Friday, 17 October 2014

David Moyes disappointed by Manchester United's failure to 'fulfil' his six-year contract

DAVID MOYES has revealed his disappointment with Manchester United for not giving him the opportunity to fulfill his six-year plan.

The former Everton boss put pen to paper on a lucrative contract in July 2013, but was given his marching orders just nine-months into the long-term deal after a series of dismal results.
Despite struggling under Moyes, United's squad was clearly in dire need of rejuvenation - as demonstrated with Louis Van Gaal's £150m splurge this summer. 
This is perhaps the source of Moyes' frustration - perhaps feeling he's been scapegoated for the ailing squad left for him by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Speaking to the BBC, Moyes said: "I got the job and I expected it to be a six-year plan.
"I signed a six-year contract... disappointed it didn't go to plan. I expected to be given an opportunity to fulfil that and it wasn't what was expected.
"It was really difficult when I lost the job initially because I didn't really see it coming, even though I had been losing games.
"I knew that it could be difficult but I joined a club that I felt stood behind their managers, made sure they supported them in difficult times. And, you know, Sir Alex had difficult times when he first took over.
"And I do understand that the landscape has changed a little bit in football, but I think that United always stood for the right things and I expected them to do what was right with me."
Source: Click here

Arsenal v Hull City: match preview

Arsenal continue to be hit by serious injuries as now Mesut Özil faces a long lay off with a knee injury and Laurent Koscielny is sidelined leaving Nacho Monreal to fill in at centre back. Hull will be buoyed by Arsène Wenger’s woes and will want to build on their first home win of the season in their last outing. Wenger will still be confident, though, that his misfiring Gunners’ superior attacking force can secure a much needed victory.

Kick-off Saturday 3pm
Venue Emirates Stadium

Source: Click here
Arsenal v Hull City: probable starters in bold, contenders in light

Everton v Aston Villa match preview

Aston Villa have faltered after an impressive start, suffering three straight defeats, so this could be a chance for Everton to revive their season with a win. But, if statistics are anything to go by, there are plenty of other teams that Roberto Martínez would rather face: last season’s 2-1 win was the first time that Everton have beaten Villa at Goodison Park in the top flight since March 2006.

Kick-off Saturday 3pm
Venue Goodison Park
Source: Click here
Everton v Aston Villa: probable starters in bold, contenders in light

Queens Park Rangers v Liverpool: match preview

While Liverpool will have one eye on their match against Real Madrid on Wednesday, Brendan Rodgers knows that they cannot afford another slip-up in the Premier League after an inconsistent start to the season. Yet Queens Park R,angers rock bottom and in dismal form, should not pose them too many problems. Liverpool have been boosted by Daniel Sturridge’s return from injury, while Raheem Sterling has a point to prove after the nonsense of the past week.

Source: Click here

Queens Park Rangers v Liverpool: probable starters in bold, contenders in light

'Hands off' Ryan Shawcross says Stoke boss Mark Hughes

Stoke boss Mark Hughes has issued a 'hands off' warning over Potters captain Ryan Shawcross amid reports of interest from his former club Manchester United.

There has been talks this week that United, whose youth set-up centre-back Shawcross was part of before he moved to the Britannia Stadium in 2007-08, have been looking at the 27-year-old
"Ryan is very settled here, he is the captain of the club and we have no intention of allowing him to leave.

