Tag Archives: man

Didier Drogba to make Galatasaray home debut in front of loudest fans in world

Better bring your earplugs, Didier! Gala fans named loudest in world as Drogba prepares to make home debut against Schalke

PUBLISHED:

12:59 GMT, 18 February 2013

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UPDATED:

13:48 GMT, 18 February 2013

Didier Drogba can expect a thunderous reception when he makes his home debut for Galatasaray on Wednesday after the Turkish fans were named the loudest in the world.

Drogba, who scored five minutes into his first appearance for the club on Friday, is expected to feature in the Champions League last-16 clash against Schalke.

And the striker can expect the full backing of the home crowd at the Turk Telekon Arena who recorded a sound level of 131 decibels at a recent derby match – louder than standing 50m away from a military jet taking off.

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Main man: Didier Drogba celebrates scoring on his debut and will hope to do the same in front of his home fans

Main man: Didier Drogba celebrates scoring on his debut and will hope to do the same in front of his home fans

galatasaray fans

Meanwhile, Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua will take their battle against Drogba's move to Galatasaray to football's governing body FIFA this week.

The Ivory Coast striker left the club in acrimonious circumstances last month, with Shanghai saying he had breached his contract.

'We now have evidence which we believe will give Shenhua a 99 per cent chance of winning a lawsuit at FIFA,' a lawyer acting for the club told the Sina web portal.

The anonymous source from 'Shenhua's legal team' said papers would be submitted to the sport's governing body on Wednesday.

The report said Shenhua will provide evidence that Drogba breached his contract and that Galatasaray had violated FIFA rules by luring a player away from his current club.

Star man: Drogba left Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua to join Galatasaray

Star man: Drogba left Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua to join Galatasaray

Chinese media previously reported Drogba had asked FIFA to nullify his contract after the club defaulted on payments following a shareholder dispute dating back to September. The striker signed an 18-month, 9million deal with the Istanbul side.

Drogba — a Champions League winner with Chelsea last season — had signed a two-and-a-half year deal with Shanghai in June last year on a reported salary of $200,000-a-week.

Drogba's exit from Shanghai followed that of former Chelsea team-mate Nicolas Anelka, who joined Italian giants Juventus on loan.

VIDEO Proof that Galatasaray fans are loudest in the world

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Crystal Palace 4 Middlesbrough 1 match report

Crystal Palace 4 Middlesbrough 1: Zaha puts on show for England boss Hodgson

PUBLISHED:

17:35 GMT, 16 February 2013

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UPDATED:

19:04 GMT, 16 February 2013

Glenn Murray took his goals tally to 27 for the season with a brace as Crystal Palace maintained their promotion push by brushing aside Middlesbrough.

But it was Wilfried Zaha who stole the show again as the Manchester United-bound winger turned in a man of the match performance in front of England manager Roy Hodgson.

Pointing the way: Glenn Murray scored twice as Crystal Palace beat Middlesbrough 4-1 at Selhurst Park to maintain their strong promotion challenge

Pointing the way: Glenn Murray scored twice as Crystal Palace beat Middlesbrough 4-1 at Selhurst Park to maintain their strong promotion challenge

Star man: Murray (right) took his season goal tally to 27 with a brace

Star man: Murray (right) took his season goal tally to 27 with a brace

Crystal Palace 4 Middlesbrough 1

Crystal Palace: Speroni, Richards, Delaney, Ramage, Parr, Zaha, Jedinak, Dikgacoi (Butterfield 76), Williams (K Phillips 70), Dobbie (Bolasie 81), Murray

Substitutes: Price, Wilbraham, Moxey, O'Keefe

Scorers: Murray 9, 57; Ramage 48, K Phillips 84

Middlesbrough: Steele, Parnaby (Dyer 58), Bikey, Friend, Halliday, McEachran (Miller 60), Leadbitter, Rhys Williams, Haroun, Jutkiewicz (Bailey 59), Carayol

Substitutes: Leutwiler, McManus, Emnes, Ledesma

Scorer: Haroun 80

Booked: Williams

Referee: Oliver Langford (W Midlands)

Attendance: 17, 213

CLICK HERE FOR THE LATEST CHAMPIONSHIP TABLE

Afterwards Crystal Palace manager Ian Holloway said: 'In front of the England manager, I thought Wilf was excellent.

We have a few who make a difference. He is one of them. This was as good as he has played since I have been here.

'He is literally as good as any chef I have seen. And he has roasted their full-backs all day and they will be glad to see the back of him.'

He added: 'I thought we moved the ball too slowly in the first half and told them that at half-time.

'I told them they were boring me.

'We upped the pace of doing things.

'We are getting stronger and the challenge is, can we get another 14 of them (wins) That would be good, wouldn't it We have to aim for the stars.'

Former Brighton forward Murray opened
the scoring early on, but missed two more chances to complete a
first-half hat-trick as Palace struggled to make their dominance count.

However,
just after the interval, Murray set up Peter Ramage to double his
side's advantage before the in-form striker's spectacular drive and
Kevin Phillips' effort ensured Palace extended their unbeaten league run
at Selhurst Park to 15 matches.

Faris Haroun netted a late consolation when Boro were three down and the visitors are clinging on to the final npower Championship play-off place after a fifth consecutive away league defeat.

Boro had the first effort on goal in the fourth minute when on-loan Chelsea midfielder Josh McEachran brought a fine save from Julian Speroni.

But it was Palace who broke the deadlock just five minutes later when Wilfried Zaha, with England manager Roy Hodgson watching on, beat a couple of defenders and delivered a cross that Murray converted from close range.

The Palace pair almost combined again midway through the half, but Murray failed to get a touch to the lively England international's cross before heading over the top.

The home side's dominance continued as Damien Delaney fluffed his lines from a well worked corner before George Friend's excellent tackle denied Murray a clear run on goal.

Stephen Dobbie, signed on loan from Championship rivals Brighton last month, almost opened his Palace account on the half-hour, half-volleying goalkeeper Jason Steele's clearance just wide from 35 yards.

Boro almost got back on level terms against the run of play, though, with Ramage having to spectacularly clear Haroun's effort off the line after Speroni was beaten.

McEachran ended the half as he started it with a shot at goal, but this time he fired wide.

Hard to stop: Murray is challenged by Middlesbrough players Faris Haroun (left) and Andrew Halliday

Hard to stop: Murray is challenged by Middlesbrough players Faris Haroun (left) and Andrew Halliday

On the attack: Wilfried Zaha carries Palace forward

On the attack: Wilfried Zaha carries Palace forward

Foot in: Middlesbrough's George Friend beats Kagisho Dikgacoi to the ball

Foot in: Middlesbrough's George Friend beats Kagisho Dikgacoi to the ball

Palace finally got their second three minutes after half-time when Murray's header across goal was taken down on the chest by Ramage, who then hooked the ball into the net.

And things got better for Palace when Murray unleashed a left-foot rocket into the top corner nine minutes later.

Dobbie failed to connect with Murray's cross before the former Swansea midfielder let Boro off the hook by opting to shoot rather than pass in a promising position.

