Friday, August 29, 2008

Why Super Cup defeat will give Fergie cause for concern...

With the transfer window set to slam shut until January and with no new signings on board Fergie will be concerned with United's lacklustre display in the Super Final in Monaco that ended with Zenit St Petersburg lifting the trophy by the odd goal in three. Vidic's consolation goal led to a late attacking flurry by the Reds, but for too much of this match United were very much second best all over the park.

United simply didn't turn up for much of the contest, in contrast the Russians appeared to want it more. Perhaps not surprisingly, Zenit were the better prepared of the two teams given their season started some weeks ago and it told as they looked sharper all over the park, whereas United looked sloppy.

Of particular concern to Ferguson will be the form of Gary Neville and Nani, on too many occasions throughout this final both were off the pace. Neville is recovering from long term injuries, while Nani is returning from suspension, but still they were both hugely disappointing in possession and especially on defensive duties as both were suspect.

United's midfield and forwards failed to fire until the last twenty minutes of what was a decent game to watch and somewhat ironically the Reds late resurgence in this final coincided with the introduction Park and O'Shea. It could be argued that the introduction of the Irishman and the Korean changed the pattern of the game, truth be told the Russians looked to have either run out of gas or else they'd taken their foot off the pedal.

If losing the final wasn't bad enough, Paul Scholes added to Fergies woes when he was sent-off after collecting his second yellow card of the game late in the second-half for a hilarious re-enactment of Maradona's "hand of god" jape.

Ferguson wasn't too impressed when he was later informed that the sending off will lead to Scholes missing Champions League games and there was yet more concern for the manager as Scholes wasn't the only United player to throw his arms aloft on a night of frustration for the Champions.

Wayne Rooney looked less than happy being played as an out-and-out striker, Fergie has gone on record stating that the England striker needs to be more selfish and not to drop back into midfield, as he likes to do and against Zenit he didn't drop back and it took something away from his game. Not only that, on more than one occasion he berated Gary Neville for his poor passing and crossing. Nani's distribution and decision making was poor and this too brought negative reactions from several players.

The result and especially the performance leaves Fergie which much to ponder, while on chances alone United could have won the Super Cup, they simply didn't deserve to win the match as Zenit were pretty much in complete control for around 70 minutes.

United's midfield and defence couldn't cope and up front the forward line didn't function. The performance of Carlos Tevez was the only real bright spot of what was a poor all round display by the Champions. At times it was like watching a Premier League team versus a Championship side, so inferior were United. Fergie will also have to decide what the future holds for Gary Neville, as he looks to have lost at least a yard of pace. There is no room for passengers at Old Trafford and both Fergie and Neville know that.

When Fergie reviews a tape of the game, he will be concerned how easily Zenit were able to prize open United down the left flank. Evra was given little or no help by Nani. On the opposite flank Fletcher and Neville weren't much better.

As a result of United's collective inability to mark their opponents, Zenit found it remarkably easy to pick their way through the Reds backline which left Vidic and Ferdinand exposed.

One final note of positivity, the referee Claus Bo Larsen (Denmark) was excellent as he allowed the game flow, based on this performance Larsen will go far.

Final score: United 1-2 Zenit St Petersburg
Man of the match: Tymoschuk

Striker deal hopes rocket...

Many United fans will be delighted to learn that Louis "Sicknote" Saha is on his way to join Everton, subject to the not so small matter of first passing a medical.

Given the French striker has somehow managed to sustain injuries in several pre-match warm-ups it cannot be ruled that he will manage to get himself injured before he signs on the dotted line. Potential hazards include the pile of Everton's carpets being too deep, which could in turn lead to a hamstring injury and do not rule out the chances of Louis pulling a muscle in the changing room.

The fact that the Reds have seen fit to allow this deal to go ahead will add further weight to the claims that it's only a matter of time before long-term target Dimitar Berbatov becomes a United player.

Whatever happens at Everton, Saha's name will eventually be added to the long list of former strikers who failed to live up to expectations.

Berbatov deal 'agreed' - but who will be the winners in transfer high stakes?

Reports claim that United have reached a verbal agreement with Tottenham over the sale of Dimitar Berbatov. The theory goes that once Spurs land their new Russian striker they will allow the Bulgarian to join the Champions.

It is somewhat ironic that Fergie looks set to acquire his number one target on the very weekend that United are set to face Zenit St Petersburg in the European Super Cup Final in of all places Monte Carlo, where fortunes are often gambled and lost on the turn of the Roulette wheel.

Ferguson, who is known to like flutter has until now been holding back in the current transfer window in the hope of winning big when making just one significant signing.

If and when Berbatov finally signs it will bring about an end to one of the most protracted transfers of recent times, it will also bring a degree of relief to the legions of United fans who have been frantically window watching over the last few weeks for any update on the search for a new striker.

Spurs for their part, have maintained that they wanted to keep the Bulgarian, but if as seems likely the deal is done, it will add further weight to the suggestion that they have become a selling club and no supporter of Tottenham will be happy about being labelled with that slur.

It remains to be seen how the fortunes of both clubs will pan out over the coming season, much will depend on the work done by both camps in the transfer window, especially on the part of already under pressure manager Ramos at White Hart Lane.

Selling Berbatov could turn out to be a masterstroke, if Spurs land Arshavin et al. On the flip side and as Alan Sugar would say, it could out to be a bloody disaster especially coupled with the sale of Robbie Keane.

In complete contrast at United, Ferguson is talking about emulating AC Milan by becoming the first club to retain the Champions League since its inception. Seasoned United supporters will be wary about talk of yet more European glory, given the club have failed on so many previous occasions when the big one has been 'there for the taking'.

