Premier League & England Q&A
The Premier League is already starting to have a familiar look near the top of the table - Chelsea are at the summit after a flawless start and Manchester United and Liverpool are making up ground after an uncertain opening.
We asked for your questions about your team's start to the season and England's World Cup prospects on Facebook and Twitter and have tried to answer many here. Sorry if we have missed yours, but there were just too many to respond to them all.
There will be plenty of other opportunities throughout the season so hopefully everyone will get a chance.
Paul Hughes (and lots of others) on Facebook: "Are you still backing Liverpool for the league?"
Lots of questions on this one, namely my apparently controversial pre-season prediction that Liverpool would win the Premier League, so let's get this one out of the way first. The answer is yes - I am still backing Liverpool. It would not amount to much of a prediction if I started backing away from it six games into an entire campaign.
I do accept, however, that they have not looked anywhere near as convincing as they did in the last three months of last season - but they have shown character to come back and win at Bolton and also get three points at West Ham, which is never easy.
It marked a good recovery from league losses against Spurs and Aston Villa, as many as they had in the league in the whole of last season.
Liverpool's defence is a worry, with Jamie Carragher going through a dip in form and in midfield I believe Javier Mascherano needs to just realise he is still at Anfield and not moving to Barcelona.
And of course, we have yet to see what impact Alberto Aquilani will have. Liverpool will have to cope with the ebb and flow of fortunes with injury, but this applies to other clubs as well and in Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard they have two match-winners of undoubted world class.
These are the calibre of players you need to win the league. Liverpool have them, and while Chelsea are looking outstanding and Manchester United still have that ruthless winning streak, I'll stick with Liverpool thanks.
Sunil Godhania on Facebook: "Which team in your opinion is most likely to break into the top four?"
ash350 on Twitter: "Is fourth spot really up for grabs this year and which of the pretenders is likely to get it - Everton, Spurs, Villa or Man City?"
Again lots of questions on this particular topic. The top four places will still, I believe, be occupied by Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal when the season concludes - although not neccessarily in that order.
If the established quartet is to be broken, however, I think it will be by either Manchester City or Spurs.
I have seen City a couple of times already this season, and this is a team with lots of goals in it from various sources. My worry is at the back, where they look likely to concede.
This could be because manager Mark Hughes is still working on the balance of his side with so many new players, and the central defensive partnership (always a huge element of any successful side) of Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott is still bedding in.
City certainly have character, they showed that in coming back three times at Manchester United, but defensively they are a worry. What should also be remembered is that if City are in contention for the top four come January, Hughes has the power to launch another blitz in the transfer market.
Similar comments apply to Spurs. They have an array of attacking options, and while they have quality in central defence, the personnel spend too long on the treatment table.
Everton are now back in the groove after their traditional slow start and Aston Villa showed their potential by winning at Liverpool, but I expect them to fall short of a top four place, although they will be in the shake-up for places in Europe once more.
So to answer that one, I expect the usual suspects to be in the top four, with Manchester City and Spurs the only real threats.
JonAlexSmith on Twitter: "Who do you currently believe is England's best choice as a goalkeeper for South Africa?"
Oh dear. Lots of people wanting to know the answer to this - and even a long spell in a darkened room has not provided me with a definitive answer.
As I have said in previous blogs, I have got a real worry about the goalkeeping position for England's World Cup campaign. Fabio Capello needs to use the next few months as an audition for someone to come forward and say: "I'm the best. Pick me."
No-one has yet made that convincing case, although West Ham's Robert Green is the man in possession and no doubt Capello has ordered regular updates from his fellow countryman Gianfranco Zola at Upton Park.
Portsmouth's David James will be nearly 40 when the World Cup starts, has had injuries and has never been truly consistent, but I believe if he is fit and has not had any disastrous downturn in form, he will be England's first choice in South Africa.
Ben Foster? Not for me. Not the finished article yet and some of his judgement seems to be flawed. I know Capello keeps an eye on Joe Hart, but he is not going to be England's World Cup keeper.
So I would say James if all is equal - but it is not something that fills me with huge confidence.
Phil Bayley on Facebook: "Do you think the money that Man City have spent to improve the squad and the tactics they have used have turned most of the Premier League against them, or would any club in the same situation do the same?"
