Tag Archives: seasons

Jose Mourinho wants Chelsea job

Mourinho issues come-and-get-me plea to Chelsea ahead of potential Bridge return

By
David Kent

PUBLISHED:

07:03 GMT, 7 April 2013

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UPDATED:

07:03 GMT, 7 April 2013

Jose Mourinho has urged Chelsea to confirm his dramatic return to Stamford Bridge or risk missing out.

The Real Madrid boss is expected to take over from Rafa Benitez in the summer for a second stint in the Premier League.

But Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan are also reportedly waiting in the wings to pounce.

Time running out: Jose Mourinho has set his sights on a return to Chelsea at the end of the season

Time running out: Jose Mourinho has set his sights on a return to Chelsea at the end of the season

'Jose wants to go back to Chelsea. It’s where he wants to be,' a source told The Sun.

'Every time Chelsea fans sing his name it makes him want to go back even more.

'He’ll sign for the same money he’s on at Real, even though he’s sure he could earn more elsewhere — like City or PSG.

Easy street: Real Madrid cruised past Levante on Sunday night but remain well behind leaders Barcelona

Easy street: Real Madrid cruised past Levante on Sunday night but remain well behind leaders Barcelona

'Jose could even remain at Madrid but he is clear about where he’d like to go — it’s now down to if Roman Abramovich wants the same.'

Mourinho won six trophies in three seasons with Chelsea but was unable to lift the Champions League.

He hopes to do that at Wembley on May 25 with his Real Madrid side who are all but guaranteed a place in the last four after a 3-0 win over Galatasaray last week.

Moving on: Rafa Benitez is expected to quit his role as interim manager following the end of the season

Moving on: Rafa Benitez is expected to quit his role as interim manager following the end of the season

Benitez has never been accepted by the Chelsea faithful after taking over as interim manager following the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo.

The Spaniard had admitted he will leave at the end of the season but could yet clinch Europa League and FA Cup glory before his time is up.

Fabio Capello trains at Chelsea for Russia v Brazil while Luiz Felipe Scolari and Yuri Zhirkov also return

Capello arrives at Stamford Bridge with Blues looking for new boss… but he's here on official Russia duty

By
Rik Sharma

PUBLISHED:

13:18 GMT, 24 March 2013

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UPDATED:

13:34 GMT, 24 March 2013

So Fabio Capello has arrived at Stamford Bridge this season after all.

But don't worry Rafa, he's not here for a secret meeting with Roman Abramovich – instead to take charge of Russia in their glamour friendly against Brazil on Monday night.

Capello took a stroll through Kensington on Sunday morning and then led a training session for his squad on Chelsea's pitch – though Yuri Zhirkov was already well acquainted with his surroundings having played there for two seasons.

At the Bridge: Fabio Capello took a training session for his squad at Chelsea's ground

At the Bridge: Fabio Capello took a training session for his squad at Chelsea's ground

Capello (right) gets his point across

All together now: Capello talks to his Russia players ahead of the glamour friendly

All together now: Capello talks to his Russia players ahead of the glamour friendly

The 18million signing failed to make an impact – with Chelsea favouring a 4-3-3 system which did not accomodate his favoured left midfield position position.

Perhaps his best spell came when Ashley Cole was injured – he slotted in at left-back and performed well.

Zhirkov departed for Anzhi Makhachkala in August 2011 for close to 13m.

Old haunt: Yuri Zhirkov played at Chelsea for two seasons but struggled to make a lasting impact

Old haunt: Yuri Zhirkov played at Chelsea for two seasons but struggled to make a lasting impact

View from the Bridge: Russia's players prepare to face the likes of Neymar, Kaka and Oscar

View from the Bridge: Russia's players prepare to face the likes of Neymar, Kaka and Oscar

Capello was focused on the job at hand and had no time to discuss speculation over a move to Chelsea.

He said: 'I know nothing about this. I am really happy with Russia and focused to qualify for the World Cup.'

Capello's counterpart, Luiz Felipe Scolari, has history at Chelsea.

The World Cup winner had an ill-fated spell with the club in 2008, taking over from Avram Grant with Jose Mourinho's shadow still looming over the club.