There's no doubt about it though, "United, Champions of Europe" sounds good and make no mistake the fans are gagging for more - the question is are we really good enough to do it again this season?

Going into the summer the Reds had three priorities; retain Ronaldo, sign Tevez plus a new striker.

Only completion of the Tevez deal remains on the to-do list and it's expected that will be a formality - but nonetheless, it's a deal that needs doing and soon.

My own view is that United have arguably the best defence in Europe, with the partnership of Vidic and Ferdinand looking to get still stronger. Like in midfield, Ferguson is blessed with many options to choose from.

The only perceived weakness in the current United squad was of course up front, and the addition of Berbatov, coupled with Angolan striker Manucho will give the manager yet more options.

Over a long season, football is no game of chance, at the end of it you get what you deserve, especially in the league. Europe is different and the Reds will have to overcome; Celtic, Villarreal and Danish side Aalborg in a comfortable looking Group E. Only complacency will stop the Champions from progressing further in the competition.

There's a lot to look forward to for United fans this season, many will be hoping that Reds prospective summer gamble on Berbatov will lead to yet more European and domestic glory before Fergie finally cashes in his chips.

Finally, you do wonder what the odds would be on the chances of United meeting Chelsea in a repeat of last season's Champions League Final, not as long as the odds on UEFA allowing it to actually happen I'd venture.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Exit bell tolls for Dong......

It comes as no surprise to learn that Manchester United have torn up Dong Fangzhuo's contract, the 23 year-old will leave the club by mutual consent. The cynics among the Reds support will tell you that the player should never have been given a contract in the first instance, given that his inclusion in the squad had more to do with the club's tiresome attempts to conquer the Far East. It's doubtful Dong will be given a chance by another Premier League team.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Spurs reveal their hand as Berbatov move nears likely conclusion...

So then, if we believe today's reports about impending transfers we now know why Spurs have been trying to force the Champions into paying silly money for Dimitar Berbatov - the North London club have been pinning their hopes on United bankrolling the signing of not one, but three new players. According to the player, Roman Pavlyuchenko is about to sign, the fee is believed to be around £12m and what's more Spurs are being relinked to Huntelaar and Corluka of Ajax and Man City respectively.

Does this sudden reported burst of impending transfer activity mean that the crafty cockneys have extracted yet more cash out of United, or more likely does it mean that they have accepted the Reds "take-it or leave-it" offer of £25m for the Bulgarian striker?

If and it's a very big if, Spurs manage to pull off all three transfers it will no doubt turn out to be sound business coming on the back of selling Robbie Keane and Berbatov, netting a tidy profit into the bargain.

Spurs could yet surprise us all by announcing that Berbatov will be sold to Barcelona, but that seems highly unlikely as the Catalan club will not match the asking price.

When and if the Berbatov to United transfer goes through, it will no doubt be another bitter pill for Spurs fans to swallow, especially with rival fans and ex-players labelling them as "a selling club".

Then we come to the PR charade of Daniel Levy, who reported the Champions to the Premier League for alleged tapping. United countered that accusation when stating that they have done everything via official channels and what's more they have the documentation to prove it.

Reporting United was a calculated gamble, the fact that nothing was likely to come of it, is to miss the point, it was an exercise in being seen doing the 'right thing' with a view to retaining a player, despite the fact that Spurs knew it was likely he was destined for the exit door.

Spurs fans have been quick to make comparisons between the Ronaldo situation and the stories linking United with Berbatov, when accusing the Champions of "hypocrisy". These Spurs supporters should realise that there is a big difference between the two scenarios.

From the very outset Ferguson made it crystal clear that the player was not for sale at ANY price, whereas United have been clearly been given a perceived level of encouragement to pursue their interest in Berbatov.

Agent interference or not, if Spurs had acted in a similar manner to United over Real Madrid's courtship with Ronaldo then the matter would have come to a swift conclusion some time ago.

Reading between the lines it could be argued that Berbatov has been available all along subject to a fee being agreed and replacements secured. It could also be argued that Spurs have simply been trying to get the best deal possible and there's not a lot wrong with that.

The price of upsetting United by going public when making these tapping-up claims has to be balanced against placating unhappy supporters and so there is some logic to it all. It's all a part of the transfer game but let no one be kidded, money talks and it seems unlike Ronaldo (at least for now), Berbatov had a price.

As far as Spurs chances of landing Huntelaar and Corluka go, my advice is believe it when it happens, because this could be another case of smoke and mirrors...don't believe everything your chairman tells you and what you read in the papers...Finally, it could be a whole lot worse, Berbatov could be moving to Arsenal...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

United's slick passing machine simply too good for Pompey...

Predictably, much has been made of the Reds lack of a cutting edge up front without an obvious out and out striker available to Fergie. But on the evidence of the Champions performance against Portsmouth on Monday night there's little worry about, with Rooney and in particular Carlos Tevez looking razor sharp.

The Reds won the game at Fratton Park courtesy of an excellently worked first-half goal via the combination of Anderson, Evra and Fletcher. However, as TV replays showed Portsmouth's Sol Campbell and Distin helped the ball into the net with the sweetest of touches to ensure that the dubious goal panel will be called into action to adjudicate.

Special mention to Glen Johnson, who was once again cruelly exposed for his defensive frailties by United down the Reds left flank. No doubting part of Fergie's pre-match team talk centres on working the ball around the former Chelsea defender. Without Ronaldo and Nani in the starting line-up, Harry Redknapp will have told his leftback to get forward more, but United had other ideas and this time it was the turn of Patrice Evra to outwit the Pompey defender to supply the killer cross for the only goal of the game.

