Arsenal have achieved more or less what I expected them to achieve in the Champions League and the Premier League, and have been mistaken in fielding weakened teams in the FA Cup and Carling Cup.

I expect this to be, by Arsenal's standards, a hectic summer in the transfer market with strengthening done in all departments, with a reliable keeper, a strong centre half and a powerful midfield presence all required.

Reason? It has to be.

Bolarinwa Olajide on Facebook: Which team has surpassed all expectations this season in the Premier league?

Has to be Birmingham City. I thought they would struggle, but they have lived happily in the top 10 for months and have been a tribute to the outstanding management of Alex McLeish.

McLeish bought well when bringing in players like Roger Johnson and Scott Dann. He has brought the best out of Barry Ferguson and his decision to get goalkeeper Joe Hart on loan from Manchester City has been inspired.

He is a common sense manager who has found a style and system that suits his players. I trust Birmingham City's owners will realise what a gem of a manager they have on their hands. Everyone associated with Birmingham City can be proud of their season, no matter what happens in the next couple of weeks.

davidleatham on Twitter: Do you think that had Everton not had key players out at the start of the season they would be at least fourth if not better?

Quite a few questions on this subject. Hard to say definitely, but given their form since the turn of the year then they may have every reason to regret this season as a chance missed to get fourth place.

I think the saga over Joleon Lescott's acrimonious sale to Manchester City wrecked the start of their season. I think it also affected David Moyes, who was very downbeat as Everton struggled early on in the season, and did little to hide his bitterness about City's pursuit of Lescott.

I happen to think City's £24m deal for Lescott represented a stupendous piece of business for Everton and events have proved it.

What it did do was leave Moyes little time to get in reinforcements and of course they take time to settle. John Heitinga has been a big presence for Everton, while the return of Mikel Arteta and Phil Jagielka after injury has seen them become not only a winnning team, but a very attractive team.

They have beaten Chelsea and Manchester United at home, drawn at Arsenal and Chelsea and comfortably outplayed Manchester City at home and away. These are very good signs.

If they can keep the likes of Steven Pienaar and Jack Rodwell at the club, get Marouane Fellaini fit again and add a quality striker and maybe even get Landon Donovan back, then Everton should enter next season with great optimism.

abblly on Twitter and Bolarinwa Olajide on Facebook: Can Dimitar Berbatov be regarded as a success or a flop at Manchester United?

I would say neither, although I know plenty would say flop. He did play his part in a title-winning team last season, and while he has not played at his best this season he has still made a contribution.

I know people suggest he looks like he doesn't care, but I simply refuse to believe that about any professional footballer playing at the elite level.

Manchester United have also flourished with Wayne Rooney playing as a lone striker this season, which has limited Berbatov's opportunities.

Yes, he could have done a lot better but I am not convinced he has been as bad as so many are keen to portray. It will be interesting to see what would happen if United received a presentable offer for him. One thing is for sure - they will not get any offers approaching the £30.75m they paid Tottenham.

So flop or success? As with many things, I would suggest the truth lies somewhere in- between.

Matt Goodacre on Facebook: Would Steve McClaren be a good choice for the West Ham job, should they stay up?

First of all, Gianfranco Zola is still in his job and I will never use this blog as a platform to suggest managers of Premier League clubs should lose their jobs. There is no question, however, that his future is shrouded in uncertainty.

What I can say also is that I have total respect for Steve McClaren for the way he has rebuilt and reinvented his career after losing the England job, which was sadly inevitable because results proved he was out of his depth.

Maybe he even thought himself that the job came too soon, but he was never going to turn down his country. I was very criticical of him - and to be honest results and performances left little option.

But to take charge at FC Twente in Holland and take them to within one victory of winning Eredivisie is a great feat and is deserving of the admiration of even his sternest critics.

If he returns to this country, there is every chance it will be as an improved coach and manager and a wiser, more experienced man. Of course his time with England will never be forgotten, it never is, but being a success abroad is some rehabilitation and I have no doubt that if Premier League jobs come up, his name will undoubtedly be on the lists of the chairmen.

Ray Kiarie on Facebook: Should we read anything from Spurs' win against Arsenal and Chelsea - ie: Spurs improving under Harry Redknapp?

I think you can read, Ray, that Spurs are a far better team under Redknapp than they were before he arrived. It showed great character to respond to the FA Cup semi-final defeat against Portsmouth by beating Arsenal and Chelsea, and totally deservedly as well.

I know plenty of Spurs fans were highly critical of their display against Pompey at Wembley, but in reality they had plenty of chances to win that game in normal time.

Spurs are attractive to watch, have more steel about them and have given themselves a great chance of finishing fourth. Indeed I know some experts who occasionally populate White Hart Lane who are starting to even fancy them for third.

Redknapp will no doubt play the markets in the summer, especially if they reach the Champions League, so expect more improvements from Spurs next season.

IN BRIEF

Adama Sallah on Twitter: Do you think David Beckham missing the World Cup will be a blow to England?

No. I would not have had him in the squad in the first place. A spent force as a serious international player. Sorry for him as a person and a professional that injury ruled him out, but no great loss for England.

Eamonn Bermingham on Facebook: Who is the best striker in the Premier League?

Tough one Eamonn. You could barely slip a piece of paper between Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres. I will go for Rooney because of his all-round game, but I fully accept the case for either of the other two players I have mentioned - both unquestionably world-class strikers.

liamwoodward on Twitter: Dark horse to make the England World Cup squad?

Tottenham's Michael Dawson.

Ryan Moore on Facebook: Do you think Bobby Zamora should be going to the World Cup? He has all the hold-up play of Heskey and plenty more goals...

Not sure Zamora is international class to be honest Ryan, but I believe he has developed into a better player than Emile Heskey this season and he is almost certainly going to the World Cup. I would take him ahead of Heskey, but I do not believe for a second Fabio Capello will do that.

Zamora has been outstanding this season, and credit should also go to Fulham boss Roy Hodgson for the way he has maintained his confidence and turned him into a fine, all-round striker capable of scoring and making goals.

Not a World Cup contender for me - but a very good striker these days.

You can follow me throughout this season at twitter.com/philmcnulty and join me on Facebook.

Comments

Page 1 of 2

  • Comment number 1.

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

  • Comment number 2.


    "I happen to think City's £24m deal for Lescott represented a stupendous piece of business for Everton and events have proved it."
    ----

    Agreed, rivaled by the 17m they paid Blackburn for Roque Santa Claus. Talk about a bill of goods!

  • Comment number 3.

    I would take Heskey as a starting forward. Two European Championships and a World Cup is a massive amount of invaluable international experience which could prove crucial. I am positive that Zamora would prove to be a massive flop if he was taken to the WC

  • Comment number 4.

    "I think we can safely assume this WON'T be the team as the spell Emile Heskey casts on England managers appears to live on under Capello."
    ---------------
    If all England are looking for is a player with a big presence inside the box but whose goal return is 1 in 10, Capello will take Heskey along. But with just a few games and maybe very limited chances in each due to the quality of the opposition at the World Cup, what England needs is a striker that will convert 3 out of 5 chances. Of the two, Zamora can guarantee you that.

    As a United fan, I have mixed feelings about Berbatov. While I still regard him as a good striker, he has failed to deliver for the team when it mattered most. And he does come across as unconcerned at times. I would not be overly worried if we sold him and bought another striker.

  • Comment number 5.

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

  • Comment number 6.

    Highly doubt anyone will read this, but people who post 'first', get a life. Seriously, why are people tragic enough to bother doing it?

  • Comment number 7.

    Villa fan here.

    I find it absolutely laughable that Heskey is effectively a shoe-in for the World Cup squad. We have had our fair share of bad forwards over the last decade or so (Bosko Balaban, anyone?) but rarely has a striker so lumbering and ineffective as Sir Emile Heskey graced the Villa attack. For a player whose one talent is supposedly bringing others into the game (well it's not his goals ii?) he is remarkably bad at holding up the ball in the final third. He has a very poor first touch and is prone to going to ground under the slightest pressure. Ok, so he gets his head to the odd flick on. Is that really enough to justify his inclusion for the WORLD CUP SQUAD?! please.

