Wayne Rooney has signed a bumper new deal to stay at Manchester United. Is this start of the Red Devils' return as the dominant force in English football or a missed opportunity for Rooney to prove himself somewhere else?
Ben Coley (Sportinglife.com): Ha! Definitely not the former. Renewing the contract of a current player has never and will never be a sign that a side unable to keep tabs on the top four are about to get brilliant again. To be honest I didn't really understand all the fuss except for the inevitable sociological discussions with regards the numbers. Good Player Signs New Contract is hardly earth-shattering news and one newspaper describing it as the 'story of the year' was absurdly laughable. Besides which, as we all know a contract doesn't mean Rooney is pledging his future to United or anything else, he's simply securing a guarantee of employment should he remain content where he is for the foreseeable future. That's the game, I'm afraid. As for the man himself, in horse racing terms we'd call him exposed and I never quite grasp the need to play football for lots of clubs when it comes to establishing a legacy. I don't remember Michael Owen or Steve McManaman more fondly because they went to Spain, I remember them for their best performances wherever they were. It seems like Chelsea was the only option anyway and I can see why Rooney has apparently cooled on that one.
Nick Hext (Sportinglife.com): It's hard to call it a missed opportunity as would United have really sold Rooney to Chelsea (that is taking the Blues as his most likely English suitors)? I don't see Barcelona or Real Madrid needing the forward so that leaves French Ligue 1 rivals PSG and Monaco as the top two contenders. Could they give Rooney the stage to perform on that he does at Old Trafford? I would say only if the Red Devils are going into a permanent decline and I don't think that's the case. The pressure is really on David Moyes to get his summer transfer activity right and that means the right players both in and out of the club. Rooney can spearhead United for the upcoming seasons but he can't do it alone. Adnan Januzaj and Juan Mata are sure to help in attack but it's the defence that needs the biggest overhaul. Get that right and both United and Rooney will be again fighting it out at the top of the table.
David John (Sportinglife.com): As a neutral, in some respects I am quite happy Wayne Rooney is sticking around in English football. The transition to the David Moyes era at Old Trafford has not been smooth so far and I think he would have been in even deeper trouble selling Rooney to a Premier League rival. So any exit would surely have been to Spain and like him or loathe him, losing Rooney abroad would have been a blow to the domestic scene. It surely means that he is going to be the talisman that Moyes wants to rebuild his team around over the next few years and handing him the captaincy makes sense - Rooney has already announced he is keen to help bring through the next generation at the club. This season may still end up a write-off by their high standards but the future look brighter with the Englishman onside.
Liverpool needed plenty of spirit to see off Swansea 4-3 on Sunday. Is this is the showing of potential champions?
BC: There's no doubt that Liverpool have a chance to win the Premier League given their free-scoring form and what looks a kind fixture list. However, they do continue to defend poorly and I can't help but feel that will cost them when their title rivals come to town. Ultimately, you get the same points for winning by six as you do by one so while I understand that narrow victories are deemed vital because of their proximity to failure, I'd place more value on Chelsea and Manchester City finding a goal having spent much of the day frustrated than Liverpool out-scoring their guests in a game which, if anything, advertised their flaws.
NH: No but they will definitely finish in the top four. Manchester City and Chelsea will end the season as the two sides battling it out over the title but that's no reason for Liverpool fans to be upset. There has been terrific progress at Anfield this season and you certainly get entertainment when watching the Reds. Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are the Premier League's best strikeforce by some distance and the previously maligned Jordan Henderson I rate as the top-flight's most improved performer this term. Liverpool are now as short as 1/8 with Sky Bet to finish in the Champions League qualification places and that reflects the confidence in their durability. There is still strengthening needed as the defence isn't good enough and I'm not convinced Simon Mignolet has made the goalkeeper's jersey his own. A return for Pepe Reina or a deal for Asmir Begovic should both be considered.