I think the only time their tactics have been questioned have been in the pursuit of Joleon Lescott from Everton, a deal which turned nasty towards its conclusion. From what I could see they did their business with Arsenal for Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor swiftly and without acrimony between the clubs and it was the same when they bought Gareth Barry from Aston Villa - it was virtually done in a day.
They were within their rights to buy Carlos Tevez and I did not hear Blackburn complaining when they were given £18m for Roque Santa Cruz.
There has been a lot of back-biting from other fans about what City have done, but I defy any supporter of any other Premier League club to say they would not want to do their club to try and do exactly the same and have the same resources City have.
I suspect there is some jealousy, and perhaps a bit of hypocrisy, at work. I think every other club would do the same in the same situation - you can name Chelsea for one as an example.
Hugh Gonzalez Walton on Facebook: "What do you think of the "Old Firm" moving to the Premier League - both in terms whether or not they should and also where they would finish?"
Great question. My hearts says I would love to see Celtic and Rangers in the Premier League - it would be fantastic to see English teams tested out more regularly at Parkhead and Ibrox.
But my head says it must never happen and I do not believe it will happen. How will other teams fighting to earn a spot in the Premier League, with all the rewards that entails, feel about seeing them simply parachuted in? It would cause uproar and rightly so.
The Scottish Premier League is the place for Celtic and Rangers not England, at least not unless they want to start in League Two and work their way up like anyone else. And surely the departure of the "Old Firm" would do much to kill Scottish football.
As for where they would finish, I think if you took them in their current state they might finish in the top ten but certainly nowhere near the top four. Arsenal's win against Celtic illustrates that point perfectly.
One thing is for sure, games at Parkhead and Ibrox would really be something. Won't happen though.
Michael Tickle on Facebook: "Got a question about Wigan. Do you think Roberto Martinez is already under scrutiny as Wigan boss, following on from the work Steve Bruce did at the club?"
Good. A Wigan question. Under scrutiny? Of course he is. Every manager in the Premier League is under scrutiny. Under pressure? No.
Wigan chairman Dave Whelan has huge faith in Martinez and has already stated he will still be manager even if they are relegated this season. I think he is an excellent choice as manager and needs to time to adjust to the demands of the Premier League, which I am sure he will, and also the fact that he has lost major players such as Antonio Valencia and Lee Cattermole.
joaoxavier on Twitter and Andy Denny on Facebook asked about Martinez's recruitments with the money he received for those players. The jury is still out on players like Jason Scotland, Jordi Gomez and Hendry Thomas, but I am impressed with Martinez and think he will keep Wigan up - which is surely the main priority.
Ricky Jana on Facebook: "Is Paul Hart the right man for the Pompey job?"
Who could seriously expect to be flourishing in the situation Paul Hart found himself in? Best players sold, the uncertainty of a protracted takeover and almost having to assemble an entire team in a matter of weeks.
Of course results have been awful, but removing Paul Hart would not solve Portsmouth's problems. Hart is very highly-respected in football, especially for his work with young players, and he should be left in peace to try and get Pompey right.
If a new manager came in he would only inherit the same problems Hart has - with no guarantee that he would handle them any better. Pompey must stick with Paul Hart.
Colin Michael Holland on Facebook: "Big fan of Bolton here.....Ok a question!...Expected one I suppose, but do you think Megson can survive another season without the supporters backing? (I for one am actually happy to see him stay considering he's kept us up twice now!)"
I was at Bolton on Saturday for the draw against Stoke City, and the atmosphere was pretty rotten at times to be brutal. It is a clear a large number of fans do not approve of Gary Megson as manager and never will - a fact he readily accepts himself.
I can sympathise that the style of football is not easy on the eye and obviously if discontent among fans continues chairman Phil Gartside would have to weigh up whether it is having a counter-productive effect.
One thing I will never do is use this forum to say a manager should be sacked, and I actually do not think Megson has done a bad job at Bolton. He has kept them in the Premier League so I personally think he should stay.
It's tough though when you are always fighting against some fans. It transmits itself through to the players and there actually seems to be a split among Bolton supporters, which again is a negative influence.
