What The Papers Say - December 29
Find out what Saturday's tabloids and broadsheets are reporting.
The views on this page are taken from the local and national media and do not necessarily reflect the views of Everton.
DAVID MOYES says he would like to add to his Everton squad in January, but has again dismissed speculation linking Leighton Baines with a move away from Goodison Park.
The Blues are looking to finish 2012 on a high this weekend, knowing victory at home to Chelsea tomorrow would guarantee them a place in the Premier League’s top four heading into the New Year.
It is a far cry from this time last year, when Everton were 12th in the table, with a squad in desperate need of some fresh faces.
Moyes, however, says he will still be looking to do so business when the transfer window re-opens next week, though he admits he is under less pressure to do so this time around.
He said: “I’d like, if possible, to add to the squad just to give us a chance because we are thin. We are a little bit short, our selection at the moment is really difficult because of what we’ve got available to us.
“We’re short at the moment in several areas, and we are having to try and muddle through a little bit.
“There was more pressure last season because of the position we were in. In fairness, I think (last year) we’d just started to pick up by now, and show signs that we would get away from the bottom end.
“But undoubtedly now there is less pressure, because the team is quite settled.”
Moyes has been linked with a number of potential new signings, with Birmingham goalkeeper Jack Butland one such name. And the Blues boss has revealed there could be one or two players leaving Goodison Park on loan in the coming weeks, though he is not anticipating any major departures at this stage.
“I think when your squad is small, there are less likely to be players leaving anyway, just because of the equation,” he said. “There are less players who are surplus to requirements.
“I’ve got a couple of young players who I’d like to get games on loan, just to keep their progress going, but that would be the only thing really.”
Moyes was in no mood to entertain any talk of Baines leaving the club, either in January or at the end of the season. The England full-back was linked with Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain in the Friday morning papers, but the reports were swiftly dismissed by the Scot.
“I don’t read (the paper), but even if I did it (the story) would be wrong,” he said.
Everton will make a late decision on the fitness of midfielder Darron Gibson, who suffered a thigh strain in the Boxing Day win over Wigan Athletic. Seamus Coleman has, according to Moyes, “a chance” of making the squad after a hamstring problem, but Kevin Mirallas (also hamstring) will not be considered.
Meanwhile, the agent of Blues defender John Heitinga has hinted that the Dutchman will consider his Goodison future in January.
Heitinga has made just eight league starts this season, and his representative, Rob Janssen, told a Dutch radio station: “He is not happy with what is happening at Everton, and we don’t hide that. He is looking for a solution. When an appropriate situation for a transfer arises, we will certainly not ignore it.”
DAVID MOYES’ words said one thing, but the glint in his eye said differently. Asked whether Rafael Benitez’s infamous ‘small club’ jibe against Everton, made when the Spaniard was Liverpool manager back in 2007, had served as extra motivation for future battles, the Blues boss placed his tongue firmly in his cheek.
"No, I don’t think it had any effect," he said. "None whatsoever, in fact!"
A lot has happened in the five years since that initial comment, both to Everton and to the man who made it
On Sunday, Moyes and Benitez will come face to face for the first time in almost three years, as Chelsea visit Goodison Park for the final game of 2012. In-keeping with the current weather on Merseyside, Benitez can expect a chilly reception from Everton’s supporters.
The game itself promises to be an intriguing one. Victory for Everton would guarantee them a place in the Premier League’s top four heading into the New Year. Depending on Tottenham’s result against Sunderland this lunchtime, it could see them enter 2013 as high as third place.
That would be apt. Only Manchester United and Manchester City, the top two both this season and last, have gained more points than Everton in the calendar year. The Blues have 68 from their 40 league fixtures this year. To put that into context Chelsea, European Champions, have 66.
"I wasn’t aware of that statistic," admitted Moyes when told about it at his pre-match press conference. "But that just shows you how well we’ve done this season. It’s great credit to the players involved."
It is also a far cry from this time last season. Everton ended 2011 stuck in 12th in the table, their squad creaking and their form suffering; their first Goodison fixture of 2012 was a 2-1 home defeat to a Bolton side that would be relegated five months later.
"This time last year, all the talk was was probably about who we could get in, how we could move forward," admits Moyes. "That six-month period after Mikel (Arteta) went was not nice, but since then there has been a change.
"The last year has been a good year for us. There has been a lot of progress."
Progress indeed. Everton have been in record-breaking form of late.