Hurdle: Murray skips over the challenge of George Friend

Hurdle: Murray skips over the challenge of George Friend

Taking a fall: Lukas Jutkiewicz wins the ball from Palace players Peter Ramage and Jazz Richards

Taking a fall: Lukas Jutkiewicz wins the ball from Palace players Peter Ramage and Jazz Richards

The Mask: Palace captain Mike Jedinak took to the field in protective head gear

The Mask: Palace captain Mike Jedinak took to the field in protective head gear

Boro were restricted to long-range efforts as Speroni saved shots from Andrew Halliday and Mustapha Carayol.

However, they pulled a goal back 10 minutes from time when Haroun took on Ishmael Miller's flick and slotted under Speroni.

Substitute Phillips' clever back heel was saved by Steele before the veteran forward got his goal, coolly finishing Zaha's through-ball in the 84th minute.

Manchester United"s title charge held up by floodlight failure at Fulham

Man United's title charge held up briefly by floodlight failure… and then they make dash across London to get train home

By
Dave Wood

PUBLISHED:

19:18 GMT, 2 February 2013

|

UPDATED:

21:51 GMT, 2 February 2013

Fulham suffered a floodlight failure just before half-time in Saturday's Barclays Premier League clash with leaders Manchester United at Craven Cottage.

The match was goalless when the ground was plunged into darkness in the 43rd minute of the contest.

Line up: Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson (centre) walks off the pitch with his players

Line up: Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson (centre) walks off the pitch with his players

Manchester United player Wayne Rooney (C) walks off the pitch with team mates and Fulham players

The players remained on the pitch briefly before referee Kevin Friend led them off towards the dressing rooms.

Around five minutes after the lights had gone out, the power returned and the players returned to the pitch to play out the remainder of the game.

Manchester United held their nerve to claim a 1-0 victory thanks to Wayne Rooney's fine effort in the 79th minute.

The Premier League leaders, who moved 10 points clear of Man City, then had to dash across London to make their 9pm train back to Manchester.

The floodlights fail at Craven Cottage

Hold up: The lights go out at Craven Cottage

The floodlights fail at Craven Cottage

The floodlights fail at Craven Cottage

Premier League team news – January 1-2

All the Barclays Premier League team news ahead of the New Year's action

PUBLISHED:

09:03 GMT, 31 December 2012

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UPDATED:

18:14 GMT, 31 December 2012

Sportsmail brings you the latest squad news on every Barclays Premier League team as it breaks throughout the day.

Simply click on your team (when it appears in blue) in the fixture list below to find out who is injured and who is back in action…

Bale, Van Persie and Tevez

NEW YEAR'S DAY

West Brom v Fulham (12.45pm)

Man City v Stoke (3pm)

Swansea v Aston Villa (3pm)

Tottenham v Reading (3pm)

West Ham v Norwich (3pm)

Wigan v Man Utd (3pm)

Southampton v Arsenal (5.30pm)

WEDNESDAY

Chelsea v QPR (7.45pm)

Liverpool v Sunderland (7.45pm)

Newcastle v Everton (8pm)

Best goal of 2012: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Papiss Cisse, Neymar, who will win?

Who scored the best goal of 2012 Drogba, Neymar and Ibrahimovic are all in with a shout… here are Sportsmail's top 10

|

UPDATED:

14:40 GMT, 31 December 2012

Compiling a list of the greatest goals of the year is always tricky. It’s difficult to judge whether a magnificent dribble leading to a solo goal is better than a searing volley from 30 yards out.

But come the end of the year it’s time to decide which strikes make the cut and which must fall by the wayside. This collection has been chopped and changed a-plenty, but this is what we’re sticking with.

Only two of FIFA’s three Puskas award short-listed goals are present and correct – apologies and an honourable mention to Radamel Falcao.

We only have space for 10 goals on this list but if you believe other strikes deserve to be recognised then have your say in the comment section below.

Whose was the best 2012 saw some spectacular and brilliant goals and Sportsmail lists the top 10

Whose was the best 2012 saw some spectacular and brilliant goals and Sportsmail lists the top 10

10. Peter Crouch (STOKE v Man City)

People love to stick the boot in on Stoke because of their 'dour' brand of football. But they have offered some magic moments too during their time in the top flight.

Earlier this week we saw Cameron Jerome score an absolute rocket against Southampton. And in March Peter Crouch dealt Manchester City a setback in the title race.

We know now that it didn't stop them winning the Premier League, but at the time this wondergoal gave Man United the chance to open up a three point lead at the top.

Crouch nodded Asmir Begovich's long punt to Jermain Pennant who nodded it back and then the giant striker teed himself up and lashed in a stunning volley from an awkward angle past Joe Hart.

9. Simon Cox (NOTTINGHAM FOREST v Birmingham)

In the 1998 World Cup quarter-final clash between Holland and Argentina, Dennis Bergkamp scored a delightful goal, controlling a long pass expertly and finishing with aplomb.

Nottingham Forest and Ireland striker Simon Cox evoked that spirit against Birmingham in the Championship. Yes, the stage was smaller but the skill was no less admirable.

Cox took one touch to kill Lewis McGugan's long ball and then adjusted instantly to delicately flick it over the helpless Jack Butland.

8. Rodrigo Palacio (GENOA v Lazio)

Did he mean it That was the question everybody was asking when Rodrigo Palacio, now of Inter, scored this gem.

The Genoa striker's cute backflick from this corner floated over the surprised Lazio keeper and sank into the net.

Some say it was luck, others judgement. Sportsmail falls in the latter camp and will give the Argentina hitman the credit this effort deserves.

7. Gaston Mealla (NACIONAL POTOSI v The Strongest)

Colombian goalkeeper Rene Higuita made it famous at Wembley in 1995. But keeping the scorpion kick revival movement going in 2012 was Nacional Potosi striker Gaston Mealla. (See also THIS hilarious scorpion kick own goal for last year's effort).

During a Bolivian league match between his side and The Strongest, an under-hit dink forward was set to land behind the striker on the edge of the box. But Mealla cared not for his team-mate's mistake.

His stupendous athleticism salvaged the situation and helped create a bizarre and beautiful goal.

6. Neymar (SANTOS v Internacional)

Santos' much sought-after Brazilian demonstrated just why Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City all are willing to splash the cash on him with this bewitching solo goal against Internacional.

He picked the ball up in his own half surged at 100 miles-per-hour past, round and through anybody who stood in his way, before nudging the ball home.

Note – Hatem Ben Arfa's effort in the FA Cup against Blackburn was a contender for the list, but the Newcastle man just missed out to this. A tough call to make.

<br/>

5. Didier Drogba (Bayern Munich v CHELSEA)

Picture the scene. Chelsea are 1-0 down in the Allianz Arena and the stadium is bouncing. Bayern Munich are on the cusp of winning the Champions League trophy on their own turf.

With two minutes to go Juan Mata floats in a corner from the right. Everything seems to stand still as the ball drops in towards the near post. Everything that is, except Didier Drogba.

