Real Madrid and Barcelona warmed up for their Champions League semi-finals with league victories, but these are the ties that will define both of their seasons...
One mailboxer has the realistic answers to Arsenal's summer transfer needs. We also have plenty more on Newcastle fans, handballs, Chelsea selling and Johnny...
1. Jack Wilshere 2. Theo Walcott 3. Mikel Arteta
It's quite difficult to write about Wilshere without using schmaltzy language calling him the 'heartbeat' of this fragile side but it's clear from watching roughly seven minutes of Arsenal that Wilshere provides the drive, enthusiasm and sheer class often lacking from his teammates. Wilshere is one of the few Premier League players who would pique the interest of every single team in Europe, which is certainly not the case with our other Arsenal picks. But Walcott has contributed directly to 19 PL goals this season and is Arsenal's only vaguely-in-form right-wing option while Arteta's discipline and range of passing allows Wilshere, Walcott, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski to excite and frustrate in equal measure. Well, maybe not equal measure.
November 2011: 1. Robin van Persie 2. Wojciech Szczesny 3. Thomas Vermaelen.
1. Christian Benteke 2. Andreas Weimann 3. Charles N'Zogbia
When you score or assist 58% (15 of 26) of your side's Premier League goals, there can be no argument about your status as the most valuable player. He's big, he's powerful and he's way, way, way too good for this Villa side. Weimann might just about be good enough to lace his boots and has at least contributed a handful of goals, while N'Zogbia is probably in the finest form of his Villa career right now. That may well be the most back-handed of compliments but four assists and a goal in his last five PL games suggests the Frenchman has kicked into the survival mode that always saved Wigan from the drop.
November 2011: 1. Gabriel Agbonlahor 2. Darren Bent. 3. Richard Dunne
1. Juan Mata 2. Petr Cech 3. Frank Lampard
Remember when everyone was mooning over the Three Amigos at Chelsea? It all seems so long ago now as Eden Hazard has settled into 'not quite' and Oscar into 'not yet'. But Mata is the real deal and he remains the consistent and creative (two traits that are precious in conjunction) inspiration at Chelsea. Cech gets the nod because Ross Turnbull is his deputy while those in charge should be worried that Frank Lampard's goals make him pretty sodding important while they still lack a prolific striker.
November 2011: 1. Juan Mata 2. Didier Drogba 3. Oriel Romeu
1. Leighton Baines 2. Marouane Fellaini 3. Steven Pienaar
Looking at our chosen trio from 15 months ago shows just how little has changed at Everton. A year ago, Nikica Jelavic would have gatecrashed the list but he currently looks utterly devoid of confidence or purpose. When your teammates start talking about your 'hard work', you know as a striker that you've heard your death knell. Baines and Pienaar are a potent attacking force down the left (a phenomenal 43% of their attacks come from that flank) and their target is usually the rather large head of Fellaini, who has hit double figures in front of goal this season.
November 2011: 1. Leighton Baines 2. Phil Jagielka 3. Marouane Fellaini
1. Dimitar Berbatov 2. Bryan Ruiz 3. Brede Hangeland
We have a love for Berbatov that we really don't hide very well. We wanted him to be wonderful to watch at Fulham and he's been exactly that - scoring goals and making chances for teammates who aren't always on the same wavelength. Well, his teammates are Steve Sidwell and Chris Baird. One teammate who does dovetail well with Berbatov (so well that he took a blow to the head from Steven N'Zonzi after Berbatov accidentally elbowed the Stoke midfielder) is Ruiz, and it's telling that Fulham's worst spell of the season prior to Christmas came when the Costa Rican was unavailable. We've been impressed by Sascha Riether but Hangeland is the glue that holds that defence together.
November 2011: 1. Clint Dempsey 2. Danny Murphy 3. Brede Hangeland
1. Luis Suarez 2. Daniel Sturridge 3. Steven Gerrard
We've already told you that Suarez creates more chances from open play than any other Premier League player (that those chances have only reaped four assists tells its own Merseyside-set story) while scoring a fair few goals of his own. He does take more shots than anybody else in the western world but ploughing a lone furrow can do that to a man. That makes Sturridge's role massively important and it's telling that Liverpool lost against West Brom and failed against Zenit in the absence of the body-popping side-netting fan. We ummed and aahed about Glen Johnson (in the form of his life and probably first choice in two full-back positions) but eventually plumped for Gerrard and his drive/set-piece delivery.