    The fact is, he struggles against mediocre opposition in the League and disappears entirely against the better teams. How on earth is he going to fare against the best the world has to offer? We MUST be able to find someone better, and if not, why not have Rooney playing as a solo striker with the likes of Lampard/Gerrard/Walcott/Milner/Lennon/takeyourpick as supporting attacking midfielders?

    just, anyone but Heskey.

  • Comment number 8.

    International football is completely different to club football and Capello has been smart enough to pick this up quickly. He understands that to be a successful international team you need to play with a settled team, a winning formula and good balance.

    With Heskey in the first eleven he has a player with experience, who has played in a winning team during qualification and who adds balance by bringing Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard into the team.

    That is why Capello will rightly take Heskey and play him in the first game.

    I have a sneaky feeling that if England get to the quarter finals then Defoe will have pushed his way into the starting eleven by making a few impact substitutions in the group stage & 2nd round. However for the first game against the U.S.A we should definitely start with Heskey.

  • Comment number 9.

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

  • Comment number 10.

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

  • Comment number 11.

    McNulty: "stories by journalists who have an inside track at Old Trafford" with "No reason why they should dream that up out of thin air" and a link to the Daily Star!

    I'll be charitable and take that as an attempt at sarcasm from BBC Sport's chief football writer.

  • Comment number 12.

    i think fergie and the fans have given berba , enough time to prove himself for the price tag , but he has to go , he's not good enough , and if we can swap him for huntelaar superb and get buffon in with a vidic swap and bale we could be looking good for next season .

  • Comment number 13.

    I would much prefer my club Liverpool to not qualify for Europe at all than qualify for the Europa League.
    I'm still deluded enough to look at next season with optimism (and that we may put up a title challange that will last longer than the autumn).
    But with all the travelling, the amount of games against mostly mediocre teams and the ball ache of Sunday afternoon kick offs I'm sure the players will look forward to it like a cruise around Iceland, never mind the fans.
    Loosing Torres during the summer will depend as much upon the wages on offer as much as the European competition his would be employers are involved in. Although we can't guarentee him European football of the top calibre we can offer him weekly games against some of the best teams in on the continent, something the other leagues cannot.
    I would imagine the relaxed Spanish Tax laws may win out though.

  • Comment number 14.

    I really wish you'd drop the idea of Rooney playing as a lone striker for England. It works for Man United but only when he's fit. There's not another striker there who you would trust to replace him for either club or country if it was a lone striker role. The same is true for Liverpool and why they have come so unstuck without Torres.

    Changing the England attack method after they've scored a record number of goals in qualification seems like a poor move, seems like you want them to play like Liverpool, to accomdate Gerrard. I think having a big man works alongside Rooney, though recent lineups may suggest a starting place for Crouch ahead of Heskey.

  • Comment number 15.

    Best striker in the English Premier League?? How come Darren Bent never gets any recognition as a striker? For the last four or five seasons his name has been right up there with the leagues top goal scorers.

  • Comment number 16.

    Can't believe anybody is still suggesting Liverpool can finish fourth. The are at least 6 points behind with 3 games to make it up (before some pedant points out that they are 5 behind, don't forget that Spurs & City have a game in hand in which they play each other - if Spurs win the gap will be 8 points, a draw or City win & it is 6 points). For Liverpool to make 4th they will have to win all 3 of there remaining games & both Spurs & City will have to get a maximum of 3 points. Even then it would go down to goal difference. Mathmatically possible yes but I would happily accept any bet you want to make on it happening.

  • Comment number 17.

    I'm sorry but why does having experience of previous campaigns give you an advantage..?? Heskey is awful and hasn't kicked a ball for years.. His own manager has criticised him in open press for spending too much time out the game and basically making the most of every knock or injury he has.. By these parameters for selection, ie experience and limited game time Gary Neville should be your captain.

    You say Jagielka shouldn't go because of his return from injury but name Aaron Lennon in your starting 11?? I'm sorry but if you want progression you need to take a chance and sticking with players who are out of form or have been carrying injuries (Ferdinand, Terry) is just taking the easy way out.. so much emphasis is wrongly placed on previous experience..

    and Rob Green should never be an England number 1..

  • Comment number 18.

    I'm a Utd fan and I'm sick of everybody slating Berbatov. If you watch the games then yes, I can understand why people may see him as a 'lazy' footballer. But you've got to look beneath this and see what he gives the team! The little touches that create the goals, the holding up of the ball that he does, he has a brilliant footballing brain.

    I agree that he doesn't score many goals and I won't dispute that, but when you have Rooney banging them in left, right and cantre theres no need for him to be battling with Rooney to be the top scorer. Instead, he will play off Rooney and thats where he does his best work, the little backflicks that always seem to work out, the little touches to an onrushing Valencia to swing a ball in onto Rooneys head, when Utd have been scoring goals and winning games, I don't understand what the problem is.

    I do wish that he'd played a little better when Rooney has been injured, but he's been thrust into this lone striker position, which is different to where he has played all season!

  • Comment number 19.

    Morning Phil,

    I think should United win the league this year, Fergie may just call it a day!

    His life-long ambition was to catch Liverpool in terms of league titles won, he's done that (although he admits himself he never believed he would achieve it), so I think if he manages to surpass them this year, he may just call it a day.

    On the other side of the coin, there is something telling me he would like one more crack at the whip in Europe, perhaps the driving force behind that being the Rome Final which will still undoubtedly be vivid in his mind.

    The prospect of revenge for Fergie, - not necessarily on Barcelona, but Europe as a whole, is what may keep him at the helm beyond this season.

    There is no doubt though in my mind the 10/11 season (sounds weird that) will be his last!

    And replacing him in 11/12 season, there is no doubt in my mind, will be a certain Jose Mourinho.


    Your thoughts Phil?

  • Comment number 20.

    Fair dues Phil, can't argue really with any of that! Well done. Given that so many post here who have often not even seen games, do you think it would be possible to do a few more general blogs rather than just on the match you have seen. Perhaps the end of each month next season, you could do a round up/state of play, movers and shakers, blog if you know what I mean. Just a thought.

  • Comment number 21.

    good blog- much more sensible and balanced than the "alternative XI's" blog that was on the website recently (i can't remember if you wrote that or not)- i think we are set for a very close finish for the champions, 4th spot and the relegation spot, so this could be the most exciting end of season in years.
    although as a chelsea fan i'm very worried united might just beat us to it..

  • Comment number 22.

    Thanks Phil for the positive comments about my club Birmingham City. I can't ever remember a season before when we have received so many favourable reports. As you have identified the relative success we have had this season is purely down to one thing and that is Big Eck our manager. There is no question that he is the best manager we have had in the 50+ years I have been supporting the team.

    By no means are we the finished article but if we can continue to make the steady progress which Eck has started then the next few years could be very exciting for a club that has won absolutely nothing in it's history.

    Just one final thought, good luck to WHU now that the two muppets have taken charge. There is only one thing they know and that is spin, spin, spin. We should know we had it for 16 years!

  • Comment number 23.

    Phil, while I agree that Arsenal need reinforcements, it's clear to see why their fans think you slate them too much.

    Back in August you predicted they would finish 4th, a view shared by a lot of journalists. The rest predicted 5th. In that respect, finishing 3rd is still a great achievement.

    Can't you give the team credit for being in the title race for most of the season? And this happened after losing a world-class striker in Van Persie for 5 months, not to mention all the other injuries suffered.

  • Comment number 24.

    Your stuff on Arsenal is the dilussional stuff. How can you not see that with an injury list from hell the fact Wenger has kept them in the title race till April is one of the biggest achievements in PL history. Its all very easy Mr McNulty to carp on about buying players but at Arsenal they have 40+ players worthy of any PL team and most of which will play CL football for future clubs. I defy you to list the starting Arsenal xi and (subject to a goalie) and not find it as good as Chelsea's and Man Utd's.

    Wenger and most importantly the club of Arsenal provide this country with a service, a world class squad that is sustainable, not the purchased list of money-grabbers and whingers found at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, Eastlands, Anfield and White Hart Lane. Its about time the likes of you celebrated that!

  • Comment number 25.

