Monday, September 29, 2008

Fergie the Emperor and his new clothes?...

Just for once this season wouldn't it be nice for United to turn on the style for the whole ninety minutes when we face AaB Aalborg in the Champions League on Tuesday? The only problem is United are currently about as predictable as stocks and shares in high-street banks.

At the weekend Ferguson benched Rooney as he made way for Carlos Tevez, who it has to be said didn't cover himself in glory while he was on the pitch (for around 70 minutes to be precise) - it wasn't the time for the Argentine's worst game of the season so far.

The team that faces AaB Aalborg is likely to include Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes and possibly Owen Hargreaves at the expense of Anderson, Tevez and Fletcher.

If and it's a big if, United somehow manage to contrive to lose this match, it will set alarm bells ringing around Europe, it will be akin to the Hans Christian Anderson story of the Emperors New Clothes...

AaB Aalborg form, match preview and latest Free bets

Why is the BBC so biased against Manchester United?

With the very real danger of adding to the debate, I have to say that I'm sick and tired about hearing about Rob Styles gifting United a penalty on Saturday against Bolton. Referees' make mistakes, get over it.

I don't know if it's just me, but the BBC in particular seems to be snided out with ABUs these days and there's definitely too many Liverpool fans in the Biased Broadcasting Corporation. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard a BBC reporter make reference to "Stevie G", which might well be music to the ears of Scouse lovers, but to the rest of us this term of endearment is vomit inducing.

The BBC et al never has a debate when United are not given penalties, as is often the case. There was no media spotlight on Martin Atkinson who didn't see Jose Bosingwa's blatant and clear handball before he scored against Stoke City at the weekend, which was every bit as poor as Rob Styles decision to give United that dubious penalty.

I heard a BBC reporter over the weekend saying that we will have to wait until this week to find out which match Styles will take charge of next weekend. Yet, again there's no debate on Martin Atkinson's next appointment...

Radio 5 live is probably the worst offender for ABUism, closely followed by the BBC sport website and MOTD (Lineker).

I for one will be quite happy to see SKY taking all of the BBCs sport away from them, they do a more professional job and their reporters remain largely impartial (but, please shut up that **** Redknapp). It's a pity I cannot say the same for the joke that is Talksport, otherwise we could get rid of the BBC completely and save us all the license fee - just think, no more Bruce ******* Forsyth...and Eastenders...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Title form eludes United as Fergie pack shuffle fails to provide answers....

All the talk after United's two-nil win over Bolton centred on Rob Styles decision to award the Reds a dubious second-half penalty for a tackle on Ronaldo. It was a poor decision, but according to the melodramatic views of Sky pundit and ex-Arsenal star, Brian Marwood, it was "one of the worst decisions I've ever seen" as he put it (several times - is he blinkered?).

Referees' make mistakes every week and on this occasion it went in favour of United. The Champions have been denied several justified penalty claims in recent games, this fact is largely forgotten when a crucial decision goes in favour of United. It was seemingly ever thus.

While United were beating Bolton, Chelsea's Bosingwa scored his first goal for the league leaders, but in doing so he clearly handled the ball before his cool finish - in contrast to the Styles decision, there has been no national debate on what was an equally poor decision.

It's typical of the media to react as they have to the Styles decision - if we didn't know better you'd think that this was the first time that a referee has got it wrong, such has been the media focus on that second half-penalty award.

Bolton themselves will know that they could have - and perhaps should have been, albeit against the run of play - two-nil up after missing two gilt-edged chances either side of half-time.

United sealed the victory when Rooney came off the bench to replace a largely ineffective Carlos Tevez on 77 minutes. The former Everton striker linked-up superbly with Ronaldo as he went on to bamboozle Nolan and the Bolton defence, in a move which culminated in a truly world-class finish from the player dubbed by the fans as the "white Pele".