With only two defeats from 19 league games, no losses at Goodison since March, and a scoring streak which has now risen to 16 league games (their best such run since 1986), Moyes has got his side looking up. The sky, or at least a place in the Champions League, is the limit.
And, unlike Chelsea, theirs has been a steady, gradual evolution. There are rarely wholesale changes at Goodison. Continuity and consistency is their currency.
"I think we’ve moved on, but at a slower pace than maybe others do," Moyes says. "If you are a spending club then you have to go and spend and get it right, you have to win straight away.
"I’ve had the opposite. I’ve had the time, but not the money. I’ve had time to build the club and try and take it forward. And that’s allowed me to, I hope, make baby steps every year. We’ve added every year, and it has given us a chance to keep progressing.
"I don’t think you would look at Everton now as an up and down club. I remember my first four or five years here and we would be like that. Not now. Now, I think you’d see Everton now as probably finishing in the top half of the league."
Top half? And the rest. Moyes may be acting smartly by playing down Everton’s top-four chances – he will know, for example, that his side have struggled to put together two consistent halves to a season in recent years – but the evidence is mounting; the Blues are right in the hunt.
"We don’t talk about it (the Champions League) with the players," he says. "But I get asked the question every week and so I try to answer it as best I can.
"I don’t want to play it down and say we’ve got no chance, because I would like us to be a club that might have a chance.
"But I am also trying to be realistic. I think we made the Champions League, or the European Cup, in 1970-71, then qualified again in the 80s when Heysel happened, and apart from that the only other time we’ve done it was in ‘05.
"So you’d have to say at the moment that Everton are the long shots. If you look at the form, you’d say it’s not us who are the favourites, given recent history. Other clubs have far better chances.
"I don’t want to play it down, but in the same breath we have to be realistic and say it will be a tough call for Everton."
A tough call, yes. But Everton are used to tough calls. One thing is for sure; few people would dare label them a small club at the moment.
DAVID MOYES will renew his rivalry with former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez tomorrow, saying he always expected the Spaniard to return to the Premier League at some point.
Benitez, now interim manager at Stamford Bridge, is likely to receive a hostile reception from home fans who will not have forgotten one notorious taunt in 2007.
The Spaniard referred to Everton as one of the Premier League’s “smaller teams” after they held Liverpool to a frustrating goalless draw at Anfield.
Overall, Moyes clashed 14 times with Benitez during the latter’s six-year spell with the Reds. Everton only managed to win three of those games, all at Goodison.
Moyes said: “It was always tough because Liverpool had a great team. It was always hard to get the better of them. They had a tremendous team, and still have.
“I think he (Benitez) always wanted to be in the Premier League. I think he enjoyed his stint here.
“I think, like a lot of people who come to this country, he enjoyed the honesty and the way the Premier League is played. I think he has bided his time to get another job.”
Benitez has started to turn around the form which prompted Chelsea to sack his predecessor Roberto Di Matteo last month.
The Londoners have won six of their last seven games in all competitions, with the one defeat in that sequence being in the Club World Cup final.
Key in that run has been seven goals from the often maligned £50million man, Fernando Torres.
Moyes said: “I think it is a great club, they are European champions.
“If you go there you have always got a chance of winning games with the quality and level of players they have got.
“I don’t think it is any surprise that Chelsea are winning games. He (Benitez) is doing a very good job. He has inherited a really good team, some very good players. You would expect him to win games. Fernando Torres is an excellent player.
“I don’t know the goings-on at Chelsea and I don’t know enough about Fernando Torres to give you any real valued opinion - I just know he has always been a really good player.”
Rafa Benitez is back on Merseyside tomorrow – ready to take a verbal beating from both sets of fans at Goodison.
The Chelsea boss has spent the last month battling large sections of his own supporters, who have dressed Stamford Bridge in ‘Rafa Out’ banners to an accompanying chorus of boos.
But if the Spaniard thinks he will find some shelter on the road, he has picked the wrong place this week as he will be reminded of the day he referred to Everton as a small club.
David Moyes brought his Toffees to Anfield in 2007 and infuriated Benitez, who claimed Everton parked the bus and played a negative game, leading Rafa to call them “a small club”.
And two years later, when Benitez said Everton had a small-club mentality, Moyes snapped back: “Everton do things with dignity and style.”
Moyes spent yesterday diplomatically avoiding further confrontation with his old adversary but while he will suffer at the hands of Everton fans, Benitez is more concerned with turning round his own supporters.