"He's a big part of what we want to do in the future."
Hughes also said he is keen to keep Peter Crouch, who this week expressed his desire to extend his current deal with the Potters which runs out next summer.
Crouch, 33, who like Shawcross has been left out of the England set-up for some time, has scored three goals so far this term.
When asked about the tall striker, Hughes said: "We spoke briefly. I think Peter is one of those players who is quite unique in what he offers, so you can see the attraction that other clubs maybe have in terms of bringing him to them.
as a potential January transfer window signing.
But at Friday's press conference to preview Sunday's home Premier League clash with Swansea, Hughes said: "I'm not sure where that originated from - I think somebody told me it might have come from America at some point.
"There's been no contact and I don't expect there to be any, and we wouldn't encourage any contact anyway.
Source: Click here

Aston Villa midfielder Fabian Delph faces two months out after suffering dislocated shoulder

The 24-year-old is expected to be ruled out for two months after falling awkwardly during a training session on Tuesday and is not likely to be back in action until the Christmas period.
Delph had enjoyed an impressive rise to the international stage after cementing a place in the heart of the Villa midfield, starting England's 1-0 victory over Estonia in Tallinn on Sunday.
He will now miss England's European Qualifier against Slovenia next month and the friendly against Scotland which follows that match.
Villa manager Paul Lambert revealed details of Delph's injury on Thursday, but did not know at the time whether or not he would require surgery.
Lambert said: "It was an awkward fall. No-one was near him. He fell on his shoulder. It is not always straightforward so we need to go and get it checked out."
Source: Click here

Football transfer rumours: Ryan Shawcross to Manchester United?

Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger is preparing to embark on one of his quinquennial searches for a centre-back. It’s a dirty job – he’d rather be shopping for another wily midfield schemer or forward with blistering pace who doesn’t score half as many goals as he should – but someone’s got to do it. Ron Vlaar of Aston Villa is top of his list, but he might be going to Manchester United, so Celtic central defender and Thunderbirds/Mary Poppins mash-up Virgil van Dijk will suffice.
Manchester United are still after Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal, who regular MBM readers may recall doing the following last season against Real Madrid: “Vidal bursts into the Juve area down the right, then goes to cross. He swings his right boot at the ball – but takes up a football-sized lump of turf instead, then falls over his legs and on to his face! That’s straight out of the slapstick handbook written by Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd! The size of that divot! He has the chutzpah to claim a penalty, too.” Admittedly this is not particularly representative of the excellent Chilean’s oeuvre, but United are spending so much money on top-notch talent these days, it’s only fair that everyone else retains a little hope for the future.
Ah, hold on, we probably needn’t have bothered jumping through that particular hoop. It appears Manchester United are going to re-sign former defensive prodigy Ryan Shawcross from Stoke City. [Rumour Mill adjusts glasses, holds paper a bit further from face, tilts it towards the light and back again] Yep, Ryan Shawcross.
And Guus Hiddink, the former European Cup winner who has taken three separate nations to the semi-final stage of a major championship, is a clown now apparently, Holland having just lost a game to in-form Iceland. So that’s him likely for the off. Ronald Koeman is the preferred choice to retrieve the situation. Should he accept the challenge, his time at Southampton will have been brief enough to make Steve Wigley’s reign look like the combined careers of Sir Alex Ferguson and Valeriy Lobanovskyi.
Source: Click here

Africa Cup of Nations could be cancelled as Ebola fears lead hosts Morocco to withdraw...

Ghana and South Africa have been approached about staging the January event but Premier League clubs may now be able to keep their players.

The Africa Cup of Nations is in crisis – after Morocco’s withdrawal from hosting it, over the Ebola outbreak.
Ghana and South Africa have been approached by the Confederation of African Football as alternatives for the tournament, due to run from 17 January to 8 February.
If they are unable to step in, the tournament could be scrapped, meaning Premier League clubs will not have to surrender any players.
Morocco followed through with a threat to pull out unless CAF agreed to postpone the scheduled dates.
Moroccan youth and sports minister Mohamed Ouzzine said: “Our concern is the health of Africa, and, based on WHO reports and guidelines, we have to listen.
“Given the current Ebola situation, we don’t think such a feast can take place as expected.”
The Ebola epidemic has already claimed nearly 4,500 lives after breaking out in west Africa at the start of the year.
Caf has already banned Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from hosting any international football, while the Seychelles forfeited their Nations Cup qualifier rather than accommodate Sierra Leone.
Source: Click here

Labour proposes greater ownership powers for football fans...

