Another week done, and we are edging ever closer to the January transfer window.
That can only mean the transfer rumour mill is beginning to gain impetus. The newspaper speculation has not let us down.
But transfers have not been the only subject to capture our attention this week after the Champions League group stages came to a bizarre end for Manchester City.
We have thumbed through the gossip over the past seven days and picked out the highlights.
Some are believable, others less so, and in the following slides we'll put our own spin on things by rating each rumour.
Manchester United manager David Moyes had not enjoyed the best of times at the turn of the weekend.
The pressure was on after successive home defeats to Everton and Newcastle United in the Premier League and ahead of the Champions League visit of Shakhtar Donetsk.
It is unsurprising that Moyes has already been linked with several moves in the transfer market long before the transfer window reopens. But the former Everton manager insists he will not be making any panic buys next month, reported Martin Blackburn of The Sun (subscription required).
United have already dropped 23 points so far this season, compared with the 25 they lost for the whole of last year. Moyes needs reinforcements. And quickly.
The lengthy pursuit of Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas in the summer was merely the pinnacle of disappointment for United before the window closed.
Midfielder Marouane Fellaini arrived from Goodison Park in a £27.5 million deal on the final day of the window, a move which could have cost significantly less if Moyes had moved for the Belgium international several weeks earlier.
If the arrival of Fellaini wasn't a panic buy, we really don't know what was. However, Moyes and chief executive Ed Woodward will have learned from the summer and should already be preparing their transfer moves before next month.
The less-than-subtle courting of Fabregas was played out in public, as was its embarrassing finale with the former Arsenal man snubbing United interest to stay at the Camp Nou.
That was a harsh lesson for Moyes, who was enduring an unpleasant introduction to the media spotlight on Old Trafford. But surely those lessons have been learned for next month? Manchester United supporters will not stand for another barren transfer pursuit.
Of course, this is now the world of instant knee-jerk reactions, and a good result against Shakhtar could negate this whole article. But that's how it is for Moyes, and he needs to work at pace to avoid further criticism.
Believability Meter: Low
If Moyes does not make a signing before the end of January, it will be a major surprise. The Old Trafford boss needs a boost in his disappointing first half-year in charge of the club.
There was some sympathy toward Moyes over the failed transfer dealings in the summer, with blame also apportioned to new chief executive Woodward.
But if the January pursuits fall in the same way as the summer chase for Fabregas, don't be surprised to see Moyes and Woodward rush into something before the window closes in a bid to placate any terrace-based dissent.
Romelu Lukaku is making a name for himself at Everton, so much so that he has caught the attention of Juventus.
The Mirror’s Dean Jones reported that the Old Lady of Italian football is readying itself to make a bid next summer. Jones suggests Juve have been alerted to the apparent spat between Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho and Lukaku.
Chelsea sent Lukaku to Everton on a season-long loan in the summer. While Lukaku has flourished at Goodison Park with eight goals, Chelsea’s strikers have repeatedly fluffed their lines.
It would appear that it was a far from cordial parting of ways between Mourinho and Lukaku. Toward the end of last month, Mourinho spoke to the press about the Belgium international’s departure.
The Mail’s Matt Barlow had the quotes:
Romelu is a young boy who likes to speak. The only thing he didn’t say is why he went to Everton on loan. That’s the only thing he never says.
My last contact with him was to tell him exactly that. Why do you never say why you are not here?
It’s something he should say, the reason why he’s not with Chelsea and is in Everton.
There are things in our lives that we have to keep private but one day he scored and said he hoped Jose was watching.
It was like saying: 'Why did he let me go?'
And that’s what I’m telling him now: 'Tell the country why you left.' When you enjoy to speak, speak everything.
Don’t speak only half of it. Speak everything.
In his piece, Barlow suggests it was Lukaku who asked to leave on account of being unsure of his role at the club. Jones suggests Juve will monitor Lukaku’s progress between now and next summer to see if he is welcomed back into the fold by Mourinho.
The summer is a long way off, so this story could well have plenty of twists and turns before Lukaku’s future is decided. But although the relationship between player and coach appears strained at present, that can easily be repaired.
Mourinho will also be aware of the form Lukaku has been showing at Everton. In 12 months’ time, the forward could be tormenting defences in Chelsea blue as opposed to Toffees blue.