He said: “Everton are doing well. Moyes is doing a great job, they have good players with a top team spirit and are fighting teams with far more resources. What happens inside the ground will happen but one thing I will say is that, in England, football is something special.”
Three successive wins since returning from the Club World Cup in Japan has altered the complexion of Chelsea’s season with Benitez not giving up on the idea of a remarkable come-from-behind title triumph.
For that to remain a realistic proposition, Chelsea need to win at Everton and start to put pressure on the table-topping Manchester duo. But after revealing he sped off back to The Wirral for Christmas Day at home – “My wife cooked a Spanish omelette” he joked – Benitez believes his men are ready for the serious business at Goodison.
A month into the toughest job in football, Benitez seems content with life. “I said before I wanted to manage a top side,” he recalled. “Chelsea are a top side, so I am really pleased.
“It makes me even happier watching the players training, working so hard and winning.
“After Japan, we have won games and showed real character. We have tried to improve things and they have responded really well.
“I am adapting myself to them, more than them to me. I know what we want, what we are trying to achieve.
“The main thing is the feedback from them and that is really good. We listen to them and adjust things in our way but we give them some freedom in the way they want. You can see they are keen to learn and that is the main thing.” Fourteen goals in the last three games, 26 in seven matches, are an answer to those who persist in decrying Benitez as a “defensive” coach, a label the Spaniard has never accepted.
Benitez, still without John Terry but likely to recall Frank Lampard and Eden Hazard as he rotates his squad, added: “I talk about balance. You could see against Aston Villa we had been looking to improve the attack.
“But also the balance means you have to be strong defensively and to get clean sheets is quite positive.
“The reaction of the players is good as they know they can go forward because the defence is doing well.”
Benitez admits he will have to control himself as well tomorrow in what he now views as his home city.
He said: “My family still live there, and the children are still at school.”
It also appears he has taught his two daughters an important lesson in diplomacy.
“They enjoy football and play in the playground,” he said. “Are they Liverpool fans or Chelsea fans? They’re Rafa fans!”
The only ones tomorrow, perhaps.
Everton aim to ram Rafa Benitez’s “small club” jibe down his throat tomorrow as David Moyes claims the Blues have grown, writes David Anderson.
Moyes refused to put any further stress on his strained relationship with Benitez by biting back over the dig the former Liverpool boss made in 2007.
The Blues boss preferred to reflect on the progress Everton have made over the last 12 months, challenging Chelsea for a Champions League spot.
“I remember, in my first four or five years, when we might finish seventh or eighth one year, 15th or 16th the next,” he said.
“We were a bit like that. I don’t think you see Everton like that any more. You probably see Everton finishing in the top half.
“I think that last year has been good for us. There’s been a lot of progress. Leighton Baines has come into his own, Phil Jagielka is close to establishing himself as England’s centre-half. Nikica Jelavic has given us the striker we didn’t really feel we’d had for a long time and Steven Pienaar has come back.
“So I do think there’s been a lot of good things have happened in the 12 months that have allowed us to do quite well this year.
“I might not have had the money, but I’ve had the time to build the club and take it forward over the years,” said the Scot.
“Because of that, I hope it’s allowed me to make baby steps each year. We’ve done a little bit and added every year.”
Moyes was determined not to say anything inflammatory about Benitez ahead of their reunion at Goodison and the closest he got to letting this slip was when he was asked if his players had been fired up by the small-club dig.
With tongue firmly in cheek, he replied: “No, I don’t think it had any effect whatsoever.”
Perhaps Moyes is wary of winding up Benitez because of his poor record against him, winning only three of their 14 meetings.
“I’ve met him many times and we get on fine,” said Moyes. “I don’t have any problems with him at all.
“I think Rafa always came to Goodson with a really good team and he’s coming with another really good team this time.
“He bided his time, got his chance and good on him.”
David Moyes is looking forward to renewing an old rivalry with Rafael Benítez at Goodison Park on Sunday but admits he has no idea what reception the Spaniard will receive following his time as Liverpool manager.
Chelsea's interim manager returns to Everton for the first time in more than three years and is expected to be greeted with fierce hostility after describing Liverpool's local rivals as one of the Premier League's "smaller teams" in 2007.
Benítez reignited the feud in January 2009 after a draw between the Merseyside clubs in the FA Cup. But on Friday he said Everton "are doing well", adding: "They've less resources than other teams and are still competing. They are near the top of the table, so credit to them."