November 2011: 1. Luis Suarez 2. Lucas Leiva 3. Jose Enrique
1. David Silva 2. Pablo Zabaleta 3. Vincent Kompany
This was probably the hardest team to pin down as City have a wealth of excellent players (Joe Hart, Kompany, Yaya Toure, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero) who have - through form, fitness or favour - not quite reached last season's lofty heights. Silva alone has been consistent in creating chances (12 of them clear-cut from open play, according to our friends at WhoScored) while those around him falter. Zabaleta makes this list because a) he has been excellent and b) the alternative is Maicon, while you can't help but think that the Southampton capitulation would never have happened if Kompany had been fit. We miss him. They miss him.
November 2011: 1. Vincent Kompany 2. David Silva 3. Yaya Toure
1. Robin van Persie 2. Patrice Evra 3. Michael Carrick
It's a vastly flawed calculation but the oft-quoted stat about Robin van Persie earning Manchester United 22 points this season certainly indicates the Dutchman's knack of scoring goals that matter. There's absolutely no doubt about his place at the top of this trio, with the absence of Wayne Rooney adding to the changing of the talismanic guard at Old Trafford. Evra may not have caught the eye like Rafael but a lack of other left-back options (Alex Buttner is no kind of option) and increased set-piece threat have given him an undroppable status that looked unlikely at the start of the season. And Carrick? For better or worse, Carrick makes them tick.
November 2011: 1. Nemanja Vidic 2. Wayne Rooney 3. Nani
1. Yohan Cabaye 2. Moussa Sissoko 3. Fabricio Coloccini
Alan Pardew was roundly booed when he substituted Cabaye as Newcastle threw away their lead at home to Reading on January 19 and the Frenchman was quick to defend his manager, insisting that he was not fully fit after two months on the sidelines. Cabaye got fit and Newcastle have not since cast a glance backwards, with the introduction of Sissoko in particular (three goals and two assists in his first four PL games) putting a rocket up Newcastle's backside. As for Coloccini - he gets in just ahead of the impressive Mathieu Debuchy because the defence simply looks better when anchored by that curly mop.
November 2011: 1. Tim Krul 2. Cheick Tiote 3. Demba Ba
1. Sébastien Bassong 2. Robert Snodgrass 3. Wes Hoolahan
What a difference 15 months and a change of manager have made at Norwich. Last season it was all about the strikers (glance up at Villa to spot the pattern there) but this season, survival is likely to be pinned on their defence. Key to that defence is Bassong. Norwich have shipped five goals against Fulham and Liverpool (twice) this season and Bassong missed all three of those games. It's no coincidence. Snodgrass and Hoolahan are probably the most technically skilled players in Norwich's ranks and if new strikers Luciano Becchio and Kei Kamara are to have any impact, it's that pair who must do the providing.
November 2011: 1. Steve Morison 2. Wes Hoolahan 3. Grant Holt
1. Adel Taarabt 2. Loic Remy 3. Juio Cesar
They're f***ed. You know that. We know that. We suspect even Harry Redknapp knows that. But the tiniest bit of hope that they might not be f***ed lies at the feet/hands of these three men. Taarabt has played his part this season in creating chances (ten of them clear-cut, according to Opta) and yet the paucity of striking talent has seen those chances mostly wasted. QPR need Remy to be fit and they need him to take those chances. He did it once against West Ham and he could well do it again. If he does it seven or eight times, QPR may stay up. At the other end, Julio Cesar is on a one-man mission to keep the opposition score down. Or at least earn himself a very good summer move.
November 2011: 1. Heidar Helguson 2. Joey Barton 3. Alejandro Faurlin
1. Adam Le Fondre 2. Adam Federici 3. Jimmy Kebe
We'll level with you - we find Reading awful dull, so we'll zip through these. Le Fondre has scored ten goals despite starting only eight Premier League matches and has single-handedly won more than a few points, leading to some absolute tosh being spouted about an England call-up. Federici has been excellent in keeping Reading in matches until Le Fondre climbs off the bench and Kebe has a) scored a few goals in recent weeks and b) done an excellent 'I'm joining Newcastle because I am French' gag. Now let's move on.
1. Rickie Lambert 2. Morgan Schneiderlin 3. Jason Puncheon
The shock name on WhoScored's list of open-play chance creators, Lambert lies behind only David Silva and Luis Suarez in that particular ranking as a big fan of unexpectedly delicate little through balls to his marauding midfielders. Add ten PL goals, mix it up a little and you get Southampton's most important player. Not far behind him is Schneiderlin, a player for whom the entirely made-up word 'intercepticon' was invented (by us). He intercepts and tackles like a demon and pops up with the odd goal for good measure. We love him a little bit. We don't feel the same way about Puncheon, but he's endeared himself to Saints fans with key goals against Chelsea and Manchester City.