The Chelsea striker leaps for the ball and sends a venomous header in at the near post in front of the Blue corner of the stadium. To get so much power into the ball from such an awkward position makes this one of the finest headers of all time – before you even forgetting the circumstances.

An honourable mention goes to Ramires, Drogba's team-mate whose superbly weighted lob against Barcelona in the semi-final earned the Blues passage to Munich.

4. Philippe Mexes (AC MILAN v Anderlecht)

Philippe Mexes is supposed to be a defender. So how on earth did this happen

AC Milan were beating Anderlecht 1-0 in the Champions League when the centre-back doubled the lead with something a little bit special.

The Frenchman chested Riccardo Montolivio's ball away from goal and then flipped it accurately into the top corner with a precisely executed overhead-kick.

Milan's general manager Adriano Galliani waxed lyrical about the strike, and said: 'If Leo Messi had scored that, every news channel around the world would show it and he'd have been made a saint tonight!'

He's probably right.

3. Miroslav Stoch (FENERBAHCE v Genclerbirligi)

He's not the biggest name on the list, but he scored one of the finest goals.

Bringing to mind Zinedine Zidane's Champions League final volley and Paul Scholes' effort against Aston Villa, Fenerbahce winger Miroslav Stoch made Turkish league opponents Genclerbirligi pay.

Stoch stayed cool to pull the trigger on a 25-yard volley which swerved away from the goalkeeper and zipped in to the top corner.

This goal has been nominated for the FIFA Puskas award, along with Neymar's effort. At the Ballon d'Or ceremony on January 7 the winner will be revealed.

2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (SWEDEN v England)

This is certainly the most famous goal of 2012.

Yes, it's Zlatan Ibrahimovic's simply ridiculous propeller kick against England, which also happened to be his fourth goal of the game.

He defied gravity as he tossed his 6ft 4 frame into the sky with abandon, to caress the ball sweetly into the net.

There's an arguement to be made that Mexes' effort was trickier because he had a goalkeeper to beat – here Hart is in no-man's land – but this is from further out and far more awkward to hit.

The Swedish superstar had, until this friendly which his side won 4-2, previously been maligned by a fair few people on British soil, who thought he was over-rated and arrogant (OK, so the last part is still true).

This incredible goal was the cherry on the cake which he gleefully stuffed down the gaping mouths of his detractors.

1 Papiss Cisse (Chelsea v NEWCASTLE)

On a cold spring evening in May, Papiss Cisse warmed the cockles of Newcastle's travelling fans and delighted football fans the world over with this simply stupendous effort.

With one momentous swing of his right boot, he destroyed Chelsea's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League through a top four finish and secured himself a place in every 'Greatest Goals' DVD release between now and the end of time.

Every time you watch his outrageous volley, which spins past the thoroughly bewildered Petr Cech, it just gets better and better.

Perhaps the previously lethal Senegal striker decided he could never top this because it seems like he's stopped trying this season. You could forgive him, because this would be the highlight of anybody's career.

Theo Walcott should copy Thierry Henry – Martin Keown

Walcott should learn from the master… when Henry was in the zone there was no stopping him

|

UPDATED:

09:18 GMT, 31 December 2012

When Thierry Henry was in the zone, he was driven, there was a real fierce determination about him.

You could see it in his eyes. And I think that is coming into Theo Walcott's make-up now.

At the moment, the reason for this is that he wants to prove he deserves to stay at the club. But when that is taken care of, he needs to carry on producing.

In the zone: Thierry Henry gave his team-mates hope with his drive and determination

In the zone: Thierry Henry gave his team-mates hope with his drive and determination

Walcott needs to want it for wanting's sake. He needs to stay in this same thought process because it is bringing the best out of him at the moment.

When Walcott went home on Saturday night, he must have felt like a proud man – on top of the world with a tremendous feeling of satisfaction.

He needs to want to produce that same feeling next time he steps out on the pitch.

You do not stop until you feel that joy of winning, and that comes from scoring the goals that win matches.

Henry gave us tremendous hope. Without those players, you do not finish off the hard work because you don't score goals.

This transition from winger to centre forward has been seven years in the making and the club have probably been waiting for this to happen.

And right now, it's like Walcott is saying: 'Take a look at me at centre forward. This is where I really want to play.'

Main man: Walcott was in exceptional form against Newcastle

Main man: Walcott was in exceptional form against Newcastle

Expertly done: Theo Walcott showed his ability to play in the middle for Arsenal

Expertly done: Theo Walcott showed his ability to play in the middle for Arsenal

There is much more purpose and precision, and there seems to be a shift in his mentality, underlined by the way he took his third goal.

Walcott gets knocked to the ground but bounces back up again looking for a goal. There's that hunger to score – the same hunger Henry had.

Furthermore, his first goal had all the precision of Henry. And for me, that is the difference; he is more clinical in front of goal.

There was not the consistency to his finishing three or four years ago, but that consistency is there now. And I think that has come with a change of mindset.

Yes, he has maybe proved a point. But what he has to focus on is scoring goals and winning games for Arsenal. It's not about just performing well and looking good.

I think maybe, in the past, there has been that element to his game. But if you focus on what matters, winning football matches, it is easier as a professional footballer to go out there and do well.

Back in town: Henry is currently back training with his former club

Back in town: Henry is currently back training with his former club

Premier League half-term report 2012-13

Premier League half-term report: The good, the bad and the ugly from the season so far

|

UPDATED:

23:30 GMT, 27 December 2012

With the halfway point of the Premier League season having been reached on Boxing Day, Sportsmail's team of football correspondents run the rule over the campaign so far and consider what lays in store over the coming months for each and every top flight club…

Top of the pile: Manchester United moved seven points clear with a Boxing Day win over Newcastle

Top of the pile: Manchester United moved seven points clear with a Boxing Day win over Newcastle

ARSENAL (Sami Mokbel)

SIMON JONES’ transfer verdict

Transfer budget: 70m

Want: Striker, winger, defensive midfield, right back, left back

Targets: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Demba Ba (Newcastle), Luiz
Adriano (Shakhtar), Nani (Man Utd), Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace), Momo
Diame (West Ham), Kieran Trippier (Burnley)

To go: Theo Walcott, Bacary Sagna, Andrey Arshavin, Andre Santos

The season so far in a tweet (140 characters or less)
It's been a struggle for #AFC – just when you think Arsene Wenger has turned it around, along comes a result like they had at Bradford

Thumbs up for
Santi Cazorla: Simply a brilliant footballer and surely one of the buys of the season. Makes Arsenal's midfield tick and has even chipped in with a few goals. Keeping him fit will be vital for the Gunners.

Thumbs down for
Gervinho: Started the season promisingly but has had an alarming dip in form. His confidence looks shot to pieces and looked out of his depth in THAT defeat at League Two Bradford. His trip to the Africa Cup of Nations could be a blessing.