For those who did not see the match, Rooney was denied a perfectly good second-half goal when the linesman wrongly ruled for off-side. Rooney looked sharp and played his usual all action game, Fergie has suggested that perhaps he needs to be a bit less selfless in his efforts for the team. Question. Is it not strange that United fans rarely complain about Rooney and what he does for the team, yet all the while the Johnny Englander brigade have been constantly harping on about Rooney's game?

Post-match and given the current talk surrounding Berbatov, Sky's Richard Keys posted the question "Do United actually need an out and out striker?". It is a good question, because the combination of Rooney and Tevez coupled with their superb movement leaves defenders not knowing what to do. Should central defenders follow them or pass them on? The danger is by following Tevez and Rooney defenders will leave the door open to United's midfield.

If United do go on to sign Berbatov, the Reds could lose some of the unpredictability of the Tevez/Rooney partnership, but Fergie could of course play one of the three wide, probably Tevez.

Whatever happens in the transfer market, the fans will want to see United continuing to play attractive attacking football as they did for the most part against Portsmouth. The final score flattered Harry Redknapp's team. Pompey were passed off the park, the home team had no answer to the Champions movement and use of the ball.

Anderson, who was returning from his Olympic duties, looked remarkably fresh and his second-half replacement Rodrigo showed yet more promise. It's very early days, but already it's shaping up nicely to what looks like being a probable two-horse race between United and Chelsea.

On a sour note, how Papa Bouba Diop remained on the pitch for its duration only referee Chris Foy knows, because having already been booked for a clumsy challenge Diop should have been sent-off late in the game for another bad tackle. However, on this occasion Foy kept his card in his pocket, but he was happy to brandish it later when Fletcher disputed a decision which went against him. Respect has to be earned, and poor decision making by the officials will not help the FA in their just initiative.

Final score: Portsmouth 0-1 United.
Man of the match: Carlos Tevez.

United need to call Spurs bluff over Berbatov...

So then, who is going to blink first over the proposed sale of Berbatov to the Reds, will it be United, or will it be the crafty cockneys? I wouldn't like to wager on the outcome of either scenario and course we cannot rule out that United will, at some point this week, end their reported interest if Spurs keep on trying to screw the Red Devils, in time honoured fashion.

The prospect of the deal going through has not been helped by Spurs and Ramos who are under pressure following a dreadful start to the new season. Losing at home to Sunderland will have been hard for Spurs fans to stomach.

Having already sold Robbie Keane to Liverpool for "good money" and maybe Berbatov to United and with no obvious replacements in the pipeline, it leaves the North London club open to the accusation that there's no "plan B". What use is money in the bank if your team is propping up the division?

Reports claim that Spurs are holding out for £30m (he isn't worth anywhere near that figure given his age), NO other club would meet that valuation and Daniel Levy and Co are clearly trying it on. However, in some ways United are a victims of their own stupidity with the transfer cheque-book, given that we have given in to selling clubs over prospective targets on too many previous occasions, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick being perfect examples.

United ended up doing their level best to bail out Leeds United when they were on their financial uppers to the tune of £30m - a world record fee for a defender at the time - this when the spectre of the administrator was hanging over Elland Road. Who will ever forget our then CEO, Peter Kenyon, announcing to the world that Manchester United are cash rich.. it was an open invitation for selling clubs to take the ****.

IF the Reds had fought hard enough they could have prized Rio away from the Leeds for a lot less. The same goes for Michael Carrick, we shelled out £18m, only for Spurs to later let it be known, via "sources", they'd have accepted a lot less, which was in itself a massive PR own goal, as surely this will have upset United who won't have forgotten the stunt.

I'm personally hoping that United stand firm on this occasion because the club needs to demonstrate that they will not be held to ransom by selling clubs. The worst that can happen is we lose out on Berbatov this summer, but the message will go out that the days of United's transfer trousers being pulled down are over.

Even without Berbatov United will have at least four strikers to call upon in Tevez, Rooney, Campbell, Saha and Munucho (subject to work permit) on the latter some reports are claiming that the Angolan has been given the green light, so it won't all be bad if we fail to land the Bulgarian.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Should Rooney follow Barwick and quit England?

Thanks to Brian Barwick and the FA anyone who was even mildly interested in the England v Czech Republic friendly had to find somewhere or someone who has Setanta Sports - the backwater satellite broadcaster who has won the rights to show England's friendly and World Cup qualifying games.

Sad to report, that I was among the suffers who'd tuned in to witness the demise of Barwick. Apart from Frank "anonymous" Lampard getting booed by the ‘fans’ , Barwick's departure was the main talking point on what turned out to be a hugely forgettable night.

If the supporters in the stands didn’t cover themselves in glory, it was nothing compared to the England team on the pitch who were collectively dire. Too many players treat the ball like Sunday League park players when gifting possession to the other side. England are an embarrassment when it comes retaining the ball for any length of time.

The lack of any sort of obvious tactical plan also brought into question the work that Fabio Capello is doing. Is the Italian coach really worth £6m a year? On the evidence of last night's shoddy England's performance the answer to that is a big no.
While Lampard escaped the attentions of Setanta's dozing pundits - no doubt because like me they didn't even realise he was on the pitch - it wasn't the case for Wazza Rooney. On what seemed like countless occasions, we had to endure Chris Waddle talking twaddle about the United striker.

At one point Waddle appeared to suggest that Rooney hadn't improved since he first appeared on the scene, he was talking about the player's positional sense. We were told that Rooney had to be closer to Emile Heskey - the theory being that our route-one style football might then pay-off.

Waddle's assertions about Rooney served only to highlight the wider problem that England cannot actually play stella possession football - "we play like a second division club" was how my old man accurately put it to me last night following another passage of shocking play.