Football fans could have a greater say in the running of their clubs, under radical plans proposed by Labour.
Supporters would have seats on every board and the right to buy a significant slice of a club's shares when its ownership changes.
Labour say it would be "the biggest legislative shake-up in the governance of English and Welsh football clubs since the advent of the game".
Only 14 league clubs currently have fan representatives on their board.
Swansea City are the only Premier League outfit among the 14, with the Swansea City Supporters Trust owning 20% of the club.
But if Labour win next year's General Election, fans' trusts could be able to appoint and remove up to a quarter - and not less than two - of a club's directors.
Supporters would not be able to block takeovers or change corporate strategy, but could obtain financial and commercial information about the club.
Fans could also purchase up to 10% of the shares when a club changes ownership. The buyer acquiring control - defined as 30% - would have to offer the trust up to a tenth of the shares they were purchasing for 240 days following the deal.
This option would be capped once a trust had acquired 10% of the club's shares, though that would not prevent it from buying more shares if it wanted.
The Government this week revealed plans for the establishment of an 'Expert Group' of football administrators, providing a platform for issues that affect fans.
Source: Click here

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Michel Platini proposes 'white card' and 10-minute sin bin for dissent offences by players

Uefa president Michel Platini has called for football to introduce a new “white card” to sin-bin players guilty of dissent.
In one of what was a raft of law-change proposals made in his new book, Parlons Football, Platini claimed the move would help fight against the “craze of contesting the referee”, which he branded “a veritable epidemic in football”.
He proposed that any player shown a white card would spend 10 minutes on the sidelines.
“It should not be confused in any way with the yellow card, which for its part is dedicated to fouls within the game,” he added.
Platini, who decided in August not to challenge Sepp Blatter for the presidency of Fifa next year, also called for an increase in the number of substitutes allowed in a game from three to five.
He said he wanted to permit “two changes at half-time while maintaining the possibility to make three more during the course of the match”.
Other ideas included removing the so-called ‘triple punishment’ – when a player is sent off for conceding a penalty, which often results in a goal being scored as well – allowing goalline officials to enter the field of play, and ending the the minimum age requirement for referees.
Another idea promoted by Platini in his book is to reduce the powers of the president of Fifa.
“Fifa often operates as an electoral machine in the service of maintaining one man,” he said.
Platini added of Blatter, who he previously said should step aside after 17 years in charge: “Through this long grip on power, has he developed the desire for and ability of self-preservation at all costs?”
He also accused Fifa of having become the “boss of [individual federations] when it was originally their employee”.
Source: Click here

Messi hails 10 incredible years at Barca.

Argentine superstar Lionel Messi on Thursday hailed an "incredible" decade with Barcelona as he celebrated the 10th anniversary of his competitive debut for the Catalan giants.
"I want to say thanks to all my family, friends, teammates and FC Barcelona staff for their support in these 10 incredible years," Messi wrote on his Facebook account.
"I've always enjoyed being on the pitch, wearing these colours, living amazing moments and I'm constantly trying to improve and win more titles with my team. A hug for everyone!"
Messi made his debut aged 17 years on October 16, 2004 during a Catalan Liga derby against city rivals Espanyol, which Barcelona won 1-0.
Since then he has gone on to win four Ballons d'Or titles in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, three Champions League titles in 2006, 2009 and 2011 and been involved in six Spanish title wins.
In addition, he has become the top all-time scorer in the club's history.
On Saturday, when Barcelona host promoted Eibar, the Argentine could also equal or overtake the all-time record of striker Telmo Zarra, the top scorer in La Liga with 251 goals.
Messi, 27, has 249 goals in the Spanish league.
If he fails this weekend he has another golden opportunity the following weekend in the Clasico against eternal rivals Real Madrid.

Source: Click here

Liverpool's Mario Balotelli insists Daniel Sturridge return can help him in Reds striking battle.

