Tag Archives: fergie

Sir Alex Ferguson barged by linesman v Chelsea

More trouble for Fergie with officials… this time the linesman crashes in to him!

By
John Drayton

PUBLISHED:

18:08 GMT, 10 March 2013

|

UPDATED:

19:49 GMT, 10 March 2013

Sir Alex Ferguson's relationship with officials has been strained this week, after Nani was harshly sent off in the Champions League against Real Madrid and his side crashed out.

And now they're physically turning on him too – the Manchester United boss was minding his own business on the touchline in the FA Cup quarter-final against Chelsea when the linesman barged in to him.

But instead of exploding in fury,
Ferguson saw the funny side and cracked a smile afterwards while rubbing
his arm where he had been hit.

Watch out: The linesman barges past Sir Alex on the sideline

Watch out: The linesman barges past Sir Alex on the sideline

Barge: The linesman knocks Sir Alex

Barge: The linesman knocks Sir Alex

ITV pundit and former United player Roy
Keane also found the whole thing amusing, making a joke in the studio
referencing his outspoken views over the Nani red card.

On Wednesday, Keane fought against the tide of people claiming Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir was wrong to dismiss the Portugal star for a 'dangerous' challenge.

And he joked that the linesman could have been dismissed for 'dangerous play' after his skirmish with Fergie on Sunday night.

Manchester United stuck with dodgy pitch meaning Real Madrid will have to play on mudbath

Real Madrid will have to play on Old Trafford mudbath as Fergie admits title-chasing United left stuck with dodgy pitch

By
Ian Ladyman

PUBLISHED:

23:34 GMT, 30 January 2013

|

UPDATED:

01:51 GMT, 31 January 2013

Manchester United are stuck with their deteriorating Old Trafford pitch until the end of the season after the club decided not to rip it up before the summer.

United’s playing surface has been in a mess since the wet Manchester weather before Christmas and now represents something of a rutted sandpit after being dried out by a period of frost and cold weather.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was damning in his criticism of the pitch after his team struggled to beat Southampton 2-1 in the Barclays Premier League on Wednesday night but it is understood that the club’s ground staff have advised there is no way it can be replaced mid-season.

They've got their work cut out: Manchester United's pitch has been left a mess by the winter weather

They've got their work cut out: Manchester United's pitch has been left a mess by the winter weather

Ferguson said after the match: 'We found the pitch difficult to play on. Southampton won a lot of 50-50 balls as our players looked to take a touch.

'We watered the pitch before the game but once it dried out in the second half it became difficult.

'We couldn’t play our normal game on it and its really becoming a problem for us.'

Life's a pitch: United struggled on the surface during the win against Southampton, said Sir Alex Ferguson

Life's a pitch: United struggled on the surface during the win against Southampton, said Sir Alex Ferguson

Turf wars: The pitch can clearly be seen churning up during Wednesday's match at Old Trafford

Turf wars: The pitch can clearly be seen churning up during Wednesday's match at Old Trafford

With United looking to cement their position at the top of the Premier League in coming weeks and due to face Real Madrid at Old Trafford in the Champions League on March 5, Ferguson would certainly like his team to have a better surface to play on and it is not unknown for clubs to relay surfaces during a season.

It seems, however, that United will have to make the best of things until the summer.

Do I really have to play on that pitch Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid come to Old Trafford on March 5

Do I really have to play on that pitch Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid come to Old Trafford on March 5

Wilfried Zaha steals the show for Palace as Manchester United close in on deal

Zaha steals the show for Palace as Fergie closes in on deal

By
Ian Ridley

PUBLISHED:

23:54 GMT, 19 January 2013

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UPDATED:

23:54 GMT, 19 January 2013

Manchester United
target Wilfried Zaha showed why Sir Alex Ferguson is leading the chase
for his considerable talents with a virtuoso display that nearly ruined
Dougie Freedman's return to Selhurst Park.

The Premier League giants are in
talks with Crystal Palace to try to force through a deal for the
20-yearold England international before the end of the transfer window.

Zaha is ready to travel north to
meet United boss Ferguson and discuss terms once the two clubs have
agreed a fee but so far negotiations have failed to produce a deal.

Dazzling: Wilfried Zaha in action for Crystal Palace

Dazzling: Wilfried Zaha in action for Crystal Palace

He showed precisely why he is being
courted by the Premier League leaders, leaving former Palace manager
Freedman fortunate to escape with a point.

Zaha, born in Ivory Coast but raised
in South London, hit the post with a snap shot and laid on a host of
chances, the best of them sliced wide by Glenn Murray from 10 yards.

The chances came as a result of
Zaha's skilful, pacy wing play that Freedman did so much to develop
before he left Palace to take over at Bolton last October.

'Goodness gracious me, was he
exhilarating' said Ian Holloway, Freedman's successor as Palace
manager, before answering his own question.

Exhilarating: Palace boss Ian Holloway was full of praise for Wilfried Zaha

Exhilarating: Palace boss Ian Holloway was full of praise for Wilfried Zaha

'Yes he was. Some of the best teams
in the world are talking about him and it is difficult when you are not
used to the limelight and you are a nice kid as he is.

'But the boy can do all sorts of
things and is learning what being a good footballer is all about. He was
consistent today, which is not easy when you are a wide man.'

United have restricted their
valuation of Zaha to 7million, believing there are no other credible
bidders Palace can turn to in January.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has
also declared an interest in Zaha, who supported the Gunners as a boy,
but has not yet entered the race, prioritising Theo Walcott's new
contract, signed on Friday, instead.

Palace chairman Steve Parrish has
dropped his original asking price from 20m but is still looking for a
deal that would ultimately be worth 12m to his Championship club.

Big future: Wilfired Zaha looks to be on his way to the Premiership

Big future: Wilfired Zaha looks to be on his way to the Premiership

With time ticking down to the end of January, United are threatening to delay their interest until the summer but with both sides continuing to discuss the matter, a deal could still be struck in the next fortnight.

Palace would like Zaha to stay at Selhurst Park on loan for the season regardless of which club he joins, something the player is comfortable with, and United could use that as a bargaining tool, charging a 1m loan fee that would effectively be taken off the price of the transfer.

Palace survived early Bolton pressure when Chris Eagles looked lively and twice went close with shots, to extend their unbeaten home record to 13 matches but they should have gone on to take all three points to continue their push for promotion.

Instead, Adam Bogdan kept out Alex Marrow's late drive to send Freedman home happy with his day, but with just five win in 17 games in charge he would surely love to have a player of Zaha's calibre in his squad.

Sir Alex Ferguson blames Manchester City for Mario Balotelli and Roberto Mancini getting caught fighting

It's your own fault we know about Balotelli and Mancini! Fergie blames Man City for letting snappers catch scrappers

By
David Kent

PUBLISHED:

11:28 GMT, 4 January 2013

|

UPDATED:

11:45 GMT, 4 January 2013

Manchester City are to blame for allowing Mario Balotelli’s extraordinary confrontation with Roberto Mancini to be captured by photographers, according to Sir Alex Ferguson.