Believability Meter: Low to Medium
It was possibly the most bizarre story of the week, but for some long-suffering Manchester City supporters, it was also a horrible reminder of the bad old days.
Fortunately, City had already qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League when they arrived at Bayern Munich on Tuesday night, but things looked ominous in the opening stages as the European champions waltzed into a 2-0 lead.
But this wasn't the stuff of nightmares for City fans; worse was to come.
The Premier League side remained resilient after that initial shock and stunned Bayern by coming back to claim a 3-2 victory over the Bundesliga side.
It was an excellent performance, which ended Bayern's 10-match winning sequence in the Champions League. But after James Milner scored the goal to put City 3-2 up, Pellegrini took off Edin Dzeko and replaced him with Jack Rodwell, leaving Sergio Aguero to remain on the bench.
Surely some mistake when you need one more goal to overtake Bayern and ensure a comparatively easier draw in the last 16? It was an odd decision by Pellegrini, and surely there must have been some logic to it? But no, there wasn't.
Pellegrini was quizzed on the matter in a television interview immediately after the match by Sky Sports and seemed unaware that just one more goal would have sealed the top spot when asked if he was tempted to play another striker:
I was tempted if we scored the fourth goal. Of course, that's why I sent Aguero to warm up.
But also I think it was a risk to continue with (David) Silva. He couldn't play more than 70 minutes.
It is very important to be first in the group but not the most important thing. It was difficult to score two goals and I think that Silva couldn't play more than 70 minutes.
Pellegrini then went into a press conference with the print media and promptly repeated the same response when questioned on his tactical switch, as Chris Bascombe of the Daily Telegraph reported.
Nothing lost in translation there then for the Chilean.
But the game was up once City goalscorer Milner stepped in front of the cameras, as Bascombe also noted:
We didn’t know if 4-2 would be enough or if we would need 5-2. We thought it needed to be 5-2 to be honest.
It’s not easy to score three goals here, so to score four would have been a tough task. It’s pleasing to score three goals at a place like this and we’re going to need to do that in the next round.
We’re slightly disappointed we did not finish top of the group. But to be slightly disappointed at beating Bayern Munich in their own ground is pretty pleasing.
For older City fans, the incident was reminiscent of the infamous final Premier League game of the 1995-96 season when then-Maine Road manager Alan Ball mistakenly believed a 2-2 draw with Liverpool was enough to keep the club in the top flight, as the Daily Telegraph reported.
The late England international urged City midfielder Steve Lomas to keep the ball in the corner to wind down time until substituted striker Niall Quinn realised the error and called for another goal.
City went down, and the incident now features in Premier League folklore and the nightmares of older fans. This time, only pride has been hurt. At least until City find out which group winner they will be paired with on Monday.
Believability Meter: Very High
There was no way Manchester City or Pellegrini could talk their way out of this one, especially after Milner voiced his uncertainty over the number of goals required in Bavaria.
And sure enough, the City boss admitted his mistake on Friday before the visit of Arsenal, as Graham Chase of the Daily Telegraph reported.
It might not be considered as big a clanger as the one which cost City their top-flight status in 1996, but it will not go away easily if the team is paired with a major name in the last 16 next week.
Erik Lamela arrived at Tottenham in the summer to widespread acclaim.
Following confirmation of the £30 million deal from Roma, Ian Hawkey of the National wrote that “Tottenham's prayers have been answered signing Erik Lamela.”
Lamela had big boots to fill, with Spurs eager to offset the loss of Gareth Bale. Things have not gone as player and club would have envisaged, as Lamela has struggled to make any sort of impact.
And the Express’ Ben Jefferson has made the claim that Spurs are ready to send Lamela out on loan to Atletico Madrid.
Tottenham are concerned by Lamela’s form. Last week, Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas said that the Argentine was finding it tough adapting both to life in England and as a Premier League player.
Speaking to the Guardian’s David Hytner, Villas-Boas said:
Not speaking the language is very difficult but not only that—coming from very different social backgrounds as well, from Argentina and Rome to Tottenham. It has been a difficult step for him.
We need to give him the chances to break into the team and, eventually, when a game goes fully to his way for 90 minutes, we can have him back to the levels he was at before.
It is a question of nurturing the player until he finds his way back.
