Monthly Archives: December 2012

Allen hails ‘unstoppable’ Suarez after double against QPR

Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen has labelled his team-mate Luis Suarez as “unstoppable” after the striker netted twice in the 3-0 win over QPR on Sunday.

The victory at Loftus Road saw Brendan Rodgers’ team climb up to ninth in the Premier League table going into the New Year, with Suarez grabbing a double inside the opening 15 minutes.

With the 25-year-old forward having already surpassed last season’s tally of 11 league goals at the halfway mark this term, Allen believes performances like the one against the struggling Rs make him such a difficult player to play against.

“We were all desperate to bounce back after what was a bitterly disappointing result at Stoke,” Allen told the Liverpool Echo.

“We wanted to put things right and we did that with the way we played in the first half. As a team we were excellent and that’s the way we want to play in every match. When you’ve got someone like Luis Suarez you’re always going to cause teams problems. When Luis plays like that he’s unstoppable.

“For his first goal, when he picked up the ball I’m sure QPR didn’t think there was much danger. But he created something out of nothing and then produced a great finish. That’s why he’s a world-class striker. He’s scoring a lot of goals for us this season and long may that continue.”

The 22-year-old, who had started from the bench for the club’s two previous outings before the QPR clash, was pleased to be involved again from the off and felt that the team dealt well with manager Rodgers’ absence through illness.

He added: “I got a chance to start and I’m just glad to be part of a winning performance,” he added. “As much as everyone wants to play every game, I think sometimes a rest does you a bit of good.

“I’ve had a slight problem with my pelvis in recent weeks which luckily settled just in time for this game. I felt strong out there.

“It was a shame we couldn’t score more goals in the second half but we didn’t need to chase the game too much and leave ourselves exposed. QPR had nothing to lose in the second half and threw more players forward but we defended well.

“When you score three goals away from home and keep a clean sheet you’ve got to be very happy. It took everyone by surprise when we heard the manager was ill and wouldn’t be at the game but we dealt with it very well,” Allen added.

“We’ve got an unbelievable staff here capable of stepping into Brendan’s place. As a team we wanted to get a positive result for everyone.”

From marvellous Messi to the Muamba miracle – 2012 in numbers

ANALYSIS
By Danny Hart

What a year of football we have had. Chelsea and Manchester City lifted silverware in the most remarkable of circumstances, Lionel Messi broke record after record, and Spain continued to dazzle on the international stage.

Along the way, certain facts and figures have stood out above the rest – from QPR’s awful away days to the ruthless world of football management.

So, from the sublime to the downright ridiculous, Goal.com takes a look at 2012 in numbers.

1 – Swindon Town beat more Premier League clubs away from home in 2012 than QPR. The Rs failed to win in 19 attempts against top-flight sides on the road, while Paolo Di Canio’s side shocked Stoke at the Britannia Stadium in the Capital One Cup.

7 – Luka Modric failed to win a trophy in four years at Tottenham, but it took the Croatian midfielder just seven minutes to win silverware at Real Madrid, coming on as a late substitute in the Supercopa victory over Barcelona.

11 – For the first time in the club’s history, Everton fielded a starting XI without a single Englishman against Leeds United in the Capital One Cup. Former international Phil Neville made an appearance from the bench, though.

46 – Liverpool picked up just 46 points during 2012. That tally would have seen them finish 13th in the Premier League last season – below West Brom, Swansea and Norwich.

57 – Henning Berg took charge of only 10 matches during his 57-day reign at Blackburn Rovers. He won one game in his return to Ewood Park, losing six times and drawing the other three.

76 – Roberto Di Matteo needed just 76 days to win the FA Cup and Champions League after being appointed Chelsea’s caretaker manager on March 4.

94 – However, after being given the job on a permanent basis in the summer, 94 days into the new season Roman Abramovich sacked the Italian.

310 – Tottenham goalkeeper Brad Friedel started 310 Premier League matches in a row before he was replaced by summer signing Hugo Lloris for a match against Aston Villa on October 7.

10,000 – Celebrity Arsenal fan Piers Morgan lost £10,000 in a bet with Samir Nasri when the former Gunners midfielder won the Premier League with Manchester City.

80,000 – Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner was fined £80,000 for revealing the name and logo of a bookmaker on his underwear while celebrating a goal during Euro 2012.

AGUEROOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Thrilling Premier League finale in numbers

13 – Just 13 seconds after Manchester United’s 2-0 victory over Sunderland seemingly wrapped up the title, Sergio Aguero scored Manchester City’s winner against QPR.

44 – City’s triumph was their first top-flight title success since they, ironically, pipped United to top spot on the final day of the season 44 years previously.

94 – Aguero‘s title-winning goal came in the 94th minute of City’s dramatic 3-2 win over QPR on the last day of the campaign.

8 – United were on course for the title with six matches remaining. They had a commanding lead over City but let it slip by dropping eight points in the run-in.

56 – For the first time in Sir Alex Ferguson’s 26 years at Old Trafford, his side lost the title on goal difference, with United’s +56 only bettered by City’s record of +64.

89 – United’s 89 points is the most a team has gained in the Premier League era without winning the title.

2 – Bradford City have beaten more Premier League teams than QPR in the 2012-13 season. The League Two club knocked out Wigan and Arsenal on penalties in the Capital One Cup, while QPR’s victory over Fulham on December 15 is their only in the top flight this campaign.

3 – He may have had another inconsistent year in front of goal, but Fernando Torres was one of English football’s most decorated players in 2012, winning three major trophies. Along with team-mate Juan Mata, he added to May’s FA Cup and Champions League triumphs by helping Spain win Euro 2012.

7 – It took Emile Heskey just three months to score seven goals for Newcastle Jets after joining the club in October – the same number of goals he scored in his last three seasons at Aston Villa.

DEMBA DILEMMA

DEMBA BA
GAMES PLAYED (Jan-May)
GOALS SCORED
GAMES PLAYED (Aug-Dec)
GOALS SCORED
16
2
20
13
PAPISS CISSE
GAMES PLAYED (Jan-May)
GOALS SCORED
GAMES PLAYED (Aug-Dec)
GOALS SCORED

14
13
18
3

26 – Of the 26 matches Darron Gibson featured in for Everton and Republic of Ireland in 2012, he lost just one – a 2-0 defeat to West Brom in September. Even then he was substituted after 20 minutes due to injury when the game was still goalless.

31 – Senegalese strikers Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse scored 31 Premier League goals between them in 2012. Ba has been Newcastle’s star for much of this season but Cisse stole the limelight following his move from Freiburg last January (see right).

51 – Jermain Defoe has been a regular in England squads since 2004 but it was not until his 51st cap – a 1-1 draw with Ukraine in September – that he played a full match for his country.

66 – Chelsea have a 66.6 per cent win record in Premier League matches that Frank Lampard has featured in over the last 12 months, compared to a 21.4% win record when the veteran midfielder has not played (see below).

78 – Fabrice Muamba’s heart stopped for 78 minutes after he suffered a cardiac arrest during an FA Cup tie between Tottenham and Bolton in March. Thankfully he made a full recovery.

90 – Lukas Podolski has featured in 24 matches for Arsenal, including 23 starts, since his summer move from Koln but has completed 90 minutes in just two games.

1100 – The 1100 goals scored in the Premier League during 2012 is the highest in a calendar year since the league’s inception in 1992.

1130 – Former England striker James Beattie ended a goal drought lasting 1130 days by scoring in Accrington Stanley’s 3-1 win over Fleetwood Town in November. He had featured for Stoke, Blackpool, Rangers, Sheffield United and current club Accrington during a run of 54 games without finding the net.

FRANK LAMPARD
PREMIER LEAGUE RECORD IN 2012

CHELSEA WITH LAMPARD | 24 GAMES
Won 16
Drawn 4
Lost 4
Win % 66.6
CHELSEA WITHOUT LAMPARD | 14 GAMES
Won 3
Drawn 7
Lost 4
Win % 21.4

3 – Messi started the year by winning his third consecutive Ballon d’Or award, beating Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona team-mate Xavi to the prize.

5 – In a 7-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen in March, he became the first person to score five goals in a single Champions League game. Ten players had done so in Europe’s elite club competition in the past but nobody had achieved the feat in the Champions League era.

ALL HAIL KING LIONEL!

BARCELONA RECORD IN 2012
GAMES PLAYED
GOALS SCORED
GOALS TO GAME RATIO
60
79
1.31
ARGENTINA RECORD IN 2012
GAMES PLAYED
GOALS SCORED
GOALS TO GAME RATIO
9
12
1.33

12 – He often receives critics for not turning up on the international stage, but Messi‘s 12 goals for Argentina in 2012, which included a hat-trick against Brazil, equalled Gabriel Batistuta’s record for goals in a calendar year for his country.