Scolari brought in Deco and Jose Bosingwa and although he started well, things fell apart sooner rather than later.

Struggle: Luiz Felipe Scolari (left) was booted out by Roman Abramovich

Struggle: Luiz Felipe Scolari (left) was booted out by Roman Abramovich

He was out on his ear by February 9, with Abramovich wielding the axe as Chelsea's form dropped off.

Guus Hiddink came in and salvaged the season, taking them to the infamous Champions League semi-final tie with Barcelona and an FA Cup triumph.

Brazil's squad features three current Chelsea players – Oscar, David Luiz and Ramires.

David Luiz

Oscar

Home: David Luiz, who captained Brazil against Italy, and Oscar, right, play at Stamford Bridge every other week

The latter turned 26 on Sunday and although he missed the country's 2-2 draw with Italy, thanks to a strained right adductor, will be re-assessed before Monday's clash.

Defender Luiz posted this picture montage of him and Ramires on his Instagram account to celebrate his compatriot's birthday.

History: Luiz played with Ramires at Benfica and the pair are good friends now at Chelsea

History: Luiz played with Ramires at Benfica and the pair are good friends now at Chelsea

P.S.

At Chelsea, Luiz has little competition in the 'wild hairstyle' stakes (although youngster Nathan Ake makes a good fist of it).

But with Brazil, he is in good company. He posted this picture of himself with defenders Marcelo, of Real Madrid, and Dante, from Bayern Munich.

I want curly hair too: Luiz (centre) with Marcelo (left) and Dante (right)

I want curly hair too: Luiz (centre) with Marcelo (left) and Dante (right)

John Murray wanted by BT Sport

BT want Murray to follow Humphrey as new boys plan second raid on BBC for Premier League coverage

By
Charles Sale

PUBLISHED:

14:19 GMT, 29 January 2013

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UPDATED:

17:55 GMT, 29 January 2013

BT Sport are understood to be looking to the BBC for their main commentator after persuading Jake Humphrey to front their Barclays Premier League coverage.

Humphrey was the BBC's Formula One host last season but has signed a four-year deal with the new venture.

Radio 5 Live’s excellent John
Murray, who has the lead microphone role for the main radio football
match on the flagship Saturday programme, could be set to join Humphrey.

New recruit: Jake Humphrey has already signed his deal with BT

New recruit: Jake Humphrey has already signed his deal with BT

Let us know what you think….

Who
should BT Sport bring in for their Premier League coverage Tell us by
clicking on the comments section at the bottom of this article

Murray is high on the wishlist of BT,
who last summer won the rights to show 38 live games a season for three
years, including 18 first-choice matches.

They are paying 738million over three seasons while Sky are paying 2.28billion for their rights.

One man set to stay at the BBC is Gary Lineker. The Match of the Day presenter is expected to sign a new contract.

Microphone man: BBC Radio Five Live's John Murray is also wanted by BT Sport

Microphone man: BBC Radio Five Live's John Murray is also wanted by BT Sport

But it was announced last week that Colin Murray is to be dropped as the Match of the Day 2 frontman next season.

Murray, who has anchored the Sunday
highlights show for two years since Adrian Chiles moved to ITV, is to be
replaced by rising BBC star Mark Chapman.

Manchester United"s Robin van Persie credits position change with injury-free run

Van Persie credits position change with injury-free run after playing in 71st CONSECUTIVE Premier League game

By
Sam Cunningham

PUBLISHED:

16:24 GMT, 21 January 2013

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UPDATED:

17:51 GMT, 21 January 2013

Robin van Persie had 27 separate injuries in eight seasons at Arsenal – but following almost a year injury-free, he puts his newfound consistency down to switching from playing as a No 10 to a No 9.

The striker yesterday chalked up 71 consecutive Barclays Premier League games and he is behind only Jon Walters as having currently played the most consecutive top flight league games. Walters has featured in 76 straight matches.

At Arsenal his eight years were blighted by injury but he has played 28 of Manchester United’s 33 matches this season.

On fire: Van Persie is producing the finest form of his career

On fire: Van Persie is producing the finest form of his career

He used to play predominantly in-behind another striker at his former club and, though he was prolific when fit, he spent a fair bit of time on the treatment table.