The way things are going it will not be long before the England fans get on the back of Rooney, if that happens perhaps he should follow the example of Paul Scholes and quit England, it hasn't done Scholes any harm.

One of these days the pundits will actually appreciate what Wayne Rooney does for the team instead of harping on about what he doesn't do. Rooney is England's best all round footballer, only Joe Cole comes close to him in that respect, Gerrard only plays when he feels like it, which isn't that often for England. In the right team and the right formation, Rooney brings others into play, his work at United is appreciated because more often than not he does the right thing.

I will agree with Waddle on one point, perhaps England do need to play 4:5:1, but who should be the centre-forward? I will also agree with Capello who says that Rooney needs to improve his goals to games ratio.

No doubt the genius who replaces Brian Barwick will sort it all out, then again....

Silvestre to Arsenal is better than a move to City...

Silvestre moving to Arsenal has to be a better alternative than moving to Man City, because it's bad enough having Mark Hughes at Eastlands without adding to the numbers of ex-reds at the City of Manchester Stadium. In ideal world, Silvestre would have moved back to play in France or some other overseas destination, somewhere out of harm's way.

If the Frenchman had joined City, like Hughes he'd be on a hiding to nothing, at least at Arsenal he'll be largely among his fellow countrymen. At his age, it's a very good move for the player who has served United well; let us hope Silvestre doesn't repay the Reds by helping the Gunners to win some silverware this season.

Minimal transfer fee apart, I'm not so sure it's a great move for Arsenal though and it highlights the fact that Wenger must have some concerns about his back-four. Arsene Wenger isn't noted for signing players over the age of 30 - no doubting Silvestre will, more often than not, be among Arsenal's seven substitutes.

The decision to allow Silvestre to leave also raises the question about the future of Jonny Evans, does it mean that the Northern Ireland defender will be staying at Old Trafford rather than going on loan to Sunderland again?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

United's star duo boost hopes...

There can be little doubt that Fergie will be glad that Brazil's interest in the Olympic Games has come to a shuddering end after being thumped 3-0 by South American rivals Argentina. The result means that Anderson is likely to be back in Manchester and ready for action in the next few days.

The Reds have an injury crisis on their hands and are currently without Carrick, Hargreaves, Ronaldo and Giggs. United's next game is away at Portsmouth and Fergie will want to take all three points from what is likely to be a very tough game.

Meanwhile, Owen Hargreaves has promised United fans that they've not seen the best of him yet. The former Bayern star is currently out suffering with a knee injury and he has suggested that whenever he's played he's only been 60% fit.

Hargreaves hasn't given any indication of when he's likely to be back in action, he is setting no targets for a return date apart from saying that once he is back he hopes it will be for the remainder of the season.

Whether or not Hargreaves will be fit in time to face Pompey time will tell, but it would be a massive boost for United if both Anderson and Hargreaves were available to face Harry Redknapp's side.

Monday, August 18, 2008

United's Silva lining as Neville looks set for continued bench role...

United drawing with Newcastle on Sunday did not surprise me, I'd predicted it might well happen on this blog, nor has it surprised me in the slightest that Gary Neville looks to have dropped down the pecking order with Wes Brown and Raphael da Silva being preferred to the England defender.

Gary Neville has done well to recover following his 16 month struggle to regain full fitness, but in some ways his biggest battle lies ahead. Neville has been the club's best right-back since Paul Parker donned the Red shirt. The fact that at 33 years of age Neville is still contesting for a place in the first team after so many injuries is testament to his strength of character and it speaks volumes about his continued desire to play at the highest level.

If Neville is going to re-establish himself as United' first choice right-back he will first have to dislodge those who stand in his way. While Wes Brown is a very good defender on his day, his distribution continues to be wayward at times and it's here that new boy Raphael da Silva could have the edge on both Brown and Neville.

The young Brazilian has yet to face the white hot heat of a full blown heavyweight Premier League contest and only then will we be able to judge his true potential as the Reds long-term first choice right-back, first and foremost, da Silva will need to demonstrate that he can defend as well as the two England players.

On the wider point of the manager's bench options, Ferguson will be delighted that he can now choose from seven substitutes, but he can only play three of them - still the consolation of "being involved" by getting stripped for potential action has to be a better alternative to the old three from five system.

Of Sunday's season opener with Newcastle, Fergie currently has a big problem with no obvious candidate for the wide right slot, this left the team lacking balance, though lack of balance wasn't the only issue as Newcastle fought hard. The visitors did well and probably deserved their point, but they were also lucky and you need a bit of that when you come to Old Trafford.

On what turned out to be a frustrating day there was some plus points, Fraizer Campbell was unlucky not to score when Shay Given unknowingly blocked what looked like certain goal with his head. Rodrigo Possebon and Raphael da Silva both looked comfortable and confident on the ball in the company of Premier League players, which bodes well for the future.

Next up it's Pompey and after their mauling at Stamford Bridge it's likely to be a very hard fought contest.

Finally, apparently BBC Radio 5-live held a phone-in asking if Chelsea are going to romp to victory in the league, so yes folks the new season has started and the phone-in buffoonery is well and truly under way.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Berbatov deal intrigue as Reds set to face Barcodes...

A quick trawl in search of the latest on the Dimitar Berbatov saga has yielded nothing at all, which could mean one of several scenarios; there's nothing to report, or more likely the deal has been done and is subject to a news embargo. I'm actually leaning towards the later because following on from yesterday's opening day damp squib; it's a very quiet news weekend. In a nutshell, Olympics apart, the media have had very little to write about, the Sundays' never miss an opportunity to cash-in on a big transfer story, so the fact that there's little or no mention of any update on the Berbatov situation is more than a bit intriguing.