14 – Although he ended the 2011-12 Champions League campaign on a sour note with a missed penalty in the semi-final to Chelsea, Messi‘s 14 goals that season saw him crowned the competition’s top scorer for the fourth year in a row.

50 – The Barcelona star scored 50 goals in the 2011-12 La Liga season, beating Cristiano Ronaldo‘s record of 40 set in the previous campaign. He already has 26 after 17 league games in 2012-13.

63 – The 25-year-old averaged a goal every 63 minutes for club and country in 2012.

91 – Messi beat Gerd Muller’s record of 85 goals in a calendar year by scoring in a 2-1 win over Real Betis, and went on to net a further five to end 2012 on 91.

107 – It emerged after Messi‘s record-breaking feat that former Kabwe Warriors striker Godfrey Chitalu scored 107 goals in 1972. The Zambian FA attempted to ratify the tally but Fifa does not keep official records and refused to get involved.

2018 – Messi celebrated an outstanding personal year by extending his contract at Camp Nou to the summer of 2018.

460,000 – He was said to have turned down a weekly wage of €560,000 after a Russian club reportedly met his €250 million Barcelona release clause.

Now you have seen a selection of the best facts and figures from the last 12 months, have you got a better one to share? Leave your suggestions in the comment box below!

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The 20 most popular European clubs on Goal.com

As another busy year of football draws to a close, fans the world over can take time to reflect back on their club’s previous season and how the current term is shaping up.

Some readers will have had considerably more content to read through than others given all of the big-name signings, club takeovers, player injuries and a plethora of other headline-grabbing team news.

So, for those curious to know who Goal.com‘s most visited team pages in the wake of an entertaining 2012 were, we have put together the list below:

With the Red Devils boasting the record for most Premier League wins of all time, it perhaps isn’t so surprising that the English titans have taken the top spot in our list of Goal.com’s most popular teams.

Sir Alex Ferguson is responsible for 12 of the 19 PL titles won during his 26-year reign at Old Trafford, as well as numerous domestic cups and two Champions Leagues. With such a dedicated, results-minded manager at the club, it is easy to see why so many football fans the world over place their allegiance with the currently free-scoring English side.

Despite a failure to pick up any silverware since the 2005 FA Cup, Arsenal remain one of the most followed clubs in the world.

The Emirates side’s brand of exciting, attacking football under Arsene Wenger sees the team compete at the highest level every season, although the club’s failure to produce trophies has seen former stars such as Robin van Persie look for glory elsewhere.

With that in mind, the Gunners will be under intense pressure in the coming weeks to hold onto the very much in-form Theo Walcott if they are to build on the substance side of their already stylish team.

Always bursting with multicultural talent, reigning Champions League holders Chelsea are the third English side on our list to boast a huge global following.

The only London-based club to go all the way in Europe’s most prestigious club competition, Roman Abramovich’s billions have not only helped steer the Blues to domestic and European glory since the Russian owner took over in 2003, but has also served to lure in such big names as visionary coach Jose Mourinho, and World Cup winner Fernando Torres, ensuring the star-studded Stamford Bridge side continue to compete at the top level.

One half of the biggest rivalry in world football – El Clasico – Real Madrid’s popularity is easily explained by the abundance of talent within the club’s squad each season, which is well highlighted by Los Blancos‘ record for most Champions League titles won (nine).

With such great history, the Spanish outfit is also the richest club in the world in terms of annual revenue, making it easy to recognise why world-class players such as the entire cast of the ‘Galacticos‘ era, and of course Cristiano Ronaldo, can be lured to the Santiago Bernabeu.

The other half of El Clasico. The hugely successful Catalan club’s name has become synonymous with a particular brand of football in recent years, to the point where “they’re playing like Barcelona” can often be heard when a less heralded side enjoy long periods of possession coupled with pin-point-accurate passing.

Lionel Messi, perhaps the best player the world has ever seen, largely dominates headlines for the Liga side these days. However, it is consistent historical achievements – such as being the only team to feature in Europe every year since 1955 – that should keep supporters coming back for generations to come.

Second only to Real Madrid in terms of Champions League tournament victories, AC Milan are tied for the honour of second-most successful club in Serie A alongside Inter, who also have 18 league titles.