It is going to take time. But he has all the technical abilities that we see of a great player so we have great belief in him. Now, he is together with his family and Christmas time is going to be a totally different experience for him as well. This will be a key moment to his life.
We have been very careful with him and given him full support. It is a heavy price tag but one he deserved for what he did in Rome. I think we can nurture his full potential.
To send a player who it paid £30 million out on loan less than six months after his arrival would leave the club with egg on its face. And looking at Villas-Boas’ comments, it appears he does not want to uproot him once again. If Lamela’s family is now with him in London, it would seem strange to send him to another country.
The next few weeks may well be vital. If Lamela shows signs that he is adapting, Spurs seem certain to persevere. However, if he is still finding life tough in the middle of January, a temporary move away from the club could well have benefits.
Believability Meter: Medium
Given the amount of money Tottenham paid to land Lamela, he has been disappointing. But Villas-Boas wants to give him time to adapt.
If he shows signs of improvement over the next six weeks, he is likely to remain at White Hart Lane. But a loan move could be a sensible fallback option.
Julian Draxler, the new Steven Gerrard. That’s not necessarily true, but the Mail’s Neil Ashton wrote on Friday that Liverpool were looking at the Schalke man as the potential long-term replacement in midfield for their captain.
Draxler’s future is up in the air, with the Germany international having spoken of his frustration at being played out of position at Schalke.
Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United have been credited with an interest in Draxler, per a report from the Star’s Nick Lustig, but it is the link with Liverpool that caught our attention.
In his piece, Ashton wrote:
Brendan Rodgers personally flew to Germany last night (Wednesday) to watch Julian Draxler star for Schalke in their Champions League victory against Basel.
The 20-year-old German international is drawing interest from clubs across Europe and the midfielder, who plays in the No. 10 role, is a long-term target at Anfield.
Although Steven Gerrard is having an excellent season in the heart of the Liverpool midfield, Rodgers says he sees Gerrard, now 33, dropping into defence as he gets older, with Draxler a potential successor to the England captain.
Rodgers has made no secret of his belief that Gerrard can slip seamlessly into a centre-back role.
Speaking to BBC Sport in November, Rodgers said:
I look at Steven and I think he can play as a number two centre-half later in his career.
You play against teams where they've got one up [front] and I think he can play as a right-sided centre-half.
[He could] build the game from behind. How he passes the ball is as good as anyone in the world, short and long.
Draxler wants to play in that advanced-midfielder slot, the No. 10 role, in behind the strikers. That is where Gerrard operates, and if Rodgers is looking to replace his captain—it makes sense given he is now 33—Draxler would fit the bill.
Philippe Coutinho is likely to be pushing for that role in the future, but competition is healthy, and Draxler would add a real touch of class.
Believability Meter: Medium to High
It will not be easy for the Reds to get their hands on Draxler if the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United are in the mix, but he would be a solid addition.
He certainly fits the bill of a player Rodgers should be targeting.
If there has been one plus-point for Manchester United manager David Moyes this season, it has to be the form of striker Wayne Rooney.
After a summer of discontent for the England international at the club, the forward has arguably been the club's most consistent performer this season.
Rooney has responded to Moyes' attention to him with a string of fine displays, although such consistency has not been mirrored across the United team during the current Premier League campaign.
The United boss is now sure he can convince the 28-year-old to stay at Old Trafford beyond his current deal, which ends in 18 months' time, reports Martin Blackburn of The Sun (subscription required):
I think the club are comfortable.
There are lots of discussions between the club and his representatives so I think that’s all fine.
I don’t see any great panic or great rush.
We're probably back at Slide 1 of this article here, though, aren't we?
But on Sunday, Rob Draper and Joe Bernstein of the Mail On Sunday reported that United are about to begin negotiations with the player's representative over a potential four-year deal worth £50 million.
This is the kind of news United fans will want to hear as they wake up ahead of the trip to Aston Villa on the back of two successive home defeats in the Premier League.
These are opening exchanges, though, and there will be more and more speculation surrounding Rooney until the new contract is signed. And doubtless those rumours will reverberate loudly around the Old Trafford walls if the team continues to disappoint.
Rooney was publicly courted by Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho in the summer before deciding to stick with United.
The Stamford Bridge boss laughed off another attempt to prise the forward away from United next month, as Ben Jefferson of the Daily Express reported. But January could prove to be a critical month for both Rooney and United, where the transfer window could produce interest which would need inspecting by both parties.
