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Manchester United squad among best in English football history

Marching towards history: Fergie's United have more points now than Shankly's Liverpool, Wenger's Invincibles and Clough's Forest… and they are on course to become the greatest EVER team

-1355Projected: 95

NB: In seasons when two points were awarded
for a win points tallies have been converted into today’s equivalent

*42-game season

The Busby Babes, featuring Duncan Edwards and Dennis Viollet, had the equivalent of 49 points from the opening 22 games of their 1956 championship-winning campaign while Sir Matt Busby’s next famous side, starring the ‘Holy Trinity’ of George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law, secured just 44 points from their first 22 games of the 1966-67 season – the year before they won the European Cup by defeating Benfica 4-1 at Wembley.

But it is not just the great United sides that Ferguson’s squad is seeing off in their seemingly unstoppable pursuit of a 20th Premier League title. They have equalled the points haul amassed by a Jack Walker-funded Blackburn in 1994-95 and are three points better off than the Arsenal Invincibles were at this stage of the 2003-04 season.

However, Jose Mourinho’s 2005-06 Chelsea team – who share the record with United’s 1999-2000 side for the highest final points tally over the course a 38-game Premier League season with 91 points – are the only side in the Premier League era to better the standards being set by this United team, having gained 61 points from their first 22 league games.

But should United continue to gather up the points at the same rate as they have done so far this season they will be on course to beat that record for the most points gained during a Premier League campaign, with a projected 95 points at a ratio of 2.5 per game.

When we delve further back in time it is revealed that United’s haul of 18 wins from the opening 22 games has only been matched or bettered on four occasions – by Preston in 1888-89, Sunderland in 1891-92, Tottenham in 1960-61 and Chelsea in 2005-06. Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool only secured 17 wins from their first 22 games of the 1987-88 season, but five draws saw them on to 57, two points better off than United today.

Record-breakers: Chelsea amassed 91 points in 2005-06

Record-breakers: Chelsea amassed 91 points in 2005-06

This places this much-maligned United squad in a better position than all but one of Liverpool’s championship-winning sides, and comfortably sees off the points hauls secured after 22 games by Don Revie’s title winning teams at Leeds and Brian Clough’s league winners at Forest.

Teams to have won at least 18 of their opening 22 games of the season:

Team
Season
Won
Drawn
Lost
Points
Chelsea
2005-06
20
1
1
61
Tottenham
1960-61
1921
59
Preston
1888-89
18
4
0
58
Sunderland
1891-92
19
0
3
57
Man United
2012-13
18
1
3
55

It seems difficult to believe that this United side is comfortably seeing off competition from some of the most celebrated sides in the history of English football.

United have already conceded 29 goals, leaving them on track to break the club’s worst defensive record in a single season in the Premier League era – the 45 goals conceded in the 1999-2000 title-winning campaign.

Class of 2000: Ferguson's sixth title was won at a canter

Class of 2000: Ferguson's sixth title was won at a canter

Doubts remain over the goalkeeping position, with David de Gea and Anders Lindegaard being rotated once again this season, while question marks hang over the defensive capabilities of full backs Rafael and Patrice Evra with Nemanja Vidic still being eased back in after long-term knee injury.

Further forward, many spectators still believe United to be short of a player with the drive and determination of a Roy Keane or Bryan Robson in the centre of midfield, while on the wing, Nani has fallen out of favour and Antonio Valencia has failed to produce anything like his best form for some time now.

Man Utd v the best teams in history (all points totals are three for a win):

Team
Season
Points after 22 games
Sir Alex Ferguson’s Man Utd
2012-13
55
Don Revie’s Leeds United
1973-74
54
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal
2003-04
52
Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest
1977-78
49
Bill Shankly’s Liverpool
1963-64
47
Brian Clough’s Derby
1971-72
40

Injury and sluggish showings have hindered Wayne Rooney’s season this time around, with the striker having scored just eight goals, compared with the seventeen he had this time last year. Fellow England forward Danny Welbeck may have impressed with his work rate and pace against Liverpool on Sunday but he must improve on his solitary United goal so far this term.

In spite of all the frailties, there is
no doubting the integral contribution being performed by Michael Carrick
in midfield and Van Persie, of course, up front – while Tom Cleverley
and Javier Hernandez have also been in sparkling form.

More to come: Rooney (centre) has been far from his best this season

More to come: Rooney (centre) has been far from his best this season

And whatever this United squad may lack in quality, they make up for with their strength of character and determination to win – a trait undoubtedly drilled into the squad by Ferguson. United have beaten Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea away from home and Liverpool and Arsenal at Old Trafford – edging all five games by the odd goal – demonstrating their ability to find a way to win a match.

United’s intensity will surely have been heightened after the heartbreak of losing the title to Manchester City last season – and it is a testament to Ferguson’s management that he is driving this squad to such record-breaking heights.

Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs join forces to shackle spending by Man City and Chelsea

EXCLUSIVE: Revealed… Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs join forces to shackle lavish spending by rivals Man City and Chelsea

PUBLISHED:

07:50 GMT, 14 January 2013

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UPDATED:

08:01 GMT, 14 January 2013

Martin Samuel on the attempted coup…

Fair play To the gang of four that means a ban on dreamers like Jack Walker – click HERE for our Chief Sports Writer's column

A breakaway group of elite clubs are attempting to curb the spending power of Manchester City and Chelsea.