United are set to face Newcastle in a game in which Keegan and his players will no doubt fancy their chances, especially with no Ronaldo, Nani, Hargreaves or Anderson and a no doubt less than fully fit Wayne Rooney, who returns after a mystery virus. The "while Pele", usually needs a few games under his belt before we see the best of him and so I'm not expecting fireworks from the former Everton striker today, not unless he gets himself sent off.

Given the problems up front, United are likely to struggle in front of goal and so I do not expect the goal avalanches of last season when the Reds scored 11 in the two league games. I'm predicting that today's match at Old Trafford will either end in a draw or else it will be won by the odd goal.

Elsewhere, Arsenal and Liverpool won narrowly and both were less than impressive, it's a bit early to be writing teams off, but first impressions do count and the Gunners looked lightweight in midfield while Liverpool didn't deserve to beat Sunderland.

I'm tipping Villa to break into the top four this season and so their clash with Man City could be an interesting game to watch. There's no easy way of putting this, but I hope that Mark Hughes fails at City and losing to Villa will heap yet more pressure onto the shoulders of the Welshman.

Given how well Eriksson did at City last season and the subsequent treatment meted out by the club's fugitive owner, it's doubtful that Shinawatra will afford Hughes the time to put matters right if the Blues go on a bad run, what's more it won't take the City fans long to get onto the manager's back given his United connections. The simple fact is, Hughes could be a great manager for City which is precisely why I want him to fail - and yes I am bitter, before anyone tells me...

As for Villa, the Premier League needs a club to break the monopoly of 'the big four' to show that it can be done, Villa and Spurs both have the potential, but out of the two, I'm leaning towards the midlands club to do it.

Elsewhere, Chelsea will no doubt start the new campaign with a comfortable win against Pompey. Scolari says that Chelsea will play like Brazil - which begs the question, which one? The modern day Brazil, or the old one, because they've not been that exciting to watch since 1982. The other day I posted that Chelsea had made no real significant signings, but I'd forgotten about Deco and by all accounts he's been on fire in pre-season.

My hope is that Chelsea do become more attractive to watch, because if they play a more expansive game, they will leave themselves open in midfield, which in turn will make for better games. We've had some fairly dour United v Chelsea games since they took the 'win at all costs route' following Jose's doctrine of football as laid down by the self proclaimed special one.

Much is being made of the appointment of Scolari and I must admit I'd have liked him to replace Fergie in the event of retirement, but obviously that will not happen now. You do wonder how long it will be before Scolari has his first touch-line row, the Brazilian is a colourful character and the game needs them for sure.

United's collective mission for the first few weeks of the season is not to lose too much ground on the leaders; we just need to stay in contention or thereabouts.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Berbatov "hands in transfer request" as Fergie drops big hint...

According to the Sun Dimitar Berbatov has told Spurs that he wants to quit and join Manchester United. This news will surprise few who have been following the story. However, last night Fergie added yet more intrigue to this unfolding story when saying "You might be surprised at what’s going to happen over the next two days.”

The United manager who has been very guarded about the prospect of the Bulgarian arriving at United this summer, which follows on from the North London club reporting the Reds to the Premier League for alleged tapping, but this latest comment from Fergie is very interesting.

Could it be that United and Spurs are about to agree a swap deal with the Champions paying around £24m for the Bulgarian and lumping in a player? We have been led to believe that one of the major sticking points to any deal was that Spurs will need to find a replacement for Berbatov and with so little time left, we cannot rule out that Louis Saha or even Frazier Campbell could become a makeweight in this proposed transfer.

Whatever Ferguson was alluding to it seems all will become clear over the weekend. Let us hope that United finally get their man so we can concentrate on the coming season without more distractions.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Keane tips Chelsea to win title: Has the Wearside smog affected his vision?

United legend Roy Keane has tipped rivals Chelsea to win the title, when saying that they have a new manager and there's no African Cup of Nations distraction to worry about. It was probably a throwaway line, but it was one that will have bemused United supporters on the eve of another Premier League season.

Keane says that if United sign Berbatov they will have a chance, he could well be proved right because it's doubtful that Ronaldo will score anywhere near as many goals this coming season. Rooney has vowed to improve in front of goal and of course United have Tevez, Campbell and maybe Manucho to call upon too. The widely expected addition of Dimitar Berbatov will do United's chances of retaining the title no harm at all.

While Chelsea will undoubtedly be a threat they didn't look anything like as potent sans the "special one", so it remains to be seen how they will perform under Big Phil Scolari. Chelsea haven't made any really significant signings this summer and so a lot will depend on Scolari's ability to get the very best from what is arguably still the strongest squad in the league.

As for the other title contenders, Arsenal could prove to be the biggest threat to United and Chelsea providing they steer clear of the awful injuries that plagued them last time out, but without Hleb and Flamini in midfield there's bound to be some question marks about the Gunners ability to go the distance. Hleb was one of the most underrated players in the League during his relatively short stint in England and his industry was at the heart of much that was good about Arsenal's play, he will take some replacing.

For their part and going off their midweek Champions League qualifier with Standard Liege, the Merseyside Reds looked terrible and are lucky to be still in the competition. Going off that performance Liverpool will be lucky to finish in the top five. If Liverpool lose Gerrard to injury for any length of time, then the wheels will fall off in short order.

Manchester City supporters were feeling pretty good about their prospects of finishing in the "top six" after beating a rapidly ageing AC Milan, but against FC Midtjylland they were simply outclassed by the Danes. I have already heard Man City fans making comparisons with the appointment of another United legend Steve Coppell who only last 33 days as manager of the Citizens, Hughes has already gone beyond that particular milestone but should City go out of Europe with a whimper and start the season badly then Sparky could soon be looking at the situations vacant columns.