DJ: There is no question that Brendan Rodgers has his side playing an exciting brand of football this season and self-confidence has blossomed as a result at Anfield. Rodgers remains keen to play down his side's chances and has stressed they should try and garner as many points as possible by the end of the season and see where that leaves them. It is a clever ploy to take the pressure of his side heading down the stretch - my real worry is a leaky defence that is being bailed out by the league's top scorers. For that reason, I get the impression a very good season for Liverpool may still see them come up just shy.
Cardiff were thrashed 4-0 by Hull at home on Saturday. Is there any hope left for the Bluebirds this season and has the decision of Vincent Tan to get rid of Malky Mackay been made to look foolish?
BC: It was a mistake, there's no doubt about that. And while it's easy now, appointing a manager with no experience of scrapping for survival let alone managing in the Premier League was at best a calculated risk, at worst the reckless act of a maverick owner with no real understanding of that which he controls. I'd lean towards the latter. We're not privy to all that goes on behind the scenes but with no reports of gross misconduct, there is absolutely no clear reason Mackay is not still in charge of a club who now look set for an immediate return to the Championship.
NH: Foolish in the extreme. There was widespread condemnation from around the football world as Mackay was slowly pushed out of the Cardiff exit door but the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did get positive press. The Norwegian remains a likeable figure but his signings haven't lit up their survival battle and backwards rather than forwards has been the direction. I don't think Cardiff would be safe if Mackay had remained in place but there would have been stability and West Ham have shown the benefit of that approach. A return to the Sky Bet Championship would be horrible for Cardiff after so much effort went to reaching the Premier League. We have seen from Bolton, Blackburn, Middlesbrough and plenty more how the division can swallow sides up after relegation. That is Cardiff's fate as I just can't see them avoiding the bottom three.DJ: Cardiff do have a chance of digging themselves out of the hole they find themselves in simply because of how tight the relegation battle is. The turn of the year saw West Ham in big trouble but a run of wins now has them in the top half. Cardiff do have quality on the pitch to make a fight of it although Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a novice in the role and will need to get the very best out of his players in what could well be a tense few weeks in south Wales. Personally, I think ditching Mackay was wrong in the first place as Tan's wounded pride over the Scot's revelations over transfer targets and policy seemed to get the better of him. If Cardiff do end up in the mire fighting for their survival over the final couple of games, Tan only has himself to blame on a gamble with the management that could yet backfire horribly.
Manchester United and Chelsea are both in Champions League action in midweek. Should we expect straightforward progression to the quarter-finals?
BC: Perhaps not. Galatasaray is no easy place to go to and while Chelsea will probably cope in the way they usually do, I wouldn't expect it to be easy. What I do expect is the pressure to be firmly on United come the return leg because I'm not sure they'll be winning in Greece, and almost certainly not by a margin which renders the tie over with 90 minutes to spare. Ultimately they look to have only a very, very slim chance of even making the final of the competition and I would be surprised were we celebrating an English winner come May.
NH: I don't envisage much of a problem for United but you never know how Chelsea will fare when facing any side containing Didier Drogba. David Moyes, despite his many, many Premier League travails, has impressed during his time in the Champions League with United and taking on Olympiacos is a kind draw. They have been incredibly impressive in domestic action in Greece but the Red Devils are too big a step up in class. Chelsea are a better side than Galatasaray but Drogba, Wesley Sneijder and Burak Yilmaz can all make life difficult for the Blues. Jose Mourinho has been there and done it all in Europe so won't be losing sleep about the tie and I reckon Chelsea will just about reach the quarters.
DJ: It is dangerous to rule any team out at this stage of the Champions League but the level of expectation with teams like United and Chelsea will always mean that progress against Olympiacos and Galatasaray is virtually a given. I would be more worried about United to be fair - this is unknown territory for David Moyes and even against the Greeks, he will need to get things spot-on tactically. If they were to be trailing heading back to Old Trafford, they have shown vulnerability at home plenty of times this season so making up any deficit would not be a foregone conclusion. Chelsea's task against the Turkish side and Didier Drogba is a fascinating one for Jose Mourinho but I just don't see the Blues making any slip ups over two legs.