Despite the first league win at Old Trafford this season United were still unconvincing, as they have been all season thus far. In the lead up to the Bolton game Fergie had told the media that all big-name players accept and are well used to player rotation. This view is of course Fergie speak and after running it through our decoding machine, what the United boss really meant was "they don't like it, but they know they have to accept it".

Given United's slow start to the new campaign and contrary to Fergie's reasoning, there is a feeling that Fergie wanted to shuffle the pack in a bid to kick-start United's season.

With the AaB Aalborg fixture looming in the Champions League on Tuesday, it gave Fergie the perfect opportunity to axe Rooney, Scholes and Hargreaves. Fergie wanted to see how the strike pairing of Tevez and Berbatov would fair. Not only that, but Tevez did not deserve to be axed the previous weekend against Chelsea - Fergie, the fans and Tevez know this too.

While the forward line hasn't been functioning effectively to date, the midfield has been running out of gas after the opening 25 minutes of the previous two away games at Chelsea and Liverpool, from which the Reds dropped five points.

These are worrying times for Fergie, because no matter who the manager has selected to date, the Reds are not playing anything like Champions.

Cohesion between midfield and attack has been all too often lacking, particularly where craft is concerned. Against Chelsea last weekend after an excellent opening spell, United resorted to booting the ball long from the back, which is a tactic deployed by the desperate and those lacking technical ability.

Despite only playing a few games, Berbatov has not forged any kind of relationship with either Rooney or Tevez, which should be a concern for Fergie.

So far, we have only seen fleeting glimpses of what the Bulgarian is capable of, he was very unlucky not to score with an early first-half header against Bolton. As for Berbatov's general play against the Trotters, he showed enough to warrant a degree of optimism for what may lie ahead.

However, despite his size, Berbatov is not an imposing centre-forward, he is no Didier Drogba. In Berabov, United are quickly realising that they have not purchased an-out-an-out target-man; it is to hoped that Fergie was not under that illusion.

There has been flattering comparisons between Berbatov and Cantona, this unjustified assertion must stop right now. Like Berbatov, Cantona was no target-man, but he was a massive presence on the pitch, both in the minds of the opposition and in physique, what's more, Cantona was a grafter. From what we have seen so far of the Bulgarian, he doesn't have any of those Cantona qualities.

I can barely recall Cantona being tackled while playing for United, it happened but not often, more often than not; opposing players stood-off Eric, whereas at Anfield recently, on numerous occasions Berbatov was left heaped on the Anfield turf following the challenge of Liverpool defenders. Perhaps I'm being unkind, given that match was the Bulgarian's debut and of course next we faced Chelsea where it was a case of much the same.

Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how well Berbatov fits into the United jigsaw, right now the team isn't functioning well. Midfield is every bit as problematic as the forward line. Against Bolton, Fergie went with the young legs of Fletcher and Anderson, both did ok, but no more than that, both players can provide a supporting role to a genuine mifield general, but at present there is a distinct lack of generals in the United engine room.

On Tuesday United travel to Denmark, no one including Fergie knows what his best team is. United are not playing well, for these reasons we cannot rule out that AaB Aalborg will deliver a potentially damaging blow to the Champions of Europe. If we lose this match United will be embarrassed to put it mildly. Hopefully the Reds will win convincingly, but somehow I just do not see that happening on current form.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Clock ticks for Reds top trio as woeful Riley inhibits United...

Going into the "the biggest game of the season so far" this weekend with Chelsea much had been made of the United's early season form. At Anfield last weekend, the Champions only played for 25 minutes; after that opening spell the home team took control and went on to win after coming back from a goal behind.

Liverpool were aided by an unusually card happy Howard Webb who sent-off Vidic for two yellow-card offences and booked three other United players. After the match Fergie suggested that the referee had caved-in under the weight of pressure from the Anfield crowd. It's hard to argue with that assertion given that Webb didn't book a single Liverpool player in a game that wasn't a dirty affair from either perspective.