Star man: Cazorla (centre) has been a revelation for Arsenal this season

Star man: Cazorla (centre) has been a revelation for Arsenal this season

How's the boss doing
Despite his seven seasons without a trophy, Arsene Wenger's job remains one of the safest in Europe. He is, however, starting to come under fire from the supporters that have been so staunch in his defence during the trophy drought. But write Wenger off at your peril. Qualification for next season's Champions League will be one of his greatest achievements yet.

Fans' verdict
Wenger's done a brilliant job at Arsenal but he is in danger of ruining his legacy. I don't think we should sack him, but one of my main reasons behind that is because I don't think there is anyone out there who could do a better job. He has got some excellent players: Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla – but the rest are mediocre and we have to remember these are all his signings.
Brian Chriss, Croydon

ASTON VILLA (Neil Moxley)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Budget: 6m (dependent on sales)

Want: Striker

Targets: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Derek Boateng (Dnipro), Raoul Loe (Osasuna)

To go: Darren Bent, Richard Dunne

The season so far in a tweet
Poor start. Lambert stands by kids and results pick up. Glory beckons in League Cup then disaster at end of year

Thumbs up for
Nathan Baker: Benteke dominates the headlines and keeper Brad Guzan, defender Matthew Lowton and midfielder Ashley Westwood have caught the eye. But Baker’s emergence as the fulcrum of the back three tops the lot.

Thumbs down for
Darren Bent: Villa boss Paul Lambert has called the striker’s bluff. The club prospers without him. What next for the England international and Villa’s 24m club record signing

Frozen out: Bent lost his starting place before injury struck

Frozen out: Bent lost his starting place before injury struck

How’s the boss doing
Was given a huge mandate by Villa supporters desperate to see the back of Alex McLeish. At first, it failed to deliver but the youngsters – the average age of Villa’s team is just 23 – did provide a spark of vitality. The fans have given them time but the last two results raise big questions. Villa are in trouble.

Fans’ verdict
Made an excellent start with the resources, backed up with some good buys. He’s rooted out the ones who don’t want to play for us, regardless of who they are and what they cost. We might need some experience in midfield – or someone to link defence and attack. I think top ten beckons.
Mark Hateley, Warwickshire

CHELSEA (Matt Barlow)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 40m

Want: Striker, left back, defensive midfield

Targets: Andre Schurrle (Bayer Leverkusen), Radamel Falcao (Atletico
Madrid), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid), Lucas (Liverpool), Benat (Real
Betis), Paulinho (Corinthians), Nacho Monreal (Malaga)

To go: Daniel Sturridge, Florent Malouda

The season so far in a tweet
#CFC’s usual blend of all-conquering, early-season swagger followed by utter disarray. Crises ensue: record breaking CL crash, managerial change. Yet still in touch at the PL summit. Just

Thumbs up for
Juan Mata: the briefest flash of Mata can brighten the soul but he delivers so much more in terms of vital goals and assists. The creative heartbeat, and he could do with more help.

Thumbs down for
Eden Hazard: promised so much in the opening weeks with explosive pace and power but has been quickly neutralised by PL defences and must work hard to find new ways to make his undoubted talent a effective again in an attacking sense because he offers very little to the team defensively.

Mercurial talent: Mata has made Chelsea tick this season

Mercurial talent: Mata has made Chelsea tick this season

How’s the boss doing
Well, the first one seemed to be doing OK, all things considered, but it all unravelled quickly and they sacked him, because they never really liked him. Then the new one came in on a short-term deal, didn’t win for three games but has tightened them up again at the back and may have unlocked the goals for Fernando Torres.

Fans’ verdict
We became a farce sacking the man who won us the Champions League but things have calmed down under Benitez, even though we still don’t like him. Oscar is great, Mata is brilliant and we can hopefully win a trophy or two.
James Gardiner, Surrey

EVERTON (Dominic King)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 2m

Want: Centre back, midfield, striker

Targets: Vegard Forren (Molde), Lewis Holtby (Schalke), John Stones (Barnsley), Vadis Odjida-Ofoe (Bruges)

To go: John Heitinga

The season so far in a tweet
Having shaken off their tag as perennial slow starters, @Everton have given themselves a real chance to end a three-year hiatus from Europe.

Thumbs up for
Leighton Baines: Can justifiably claim to be the best left back in the Premier League at present. It’s not often someone in his position is the first name on the team-sheet but he defends superbly and is Everton’s main chance creator.

Thumbs down for
Marouane Fellaini: While his performances cannot be faulted, the Belgian blotted his copybook spectacularly when assaulting Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross. It was not the behaviour of an Everton player and his three-game absence from the team could yet prove costly.

Hero to villain: Fellaini had started the season in exceptional form for Everton

Hero to villain: Fellaini had started the season in exceptional form for Everton

How’s the boss doing
It is difficult to pick holes in the job David Moyes is doing at present. He has reinvented the style with which Everton play and they are now much more vibrant than pragmatic. He has again demonstrated his expertise in the transfer market and looks totally content in his work. Moyes knows there is a big opportunity in front of Everton.

Fans’ verdict
It's been a good but frustrating season so far. A couple of sloppy second half displays aside (Reading and Fulham), we have dominated games and only for some terrible refereeing decisions we would have more points to show for it. I'm genuinely optimistic going forward. Our home form has been great and top sides fear coming to Goodison plus we are now going away expecting to pick up points. It's imperative to keep Fellaini, Baines and Jelavic fit as squad our squad is still a bit thin. But we can push on and finish top four and above Liverpool for the second year running.
Mark Jackson, Liverpool

FULHAM (Laura Williamson)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 10m

Want: Goalkeeper, defender, midfielder

Targets: Paul Robinson (Blackburn), Vegard Forren (Molde), Derek Boateng
(Dnipro), Omar El Khaddouri (Napoli), Raul Garcia (Atletico Madrid),
Leo Baptistao (Rayo Vallecano)

To go: None

The season so far in a tweet
Started well but still hopeless away and struggling now. Goals aplenty (at both ends). Losing Dempsey & Dembele a blow but Berbatov so good. #FFC

Thumbs up for
Dimitar Berbatov: He has not scored enough goals but has brought a work-rate and style that could grace any team. Bryan Ruiz’s hamstring injury was disappointing as the pair seemed to be striking up quite a (long-sleeved, glove-wearing) creative partnership.

Thumbs down for
Mark Schwarzer: The Australian goalkeeper seems to have been such a consistently high performer for so long, but the errors have been creeping in ever more frequently. Just two clean sheets since he celebrated his 40th birthday on October 6.

Maverick: The signing of Berbatov has proved a shrewd piece of business

Maverick: The signing of Berbatov has proved a shrewd piece of business

How’s the boss doing
Injuries have not been kind to Martin Jol, but his team remain highly unpredictable and prone both to scoring and conceding high numbers of goals. A mid-table finish should not be a problem, which would be quite an achievement for the Dutchman, given he has slowly but steadily overseen the rebuilding of the team that was so successful under Roy Hodgson.