Moyes was similarly swift to play down any rift between the pair but has often been on the losing side when Benítez is the opposition manager. During his time with Liverpool Benítez prevailed in eight of the 12 Premier League games against Everton, losing only twice.
"I've got no problems at all. I'm fine with Rafa," Moyes said. "I have met him many times over the years. He has always come to Goodison with really good teams and he is coming with another really good team this time. Facing Rafa was always tough because Liverpool had great teams and it was very hard to get the best of them.
"It was hard to win many games against him. Like a lot of people coming into this country, I think he always wanted to be in the Premier League. He enjoyed his stint here on Merseyside. He enjoyed the honesty of the Premier League. He bided his time for another job and he has got it. I wouldn't say there's more incentive with it being him."
Asked if the "small club" jibe proved a motivating factor for Everton at the time, Moyes added with a smile: "No. I don't think it had any effect whatsoever."
Despite opposition to the Spaniard's appointment from Chelsea supporters, Benítez has steered the club to three successive league victories, including an 8-0 demolition of Aston Villa.
Everton, though, are unbeaten in seven matches and have won their last three league games against Chelsea at Goodison Park. Moyes, who confirmed that he will offer the midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger a contract extension in January, is hoping to strengthen his squad during the transfer window
but believes Everton are in a much healthier position than this time last year.
He said: "I think we had just started to pick up last year and to show signs of getting away from the bottom end but undoubtedly there is less pressure because the team is more settled. I would like if possible to add to give us a chance because we are thin and selection is really difficult at the moment."
Birmingham City have confirmed they are facing the prospect of selling England international goalkeeper Jack Butland to avoid administration.
Butland will be offloaded to raise funds if acting Birmingham chairman Peter Pannu fails to find a buyer for the Championship club next month.
Gianni Paladini's proposed £30 million takeover has not advanced, despite talks with Pannu nearly two weeks ago, and negotiations with two consortiums in Hong Kong have also failed to progress.
Birmingham owner Carson Yeung's trial to answer money laundering charges has been delayed until the spring but his assets have been frozen and the club's finances have been described as "chronic" by sources.
Birmingham will have to generate money in the New Year to effectively keep the club going and selling Butland, the goalkeeper, would ensure a swift solution. The 19 year-old is rated at around £10 million and Birmingham have already rejected a £6 million offer from Southampton.
Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and West Ham United have all scouted Butland this season and Birmingham are open to offers if the takeover situation continues to drag on. Nathan Redmond, the England U19 international winger, could be another target for Premier League clubs.
And Pannu has revealed the full scale of their financial problems by admitting Butland will have to be sacrificed to prevent the situation from becoming even more grave.
He said: "I can’t say that we are in a very wonderful situation, I would be lying if I said that. This is a very tricky question [player sales].
"What I can say is that - and I might be blasted for this by the fans - but no one is for sale and everyone is available. As in any club. Give me a £15 million offer for Jack Butland, can I say no?
"I have rejected £6 million from Southampton [in the summer] but I rejected it when our finances were OK. As the time is ticking, I might not be able to reject it if I get something similar.
"If I allow this club to go into administration, I think I will never [be able to] step foot in Birmingham city. Never. And I am not going to allow that to happen.
"If I do annoy the fans and I do dispose of players, it will be to keep the club afloat."
David Moyes fears that Everton’s attempt to qualify for next season’s Champions League could be damaged by injuries, with his concern having intensified after Darron Gibson was sent for a scan to assess the extent of a troublesome thigh problem.
Everton’s form over the past 12 months has been the most impressive of Moyes’s ten-year tenure, with only Manchester United and Manchester City accumulating more points during the calendar year.
That, coupled with Everton occupying fifth place in the Barclays Premier League, has raised hopes that this could be the season when Champions League qualification is achieved. Moyes, though, continues to play down their chances, insisting they are “long shots” in the face of competition from clubs with superior resources.
Though there is an element of reverse psychology mixed in with his realism, the Everton manager is steadfast in his belief that a lack of strength in depth could undermine his team’s chances.
As such, the news that Gibson, the central midfielder, is a doubt for the visit of Chelsea tomorrow and could face his second spell on the sidelines this season was received badly, particularly as Marouane Fellaini will definitely miss the clash with Rafael Benítez’s side through suspension.
“Darron has a thigh strain and we won’t know any more until he has his scan,” Moyes said. “We are short in several areas at the moment and are having to muddle through, but we get Fellaini back after Sunday’s game. Kevin Mirallas and Séamus Coleman won’t be too far away [from returning to fitness], but we are too thin and it’s limiting us to how we can change the team if needed.”