A letter, signed by Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal and published on Arsenal-headed notepaper, was circulated at a Premier League meeting before Christmas.

Addressed to Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chief executive, it called for UEFA’s financial fair play controls to be implemented strictly — a step on from the regulations currently under consideration.

Moneybags: Man City have splashed the cash in their bid for Premier League domination

Moneybags: Man City have splashed the cash in their bid for Premier League domination

Rolling in it: Chelsea have spent hundreds of millions under Roman Abramovich

Rolling in it: Chelsea have spent hundreds of millions under Roman Abramovich

In a clear attack on high-spending owners such as Roman Abramovich at Chelsea and Manchester City’s Sheik Mansour, the letter reads: 'Thank you for your continued work on the vital subject of Financial Regulation for the Premier League.

'However, we do not feel that the latest proposals go far enough to curb the inflationary spending which is putting so much pressure on clubs across the entire League.

'We continue to believe that to be successful and have the best chance of gaining at least the 14 votes necessary, any proposals for Financial Regulation must include meaningful measures to restrict the owner funding of operating losses.

FFP plans: The letter with the Arsenal header which says the proposed regulations do not go far enough

FFP plans: The letter with the Arsenal header which says the proposed regulations do not go far enough

Part two of the letter

'The owners, controlling shareholders and chief executives of Arsenal Football Club, Liverpool Football Club, Manchester United Football Club, and Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, continue to believe that the best way of achieving this will be a strict adoption of the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules.

'We already have seven clubs each season who are competing in Europe under these rules and, by proposing below some amendments to phase in FFP measures and make concessions to future new owners and promoted clubs, we believe there is a strong chance of achieving the necessary consensus.

'In summary, we would together make the following proposal:

Clubs will agree to break even over a rolling three-year period;Break even result to be calculated strictly in accordance with UEFA FFP rules.'

The letter was followed up by a 10-minute speech from Manchester United chief executive David Gill, who advocated handing over control of the new regulations directly to UEFA — a move that would as good as make UEFA president Michel Platini the head of English club football.

League Two review: Hughes scores on debut as Port Vale come out on top

League Two round-up: Hughes scores on debut as Port Vale come out on top

PUBLISHED:

19:06 GMT, 12 January 2013

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UPDATED:

20:03 GMT, 12 January 2013

Port Vale moved above opponents
Gillingham to the summit of npower League Two with a 2-1 win in the
top-of-the-table clash at Priestfield.

All three goals came in the first 21
minutes, with Tom Pope and Lee Hughes putting the visitors 2-0 ahead
before Danny Kedwell (21) pulled one back.

Hot shot: Port Vale's Lee Hughes (right) celebrates after scoring his side's second goal

Hot shot: Port Vale's Lee Hughes (right) celebrates after scoring his side's second goal

Exeter moved up to third with a 3-0 win at home to Southend, with John O'Flynn scoring either side of Scot Bennett's effort.

Rotherham are down to fourth after a surprise 2-0 home loss at the hands of Barnet, who scored through Jake Hyde and substitute Andrew Yiadom, while Cheltenham slip to fifth after being held 1-1 at home to York.

Shaun Harrad (67) put Cheltenham in front, but Jason Walker equalised six minutes from time.

Burton Albion are up to sixth courtesy of a 2-1 win over Torquay, who had taken the lead through Ryan Jarvis just before the interval. Calvin Zola (59) and Matthew Paterson (84) turned things around for the home side.

Bottom side Bristol Rovers enjoyed only their second away win of the season, hammering Fleetwood Town 3-0 thanks to goals from Danny Woodards, Eliot Richards and John-Joe O'Toole.

They are now just one point behind AFC Wimbledon, who were held 2-2 at home by Wycombe.

Paul McCallum scored twice after Jo Kuffour had given Wycombe an early lead, but the visitors claimed a point through substitute Matt McClure 18 minutes from time.

Plymouth moved above AFC Wimbledon thanks to a 2-1 home win over Morecambe, who could only manage an 80th-minute consolation from Ryan Williams after Conor Hourihane (10) and Paris Cowan-Hall (16) had put the Pilgrims in charge.

Elsewhere, Troy Brown and Daniel Lopez gave Aldershot a 2-0 win over Accrington Stanley, while Chesterfield eased past Northampton 3-0 thanks to a goal from James O'Shea and a Marc Richards double inside the first 25 minutes.

Peter Leven scored a 90th-minute penalty winner for Oxford at Bradford, who had seen Nahki Wells' early opener cancelled out by Sean Rigg (18).

And there was also a last-minute winner at Dagenham and Redbridge, where Medy Elito grabbed the winner for the home side in a 2-1 success over Rochdale. Andrew Tutte opened the scoring for the visitors on 72 minutes, but Abu Ogogo equalised just three minutes later.

Full steam ahead for Arsenal after extra Xmas break – Michael Walker"s Something for the Weekend

Something for the Weekend: Full steam ahead for Arsenal after extra break at Christmas and why Coventry and Bristol Rovers are proving to be such a sell out

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UPDATED:

09:27 GMT, 28 December 2012

Every Friday, Michael Walker will pick out 10 things to look forward to over the footballing weekend.