    I asked this before but the blog disappeared before I got an answer.
    Forgive me if it's a completely foolish question but wouldn't Liverpool qualify for the Champions League for next season if they win the Europa League this? Or at least get into the play offs for a qualifying spot?
    I suppose then the winner of the Europa league wouldn't have a chance to defend the title though....

    I think Wenger's only mistake last transfer season was not buying Given. 8 million wasn't he? Absolute bargain. I must admit I'm disappointed that we didn't win any silverware again this season, but I wouldn't trade a shiny thing or two for being in the financial mess that 'pool or united are in. Or having a sugar daddy like chelski do for that matter...

    Much as I hate to say it but fair play to spurs this season too. They've got a decent squad now and I fancy them for fourth. Rather have them to there to knock out in the later rounds of the CL in any case :D

  • Comment number 26.

    Good, reasonably objective answers Phil.

    - Liverpool will NEVER finish fourth!

    - Zamora IS better than Heskey and Crouch.

    - Berbatov, will be sold, I think. He's a different mental attitude - seems too nervy in big games. The truble is, almost everybody wants him to do well at United.

  • Comment number 27.

    Can't see why you would take heskey in front of Zamora. both are targetmen, but one actually scores goals, good goals against quality opposition (Juve, Shaktar) in quality competitions (the Europa League).

    as for my team Chelsea, watching Mourinho win and Robben score goals and generally making things happen, it shouts out as two huge mistakes made over the past few seasons.

  • Comment number 28.

    @ 6.

    agreed, I can't understand the logic of having read the blog and having nothing to say other than first?! ... sad.

  • Comment number 29.

    12. At 08:11am on 22 Apr 2010, masterwindu wrote:
    i think fergie and the fans have given berba , enough time to prove himself for the price tag , but he has to go , he's not good enough , and if we can swap him for huntelaar superb and get buffon in with a vidic swap and bale we could be looking good for next season .
    --------------------------------------------------------------------

    Berbatov not good enough?

    Look at the clubs that have been linked with signing him: AC Milan and Bayern Munich. Pub teams, not.

    And Huntelaar? He's flopped at Real Madrid and AC Milan. What makes you think he's better than Berbatov?

    Phil McNulty got it spot on for once. In his first season Ferguson rotated Berbatov with Tevez, Ronaldo and Rooney and he didn't integrate well. This season, Man Utd have hit upon a successful 4-5-1 designed to get the best out of Rooney, but at the expense of Berbatov.

    When Utd play 4-4-2, usually against midtable and bottom teams in the Prem, Berbatov plays and he plays well. Then they play 4-5-1 against the bigger teams, Berbatov is on the bench and everyone says Fergie doesn't trust him, he's a flop, etc.

    Berbatov has been treated unfairly by Ferguson from an individual perspective and he's been sacrificed for the team tactics. It will lead to questions as to why Fergie bought him but the simple truth is that ferguson has decided to play 4-5-1, he's decided -rightly- Rooney is his No.1 striker, and Berbatov doesn't really fit a 4-5-1 or can replace Rooney in that formation.

    It's not that Berbatov is not good enough, Ferguson is not giving him the chance to show his best. if they go back to 4-4-2 or a more attacking 4-3-3 then you would see the best of Berbatov. It's not that he's a bad player. He's class and the workrate argument is irrelevant. People are comparing him to Tevez and Rooney but he's a different type of forward. He was signed as an option, just seems strange to pay £30m for an 'option'.

  • Comment number 30.

    Phil,

    How can you possibly determine whether Zamora is 'international class' or not when he has not even been tried? How do you determine 'international class'? You suggest that Dawson be included based on his club performances and in the very next breath you rule that Zamora cannot be included for the very same reason? May I kindly enquire if you have perhaps watched his games in the Europa league - his decision making, passing, assists, movement and the goals themselves? I am a United fan and I am ashamed to admit that some of Berbatov's performances this season have left me thirsting for Zamora or even Kevin Doyle.

  • Comment number 31.

    To FergiesArmadillo...let me just start with a staunch defence of the journalists who wrote the "Ferguson To Quit" stories. The Daily Star reporter Bill Thornton is one of the most experienced and respected journalists covering Manchester and has a history of breaking big Manchester United stories. So, with that in mind, do not dismiss it lightly.

    To collie21...take your point totally about general blogs on top of a blog on the game I am covering. Rest assured this is something I will be taking into account next season and will try to fit in at intervals. I shall count on you to remind me (which I have no doubt you will!) if I forget.

    As you might have detected, I have admiration for Dimitar Berbatov as a footballer, and I imagine even those United fans who either doubt him or have given up on him share that view.

    It has been put forward recently that maybe playing for Manchester United is simply too big for him. I'm not saying I agree with that because sometimes circumstances can conspire against a player, but Sir Alex Ferguson insists there is a unique pressure involved in playing at Old Trafford.

    Is there a merit in this view?

    As an example, I always felt playing at Liverpool was just a bit too big for even someone as self-confident as Craig Bellamy. Let me know your thoughts.

  • Comment number 32.

    I don't Support England (shoot me!). But for the good of Global Football and the World Cup it is imperative that they put in a better than good performance.

    JOHN TERRY has too much personal 'baggage'. If Fabio Capelo dumps Terry England stand a chance. If Terry is retained he will do to England what he already has done to Chelsea FC.

    I cannot read a game but on issues like this am never wrong! Dump Terry is not the 'in thing' to say and that is the only reason only a few of us are prepared to say it publicly.

  • Comment number 33.

    No Manchester United fan will tell you Berbatov is not a good player, but we will all tell you he is a 70%-80% (being the effort he puts in every match). Rooney on the other hand is a 110% player.

    Berbatov thinks that because of his talent, he does not have to work very hard. Contrast this to Lionel Messi (another 110%), who will run around and work very hard to win the ball back.

    There is an old adage, that if you are a Turkey and you want to sit in a tree and do nothing, you must be sitting very high up. Indeed so high up that the hunter's bullet cannot reach you...

    C. Ronaldo was also an 80% player but he makes up for this by banging in the goals relentlessly. Berbatov on the other hand, employed primarily as a striker has not been doing this. We didn't pay #30.75mm just to see the sublime skills...we paid that money for him to turn those skills into goals or assists. When this does not happen, you cannot ignore that something is wrong.

    To answer your question definitively - Yes Berbatov has been a failure at United. Had we paid #15mm or #20mm for him, I might have been prepared to go along with your "somewhere in between" theory. But considering how much was invested in him and what he has brought to the table, I would say he is a massive failure. Torres is at least twice the striker he is and if Torres is worth #26mm Berbatov cannot be worth more than #15mm

    To whom much is given, much is rightly expected...

  • Comment number 34.

    18. At 09:03am on 22 Apr 2010, Matt Bennett wrote:
    I'm a Utd fan and I'm sick of everybody slating Berbatov. If you watch the games then yes, I can understand why people may see him as a 'lazy' footballer. But you've got to look beneath this and see what he gives the team! The little touches that create the goals, the holding up of the ball that he does, he has a brilliant footballing brain.

    I agree that he doesn't score many goals and I won't dispute that, but when you have Rooney banging them in left, right and cantre theres no need for him to be battling with Rooney to be the top scorer. Instead, he will play off Rooney and thats where he does his best work, the little backflicks that always seem to work out, the little touches to an onrushing Valencia to swing a ball in onto Rooneys head, when Utd have been scoring goals and winning games, I don't understand what the problem is.

    I do wish that he'd played a little better when Rooney has been injured, but he's been thrust into this lone striker position, which is different to where he has played all season!

    ========================================

    Matt you are missing the point altogether, we as fans who go to watch the games are aware of his flicks and good build-up play but that is not enough to warrant £30+ million. The least we expect of the 2nd dearest player in premier league history is that he can lead the line in the abscence of rooney however uncomfortable being the lone striker may be for him. The fact remains that it is clear to all that he does not put the effort in, he never makes runs into the box after a pass, he complains if the ball is not given to him were he wants it then says nothing when he himself gives the ball away. He squanders chance after chance infront of goal...i could go on but i won't.

    I myself until recently have defended Berba to the many fans of rival teams who have slated him...but i have given up the ghost in recent weeks because when we needed him most against chelsea and blackburn and bayern he sulked huffed and slumped about the pitch as if he didn't care to be there, playing for my team living my dream and the dream of millions of others...enough is enough get rid take a loss and get in someone with a bit of hunger.