The finger of blame has been pointed towards the Italian striker for a 'horrific' challenge on team-mate Scott Sinclair, to which Mancini responded furiously.

Get a grip: Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini and striker Mario Balotelli had to be pulled apart

Get a grip: Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini and striker Mario Balotelli had to be pulled apart

Get a grip: Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini and striker Mario Balotelli had to be pulled apart

Fiery Italians: Mancini and Balotelli were snapped by photographers during their bust-up at training

Fiery Italians: Mancini and Balotelli were snapped by photographers during their bust-up at training

The whole episode was caught by snappers waiting next to the training ground, but Manchester United manager Fergie is at a loss as to why the club allow such free access.

Sir Alex said: 'You’re protecting the possibility of your success. Do the major companies tell their opponents what they’re doing I’m sure they don’t.

'Football has got the profile. Cameramen want to do training sessions which is ridiculous.

Stay away: The Manchester City coaches had to get between Mancini and Balotelli

Stay away: The Manchester City coaches had to get between Mancini and Balotelli

'It is very difficult to coach and do work related to a game because you don’t know where the information can go. Clubs like Real Madrid, the press were there every day, that’s stopped under Jose.

'A lot of clubs I know don't (allow it). How you can do your work and if you want to do tactical work, how do you do it with press around you

'Fortunately at our place we can protect against it to a certain degree. Sometimes a photographer tries to wander across the woods but now we've put those wolves in there they don’t come!'

Pointing the finger: Sir Alex Ferguson insists the blame lies with Man City after the Balotelli controversy

Pointing the finger: Sir Alex Ferguson insists the blame lies with Man City after the Balotelli controversy

Access all areas at Man City's training ground

Despite the criticism coming the way of the Manchester City manager, there is little he can do to combat the issue.

The footpaths on either side of the
Carrington training ground are public, meaning that anyone wanting to
watch a training session is free to.

The club has experimented with a
six-foot tarpaulin curtain around the edge of the ground, but that
hasn’t stopped photographers or members of the public who climb ladders
or trees in order to watch their heroes train.

Planning permission to extend the height
of the curtain has been sought but six foot is the limit without the
agreement of Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council.

In 18 months’ time the squad are set to
move their training to the new Etihad Campus training ground, but until
then it looks as though Mancini and his players will have to keep their
tempers under control.

The Footballers" Football Column – Martin Allen: Balotelli is detrimental, disrespectful and unsettling, Fergie wouldn"t tolerate him……

MARTIN ALLEN: I can't believe people pay 70 for Premier League football, it's like watching chess… Balotelli is detrimental, disrespectful and unsettling, Fergie wouldn't tolerate him… Diving I did it all the time, 'course I did

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Martin Allen is the second in a series of new columns for Sportsmail titled The Footballers' Football Column. They're columns
about the game by people involved in the game. A manager of eight professional clubs, Allen, who follows Edgar Davids' column yesterday, made almost 200 appearances for West Ham and well over 100 for QPR in a marauding career which saw him earn the nickname 'Mad Dog'. He never once shied away from a tackle and here, in his first column, he doesn't shirk an issue…

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MEET THE MAN…

Name: Martin 'Mad Dog' Allen

Age: 47

Current job: Gillingham manager

Former clubs:

Player – QPR, West Ham, Portsmouth, Southend

Manager – Barnet, Brentford, MK Dons, Leicester, Cheltenham, Notts County.

International honours: England Under 19, 20, 21

You're probably wondering why I'm called Mad Dog. It goes back to when I was at West Ham. My central midfield partner was a guy called Ian Bishop. He was very calm, relaxed and enjoyed playing nice football. I was uptight, intimidating, I had a skinhead haircut. When I played next to him it was my job to get the ball back.

We were playing at Upton Park in front of the Chicken Run and he once looked at me and said 'you've got all froth round your mouth', this is while the game was going on. He laughed. I just looked at him with those horrible eyes I've got. It was around the time when it was all over the news that these dogs bred in America to fight were being imported over here. He laughed and said: 'you look like a mad dog'.

And that's how it happened. Instead of wiping the froth from mouth I just left it on.

Since I became a manager I'm usually brought in as a firefighter to save clubs from relegation. But at Gillingham it's the first time I've taken over a club in the right position.

I've been employed at most clubs when they've been near the bottom in trouble. They've got me in to turn things around. It's always been having to fight to stave off relegation.

I've had one play-off final at Cardiff, play-off semi-finals with Reading, a play-off semi-final with MK Dons, play-off semi-finals twice with Brentford. So we've always been there or there abouts, but haven't managed to quite get up. That's through having clubs that in the previous season had been in the relegation zone.

People would say 'why haven't you managed to do it' You could turn around and say a year ago you were fighting relegation and now you're fighting for promotion. Well since I took over Gillingham in the summer we're top by five points, been there for five months.

I've never been top of the league and the only thing I want is one promotion. I can't even imagine what it'll be like if we do it. Then from that the dream is to take a team from the Championship to the Premier League. I know I can do it, I know I can.

Still growling: Allen has lost none of his trademark bite

Still growling: Allen has lost none of his trademark bite

Premier class Watching top-flight football is like watching chess!

Premier class Watching top-flight football is like watching chess!

But you know what The Premier League ain't all it's cracked up to be. I've been to some Premier League games and sat there bored. No shots or crosses. Everyone backs off to play the counter attack.

I know friends with season tickets for Premier League clubs and they find it boring. Bloody well right they do.

They come and watch Gillingham and say what a good football match that was. They love coming here. We don't make 20 passes on the half-way line. They see our football a bit more how it used to be.

The game's changed. In the old days we lined up 4-4-2 and smashed each other to bits, go hell for leather. It ain't like that now. Now everyone drops off and it's chess football. You pay 70 quid for a ticket for that – and I ain't doing it.

The game has changed in other ways, too, players are on massive wages now. Some people moan but I think they deserve it.

I don't think players are on insane wages. I've just been to a hospital in Gillingham to see a lot of sick children who have nurses to look after them.

There was one called Anna, from Liverpool, she spoke with such enthusiasm and love for the children. The remarkable job that lady does she would probably not be earning too much money.

But footballers are entertainers. The ones at the top of the game it's not just in England they're watched, like it used to be in the old days. Everyone in Asia wants to watch the Premier League. It is growing in India and Africa.

When I was a boy my dad used to take summer schools in America and I'd go along with him. You wouldn't see a football goal anywhere, now you go there and they're everywhere.