Against Chelsea on Sunday, United once again took the lead in another blistering opening 25 minute spell, but once again the wheels fell-off as United lost control of the game which ended in a creditable draw. For his part the-man-in-the-middle, Mike Riley, was even worse than Webb the weekend before.

The sign of a great referee is when they do their work largely unnoticed; they do not constantly blow their whistle, they realise that they are NOT the stars of the show and importantly they know when and when not to brandish their cards.

On Sunday at Stamford Bridge Mike Riley did none of the above, he was pretty much hapless throughout and to coin a phrase he was a 'homer from start to finish'. Like the weekend before, once again we had an official who was too easily influenced by the baying home crowd.

Referees like Riley make trouble for themselves by dishing out cheap yellow-cards. United are not a dirty team, but you wouldn't believe that given that our players collected seven bookings at Stamford Bridge. I'd take exception with four of the United bookings. Scholes was presumably booked largely because of his reputation for being a poor tackler and not long after Joe Cole committed a worse offence but got away with it. Ronaldo and Ferdinand were harshly booked for questioning Riley and Evra was booked for "dissent".

One could argue that the United players need to keep their mouths firmly shut in this year of "respect", but if anyone seriously believes that the Chelsea players were not giving their collective opinions to Riley throughout this match then they are completely and utterly deluded. The net result of Reilly's poor decision-making and card-happy bookings left too many United players walking a tightrope, this coupled with the almost constant stoppages led to a game which did not flow.

No doubting Ferguson will be wondering if Keith Hackett had briefed Riley to wind-up the United manager, given that earlier in the week Fergie had publically blasted the referees’ chief over his alleged intervention in the decision to over-turn John Terry's red-card against Manchester City the previous weekend.

While United fans will agree about Reilly being biased towards Chelsea, few would argue with the Rooney booking which led to the challengers’ equaliser. These are troubled times for Rooney who is not playing well for United. By rights he should not have started the match against Chelsea as Carlos Tevez, the Reds best player thus far was benched in preference to the former Evertonian star - which in my view was totally unfair on the Argentine - if anything it should have been the other way around.

The fact of the matter is Ferguson is currently selecting Rooney on reputation rather than on current form, which is never a good situation for dressing room morale.

United fans love Rooney because he gives so much to the team, but on Sunday he lost the ball in his own half in dangerous areas and then committed fouls which heaped yet more pressure on the Champions. Rooney currently looks some way off his best, he doesn't look sharp.

Then we come to Dimitar Berbatov who has the look of a £30m misfit. Like Rooney, the Bulgarian is getting in the side on reputation, added to which he is new and Fergie would look stupid if he was left out. In fairness, the former Spurs star had no pre-season to speak of, it has been a baptism of fire given recent fixtures.

Nonetheless, Berbatov was brought in to be a target man, he was supposed to be the final piece in the United jigsaw, but right now he looks anything but a perfect fit. Worse still, Berbatov's arrival has currently had the effect of actually weakening the forward line given the Champions had to leave out Tevez, though wrong decision it surely was.

Many United supporters - me included - had reservations about signing the Bulgarian given he is lazy and right now those fears look warranted. Some Reds may even be wishing that City had secured the Spurs striker, if they do, that view is premature at this early stage. It does not alter the fact that Fergie has given himself something of a nightmare selection wise, but it raises the question how much time can he give Berbatov?

If the clock is ticking for Berbatov and Rooney it's fair to ask how much longer can Fergie rely on the mercurial talents of the ginger prince that is Paul Scholes? Granted the United midfield star was inhibited by Riley's unjust yellow-card, but once again the Reds engine-room fell apart after that opening twenty five minute spell.

Ferguson has been hampered by the loss of Michael Carrick who can string passes together, but it seems despite his age and other options like Anderson and even Possebon, Fergie seems intent on seeing out the season with Scholes at the heart of United's midfield.