  • Comment number 35.

    Berbatov is a good striker but I think it's a case of square pegs and round holes at utd. Doesn't seem to do too well as a lone striker and lacks a little bit of pace to play alongside rooney imo. On the zamora debate he has had a good season, no question, but what about carlton cole for england ? i know he didn't flourish in his last appearance but he can play the "heskey role" and has a proven record as a goal scorer. I think he would be a handful for any world cup defence and could serve as a good partner for rooney. Also i was wondering, dawson was mentioned, but how about cahill ? Maybe it's come a season too soon but with ferdinand not looking 100% and terry's patchy form durely he must be worth considering ?

  • Comment number 36.

    Thank you very much Phil for mentioning the Berbatov issue! Being a United fan, i am appalled at other United fans who get on his back constantly. He has not scored enough goals, granted, but his link up play and ability to set up goals goes totally unnoticed! Take the City game for example, the control and way he played in obertan in the build up to the goal was class. And very rarely loses the ball.

  • Comment number 37.

    To put things into perspective just imagine that Berbatov was South American or African and that #30.75mm was paid for him. Now imagine all the criticism...

  • Comment number 38.

    Re Berbatov, I think he has become a victim of his own desire to do well. He is not actually relaxed as a player, when through on goal, he is snapping at his shots, too eager and put himself under too much pressure to be a Ronaldo or Rooney... Shame, if Ferguson could tell him , look son it doesn't matter, and if he could believe it he might catch fire. But sounds a bit like Robbie Keane, went to a big club and lost all his confidence....

  • Comment number 39.

    I like Berba too and I think he has amazing skill and vision, he is the guy to play behind the lone striker in the space I think... not quite 1 up front but not two either, I think he would make a lot more goals, but not sure if that sits with two wingers banging in the crosses.

  • Comment number 40.

    I think people think next season will be Fergie's last because he has come out many times saying he will not manage beyond 70.

    As he was born on 31 December 1941, then managing beyond next season would mean managing beyond 70.

  • Comment number 41.

    In fact forget South American or African, imagine Berbatov was an English talent bought by Barcelona or R. Madrid for that massive #30.75 and playing so lazily as he is...imagine all the abuse even back home

  • Comment number 42.

    How can it take over 20 mins to moderate 4 comments?? Totally takes away the chance to debate the contents of the blog!

    Other than that as a united fan I think that Berbatov was bought with other plans in mind and now doesn't really suit the way we have set out to play this season.

    In reality whilst we would all agree that he is indeed a very good player he looks vastly over-priced for what he brings to the team. Last season (I think it was against Arsenal?) we scored a goal from a corner against us in just under 10 secs. We can't counter attack like this with Berbatov in the team because he either doesn't have the pace to keep up with the young guns or we give him the ball and he takes too much time to pick a pass.

  • Comment number 43.

    18. At 09:03am on 22 Apr 2010, Matt Bennett

    I agree with you mate - I think he's a class act. It does pain me to admit, however, that he hasn't succeeded as well I might have initially thought following his move from Spurs. Still, I think that his footballing intelligence and his ability is beyond question (he has the best 1st touch in the P'ship,I reckon). Furthermore, he suffers in comparison to Rooney, but any such comparisons are rather pointless are both are very different players. What Rooney does have is a very different (and obvious) application, which endears him more readily to the average British punter who still wants to see blood 'n sweat along with the flicks and turns...

    It's a quandary, no doubt, but I reckon that Berba is now also losing confidence, and for a player of this ilk such a thing is especially detrimental (images of Berba outwardly showing frustration seem almost at-odds with his languid style, for example). Maybe Fergie's renowned man-management can still turn it round though... who knows?

  • Comment number 44.

    @ 24
    Whilst I agree Arsenal have done well considering their injury problems and the fact all of their keepers are absolute toilet, dismissing the other top sides as "whingers" is a bit rich considering some of Wenger's behaviour.

  • Comment number 45.

    Bolarinwa Olajide on Facebook: Which team has surpassed all expectations this season in the Premier league?

    Has to be Birmingham City. I thought they would struggle, but they have lived happily in the top 10 for months and have been a tribute to the outstanding management of Alex McLeish.

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

    Not trying to be cantankerous Phil but again I would have to strenously disagree.

    Given resources available, Fulham have done exceedingly well. Beating the likes of Man United and Liverpool and Everton in the league and Shakhtar, Wolfsburg and Juventus in the Europa with a very thin squad. A squad which man for man is arguably inferior to Birmingham's

    It is perhaps a testimony of Sir Roy Hodgson's management that Zamora (a stone that was previously ignored, even derided) is now being acknowledged as one of the better home-grown striking talents currently available.

  • Comment number 46.

    When Bridge announced he would not play for England you said it was no big loss. When Beckham got injured you said something similar. Exactly how many players do you think England has to launch a credible bid to *win* the World Cup or do you still persist in your own delusion that all they require is an injury, tantrum free Rooney?

  • Comment number 47.


    Joe Hart for Arsenal! That should solve the England and Arsenal goalkeeping crisis in one fell swoop.

    Also, would take Heskey to the world cup, but I don't think he deserves a place in the starting 11 on current form.

  • Comment number 48.

    Maybe the issue with Berbatov is that he requires a system to be built around him, which he certainly isn't going to get at United. Regretably I think the best thing for both the player and club will be for him to move on this transfer window and for us to get someone more dynamic.

    It must also be stated that he would probably have fitted in more to the United set up of a decade ago, unfortunately both the club and the game have moved on significantly since then...

  • Comment number 49.

    Theres no mention of Darren bent when it comes to england worldcup team and squad Phil ? Dont you think his efforts are going unnoticed by all the fans and more importantly Capello ?

  • Comment number 50.

    Phil - it is my opinion that the old adage about 'bad names... sticking' etc is what's happening to Dimitar Berbatov at present; his languid style, his lack of acceleration ( at least over first 2/3 metres) doesn't help. Berbatov's scoring rate is not actually too bad considering the number of games he has played/started and/or completed; however when considering him as a striking partner for Rooney and/or in Rooney's absence, the main striker; then his inability to 'sparkle' when it matters, is the problem. Berbatov has a significant 'second game' i.e. consisting of, 'assists', 'incisive flicks' making space for others and being difficult to shake off the ball; however for a £30m price tag, United need more than his 'second game', it simply not enough. I'm not sure why SAF bought him, considering the hassle United had with Spurs, to get him - perhaps, as others have speculated, SAF saw Berbatov in somekind of 'Cantona role', or maybe an option involving 4-3-3? Anyway whatever SAF's reasoning, it does not seem to be working out. I have an awful feeling Berbatov will finish up like Juan Sebastian Veron, a great player, but one who could not adapt (or be adapted) to suit United's style - its a great pity!
    As for England, I'm sure Capello has already picked his squad and settled on his game plan(s);yes (hopefully) there will be more than one. Therefore barring injuries and/or significant loss of form of individuals (i.e. could apply to JT?), Capello will go with those he has already decided upon.

  • Comment number 51.

    If anybody thinks Liverpool have a cat in hell's chance of 4th place they are seriously deluded or Rafa Benitez. Mind you, it doesn't matter really, because even if they finish 8th, I'm sure UEFA will find some previously hidden obscure ruling that allows any team from a city on the banks of the Mersey that play in red and also play Hull away on the last day of the season a free entry into the Champions League!
    Apparently the Moysiah is one of the two favourites for Fergie's job. I can only hope that although a Fergie prodigy that Moyes is simply not "international" enough for those in charge down the M62. Take Mourhino, he's much more your type of manger. HANDS OFF MOYES!
    As for that Arsenal fan earlier moaning about an injury crisis being the cause of their woes - you obviously don't know the meaning of the word. Try having a minimum of 6 first team players missing for the first three months of the season mate, that's a crisis.

  • Comment number 52.

    45. At 11:57am on 22 Apr 2010, Dapsy wrote:

    Totally agree with you. A team that has reached the semi final of the Europa league and has maintained excellent form in the Premier League, despite the extra number of games they have had to play has exceeded expectations I think.

