Phil McNulty Q&A blog
The transfer window is closed and the jostling for position at the top and bottom of the Premier League continues. Can Manchester United overtake Chelsea? Who has done the best business in the transfer window? Time for another Q&A blog.
It will come as no surprise to learn that one topic has dominated the questions I've received - and that's the England captaincy and John Terry. It is impossible to answer them all, so I plan to tackle this issue in a stand-alone blog if and when England coach Fabio Capello makes any decision.
Anyway, once again loads of questions via Twitter and Facebook - again I have tried to address as many as I can but it is just not possible to answer them all. Please keep sending them in and there will be another Q&A soon.
Wayne Rooney's wonderful form for Manchester United has provided plenty of interest - so we will start with him.
Olanrewaju DonCashy Sonubi on Facebook: What would be the fate of England should Rooney suffer an injury?
Having watched Wayne Rooney regularly this season, I think an injury is the one thing Fabio Capello dare not contemplate. I was at the Emirates on Sunday and noticed even the Arsenal fans were relatively hushed when he went down in the second half holding his knee.
England are not a one-man team, but the removal of Rooney for any reason would represent a devastating blow because he is in a different league to any other attacking players Capello has at his disposal. He is now, unquestionably, world-class.
His current performances also give the lie to the suggestion he needs the help of a big target man (Emile Heskey to you and me) to flourish. He can work without one and I would love to see Capello play James Milner on the left and push Steven Gerrard in behind Rooney.
But to answer your question, if Rooney was missing from England's World Cup team, they would have no chance of winning.
fluffyskg on Twitter: Other than Wayne Rooney, who is England's most indispensable player for WC 2010?
I know I will have to don the tin hat for saying it, but the other player I would not want to see missing in South Africa is Steven Gerrard, despite his disappointing form this season. I stand by my belief that he is one of England's few world-class players, and the rush from some to write him off this season has been hilarious.
I also think Ashley Cole is pretty much indispenable because he is a world-class left-back. Frank Lampard is another close to being untouchable, but, for me, it would be Gerrard.
Hopefully this also answers the question from Mirzat Sarcevic on Facebook.
Chris Smith on Facebook: With Wayne Rooney's amazing form, is there really such a thing as "peaking too soon" or is he just getting better and better?
Rooney should actually be coming to his peak in the next couple of years, so I do not think he is peaking too soon. He could be even better come the World Cup and continue this development in coming years. Great news for Manchester United and England - not so for their rivals.
Bcodings on Twitter: Who should be first choice right-back for England at the World Cup in South Africa?
Given the lack of options, I would go for Glen Johnson, providing he is fit in time. It is not a choice I make with a huge amount of confidence because, while Johnson is an excellent attacking player, I believe there are huge holes in his defensive game that could be exploited by the elite players he will face in South Africa.
This also takes care of a question from Bolarinwa Olajide on Facebook.
Tome Obaro on Facebook: Do you think because Niall Quinn is a true football man that's why Steve Bruce isnt under a lot more pressure considering the money they spent in the summer and their perilous league position?
Niall Quinn is a genuine football man who has been involved in the game at the highest level for club and country, so he will be well aware of the delicate margins involved. He will also know there is little mileage in entrusting a manager with so much money and then losing faith within a matter of months.
I have been very surprised by Sunderland's slump in form because they showed so many good signs earlier in the season, drawing at Manchester United, and beating Liverpool and Arsenal at The Stadium of Light.
I rate Bruce very highly as a manager. Teams can often go through these periods of struggle and I would be amazed if Sunderland were relegated.
Darren Bent has proved an excellent signing, as had Lee Cattermole until he started suffering injury problems. Of course, poor results bring inevitable pressure, but I do not see Sunderland taking any panic measures over Bruce, nor should they. They are in safe hands.
So there you go Tome...I've answered one of your questions.
Andy Kypri on Facebook: England's goalkeeping situation for the World Cup. Calamity James? Ben Foster? Robert Green? Paul Robinson? Do you think Joe Hart's stock has risen to the point that he is seriously being considered by Capello as first choice?