And while the Rossoneri are going through something of a transitional phase at the moment, having just lost such big names as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, the Italian side’s history is drenched in success.

Perhaps the best example of their past successes is Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan. Sacchi’s squad won back-to-back European cups in 1989 and 1990, and are often hailed as the best club side of all time.

By far the most successful club in Italian football, Juventus have accrued a record 28 league wins and a total of nine Italian Cups (also a record), which when added to the rest of The Old Lady’s achievements comes to an impressive total of 53 official titles.

And while the hugely productive Bianconeri took a credibility hit following the Calciopoli scandal that saw them relegated to Serie B for the first time in their history, the club has recovered well from the nightmare of 2006.

Returning quickly to the top of European football with a solid core of skilled key players, a talented, loyal, “homegrown” coach and a new stadium to watch it all in, it would appear Juventus look armed and ready to continue bolstering their extraordinary history for the hordes of patriotic fans.

Fourth on the popularity list of English clubs is Liverpool, a side in such current turmoil that their past successes really do seem like just that: past successes.

However we have only to look back to the 2012 League Cup to see the Reds’ most recent competition win. And, while the Anfield side’s transitional phase may see them continue to struggle for consistency in the Premier League, Liverpool fans would remind you of their Champions League win in 2005 – something few would have expected.

All this to say that the dedication from those involved with the club will doubtlessly aid in steering the Reds out of their current funk, as they have done before, on their journey to add to their impressive catalogue of trophies.

Internazionale‘s international appeal is aided in part by their participation in one of the most followed rivalries in world football: the Derby della Madonnina with AC Milan.

However, simply brushing shoulders with their fellow San Siro giant a few times each season doesn’t fully explain the Nerazzurri‘s global pull.

As mentioned before, Inter are tied in second for most Serie A titles won, and equalled the record for league wins on the trot (five) from 2006 to 2010. Add three Champions League wins to that, throw in a trio of Uefa cups for good measure, and the Italian club’s popularity is easily understood.

Manchester City began to garner a great deal more interest from football followers after their takeover by Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008, as the club’s level of participation in the transfer market changed dramatically.

As recently as 1998, the Citizens almost fell off the radar completely as they dropped to the third tier of English football. However, in 2012, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s cash infusion helped Roberto Mancini lead his team of big-money stars to the club’s first top-flight league title since 1968.

And with so much expensive talent within the ranks, City fans would say their club’s legacy is merely in its infancy.

Bayern Munich have long rated amongst Europe’s elite, so it is of little surprise that the Bavarian side – who reached the Champions League final last year – features as the most popular German team on our list.

Forever a tightly-run ship, FCB’s rich history features four Champions League wins, 22 Bundesliga league titles and 15 domestic cups, making them the most successful club in Germany.

The third London-based club to feature on our list, Tottenham Hotspur appear to be in ascendancy.

Players such as Luka Modric, Rafael van der Vaart and Gareth Bale have provided the star power in recent years as the Lilywhites continue to find themselves in Europe, where they have been giving good accounts of themselves.

Tottenham may not be as storied as some other members of the EPL, but if treble-winning coach Andre Villas-Boas is given time to install his philosophy at the club, who knows what Spurs’ trophy cabinet will look like in years to come?

Another addition from Italy, three-time Scudetto winners Roma have never tasted European success, but have given a good enough account of themselves in years past to come close on two occasions.

And it is that tenacity and passion within the club that sees the Giallorossi there or thereabouts in Europe each year, while Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and the like have provided the charisma to make the capital side a joy to watch.

Much like Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain’s recent takeover by the Qatar Investment Authority has seen the club’s popularity skyrocket.

Far from one of the most historically acclaimed sides in the world, world-class striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s presence – and perhaps Thiago Silva’s, to a much lesser extent – appears to have been enough to make the world of football stand up and take notice.

It’s not often a team comes along with the organisation and talent to dethrone Bayern Munich as kings of Germany, but Jurgen Klopp’s exemplary Borussia Dortmund side have pulled it off twice in a row.

That’s not to say die Borussien is without its own share of past triumphs both domestically and in Europe, they’ve done well over the years in fact. However the club’s great pull at the moment is the style, skill, resilience and determination of the current BVB squad – the Marco Reus and Mario Gotze-inspired squad that finished unbeaten in their Champions League group which also featured Manchester City and Real Madrid.