    Bobby Zamora has been a revelation this season and kudos to Roy Hodgson for sticking with him. An excellent manager and he deserves the plaudits he receives. Possibly a manager of the season candidate?

  • Comment number 53.

    How does one apply for a job as a moderator? Is the ability to read more than one word per minute an essential requirement?
    Seriously though, why does it take so long to moderate comments - it takes all the spontaneity out of of the thread, which surely is the whole point of online debate?????

  • Comment number 54.

    Phil - your suggested England team almost mirrors mine (I'd have Carrick instead of Barry). Can you explain why Cappello insists on a 4-4-2 system which will mean whoever plays alongside Rooney (Heskey, Zamora, Cole, Crouch etc) will weaken the side.

    With Rooney as England's best and most influential player be some distance surely Capello should be looking to facilitate his effectiveness in the greatest capacity possible. As you rightly say, he's been a revelation this season for United as a lone striker with 2 wingers either side - therefore surely its a 'no-brainer' for England to adopt the same system? This would also enable Gerrard to be afforded a more 'free role' and not stuck out on the left. If Rooney's on his own good enough to keep Berbatov on the bench, then surely the same applies to Heskey!!!

  • Comment number 55.

    To be fair to Arsenal, Phil, if you predicted they'd end up 4th (when they were generally tipped as being the team to drop out of the top 4 this season) and they do end up finishing 3rd, being still in the title race with 4 games remaining, then I fail to see how you can seriously claim they've met expectations.

    No one gave Arsenal a chance this season and yes they did falter a lot but there they were, only a week ago, still in the fight to win the whole thing, let alone clinch a 4th spot.

    You don't do yourself any favours from a fair blogging perspective with this kind of commentary. Considering the chances Arsenal had they have underachieved, yes - but in terms of what was expected at the beginning of the season Arsenal have done better than almost everyone thought.

  • Comment number 56.

    # 35... I agree with you on Carlton Cole.. I like him and think he has really grown but I disagree that he is a proven goalscorer.. I dont think he is a proven anything as of yet due to being a bit of a slow starter and picking up injuries in his spell with West Ham..

    For me if you want big men to partner Rooney it has to be Zamora or Crouch..

  • Comment number 57.

    Arsenal, unquestionably, have been let down by their poor goalkeepers. I thought Mannone was good when he was playing - decent enough shot stopper and didn't make the SHOCKING errors that Almunia and Fabianksi seem to do every other game. Last season, Arsenal were actually in an FA Cup semi-final, leading 1-0. Fabianski should have saved Malouda's shot at his near post, and then he and Silvestre between them made a terrible mess of a long punt forward that you-know-who calmly stuck in the back of the net. Not saying Arsenal would necessarily have beaten a strong Everton side in the final, but they would have been slight favourites.
    I hear City are after Gianluigi Buffon. If this goes through, Arsene Wenger simply must take the opportunity to get Shay Given.

  • Comment number 58.

    Phil, three more digs by you at Emile Heskey. Think of England's finest performances over the last ten years... Germany, Croatia etc and you will see Heskey featured in the best performances. His touch and help towards the team is vital at international level because he is effective at finding team mates with his touches and passing. His goal scoring record is appauling but I just want to provide a balanced picture that with Rooney scoring the goals and Heskey providing them, there is an arguement for his inclusion and in his defence.

  • Comment number 59.

    On the Zamora isssue. I don't believe or argue that he is an international class player. He is better than what else England have on offer. He offers something different to Defoe and I believe, this season, has become a better player than Crouch and Heskey. He has proven himself a handful against players like, Cannavarro and Barzagli, who have played in a world cup winning squad. He should go. In my opinion there is no debate.

  • Comment number 60.

    "I am afraid Arsenal have achieved more or less what I expected them to achieve in the Champions League and the Premier League"

    Sorry, but that's just not true. You expected (or should that be hoped?) that Arsenal would be in the position that Liverpool are in.

    Arsenal have done what I expected them to do. What's frustrating is that, even with all of the injuries, they could have won the league.

    Even if Wenger's tactics/team selections annoy me on occassions, I wouldn't swap him for anyone.

  • Comment number 61.

    I am concerned that the criticism on Berbatov hides a big problem in ManU- its overdependence on Rooney. Rooney is of course an excellent player. However, I can’t think of a truly great team that has depended so much on one single payer. In my view Sir Alex is wrong to allow for this to happen. I also think that the way he uses Berbatov led to many problems - let’s not forget that Berbatov has shown what he can do many times before he joined ManU, and on occasions even after that. Remember also that Berbatov did not put the price tag on himself. I have the feeling that he might be one of those people who are likely to benefit more from encouragement than from criticism! While it might be good to be sometimes an arrogant selfish winker - admit it, this is also what you sometimes hate!

  • Comment number 62.

    I wish people would stop using the price tag as a reason for Berbatov's "failure". It isn't Berba's fault that Fergie wanted him so badly that Spurs mugged him on the price, and it isn't his fault that since his arrival he has hardly ever had three games in a row.

    It is easy to respect a player who wears his heart on his sleeve; like Rooney, Neville, Keane, Robson etc; as they show the same passion for the club as the supporters, but with an introverted player such as Berbatov it isn't as easy to spot.

    I never wanted him at United, not because he wasn't good enough, but because his style of play doesn't fit in with the energetic high tempo football that we play when we are at our best. (Admittedly not as often this season as in others.)

    So I would close by saying, that if you still feel the price is the key issue, then maybe you should look at the person who paid the money not the player who has to live up to it.

    If you have blueray collection, you don't buy an expensive DVD player and then blame the device for being a waste of money.

  • Comment number 63.

    @23 and 24 - I think you're forgetting the fact that both United and Chelski have also had an awful time of it injury-wise, United had no defenders for a while and others (giggs, anderson etc) out for lengthy spells - as well as hargreaves!! Chelski have been without bosingwa and essien for ages and cashley aswell. I think the point phil and others are making is that arsenal havent really kicked on since their Invincibles, granted you havent splashed the cash like others but I would be dissapointed with such slender return since then, especially given arsene's lack of commitment to the domestic cups which have been chelski's and united's staple for the past few years.

  • Comment number 64.

    Berbatov quite simply has been a failure. Nonsense to say he doesn't try. A great technical player but not suited to United. Obviously will be moved on for mutual benefit.

  • Comment number 65.

    Darren Bent's efforts gone unnoticed by goal keepers!!!

  • Comment number 66.

    Phil: Interesting read, as always, but are you sure you've been entirely fair on Arsenal's season? I fully admit they have fallen slightly short again, but your analysis didn't really consider all the injuries they had to contend with. They played without Van Persie (surely one of the best strikers in the league) for two thirds of the season, and their other two best players (Fabregas and Arshavin) have been troubled by niggling injuries all season, with Fabregas's season over now. They have also regularly had to play without one or both of their starting central defenders.

    Wouldn't you agree that they have exceeded expectations given where we would predict them to finish without their star players?

  • Comment number 67.

    Phil,

    In light of your answer to the Zamora question, which strikers would you have in your world cup squad?

    I would take Rooney, Crouch and Defoe for sure, but beyond them I can't choose between Agbonlahor, Bent and Carlton Cole. However, if we played Gerrard as the second striker as you seem to favour, do we need more than three strikers? Particulary if Young, Walcott or Joe Cole are in the squad.

    Speaking of Joe Cole, how much impact do you think he could have if he plays all Chelsea's remaining games and proves his form and fitness? Personally, I think he's a big miss.

  • Comment number 68.

    I think it's unfortunate that when Berbatov has had the chances to play this season it has been as a lone striker as you get the feeling that, as others have said, he was bought more as a supporting striker. But looking at the Premier League top scorers table, each team tends to have one big scoring striker such as Rooney, Drogba, Defoe or Tevez, it's not very common place for a team to have more than one striker hitting in 20 - 30 goals a season. If you look further down the list, Berbatov ranks alongside Adebayor, Agbonlahor, Saha and sits 3 goals ahead of Anelka. Considering the amount of games that Berbatov has started and the amount he has come on as a sub, that seems a reasonable amount for a teams second striker. Admittedly it's not enough for a player that costs £30m but considering the game time he gets and add into that the assists he creates it's the sort of goal tally you'd expect. I think if he'd cost £20m we wouldn't be having this conversation, but obviously there's no space in football for 'ifs' and 'buts'.