This week: why Arsenal have an advantage ahead of their game against Newcastle, while former Wolves manager Mick McCarthy returns to Molineux intent on piling more pressure on his former club. And then there's the great Coventry City ticket rush…

1. When Herbert Chapman was manager of Arsenal he famously persuaded London Underground to change the name of the local Tube station from Gillespie Road to ‘Arsenal’. This seems relevant given that Arsenal have a Tube-related benefit again tomorrow against Newcastle United.

The postponement of Arsenal’s game against West Ham on Wednesday due to the Tube strike means that Arsene Wenger’s players have had seven days since they played at Wigan.

/12/28/article-2253898-00124D4400000258-402_634x435.jpg” width=”634″ height=”435″ alt=”Herbert Chapman was successful in changing the name of the local tube station to 'Arsenal' in his time as manager in the 20's and 30's” class=”blkBorder” />

Herbert Chapman was successful in changing the name of the local tube station to 'Arsenal' in his time as manager in the 20's and 30's

Arsenal station will be open for business, while Newcastle will be hoping to avoid going down the tubes

Arsenal station will be open for business, while Newcastle will be hoping to avoid going down the tubes

2. Everton-Chelsea on Sunday is the stand-out Premier League game of the weekend. Rafa goes back to Liverpool and should get a hearty welcome at Goodison Park.

Benitez will see familiar sights, such as the corridor where a Chelsea predecessor, Carlo Ancelotti, was sacked.

3. Mick McCarthy is another returning manager. He goes back to Molineux tomorrow as Ipswich Town boss and will pile pressure on his Wolverhampton successor Stale Solbakken with an away win.

Wolves lost 3-0 at home to Peterborough United on Wednesday. McCarthy got the club promoted to the Premier League and kept them there for three seasons. Wolves are now 14th in the Championship.

Mick McCarthy celebrates with Stephen Ward after Wolves beat Blackburn in May 2011

Mick McCarthy celebrates with Stephen Ward after Wolves beat Blackburn in May 2011

4. Kenny Jackett once managed Swansea. That is enough to ensure he will get 'a reception' when he takes Millwall to Cardiff tomorrow afternoon.

One imagines that will be the least of South Wales police concerns.

5. Home banker alert: in League One it is Sheffield United (top) against Hartlepool United (bottom).

The Blades have scored 21 goals in 12 home games; Hartlepool have conceded 24 goals in 12 away games. The Blades haven’t lost at home; Hartlepool haven’t won away.

Sheffield United Manager, Danny Wilson looks on

Top job: Danny Wilson has taken the Blades to the League One summit after three victories in their last four league games

6. Home banker warning: the biggest surprise (Sean O’Driscoll apart) from midweek came in League Two where Barnet won 1-0 at leaders Gillingham.

Barnet have now won consecutive matches and go to Exeter tomorrow.

7. Barnet’s new six points means they are no longer 92nd of 92. Bristol Rovers have that dubious
honour. They also have very good fans. It falls into the fairly staggering category that for
tomorrow’s trip to Cheltenham, Bristol Rovers were given 1,419 and have sold every one of them.

Edgar Davids in training at Barnet and they are now off the bottom of the league

Edgar Davids in training at Barnet and they are now off the bottom of the league

8. Coventry City are another to have sold out their allocation of tickets for tomorrow, which again is
fairly staggering.

The initial 3,000 tickets for the match at MK Dons went and 2,000 more are on sale now. City are expected to make an announcement about their residence at the Ricoh Arena today (Friday).

9. Sunday’s other Premier League game is QPR-Liverpool. It is over eight years since Djibril Cisse cost 14m when he moved to Anfield.

His transfer was not considered a success, particularly when he went from September 25th to May 15th in his first season without scoring.

But Cisse made the bench in Istanbul, then came off it, then scored Liverpool’s second penalty in the shoot-out.

Cisse scores from the spot as Liverpool win the European Cup in 2005

Cisse scores from the spot as Liverpool win the European Cup in 2005

Cisse shows off his medal and now he will be hoping to shoot down Liverpool

Cisse shows off his medal and now he will be hoping to shoot down Liverpool

10. Rangers, the Glasgow version, have occasions as much as matches this season. Today sees them back at Hampden Park, where once they would visit annually to battle for silverware.

Today it’s a Scottish Third Division fixture against Queen’s Park. Rangers are expected to take 30,000 fans across Glasgow to the scene of the summer vote expelling them from the SPL.

2012 football review: people of the months – Michael Walker

From the return of the King to the magic of Messi… the people of the months of 2012

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UPDATED:

23:08 GMT, 23 December 2012

As a dramatic and memorable 2012 draws to a close, Michael Walker looks back on a year on the footballing road, naming his people of the month from January through to December…

January: Thierry Henry

They will not forget 9/1/12 in north London. It was the night King Henry came back to Arsenal, hopped off the bench and scored the only goal in an FA Cup third-round tie against Leeds. They were crying out for a special occasion at the stadium. Henry walked past his statue outside the ground and delivered.