There wasn’t much he didn’t injure. He missed matches with groin, ankle, foot, knee, hamstring, thigh and hip problems and broke his metatarsal.

Van Persie withdrew from the Holland squad for a friendly back in November as a precaution with a slight thigh problem but it did not stop him starting United’s next match against Norwich.

Injury prone: Much of Van Persie's Arsenal career was spent on the sidelines

Injury prone: Much of Van Persie's Arsenal career was spent on the sidelines

And he has not missed a club game through injury since he picked up a groin strain last February – almost a year ago. He puts that down to a shift in focus becoming an out-an-out striker.

The 29-year-old said in an interview on Sky Sports: ‘It’s a different game, they’re very close to each other playing No 10 or No 9. But there’s a big difference. As a No 9 you have much more intervals – stop-start, looking for spaces, waiting, then going for it and taking chances.

‘As a No 10 you have to deal with the defensive midfielder of the opposition. Depending how they play you can have a really difficult game.

Durable: Only Walters is on a longer consecutive run of Premier League games

Durable: Only Walters is on a longer consecutive run of Premier League games

'You’re always expected to get into the box making 30-40metre runs when you attack, then you have to go back 30-40m or more depending how far he goes back, and you have to go left or right. It’s much more of an endurance game than stop-start. If I look now my game as No 9 is great.

'My average running in games has always been high, but it’s high intensity runs now. Before I had to run more endurance-wise, now it’s more stop-start, short and sharp runs in behind.’

The consistency is paying off. Van Persie’s goal against Spurs yesterday took him two clear of Luis Suarez as the Premier League top scorer on 18 goals. He has netted in 10 of the last 11 matches he has played in, scoring 11 in the process. And he is closing in on Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s Premier League record of scoring in 10 consecutive matches, which he set between March and August 2003.

Van Persie has scored in Manchester United’s previous six league games. If he keeps fit, he could even have Dixie Dean’s league record of scoring in 12 consecutive Division Two matches for Everton back in 1930-31 in his sights.

Luis Suarez needs Champions League football, says Brendan Rodgers

We must give Suarez Champions League hope if he's to stay at Anfield, says Liverpool boss Rodgers

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UPDATED:

23:03 GMT, 29 December 2012

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has admitted the club need to give striker Luis Suarez hope of a Champions League challenge if they want to keep him at Anfield beyond the summer.

While Rodgers enjoys a good relationship with Suarez, who has scored 14 times this season, he knows a fourth season without appearing in Europe’s top competition would be hard for the Uruguay striker to take.

Star man: Suarez (left) has carried Liverpool at times this season

Star man: Suarez (left) has carried Liverpool at times this season

Spanish clubs would be interested in the 40million-rated forward, who turns 26 next month. Atletico Madrid will be seeking a replacement for Radamel Falcao at the end of the season, with the Colombian set to move on, while Barcelona need a successor for the ageing David Villa. Suarez’s wife, Sofia, lived in Barcelona after her family moved there from Uruguay.

Liverpool travel to QPR on Sunday in mid-table after defeats against Aston Villa and Stoke in their last three games and Rodgers knows they must climb the table to encourage his big players his ‘project’ will work.

Liverpool have not played in the Champions League for three seasons, after finishing seventh, sixth and eighth in the Premier League.

Highly-rated: The Uruguayan is rated among Europe's best strikers

Highly-rated: The Uruguayan is rated among Europe's best strikers

‘The players need to feel there is hope,’ said Rodgers. ‘I don’t want people who don’t want to be here, but top players like Steven Gerrard, Daniel Agger and Luis Suarez have all committed to the cause. They obviously feel there is hope that the model will work.

‘The reality is we’re a team that haven’t been challenging for the last number of years and it is going to need that wee bit of time. I believe we are going down the right route because, if you’re not going to invest as heavily, you have to build.’

Off the pace: Liverpool are down in 10th place in the Premier League

Off the pace: Liverpool are down in 10th place in the Premier League

Suarez turned down the opportunity to join Juventus last summer and signed a five-year deal at Anfield which carries a reported 40m buy-out clause.