  • Comment number 69.

    IN REFERENCE TO THE EMILE HESKEY DEBATE. THERE IS ANOTHER BIG, ENGLISH TARGET MAN IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE WHO HAS CONSISTENTLY SCORED GOALS AND CREATED CHANCES FOR THE PLAYERS AROUND HIM.

    KEVIN DAVIES FOR THE WORLD CUP ANYONE?

  • Comment number 70.

    What's with all the Heskey bashing? When he scores the winning goal in the World Cup Final I hope you eat your words, Phil.

    Nice to see that you don't totally dismiss Berbatov like most people, though. I see it as a similar situation to Tevez - it's difficult to score and prove your worth when you don't play regularly. You see how good Tevez can be playing every week. Berbatov was great when he was playing consistently for Spurs - clearly he thrives when he's the focal point. Might be best for him to move on.

  • Comment number 71.

    To Ahad Shaukat...I have been a big supporter of Darren Bent in the past and feel he has been harshly treated by England. He was picked out for criticism after the defeat by Brazil in Qatar. Yes, he was disappointing but he was playing in a below-strength England team.

    Bent is a goalscorer and has pace, but again there seems little or no way past Emile Heskey as far as England are concerned. This is purely a personal opinion, but I would have Bent ahead of Heskey in my team every day. Look at their respective records at club level in recent times.

  • Comment number 72.

    Regarding England: Personally, what I want to know is why Steven Gerrard seems to be a pencilled in starter for most people, as he has been truly shocking this season. I can barely remember more than a handful of games where he has been anywhere close to his best. Milner and Adam Johnson are, for me, far far far far ahead of him on form and deserving of a place this summer. I have, far too often!, declared that I would prefer Lampard dropped and Gerrard played in central midfield, after this season however I'm more than happy to reverse that opinion and think that Stevie should count himself fortunate to make the squad. I also don't understand Heskey, and would rather have Crouch/Cole/Bent/Zamora have that role, but he must be doing something right, else a succession of England managers most certainly wouldn't continue picking him...

    Berba: difficult one to place as you say Phil, but for me not a £30.75million striker.

    and finally, Wenger: I think that with his truly rediculous luck with injuries this season (and yes Liverpool and United fans, despite defensive issues for ManU over xmas). I don't think that Wenger has been able to pick his 'first choice' 11 all season, with vPersie, Arshavin, Walcott, Nasri, Gallas, Fabregas etc etc all missing at some stages of the season, for Arsenal to still have been challenging with 4 games to go represents for me a massive acheivement. They'll win something, soon, and you can guarentee that pundits and media alike will all be singing Arsene's praises again, and rightly so!

  • Comment number 73.

    *Correction*

    To be fair to Arsenal, Phil, if you predicted they'd end up 4th (when they were generally tipped as being the team to drop out of the top 4 this season) and they do end up finishing 3rd, being still in the title race with 4 games remaining, then I fail to see how you can seriously claim they've *NOT* met expectations.

  • Comment number 74.

    The international system, meaning outside of England, is one striker up front, that is what it is in European Club football, and that is what it is internationally. There is very little room left for a straight 4 4 2. Many variations on the theme exist, Capellos is to have hesky as the target, donkey man. It works. It's stupid to even begin to deny it doesn't. Look at your qualifiying campaign for crying out loud. One of the best in the World.
    What Capello brings is plan B and C however. If it's not working he knows how and who to pull off, and here I think of the Dutch, the Brazilians and the Spanish and Germans. If the system they prefer isn't working they change it. They don't change the personell they change the system. That is why Heskey is going to the world cup. He does what he is told to do , and he does it very very well.

  • Comment number 75.

    Enough about Berbatov already!

  • Comment number 76.

    i'm fed up of hearing emile heskeys name mentioned along with the england team, has he ever done anything on the international stage? no he hasnt! apparently, Mr Capello only picks in form players! thats rubbish, not only does emile heskey never reach any kind of form he never plays! i bet martin o neil regrets the day he brought him to villa! darren bent has also proved he doesnt cut the mustard when it comes to international football and thats not just going off the brazil match, andy cole was a proven goalscorer with pace but he wasnt good enough for international football either!! bobby zamora atleast deserves a chance to show us what he's got in one of the upcoming friendlies?? and lampard? great every year for chelsea in the premier league! not so great in europe or for england tho is he! all this ta lk about how to play gerrard and lampard together! why not drop one of them and play somebody who deserves to play!

  • Comment number 77.

    I would concur with the comments on the relative success of Birmingham under Alex McLeish. I am surpirised however that no one has commented on how much harder it must be for him when, in addition to running BC, he is able to hold down a seasonal job running the Miami Crime lab. Astonishing

  • Comment number 78.

    "Redknapp will play the markets"...

    Given his propensity for signing players he's worked with before, I do hope his shopping trip takes in more than just the Portsmouth firesale (no offence intended to Pompey fans)

  • Comment number 79.

    What about Gary Neville? He's been playing fantastic since his comeback, time and again he's been put up against pace and heard that he will struggle to deal with it, and he's dealt with it with ease.

    Still England's best right back

  • Comment number 80.

    Regarding the England squad I often wonder why people think that experience is most important in these games. Let us not forget that when Rooney and Owen burst onto the scene of a major tournament they absolutely lit up the stage, because they had something to prove, and they had the fearlessness of youth.

    I am afraid to say that the England squad is full of people who feel they have a divine right to be there, rather than seeing it as an honour and a privilege. To that end, I sincerely hope that Capello sticks to his mantra of picking players based on their form and not on reputations.

    I would rather see a squad bursting with young stars of the future (i.e. Milner, Rodwell, Young, Dawson, Hart, Walcott) get knocked out, but gain valuable experience, than see the tired lumbering team of disinterested multi-millionaires get knocked out because once again “Terry couldn’t handle the pace of x” or “Ferdinand does another gaffe”.

  • Comment number 81.

    66. At 1:16pm on 22 Apr 2010, Elpenor wrote:
    Phil: Interesting read, as always, but are you sure you've been entirely fair on Arsenal's season? I fully admit they have fallen slightly short again, but your analysis didn't really consider all the injuries they had to contend with. They played without Van Persie (surely one of the best strikers in the league) for two thirds of the season, and their other two best players (Fabregas and Arshavin) have been troubled by niggling injuries all season, with Fabregas's season over now. They have also regularly had to play without one or both of their starting central defenders.

    Wouldn't you agree that they have exceeded expectations given where we would predict them to finish without their star players?

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

    Why would this be a consideration?

    Where would you predict United to end up if they had none of their first choice back 4 available for 3/4 of the season?

    I agree that Phil's being unfair on Arsenal, however; particularly when he himself claimed they would be 4th (or dropping out of the top 4 entirely, cannot remember which) and they now look to be ending up 3rd, and technically still in the race for the title (although they all but dropped out with their last loss).

    I'd give Phil the benefit of the doubt if he based his response to the question on what Arsenal's own expectations would have been (that would be to win the Premier League). But he clearly based it on what he felt they would achieve at the beginning of the season.

    And with that he's been inconsistent (at best). A lot of people thought Arsenal would be out of the top 4. To have been in the running to win the thing until 4 games remaining and looking to end up 3rd is, based on the general expectation of most people, an over-achievement.

    I know many Arsenal fans agree with me.

    Can Arsenal do better? Yes. But you could say that about Chelsea, United and Liverpool.

    Incidentally, with all of that said, I feel Phil has based his response on what he thought would happen around a couple months ago (when Arsenal had their run of losses to top teams). I'm certain he expected Arsenal to end up third, back then. Most of us did. Then look what happened.

    Considering the outlook at the beginning of the season Arsenal cannot be seen to have ended up where expected.

  • Comment number 82.