I think David James is still the first-choice keeper as far as Fabio Capello is concerned, but there are so many questions over his fitness, his future and also his inconsistent form. West Ham's Robert Green will go, probably as deputy to James, so this leaves one place available.
Has Ben Foster fallen down a large hole at Manchester United? Capello could not possibly contemplate taking him now, which leaves Paul Robinson and Joe Hart.
I like Robinson but suspect he is not high in Capello's thoughts. The Italian, though, is a big admirer of Hart, with his only reservation being a lack of exposure at the highest level.
Steve Parker on Facebook: Newcastle's Steve Harper for England goalkeeper, surely a topic for discussion?
Had lots of questions in previous Q&As on this. I have had to sit on the fence because I do not see Steve Harper play. You tell me - and I do not just mean Newcastle fans. I am happy to take opinions from supporters of other Championship sides. Is he good enough for England? The floor is yours.
Robert Clark on Facebook: Do you think Chelsea have made a huge mistake not signing young English talent like Victor Moses, Adam Johnson and even Chris Smalling?
No, I don't. They have an incredibly strong squad, and I am sure they were well aware of all three.
Moses has been touted as a great emerging talent for some time, but, in the final reckoning, none of the major Premier League teams showed serious interest and he ended up at Wigan. This might sound disrespectful to Wigan, but there must have been doubts among the top clubs to prevent them making a move. Is he actually good enough for Chelsea? How long would he, as a very young player, have had to wait for a chance?
Chelsea might have taken a punt on Johnson, a really promising young player, but they have the likes of Florent Malouda and Yuri Zhirkov, so probably felt they were well covered.
Smalling is a bit of an unknown quatity to me - and he obviously has something to attract such attention from Manchester United and Arsenal - but Chelsea have John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho and Alex, so they are not exactly short.
Time will tell, but I do not think they will have cause for huge regret.
Raj Nihar on Facebook: Do you think Liverpool needs a change in management now?
As in today, Raj? No, I don't. And neither does Liverpool managing director Christian Purslow if an interview in Spanish sports newspaper AS is anything to go by.
I repeat my recent assertion that Benitez's position will come under huge strain if Liverpool fail to finish in the top four this season. This was an almost unspoken clause in the new contract he signed - the very least he should be achieving with the squad available to him.
He should be given the chance to try to fulfil that "guaranteed" aim. If he doesn't, then I think his position should come under serious scrutiny.
Jaypreet Hothi on Facebook: You were critical of Barry Ferguson moving to Birmingham, suggesting he wasn't the right player to lead them from relegation. Given their over-achievement this season, which he has been at the heart of, do you retract that statement or do you still feel Birmingham could have performed as well without him?
On the evidence of what we have seen so far, then I would have to agree he has been a far better signing than I thought he would be. I was not impressed with him at Blackburn, and I have to add not hugely impressed when I saw him play for Scotland either. He looked too ponderous for the Premier League at Ewood Park.
The key may well be Alex McLeish, a manager who knows him well from Rangers and Scotland. Perhaps he has handed him a role and responsibility that suits him. Can Ferguson maintain his form for the rest of the season? We will see, but you are correct that he has been excellent so far and I am happy to give credit where it is fully due.
Darren Vincent on Facebook: Do you believe, with regards to recent managerial changes during the season, that there should be a manager transfer window within the Premier League?
Great idea - but I am not sure clubs or fans would go along with it. I do think there has to be scope for clubs to change managers, although not with the indecent haste some do. When managers are sacked after weeks and months, then this is where your idea has most merit.
What I would like to get rid of is the transfer window. It is a complete nonsense. Clubs should be allowed to strengthen where and when they can, when they wish. Tony Pulis called it "a circus" - I hate circuses so I am in full agreement with him.
coulsontom on Twitter: I would like to know who you think will finish 4th and why?
Not predictions again. I have officially semi-retired from predictions after tipping Liverpool for the Premier League title, although obviously this is still mathematically possible!!