I'm wondering if Aston Villa could be one of the surprise teams of the season, they have a decent manager and there's a degree of stability at the club, it wouldn't surprise me if they finished above Liverpool.

I hope Keano has a good season up at Sunderland, they were a bit unlucky in some games last season. I'm also wishing Steve Bruce well at Wigan. Let the battle commence.

Reds closing in on Berbatov...

Reports claim that long term transfer target Dimitar Berbatov is at Carrington undergoing a medical ahead of joining the Champions this weekend. The transfer is unlikely to completed in time for the player to play against Newcastle but if all goes well the Bulgarian could be unveiled as a United player this weekend when the two sides clash in the season opener at Old Trafford.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Berbatov's arrival will pose Fergie huge selection dilemmas...

On the face of it, the expected arrival of Dimitar Berbatov should be a good thing for United, but with having so little time to bed in with his new team-mates, the manager is facing something of a selection nightmare - especially in the early weeks of the season. Here's why.

United will be without Ronaldo (recoving from injury) and Nani (suspended), so in the flank positions Fergie's options are limited to Giggs, who is the only recognised genuine wide player, alternatively the manager could deploy Tevez on the left as he did in the Champions League Final.

If the situation isn't so bad on the left, the opposite flank is much more of a concern, because the manager must ensure that his team has the right balance when attacking and importantly defending.

While Ronaldo isn't noted for his tackling and tracking back, he strikes fear into the opposition and for this reason there's usually a reluctance on the part of opponents to attack United down the left flank, especially if there's any chance of leaving the door open for a Ronaldo counter raid.

Without Ronaldo on the right, the opposition will try to expose any perceived weakness in United's midfield knowing that there's little danger of being caught out by the pace of the Reds star man.

In order for Fergie to counter any possible threat down United's right flank the manager will expect his front players to drop back into midfield when required. As we have seen on many occasions, while Berbatov has great skill, industry off the ball and general scrapping is not his game - he is no Wayne Rooney.

Given the problems in midfield and the Reds lack of pace on the flanks the manager has much to ponder selection wise; Does he go with a 4:3:3 as in the Champions League Final, or does he start with 4:4:2 and if so should he leave out Berbatov and play Tevez and Rooney as his main strike pairing? But with no recognised pacey winger to select on the right this is by no means an easy choice with Fletcher and Rafael da Silva coming into contention.

A third option would be to deploy 4:4:1:1, using Berbatov as the focal point of the attack with Rooney dropping into midfield when required.

Given the complexities of the various permutations, my gut feeling is that 4:3:3 is the one which could leave United most vunerable to the counter attack, while at the same it will not carry more of an attacking threat with no obvious candidate for the wide right position.

Here's my two suggested most likely starting formations for United in the early part of the season:

4:4:1:1
.....................................VDS........................................

Neville (or Brown)...........Rio.........Vidic.........Evra

Hargreaves..............Scholes(or Rodrigo)Carrick........Tevez (or Giggs)
(da Silva or Fletcher)

....................................Rooney............................................

...................................Berbatov......................................


OR 4:4:2

.....................................VDS....................................

Neville (or Brown)...........Rio.........Vidic.........Evra..........

Hargreaves)..............Scholes(or Rodrigo)Carrick........Giggs
(da Silva or Fletcher)

...............................Rooney....Tevez...............................

Either of the above selections should see the Champions winning their opening games, subject to the Berbatov deal actually being agreed and providing both Rooney and Hargreaves are fit, but if Fergie goes with 4:3:3 it could lead to problems with United being vunerable to the counter attack.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"Berbatov seen house hunting in Prestbury"...

At this time of year everyone; and by everyone I mean sections of the sensationalist media, print reams of transfer half-truths (in the case of Marca, blatant lies actually), largely because they know there will be no consequence apart from the hope that a cleverly worded back page splash headline will get the newsagents till ringing.

United to sign Thierry Henry! - Daily Mail - Kerrching!!! (Sub editor to the editor "here's a good one, Arsenal and United fans will buy into this one").

United to sign David Silva! Syndicated - Kerrching!!!

United to sign Huntelaar! (Often used on quiet news day Sundays throughout the summer x3 thus far) Syndicated - Kerrching!!!

Ronaldo HAS signed for Madrid - Marca - Kerrching!!!

So today I thought I'd join in the fun, given that my local decorator (Crawfords of Bramhall who do all the BIG posh houses) tells me that he's had word that Berbatov has been seen out and about house hunting in Prestbury. Make of that what you will, but coming on the back of this news the press are claiming that United could be about to up their bid for Berbatov. Kerrching!!!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Why Thierry Henry to United talk must be a diversionary bluff...

According to the latest transfer gossip United may well try to sign Thierry Henry from Barcelona. We don't know who started the rumour, it could well have come from within Old Trafford, one theory doing the rounds is that the Reds are trying to force Spurs hand by telling them via the media that they will not budge on the Reds reported £24m valuation of Berbatov.

Spurs, having recently pulled down United's and Liverpool's transfer trousers over the fees for Michael Carrick and Robbie Keane, and the North London club will no doubt believe that they can do it again with Berbatov.

No one from within Old Trafford has made any comments about Henry, but on Sunday Fergie was asked the question to which he replied "I don't have an answer to that", which is hardly the same as saying, yes, we are interested. However, Fergie's failure to totally rule out any move for the former Arsenal striker has led to a media speculation feeding frenzy (again what United wanted?), but as is often the case there's not a jot of evidence to support any firm interest from United.

If United are going to make a move for a Barcelona striker it will more likely be for either Samuel Eto'o or even Eidur Guðjohnsen. In my humble opinion, there's more chance of Bobby Charlton playing up front for the Reds next season rather than Thierry Henry, who has gone on record more than once saying that he could only play for Arsenal in England.