1. Asmir Begovic 2. Robert Huth 3. Steven N'Zonzi
The key to getting through the writing of this section is to promise yourself lunch at the end. So...when you score less than a goal a game, you need a hell of a keeper, a hell of a central defence and a hell of a central midfielder. Begovic has been so good that his time at Stoke is surely coming to an end, while Huth (in partnership with Ryan Shawcross) is an excellent defender when he's not clothes-lining the opposition. N'Zonzi has been a rare beacon in a dreary season for Stoke, with the Frenchman at the centre of any brief periods of possession they enjoy. Now for soup...
November 2011: 1. Jon Walters 2. Robert Huth 3. Matthew Etherington
1. Steven Fletcher 2. Simon Mignolet 3. Craig Gardner
Sunderland don't score often but when they do, it's likely to be Steven Fletcher. He's claimed ten of the Black Cats' 26 goals this season as a lone striker, so it remains to be seen what will happen in tandem with the perhaps-too-similar Danny Graham. If Sunderland are to avoid a bruising relegation battle, they need to find a way to make that work pretty damned quickly. Mignolet offers a solid goalkeeping option as well as the fan song of the year (to the tune of The Lion Sleeps Tonight). We cast around for a third and settled on Gardner for his versatility and his free-kicks. It's not a deep pool of talent.
November 2011: 1. Seb Larsson 2. Wes Brown 3. Nicklas Bendtner
1. Michu 2. Jonathan De Guzmán 3. Chico
Those who think Michael Laudrup has just picked up the baton from Brendan Rodgers should perhaps note that the Swans' three key players this season have all been brought in by the Dane. Michu has obviously provided goals (did you know he cost just £2m? It's almost never mentioned) while De Guzman has excelled in a central midfield partnership with either Ki Sung-Yueng or Leon Britton which has seen him deliver a forward thrust previously lacking in Joe Allen. As for Boy Flowers, could anybody have predicted back in August that his absence from a cup final would be so lamented? His partnership with Ashley Williams has been a little bit special.
November 2011: 1. Leon Britton 2. Michel Vorm 3. Mark Gower
1. Gareth Bale 2. Mousa Dembele 3. Hugo Lloris
We've obviously gone a bit left-field with our choice here. Little has been made of the impact made by the fella at the head of this triptych but, under the radar, he's scored a fair few goals. Remember the name. Moving on to more vaunted footballers, Dembele has provided the movement, energy and ammunition to enable Bale (and friends) to shine. Somebody wrote into the mailbox this week saying Dembele had not really impressed. Fool. He's been sublime. Completing the trio is the man who - according to tactics guru Jonathan Wilson - plays in such a way that allows Tottenham to adopt a high, pressing game. He also makes some good saves.
November 2011: 1. Scott Parker 2. Luka Modric 3. Emmanuel Adebayor
1= Youssuf Mulumbu, Claudio Jacob 3. Romelu Lukaku
We can't separate the central midfield pair and neither should West Brom ever seek to do so. This season their win percentage when starting games together is 60%. That plummets to 25% when either or both is missing. The Baggies' success this season is based on organisation and those two are the anchors that make it all work. Of course, it helps when you have a monster of a striker like Lukaku, who has scored with 12 of his 67 shots in the Premier League this season. Tips of the hat are also due to Gareth McAuley, Jonas Olsson and James Morrison.
November 2011: 1. Youssuf Mulumbu 2. Shane Long 3. Jonas Olsson
1. Mark Noble 2. Joe Cole 3. Winston Reid
It's while writing such features that you realise the true awfulness of West Ham. Noble has at least shown some gumption and energy in midfield (he does an awful lot of tackling) while Momo Diame's form has dipped amidst reported interest from big clubs. Cole at least offers the promise of something special and his presence is vital to at least partly appease fans who have not enjoyed their return to the Premier League quite as much as they hoped. That the Hammers' form has been poor since Cole's return is pretty irrelevant - he's important because he looks remotely capable of getting people off their feet. Last and least is Reid, who seems to keep his calm when all around him (James Collins) is falling apart.
1. Arouna Koné 2. Shaun Maloney 3. Jean Beausejour
When you can bugger off for six weeks and come back to find that you're still your club's top scorer, you know you're playing for a relegation-threatened club. Koné has scored eight PL goals, made five others and genuinely looked the bomb. Koné, Maloney and Beausejour have registered 16 assists in total this season while no other Wigan player has contributed more than twice. Regular readers of Numbers and Stats will already know that Beausejour's crossing stats are phenomenal. We like him. But possibly not as much as Paul Scharner (and his coat), who's already looking like he might have a case for inclusion on this list.
November 2011: 1. Mohamed Diame 2. Franco Di Santo 3. Victor Moses