Oh my god can you imagine what it's going to be like in another 20 years It's just going to get bigger. Do footballers earn too much money Compared to that nurse Anna in Gillingham – yes they do. But people want to watch it and pay for it and I think they should get their fair share.

He's not for me: Allen wouldn't toerate Mario Balotelli's antics - and neither would Sir Alex Ferguson, he reckons

He's not for me: Allen wouldn't toerate Mario Balotelli's antics – and neither would Sir Alex Ferguson, he reckons

I say footballers are entertainers but one of them who's taken it too far is Mario Balotelli – he's not for me. He's got amazing talent, but I'm with the Jose Mourninho school of thought who had him but washed his hands with him pretty quick. You wouldn't see him playing for Sir Alex Ferguson.

I think he'd be detrimental, disrespectful, unsettling. I saw him play at West Ham 18 months ago, he got subbed in 55th minute, hardly broke a sweat the whole game.

When he came off he walked from the centre circle down the tunnel. Never acknowledged the Man City supporters, and that's disrespectful, I don't like that.

The way he walked off the pitch was disrespectful to his team-mates, the sub coming on, the manager. I wouldn't tolerate it.

He needs to come and watch my development squad train and play. Sundays and Mondays they do team work, pattern of play, technical work.

Then Thursdays and Fridays they do three sessions a day, first session 9.30am in the gym with their core work, stability and weights. Second session 10.30am a working football session.

Then after lunch they go back to the training ground to do fitness work without footballs. Same again on Fridays but they go to the local parks where there are lots of hills. It's hard work.

Away win: Allen's Gillingham continue to set the pace at the top of League Two thanks to Chris Whelpdale's winning goal at Southend on New Year's Day

Away win: Allen's Gillingham continue to set the pace at the top of League Two thanks to Chris Whelpdale's winning goal at Southend on New Year's Day

We had a reserve match against Millwall recently and one of my players ended up with seven stitches and a fractured cheekbone. That was not nice. The lad's only 19. Pure accident the Millwall player headed his face instead of the ball.

It brought back horrible memories for me when I was 19 playing for QPR and had exactly the same thing, spookily the same.

I glanced a header and the Millwall centre-back headed my cheekbone and I had a depressed fracture. George Graham was my youth-team manager.

When I saw it I half-knew what to expect. The blood was just gushing from his head – that's fine but I could see the cheekbone depressed.

I rang his dad to let him know he was going to hospital but was OK.

Hammer time: Allen is a West Ham legend

Hammer time: Allen is a West Ham legend

That's all part of the game – but I'll tell you what's never going to be part of the game with my teams.

I watched Spurs play Swansea last weekend and Chico Flores went down like he'd broken his ankle or ruptured a ligament. He squealed like a pig, I could hear him from where I was.

Then he gets up two minutes later. I thought that was diabolical. I wouldn't at all be happy if one of my players had done that. I would definitely not be happy with that.

I don't like any players to feign injury. If they get tackled take it like a man and get on with it. Give it and take it the same.

I hate blatant cheating but I think that's different to diving. People complain about it but it's a skill – and I did it all the time.

From my experience of the last few years there's no diving in the lower levels.

That cements my view that the introduction of continental and South American players has changed it. It's just normal there.

Jose Mourinho's Porto played at Celtic a few years ago and Martin O'Neill refused to shake his hand.

Said
he would never want a team to play that way. It was like Swan Lake they
were diving everywhere. But it's part of the game. You play for fouls
and penalties. It's in their culture and it's now come to our country.

Schoolboys
and youth players on the continent get taught how to win fouls. It's
part of training. They teach them how to win fouls at Barcelona's
academy.

If you're
good technically, players want to tackle you, to destroy you and destroy
your skill. You run into a player's pathway so they foul you. That's
skilful play.

Gareth Bale
is being accused a lot – the one against Fulham was
theatrical. Then again I wouldn't know what it's like to be that fast
and to be tackled at that speed,

I
was certainly not like that. It's part of the change. You bring in
talented players like Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, David Silva, Juan
Mata, Oscar.

In the red: Gillingham manager Martin Allen is a new hard-hitting columnist for Sportsmail

In the red: Gillingham manager Martin Allen is a new hard-hitting columnist for Sportsmail

More from The Footballers Column…

The Footballers Football Column – Edgar Davids: Players are predators that's why Benitez may struggle at Chelsea… And sometimes the best players are not the most talented – just look at Roy Keane
20/12/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

You bring them in, technically top drawer, they play for fouls. Get used to it 'cos it ain't going away.

I dived all
the time anyway. 'Course I did. Any opportunity to win a foul I made
sure I put my body between the ball and the player. To give us
possession.

If I could
give us a foul for a penalty I would do, definitely. I was more unique
back then, I was a bit different to everyone else. I'd do anything I
could to win.

What do I tell my players at Gillingham I don't encourage it. I don't say to them 'go into the penalty area and dive to win us a penalty'.

But
what happens if see player running really fast into box and if you run
in their path they're going to push you over and you'll win a penalty

I
don't encourage my players to dive but drawing fouls and penalties is a
skill and I don't think there's a manager in the country wouldn't want
them to do it.

London 2012 heroes including Ben Ainslie, Bradley Wiggins and Jessica Ennis gave us the time of our lives – Patrick Collins

Thank you, Sir Ben and Sir Bradley, Jessica, Ellie and David for giving us time of our lives

|

UPDATED:

00:15 GMT, 30 December 2012

It was towards the end of the Opening Ceremony that a blissful certainty descended. In the space of a single enchanted evening, Danny Boyle had painted a picture of a nation at ease with itself; compassionate, resourceful, diverse and quirky. And as we stumbled away from the stadium, senses reeling from the spectacle, we knew beyond question that Boyle’s masterpiece had set the stunning tone; that London would stage an Olympics for the ages.

The heroes would emerge in golden clusters; Mo and Jessica, Bradley and Victoria, Ben, Andy and all those for whom first names alone now suffice. Over the past few weeks of the awards season, those heroes have been duly feted by a grateful public. Soon they will tramp in massed ranks to the house at the end of The Mall, where a sword will touch deserving shoulders and medals will dangle from worthy lapels.