Easily one of the best sides in Spain outside of Barcelona and Real Madrid, Atletico’s past is littered with Liga titles and Spanish cups, but it is perhaps their most recent triumphs that have seen the club’s popularity rise.

Los Colchoneros have won the Europa League in the past two seasons, the first with former Manchester United forward Diego Forlan leading their attack, the latter with the highly sought-after Colombian striking ace Radamel Falcao.

And if Falcao’s goalscoring exploits at Porto wasn’t enough to get football fans looking his way, three goals against Chelsea in last season’s Super Cup surely is.

The second last of our list’s Italian teams, Lazio’s progression in the past few years has been noticeable. A top-five finish in 2010-11 was followed by a top-four finish in 2011-12, while the ever-improving Biancocelesti find themselves second only to Juventus in Serie A at the turn of the year this term.

Shrewd signings such as Hernanes and Miroslav Klose have propelled Claudio Lotito’s club back into the European fray. And if the refinement of Vladimir Petkovic’s techniques continues, perhaps along with a few depth-providing additions to the squad, fans will be hopeful of sometime soon reliving the glory of the Cup Winners’ Cup victory in 1999.

QPR?! Yes, we thought the same thing at first, but the recently promoted side made some huge waves in the transfer market, signing a raft of well known players such as Park Ji-Sung, Djibril Cisse and Jose Bosingwa.

Throw some of Joey Barton’s on-field violence on the final day of the 2011-12 into the mix and presto. Suddenly everyone is reading about Queens Park Rangers.

The surprise package in the EPL last season, Newcastle had a terrific 2011-12 which saw them finish above Champions League victors Chelsea. As well as claiming the Blues’ scalp at Stamford Bridge, they beat Manchester United 3-0 at the turn of the year, trounced Liverpool at St James’ Park and then began the 2012-13 campaign with a triumph over Tottenham.

But since that win their luck has evaporated and their form has sunk, along with hopes of a top-four finish. Juggling Europe with league success this season – along with coping with various injuries – has hit the Magpies hard, and a relegation fight is not implausible.

However, everybody loves an underdog, and scoring three goals at Old Trafford and away to Arsenal in their last two thrilling games of 2012 (yet losing both in the final 10 minutes) shows just why readers remain glued to the club’s highs and lows.

The year of 2012 has seen Fiorentina star Stevan Jovetic linked with a multitude of clubs including Manchester City, while the arrival of former AC Milan and Liverpool midfielder Alberto Aquilani was also subject to heavy media coverage.

Speaking of Milan, la Viola‘s 3-1 victory over the San Siro side back in November helped to boost their profile, with the return of former player and World Cup winner Luca Toni the icing on the proverbial cake.

Mock the Year 2012: Honour for Tevez and Chelsea re-enact Star Wars

By George Ankers

Man of the Year


Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)

Carlos Tevez owes this award to Mario Balotelli. That is not to say that the Italian is a more deserving Man of the Year – it is the fact that if he had not kept his cool to assist Sergio Aguero for the Premier League-winning goal on May 13, everything would have been different for Tevez.

Starve a club of glory for 44 years and they will become desperate. Irrational.

Manchester City were slipping back in the title race when Tevez returned to action. Roberto Mancini, who is to tactical planning what a toaster is to lockpicking, relied upon individual brilliance to win games but most of his brilliant individuals were burned out.

GOOD YEAR
Robin van Persie
The year in which the Dutch Destroyer transformed from injury-prone talent to best-in-the-world-bothering goal volcano. So good that nobody noticed his useless Euro 2012 and so strong that he survived that vicious attack by Ashley s.

Statisticians
As Lionel Messi blitzed his fearsome goal-rampage all year long, number-crunchers have rarely been more in demand as they were hired to dig up the next unlikely feat. “No player has scored more goals on Tuesdays than Messi!” “He’s the first man to net two with only one shot!” They’ve earned their crust.

Leon Osman
In a tough year for football, seeing Osman finally win an England cap was a cathartic victory for all the little guys out there. MTY salutes you, Leon.

So the Argentine’s comeback was a vital push. He did not score any of those vital goals in the final games but, by then, his work was done. He had reignited City. His orchestration of their 6-1 win at Norwich City in April was one of the most devastating performances of the season.