The Italian has struggled to impress since arriving at Anfield but with Sturridge set to feature against QPR, he believes he can now start to shine.

Mario Balotelli accepts he faces a real fight for a Liverpool shirt after admitting he has failed so far to perform in a central striker's role.
But the Italian star reckons the return of Daniel Sturridge will HELP him to become a Reds regular - because he doesn't see himself as a natural number nine.
And the controversial forward also has faith in the manager who splashed out £15m on him, to help him develop as a forward...and as a person.
Sturridge is back in full training and will lead the line on Sunday at QPR - which puts pressure on Balotelli's place after he was dropped in Liverpool's last game a fortnight ago.
Yet the Italy international admitted he is far happier playing alongside another forward rather than having the pressure of a lone hit man.
"If it was my choice, I would always go with two strikers. It's the way I like to play," he explained in an interview with Sport magazine.
"I have never been a real, out-and-out striker - I have always been someone who goes around the pitch, you know?"
When Sturridge was injured Balotelli was charged by his manager Brendan Rodgers to become the focal point of the team, and offer a real threat as a lone striker.
to become the focal point of the team, and offer a real threat as a lone striker.
Jamie McDonaldA dejected Mario Balotelli of Liverpool at the end of the match during the UEFA Champions League Group B match between FC Basel 1893 and Liverpool FC at St. Jakob Stadium on October 1, 2014 in Basel, Switzerland.

The forward concedes he struggled to do that...which led ultimately to the axe when Rickie Lambert was preferred when Liverpool beat West Brom in their last league game.
There are doubts whether he will return to the starting line up at Loftus Road, yet as Balotelli revealed the work Rodgers has done in trying to adapt his role, he insisted he is confident the Reds boss will turn him into a better striker.
"Brendan asked me to play as the first striker. I understand that when the ball comes from wide on the left or right, I need to be in the box otherwise there might be no-one there at all," he revealed.
"I need to get in the box more. I don't do it enough, but it is something I am working to try to do more. I have never been a real, out-and-out striker.
"But I am working, and I can see already that the Liverpool fans really like me, although I know that maybe they are a little upset because I don't score. I see they appreciate that I am working hard, though,which is nice for me."
Rodgers has struggled to get the striker to adapt his game, and to offer the sort of movement which defined his Liverpool side last season.
But Balotelli insisted the manager's style is perfect to help him improve...and win back the Italy place he lost after the World Cup.
Andrew Powell
The gaffer: Balotelli believes Rodgers' management style can make him improve
He is very good, a strong character, and I think that comes out in the way the team plays," the 24 year old said of his Irish boss.
"I think he can help me improve as a player. He is very open, everybody can talk to him, but first he looks at the person, and second he looks at the footballer.
"With Brendan, you need to be a good person - you don't have to be, how do you say it, a d *** head .
"I could do better, of course, I could do way better. I have done mistakes in the past, like everybody did when they were young.
"But I am only focused on football. I live out in the countryside, I am relaxed and I just hope the time that I'm going to score is coming soon. Then maybe they will concentrate more on football and not all the other bull****.
"I know I have one goal in the Champions League, but in the Premier League I have to start with one. After that, I might set myself a target, but I swear right now my first league goal is my first and only objective."
Rodgers faces a real dilemma against QPR, where he could bring both Sturridge and Balotelli back and rest Raheem Sterling, or play Sturridge alone up front and use Sterling and Adam Lallana as part of 4-3-3 system.
Source : Click here

Jamie McDonal

Lionel Messi had nothing to do with own tax affairs, his father insists.