But Rodgers can’t discount his best player leaving if Suarez feels a top-four finish is beyond Liverpool in the foreseeable future.

‘That is something that you can never tell,’ said the Liverpool manager.’

Premier League half-term report 2012-13

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

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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

Wayne Rooney injured for three weeks with knee injury

Rooney sidelined for up to three weeks in blow for title-chasing United boss Ferguson

|

UPDATED:

18:36 GMT, 26 December 2012

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney will be sidelined for between two and three weeks after sustaining knee ligament damage in training.

The England forward was missing from the line up for the Red Devils' 4-3 victory over Newcastle today.

After his poor performance against Swansea on Sunday, Ferguson would have loved the hitman to come out swinging against Newcastle, but could not select him due to injury.

Sidelined: An injured Wayne Rooney watched on from an executive box at Old Trafford as United won 4-3

Sidelined: An injured Wayne Rooney watched on from an executive box at Old Trafford as United won 4-3

Will United miss Rooney

Opta statistics from the last two seasons of Premier League football indicate that Javier Hernandez will be able to step up to the mark in Rooney's absence.

Although he has scored under half the number of goals, his minutes per goal average is close to Rooney's.

This is because he has only started 22 games – exactly half of the number Rooney has.

Played
Goals
Min per goal
Van Persie
57
43
113.6
Rooney
48
34
115.4
Hernandez
40
16
124.0
Welbeck
43
10
257.9

'After his performance on Sunday I
think he would have been brilliant today. You don't have two
performances like he did on Sunday,' said Ferguson. 'Unfortunately we couldn't risk him.'

He continued: 'It was a volley towards the end of training. He did a ligament at the back of his knee and could be out for two to three weeks.'

Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez stepped up to the mark in Rooney's absence, both scoring as United managed to grab three points from a topsy-turvy game.

Danny Welbeck also missed the game after reporting an illness last night.

Rooney had performed fitfully this season – some of his better performances have actually come in central midfield rather than in his favoured striker's position.

Lethal: Javier Hernandez wheels away after scoring the final goal of the thriller against Newcastle

Lethal: Javier Hernandez wheels away after scoring the final goal of the thriller against Newcastle

Rooney will miss Premier League
matches against West Brom and Wigan, in addition to the FA Cup third
round tie at West Ham on January 5.

He also faces a race against time to face Liverpool at Old Trafford on January 13.

Ferguson continued: 'Danny Welbeck took ill in the team hotel last night.
'Ashley Young also got injured yesterday and Phil Jones got injured against Swansea.'

Tucked away: Robin van Persie has been at his imperious best for the last two seasons now

Tucked away: Robin van Persie has been at his imperious best for the last two seasons now

Skipper Nemanja Vidic was back on the bench today but Ferguson did not want to use him after the centre-back made his first start since September at the Liberty Stadium.

'We couldn't risk Vida after playing his first game,' said Ferguson.

'He had a bit of soreness in his knee, which is only to be expected after being out for so long.'

Mike Nicholls, former Gloucester captain has died

Flag flies at half mast at Gloucester as club mourns legendary captain Nicholls

|

UPDATED:

16:19 GMT, 24 December 2012

Former Gloucester captain Mike Nicholls has died, the club have announced.

Nicholls made 483 first team appearances for the Cherry and Whites in a career that spanned 17 years, lifting the club's first trophy after a 17-6 victory over Moseley in the final of the 1972 national cup.

Following his retirement as a player, Nicholls served the club as a coach and a member of the committee.

Legend: Former Gloucester captain Mike Nicholls has died

Legend: Former Gloucester captain Mike Nicholls has died

Legend: Former Gloucester captain Mike Nicholls has died

A statement on the club website said: 'Everyone at Gloucester Rugby is saddened to hear of the passing of former captain, and one of the true legends of the club, Mike Nicholls.

'Out of respect for Mike, the Gloucester Rugby flag at Kingsholm is flying at half mast today, and will do so until after the funeral, details of which will be communicated in due course.

'A player who led from the front, the long serving hooker captained Gloucester for three seasons, 1970-71, 1971-72 and then again 1973-74.