Scholes can still do a job for United, he is a special talent, but the way United's engine-room has malfunctioned after the opening 25 minutes of two tough away games should be cause for concern. The situation up front is not helping one bit, the ball isn't being held up and as a result it is coming back at the defence almost constantly.

United had two other veterans’ on duty at Stamford Bridge on Sunday and their respective performances were in marked contrast. Edwin van der Sar had to be replaced following a hefty first-half challenge, but once again his handling was suspect, his replacement Tomasz Kuszczak was guilty of ball watching on the Chelsea equaliser and with Ben Foster out injured it seems that the Reds have problems in between the sticks.

Gary Neville was somewhat surprisingly selected over Wes Brown at right-back and while he has clearly lost half a yard of pace, but the veteran defender can be proud of his display given he gave his absolute all in the Red cause.

Neville was done for pace and out-tricked several times, he could have been sent-off if Ballack hadn't hurdled a late second-half lunge, but the England star saved United on numerous occasions. While there was much to admire about Neville's never- say-die fighting spirit, his distribution hasn't yet returned to what it was as he was guilty of some poor passing and crossing. Hopefully, if selected, Neville will improve.

Going into the game Fergie had done his homework on Chelsea; he deployed Hargreaves and Park to deny Chelsea's attacking fullbacks time and space. Fergie isn't known for his tactical nouse, but this plan worked a treat, Reds fans will hoping that the manager continues to find tactical solutions in a bid to retain the title.

Despite the late setback of the equalising goal - and Chelsea did deserve a point - the result should give United confidence that things can only get better providing that Fergie can keep everyone happy and fit.

Many among the media and our rivals were desperately hoping that by the end of the weekend the Champions would be nine points behind Chelsea - thankfully, it didn't happen. Let's hope that the United can build on the Chelsea result, we have the best squad, we just need to start winning again to prove it.

IF United are to retain the title they will have to do it the hard way, given the fixtures have been very unkind to the Champions - we will also have to overcome the referee's mafia too.

Man-of-the match: Ji-Sung-Park
Plonker-of-the-match: Mike Riley

Saturday, September 20, 2008

United the champs or chumps to face Chelsea this weekend?

The Reds Devils take on Chelsea this weekend, the naysayers would have it that if we lose this game it will turn out to be catastrophic for the Champions. Given United's poor start to the new campaign there are reasons to be concerned.

Going into the 'biggest game of the season" so far, Scolari's team are rightly massive favourites. The Chelsea machine has been moving through the gears nicely, with Deco pulling the strings from midfield and of course they have been boosted by the recent return of the menacing presence of Didier Drogba. The visitors will be without Vidic, so who will mark the Ivorian?

In marked contrast to the challenger's, United have started like a stuttering old banger, the Reds are simply not functioning as a unit. Ferguson's team are playing more like chumps rather than champs at present. Apart from the opening twenty five minutes at Anfield last weekend, the Reds have been poor. Against Villarreal in midweek the Champions of Europe never really looked capable of opening up the Spaniards defence, not until Ronaldo came on that is.

So is there any underlying reasons United's poor form? True, the Reds have only just signed Dimitar Berbatov and he is going to take time to bed in, but hopefully not too long. The form of Wayne Rooney hasn't been good; his performances have been overshadowed by team-mate Carlos Tevez, who has been consistently the Reds best player thus far.

The recent addition of the Bulgarian means that Ferguson will continue to wrestle with how best to get the best from this gifted pool of players. Do not be surprised if at some point in the not too distant future Rooney is either dropped or starts to be withdrawn during games - that scenario was unthinkable not so long ago - it isn't now.

Against Liverpool last weekend Scholes was by-passed by the Liverpool midfield, both he and Giggs are of course another year older. The question is should Fergie still be building his team around Scholes at 34 years of age? Midfield is where games are won and lost.