    68. At 1:23pm on 22 Apr 2010, drewy88 wrote:
    I think it's unfortunate that when Berbatov has had the chances to play this season it has been as a lone striker as you get the feeling that, as others have said, he was bought more as a supporting striker. But looking at the Premier League top scorers table, each team tends to have one big scoring striker such as Rooney, Drogba, Defoe or Tevez, it's not very common place for a team to have more than one striker hitting in 20 - 30 goals a season. If you look further down the list, Berbatov ranks alongside Adebayor, Agbonlahor, Saha and sits 3 goals ahead of Anelka. Considering the amount of games that Berbatov has started and the amount he has come on as a sub, that seems a reasonable amount for a teams second striker. Admittedly it's not enough for a player that costs £30m but considering the game time he gets and add into that the assists he creates it's the sort of goal tally you'd expect. I think if he'd cost £20m we wouldn't be having this conversation, but obviously there's no space in football for 'ifs' and 'buts'.

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

    I agree with this.

    You can also say, without much doubt, that the reason he cost £30m was because the buying team was United, City were involved in the bidding and the selling team knew both teams wanted him a lot.

    If City hadn't been involved, or had the eventual buyer not been United, he would never have gone for that amount.

    That said, he is a striker and he has been called upon to lead the line when Rooney hasn't played and he has not done that as well as would be expected, even as a supporting striker. He's had almost two seasons to bed in. I wouldn't shed a tear if he moved on but I'd most certainly wish him all the best if he did.

  • Comment number 83.

    There were reports yesterday that AC Milan were planning a bid of £20m for Berbatov. I would be happy to see £12m plus Borriello accepted instead or maybe more money, £17m, plus Huntelaar.

  • Comment number 84.

    1 hour and 15 minutes behind on moderation at present. I don't normally complain about this but just look what it's done to this debate... it's killed it. But what do you expect will happen?

    There's no point trying to stoke up a conversation if you are forced to sit hitting refresh every 15 minutes to get 1 or 2 new responses, which are around an hour before your last comment was posted.

    Time to stop wasting my time on this one.

  • Comment number 85.

    The thing is Heskey is not really played as a striker for England. Yes he plays in the same position physically as a striker but that's not what Capello uses him for. Heskey is simply there as a huge battering ram, designed to tire out the centre-halves and prevent them from marking Rooney out of the game. He then (around the 60th min) brings on Defoe, who thrives against a weak defence, given the fantastic through balls provided by the likes of Barry, Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard, and is then able to score goals at will. It's a rather similar situation on the right of midfield. Capello plays Walcott to tire the full-back out before bringing on Lennon, who will run at him rather than behind him, making it far easier for Lennon to get past and deliver a ball into the box. This is why England were somewhat ineffective when Defoe started against the Ukraine instead of Heskey. The defence could deal with him.

    As for the number one, well if you don't have Green, who do you have. James is too inconsistent, Hart is too young (which is a genuine issue with goalkeepers, the older they are, the more they know how to deal with awkward situations).

    I agree with starting Milner ahead of Gerrard on the left, he's just played better. I'd swap between Lampard and Gerrard in the middle alongside Barry (not every game, that would be seriously inconsistent), but see who plays better and have the other on the bench with the intent of using him as a substitute.

    I think you're spot on with Berbatov, the thing is he plays much better when he's alongside a high-energy striker like Rooney (or Robbie Keane at Spurs) who will run a lot meaning the he only has to worry about scoring goals. That is just his style of play. (Remember what happened when you put Crouch up front on his own, it's very similar).

    For Liverpool, the best thing they could do is change managers. It just looks like Benitez has run out of ideas/motivation. The Champions League final in Istanbul where they turned a 3-0 half time deficit around seems light years away, mostly because the team is completely different (only Gerrard and Carragher remain) but it just seems like that atmosphere has dissappeared from the Anfield dressing room.

    Wenger should not lose his job, but I think he will change things this summer. He said at the start of this season that if Arsenal finish this season trophyless he will change the team, and I expect him to. The lack of strength in depth at Arsenal is an obvious problem especially in the positions you've listed although perhaps an extra out and out striker might also be needed (strong links with Chamakh and Huntelaar). Bendtner's improved, but not enough.

    And as for replacements for Ferguson, well Mourinho might, but I'd prefer David Moyes. He has a squad at Everton that by all rights should be fighting relegation every season and every season challenge for Europe. He's also a better long-term choice than Mourinho, who'd probably fall out with the board and leave after 2-3 years. Whoever it is I think when Ferguson leaves United will have to be content with not winning the League for a few years (like they did with Ferguson) and not expect instant success, which has been the downfall of many clubs (Newcastle especially).

  • Comment number 86.

    I name David James as the keeper on current form but without huge confidence
    --------
    Rubbish. Joe Hart is the form England keeper by a long stretch.

  • Comment number 87.

    On England:

    I really do not understand why, if Capello is going to play 4-4-2, Peter Crouch is not way ahead of Heskey in people's thoughts. He is one of those players that seems to do better in an England shirt than he does at club level (oddly!), but his International scoring record is undeniable. He is fit, good in the air and on the deck, holds the ball up well and plays well with either Defoe or Rooney. As far as 'keepers are concerned, I'm struggling to see past Joe Hart at the moment, what an outstanding season he has had (and what a difference he would make if Wenger sees sense and makes him a Gooner!).

    Starting 11, if they are fit (4-3-1-2):

    Hart
    Johnson - Ferdinand - Terry - A. Cole
    Walcott - Lampard - Milner
    Gerrard ("in the hole")
    Rooney - Crouch

    On Arsenal:

    As a frustrated Gooner, it would seem that I support a team that has divided opinion more than most this season. Certainly I would agree that there are a lot of people (including Arsene Wenger) that think some of the players in the current squad are better than they are. It is also true that there are obvious weaknesses in the squad that should be obvious to Wenger - although I think he has maybe held off signing new players previously in the hope that there would be a more marked improvement/consistency from a few of his current crop, but that has not materialised (e.g. Denilson and Diaby). However the talk of sacking him is ridiculous. There are any number of fans around the world who would give their high teeth to be in the privileged position we Arsenal fans are in.

    I think that in some small part, the penny dropped for Wenger at Wigan - probably because we saw a ten minute period in which the squad's (and I use that term deliberately to refer to strength in depth) most obvious weakness was exposed - its spine! It baffles me that you can allow players such as Flamini, Hleb, Adebayor and Diarra go without bringing in experienced replacements and expect to compete at the same level the following season. There seems to be more of a tangible sense that Wenger is losing patience with some of his players; and rightly so.

    All that said, a lot of commentators seem to be overlooking the fact that Arsenal have been incredibly unlucky with injuries this season. I know other teams, notably Chelsea, Man Utd and Everton have also suffered too, but a number of key players have been missing throughout the season for Arsenal. One has to think that if Clichy, Gallas, Vermaelen, Fabregas, Walcott, Van Persie and Arshavin had been fit and in the same team at the same time for more of this season, Arsenal would be much better off for points than they are nowand would still be in the hunt. I think it is therefore fair to say that Man U and Chelsea are still fighting for the title because they have the most strength in depth. But Arsenal are not as far away as some might suggest.

    On one of your other points, I wholeheartedly agree that Wenger should take the cup competitions more seriously and stop focusing only on the Champions League and Prem. It costs a fortune to watch Arsenal (approx £70 per game in reality), which is a lot to ask when you consistently fail to deliver silverware!

    New signings please:

    GK - Hart or Akinfeev
    Def - big, strong leader type e.g. Jagielka - Hangelaand
    Mid - Melo or Flamini
    Str - Looks like Chamakh is a formality. One more, preferably David Villa.

  • Comment number 88.

    Interesting that Villa do not crop up much in all of this, I Am a Spurs fan but it strikes me Martin O'Neill does a loaves and fishes job at Villa, without too much thanks from their fans. Villa could still possibly sneak that 4th place although I somehow doubt it. Villa seem to have one certainty for England (Milner) and perhaps two other mebbes in Young and Downing and perhaps even Gabbie Lahor !

  • Comment number 89.

    I agree that not having a stronger keeper has been a problem for Arsenal. With Chelsea and Man U being much weaker than last season (I can't believe the number of games that they have lost), I think Arsenal could have won the league had they bought a better quality keeper who could have handled the pressure. It won't be so simple next season as the top teams know they need to strengthen up. I tend to agree with your criticism of Arsenal but all the top teams have been inconsistent and the difference between success and failure will be very slight (with the exception of Liverpool). No doubt Chelsea's defence will be highlighted if they don't win the league and Man U's lack of top top quality in midfield will be highlighted if they don't win. Whoever wins, I don't think we should get carried away that a great team / player has won the league.