But I think Bolton will stay up and to me that represents Megson doing his job. And as I asked with Paul Hart, is there a guarantee anyone else will do better? This is the question that should always be at the front of a chairman's mind whenever he is contemplating change.
Chris Kirkman on Facebook: "Do you think the Blackburn board would have the guts to sack Sam Allardyce? As a Rovers fan I hate what he has turned us into. It's easy enough to just lose interest now, and most Rovers fans I've talked to feel the same."
Why on earth would they do that? Allardyce preserved your Premier League status last season, an excellent feat, and this season has only just started. He appears aware of the problems that need addressing so he needs time and patience. Blackburn's board showed no hesitation when it came to sacking Paul Ince last season, so they are capable of making decisions, but I do not believe for one second that Allardyce's future has even cross their minds.
Philip Evans on Facebook: "Which player would each of the big teams miss the most if they got injured and are the big teams too reliant on certain players? Torres/Gerrard, Giggs/Rooney, Drogba/Terry etc."
I think all big teams are reliant on certain players and you have just named them. If we just take the top four Manchester United would suffer very badly if Wayne Rooney was missing, Liverpool's biggest miss for me would be Steven Gerrard (even ahead of Fernando Torres), Chelsea would find it tough to plug a gap left by Didier Drogba and Arsenal would never want to be without Cesc Fabregas.
And if a supplementary question was asked about which team would be most affected by the absence of one single player, I would say it would be United and Rooney.
James Davis on Facebook: "How can Wenger turn Arsenal from a team of great potential into a Championship-winning side?"
As you might imagine, there was more than one question posted on this. One fact we have to accept right away is that Arsene Wenger is not going to join the mad dash into the transfer market unless it is the right player at what he regards as the right price. The £40m he got from Manchester City for Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor will not be burning a hole in this man's pocket.
My opinion is that Arsenal need another strong central defender to complement William Gallas and Thomas Vermaelen and a powerhouse ball-winner in central midfield. The players they currently have are not up to that job, with the consequence that Arsenal look superb with the ball but very vulnerable without it.
If only Wenger could find a young Patrick Vieira or persuade Barcelona to part with Yaya Toure. I wonder does he regret passing on Wilson Palacios and recommending him to Steve Bruce when he was at Birmingham?
One thing is a fact though - Wenger has a philosophy and will not shift from it.
Tome Obaro on Facebook: "Do you think its appropriate for officials to pal around with certain managers while ignoring others? Case in point. Alan Wiley being strict with Mark Hughes while joking and laughing with Sir Alex Ferguson mere seconds later."
I cannot say whether Alan Wiley was strict with Mark Hughes, but I could certainly see why Manchester City might be annoyed to see him laughing and joking with Sir Alex Ferguson in the moments after that highly-contentious late winner.
There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest anything wrong, this must be stressed very strongly, but it would only be human nature for Hughes and City to be unable to see the funny side - might have been better for Wiley not to be seen joking with Sir Alex in that particular situation.
Coastalpastor on Twitter: "Why not have basketball style clocks for football? No more debates about time added on."
All I can give here is a personal opinion - and I would absolutely hate that. We have a system that works pretty well most of the time and it is only once in a blue moon (pardon the pun Manchester City fans) that we have an outcry. And nobody has yet proved conclusively that fourth official Alan Wiley and the team of officials were wrong to add on those six minutes - which were actually available to both sides not just Manchester United.
I am all for technology for line decisions, but as for big clocks and extra officials stationed around the penalty? Not for me I'm afraid.
Foolhandy on Twitter: "England's first World Cup match is on Saturday - who would be your starting eleven on current form?"
Great question...although we will take fitness into consideration as well. I am assuming Rio Ferdinand is fit and Emile Heskey isn't! It's this Saturday right and it's my pick?
Green, Johnson, Ferdinand, Terry (captain), A. Cole, Lennon, Barry, Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney, Defoe.
To play the game by taking it forward I can see David James challenging Robert Green when the first side is picked in June, Theo Walcott would be my first choice ahead of Lennon if he was fit, but Joe Cole could also come into that equation.