'Under his captaincy the team were a formidable unit, not always pretty to watch but very effective.

'Under Mike Nicholls' inspiring leadership the team consistently turned on performances on the big occasions.

'Mike's career was at a pinnacle in the club's centenary season of 1973-74 when his team recorded a club record of 39 wins and scored 1000 points. Their 24-14 win against an International XV in the centenary match is remembered by all who were there.

'The Gloucester playing record during the three years of his captaincy speaks for itself: P154 W107 L35 D9. He is regarded as one of the finest captains the club has known.

'Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.'

Manchester United are Premier League festive fixture specialists – club-by-club stats guide

Is your club a Christmas cracker or a Yuletide turkey Shock, horror, Manchester United are the festive fixture specialists

|

UPDATED:

12:36 GMT, 21 December 2012

They're already sitting six points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League – and now there's even more bad news for Manchester United's chasing pack.

In the last five seasons, they have won 19 of their 25 December fixtures, and traditionally use the festive period as a slingshot for a sustained title challenge.

This season, with very winnable matches against Swansea City, Newcastle United, West Brom and Wigan ahead, United could be disappearing from view by the new year if they gain maximum points.

Sitting pretty: Man United lead the Premier League by six points and there's every chance they'll extend that over the Christmas period

Sitting pretty: Man United lead the Premier League by six points and there's every chance they'll extend that over the Christmas period

The outlook is particularly bleak for Newcastle, who travel to Old Trafford on Boxing Day – Man United have lost just once on that date in the past 20 years, while Newcastle have won just one out of nine.

Arsenal, meanwhile, will be hoping to break into the top four over the Christmas period and they're also specialists at putting together a sequence of wins as the temperatures grow colder.

They've won 17 of 28 December matches in the last five seasons and this year have the advantage of a shorter run of fixtures after their Boxing Day match with West Ham was postponed because of a planned Tube strike.

That may be a blessing for the Hammers – Arsenal have lost just one of their last 16 Premier League games played on Boxing Day.

Check our form table to see how your team has fared in December fixtures over the last five seasons:

December Premier League table

Festive specialists: Arsenal usually play well over Christmas and can use their shortened run of fixtures to break into the top four

Festive specialists: Arsenal usually play well over Christmas and can use their shortened run of fixtures to break into the top four

Former Arsenal favourite and Sportsmail columnist Martin Keown points out that Premier League sides well versed in balancing the demands of domestic and European competition perform best at Christmas, as they're used to only a few days' preparation between games.

He said: 'The teams playing in Europe are used to playing every few days and have the squads to cope with the games coming thick and fast.

'It won't faze teams such as Manchester United to be playing again, and they will probably relish concentrating on one competition over the coming weeks.

'Teams who are used to seven days' preparation might struggle. Expect the teams involved in Europe to start making their mark – it's the reason the cliche about the table taking shape exists.'

BOXING DAY BOOST

Manchester United have won 17 and lost just one of their last 20 Boxing Day fixtures and they have won the last eight in a row.

Chelsea have lost none of their last seven Boxing Day games (W3 D4 L0), but have drawn four of the last five.

Manchester City have won four and lost none of their last five games played on Boxing Day.

Liverpool have lost just one of their last 10 Boxing Day matches (W7 D2 L1).

Aston Villa have won just one of their last 11 Boxing Day fixtures (W1 D4 L6).

Tottenham have won five and lost none of their last seven Boxing Day games.

Reading are unbeaten in their last eight Boxing Day matches, winning four and drawing four.

It's no coincidence, therefore, that the top six in the December table since 2007-2008 are Man United, Arsenal, Man City, Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea – all regulars in European competition.

It's this record of Christmas consistency that will stop Man United running away into the distance over the festive four games.

Man City will target maximum points from a fairly soft run of fixtures that includes Reading, Sunderland, Norwich and Stoke.

One wrong move from third-placed Chelsea and they could find themselves cut adrift from the Manchester clubs by the Big Ben bongs.