Return of the King: Henry celebrates netting the winner against Leeds

Return of the King: Henry celebrates netting the winner against Leeds

February: Eddie Howe

In his Burnley office, one of England's brightest young managers discussed the fact that the Premier League had just three English managers while, in the Championship, there were 17. 'Strange', was Howe's assessment. Adkins and Allardyce have since upped the numbers. Howe's back at Bournemouth.

March: Pete Williams

On a bitter Tuesday night in Burslem, Pete Williams was outside Port Vale's grand old ground with a bucket. It is people like Williams – supporters – who keep clubs going. Vale's future was in doubt in March. They had entered administration and been docked 10 points. Thanks to fans such as Williams, Vale are going again, second in League Two.

April: Brian McDermott

It was easier being Reading's manager in April. The club had just returned to the Premier League by winning 14 of 16 league games from the end of January. The previous May's play-off final defeat could be forgotten and McDermott spoke of his 'lovely club'. Along the way, he turned down Wolves. Some people may choose to forget that.

Man of the hour: McDermott is hoisted aloft by his players after securing the Championship title

Man of the hour: McDermott is hoisted aloft by his players after securing the Championship title

May: Harry Gregg

48 hours after Manchester United had the title snatched out of their hands by Sergio Aguero, Sir Alex Ferguson took his players to Belfast to honour Harry Gregg. Sometimes the build-up to testimonials is more meaningful than the game and, in the programme, Ferguson recalled hearing of the 1958 Munich crash and wrote: 'Harry, for this 16-yearold from Govan, you were and remain my hero.'

June: Vicente Del Bosque

Remember when Spain were boring In northern Poland, Del Bosque was flabbergasted at the lack of understanding of his team's style, and the non-stop chatter. He was visibly bemused: Spain were about to become the first country in history to win three major tournaments in a row. Del Bosque reminisced to a time when there was less noise inside and outside the game, to a time when 'dressing rooms were utterly still, like inside a cathedral'.

Champions of Europe: Del Bosque's side parade through the streets of Madrid

Champions of Europe: Del Bosque's side parade through the streets of Madrid

July: Stewart Regan

Thunderous July rain in Glasgow accompanied an apocalyptic vision. Regan, the SFA chief executive, reacted to Rangers' shock exclusion from the SPL by inviting reporters upstairs at Hampden Park to warn of 'Armageddon' and 'the game withering on the vine' if Rangers were forced to re-start below Scottish Division One. A month later, Rangers drew 2- 2 at Peterhead in Division Three.

August: Rob Green

He didn't look happy and you could understand why. After six years at West Ham, Green joined QPR. His debut was a 5-0 home defeat by Swansea. Yet, 10 days later, against Walsall in the League Cup, it got worse. QPR won 3-0, but up in the stands was Julio Cesar. QPR were making a statement. Green, given no explanation, was left to read between its lines. Shoddy.

Shunned: Green was harshly treated by QPR

Shunned: Green was harshly treated by QPR

September: Margaret Aspinall

The report from the Hillsborough Independent Panel was a release of sorts for the Family Support Group. Football responded, notably Everton on the night they hosted Newcastle. They played the Hollies' He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother. Margaret recalled that her son James, 18, killed at Hillsborough, had bought the record for her.

October: Georgios Samaras

Unlikely, unfashionable but unflagging, Samaras had a year to remember. He was relentless for Greece at Euro 2012 and, for Celtic, he has been decisive in Europe. It was his deflected header in October that gave them a lead in Barcelona. They lost to a late goal, but we all know what happened when Barca came to Celtic Park two weeks later.

Unlikely hero: Samaras (right) heads home in Barcelona

Unlikely hero: Samaras (right) heads home in Barcelona

November: Chib Chilaka

For a while, it seemed like the most memorable feature of Torquay v Harrogate in the FA Cup first round proper would be the view from Plainmoor. Then, beaming Chilaka popped up for Harrogate to produce a trademark upset. Afterwards, he spoke like an ambassador for the part-time game. It was a classic FA Cup day.

December: Lionel Messi

We are fortunate to be witnessing greatness. Some can moan about the calendar year goal-tally, but not over Messi's talent. He has joined the list of the true greats at 25. Without him, Barcelona would be a very good team; with him, they are as good a side as has been seen. A prediction for 2013, or more like a guess: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea (again) and Arsenal will have new managers in place by August. For United, that would mean the end of the Ferguson era. It is difficult to behold, but if another title or European Cup comes, it would be an appropriately successful way for Ferguson to go. But it is an if.

The world's greatest: Messi celebrates yet another goal for Barcelona

The world's greatest: Messi celebrates yet another goal for Barcelona

Manchester United look for revenge on Sunderland and Barcelona v Atletico Madrid Messi v Falcao

Something for the weekend: United are out for revenge on the laughing Black Cats and Messi squares off against Falcao

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UPDATED:

22:44 GMT, 13 December 2012

Every Friday, Michael Walker will pick out 10 things to look forward to over the footballing weekend.

This week, he explains why Manchester United want revenge over Sunderland for that day in May when City won the title and looks ahead to first v second in La Liga on Sunday night Barcelona v Atletico Madrid and Lionel Messi v Radamel Falcao.