Arise: Ben Ainslie is one of the Olympic heroes being honoured for their achievements

Arise: Ben Ainslie is one of the Olympic heroes being honoured for their achievements

Pace setter: Bradley Wiggins celebrates winning the Men's Individual Time Trial

Pace setter: Bradley Wiggins celebrates winning the Men's Individual Time Trial

Something to behold: Jessica Ennis flew the flag for Britain as she won the heptathlon

Something to behold: Jessica Ennis flew the flag for Britain as she won the heptathlon

More from Patrick Collins…

Patrick Collins: Why do we keep letting Sir Alex and his manager pals get away with endless self-indulgent tantrums and spats
29/12/12

Patrick Collins: So this is how football gets into the spirit of Christmas!
22/12/12

Patrick Collins: How Fergie's bedtime habits set standards at Old Trafford
15/12/12

Patrick Collins: The anti-Wenger mob should be careful what they wish for
15/12/12

Patrick Collins: England's sensational miracle workers have everyone believing again
08/12/12

Patrick Collins: Captain Cook must stand the test of time before he can join the greats
08/12/12

Patrick Collins: Football's silent majority must set the tone, not the bigots who just want to be noticed
01/12/12

Patrick Collins: Richie McCaw, Dan Carter… your boys took one hell of a beating!
01/12/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

It is right that they should be rewarded, especially if those rewards help us remember how it felt in the days of high summer, when great deeds were done in stadium and velodrome, on lake and road and in all those arenas which held the country entranced for day after magical day. And not merely the deeds themselves, but the numbers and the passion of those who witnessed them.

Those of us who have followed the Olympic circus down the decades had grown used to stadia being thinly populated for heats or qualifiers or so-called ‘minor’ sports. Not in London. Sebastian Coe had promised that the Games would be watched by capacity crowds. To the amazement of the International Olympic Committee, that promise was emphatically delivered.

The numbers were unprecedented. If tickets were unobtainable, then the public would stand five, ten, 15 deep to cheer on the triathletes, the marathon runners or the road racing cyclists. And not only the British contenders, but each and every Olympian.

The feats of the gods demanded full tribute, of course. Usain Bolt was already installed as a citizen of the world, while the likes of the American swimmer Michael Phelps, and Kenya’s David Rudisha, whose 800 metres world record was perhaps the performance of the entire Games, produced the kind of excellence which far superseded nationality.

But the same approval and admiration was accorded to the overmatched boxer, the outclassed swimmer, and to young Sarah Attar, the first woman athlete from Saudi Arabia to compete in an Olympic arena. Sarah finished more than 30 seconds behind the field in the 800 metres but thunderous cheers told of her ultimate triumph. Somebody asked if she had a message for her countrywomen. ‘I’d tell them: Don’t give up on your dreams,’ said Sarah, and a roomful of reporters began blinking furiously.

Usain and Michael, David and Sarah; we treated them all alike. Never was a Games more welcoming, less partisan. It was an object lesson in how civilised sport should be conducted. In truth, we surprised ourselves. For there was courtesy and friendliness, a willingness to chat with strangers, advise on travel and recommend decent pubs. This was not what visitors expected from Britain, and most certainly not from London. Their surprise was our delight.

Delivered: Sebastian Coe oversaw a fantastic Olympics in front of packed stadiums

Delivered: Sebastian Coe oversaw a fantastic Olympics in front of packed stadiums

Global citizen: Usain Bolt is known all over the world and his popularity increased further still at the Games

Global citizen: Usain Bolt is known all over the world and his popularity increased further still at the Games

What about the golf

If anybody is foolish enough to ask me about the last day of the Ryder Cup, I tell them at some length about standing on the fringe of the 18th green at Medinah, so close to the winning putt that I actually heard Martin Kaymer’s ball fall ‘clonk-clonk-clonk’ into the cup.

And it’s true, at least I think it is. Difficult to tell as, at that moment, the world went mad in celebration of the most incredible recovery in the history of the event.

In any other year, it would have been the outstanding sporting memory. In the year of the London Olympics, it took its place in a long queue.

The same may be said of Rory McIlroy. Being leading money-winner on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as US PGA champion, qualifies him for no more than an honourable mention. Even so, it was a staggering year for the young Irishman.

Naturally, the mood was assisted by the extraordinary success of Team GB. At this nostalgic time of year, the tales of gold are lovingly retold. Even those of us present on the first ‘Super Saturday’ occasionally wonder if it really happened.

But the reality was gold in the women’s team pursuit, gold in the men’s coxless four and gold for Sophie Hosking and Katherine Copeland in the women’s double scull. All of which was a prelude to a night of sheer fantasy in the Olympic Stadium.

Heptathlon gold for Jess Ennis, long
jump gold for Greg Rutherford, 10,000 metres gold for Mo Farah. Lord Coe
called it ‘the greatest day of sport I have ever witnessed’. But it was
even more; with six Olympic gold medals, it was the greatest day that
British sport has ever known.

And so it continued; Wiggins in the time
trial, Murray at Wimbledon and, absurdly, another Super Saturday with Mo
winning an historic 5,000 metres and Bolt’s Jamaicans obliterating the
sprint relay world record.

Magic MOment: Farah crosses the line to win the 5,000m at the London Olympics

Magic MOment: Farah crosses the line to win the 5,000m at the London Olympics

Spectacular: It wasn't just the stadium and the fireworks which looked great

Spectacular: It wasn't just the stadium and the fireworks which looked great

Along with a fierce pride in our city and its people, there was a deep and genuine sadness when the Olympic flame died. We told ourselves that never again would we know such times, nor see such sport. That mournful conviction lasted precisely 17 days.

For, quite astonishingly, the Paralympics were equally compelling. Long before the first week was through, the names of David Weir and Sarah Storey, of Sophie Christiansen and the captivating Ellie Simmonds were rolling off the tongue. Ellie’s 400 metres performance in the Aquatic Centre was equalled only by the drama of the men’s 100 metres, when Britain’s Jonnie Peacock sprinted away from the overwhelming favourite, Oscar Pistorius.

Captivating: Ellie Simmonds (right) was one of the Paralympians who stunned us again and again

Captivating: Ellie Simmonds (right) was one of the Paralympians who stunned us again and again

Thrillers: David Weir and Sarah Storey (below) delighted us during the Paralympics

Thrillers: David Weir and Sarah Storey (below) delighted us during the Paralympics

Sarah Storey

Sarah Storey

The Paralympics were no longer worthy and esoteric. In less than two weeks, they had moved into the mainstream. It was perhaps the most significant advance that British sport made all year. And when they ended, in lachrymose lashings of Coldplay, the melancholy began in earnest.

I remember leaving the Olympic Park on that Sunday evening and boarding the Docklands Light Railway. Across the carriage, in their distinctive purple and red suits, sat a couple of volunteers. They were middle-aged, tired and a little emotional. Unpaid and largely unheeded, they had worked throughout the Olympics, then the Paralympics. Save for a single basketball game, they had seen little live sport.

On that final day, they had completed a double shift, getting up at 6.15 for the early start. It was almost midnight, and their faces were grey with fatigue. Tomorrow, they would become civilians again. They were not looking forward to it. ‘So you enjoyed the Games’ I asked. They smiled at the foolish question. ‘Enjoyed it’ said the man. He shook his head, slowly. ‘It was the best time of our lives.’ In those few words, he had given us the perfect summary of our Olympic summer.

Murray delivers the dream

There were times during 2012 when the bare facts read like tall stories. Andy Murray, Wimbledon finalist, was one thing. Andy Murray, Olympic gold medallist, was another.