If United fail to reach the Champions League next season, a boost to the coffers from elsewhere could come in handy. A transfer fee for Rooney could provide that if the player is in demand.
For Rooney too this will be an important time. While he may be content to see out the campaign with United, a great World Cup in Brazil next summer could see his value enhanced. Any interest generated next month in the former Everton man will increase tenfold if Rooney makes a mark among the world elite.
Another question to consider is over Robin van Persie, who has been in the headlines recently over a lack of happiness at the club. However, Moyes dismissed that speculation, as Chris Wheeler of the Daily Mail reported.
Could United fans and the club contemplate both Rooney and van Persie going? Surely not?
These are interesting times at United as Moyes attempts to turn around the team's fortunes in the second half of the season.
Believability Meter: Medium
The Rooney conundrum will prove fascinating in the coming months if the reported new deal does not come to fruition swiftly.
Major names will be monitoring the situation closely, and the jockeying for position over the striker could begin next month if the contract remains unsigned.
Interesting times indeed. Watch this space.
There will have been a genuine sense of deja vu for Everton supporters on Sunday morning as they flicked through the newspapers and came across a link between Ross Barkley and the Manchester clubs.
Paul Hetherington and Steve Millar of the Daily Star Sunday claim that both City and United are monitoring the England international.
Not so long ago, Wayne Rooney and Jack Rodwell were the names in the frame for a move 40 miles along the M62. Both of those Goodison Park starlets made the switch. This time, though, the situation is different, and Barkley will surely have learned the lesson of those who went before him, notably Rodwell.
The England midfielder made the move to the Etihad Stadium in August 2012, but a raft of injuries has hampered his progress at the club. With City in the rich vein of form they are enjoying, there seems little place for the former Everton man to make his mark at the moment.
Barkley will recognise the same question would face him if he were to join City.
Hetherington and Millar cite the fact United manager David Moyes gave Barkley his Premier League debut in August 2011 as a sound basis for the player to consider Old Trafford as his next destination.
Moyes kept a close eye on the then-teenager while he was Goodison Park boss, notably after Barkley broke his leg as a 16-year-old in an accidental collision with Liverpool's Andre Wisdom in a youth game, as Andy Hunter of The Guardian reported earlier this season.
Moyes needs the kind of lift signing Barkley would bring to Old Trafford, but it is under Roberto Martinez where the young midfielder has flourished this season.
Barkley has broken into the senior England squad in a World Cup year and is viewed as a potential new star for Brazil 2014. At Goodison, he has become a fans' favourite in an exciting time for the Merseyside club, and Barkley is a spearhead of a new challenge for success under Martinez.
Ironically, it may be Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard who Everton will owe a debt to if Barkley commits his future to Goodison Park, as The Guardian article noted:
He told me that playing is the main thing, that going to another team and not playing is no good for my development.
He said the big-hitters will be looking at me and be linked with me but that the main thing is I stay with the club I'm at, the team I support and the team I love, which is Everton.
I love Everton and all I think about is playing for Everton.
Lifelong Everton supporter Rooney lifted his royal blue jersey after scoring in the 2002 FA Youth Cup final against Aston Villa to reveal a T-shirt bearing the legend "Once a Blue, Always a Blue," via Daily Mail.
It was a move which came back to haunt him when Sir Alex Ferguson took him to Old Trafford just two years later. It is a move few Everton supporters have forgiven Rooney for, even though the £27 million fee eased debts at Goodison Park at the time, as BBC Sport reported.
Even Ferguson noted the abuse Rooney received on each subsequent return to Goodison following his move to United, as the Scot told Mark Ogden of the Daily Telegraph in October 2011.
Barkley has found a similar kind of "fandom" enjoyed by Rooney when he was at Goodison, but this time the Merseyside club is riding a wave with the midfielder at its crest. Few genuine Everton fans would resist relinquishing that for a move to Manchester.
Believability Meter: Low
Ross Barkley has emerged as a genuine talent for Roberto Martinez in his first season at Everton, and it is little surprise that he is being linked with big clubs.
But the England midfielder is unlikely to be going anywhere while he is currently enjoying life so much at Goodison.
Expect him to sign a new contract with the Blues of Merseyside very soon.