  • Comment number 90.

    Emile Heskey... makes me chuckle. If Emile Heskey is the answer, then it's obviously a stupid question. You're better of with that Bent boy.

  • Comment number 91.

    To Dapsy...post 45. I went for Birmingham rather than Fulham because I'm not sure Roy Hodgson has exceeded all my expectations. He and Fulham certainly have in the Europa League, but maybe it is a sign of the job he has done that I fully expected Fulham to sit comfortably in the Premier League.

    And to think I was accused of over-hyping him when I wrote about the superb work he has undertaken at Craven Cottage just a few weeks ago.

    As with Alex McLeish, common sense management allied to huge experience all around the world. If Fulham win the Europa League then maybe I will revisit my choice, but based purely on my expectations I went for Birmingham City.

  • Comment number 92.

    Berbatov is a quality player but he does not fit into Fergusons system. Berbatov needs to play alongside another striker (as he did so effectively at Spurs). At Man Utd he is either played on his own, as part of a three, or with Rooney..... Which brings us to a rather pertinent question. Has any striker ever played alongside Rooney and looked effective? Is this their fault? Or does perhaps the headless chicken that is Rooney prove rather difficult to play with?

  • Comment number 93.

    phil said
    To Ahad Shaukat...I have been a big supporter of Darren Bent in the past and feel he has been harshly treated by England. He was picked out for criticism after the defeat by Brazil in Qatar. Yes, he was disappointing but he was playing in a below-strength England team.

    Bent is a goalscorer and has pace, but again there seems little or no way past Emile Heskey as far as England are concerned. This is purely a personal opinion, but I would have Bent ahead of Heskey in my team every day. Look at their respective records at club level in recent times.


    ____________________________________________

    i have to say i agree with some of your reservations regarding heskey phil, however i do feel that u do miss the point of what IN FORM heskey brings to a team - which have no doubt been mentioned in many of the posts above (which i unfortunately don't have time to read at present)

    The big issue with heskey at the moment though is he is NOT in form. If he was playing at the level he was when capello brought him into the england set up (verus croatia for eg) when he still at wigan, it wouldn't be such a problem. He is never a goal threat, we all know that, but back then he was playing really well, all his flick ons were on the money and his hold up play was second to none. Worryingly, he is not even close to that form since his move to villa and that makes him (as u rightly say) a big worry.

    this is the same story for a number of the starting 11, terry and rio as u say and also gerrard - who is, imo, a truly great player, but having an absolute stinker of season and is now going to be asked to play wide left for england. I think he played really well for england in the qualifers in that position, but now, like heskey, he is going to have to lift himself from the doledrums of very poor season and play in a key role for england. can he do? it would love it if he could as he a class, class player, and im sure he is capable, i just worry whether he will.

  • Comment number 94.

    2.26pm still not moderated? oh dear...i'll log onto tomorrow then shall i to read my comment...or is that too early ;-)

  • Comment number 95.

    It is ridiculous that Heskey is even being considered for a place in the squad never mind the starting line up of one of the supposide favourites for the tournament.

    For a man who is prized on his build up play and bringing others into the game he only has 2 assists this season according to the premierships official site which in my opinion along with his talley of 3 goals does not bode well for the England team looking to challange in South Africa.

  • Comment number 96.

    79. At 2:25pm on 22 Apr 2010, Kapnag wrote:
    What about Gary Neville? He's been playing fantastic since his comeback, time and again he's been put up against pace and heard that he will struggle to deal with it, and he's dealt with it with ease.

    Still England's best right back

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------
    You are having a laugh right? Neville is the last choice behind Brown O Shea and Rafael, only rafael is so prone to being booked. I am convinced Fergie Plays Gary for what he gives going forward on the overlap..not for what he can stop, which is nothing. Apart from ducking down and letting the ball go out behind him, he is about as fast a slow turtle. There is new kids story coming out it's called the The Neville and the tortise. Once the tortise beat the hare his agent has been looking for new deals and this Neville one seems perfect.

  • Comment number 97.

    My England first team for the world cup will be like this:
    (GK)Joe Hart (Birmingham)
    (RB)Johnson (Liverpool) -(CB)Ferdinand (Manchester United) -(CB)Michael Dawson(Tottenham)-(LB)Ashley cole(Chelsea)

    (CM) Steven Gerrard(Liverpool) -- (CM) Gareth Barry(Manchester City)
    (CAM) Frank Lampard (Chelsea)

    (RW) Arron Lennon(Tottenham)--(CF)Wayne Rooney(Manchester United)-- (LW)Young (Aston Villa).

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

    * Liverpool are going to lose Torres ,and I think that will be after the world cup because without European Football and the off-field problems no star player will want to be at Anfield next year :(

    * Arsenal need a quality striker and a quality Goal keeper.

    * Berbatov is not a flop, he did good (Average) in my opinion but for 30 millions and to be used as a substitute in most of the matches !!!

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

    I think and wish that the world cup semi-final will include the following teams : Spain , Brazil, England and Holland(Netherlands).

  • Comment number 98.

    I agree about your views on Becks. As much as it is a shame for him to miss out on what was to be his last World Cup, I do think his injury is a blessing in disguise. With younger players like Ashley Young, David Bentley, Aaron Lennon and Shaun Wright Phillips already for Fabio to choose from adding Becks to that list just complicates things. As for 'throwing Becks on with 20 minutes to go to get decent deliveries into the box', Becks will hang up his boots one day very soon and they need to stop relying on Beckham creating the spark.

    As for Heskey, I don't get it either but top managers rate him. In Fabio we trust!

    In regards to Berbatov I do think that he is judged purely on his price tag. For £30 million yes, it has to be said that he has not quite lived up to the expectation but as a second striker who has been used very little by Fergie this season, he's been a success. Unfortunately for Berba, fans will always revmember the £30 million spent to sign him and for that he will never be deemed a success.....unless he mimics Rooney's season this season if he stays on next term.

  • Comment number 99.

    when you was asked about who is the best striker you only talked about rooney,drogba and torres, surely Van Persie and Tevez deserve a mention. i'm a United fan but Van Persie if not for his injuries will be contending foir top goal scorer this year, he has everything, touch,vision,control,pace,shot, can take free kicks and corners. I believe that if Van Persie was English people would consider him better than Rooney, But as usual every english players is way overhyped, not saying that Rooney is not good he is brilliant, but all the strikers are mentioned are about the same not one is better than the other

  • Comment number 100.

    Phil,

    Obviously you have avoided answering every comment suggesting you have been hugely unfair to Arsenal. Cant blame you really as your comments were WAY off the mark.

    Almost every journalist in the country predicted arsenal would drop out of the Top 4 and the small number that didnt had them down for 4th at best.

    Even without the worst injury crisis any PL team has ever known, being in the race with 4 games to go would have massively exceeded expectations. However the fact that Wenger has not been able to chose more than 8 of his best 11 in 36 of 38 league games makes their achievement quite outstanding.

    Even the result at Spurs where 6 first choice players were missing and they still could have won by a hatful at the end.

    In my honest opinion Phil, you have been grossly and predictably unfair on the team and the manager. Yes of course he should have bought a competent goalkeeper but I cannot comprehend any other team in the PL playing half a season without a striker and most of its first team ( as well as back ups ) and get anywhere close to being in contention with 4 games left.

    Keeping this club in the Top 4 and consistently in the later stages of the Champions League whilst building the best stadium in the country and with a transfer budget less than Sunderland has been Arsene's greatest achievement.

    A professional and unbiased journalist would recognise this as many have. Keeping this club in contention for 5 years is a far far greater achievement than Tottenham and City spending 10 times what Wenger has whilst still not getting close to a Top 4 spot until Liverpool inevitably crashed.

    We are all biased towards our own team, but geniune football fans would hail the fact that Wenger has not let a tiny transfer budget affect his style of play or the clubs standing in world football.

    Had Robin Van Persie not missed 5 months of football, we would not even be discussing this. The title would have already been back where it belongs in Wengers hands.

    As it will, by a country mile next season.

 

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