With the New Year now upon us, I caught up with the Daily Mirror's Chief Football Writer Martin Lipton to discuss the title race, United's season so far, the transfer window, Suarez/Evra and much more.
|Martin is a regular on Sky's Sunday Supplement|
Martin Lipton: The race is tighter than I expected it to be, after a month of surprising results, starting with City's defeat at Chelsea. Still only two possible winners in my mind, as I thought at the start of the season, with four more in the running for third and fourth. Like Eric Morecambe, I'm playing all the right notes. Just not necessarily in the right order! But think it will go down to the side who is most consistent when the heat is on. Squad depth and injuries will be key, too.
WO: The surprise package to a certain extent have been Spurs, how impressed have you been with their first half of the season and do you feel they can sustain a challenge?
ML: Come on, it's Tottenham! They have played superbly well and this is, without doubt, the best Spurs squad I have known. There is an argument that is you kept the players and just changed the manager, THFC with Fergie in charge would be favourites to win the title. I wouldn't go as far as that but think they are the third-best side. Whether they will finish third is another question altogether. The natural pessimist in me doubts that.
WO: How would you sum up Manchester United's first half of the season? Which players have impressed you and who would you have expected more of?
ML: Great start, ordinary middle, terrific end - until the final page. Too many poor displays which have been punished heavily and attitude towards Champions League group phase was flawed. United were outstanding in the initial weeks although the defensive lapses were there even in the matches, like Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea, they won. Chelsea did not deserve to lose 3-1 and had Torres scored the sitter they might even have got a point. The sheer scale of the injury problems, though, makes any analysis of United hard because we haven't really seen the first team. Loss of Cleverley a definite blow but Vidic and Ferdinand problems, coupled with Fletcher illness, more severe.
WO: How do you feel the new signings (Jones, De Gea and Young) have settled in?
ML: Jones has been terrific, wherever he plays. He will be England and United captain before too long. But Young has faded after a bright start. he does seem somewhat injury prone, too. As for De Gea, he is making the mistakes a young keeper, thrown into a physical league, is always going to make. Got away with it early on but now being punished. Still agile and impressive as a shot-stopper but needs to learn when to come and when to stay.
WO: The transfer window has opened, do you see United strengthening and if so, in what areas?
ML: Of necessity they must buy. I would get in a centre-half, maybe Samba, even if it's a short-term fix. Think the play-maker they should have got in the summer, when I was convinced they would land Sneijder, is still required. And another midfielder too.
WO: Do you think it will be a quiet January window for most clubs or can you see some panic buying and if so, by who?
ML: January normally depends on one or two clubs getting busy. If that happens, with Chelsea splashing the cash for example, the knock-on effect is felt elsewhere. Chelsea have to decide whether to signal support for AVB - and allow him to start proper squad rebuilding, even though that would effectively kill their Champions League hopes. Liverpool may have to spend big to fill Suarez absence.
WO: How much of a shock was it to see the two Manchester clubs exit the Champions League and will it ultimately greatly assist one or the other in the title race?
ML: Not a shock with City, who were in a tough group including one of the three clubs who can realistically win the thing this season, although it was an embarrassment. But for United to go out of that group, with rubbish Romanians, so-so Swiss and pretty poor Portuguese, was a humiliation, as Fergie has conceded. Not good enough for United. If it will help either of them, it would be City, who can play a shadow side in the Europa League. United, especially if they go out of the FA Cup, will need to field stronger sides and I'm not sure the squad depth is sufficient.
WO: Based on what you have seen in the first half of the season, who would you pick as your Premier League top 4 (in order) and why?
1 Manchester City - best squad, strongest bench, burning desire - and the money to spend this month if needed
2 Manchester United - course and distance winners who will not give up. But injuries have hurt them and this may come to be seen, with benefit of hindsight, as another transition season
3 Chelsea - despite the internal problems and the manager's lack of experience. Torres is showing signs of emerging from his slumber and they are good at finding a rhythm in the second half of the season
4 Tottenham - should be third on quality. But they are Spurs. We all know what's going to happen!
WO: How much damage has the Suarez/Evra affair done to the reputation of Liverpool FC?
ML: Personally feel Liverpool's conduct and behaviour from the start of the case was extraordinary and did nothing for the reputation of a great club. Some of the allegations hurled towards Evra were utterly reprehensible and unbefitting of a club of Liverpool's status. One wonders what John W Henry - remember a big financial supporter of Obama and the Democrats - thinks about the way his club has behaved. Supporting Suarez was understandable, although harder to justify given Comolli/Kuyt statements at the start of the inquiry. The tee-shirts were beyond parody. The attempts to denigrate the FA were - and you might not like this - akin to the accusations made by United and their fans at the time of Rio-gate in 2003. And equally wrong. As were the accusations that the panel were in Fergie's pocket, that it was wrong to release the verdict ahead of the reasons, that the case was delayed too long. Especially given it was Liverpool solicitor who caused the delay and LFC approved panel and agreed that result should be announced at end of hearing. Disgraceful.
WO: What are your hopes and expectations for 2012?
ML: Goal-line technology to be introduced, at last, paving the way for more technology at some stage in the future. Spurs to win the league (all right, that's not going to happen) and England to reach the semis at least in Euro 2012, led by a brilliant Rooney, with Jones, Wilshere, Young and Gerrard proving there are some top players in England.
A big thank you to Martin for taking time out from his busy schedule to answer my questions. Please follow him on Twitter if you are not doing so already.
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