Joe McNamee on Facebook: "Tigers fan here, Q: When do you think Browny will get the sack? and who should replace him?"
Plenty of comment on both Facebook and Twitter from Hull fans, so I will take this one. As I stated earlier, I will never use this platform to say someone should lose his job but I will happily make observations on Hull.
If someone had told Hull fans at the start of last season that they would stay in the Premier League, they would have been dancing in the streets. They had such an incredible start, however, that maybe everyone got a bit ahead of themselves, possibly even Phil Brown and the club's hierarchy.
I think Brown was unwise to a) berate his players in public at half-time on the pitch at Manchester City and b) deliver that singalong on the pitch at the KC when they stayed up after losing to Manchester United. After the poor run they had suffered that should have been a time for reflection, not celebration.
This season was always going to be hard and I expect Hull to be relegated. Brown had trouble attracting top targets to Hull, and the home defeat against Birmingham was a shattering blow, even coming so early in the season.
But taken overall, Brown has got Hull promoted to the Premier League and then kept them up. Maybe he deserves to be cut a little more slack - but this is a time when boards of directors can start to get twitchy. He must hope that Paul Duffin keeps faith with him.
Ryan Jay on Facebook: "Following the defeat to Bolton on Tuesday, are West Ham in serious trouble? And are they falling into the same trap of the 02/03 season in thinking that they're 'too good to go down?'"
Far too early to say that. They have got a very good crop of young players mixed with the experience of Robert Green, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker and the goalscoring potential of people like Carlton Cole.
Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke would not let such an attitude creep in. I do not expect to see West Ham in the relegation zone later in the season.
Alex Sole-Leris on Facebook: "How is Rooney viewed around the world? He is a brilliant player and one of the best in the world and yet I've never seen newspaper speculation about clubs abroad (or in England) being interested. Do people not realise just how good he is in leagues like Spain and Italy is wouldn't he suit them?"
Rooney is viewed around the globe as one of the world's great players. There is no speculation linking him with clubs at home and abroad because there are no clubs either at home or abroad he would consider leaving Manchester United for. If Rooney went up for sale tomorrow every club in the world would be interested - but this will not happen.
Rooney loves living in the north-west of England and believes he is at the perfect club for him at Manchester United. He has stated he is happy to stay at Old Trafford for as long as he is wanted - which we can assume will be for a very long time.
And as for the poster asking is Rooney "over-rated"? I'll spare you the embarrassment of naming you, except to say my answer to that is an emphatic "no" and wonder whether it was a wind-up.
Shriramrox on Twitter: "I'm surprised by Michael Carrick's continuous absence in the Manchester United starting line-up. Is it because of his penalty miss at Burnley? He's not been at his best. EXPLAIN."
I think you've just explained yourself. He's not been at his best. The usual rules apply to him as well as anyone else.
Kyle Utterson on Facebook: "Can Man City challenge for the title?"
No. Too much of a period of transition. Expect them to be challenging for the top five though.
Jonanthan Wood on Facebook: "Who is the signing of the summer?"
Tough one that. I still think Michael Owen on a free will prove a great signing for Manchester United. Also think Darren Bent will prove a great buy for Sunderland. Will score goals given the games.
Jayadeep Purushothaman on Facebook: "Do you think bringing Michael Owen to Man Utd another master stroke by SAF?"
See previous answer!
Dennis Des on Facebook: "Patrice Evra, Ashley Cole, Gael Clichy. Who's the best left back in the Premier League?"
Connor Andrews on Facebook: "Does Liverpool's Carling Cup triumph at Leeds United prove they have enough strength for the season ahead?"
Not totally. My main worry about Liverpool lies underneath their first XI. I used a cricketing term to describe it last week. I have think they have some great quality in the top order but a bit of a long tail.
Murray Priscott on Facebook: "Will Manchester United's loss of two of their stars and dodgy defence cost them their title?"
I presume you mean Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez? I think the loss of Ronaldo will ultimately damage their title hopes, not the loss of Tevez. And yes, there have to be concerns over the defence and goalkeeping position.
Ahad Shaukat on Facebook: "Who is that one footballer you would like to see play in the Premier League?"
Dead easy. Lionel Messi every time.
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