1. The weekend begins tonight, in Bavaria. One of the great club rivalries continues when Bayern Munich host Borussia Monchengladbach. Bayern will be expected to extend their lead at the top of the Bundesliga.

It was not always this way. In the nine seasons between 1968-69 and 1976-77, the Bundesliga was won five times by Monchengladbach and four times by Bayern, who also won three consecutive European Cups in that period. Gerd Muller has had renewed interest due to Lionel Messi, so this is maybe an opportunity to review footage of Monchengladbach’s Gunter Netzer while pretending to be at work.

Rampant: Bayern Munich are 11 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga

Rampant: Bayern Munich are 11 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga

2. Quiz question: get a pen and paper and write down Clive Allen’s club career path. No wikipedia
allowed.

Allen signed for 10 clubs in his 17-year career – QPR twice. To make it easier, name the clubs Allen
signed for after he left Tottenham Hotspur in 1989. There are six in total.

* Answers at bottom

3. There is already a degree of anticipation about Luis Suarez’s return to Liverpool’s Premier League
colours tomorrow against Aston Villa at Anfield, as if Suarez had been out for some extended period.
It was one match, which Liverpool won at West Ham.

In the corresponding Villa fixture last season Suarez scored the equaliser in a 1-1 draw. It came
late and only after manager Kenny Dalglish had introduced attacking substitutes, Craig Bellamy and
Andy Carroll. Dalglish, Bellamy, Carroll: feels like a different era. It was April.

Liverpool won 3-2 at West Ham on Sunday without their leading scorer Suarez

Liverpool won 3-2 at West Ham on Sunday without their leading scorer Suarez

4. St. James’ Park stages a hell of a game tomorrow. Exeter City host Plymouth Argyle in a Devon derby.

Exeter are seventh in League Two and 37 year-old striker Jamie Cureton has scored 15 goals already this season. Plymouth are 20th, just five points off bottom club Barnet and last Saturday’s win over York was their first in ten matches. It’s a noon kick-off.

5. At the other St. James’ Park, another early kick-off. Manchester City return to the scene of their
enormous victory in May on Tyneside. In their penultimate match of the season, their last away-day,
Yaya Toure scored twice in the last 20 minutes to ground the high-flying Magpies.

City won their last six Premier League games last season. After last Sunday, and the Tuesday
preceding it in Dortmund, City need to go on a comparable run again. They need Yaya motoring.

6. The memories of the final day of last season are not just strong at City, it’s the same at United.
Sir Alex Ferguson, his players and the United fanbase have not forgotten the Sunderland fans’
laughing reaction when news came through of Sergio Aguero’s injury-time title-winner. You should
have seen Paddy Crerand that day. Ferguson’s teamtalk will presumably ‘touch’ upon this.

Sunderland have not won at Old Trafford since May 1968 when Colin Suggett and George Mulhall scored in a 2-1 win. George Best scored a nonchalant 20-yard volley for United. God bless you, George.

Leaders: United won an explosive Manchester derby on Sunday to move six points clear at the top of the Premier League

Leaders: United won an explosive Manchester derby on Sunday to move six points clear at the top of the Premier League

7. Bradford City are the team of the week after knocking Arsenal out of the League Cup on penalties on Tuesday night. Tomorrow Bradford are at Southend United, who received rather fewer column inches even though they also knocked out superior opposition in a Cup on penalties, also on Tuesday night. Southend beat League One Bury at Roots Hall in the FA Cup.

And Southend’s prize in the Third Round They are at home to the winners of next Tuesday’s replay
between Brentford and – Bradford City (re-instated).

8. There are eight clubs in the Championship beginning with the letter ‘B’. Seven of them are home
tomorrow. Only Blackburn are away. At Blackpool. Or fracking Blackpool as Henning Berg may know it
at around five o’clock. (Blackburn: one win in eight).

Struggling: Blackburn have won only one of their eight games under Henning Berg

Struggling: Blackburn have won only one of their eight games under Henning Berg

9. It’s attempt No. 17 for QPR in the league, a west London derby v Fulham. There is a bad omen in that this is a reminder that Fulham beat QPR 6-0 at Craven Cottage last season, and 1-0 at Loftus Road.

The good news is that Fulham’s scorers in those two matches were: Andy Johnson (now at QPR) Danny Murphy, (now at Blackburn) Clint Dempsey (now at Spurs) Bobby Zamora (now at QPR) and Pavel Pogrebnyak (now at Reading).

10. The weekend finishes on Sunday night with a potential belter from Spain. It’s Barcelona v Atletico Madrid, it’s first v second in La Liga, it’s Messi v Falcao. Messi, we sort of know about. At 26, we know less about Radamel Falcao but an unmissable fact is that he has played 15 times for Atletico Madrid this season and scored 19 goals. In his last game Falcao scored 5 in the 6-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi reacts during the Spanish King's Cup soccer match against Cordoba

Atletico de Madrid's Radamel Falcao from Colombia scores his goal

It's raining goals! Messi and Falcao have both been scoring at will this season

*QUIZ ANSWERS: Bordeaux, Manchester City, Chelsea, West Ham United, Millwall and Carlisle United.