The Barcelona and Argentina forward Lionel Messi had nothing to do with his own tax affairs and should not be included in an investigation into an alleged fraud, his father, Jorge, has insisted.
Messi and his father have been accused of defrauding the Spanish state of more than €4m by filing incomplete returns for the years 2007 to 2009. They both deny any wrongdoing.
Income from Messi’s image rights was allegedly hidden using a web of shell companies in Uruguay, Belize, Switzerland and Britain.
“In actual fact I want to be quite cautious over this [topic],” Jorge Messi said in an interview with Spanish radio. “I have always said it, he [Lionel] had absolutely nothing to do with it, so there is no need to talk about it. My lawyers are dealing with this issue so it’s something with me and has nothing to do with him.”
Lionel Messi has been resident in Barcelona since 2000 and gained Spanish citizenship in 2005. He is one of the world’s highest-paid athletes and earns just over $40m a season in wages and bonuses, according to Forbes magazine.
He also pulls in about $23m in endorsements from partners including Adidas, Samsung, PepsiCo and Turkish Airlines and is fourth on Forbes’s latest list of top-earning athletes.
Source: Click here

Nigeria confirm Stephen Keshi’s departure despite Sudan win.

Nigeria have confirmed the departure of the head coach Stephen Keshi despite their 3-1 win over Sudan in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier on Wednesday night.
Shaibu Amodu is set to be installed as caretaker for the remaining two Group A games against Congo and South Africa. Amodu has had three previous spells in charge of Nigeria, from 1994-95, 1998-99 and 2008-10.
Nigeria have four points from four games in Group A and are four points behind South Africa.
Keshi had been out of contract after the World Cup but was then tasked with navigating the Super Eagles’ route to next year’s tournament in Morocco. However, he said that their qualification campaign was being “sabotaged” after they were defeated by Congo, drew against Nigeria and also lost against Sudan in their opening three games.
Source: Click here

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Nigeria 3-1 Sudan: Musa and Samuel save Super Eagles

Stephen Keshi's men have had an appalling start to their attempts at Afcon qualification, but they will be hoping these three points can spark a revival
Second-half strikes from Ahmed Musa and Aaron Samuel have saved Nigeria's chances of defending their Afcon crown in 2015.

Source : Click here

Mesut Ozil accused of cheating on girlfriend Mandy Capristo with Melanie Rickinger by ex-Bayern Munich player Christian Lell .

Arsenal star Mesut Ozil has been dragged into a public row with a fellow German footballer and accused of cheating on his pop star girlfriend Mandy Capristo.
Former Bayern Munich and Hertha Berlin player Christian Lell accused Ozil of 'muscling in' on his relationship with former girlfriend Melanie Rickinger.
In an interview with Bild, Lell somewhat ungraciously described his ex as a 'snake' and explained that she had exchanged intimate messages with Ozil on the messaging service WhatsApp.

'Mesut exploited his fame, and muscled in on our relationship,' said Lell. 'That isn't OK'.
Ozil himself has refused to comment on the situation. 
'We are not commenting on this. We will keep an eye on the situation, and take legal action if necessary,' said his agent Roland Eitel. 
Lell's ex-girlfriend Rickinger has said her former boyfriend is 'crazy'. She has not denied the accusations of an affair with Ozil, but did insist that Lell had accessed her messages without her permission.
'I deleted everything on my phone. He must have gone on himself and backed everything up,' she said. 'He's completely crazy.'

Capristo has also refused to comment. The singer lives with the Germany international in London, and is a judge on the X Factor-style reality show 'Germany's Search for a Superstar'.
Capristo is about to release a new album, and has previously insisted that she does not accept the idea of being merely a WAG.
She said: 'You'd never say to the partner of a tennis player that they're only this or that, that's a lack of respect. So when people say I'm just a WAG, I don't care. I have too much respect for myself and my own work to even bother thinking about these people.'

Source :Click here

CONFIRMED: Chelsea beat Arsenal and Man City to goalkeeper prodigy.

CHELSEA have beaten Arsenal and Manchester City to the signing of 13-year-old goalkeeper Nicolas Tie.

The youngster, who stands tall at 6ft 1in, has been hailed as the next big thing in his home country of France, and Chelsea have moved quickly to secure his signature from FC Poitiers.