The team that dominates the centre ground usually ends up winning and the situation hasn't been helped by the constant changes in the engine room, with injuries to Hargreaves, the loss of Carrick and Anderson hasn't so far been able to cement a regular place in the side.

On the flanks, Giggs appears to have been earmarked for a substitute role this season. Nani continues to be very frustrating; his final ball isn't good enough. Park who has only just returned from serious injury continues to run-around like a headless chicken.

At Stamford Bridge on Sunday, there must be a very real danger that United's midfield will once again be over-run, if that happens the back four will not cope. For this reason, I wouldn't be surprised to see United deploying a flexible five-man midfield formation drawn from the following: Ronaldo, Fletcher, Hargreaves, Scholes, Park, Anderson, Tevez and Rooney. I have a feeling that Fletcher will be selected for his running.

If I'm right and Fergie has concerns about midfield, he will probably go with 4-4-1-1. Assuming Berabtov is fit, then the manager has to decide who to leave out. Last weekend Ferguson didn't have Ronaldo to select, now he does and it leaves him with some very difficult decisions because he has to get the balance and personnel right in midfield. Whatever Fergie decides, the Reds will have a strong bench on Sunday.

The only real bright spot for United thus far has been the return of Ronaldo, but Chelsea will know that if they can stop him from playing, they will in all probability have nullified United's attack.

On current form, this match looks like a home banker, but wouldn't it be so sweet to go to London and turnover Chelsea in their own backyard? For that to happen the Champions will have to do something which they haven't done so far this season, that is to put on a complete performance starting at the back with Edwin van der Sar who has been looking decidedly dodgy of late.

While United have always been unpredictable and Stamford Bridge has by and large been a good ground for the Reds down the years, I'm thinking a draw is the best result we can expect based on our current form.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Are United too reliant on Ronaldo and has Fergie met his match in Scolari?

To say that United have started the season sluggishly would be something of an understatement with just four points in the bag from three games. Our performances thus far have been way short of the benchmark set by the Champions. In sharp contrast rivals Chelsea have started like a train, winning all but one of their four games which sees them sitting top of the table.

There is a few mitigating circumstances which have not helped United, we have only just completed the signing of long-term target Dimitar Berbatov and of course the main man Ronaldo has been out injured after under-going surgery on an ankle over the summer.

Fans could also ask the question, has Ferguson become a little too complacent following on from the success of last season? When Mourinho was still at Chelsea, Fergie went on record stating that it was imperative that United hit the ground running at each season start. There has been no such declaration of intent this summer from the United manager. Maybe with Scolari being new to top-flight English club football, the Reds manager secretly thought / hoped that there would be a bedding-in period. No such luck if Fergie was indeed privately hoping for Chelsea to struggle to find their way early doors under new management.

What cannot be in doubt is that Fergie soon realised that in Mourinho he had met his match. The former Chelsea manager has been hugely successful, but his football philosophy is more about pragmatism rather than style - in this respect the two managers are in complete contrast.

I have my own theories about the abilities of Ferguson the coach; I hold the view that Fergie has always been something of a lucky manager. The United boss is also probably the most hard-working manager since Sir Matt Busby, who produced so many fabulous United teams.

A large part of Fergie's buying policy has centred buying on instinct - the signing of Eric Cantona being the perfect example. There is no grand master plan with Fergie.

Fergie buys players who he believes can play the United way. Part of the fascination about following and watching the Reds has been that you just never know that they are going to do - it is the same for opposing defences - they never know which player will crop up where at any given time, this chaos factor has been especially self evident since Rooney was paired with Tevez. United's inter-changing and movement off the ball has made it hard for teams to stop the Reds.

The arrival of Berbatov has rightly added another dimension to United's attacking options. However, fans are wondering how is Fergie going to work the Bulgarian into the attacking mix?