Is Rafael Benitez turning Chelsea tide? – Michael Walker

Michael Walker: Whisper it quietly, but is Rafa turning the tide at Chelsea

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UPDATED:

22:30 GMT, 9 December 2012

When it comes to Chelsea, there must be caution in trying to predict a period of time as long as the next five months.

But if Roman Abramovich can still that trigger-finger until April, it might just be that he has title contenders towards the end of it.

There must also be caution when assessing a victory at Sunderland, who slid into the relegation zone, but Chelsea got a lot right on Wearside.

Looking up: Rafael Benitez has won two games in the last week

Looking up: Rafael Benitez has won two games in the last week

Rafa Benitez got the first Barclays Premier League win of his reign. Fernando Torres scored his first league goals for two months. Oscar was excellent, the movement was fast and fluent. The claim that the title is a Mancunian two-horse race seemed premature.

Step back from the soap opera that Chelsea have become and assess what they possess: a superb, deep squad with hugely talented attackers, fine midfielders, experienced defenders and a leader of a goalkeeper in Petr Cech.

They have Frank Lampard coming back and John Terry soon to join him. They have signings lined up for January, perhaps more than we know. And they have a manager in Benitez, liked or not, who has proved that he can organise and motivate.

Yet Abramovich’s hire ’em, fire ’em methods have shot holes in the team’s reputation, because they are being marketed as also-rans, when they are not. True, they began the game 10 points behind Manchester United, but only 40 per cent of the season has gone. It is too soon to be calling such gaps insurmountable and Benitez is not convinced by the two-horse theory.

‘You have to remember last year that in January everyone was saying that Manchester City would win the title easily,’ he said. ‘And yet at the end on the last day they could have lost it and had to score in the last minute to win it.’

‘If we play at this level and at this intensity we will win games in a row and hopefully we will be there.’

On song: Fernando Torres has scored four goals in two games

On song: Fernando Torres has scored four goals in two games

CHANGING TORRES

Rafa Benitez arrived at Chelsea with the task of rejuvenating a beleaguered Fernando Torres on his to-do list. And with two goals at Sunderland — Torres’s first Premier League goals in 750 minutes of football — it seems the Rafa revival has begun…

4 – Since Benitez arrived, Torres has scored four goals in five games. He had seven in 20 before.

112.5 – The Spaniard’s minutes-per-goal ratio under Rafa, bettering his previous figure of 274.4.

80% – Torres’S shooting accuracy is up to 80 per cent since Benitez joined . . . 17 per cent higher than before in domestic and European matches.

22.5 – With Rafa, Torres shoots every 22.5 minutes, an improvement on his previous rate of 50.8 minutes per shot.

0 – Torres had not taken a penalty in English football before Saturday. But as Michael Walker pointed out in Saturday’s Sportsmail, he had form at Sunderland and scored three pens for Spain in the Under 16 European Championship in 2001.

0.7 – Torres’S goals-per-game ratio for Benitez. Under Roberto Di Matteo it was 0.4 and with Carlo Ancelotti just 0.1.

109.5 – In 83 games with Rafa, Torres scores a goal every 109.5 minutes. With Carlo Every 762.

A run of league games is just what Chelsea do not have, however. The club flew from North East to Far East for the Club World Cup. Chelsea’s first game is on Thursday. Their next Premier League game is Aston Villa at home on Sunday week. They could be parading a trophy.

It is unlikely that will appease all supporters, though. All afternoon at the Stadium of Light, the 3,000 away fans sang: ‘We don’t care about Rafa, he don’t care about us,’ and when that was put to Benitez, he replied: ‘I care about the team, I care about the club and everyone here, and I want to win. I will try to do my best from day one to the last day.’

On his personal website on Sunday, there was an ‘open letter’ in which Benitez thanked those who have sent ‘messages, emails, letters’. He is trying.

This display will do no harm.
Metaphorically and literally, Chelsea were flying. Effectively the
formation was 4-2-4 and Eden Hazard should have had a penalty before
Torres stabbed home an 11th-minute volley.

If
Point One of Benitez’s remit was to get more from Torres, he has begun.
It was not so much the finish, slick as it was, it was the fact that
Torres rolled Carlos Cuellar on the halfway line before making the
ground up to score from six yards.

The difference there was a 50million striker and a free-transfer centre half.

Sunderland
fought against their status, and Danny Rose (on loan) was impressive.
Adam Johnson had a very good game against Ashley Cole.

Big gun: 50m worth of striker is starting to function

Big gun: 50m worth of striker is starting to function

Johnson scored a cracking goal on 66
minutes but Sunderland had been undermined by defensive mistakes by Seb
Larsson and Phil Bardsley (both substituted).

But if Martin O’Neill’s side play like
this on Tuesday night at home to Reading, they should leap out of the
bottom three. They kept Cech busy.

The first error, by Larsson, enabled
Torres to score from the penalty spot to make it 2-0 — his first senior
penalty in England remarkably — and when Torres hit a post just after
half-time, Juan Mata followed up.

If
there was a quibble, it is that Chelsea are like two five-a-side teams
in one XI. Like every Chelsea manager, Benitez needs glue.