United fans who believe that the Reds are chasing one of Barcelona's stikers should keep an eye out for the team that faces Wisla Krakow on Wednesday in the Nou Camp for a Champions League qualifier, if any of the trio of linked players takes part in that game then we can surely rule them out of any move soon.

The Reds could yet make a move for Blackburn's Roque Santa Cruz or Klass jan Huntelaar, but I personally have major doubts about the abilities of the latter and what's more it appears that I'm not on my own with no big European clubs making a move for the Ajax striker.


Fergie seems fairly confident that United will sign one of their top striker targets and so we have to believe that confidence is not misplaced because make no mistake the Reds do need another first class striker.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Brazilians set to dislodge United old guard?...

United welcomed club captain Gary Neville back into the first team for the Community Shield curtain raiser on Sunday, it was a fairly comfortable afternoon for Neville & Co in the Reds back four with Portsmouth's new strike force of Crouch and Defoe failing to hit the high notes on what was a pretty forgettable day for Pompey and their fans.

After the Reds collected yet another piece of silverware the player who has sometimes been referred to as the "shop steward" was asked about his expectations for the coming season and his response was quite interesting in that he says he hopes to do a job when called upon.

Wes Brown had arguably his best season to date for United and so he is very much in contention for the right-back slot, but make no mistake going of what we have seen in pre-season, new boy Rafael da Silva could oust both England defenders by the time the of the end of the season comes around.

The same can be said of John O'Shea, Darren Fletcher and maybe Scholes too, because Rodrigo Possebon is another who has shown a great deal of midfield promise in albeit in a limited number of first team appearances, but in just a handful of games the Brazilians have shown enough to suggest that the days of the United old guard could be numbered.

Pompey fail to turn up as Reds secure the Shield...

As pre-season warm-up games go, it was decent work-out for both United and Portsmouth, but as a contest the holders had by far the better of things with Pompey looking decidedly lacklustre in midfield and up front.

Despite the Reds almost total domination of the ball it was a game of few clear cut chances. Darren Fletcher was guilty of missing the game's best opportunity when he somehow failed to convert Nani's first-half low driven cross from just nine yards out with the net gaping at his mercy. The pundits have jokingly described Fletcher's effort as "the miss of the season" so far, but he very nearly made amends when forcing David James to make a fingertip save not long after.

This traditional curtain raiser to the new season had been billed as "Respect" day by the FA, but the referee Mr Walton did his level best to test the patience of the United players and manager when refusing the Reds a cast-iron second-half penalty when Hermann Hreidarsson wrestled Carlos Tevez to the ground in a manner more befitting to WWE - it's doubtful you'll see a more blatant penalty this season. Mr Walton should without doubt make an appointment at Specsavers at the earliest opportunity.

United eventually ran out deserved winners following the penalty shoot-out and here again Portsmouth were very much second best when failing to even hit the target twice - which is unforgiveable for a professional footballer's earning such vast sums.

Without doubt Fergie will be the happier of the two managers but as I have been saying recently, it looks like scoring goals is going to be a big problem for United in the early part of the season, that is unless the Reds sign this new striker that we've been hearing about all summer long.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

United's boo-boys need to get a grip over Ronaldo dilemma...

So then, after weeks of speculation Ronaldo has confirmed that he's staying, the boo-boys among United's support are now faced with the dilemma of what to do when Ronaldo scores his next goal for the club. Do they cheer, do nothing and act as if nothing has happened?

To be honest, I couldn't care less, because if these so called fans cannot appreciate that Ronaldo was always going to want to play for Madrid given where he comes from then there's no hope really.

What's more the unpalatable truth is that it's highly likely Ronaldo will not be the last United player who will want to join Madrid or Barcelona at some point, especially with so many Brazilians at the club right now. On that note last night the Reds took on Juventus in what turned out to be something of a 0-0 pre-season yawn, that is except for two excellent second-half performances from substitutes Rafael da Silva and Rodrigo.

Rafael is grabbing the Lion's share of the headlines, but I'm personally a lot more excited about his compatriot Rodrigo - his passing and the way he retains possession of the ball for the team in any given situation means it's highly likely that he will soon displace John O'Shea and Darren Fletcher for any midfield slots.

Compare and contrast the distribution of John O'Shea who at times was causing more problems for the United back four than the visitors attack, but when Rodrigo came on he looked class. It's not beyond the realms of possibility that Rodrigo or Rafael could one day be on Real's radar, so we United fans will no doubt have to endure more of tedious speculation linking our stars to the Spanish champions.

I personally despise everything about Real Madrid and their slimeball president; his club have done everything within their powers to unsettle Ronaldo in a bid to create friction between the player, the club and its supporters. For me the fact that United and importantly Ferguson, got what he wanted is a victory, a lesser manager would have caved in under the weight of pressure.

I'd love nothing more than the Reds to meet Real Madrid this season and grind them into the Old Trafford turf in doing so knocking them out of the Champions League. Make no mistake, Real Madrid are the ones we should be warring with - not each other, or our star player.

One final question to anyone who is thinking about booing Ronaldo. Who will laugh the loudest when this happens? Our rivals that's who. We will be a collective laughing stock - please do not let his come to being and yes I know that Ronaldo played his part in this sorry saga, let us get the very best of him while he is still with us. We have more chance of retaining the big one with Ronaldo as opposed to without him.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Fergie to review transfer options after absentees list grows?....