Another problem for Moyes to address involves the future of John Heitinga after the central defender’s agent, Rob Jansen, indicated that his client would like to leave Everton because of a lack of first-team football.
“Heitinga is definitely not happy with what is happening at Everton and we don’t hide that,” Jansen said on VI Radio in the Netherlands. “He is looking at a solution. When an appropriate situation arises for a transfer, we will certainly not ignore it.”
Joleon Lescott’s days with Manchester City appear to be coming to an end after the defender was deemed surplus to requirements.
Lescott has fallen to fourth place in Roberto Mancini’s pecking order and the Barclays Premier League champions hope to recoup in the region of £8 million of the £24 million they spent to sign him from Everton about three years ago. The England defender has 18 months left on his contract and earns about £90,000 a week — a figure that could prove a stumbling block for some clubs when the transfer window opens on Tuesday.
They include Queens Park Rangers, who are desperate to recruit proven players for their survival battle.
Lescott has also been linked with a return to Everton, although the manner of his departure after City’s very public pursuit of his signature — he was left out of a Europa League match because of his “bad attitude” by David Moyes, the Everton manager, who claimed Lescott’s head had been turned by the riches on offer — may count against him.
Lescott has made only seven league starts this season and Karim Rekik, 18, was preferred to fill in at left back when Gaël Clichy was rested for the 1-0 victory over Reading on Saturday. He was dropped for the Champions League defeat away to Real Madrid in September and blamed by Mancini for Arsenal’s equaliser in the next match.
While City are seeking to reduce their squad, Manchester United, their title rivals, have approached Everton with a view to signing Leighton Baines.
The Premier League leaders are facing stiff competition, though, from Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain, who also have been watching the left back.Everton already have a replacement after they signed Bryan Oviedo from Copenhagen in the summer.
Chelsea are also expected to need a left back, with Ashley Cole out of contract in the summer and Ryan Bertrand, 23, still gaining experience.
Carlo Ancelotti, the PSG head coach and former Chelsea manager, has considered re-signing Cole on a free transfer, but the club have concerns about his age. Baines is four years younger.
LEIGHTON BAINES is at the centre of a £15million fight between Paris St Germain, Manchester United and Chelsea.
All three are ready to match Everton’s valuation of their England defender in the January transfer window and now manager David Moyes faces a huge battle to hang on to one of the club’s most prized assets.
PSG manager Carlo Ancelotti had intended to sign left-back Ashley Cole from his former club Chelsea in the summer, but the Italian now sees the younger Baines as a better option. Cole, out of contract in the summer after rejecting a new deal at Stamford Bridge, turned 32 just before Christmas.
Baines is only 28 and at the peak of his form.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is a long-time admirer of Baines and failed with a move for the former Wigan player in the summer. He is ready to go back in.
Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez, who wants at least three players in January to strengthen his side for a title run-in, has also earmarked Baines as one of his targets.
He sees the full-back as a long-term replacement for Cole.
Like United, Chelsea have had scouts watching Baines in recent weeks, and Benitez is a big fan of a player he tried to sign when he was in charge at Liverpool.
Everton will be reluctant to sell Baines, who has flourished under the guidance of David Moyes and forced himself into the England squad. But indications are that if the price is right, they may not be able to resist.
Baines, who has 13 England caps, is having one of his best seasons at Everton, who paid Wigan £9m for him five years ago. He has been ever present as Moyes’ side continue their challenge for a Champions League place.
A PSG move for Baines could complicate matters for Cole, as it would leave him having to turn elsewhere in the summer. However, he is unlikely to be short of offers with Real Madrid having shown interest in the past.
Manchester United are increasingly confident of signing Leighton Baines next month.
Sportsmail understands talks between United and Everton over the protracted transfer have reopened and Old Trafford chiefs feel the Merseysiders will now sell the England star for £15million.
Sir Alex Ferguson has made a replacement for first-choice left back Patrice Evra a top priority, with Chelsea’s Ashley Cole, who is out of contract at the end of the season, another option for Ferguson.
But he prefers Baines, even though he will face stiff competition for the 28-year-old in the transfer window.
A senior Arsenal scout watched Baines play in Everton’s win over West Ham.
Chelsea have eyes on the defender as they search for a new left back, given Cole’s expected departure in the summer. Paris Saint-Germain are also keen.