Tie will join the Blues on a permanent deal once he turns 16 in 2017, but in the meantime will be allowed to train at their Cobham base during the summer holidays.

The shot-stopper is seen by Jose Mourinho as the long-term successor to Belgium international Thibaut Courtois, who in turn has just displaced veteran Petr Cech as the club's number one.

Courtois spent three years away from the Premier League on loan with Atletico Madrid, winning the Spanish Cup as well as La Liga during his time with Diego Simeone's side.

Source: Click here

Luis Suarez presented with Golden Boot by Kenny Dalglish.

Barcelona striker Luis Suarez has been presented with the Golden Shoe trophy by his former Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish at a ceremony in the Spanish city.

Suarez receives the award having finished last season - along with Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo - as scorer of the most league goals in Europe.
The pair both scored 31 times, Suarez's goals being in Liverpool colours before his summer switch to Barca.
The Uruguay international, 27, said on receiving the trophy from Dalglish, who he reportedly had specifically requested be involved in the ceremony: "I want to thank all the most important people in my life, my wife and my children.

"And of course everyone at Liverpool - all my colleagues, not just last year but over the whole three-and-a-half years I was at the club.
"They were spectacular years and it was thanks to this man here (Dalglish) that they signed me, that they noticed me.
"Now I am moving on to a new period, and I have to enjoy this next stage of my life - it is a dream come true."
Source: Click here

'Ronaldo & Messi need each other' - Laudrup

Former Real Madrid and Barcelona star Michael Laudrup believes that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldoneed one another to keep improving.
The two stars have enjoyed a fascinating rivalry over the past decade, winning every Ballon d'Or between them since 2008 and regularly surpassing 50 goals apiece in all competitions each season.
Laudrup, who spent five years at Camp Nou before moving to the Santiago Bernabeu in 1994 believes that both will be remembered as some of the finest players ever to play the game when they eventually retire.
"I think they need each other," he told EFE.
"If one scores a hat-trick, the other tries to beat that. They are two of the best, not just of this era - in 30 years we'll be talking about them and the debate will be whether Messi, Cristiano, Maradona or Pele is the greatest of all time."
When asked which of them he would rather have in his team, the Dane replied: "Both would have to be in it, as they've clearly been the best two over the past four or five years."
Laudrup also said that James Rodriguez must become accustomed to the pressure of representing Real Madrid before he becomes a weapon for Carlo Ancelotti's side.
"He's a great footballer. He's got to get used to playing for such a big side, with all the pressure that comes with that," he added.
Real Madrid and Barcelona lock horns for the first time this season at the Santiago Bernabeu on October 25.

Diego Costa, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing are among the Premier League's 10 biggest success stories this season, writes Daniel Storey.

Here is the lay down...

10) Alan Irvine

The jury is still out on whether Alan Irvine will be a success at The Hawthorns. West Bromwich Albion have only taken eight points from seven matches and sit 14th in the table, so it is not quite time to break out the party poppers.
However, the pre-season expectation was that Irvine would already have come close to losing his position. As it is, consecutive victories over Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley led to a slight change in approval rating from supporters. Nobody is eating their words just yet, but the table is slowly being set.

9) Aston Villa's defence

Predictably, Aston Villa have lost all three games since Paul Lambert signed his new deal, conceding eight times and failing to score at all. However, such a record is tempered by the quality of their opponents: Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City.
Losing three games on the spin is no cause for alarm because Villa's early-season form was so splendid, with the club's defending in particular causing everyone to rub their eyes in disbelief until they were red raw.

8) Diafra Sakho

While Enner Valencia has been largely ineffective (save the howitzer against Hull City) and scored just a single goal following his £12million move, the pressure on the Ecuadorean has been alleviated by the excellence of Diafra Sakho. Sakho was playing in France's second tier last season, top scorer for Metz as they won the title, and cost the Hammers just £3.5m.
It is not just five goals in five starts at a rate of one every 95 minutes that has been surprising, but also Sakho's willingness to run the channels and provide an outlet in holding up the ball.