Rejuvenated, Mancini’s men stole the title from Manchester United in a fashion more dramatic than a 14-year-old girl’s Facebook messages. Everything was fine.

Fine? Why was everything fine? Why did City and all their fans just shrug and mutter “hey, crazy Carlos. What ya gonna do?”

Tevez refused to do his job and went on a golfing tour of South America for four busy months. That’s not adorably crazy, that’s grossly unprofessional. Setting your bin on fire and buying trampolines from John Lewis is adorably crazy.

So again, Tevez owes this award to Balotelli. If Super Mario hadn’t laid the groundwork for City fans accepting extraordinary behaviour, the Argentine would have been hounded out before he could slink back into training.

Instead, he is welcomed by all because, when he finally did bother to show up, he won them a trophy. Glory finally burying the body of football’s principles, stuffing its corpse roughly into a well-dug grave beneath the 18th green. Carlos Tevez is football’s Mr 2012.


WELCOME TO BUENOS AIRES

Quote of the year

“We’ve left ourselves a two-goal cushion to climb”

Petr Cech after Chelsea lose 3-1 to Napoli in the first leg of their Champions League clash. Turns out that cushions are, in fact, easy to climb

Star Wars: A Blue Hope

A long, long time ago in a tax bracket far, far away… the CHELSEA EMPIRE is in chaos. On the planet Mustamfar Bridge, their once-mighty fortress is crumbling, spewing dodgy defending everywhere like lava.

ROBERTOBI-WAN KENODI MATTEO and ROMANAKIN SKYWALKER are waging a fierce duel across the fiery landscape, their lightsabers flashing and hissing like the VIP guests at a footballers’ Christmas party after midnight.

TEAM OF THE YEAR
Goalkeeper: Ali Al Habsi. The only reason why Wigan didn’t go down last year, he’s now seeking a new challenge as the main reason why they probably will.

Defence: The Society of Black Lawyers. Ever-present. (Plus Stewart Downing at left-back.)

Midfield: Marouane Fellaini and his hair. That’ll probably do.

Forwards: Grant Holt – the working man’s champion in 2011-12, deserved an England call-up in the summer, said as much, didn’t get it, got in a huff, hustled his club for more money and then just picked up where he left off. Fair play. Partnered by Gervinho.

ROMANAKIN: Look at what you’ve done! You’ve destroyed the empire!

ROBERTOBI-WAN: You have done that yourself! Your anger and lust for power have already done that. By putting so much faith in that pathetic cartoon of a man, Fer Fer Torrinks, you caused all this!

ROMANAKIN: You were the chosen one!

ROBERTOBI-WAN: No, Romanakin, I was the only one left! I conquered the galaxy for you; we could have ruled it as father and son! But you wanted Han Guardiolo instead – he’ll never join you!

ROMANAKIN: I see through your lies! With you gone, I can bring peace, freedom, justice and security back to the Empire! If I build it, Guardiolo will come!

RAFAEODA: (emerging from the darkness) FACHT, that is.

ROBERTOBI-WAN: Aligning with the enemy, Romanakin? I’ve got a bad feeling about that. If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine!

ROMANAKIN: Hardly. You’ll get the Swansea job when Michael Laudrup moves up the ladder, maybe.

A jump. A lightsaber flashes. Silence.

Photo of the Year

Best ex-thing
Euro 2012

Euro 2012 was a solid tournament, perhaps a six-and-a-half or maybe seven out of 10. A good time was had by all, though more in the exciting group stage than the only-really-worth-it-for-Balotelli knockouts.

In future years, however, we will remember it as a marvel, a show-stopping explosion of footballing joy. For future editions of the competition will push upon our faces a pair of glasses so rose-tinted that bees will be trying to pollenate our eyes.

BAD YEAR
English football
On the pitch, standards are slipping like John Terry playing a high line. There’s fun to be had but the Premier League has well and truly had its pants pulled down in the Champions League. Even Ligue 1 is catching up! Off the pitch… just grow up, everyone, please.

Emmanuel Adebayor
Last year, he was the glue holding Spurs together as the league’s most entertaining side. Now he’s a red-card-in-waiting playing second fiddle to Jermain Defoe’s revolutionary ‘false false nine’ poacher role.

Arsenal
Disastrous! Losing club captain Van Persie has, as expected, destroyed the Gunners – to the extent that they are further up the table than they were at this stage of last season. What is it that you want back exactly?