Arsenal and Liverpool have been given the green light to move in for Lewis Holtby after the Germany midfielder scrapped contract talks with Schalke.
After months of negotiations with Schalke’s board, the 22-year old midfielder announced his intention to quit the Bundesliga club, in a development that will alert a host of admirers headed by the Barclays Premier League pair.
Both Arsene Wenger and his Liverpool counterpart Brendan Rodgers have expressed an interest in him and will be keener than ever, now he can be snapped up for a knockdown fee next month or for nothing at the end of the season.
Signed from Alemannia Aachen in 2009, Holtby has developed into one of Germany’s most prominent young midfielders and was considered integral to Schalke’s hopes of challenging the likes of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund at the top of the Bundesliga.
They were hoping he would follow another Arsenal target, Holland striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar, in committing his future to the club, but board member Horst Heldt was forced to concede defeat.
‘We had hoped Lewis saw his future at Schalke beyond the end of this season,’ said Heldt. ‘But he has made a personal decision that we respect.
We are sure he will give everything between now and the end of the season.’
Arsenal and Liverpool must now decide whether to battle it out over personal terms in the summer or part with a cut-price fee now to land him in the January window.
Holtby’s English father Chris is a lifelong Everton fan, and the Schalke playmaker recently admitted that he, too, has an allegiance to the Goodison Park club.
Though he chose to represent Germany at international level, rather than England, and has been capped three times since his debut against Azerbaijan 18 months ago, he has made no secret of his wish to play in the Premier League.
It has been another dramatic year on Merseyside. Trophies have been won, managers have gone, big signings have arrived and the banter between supporters remains as fierce as ever.
But, given the way both teams have performed over the last 12 months, if you were to pick a team that comprises both Liverpool and Everton players, who would make your final cut? History suggests a Mersey XI would be dominated by Red shirts but is that now the case?
This time last year, Mersey Beat put forward its Liver-ton team of 2011. It was as follows...
Pepe Reina, Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Lucas, Marouane Fellaini, Maxi Rodriguez, Leon Osman, Craig Bellamy, Luis Suarez.
That was seven Reds, compared to four Blues. Will that be the case now?
Here, for your arguing and debating, is the class of 2012. Some choices are obvious, others less so. The system we have chosen is 4-1-3-2, so there should be plenty of goals.
TIM HOWARD – Everton’s No 1 takes the gloves off Pepe Reina. By his own admission, Reina’s standards have dropped this year and while Howard hasn’t exactly been faultless, his consistency has been that little better than his Liverpool counterpart.
GLEN JOHNSON – The lazy argument to put forward about Johnson is that he can’t defend. That simply isn’t the case. Whether he has been played on the left or in his natural position on the right, his performances through the year have generally been high class.
PHIL JAGIELKA and DANIEL AGGER – Everton’s vice-captain has stamped himself as one of England’s best and has claims to be first choice at international level, now that John Terry and Rio Ferdinand are out of the picture. Agger, meanwhile, has enjoyed his best year at Liverpool and regularly showed why Manchester City made a £20million offer for him.
LEIGHTON BAINES – The upward trajectory Baines has been on shows no signs of tapering out. A sign of how good he has been comes from the fact that a legitimate debate can be held over who should start for England: him or Ashley Cole. The first name on Everton’s team-sheet.
DARRON GIBSON – Is this the most contentious selection? He was rather unheralded when arriving from Manchester United but he has been crucial in Everton’s development. His range of passing and discipline has been outstanding.
LEON OSMAN – That he was given a first England cap in November shows how well Osman has played this year. David Moyes described him recently as having “happy feet” and when he gets on the ball, he is always capable of making something happen.
STEVEN GERRARD – Finishing a momentous year in which he won his 100th cap in style, been back to his best in recent weeks and - significantly - looks fitter than he has in recent seasons. Was England's top performer at Euro 2012.
MAROUANE FELLAINI – Some colossal displays over the past 12 months, the highlights being his bullying of Manchester United in August and his domination of Arsenal in November. Hugely effective in both an attacking and defensive role. Obvious choice.
NIKICA JELAVIC and LUIS SUAREZ – Surely this selection cannot be debated? Jelavic has stripped the art of striking down to its most basic form. Shoot and score. A man with ice in his veins, he rarely looks like missing when presented with a chance and the £5million it cost to sign him from Rangers was superb business. As for Suarez, his importance to Liverpool simply cannot be underestimated. A genuine world class talent and a frequent scorer. What more could you want?