And Andy Murray, US Open champion, the first Briton to win a Grand Slam since 1936, was of another order entirely. Yet in the course of his staggering summer, he delivered all three. In a normal era, it would have been a sensational achievement. But in an era containing the finest players the game has known, it was a feat beyond compare.

Enlarge

What a year: Andy Murray memorably won the US Open title in November

What a year: Andy Murray memorably won the US Open title in November

Unless the comparison happened to be with the deeds of Bradley Wiggins. His victory in the time trial at the London Games was his fourth Olympic gold. He also happened to win the Tour de France.

It goes without saying that he was the first Briton ever to do so; the first to scale the mountains, to charge through the valleys, to endure the sprints and the time trials and to ride into Paris in a yellow jersey. He covered 2,173.75 miles and devastated the most formidable field his sport could assemble.

To have a Murray or a Wiggins once in a lifetime would represent lavish prosperity. To have two such athletes in the same astonishing year was sporting wealth beyond measure.

Pietersen keeps finding new ways to steal the limelight

One abiding image of the celebrations which followed England’s series victory in India is of Kevin Pietersen grinning at the camera, the autographs of his team-mates scrawled all over his shirt front. The picture screamed ‘reintegration’, which was presumably what Pietersen wanted to convey.

It was a momentous year for English cricket. A great captain, Andrew Strauss, made way for the youthful Alastair Cook, who also has the whiff of greatness about him. And England lost a hard-fought home series to a formidable South Africa team, which made their subsequent triumph in the sub-continent the more remarkable.

Yet throughout the year, Pietersen had invaded the headlines to the discomfort of the cricket authorities. There was his texting to South African opponents — ‘provocative’ but not ‘derogatory’, he insisted. There were his crass public statements, the indiscreet jabber which invited retribution.

Whirlwind: Currently there is tranquility between England and Kevin Pietersen... will it last

Whirlwind: Currently there is tranquility between England and Kevin Pietersen… will it last

And there was his unfortunate habit of listening only to bad advice, taking only unsound decisions and repeatedly allowing ego to over-rule his dubious judgement.

But there was also his talent, that glittering ability which allowed him — in Colombo, at Headingley and, most dramatically, in Mumbai — to play, in a calendar year, three of the finest innings the modern game has known.

It was that glorious talent which saw him reintegrated into a team that sorely need his gifts. At the moment, all is tranquil between Pietersen and England. We must hope that tranquillity reigns in 2013.

Greed and ugliness 3

Drama and Sense 2

At the last gasp, Manchester City won the most dramatic title contest the Premier League has seen. Still more improbably, Chelsea emerged from the Champions League clutching the trophy with the big ears.

Another massive TV deal was signed, prompting agents to order fresh stocks of Krug. And England chose an immensely capable and experienced man to be their new manager.

There were those who declared it an excellent year for football. And they were wrong.

For the most urgent priority of the English game was the pursuit of the bottom line. The Premier League was the richest, therefore, it had to be the best.

Racism was ugly, of course, but it was a problem for less enlightened countries. We have no truck with that kind of thing here. Likewise hooliganism; all in the past. And yet, the cases began to accumulate. The Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra affair was shabbily treated by Liverpool.

Shambolic: Liverpool's treatment of the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra race row was poor

Shambolic: Liverpool's treatment of the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra race row was poor

The John Terry-Anton Ferdinand scandal dragged on through much of the year and was appallingly handled by just about everybody involved.

The moral leadership was non-existent, the consequences deeply damaging.

Meanwhile, crowd chants grew uglier, more threatening, and grounds suddenly seemed less safe than they should be.

Good things were happening, too, and the appointment of Roy Hodgson was sane and sensible. He may not have sufficiently talented players and the Brazil World Cup is surely a hopeless quest. Yet he represents an important step in the right direction.

The national game — so wealthy, so confident yet so little loved — needs many such steps in 2013.

Sir Alex Ferguson is right – offside law is stupid – Martin Keown

Why I'm seeing red over the stupid offside law (a bit like furious Fergie)

|

UPDATED:

22:02 GMT, 28 December 2012

The fact that Newcastle's controversial goal was given at Old Trafford tells you that something needs to be done about the offside law. It is a disgrace, but it still doesn’t excuse Sir Alex Ferguson’s reaction.

My fellow Sportsmail columnist, former FIFA referee Graham Poll, keeps telling me that if a player doesn’t touch the ball, foul an opponent or obstruct the keeper’s vision, then he is not interfering with play according to the laws of the game.

There needs to be some common sense. If a striker is in your vicinity, as a defender you have to adjust your position and movement to make sure he can’t get near the ball. He affects your thought process so of course he is interfering.

Ref rage: Manchester United were furious at Mike Dean's decision to allow Jonny Evans' own goal

Ref rage: Manchester United were furious at Mike Dean's decision to allow Jonny Evans' own goal

Interfering with play Papiss Cisse (centre) was adjudged not to have impeded Evans (left)

Interfering with play Papiss Cisse (centre) was adjudged not to have impeded Evans (left)

Wrong net, Jonny: Evans' mistake shows that the offside law needs changing

Wrong net, Jonny: Evans' mistake shows that the offside law needs changing

Jonny Evans would not have been in the position he was or have stuck out his leg in the way that he did if Papiss Cisse wasn’t there. Cisse slightly blocked Evans getting across to intercept the shot and he ended up at a strange angle.

I can see why Sir Alex was so riled by the decision even if, as is usually the case this season, his team eventually won. You want to win at all costs and that sometimes makes you cross the line.

You’re an angry man until you win. I was sometimes and Sir Alex crossed the line in berating the officials during the second half against Newcastle.

He is an intimidating figure when he is let loose. I saw him barge into the referee and scream at him at half-time of the 1999 FA Cup semi-final. He told the referee he was a disgrace and it was the closest I got to seeing the hairdryer treatment.

At that moment I decided I would always be in and around him at half-time when I played against United so he couldn’t get to the referee, as I was worried the official would be affected. I used to feel I was playing against him, not his team at Old Trafford. He controls everything and that motivated me to beat them.

Sir Alex’s fury comes from his hunger to win. I imagine he has the same desire to win when he plays tiddlywinks with his grandson. Nobody is better at passing that hunger on to his team and by berating the officials, he creates a feeling that United have been wronged and that brings everyone together. It inspires them.

In this case it wasn’t right and, as an important public figure, he has a responsibility to keep a lid on his behaviour.

This season, United’s erratic form has meant he has crossed the line too often. Their performances have put him on the back foot. In previous years I wondered if there was still a touchline at Old Trafford because he was never on it. He just sat serenely in the dug-out. This season he is more animated; he’s kicking every ball and is involved in the drama. He probably wishes games were a lot calmer.