7) Nacer Chadli

Maybe not all of Tottenham's players have immediately been able to embrace Mauricio Pochettino's high-intensity pressing style, but Nacer Chadli is a player revitalised.
Pochettino's success in attack stems from an ambition to win the ball as high up the field as possible, before launching into an instant counter-attack and overloading the opposition with an extra attacking midfielder. Chadli has become this 'free man', scoring four goals to mask the form of the disappointing Emmanuel Adebayor.

6) Leonardo Ulloa

There was a sharp intake of breath from many when newly promoted Leicester City paid £8m for a 28-year-old striker with 16 top-flight goals in his entire career.
It is currently a gamble ending with Nigel Pearson pointing to Ulloa's five Premier League goals and laughing.
Leonardo Ulloa's physical and aerial presence are vital assets for a promoted club. Having an outlet up field when defending for large periods in matches is so often the difference between success and failure.

5) James Milner

You can point to 44 appearances last season all you want, but 12 Premier League starts is not sufficient to satisfy a player with ongoing international ambitions.
It may have taken an injury to Samir Nasri, but James Milner has stepped out of the shadows in glorious style since his return to Manuel Pellegrini's starting line-up. He was named Man of the Match in the draw with Chelsea, having assisted Frank Lampard's late equaliser, and created eight chances against Villa.

4) United's youngsters

The purchase of Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao generated plenty of debate about whether Manchester United had sold their soul, but the performances of the club's Academy graduates this season acts as the perfect (if unnecessary) defence.
Of course the likes of Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair would not have made United's first team without an injury crisis, but both have performed far beyond expectation having failed to play a single minute for the club before August.
While those inside Old Trafford raved about the potential of striker James Wilson, the accelerated progression of Blackett and McNair has caught all by surprise.

3) Jordan Henderson

Henderson spent much of last season rebuilding his reputation at Anfield. Rather than rest on his laurels, he has surged into another new gear this time around.
Made vice-captain (and the "moral conscience" of the club) by Brendan Rodgers, Henderson appears to have carved out a role as Liverpool's box-to-box midfielder. His protection of Steven Gerrard and support for a struggling forward line have been the most promising aspects of Liverpool's stuttering season to date.
It is only two years since Henderson was told by Rodgers that he could leave Anfield. "When the manager told me I could go to Fulham it was a bit of a shock at first," the midfielder recalls.
Rodgers tells a different story. "I never wanted Jordan to leave," he said. "We spoke about the opportunity, but it was never the case that I wanted him to go."
It is an ending that's getting happier with each passing performance.

2) Stewart Downing

Downing has performed considerably above expectation, creating the most chances in the Premier League, and has also done so in a new role, usually operating as the furthest point forward in a midfield diamond behind two strikers. Able to become far more involved in proceedings when not simply expected to cross the ball in hopefully to Andy Carroll, West Ham United are feeling the benefits.
The thought of clamouring for Downing to be called up by England after turning 30 would be inconceivable a year ago. The midfielder deserves immense credit for his adaptability and commitment to a startling improvement.

1) Diego Costa

Of course Diego Costa should have been expected to score goals. He is a physical striker suited to the Premier League's style, and scored 36 times for Atletico Madrid last season. But, after hamstring injuries and a hugely disappointing World Cup, some began to whisper the name 'Roberto Soldado' into the ears of Chelsea supporters.
No-one could have quite predicted a start as easy as this. Costa has been every bit the "killer" that Arsene Wenger described last week. His nine goals (in seven PL matches) have come from an astonishing 19 shots - a conversion rate of 47 per cent. To put that in perspective, if Luis Suarez had matched that goal-per-shot ratio last season, he would have ended up with 72 goals in the league alone.
An unexpectedly smooth transition for the only missing piece in Chelsea's jigsaw - the Premier League title appears the only likely conclusion.