Having already done away with the plausibility of shocking group-stage twists by increasing Euro 2016 to 24 teams, Michel Platini promptly dismembered the soul of the tournament and scattered its twitching limbs across the continent for EuroTrip 2020.

So it was fun but now it’s gone. We’ll just have to pretend that Poland and Ukraine was the perfect send-off for a delightful but now essentially defunct institution – and there were some incredible highlights, like the Antonin Panenka comeback tour and Nicklas Bendtner’s pants.

Anyway, we’ll always have Paris. And London. And Munich. And Bucharest. And…

Hashtag of the Year
#cerealquest

Football is still learning how to deal with Twitter. The relationship has improved, undoubtedly, but there are plenty of flare-ups as the sport reluctantly gets to grips with modernity.

Who could forget the foul-mouthed rant from Ashley Cole as he labelled the FA a “#BUNCHOF[REDACTED]”? Or Rio Ferdinand accusing [REDACTED]? Or [REDACTED] Heskey [REDACTED] spoon [REDACTED]?

Twitter is a great force for good, uniting players, journalists and fans like never before. It can also be a horrible place, where anonymity makes morons feel brave enough to write racial abuse or post Photoshopped pictures of John Terry celebrating other people’s victories.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
Things that should have happened in 2012 but didn’t:

Swansea City releasing a parody ‘Danny Graham Style’ video

Brendan Rodgers playing all the characters in ‘Being: Liverpool’

Chelsea winning the Club World Cup (too soon?)

So thank you to Reading defender Sean Morrison for #cerealquest. The young centre-back has done as well as any Royals player following their promotion to the Premier League but he understood that he has a higher calling than just playing the game.

The people needed hope. The people needed joy. The people needed cereal. And so Morrison began a solemn mission to try lots of different kinds of cereal and judge each one to find the best. And he did it with a quite brilliant way with words.

“First things first! The box itself is ridiculous!” he wrote when evaluating Golden Nuggets. “Draws you in from what feels like a mile away! Your eyes lock on and you can’t take them off! Till you grasp the box in your hands! Beautiful and captivating!

“Once the milk washes its self over this graceful cereal! Something amazing happens! It remains unexplained! The crunch of the little nuggets as you bite into them and the flavour of the luscious milk! BAFFLING! Best yet! … 4/5”

Thrilling and different, Morrison has proved himself the Froot Loops of footballers on Twitter. There can be no higher praise.

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Suarez the ‘street fighter’ can be Premier League’s best in 2013

COMMENT
By Oliver Platt

The Ajax managing director, Rik van den Boog, promised Liverpool fans a “street fighter” when the Reds paid nearly £23 million to sign Luis Suarez 23 months ago. That characterisation has proved more accurate than even he might have imagined. Suarez has fought more than his fair share of battles in England and sometimes he has not come out of them in a flattering light.

One year after his lowest low, though, his star now shines brighter than ever. On the evening that ushered in 2012, the Football Association published the 115-page verdict produced by the independent disciplinary commission that investigated allegations of racial abuse by Suarez against Patrice Evra. The Uruguay striker’s evidence was described as “unreliable” and “inconsistent” and he was banned for eight matches.

Those two stinging criticisms could hardly be less applicable to Suarez the footballer. Few teams in the Premier League have relied on one man as much as Liverpool have Suarez this season. Having provided two assists and struck 13 times himself, he has been on the scene for nearly half of their 31 league goals in 2012-13.

On Sunday, the QPR defence was diced and demoralised within 16 minutes at Loftus Road. Suarez scored twice in that time and both goals were of nearly entirely his own creation. There was a video game quality to the way he scampered breathlessly around the attacking third of the pitch. “I can’t bear the idea of not trying to make the most of every single second,” he said in an interview with the Guardian in August.

His first goal is mesmerising to watch. Clint Hill’s shortcomings as a Premier League central defender are brutally exposed but that is to take nothing away from Suarez’s brilliance. Even after Hill is sent into a spin, after all, neither Stephane Mbia nor Ryan Nelsen can close in on him quickly enough.

The second is somewhat emblematic of the jackhammer style that is Suarez’s nature. Little more than five minutes have elapsed since the opening goal hit the net, but Suarez does not stop. He elects to try a pass across goal to Raheem Sterling, after a run in behind which perfectly evidenced his tireless nature. There is little more Nedum Onuoha can do than desperately slide in to prevent Sterling from converting and, in the process, return the ball to Suarez to slam into the roof of the net.