Carrick the pass master

Amid all the madness at Old Trafford these days, Michael Carrick has been an oasis of calm. I used to shout at the TV when I watched him play, urging him to play a forward pass. But these days he does just that and I can see why Fergie likes him.

Finally, Carrick seems to believe in himself. Almost everything he does is two-touch — one to control and one to pass — and he’s been making United tick for a long time. He reminds me of a top golfer, chipping the ball on to the green right next to the flag.

He’s finding team-mates with the right balls and the weight of the passes is perfect.

Midfield maestro: Michael Carrick pings another pinpoint pass for Manchester United

Midfield maestro: Michael Carrick pings another pinpoint pass for Manchester United

Whats the score

Cards

Boot room

Boot room

Boot room

Boot room

Boot room

Boot room

Boot room

Boot room

Boot room

Boot room

Sir Alex Ferguson: The master of fear and intimidation

The master of fear and intimidation: Clever, witty, withering, belligerent, mischievous and slightly deluded… this was classic Fergie

|

UPDATED:

22:49 GMT, 28 December 2012

Ten minutes before Sir Alex
Ferguson’s weekly press conference was officially due to begin at
Carrington yesterday, and the Manchester United manager was already in
full flow.

As referee Mike Dean and his
assistants found out at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, Ferguson has been
known to make up the rules as he goes along.

For those reporters who got there in
time to witness it, this was classic Ferguson. Clever, witty, withering,
belligerent, mischievous and, yes it has to be said, slightly deluded.

Poor decision: Ferguson was unhappy with the officials after Evans's controversial own-goal

Poor decision: Ferguson was unhappy with the officials after Evans's controversial own-goal

Poor decision: Ferguson was unhappy with the officials after Evans's controversial own-goal

Dismissing Newcastle as ‘a wee club in the North East’ is a putdown that will be remembered long after Ferguson has left Old Trafford; it’s right up there with ‘knocking Liverpool off their f***ing perch’ and ‘when an Italian tells me it’s pasta on the plate, I check under the sauce to make sure’.

The Scot knew exactly what effect that line would have, what headlines it would create, and that’s the clever bit.

/12/28/article-2254115-063A6BCA000005DC-912_634x476.jpg” width=”634″ height=”476″ alt=”Off you go: Dean sent Wenger to the stands at Old Trafford in 2009″ class=”blkBorder” />

Off you go: Dean sent Wenger to the stands at Old Trafford in 2009

Off you go: Dean sent Wenger to the stands at Old Trafford in 2009

Three days short of his 71st birthday, you had to admire him for rolling
up his sleeves and rolling back the years to put Pardew and Newcastle
in their place.

After walking in shortly before 9.20am, slightly windswept but
completely composed, he was so eager to get started that some
journalists had not even entered the building when he delivered the
killer line that felt like it was prepared in advance.

‘I’m the manager of the biggest club in the world,’ said Ferguson with a
twinkle in his eye and venom in his voice. ‘I’m not like Newcastle, a
wee club in the North East.’

At a stroke he became public enemy No 1 on Tyneside, although his
popularity will have shot up in Sunderland. For pure pantomime you
really couldn’t beat it.

That’s what makes Ferguson’s weekly address such compulsive viewing, and
he knows it. Less of a press conference, more an audience with
footballing royalty.

Empty seats denote those reporters who have been exiled for their sins,
while microphones on handheld metal poles hover around a draughty room
upstairs at United’s academy building to pick up every faltering
question asked from the floor while Ferguson holds court.

His demeanour dictates the mood just as he decides when proceedings begin, regardless of the arrangement.

A cosy cup of tea and a sticky bun with Roberto Martinez at Wigan it
certainly ain’t. And that’s the way Ferguson wants it. Whether it’s
journalists coming to Carrington or match officials walking out at Old
Trafford, it suits him to get people out of their comfort zone.

For all his success in evolving as a manager to cope with the modern
footballer, fear and intimidation remain Ferguson’s most effective
weapons. Dean and his assistants were reminded of that on Wednesday and
did nothing about it.

Ferguson is actually required by the Premier League to conduct an
after-match press conference as well, just like every other manager, but
has refused to do so for years. They do nothing about it. You cannot
therefore blame clubs for feeling that there is one rule for them and
another for United.

A few hundred yards away at their own Carrington training base
yesterday, Manchester City were shaking their heads in disbelief over
the FA’s decision to take action against Roberto Mancini for suggesting
after the defeat at Sunderland that referee Kevin Friend ‘ate too much
at Christmas’.

City have until next Wednesday to give their observations, and will
point out that Mancini was being light-hearted, but a misconduct charge
is sure to follow.

Comparing the two cases, they are baffled that their manager will be
punished and Ferguson will not — although it’s only fair to point out
that the United boss was banned for two games and fined 20,000 three
years ago for saying that Alan Wiley was not physically fit enough to
referee.

This week has been a reminder that no-one stirs up the emotions — his own and everybody else’s — quite like Sir Alex Ferguson.

It’s what makes him who he is. It’s why we’ll miss him so much when he’s gone.

Graham Poll: Alex guilty of abusing his power

Alex guilty of abusing his power

|

UPDATED:

23:25 GMT, 28 December 2012

Sir Alex Ferguson, like all the great
managers, has a certain presence that gives him the kind of power that
can be used as a managerial tool.

But it is also something that can be
used to intimidate, so with that power comes responsibility. Alex knows
he is revered, just as he knows others will copy him, and he must not
abuse that position.

Scott free: Fergie wasn't charged for his actions during the clash at Old Trafford

Scott free: Fergie wasn't charged for his actions during the clash at Old Trafford

In what he said in his press conference yesterday he was missing the point, because it's not always what you say but how you say it that matters.

And that aggression, the fingerjabbing, the sheer anger in his face, is every bit as wrong as actually insulting the referee. Alex might deny it, but it's the truth.

A player can be cautioned for dissent by action as well as the spoken word and that is what should have happened at Old Trafford on Boxing Day. Alex should have been disciplined.

He was quite clever on the day. Mike Dean feels they had a reasonable exchange but the television pictures showed Alex was far more aggressive towards the fourth official and the assistant referee. His behaviour was intimidating, but you are far less likely to get in trouble for having a go at one of the assistants than you are the ref.

Dean is getting a fair bit of criticism for not raising the issue in his report but it was up to the fourth official and the assistant to report the incidents to Dean in the first place. I can understand why they didn't. They probably felt he had enough to worry about on the pitch.

But they should have spoken to Dean at the time because that kind of exchange with Alex will be intimidating no matter how confident a person you are. Ultimately, though, the assistants are not to blame here and I don't blame the Football Association either. They were powerless to act. No, the fault lies with Alex.