Fans’ verdict
I’m pleased to have Martin Jol. We needed his experience and guile to get through some major personnel changes, especially losing our entire midfield. We’re a high-scoring side, but that masks our real defensive fragility, which became so evident when Brede Hangeland was suspended for three games recently. I remain upbeat, but a mid-table finish will not be easy.
John Pearse, Bromley

Liverpool (Dominic King)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 20m

Want: Strikers, left back, goalkeeper

Targets: Thomas Ince (Blackpool), Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Danny Rose (Tottenham)

To go: Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Jay Spearing

The season so far in a tweet
Signs of improvement from @LFC but, equally, must do better & little doubt squad needs strengthening before they can challenge for top four

Thumbs up for
Luis Suarez: The best striker in the Premier League and has, at times, single-handedly carried Liverpool through difficult spells. Also showing now that he can be a great goalscorer rather than a scorer of great goals; he is crucial to Liverpool’s ambitions.

Thumbs down for
Fabio Borini: Brought in from Roma at a cost of 10million, the Italian has looked ill-equipped to cope with the demands of English football. He hasn’t scored in the Premier League and has been out for three months with injury.

King Luis: Suarez has netted 11 times already this season

King Luis: Suarez has netted 11 times already this season

How’s the boss doing
It has not been easy for Brendan Rodgers in the six months he has been at the helm. Though there have been some encouraging performances to go alongside qualification for the Europa League knockout phase, he has made some mistakes and there are still elements of Liverpool’s support who are reserving judgement on him. His enthusiasm, however, cannot be faulted.

Fans’ verdict
The imminent arrival of Daniel Sturridge worries me. On one hand, I'm not sure he is the player we need. But on the other I know how badly the club is run and wonder if this is just another output of poor ownership / leadership. Also the system we are playing doesn't get the best out of Stevie Gerrard. We don't have enough good players to not maximise his abilities.
Mike Fitzharris, Liverpool

MANCHESTER CITY (Ian Ladyman)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 30m (dependent on sales)

Want: Striker, midfielder

Targets: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Radamel Falcao (Atletico
Madrid), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid), Fernando Llorente (Athletic
Bilbao), Paulinho (Corinthians), Benat (Real Betis)

To go: Joleon Lescott, Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli, John Guidetti

The season so far in a tweet
Hardly recognise this team from the one that made season 2011/12 so special. Where is the excitement The passion The goals Mancini needs to sort it. #disappointed

Thumbs up for
Pablo Zabaleta: If everyone had his desire to give his all and wring every ounce from every performance then City wouldn’t have a problem. The perfect pro.

Thumbs down for
Mario Balotelli: What else is there left to say So much promise during Euro 2012 and so little end-product at City. Last chance saloon time now.

Warrior: Zabaleta has been a rare bright spark for Man City

Warrior: Zabaleta has been a rare bright spark for Man City

How’s the boss doing
Mancini is a Barclays Premier League title and FA Cup winner so he deserves time. There have been chinks in the armour this season, though. Doesn’t always look to be in control.

Fans’ verdict
I will never forget what this team did for me last year. Unbelievable. But the bar has been raised in terms of expectations now and I have to say that I am not that happy with the way we have gone about things this season.
Steve Ryan, Manchester

MANCHESTER UNITED (Chris Wheeler)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 30m

Want: Goalkeeper, left back, centre midfield, winger

Targets: Asmir Begovic (Stoke), Nacho Monreal (Malaga), Angelo Ogbonna
(Torino), Alen Halilovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Sime Vrsaljko (Dinamo Zagreb)

To go: Nani, Anders Lindegaard

The season so far in a tweet
Erratic. Top of the table and through in Europe, but United know they can’t afford to go behind as often as they have been doing

Thumbs up for
Robin van Persie: The Dutchman was brought in from Arsenal for 24million in the summer to make a difference and he’s certainly done that. Where would United be without Van Persie’s goals so far this season

Thumbs down for
Nani: Booked in the third minute of the opening defeat to Everton and it’s gone downhill from there. On the rare occasion he plays, the Portugal winger looks like a man who knows his future lies away from Old Trafford.

Dutch of class: Van Persie goals have helped fire United to the top of the table

Dutch of class: Van Persie goals have helped fire United to the top of the table

How’s the boss doing
As well as ever and, thanks to Harvard University, we now know how he’s doing it. There is little doubt that Sir Alex Ferguson is coming to the end of a wonderful career, but the challenge of Manchester City has given him a new lease of life and the ambition is still burning to go out in style.

Fans’ verdict
It’s been a great start to the season without playing to the best of our ability. Van Persie has been a brilliant signing and he’ll be a massive player if we’re going to take the title off City. The Premier League’s already looking promising, and if we can get past Real who’s to say we can’t go all the way in the Champions League as well.
Chris Lloyd, South Manchester

NEWCASTLE (Colin Young)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 15m

Want: Striker, midfield, centre back, right back

Targets: Loic Remy (Marseille), Mathieu Debuchy (Lille), Momo Diame (West Ham), Andy Carroll (Liverpool)

To go: Demba Ba, Danny Simpson

The season so far in a tweet
Europa League, the dubious reward for last season’s heroics has taken its toll but #nufc are a good performance away from getting their season back on track

Thumbs up for
Hatem Ben Arfa: The injury to Newcastle’s outstanding playmaker comes at the worst possible time for Alan Pardew. The French midfielder has been brilliant throughout the season while others have struggled and his match-winning abilities will be sorely missed.

Thumbs down for
Papiss Cisse: He could not stop scoring when he arrived a year ago, netting 13 in 14. The form, the confidence and the prowess has deserted him in front of goal, and on the wings and he doesn’t look happy.

Jekyll and Hyde: Cisse (right) has struggled with form since August

Jekyll and Hyde: Cisse (right) has struggled with form since August

How’s the boss doing
Alan Pardew has been unable to exert his influence on his players on the training ground because of the European campaign, which has been a success so far. But it has hit the league campaign and, unlike last season, Newcastle have leaked messy goals which have cost them games.

Fans’ verdict
It has been a poor and disappointing first half of the season. We should have invested in the summer, they knew we were in the Europa League would struggle to cope, not sold Danny Guthrie and bought more quality so we didn’t have to rely on kids like Bigirimana who looks a good prospect, but not ready yet. Saying that, I am confident we will get better with injured players back. I hope Ba stays, but I have my doubts.
Reuben Horner, Newcastle

NORWICH CITY (Laurie Whitwell)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 4m

Want: Striker

Targets: Leigh Griffiths (Wolves), Raoul Loe (Osasuna)

To go: None

Season in a tweet
Jekyll and Hyde from last season but producing similarly good results. Defensive stability has replaced goals to keep club on the up

Thumbs up for
Sebastien Bassong: Secured from Tottenham for a bargain fee in the summer, the Cameroonian has brought strength and calm to central defence. Only once have Norwich conceded more than a single goal when he has played. Chipped in with two valuable strikes too.

Thumbs down for
Grant Holt: He brings invaluable link up play and presence to the Norwich team, but is finding goals harder to come by in his second top-flight season. He netted 15 times in the Premier League last year but, as we approach halfway, only four this.