Fernando Torres should score for Chelsea: Michael Walker Something for the Weekend

Something for the weekend: Why struggling Torres should be spot on at Sunderland

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UPDATED:

12:11 GMT, 7 December 2012

Every Friday, Michael Walker will pick out 10 things to look forward to over the footballing weekend.

This week, he explains why it is written in the stars that Fernando Torres will score his first Premier League goal in two months, while casting his eye over the struggling clubs in the Football League.

1. Friday night, Ewood Park, the weekend starts here. How do
Blackburn Rovers fans feel now about their club Steve Kean is gone, Henning
Berg is in and Rovers have one win in their last seven games – at Peterborough.

They have lost the last two at home. Championship leaders Cardiff City are the
visitors. They too have foreign ownership issues, on the subject of which
Cardiff manager Malky Mackay said: 'It's the way it is, the way it's going and
it's how you manage that.'

Plenty to ponder: Henning Berg has made a stuttering start as Blackburn Rovers manager

Plenty to ponder: Henning Berg has made a stuttering start as Blackburn Rovers manager

2. Giving hope to Championship clubs, and South Wales, is
that two years ago Swansea City-Norwich was a Championship game. Tomorrow it’s
mid-table Premier League, prosperous and confident. Two years ago Fabio Borini
opened the scoring for Swansea. Whatever happened to him

3. Giving hope to East Anglia is Mick McCarthy. Ipswich Town
host Millwall tomorrow. McCarthy became player-manager at Millwall in season
1991-92. It takes a good memory (or a book) to recall that Mark Falco scored
four goals for Millwall that season.

4. Crystal Palace v Blackpool. Can’t imagine Ian Holloway
will be worked up for that one.

Raring to go: Ian Holloway (left) welcomes his former club Blackpool to Selhurst Park tomorrow

Raring to go: Ian Holloway (left) welcomes his former club Blackpool to Selhurst Park tomorrow

5. At the 16th attempt QPR seek a first league win of the
season, at Wigan. Just to revisit Celtic’s economics, QPR spent 6.8m on
agents’ fees in the latest figures while Celtic’s annual TV income is around
2m.

6. At least Hartlepool United can say they have won one
league game. The problem has been the other 19. Hartlepool rose as high as third place in League One last
season and began dreaming of the Championship. Now they are rock-bottom with a
new manager, John Hughes, and declining attendances. But they got their first point for over a month last week
at Walsall. Maybe they’ve bottomed out.

Full house: Rangers have continued to attract big crowds despite being relegated to the Third Division

Full house: Rangers have continued to attract big crowds despite being relegated to the Third Division

7. The biggest domestic crowd of the weekend will be at
Arsenal, who seem to get 60,000 regardless of how many turn up. Bonkers as it
sounds on the weekend of the Manchester derby, the second biggest might be in
the Scottish Third Division, where Rangers play Stirling Albion and are
celebrating the 140th anniversary of the Ibrox club. There’ll be more flags
than a Belfast riot.

8. Fernando Torres has not scored in the league since
October 6th but Chelsea are at Sunderland tomorrow and Torres has reason to smile when he thinks of
the Stadium of Light. It was there that Torres first aroused English interest eleven years ago.
It was in the final of the Under-16 European Championships and Spain defeated France. Torres got the
only goal in front of 31,000. It was a penalty.

Where it all began: Fernando Torres scored for Spain Under 16s at the Stadium of Light

Where it all began: Fernando Torres scored for Spain Under 16s at the Stadium of Light

He scored the only goal in Spain’s 1-1 draw with
Italy in the quarter-final too. It was a penalty, also at the Stadium of Light. There was a
shoot-out. Spain won 4-3 and you’ll be able to guess who scored the winning penalty in it. So if there’s
a Chelsea penalty tomorrow, Juan Mata’ll probably take it.

9. Bets: Chelsea are 16/1 to win the Premier League with
Ladbrokes, which is a dramatic price, though Arsenal are 100/1 in most places, which is even more
striking given it’s early December.

Rather more enticing are Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday. Leverkusen have
won their last four in the Bundesliga to sneak quietly into second place – above heralded
Dortmund.

In form: Leverkusen look a good bet to beat struggling Hannover on Sunday

In form: Leverkusen look a good bet to beat struggling Hannover on Sunday

Leverkusen go to Hannover on Sunday. Hannover have one win in their last four and that was at
home to bottom club Greuther Furth. Leverkusen, jointly managed by Sami Hyypia, are 6/4 and
7/5 against, which could be generous.

10.There will be black armbands worn in the Netherlands’
Eredivisie games today and tomorrow. Richard Nieuwenhuizen was the Dutch linesman beaten to death last
weekend. He was 41 and this time last week he will have been thinking about running the line at a
boys’ game.

Dan Walker primed to replace Gary Lineker as Match of the Day presenter

Rising star Walker handed Match of the Day presenting role

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UPDATED:

13:16 GMT, 5 December 2012

Rising star: BBC presenter Dan Walker

Rising star: Dan Walker

One of the BBC's rising stars has moved in to pole position as a future Match of the Day presenter after being handed the job on a one-off basis later this month.