OTHER FESTIVE FACTS

Chelsea – Rafa Benitez has won five of his six previous Premier League Boxing Day games

Everton – Have lost more games on New Year's Day than any other team in the Premier League – seven

Liverpool – No side has drawn more home games (12) in the festive period than Liverpool, in PL history

Norwich – In 2007, Norwich drew 0-0 with Southend United on Boxing Day… this year they host Chelsea at Carrow Road

Queens Park Rangers – QPR have never won more than once in a festive stint, losing six of their last eight games in this happy period

Stoke – Have scored just 0.7 goals per game in the festive period, the worst rate of any current PL side

Swansea – In 2004, Swansea were playing Kidderminster on Boxing Day, a game they won 5-1 with three of their goals coming after the 89th minute

Tottenham – Suffered their biggest ever Premier League defeat between Christmas and New Year when they lost 1-7 to Newcastle on December 28, 1996

West Ham – Jussi Jaaskelainen has conceded more goals on Boxing Day (20) than any other PL keeper

Hectic: Rafa Benitez's Chelsea will play nine matches in December

Hectic: Rafa Benitez's Chelsea will play nine matches in December

They go to Norwich on Boxing Day and have dropped points on four of their last five December 26 matches.

At the opposite end, Queens Park Rangers will take heart in the fact they've won their last two Boxing Day games and face a West Brom side fading from form.

Harry Redknapp will be optimistic his side can get something from matches with Newcastle and Liverpool having finally recorded their first Premier League win of the season against Fulham last weekend.

MOST FESTIVE GOALS

Man United 155
Arsenal 124
Liverpool 119
Chelsea 118
Tottenham 107

Source: Opta

Premier League games from weekend before Christmas to FA Cup 3rd round weekend

MOST CONCEDED

Everton 103
Newcastle 94
Tottenham 89
West Ham 86
Aston Villa 82

Source: Opta

Premier League games from weekend before Christmas to FA Cup 3rd round weekend

Reading, who slipped to the bottom after QPR's result, are in real danger if they fail to get anything from a tough set of fixtures against Man City, Swansea, West Ham and Spurs.

It may be cliched to say so, but the table will take shape over Christmas and the new year period – by January 1, Man United could be nine or even 12 points clear, while Reading and QPR could be sunk.

FULL FESTIVE FIXTURES

All 3pm kick-offs unless stated

Saturday December 22

Wigan v Arsenal (12.45)

Man City v Reading

Newcastle v QPR

Southampton v Sunderland

Tottenham v Stoke

West Brom v Norwich

West Ham v Everton

Liverpool v Fulham (17.30)

Sunday December 23

Swansea v Man United (13.30)

Chelsea v Aston Villa (16.00)

Wednesday December 26

Everton v Wigan

Fulham v Southampton

Man United v Newcastle

Norwich v Chelsea

QPR v West Brom

Reading v Swansea

Sunderland v Man City

Aston Villa v Tottenham (17.30)

Stoke v Liverpool (19.45)

Saturday December 29

Sunderland v Tottenham (12.45)

Aston Villa v Wigan

Fulham v Swansea

Man United v West Brom

Norwich v Man City

Reading v West Ham

Stoke v Southampton

Arsenal v Newcastle (17.30)

Sunday December 30

Everton v Chelsea (13.30)

QPR v Liverpool (16.00)

Tuesday January 1

West Brom v Fulham (12.45)

Man City v Stoke

Swansea v Aston Villa

Tottenham v Reading

West Ham v Norwich

Wigan v Man United

Southampton v Arsenal (17.30)

Wednesday January 2

Chelsea v QPR (19.45)

Liverpool v Sunderland (19.45)

Newcastle v Everton (20.00)

Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea fight over Premier League debt limit – Charles Sale

Big Four scrap over Premier League debt limit

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UPDATED:

23:42 GMT, 19 December 2012

English football’s Big Four are split over the amount of debt clubs can pile up on the playing side, which is the central Premier League issue over financial fair play.

Arsenal and Manchester United, whom a number of PL teams believe are acting wholly out of self-interest, want the debt losses limited to 39million over three seasons — effectively ruling out another oligarch taking over a club and spending freely to challenge the established order.

However, Manchester City and Chelsea, who have benefited from lavish financial backing by their owners, do not want such restraints put on clubs, who will be debating FFP again in February.