Floored: Holt has not lived up to the high standards he set last season

Floored: Holt has not lived up to the high standards he set last season

How’s the boss doing
Chris Hughton had a tough task to follow in the footsteps of Paul Lambert, but the 53-year-old has managed it with aplomb. Finally given (a little) money to spend after having to sell players at Newcastle and Birmingham, he has picked wisely. The first-choice back four is all his own and can shut out the best attacks. A little sparkle up front might be welcome.

Fans’ verdict
It was a summer of turmoil but most fans thought Hughton was the right appointment. Worries emerged after a very shaky start but he has turned it around and we look settled. There were only three clean sheets all last season but five already this. Finding goals hard to come by, though, and maybe that could be addressed. Everyone would settle for just staying up.
Tom Goodywn, Norwich

QPR (Sami Mokbel)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 15m (dependent on sales)

Want: Left back, centre back, striker

Targets: Nicolas Anelka (Shanghai), Darren Bent (Aston Villa), Michael
Dawson (Tottenham), Andros Townsend (Tottenham), Sylvain Distin
(Everton), Richard Dunne (Aston Villa)

To go: Clint Hill

Season in a tweet
Simply put: a disaster. Tony Fernandes and his allies are facing financial oblivion with QPR's relegation fight. Can Harry Redknapp save them

Thumbs up for
Jamie Mackie: Put his heart and soul into every performance and has become an important part of Harry Redknapp's new regime. QPR players have been accused of only being at the club for money – that's not something you could level at Mackie.

Thumbs down for
Jose Bosingwa: Coming off the back of Chelsea's Champions League triumph, the Portuguese should have been full of vigour going into the new chapter of his career. Wrong. He's been poor, underlined by his refusal to sit on the bench for QPR's win against Fulham.

Disaster: Tony Fernandes' millions have failed to bring QPR success

Disaster: Tony Fernandes' millions have failed to bring QPR success

How's the boss doing
After a promising start of four games unbeaten – including their first Premier League win of the campaign – Harry Redknapp is starting to see the size of the task in front of him after two consecutive defeats against Newcastle and West Brom. But if anyone can save QPR then surely it's Redknapp.

Fans' verdict
We believed Mark Hughes when he said we would not be in another
relegation scrap under his watch. How wrong we were to trust him. The
season truly has been one to forget and the problem is that if we do get
relegated, which is looking increasingly likely, then I fear it will
take years for us to come back up.
Colin Barber, Banstead

READING (Sam Cunningham)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 15m

Want: Goalkeeper, central defenders, midfielder, strikers

Targets: Paul Robinson (Blackburn), Andrey Arshavin (Arsenal), Carlos Sanchez (Rangers de Talca), Raoul Loe (Osasuna)

To go: None

The season so far in a tweet
Not good enough. Already cut adrift of safety & if they’re not careful their season will be over soon. Can score goals, dreadful at the back

Thumbs up for
Garath McCleary: Almost quit football six years ago with a nasty leg break. But a summer move to Reading provided the 25-year-old with his first experience of Premier League football and he’s featured regularly this season.

Thumbs down for
Danny Guthrie: Joined the club in June on big wages and was the kind of player with Premier League experience McDermott has highlighted that will keep them in the league. But he’s had three separate spats with his boss in just six months. That and a thigh injury have meant he’s had little impact.

Feeling the heat: Brian McDermott's Reading are six points adrift of safety

Feeling the heat: Brian McDermott's Reading are six points adrift of safety

How’s the boss doing
Struggling. Has the full backing of the owner but two crucial summer signings – Pavel Pogrebnyak and Danny Guthrie – have not paid off. The Russian striker has not found the goalscoring form he had at the end of last season at Fulham and Reading’s other forwards don’t look like scoring consistently. Guthrie was supposed to bring Premier League experience in the centre of the park but has been more of a disruption. Injuries have not helped.

Fans’ verdict
When we lost the 2011 play-off final, Sir John Madejski said we were better off in the Championship than struggling higher up; after five months back in the top flight I find myself agreeing. Despite Brian McDermott’s assurances that it’s a good time to be a Royal, abject performances at Southampton and Sunderland leave things looking bleak. I wasn’t expecting too much, but now I’m just desperately hoping McDermott remains the man to turn things around.
Dave Ivermee, 24, Reading

STOKE (John Edwards)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 8m

Want: Left back, winger, striker

Targets: Martin Olsson (Blackburn), Michael Dawson (Tottenham)

To go: Cameron Jerome, Kenwyne Jones, Jermaine Pennant, Wilson Palacios

Season in a tweet
Not difficult to see where the main problem lies. Goals have not been flowing but defence is good. Eighth place is a more telling stat, though. Pulis still working his magic

Thumbs up for
Steven Nzonzi: The summer signing could have been custom built for Stoke, but he’s a big player in terms of technique, as well as physique. Keeps the ball well and has hardly wasted a single pass. A real bargain from Blackburn.

Thumbs down for
Charlie Adam: It may be harsh to single out Adam, but there is a feeling he has yet to show Stoke fans his true capabilities and that there is surely more to come. Only glimpses from the former Liverpool midfielder so far.

Class act: Nzonzi arrived in the summer from Blackburn

Class act: Nzonzi arrived in the summer from Blackburn

How’s the boss doing
Pulis has had to contend with a few whispers that he may have taken Stoke as far as he can. Oh no he hasn’t. Stoke are still no-one’s favourite opponents but are starting to show they have more to their armoury than a succession of long balls and long throws. They can play, as well, and full credit to Pulis for that.

Fans’ verdict
I’m old enough to remember trawling round places like Exeter, Hartlepool and Darlington, so anyone criticising Tony Pulis has a short memory. I doubted whether I would ever see us back in the top flight, but here we are, holding our own and steadily improving with signings like Peter Crouch and Charlie Adam. That’s down to Pulis and chairman Peter Coates.
Allan Smith, Stoke

SOUTHAMPTON (Sam Cunningham)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 10m

Want: Goalkeeper, central defender, midfielder, striker

Targets: Paul Robinson, Scott Dann (Blackburn), Carlos Sanchez (Rangers de Talca), Gary Hooper (Celtic)

To go: Artur Boruc

The season so far in a tweet
What a turnaround. Looked lost in the Premier League, bottom after 10 games. But Adkins has managed to get them competing at this level.

Thumbs up for
Jason Puncheon: Back in January his relatively short Southampton career looked over. He played barely any part in their successive promotions but is now a regular in the first team and is their top-scoring midfielder with four goals in 14 matches.

Thumbs down for
Artur Boruc: The summer signing has played only two games at the club, and they might be his last. The goalkeeper threw a bottle at his own fans following defeat to Tottenham, on his home debut, and hasn’t played since.

Packing a punch: Pacy winger Puncheon (second left) has been making up for lost time

Packing a punch: Pacy winger Puncheon (second left) has been making up for lost time

How’s the boss doing
Nigel Adkins certainly knows how to learn fast. Two seasons ago he took over the club in League One. Only six years ago he was a physio at Scunthorpe. He looked out of his depth at the start of the season and was close to losing his job, but he responded with results on the pitch and knows how to get his players performing.