If you pushed me into a corner, I might just go for Manchester City based on the Premier League table and games in hand. Big week coming up for them when they face Liverpool at Eastlands on 21 February then travel to Chelsea on 27 February. Could shape the battle for fourth place.
The great thing about this season is that Spurs and Aston Villa are also right in there - so this is a prediction made with zero confidence, thanks to the excitement and unpredictability, literally, of the Premier League.
Hopefully that helps to answer Tony Glenholmes and Usman Hyder on Facebook.
Mark Ellison on Facebook: Can you see Everton finishing in a European spot with the return of all the injured players, notably Arteta and Jagielka, or have they given up too much ground mainly caused by the earlier injuries?
Everton have shown great improvement in the last few weeks, getting players like Steven Pienaar and Mikel Arteta back, as well as seeing signings like John Heitinga settle in. They have given themselves a chance of making the European places, but they will need to continue the excellent form they have shown.
I saw their recent win against Manchester City and it was a top-class performance, so the quality is there.
The injuries to Arteta, Phil Jagielka and the slow return to full fitness of Yakubu hit them right down the middle of the team, and I believe the bitter saga of Joleon Lescott's move to Manchester City affected them and, in particular, manager David Moyes at a crucial stage of pre-season preparations. What a great deal that looks at £24m now, though.
So yes, I can see Everton in the shake-up for the Europa League places. They are still in that of course, but, to also take the question from Ged Jennings on Facebook, I think fourth place will prove well beyond them. See my previous hedged answer for who I think will take fourth place.
Neil Rate on Facebook: England have an abundance of wide players - Cole, Wright-Phillips, Downing, Young, Milner, Walcott, Beckham, Lennon. If it was your choice, who would you take to SA?
I would take (if fit) Aaron Lennon, Theo Walcott and James Milner. I would love Joe Cole to come back to form and fitness, too, then I would be tempted to find room for him.
Walcott needs to show more of his real self, and stay fit, in the closing months of this season. He has had a tough campaign. Now there are worries over Lennon's latest injury.
I've already made my position clear on David Beckham. I would not take him, but I think Capello will. Beckham will be inked in even more indelibly if those who might be rivals continue to suffer injury problems.
HugoScheckter on Twitter: What future do you see for Landon Donovan?
I think Everton would like to extend his current three-month loan to the end of the season if they can. There has even been talk of a permanent deal, although I am not sure LA Galaxy want that as he recently signed an extended contract.
He is already very highly-thought of at Everton. He has impressed in the games he has played so far with his work-rate, intelligence and ability. I know David Moyes feels he has the capacity to be a real goal threat.
It suits him to sharpen up in England ahead of the World Cup, so I think he may try to extend his stay at Everton if he possibly can - but a talented player.
Sasha Pejkovic on Facebook: The "Big Five" failied to make any noteworthy signings this transfer window. Is this a notion of squad satisfaction, complacency, or are funds drying up?
By the "Big Five" Sasha, I am guessing you mean Manchester City as well as the usual suspects. They did sign Adam Johnson from Middlesbrough, but I take your point. No big blockbuster signings.
I think there are various forces at work here, although complacency will not be one of them. Chelsea and Manchester United are notoriously, and correctly, reluctant to spend big in January because the calibre of player they want is usually unavailable or over-priced, and often still playing for teams in the Champions League or Europa League.
Carlo Ancelotti and Sir Alex Ferguson have also made it very clear they are happy with their squads.
I think the same applies to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, although he has a reluctance to part with big-money unless he feels he is getting absolute value for money.
I think Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez would have loved to have spent more, but there is not a lot of cash around at Anfield, so, yes, finance would have dictated his January policy to a large extent.
There is not the same amount of cash around as in previous years, but I do think, if the right players had been available, at least four of those you mention would have found the cash. January, however, is not a great time for top clubs to be trying to sign good players.
SherlockyHolmes on Twitter: Could you explain Liverpool's decision to sell Chris Buchtmann to Fulham for a derisory fee? He seems a fantastic talent.