Manchester United to win the Premier League – our experts" verdict

Will anything stand in the way of Man United and a record 20th title As Fergie's side sit seven points clear, Sportsmail's experts deliver their verdicts…

PUBLISHED:

11:14 GMT, 27 December 2012

|

UPDATED:

11:56 GMT, 27 December 2012

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Manchester United are now seven points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League going into the final game of 2012.

The Boxing Day comeback victory over Newcastle – coupled with Man City’s loss at Sunderland – tightened their grip on top spot.

So, just what can stop Sir Alex Ferguson’s side snatching the crown back from City Here, we ask Sportsmail’s team of expert reporters whether they think United can be stopped – and if so, by what…

Late show: Javier Hernandez is mobbed by his United team-mates after his winner against Newcastle

Late show: Javier Hernandez is mobbed by his United team-mates after his winner against Newcastle

IAN LADYMAN

The only team that can stop United winning this title is United. Manchester City’s challenge lacks the conviction of last season and that makes United clear favourites at this stage.

However, United are so unpredictable that I can envisage them dropping enough points to give their rivals a chance between now and the end of the season.

Yesterday’s performance – as thrilling as it was – was riddled with holes. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team once again defended poorly and failed to keep hold of the ball for long periods of time. These are the two issues that threaten United more than any other.

Great United teams smother teams by refusing them the ball. This one struggles to do that which means that their opponents will always have a chance. United are great to watch and have been involved in some breath taking games this season. This, however, only points to vulnerability.

This race is not run yet.

Follow Ian Ladyman on Twitter @ian_ladyman_dm

Leaky: Papiss Cisse scored Newcastle's third goal at Old Trafford on Boxing Day

Leaky: Papiss Cisse scored Newcastle's third goal at Old Trafford on Boxing Day

NEIL ASHTON

After throwing it away last season, there is no way Manchester United will allow the title to slip through their grasp this time around.

As Manchester City’s form begins to disintegrate, the main threat will come from Chelsea, but they have too much to do.

Despite their re-remergence under Rafa Benitez, United have matchwinners across every area of their forward line, which is why they will be crowned champions at the end of the season.

It barely feels like Robin van Persie has properly got going in a United, but he has still scored 13 times in the Premier League. Crucially, it is only 27 per cent of United’s goals and they can rely on Wayne Rooney (7) and Javier Hernandez (6), among others, to add to their attacking threat.

United have had 15 different goalscorers this season in the Premier League, another illustration of their firepower. Their biggest problem is at the back, but they are good enough to get away with it this season.

When Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho are in the Premier League next season it will be a different story.

Follow Neil Ashton on Twitter @neilashton_

Deadly: Robin van Persie struck again for United against Newcastle

Deadly: Robin van Persie struck again for United against Newcastle

MATT BARLOW

Manchester United have a magnificent spirit. The will to win they displayed (yet again) against Newcastle will have a psychological impact on the chasers. Their manager has incredible instinct and unrivalled experience in a title race. With Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones fit again they will get stronger at the back, Robin van Persie will supply a steady stream goals and a seven-point gap will be difficult to close.

Yet not impossible.

Last season, United crumbled, perhaps a hint of inexperience from their younger players. Will this haunt them when it gets squeaky City are not as smooth as they were (won three of nine) but will feel the benefit when European competition starts again, while the real threat may develop from Chelsea, fast-improving under Rafa Benitez.

Chelsea would be eight behind if they won the game in hand (at home to Southampton). They have the Europa League to contend with and face some tough away fixtures, starting at Everton on Sunday. It will not be easy but they are likely to recruit next month.

A quiet confidence is growing at Stamford Bridge (won six of seven) that some of their long-standing problems are being ironed out. Rafa is relishing the prospect of a title duel with Fergie. This one is not quite over yet.

Follow Matt Barlow on Twitter @matt_barlow_dm

On the rise: Juna Mata is inspiring Chelsea's charge up the table

On the rise: Juna Mata is inspiring Chelsea's charge up the table

LEE CLAYTON

Alan Shearer, his wages paid by the taxpayer, told the BBC’s Match of the Day programme: ‘Manchester United will be happy’.

Seven points clear and happy. That’s some revelation.

They can’t defend, the goalkeeper looks less than happy, they’ve had to win 24 points from losing positions… and they’re STILL seven points clear. But surely it can’t be over on Boxing Day.

City are better than that. They have to start scoring soon and Chelsea’s record since losing at West Ham is 26-4 in all competitions and three straight wins in the league. Us neutrals need it to be more exciting, closer, tighter than that.

Maybe it won’t be last-kick-of-the-season-close like last time – and United clearly have it all to lose, as people like Shearer might say – but let’s hope they aren’t runaway champions.

Where is the fun, the drama… and the happiness in that

Follow Lee Clayton on Twitter @leeclayton_

Friendly face: Sir Alex Ferguson shakes hands with club mascot Fred the Red

Friendly face: Sir Alex Ferguson shakes hands with club mascot Fred the Red

DOMINIC KING

Will anything stop Manchester United now In the aftermath of the extraordinary game against Newcastle, it’s an understandable question but it is also highly presumptuous.

In word, there are plenty of factors that can halt United’s title bid. For a start, it would be wrong to dismiss Manchester City as busted flushes. They may not be playing with the same fizz as last season but they have enough class players to embark on a sustained winning run.

The same applies for Chelsea. Rafa Benitez’s side have started keeping clean sheets now and, again, they have excellent players. In this observer’s view, they are the most likely challengers to United and a win at Old Trafford when the teams meet would certainly make things interesting.

Another aspect to consider is United’s defence. They keep conceding goals, they look vulnerable at some point in every game and there will come a point when Robin van Persie doesn’t always rescue them. And what will happen if Van Persie happens to get a lengthy injury

United, unquestionably, are hot favourites for the title and their sustained presence towards the top of the table speaks volumes for their manager’s brilliance.

But are they past the post already Not by a long shot.

Follow Dominic King on Twitter @dominicking_dm

Setback: Man City suffered yet another defeat at Sunderland in a blow to their chances

Setback: Man City suffered yet another defeat at Sunderland in a blow to their chances

JOHN EDWARDS

The way this season has unfolded, it’s easy to see Manchester United letting slip a seven-point lead but difficult to see Manchester City overhauling one. It’s almost as if the two Manchester clubs are doing their best to lose the title race, rather than win it.

United look more vulnerable than for years. Injury problems have caught up with Nemanja Vidic, age with Rio Ferdinand. In midfield, they look distinctly limited by their normal high standards. It would be unthinkable to describe any United side under Sir Alex Ferguson as a one-man band, but where would they be without Robin Van Persie’s goals

City have scarcely been any more convincing. Remaining unbeaten for longer than any other Barclays Premier League side sounds impressive, but the performances behind it were not. The spark just doesn’t seem to be there.