Fans’ verdict
Southampton have showed plenty of promise this season, especially going forward. The team have adapted to the ruthlessness of this league and we’re beginning to beat teams confidently now that our defence is more assured. Our attacking style of play has been exciting to watch, especially against the bigger teams that have been expecting us to defend for 90 minutes.
James Simmons, Southampton

SUNDERLAND (Colin Young)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 15m

Want: Striker, centre back, midfield

Targets: John Guidetti (Manchester City), Gary Hooper (Celtic), Leo
Baptistao (Rayo Vallecano), Michael Dawson (Tottenham), John Stones
(Barnsley)

To go: None

The season so far in a tweet
A struggle at first and #safc have missed opps to pick up wins against fellow strugglers. Thankfully Fletcher has been scoring and things better now

Thumbs up for
Danny Rose: Steven Fletcher has scored most of the goals and Simon Mignolet has kept them out but the real star has been on-loan Spurs defender Rose. No wonder Sunderland fans have been urging Martin O’Neill to sign him.

Thumbs down for
James McClean: He could do no wrong a year ago but defenders have wised up and doubled up on the Irish winger. To his credit he has persevered, and his manager has kept faith, but only McClean can get himself out of the rut.

Loan ranger: England Under 21 international Rose has impressed at left back

Loan ranger: England Under 21 international Rose has impressed at left back

How’s the boss doing
Martin O’Neill knew this season would be a struggle but even he must have been disappointed with the early return from a squad including 20million worth of new signings Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson. He took time to bed in at Villa and Leicester and needs more time, patience and money to deliver for Sunderland.

Fans’ verdict
It’s been underwhelming, especially after the signing of Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher but I am convinced Martin O’Neill is the right man for the job. Fletcher has been an excellent signing and we just need more players to reach his level – Johnson has been a disappointment, but there are signs recently, as have Sessegnon and McClean. The one thing we do need is to keep hold of Martin O’Neill and I can’t understand the idiots who want him out after a year. He’s got the track record and he is a very good manager who builds good football teams.

SWANSEA (Riath Al-Samarrai)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 10m

Want: Striker, midfielder

Targets: Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Leo Baptistao (Rayo Vallecano), Mark Davies (Bolton), Matt Phillips (Blackpool)

To go: None

The season so far in a tweet
More excitement, more goals, more points. Life at the Liberty after Brendan Rodgers has not been so bleak after all.

Thumbs up for
Michu: Surely, at 2million, he is the signing of the season. His goals get all the attention – 13 so far and he isn’t a striker – but he is also a superb playmaker and a tireless worker when he hasn’t got possession.

Thumbs down for
Ashley Williams: One of the club’s most dependable players last season has been poor by his own standards this time round, typified by a string of calamities that led to goals early in the campaign. Illness and injury haven’t helped.

Prolific: Michu reached the halfway point in the season as the Premier League's joint-top scorer

Prolific: Michu reached the halfway point in the season as the Premier League's joint-top scorer

How’s the boss doing
Superbly. He had a few teething problems early on as some players grumbled about his methods, but he has taken the Swansea of Brendan Rodgers and improved it. The team is now more aggressive and also has a more effective Plan B, with Michu’s height enabling them to switch from the tiki-taka stuff when necessary.

Fans’ verdict
Michael Laudrup has kept the emphasis on possession but has also injected a greater sense of urgency into the way we play. The result is a team that is more dynamic, more exciting to watch, and, crucially, is scoring more goals. He’s also succeeded in adding depth to the squad. It can be hard to comprehend how far we’ve come.
Joseph Allen, Haverfordwest

TOTTENHAM (Laura Williamson)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 30m

Want: Left back, midfield, striker

Targets: Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao), Andy Carroll (Liverpool),
Wesley Sneijder (Inter), Yann M’Vila (Rennes), Zeki Fryers (Standard
Liege), Massadio Haidara (Nancy), Cristian Atsu (Porto), Carlos Andres
Sanchez (River Plate)

To go: Carlo Cudicini, Heurelho Gomes

The season so far in a tweet
We’re #THFC, we sing what we want, beat #MUFC at Old Trafford & would prefer to play games that only last 80 mins. Defoe & Bale on fire

Thumbs up for
Jermain Defoe: The highest English goal-scorer in the Premier League, Defoe has shouldered the burden for Spurs so far this season, playing up front alone or with Emmanuel Adebayor and averaging a goal every two games.

Thumbs down for
William Gallas: Time seems to be catching up with the 35-year-old central defender, although Andre Villas-Boas still prefers him over Michael Dawson. If matches ended after 80 minutes Spurs would be second in the table: is this down to concentration or fatigue

Goal-den patch: Defoe (right) has been prolific for Spurs this season

Goal-den patch: Defoe (right) has been prolific for Spurs this season

How’s the boss doing
A solid but unspectacular B+ for AVB so far. Spurs are fourth in the table, after all, but are just two points above Arsenal who are supposedly drowning in a crisis of their own making. Villas-Boas’ faith in Defoe has been repaid with goals, switching to 4-4-2 has worked well and Spurs have progressed in the Europa League, but the jury is still out.

Fans’ verdict
I still haven’t made my mind up about AVB, but we’re in a good position heading into Christmas – although it could have been even better if we ever played the full 90 minutes and stopped conceding late goals. If we add a couple of quality signings in January, improve our concentration and put a run together I’m confident we can achieve a top four place.
Paul Williams, Hove

WEST BROM (Neil Moxley)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 6m

Want: Goalkeeper, striker

Targets: Paul Robinson (Blackburn), Raoul Loe (Osasuna)

To go: Jerome Thomas, Chris Wood

The season so far in a tweet
Brill start for Clarke. Has built on what RH left behind. Industrious. Strong at home, dangerous away. Injuries an issue. #moretocome

Thumbs up for
James Morrison: Has finally found his rightful position, just behind the main striker, threading it all together. Baggies far less dangerous when he isn’t about.

Thumbs down for
Marcus Rosenberg: The Sweden international has not really shown anything to suggest he will be a hit in the Premier League.

New lease of life: Morrison (right) has revelled in a more advanced role

New lease of life: Morrison (right) has revelled in a more advanced role

How’s the boss doing
Most West Brom fans – and head coach Clarke – would recognise that the club was in a healthy state when he arrived. But so far has had the good sense not to mend that which doesn’t need fixing. Promising.

Fans’ verdict
There was a slight air of uncertainty because Clarke had never been a No 1 before. But with the start he made, it has settled everyone’s anxieties. It’s a similar style to that used by Roy Hodgson but perhaps less rigid. He seems to have a good bunch of players. I’m still not sure whether we are punching above our weight or not.
Steve Fisher, Kingswinford

WEST HAM (Laurie Whitwell)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 8m

Want: Striker, right winger, right back

Targets: Miralem Sulejmani (Ajax), Sean Maguire (Waterford), John Brayford (Derby)

To go: Momo Diame

The season so far in a tweet
Bubbles blowing high at Upton Park. Steel and, yes, silk have been blended to climb safely into top half. Spirit makes Europe not impossible

Thumbs up for
Mark Noble: The original Eastender has been West Ham’s fulcrum, starting attacks from deep midfield and often dictating tempo. After years of promise the 25-year-old has even received England backing. Causes opposition panic with free-kicks and offers a cool head for penalties.