Disagreement: David Gill (right) is representing Manchester United at the discussions and both his side and Arsenal disagree with Chelsea and Man City

Disagreement: David Gill (right) is representing Manchester United at the discussions and both his side and Arsenal disagree with Chelsea and Man City

More from Charles Sale…

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15/12/12

Charles Sale: Net gain for Draper as LTA chief pockets 640k… four times more than the Prime Minister
13/12/12

Charles Sale: Arsenal follow United's lead by claiming packed stadium despite rows of empty seats at Emirates
12/12/12

Charles Sale: Leeds anxious as buyers GFH Capital fail to pay on time
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Charles Sale: Portsmouth's court date with destiny could end in extinction
07/12/12

Charles Sale: Diamond League can add some sparkle to Stratford before the bulldozers move in
06/12/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

And Chelsea, who are broadly in favour of FFP regulations, nevertheless joined City, West Bromwich Albion, Fulham, Aston Villa and Swansea in opposing either one or both cash restraint proposals at this week’s club summit.

A new development at the PL meeting is Manchester United being represented by chief executive David Gill and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, the commercial overlord who reports straight to the Glazer family and now has just as much power as Gill at Old Trafford.

Lowe back in business

Former Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe has been tempted back into football by the potential of the Brazilian soccer schools set up by Simon Clifford, who briefly worked as a Saints coach.

Lowe, whose Saints academy alumni include Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, has taken a controlling investment in Clifford’s struggling business that includes Northern Premier League club Garforth Town.

Lowe, who was set to take charge at Nottingham Forest and bring in Glenn Hoddle as manager before the death of owner Nigel Doughty last year, has always had great faith in the coaching vision of Clifford, once dismissed as a ‘ball juggler’ by Harry Redknapp.

Carra on BT wishlist

Jamie Carragher, whose Liverpool contract expires at the end of the season, is understood to be a target for BT Sport, who want a Premier League pundit with dressing-room knowledge.

Former Arsenal midfielder Freddie Ljungberg has been in for talks with BT, despite Match of the Day 2 host Colin Murray having to apologise after the Swede told viewers in September that his former team-mate Lauren would ‘kick the s***’ out of anyone who fouled him.

Meanwhile, BT have given the production contract for their 38 Premier League games to Sunset + Vine, for whom the deal is considerable compensation after losing out to IMG Media for the Channel 4 racing contract.

Wanted man: Jamie Carragher could provide BT with dressing room knowledge

Wanted man: Jamie Carragher could provide BT with dressing room knowledge

FA still waiting for Rio base

The Rio Games takes place two years after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil but the British Olympic Association are ahead of the FA in securing a training base.

The FA are still waiting for the allocation of paired training grounds and hotels. But the Minas Tennis Club, a multi-sports facility in Belo Horizonte – a 45 minute flight from Rio – announced on their website last night they will be signing a Memoradum of Understanding with the BOA today to be the Team GB preparation camp. Australia and Sweden had also been in talks with the venue.

Draper peer pressure

The growing furore over Lawn Tennis Association chief Roger Draper’s astonishing 640,000-a-year earnings will intensify with him being paid more than any other British sports governing body chief, including FA general secretary Alex Horne.

Labour peer Baroness Billingham, chair of the All Party Tennis Group who described the payment package as ‘unthinkable’, wants Draper to explain why he deserves the money, especially with Sport England having just withheld three years of funding from an underperforming LTA.

The showdown will likely come at Minister for Sport Hugh Robertson’s next scheduled meeting with the LTA, who made no comment.

Big bucks: Roger Draper picks up a hefty salary from the LTA

Big bucks: Roger Draper picks up a hefty salary from the LTA

Wall set to sign

Ambitious Jonathan Wall, temporary controller of BBC Radio 5 Live after the departure of Adrian van Klaveren, is expected to be appointed on a permanent basis.

Van Klaveren has been sidelined after his botched temporary executive role in the Newsnight report that made false allegations about Lord McAlpine. Van Klaveren wrote in an email to staff that he found it ‘especially hard to take’ being moved on for events that were nothing to do with his leadership of 5 Live Sport.