Only Robin van Persie, among the top flight’s leading hitmen, can justifiably argue that he has been better than Suarez this season and, perhaps, in 2012 as a whole. Van Persie leads the goalscoring charts having found the target 14 times, but his supporting cast, both at Manchester United and Arsenal, has been considerably stronger. He is also playing in his ninth Premier League season; Suarez has the experience of only one and a half.

“He’s been brilliant for us since he came to the club,” Gerrard told Sky Sports following the 3-0 victory in west London. “Week in, week out he shows what a top player he is. These players have only got to play against him twice a year; we’ve got to train against him every day. He’s a magician.”

But as Redknapp noted, this was nothing new. He was even better in a quite staggering display against Norwich in September, to give just one example. “I think I’ve seen him do that to everyone he’s played against this year,” Redknapp said. “It’s not something he’s just suddenly done today, is it? It’s what he is. He’s the most fantastic striker. He’s one of the best, in the half a dozen in the world, without a doubt.”

Suarez will never be universally loved, but that will not bother him one iota while he is so adored at Anfield. The allegations of racism were on another level of seriousness entirely but this is a player who has been frequently singled out as a diver and, according to Asamoah Gyan, became “the most hated person in Ghana” after his handball denied the African country a goal that would have secured their place in the semi-finals of the last World Cup.

Still he is met with regular boos, cries of ‘cheat’ and chants referencing the Evra case at Premier League stadiums. Twelve months ago he responded by raising his middle finger to Fulham supporters following a 1-0 defeat. Now, he lets his football do the talking, and Liverpool are enjoying the benefits.

Suarez will only get better, and the doubts at Liverpool now do not concern his worth but the club’s ability to grow as quickly as he is. Like it or not, 2013 could be the year of the street fighter.

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Manchester United top, Everton fourth & Liverpool in the bottom half – the final 2012 Premier League table

ANALYSIS
By Chris Myson

If the Premier League was decided purely on results from the calendar year of 2012, Manchester United would be champions, Everton would be in the Champions League and Liverpool would have to settle for a 14th-place finish.

The 2012 table gives us a fascinating look at performances based on the last 12 months, with some surprising results recorded based on how well teams fared at the end of the 2011-12 season and the start of the current 2012-13 campaign.

Amongst what is most notable from the statistics – which were provided by Infostrada Sports – is the gulf between Manchester United and Manchester City to the rest of the division over the last year.

United racked up an impressive 93 points during the year, while City picked up 86 from a game more, reflecting both the current gap between the two teams in the table and how close they were last season.

That puts United and City a massive margin – 25 and 18 points respectively – ahead of nearest challengers Chelsea, who finish the year in third in the table following their win over Everton, who scoop fourth.

The fact David Moyes’ men have been in Champions League form for the last year will give them hope that they can sustain a top-four challenge in the latter part of this season as they battle the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham, who round off our top six.

Impressive years for West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City are recognised with top-eight places, while the scale of Newcastle United‘s slump since the start of the campaign is emphasised by their own finishing position.

After recording an excellent finish in fifth in 2011-12, their poor form in the first half of the current season sees them slip to ninth on the overall 2012 table.

The size of the task facing Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool is highlighted by the Reds’ record being just the 14th best in the top flight, with 17 defeats to just 12 wins in the calendar year despite their victory against QPR on Sunday.

Horrendous years for Aston Villa and QPR are summed up by their position at the bottom of the standings when we don’t consider the newly-promoted clubs.

West Ham, who have only been back in the top flight since August, have recorded just seven points less than Harry Redknapp’s new team over the last year.

Combined, Villa and QPR won just 13 of the 78 games they played during 2012 in what can hardly be considered a vintage year for either club.

Wigan Athletic lost more games than anyone else in the division – 19 over the course of the 12 months – while Stoke City had the most draws with 18.

In terms of goals scored, Manchester United (90), Manchester City (78) and Arsenal (78) led the way.

When it comes to leaking goals at the other end, QPR (69), Villa (68) and Norwich City (64) were the worst offenders. After such poor defending over 2012, they will all be looking to improve those records in the New Year.

* Asterisks designated to teams who were promoted in the summer and subsequently only played half the calendar year in the top flight.

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