Thumbs down for
Matt Jarvis: Perhaps suffering from the pressure of being the club’s record purchase, the England winger has yet to hit heights he showed at Wolves. Not truly sparked or taken command of a game, an expected return form 10.75million of investment.

Midfield general: Noble has excelled for West Ham on their return to the top flight

Midfield general: Noble has excelled for West Ham on their return to the top flight

How’s the boss doing
Sam Allardyce has comprehensively won over the faithful by introducing his style: winning. The 58-year-old is never slow to reveal his dogma, that of getting points, and the alacrity with which he speaks only instils belief in the squad. Signings have been made wisely, although he would probably like to expand his trim squad for the second half of the season.

Fans’ verdict
We have enjoyed one of our best starts to a top flight season and much of that is down to the excellent home form. With eight matches played, Arsenal are the only away team to have left with all three points. We’ve been in the top half all season but the magic 40-point mark remains the main target. Hopefully we can reach that as soon as possible.
Graeme Howlett, KUMB.com editor

WIGAN (John Edwards)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 5m

Want: Right wing back, midfielder, striker

Targets: Roger Espinoza (Sporting Kansas – agreed), Ferrie Bodde (free agent), Angelo Henriquez (Man Utd loan)

To go: Franco di Santo

The season so far in a tweet
Mixed fortunes, as ever, but keep the faith, Wigan fans. Roberto Martinez certainly will. The one constant about inconsistent, unpredictable Wigan is they will entertain

Thumbs up for
Ivan Ramis: After a shaky debut, the former Mallorca centre-back has adapted brilliantly to the demands of the Barclays Premier League and become a rock at the heart of Wigan’s defence. Already a firm favourite with Wigan fans.

Thumbs down for
Jean Beausejour: Made an immediate impact after signing from Birmingham last January but has done nothing but frustrate so far this season. Ability to go past defenders seems to have deserted him.

Defying the odds: Martinez faces yet another relegation battle

Defying the odds: Martinez faces yet another relegation battle

How’s the boss doing
Martinez has an unshakeable belief in his attacking principles, and ability to get the best out of players, and, by and large, it is proving well founded. Continues to defy the odds, given Wigan’s resources, and surely destined for greater things before too long. One of the most innovative, forward-thinking coaches around.

Fans’ verdict
The main problem so far has been refereeing decisions, rather than performances. Maynor Fugueroa’s early red card at Newcastle, for a challenge you see every week, was a prime example. Injuries have hindered us, but we have played some great stuff. There could be more to come, too, with one or two January signings and no-one leaving.
Jason Taylor, Wigan

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

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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

Michael Owen out to end drought against Liverppol

Owen wants the monkey off his back as he targets first ever goal against Liverpool on Boxing Day

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UPDATED:

19:39 GMT, 25 December 2012

Stoke striker Michael Owen has plenty of happy memories from his time at Liverpool, but does not look back too fondly on the occasions he has played against them.

The former England international enjoyed the most prolific days of his career at Liverpool, where he came through the youth ranks.

Since leaving the Reds in 2004 though, he has failed to score a single goal against them and Owen admits he has rarely had much fun when being on the opposing team.

Man on a mission: Michael Owen is desperate for the chance to get at his old team Liverpool

Man on a mission: Michael Owen is desperate for the chance to get at his old team Liverpool

The 33-year-old will be hoping the trend changes on Boxing Day when the Potters host Liverpool in the Barclays Premier League, a game in which he could make his first Stoke appearance since October 27 having overcome a hamstring problem.

Owen – who departed Anfield for Real Madrid and moved on to Newcastle and Manchester United before joining Stoke this season – told Independent Sports News: 'It is a strange feeling really playing against your old club, especially one where you were there for around 15 years.

'Liverpool are a big part of my life and career and I had some of the best times of my life at the club.

'So certainly I have happy memories. I have not been so happy playing against them since; I have never scored and not particularly enjoyed it.'

Stoke, currently ninth in the table, head into the clash with eighth-placed Liverpool in fine form.

Where the heart is: Owen was lethal at Liverpool but has struggled since leaving

Where the heart is: Owen was lethal at Liverpool but has struggled since leaving

Where the heart is: Owen was lethal at Liverpool but has struggled since leaving

Tony Pulis' men are unbeaten in their last eight matches and Owen is optimistic they can keep the run going.

'I don't see any reason why not,' Owen said. 'We had a really tough start to the season and we picked up points against some of the big teams.

'Then we went into a period of games where you would look at them on paper and say we had a chance of picking up points, and we have duly done that.

'We are on a nice run of form. Every game is tough in the Premier League, but there is no reason why we can't continue it.'

Michael Owen out to end drought against Liverppol when Stoke travel to Anfield

Owen wants the monkey off his back as he targets first ever goal against Liverpool when Stoke visit Anfield on Boxing Day

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UPDATED:

20:37 GMT, 24 December 2012

Stoke striker Michael Owen has plenty of happy memories from his time at Liverpool, but does not look back too fondly on the occasions he has played against them.

The former England international enjoyed the most prolific days of his career at Liverpool, where he came through the youth ranks.

Since leaving the Reds in 2004 though, he has failed to score a single goal against them and Owen admits he has rarely had much fun when being on the opposing team.

Man on a mission: Michael Owen is desperate for the chance to get at his old team Liverpool, against whom he's never scored, when Stoke City visit Anfield

Man on a mission: Michael Owen is desperate for the chance to get at his old team Liverpool, against whom he's never scored, when Stoke City visit Anfield

The 33-year-old will be hoping the trend changes on Boxing Day when the Potters host Liverpool in the Barclays Premier League, a game in which he could make his first Stoke appearance since October 27 having overcome a hamstring problem.

Owen – who departed Anfield for Real Madrid and moved on to Newcastle and Manchester United before joining Stoke this season – told Independent Sports News: 'It is a strange feeling really playing against your old club, especially one where you were there for around 15 years.

'Liverpool are a big part of my life and career and I had some of the best times of my life at the club.

'So certainly I have happy memories. I have not been so happy playing against them since; I have never scored and not particularly enjoyed it.'

Stoke, currently ninth in the table, head into the clash with eighth-placed Liverpool in fine form.

Where the heart is: Owen was lethal at Liverpool but has struggled since leaving

Where the heart is: Owen was lethal at Liverpool but has struggled since leaving

Where the heart is: Owen was lethal at Liverpool but has struggled since leaving

Tony Pulis' men are unbeaten in their last eight matches and Owen is optimistic they can keep the run going.

'I don't see any reason why not,' Owen said. 'We had a really tough start to the season and we picked up points against some of the big teams.

'Then we went into a period of games where you would look at them on paper and say we had a chance of picking up points, and we have duly done that.

'We are on a nice run of form. Every game is tough in the Premier League, but there is no reason why we can't continue it.'