With both teams misfiring, could there yet be an opportunity for Chelsea to break the Mancunian monopoly There surely must be, and if they take it, no-one should be surprised, given three of their back four are England defenders and their attacking creativity is the envy of the land.

They have an even bigger gap to make up, though, and I still expect United’s never-say-die spirit to drag them over the line, if only because Ferguson will demand nothing less.

Follow John Edwards on Twitter @JEAlty

Suspect: Nemanja Vidic (right) is recovering from a serious knee injury

Suspect: Nemanja Vidic (right) is recovering from a serious knee injury

LAURA WILLIAMSON

The only thing that has been consistent about the top half of the Premier League this season is its inconsistency. You can lose three in a row like West Brom and still stay in the top six, concede 28 goals and be seven points clear or experience a supposed crisis a la Arsenal and still be in the mix for a Champions League spot. It's madness.

How Manchester United fare against Real Madrid in the Champions League may impact upon their domestic fortunes, but I can't see anyone putting together a sustained run to challenge Sir Alex Ferguson's side for the title.

United have won 52 per cent of their points after going behind in matches, after all. While that says a lot about their experience, determination and dodgy defending, it says even more about the quality – or not – of the opposition.

Follow Laura Williamson on Twitter @laura_mail

Danger: Much will depend on how United fare against Ronaldo and Real Madrid

Danger: Much will depend on how United fare against Ronaldo and Real Madrid

CHRIS WHEELER

History tells us that United have failed to retain the title at the first attempt only once in the Premier League era. It also shows that when Sir Alex Ferguson’s side hold this kind of advantage at the halfway stage they go on to be crowned champions.

Will it be a similar story this season Probably. Are they unstoppable No.

Ferguson has often bemoaned his team’s tendency to make life difficult for themselves, and there will be a few twists and turns yet.

Manchester City’s early exit from Europe will be an advantage when the Champions League starts up again in February, and United are still conceding far too many goals. Could they afford to lose Robin van Persie to injury

If City and Chelsea are still in contention when the Old Trafford derby rolls around on April 6, it will be very interesting. Three of United’s next four games after that are against Chelsea, Arsenal and away to Stoke. They are definitely favourites but there’s still everything to play for.

Roaring success: Jonny Evans celebrates scoring against Newcastle at Old Trafford

Roaring success: Jonny Evans celebrates scoring against Newcastle at Old Trafford

SAMI MOKBEL

You only have to look at last season to realise the title race is far from done and dusted. Yes, seven points is a pretty sizeable gap but Manchester City have proved they have the minerals to close it – even though it does seem unlikely.

Keeping Robin van Persie fit will be key for United. He’s taken to life at Old Trafford like the proverbial duck to water and his all round game, not just his goals, will be pivotal.

Follow Sami Mokbel on Twitter @samimokbel81_dm

MIKE DICKSON

United’s remarkable resilience and superior firepower to anyone else means they are sure to win the title. The squad deserves a collective horsewhipping if they blow it from here.

Chelsea will come second and Benitez will get the chance to blow some of his owner’s money when he gets the job permanently at the end of the season, with the hate mob (temporarily) silenced.

Mancini will be fired for coming third, while Arsenal will keep Wenger on as they edge Everton for fourth.

Follow Mike Dickson on Twitter @mike_dickson_dm

Under threat: Roberto Mancini may pay a big price if he fails to win the title again

Under threat: Roberto Mancini may pay a big price if he fails to win the title again

COLIN YOUNG

If you were at the Stadium of Light on the final day of last season, you didn’t see Sergio Aguero’s championship winning goal. You just heard about it.

The moment that news came through, the Manchester United players on the pitch had to suffer the very public humiliation of handing the Barclays Premier League trophy to their city rivals. They were mocked by Sunderland fans, and in that moment I felt the destiny this season’s title was decided.

Revenge. That is what motivates Sir Alex Ferguson. he has signed Robin van Persie just to bring even more goals to his side when it matters. And it really matters now and, after seeing them squander so many chances at Sunderland yesterday, it’s hard to see City catching them this season.

Follow Colin Young on Twitter @cyoungdailymail

LAURIE WHITWELL

This has been a highly peculiar season, even by United’s standards, and it can be viewed in two ways. Either you imagine the multitude of goals shipped will eventually prove their undoing or you figure that, as they have consistently shown, even conceding large numbers will prove no obstacle to victory. This United side have a resilience and spirit greater than any I can remember and some attacking displays have been breath-taking.

But they remain egg-shell fragile defensively and that will worry Sir Alex Ferguson. They have allowed 92 shots on target, only four fewer than QPR, and in conceding 28 goals by halfway, they have exceeded season-long totals in title-winning campaigns from 2008/09 (24), 2007/08 (22) and 2006/07 (27).

Undoubtedly Robin Van Persie is a huge player and were he to get injured City and Chelsea would sniff a chance. But goals are coming from everywhere. Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra have six between them this term having scored just three in 10 previous seasons.

Such quirky details, alongside dazzling comeback performances, tell you United want this title back badly and will win it by sheer force of personality.

Follow Laurie Whitwell on Twitter @lauriewhitwell

Helping hand: Patrice Evra (centre) has been a surprise name on the scoresheet this season

Helping hand: Patrice Evra (centre) has been a surprise name on the scoresheet this season

SIMON CASS

There are plenty of reasons why Manchester United are not certainties for the title and not just because I am a bitter Newcastle United supporter!

Take their shaky defence for example, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have conceded more than any other side in the top half and twice as many as at the same stage last season. All very well when Robin van Persie is banging them in at the other end but will the Dutchman stay injury free until the end of the season

And despite seemingly having sown things up by the turn of the year, Ferguson’s men only have one more point than they head this time last year. Given the trials and tribulations of their rivals surely the gap to Manchester City should be greater than seven points. Lest we forget, City were five points back at the beginning of April last year and still did the business on the final day.

This year, Mancini’s men can concentrate fully on staying in touch with their Champions League chasing neighbours while Chelsea’s resurgence under Rafa Benitez means they are not out of it yet. Furthermore, Ferguson is adamant he will not be buying in January while City and Chelsea are sure to strengthen.

There’s still lots of life left in this title race.

Follow Simon Cass on Twitter @simon_cassdm

SAM CUNNINGHAM

What can stop United Well, Fernando Torres has been reunited with a manager who knows him well and knows how to get the most out of him. He’s scored seven goals in nine games under Rafa Benitez and that was after three matches getting his confidence back so that’s seven in his last six.

Add the real goalscoring Torres who was sensational in Spain and lived up to the hype initially when he came to England to Chelsea’s team and they have a side that can catch United. Three of Juan Mata, Oscar, Eden Hazard or Victor Moses behind a striker who can actually score is frightening.

Win their game in hand and Chelsea are eight points off top spot – that’s not out of sight.

Follow Sam Cunningham on Twitter @samcunningham