Fergie has confirmed that the Reds will start the season without Wayne Rooney (virus), Cristiano Ronaldo (recovering from an operaton) and Anderson (Olympic duty), coupled with the fact that the manager has so far been unable to prize Dimitar Berbatov away from Spurs it is almost certainly going to be the case that United will suffer an early season goal drought.

However, the absentees could well open the door for players like Brazilian Rodrigo and Fraizer Campbell who will start the season up front alongside Carlos Tevez. United are also awaiting confirmation that Angolan striker Manucho has been given a work permit.

Between them Rooney and Ronaldo scored the bulk of United's goals last season and so it cannot be ruled out that the manager will review his target list and make a late swoop in the summer transfer window. I personally wouldn't rule out United trying to sign Klass Jan Huntelaar or even Samuel Eto'o, though I have reservations about both players but for very different reasons. I'm not totally convinced that Huntelaar will live up to the hype and Eto'o is by all accounts something of a difficult character to handle.

As far as the Cameroon striker is concerned, Barcelona will soon be involved in Champions League qualifiers (12/13 August) so time is very much running out for both the club and the player, however, Eto'o is 28 years of age next March so this is likely go against him if Barca demand a high transfer fee as is likely the case.

Another option would be Blackburn's Roque Santa Cruz but here again with time running out Paul Ince isn't likely to be keen on losing his star striker with little time to replace him.

United look set to play to Samba beat with Brazilians looking good......

Pre-season games can often look like an exercise in going through the motions in preparation for the real thing, and with United failing to sign any big names this summer many supporters will no doubt be slightly frustrated at the club's inability to find a new striker.

It does seem a bit ridiculous that Fergie hasn't been able to get his man thus far given the success of last season and money in the bank. That's the bad news, but the good news is that the Red's lack of activity in the transfer market this summer has given the likes of Fraizer Campbell his chance to show what he can do.

Campbell was outstanding last season for Hull City who wanted to sign him on a permanent basis, and during pre-season with United he's done quite well, he scored a superb goal on Saturday against Espanyol after which Fergie hinted that his future was at Old Trafford.

Last night United took on Peterborough - who have beaten Liverpool this summer, but the Reds ran out two-nil winners courtesy of a first-half own goal and a fabulous second-half strike by substitute Darron Gibson. In truth the scoreline slightly flattered the visitors and it was a decent game to watch especially with United's trio of recently signed Brazilians all impressing.

Rafael da Silva played the full ninety minutes at right-back - this just after local lad Danny Simpson was transferred to Blackburn for a full season on loan. Rafael really did look the part, he's not that big, but the boy can play, he actually looks like a miniature Iván Campo, but he's much quicker than the recently released Bolton player and he likes to get forward.

Attacking right-backs can be defensively suspect; think Glen Johnson at Portsmouth and countless others, but against the Posh, Rafael barely put a foot wrong. Twin brother Fabio da Silva came on at half-time in place of Patrice Evra and he didn't let anyone down, but after the game Ferguson was waxing lyrical about Rafael when hinting that United may well have found a star in the making.

Midway through the second period the Reds other recent Brazilian signing Rodrigo Possebon came on and once again he really looked the part. Rodrigo is a player of real promise, he rarely loses the ball - which he uses well, and he isn't afraid to shoot from distance.

United also have Anderson who is away with Brazil on Olympic duty, this is why Fergie was keen to point out that most of the young lads who have been involved recently will be staying with the club, at least for now at least anyway.

The Red Devils have a tough start to the new campaign, the first nine away games are against the sides who finished in the top nine in the Premier League.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Fergie drops striker duo hint....

Ole Gunnar's Solskjaer's testimonial took place on Saturday with United running out 1-0 winners courtesy of Fraizer Campbell's expertly taken second half winner. Espanyol were the visitors for what turned out to be a decent game to watch and it was fitting that the Norwegian legend lit up Old Trafford twice after coming on as a late second half substitute with two fabulous efforts on goal, his second was pure magic as he bamboozled two defenders the edge of the visitor's box before drilling a left foot curling effort only to be denied by a super save be 'keeper Alvarez Cristian.

Solskjaer's effort on goal was fittingly the most memorable piece of skill on the day, but the goal by Campbell will no doubt have given Ferguson yet more belief that the youngster is good enough to stay at United. Ryan Giggs played Campbell in with a superb pass which dissected the visitors defence, the clinical finish that followed was exemplary. Campbell has pace to burn and his chipped effort over the unrushing Alvarez demonstrated that he has composure too, given the quality of Campbell's goal many fans will be wondering if United have found another baby faced assassin in the making.

After the match Fergie was asked about the future of Campbell and the manager hinted that he would stay at Old Trafford when saying "He's staying here, we have no strikers and hopefully we will also get the work permit for Manucho".

It turned out to be a predictably emotional day for Ole with over 68,000 fans turning out to say thank you to a true Red legend - if only he could have capped off this final performance on the big stage with one last goal that was so richly deserved.

Schuster confirms Real's guilt over Ronaldo pursuit...

The oh so tiresome Ronaldo saga drags on and the latest news is that despite Real Madrid's claims that they've played no part in unsettling the player, the Spanish club's German coach Bernd Schuster has confirmed that they ARE doing all they can to secure the player when saying "I think the club is working hard to get a solution to this matter. We will have to see,". Clearly, FIFA's recent decision to do nothing about blatant tapping by Madrid has given them more confidence that they can do what they want in a bid to unsettle players from other clubs, hence Schuster's unwelcome comments.

Meanwhile, with the new season fast approaching it's interesting to note that images of Ronaldo are not appearing in any of Sky's or Setanta's media campaigns. Do the broacasters know something that we don't, or was the decision to drop his image taken to save re-artworking media should the United winger move on? It seems strange that "the best player in the world" has been dropped from promoting the Premier League.

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