The future of the MOTD line-up has been the subject of much debate this season with some observers commenting that the format of the BBC's flagship highlights show is beginning to look a little jaded.

Now it has emerged that Football Focus presenter Dan Walker will sit in for regular host Gary Lineker a week on Saturday when the former England striker is absent for personal reasons.

Walker, aged 35, is highly-rated at the BBC, having come through the ranks on local TV before moving on to national prime-time slots a few years ago.

Having previously worked at the Olympics, Wimbledon, The Open, Ascot and the last World Cup, the Crawley Town fan is seen as one of the corporation's mainstays of the future and has been presenting Football Focus since 2009.

But Walker will not anchor the MOTD 2 highlights programme as the devout Christian refuses to work on a Sunday.

Popular: Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker

Popular: Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker

There is no suggestion that there is any threat to Lineker's position.

Lineker, who has been linked with BT's new sports channel after they paid 738m to screen 38 Premier League matches from 2013, remains highly thought-of by the BBC and most public discussion recently has been about the quality of the guest pundits.

England debate: Youngsters bound for World Cup 2014

On the road to Rio: Who can lead England's next generation to the World Cup

PUBLISHED:

10:27 GMT, 14 November 2012

|

UPDATED:

10:27 GMT, 14 November 2012

Roy Hodgson has called up a raft of youngsters for tonight's friendly against Sweden as he looks to build a squad ahead of the next World Cup.

Here, Sportsmail looks at which players might break through in the next 12 months and who should make the starting XI in Brazil.

Do you think someone else can make the grade Join the debate by leaving a comment below.

MATT BARLOW

Steven Caulker

His star rises at a time when England is searching for fresh central defensive talent. Will make is debut in Stockholm and if he can transfer the authority he has shown at Spurs against Zlatan and Co he will prove difficult to shift.

TEAM: Hart – Johnson Caulker Cahill Baines – Gerrard Wilshere – Milner Rooney Oxlade-Chamberlain – Welbeck

One to watch: Steven Caulker (right) is in line for his England debut

One to watch: Steven Caulker (right) is in line for his England debut

DOMINIC KING

Steven Caulker

There is a changing of the guard at the heart of England’s defence and it would not surprise if Caulker blossomed to become a first choice. His displays for the Under-21s have been consistently outstanding, he has all the tools to succeed and, significantly, he is playing regularly.

TEAM: Hart: Glen Johnson; Cahill, Jagielka, Leighton Baines: Gerrard, Wilshere: Walcott, Rooney, Zaha: Welbeck.

COLIN YOUNG

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

He needs games and starts for Arsenal before he is ready to embark on the next step in his career but he looks perfect for international football and a different type of player to trouble defences in the World Cup Finals of 2014.

TEAM: Hart, Walker, Jagielka, Lescott, Baines, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshire, Gerrard, Cleverley, Young, Rooney.

Young Gun: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as established himself at Arsenal

Young Gun: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as established himself at Arsenal

JOHN EDWARDS

Kieran Gibbs

The route from North London to Manchester has become a familiar one for Arsenal players in recent times, much to the chagrin of supporters. There were few complaints, though, when Gael Clichy was allowed to join Manchester City last year, not least because many believed they had an even better left-back, potentially at least, in Kieran Gibbs. Watch him ease Ashley Cole out before the World Cup finals.

TEAM: Hart; Walker, Cahill, Jones, Gibbs; Zaha, Gerrard, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Rooney; Welbeck

Heir to the throne: Kieran Gibbs is waiting in the wings to take over from Ashley Cole

Heir to the throne: Kieran Gibbs is waiting in the wings to take over from Ashley Cole

SAMI MOKBEL

Nathaniel Clyne

Excellent forward-thinking right-back. Has shone in a struggling Saints side this season. Brilliant in one-on-one situations and has the pace to deal with quick wingers. Modern day full-back who has a terrific engine. A product of Crystal Palace’s impressive academy, Clyne is an England regular in the making.

TEAM: Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jones, Cole; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere, Cleverley, Gerrard, Sterling; Rooney

Shining light: Nathaniel Clyne (left) has impressed in a poor Southampton side

Shining light: Nathaniel Clyne (left) has impressed in a poor Southampton side

LAURA WILLIAMSON

Steven Caulker

The 20-year-old is getting games at Spurs, while England no longer have the established, experienced centre-halves of the Ferdinand-Terry era.

TEAM: Hart; Walker, Jagielka, Cahill, Cole; Young, Wilshere, Gerrard, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Carroll, Rooney.

NEIL MOXLEY

Thomas Ince

I keep hearing that Thomas Ince has what it takes to be a hit in the Premier League. All right, he didn’t perform well for Blackpool at Derby a few weeks ago but it seems other than that he has been more hit than miss this season. If he can achieve a level of consistency, I expect him to star in the top-flight and follow in his father’s footsteps inside the next 12 months.

TEAM: (4-2-3-1) Hart, Johnson, Cahill, Caulker, Cole; Gerrard, Parker; Walcott, Wilshere, Ince; Rooney.

For the future: Thomas Ince (right) played for the Under 21 side on Tuesday

For the future: Thomas Ince (right) played for the Under 21 side on Tuesday