Had a couple of inquiries about this one since he left. Sadly, I know little about this player other than that he is a German youth international who came from Borussia Dortmund in 2008 and helped Liverpool reach the FA Youth Cup final a year later.
Roy Hodgson is a shewd operator and has seen something. I would be very interested to hear from any Liverpool fans, or anyone who has seen Buchtmann, who can fill us in on just how good he is.
John S C Simpson on Facebook: Why won't Arsene Wenger buy a couple of players of quality and experience? It is so obvious that they just can't compete with Man Utd and Chelsea any more. So what is his reluctance in spending money to fill key positions?
This is a real bone of contention among some Arsenal fans and joeman4ever on Twitter was also concerned by Wenger's lack of transfer activity.
Wenger simply refuses to pay over the odds for players and has huge faith in the squad he has. Hence he has to feel it is a really special case, like Sol Campbell, or a very obvious upgrade on his squad. Also, in his defence, January is not the best time to be making top-quality additions. Those players who can instantly improve sides like Arsenal are rarely available. Who do you think he should have signed?
I can only comment on what I have seen in recent times, and I believe he needs to invest in a top-class goalkeeper. Manuel Almunia is not a quality last line of defence and was awful against Manchester United.
Arsenal were also desperately lacking physical presence against Manchester United. Even the Arsenal fans who are not convinced by Nicklas Bendtner were calling for his introduction. A striker of stature is required, although the loss of Robin van Persie has been a big blow.
I would also like to see the addtion of a Patrick Vieira style-powerhouse in midfield to support Cesc Fabregas. The team is simply too lightweight, but Wenger has faith in Abou Diaby and Alexandre Song to fulfil this role. I'm not so sure.
Chikere Asogwa on Facebook: What is wrong with Harry Redknapp? Why would he get rid of Robbie Keane and bring in Eidur Gudjohnsen? Not sensible in my opinion.
Must admit I was puzzled as to why he would want Gudjohnsen. He has shown signs of being past his best in recent years, although maybe it was becoming clear behind the scenes that Robbie Keane wanted regular football elsewhere. There was also continued speculation about Roman Pavlyuchenko.
Keane's career has taken a very odd path since joining Liverpool, the first of two boyhood, not to mention lifelong, dream moves.
It was almost as if he returned to White Hart Lane as damaged goods after his ill-fated spell at Anfield. Was he ever really a proper fit in a strike duo with Jermain Defoe? Once Peter Crouch and Defoe reformed their partnership, he was always going to be struggling.
Redknapp's had successes with surprise deals before, so I will be intrigued to see how Gudjohnsen fits in. Agree, though, it's a strange one.
randomanomaly on Twitter: Rooney, Drogba, or Fabregas. Who has been player of the season so far?
Mary O' Shea on Facebook: If he stays fit, will Sol Campbell be on the plane to South Africa?
No Mary, not a chance. Sorry, if you're a Sol fan.
Ibraheem Oladimeji Sulaiman on Facebook: Any stand-out goal keeper this season?
Two or three actually. Joe Hart at Birmingham, and to him you can add Shay Given at Manchester City and Pepe Reina at Liverpool. All three are top-class. If only Spain could spare Reina for England seeing as they already have Iker Casillas.
Adama Sallah on Facebook: Do you think David Beckham coming back to Old Trafford will be favourable to the United fans? Do you think United fans will welcome him nicely?
I am certain he will get a rapturous reception. In fact, it could be quite emotional. And he will deserve it after playing such a wonderful part in the successes Manchester United enjoyed while he was at the club.
andrewlow on Twitter: Who should/will play on the wings for England in South Africa?
I would, fitness permitting, like to see Aaron Lennon and James Milner on the flanks, with Steven Gerrard just playing off Wayne Rooney in support of the striker, as he does for Liverpool when Fernando Torres is available.
Wootzeh on Twitter: What do you think of Stoke's Ryan Shawcross and Matthew Etherington. What are their chances of getting a surprise call-up?
None, to be brutally honest. Good players but not England class. Shawcross could be one for the future, but not this time around.