Against Liverpool apart from some brilliant early touches, the former Spurs star wanted too much time on the ball; you do not get time on the ball at Anfield if you're a Manchester United player. Apart from that opening 25 minute spell on Saturday, the Reds simply did not function going forward, all too often we lost possession - in this respect we had become predictable...which is very unlike United. Fergie may eventually opt to leave Berbatov up front as the lone striker, but if he takes that option the Bulgarian will need to double his work-rate.

Ronaldo is set to play some part against Villarreal on Wednesday when the Reds start their defence of the Champions League. Given the Reds relatively poor start to the new campaign, it poses the question will Fergie start with Ronaldo or will he leave him on the bench?

IF the Reds talisman is brought off the bench, there is a very real danger that the minority of booing morons will make themselves heard following all the speculation about Ronaldo this summer...that shouldn't and will not be a factor in the manager's team plans. United need to win this match and convincingly too if possible with Chelsea next up - we need to get the confidence going.

Following the Reds slow start, some in the media, are claiming that that the Reds Devils have become too reliant on Ronaldo. It is a claim that is hard to deny, given what he has done for the club - the sad fact is he is unlikely to win over his detractors no matter how well he plays. Some United fans need to get a grip over Ronaldo - he is the best player in the world, enjoy him while he's still here, it will only help if we are going to win yet more silverware this season.

So what to do about this forward line? Ferguson only added to confusion about where to play Wayne Rooney recently, when stating that from now on he will stay up front. With the impending arrival of Berbatov and the returning Ronaldo, it is completely fair to ask, what on earth was Fergie thinking about?

It was blindingly obvious to anyone who has followed United for any length of time that Rooney will still be cropping up all over the place. Fergie sometimes says things which he doesn't think through, he's been asked about the Rooney statement on several occasions recently - you can expect the questions to continue, as it's likely that Rooney will be played up front and possibly in midfield too.

The only thing that really concerns Fergie is that he finds the right attacking formula and with so much competition for places at Old Trafford these days, do not be surprised if United go to win the next two games.

Whatever happens on Sunday and no matter what the press and media make of the result, there are no prizes handed out at the end of September. Only at the end of next May will we know if Fergie has truly met his match in Scolari.

No matter what Fergie says at press conferences, I hope the Reds and the manager continue to baffle us and our opponents by playing brilliant football, like only United can.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Dubai Royal family looking to buy United and not Liverpool?

According to reports over the weekend the Dubai Royal family could be about to ditch their attempts to buy rivals Liverpool and instead buy Manchester United. At this moment in time there is absolutely no hard evidence to support the rumours which first surfaced in the Emirates. One theory being touted is that the Arabs have become sick and tired of Liverpool's owners bickering and dithering.

The name of strife torn Newcastle United is also being bandied around with fresh rumours claiming that the club could be sold to the Dubai Royal family among others.

Out of the three clubs mentioned, the Geordies would be the cheapest option if it came down to just buying a "Premier League club". As we saw with the acquisition of Manchester City, they were bought recently to promote the greater good of Abu Dhabi. So Newcastle cannot be ruled out as potential target for investors and of course they are officially up for sale.

Then we come to Liverpool, unlike City and Newcastle the club has prestige and a rich history. Up and until the end of August this year few had even heard of Manchester City in the Emeriates, which is in marked contrast to both Liverpool and the most expensive option of all Manchester United.

Liverpool's debts are believed to be around £350m, United's are much, much, higher, they are in fact double that of our fierce North West rivals. The question is, how much do the Arabs want either club and what will the current owners want in return?

We cannot answer those questions, but one thing is for certain neither the Glazers of Gillett or Hicks could afford to buy United and Liverpool, not without loading huge debts onto both clubs.

I for one seriously hope that talk of the Dubai Royal family buying United is true and that it happens. Reason being, the cost of United's match-day tickets are going through the roof, this is because the Glazers are sweating their investment for all it's worth in a bid to keep United afloat. Sooner or later the financial wheels will fall off at Old Trafford - better to sell to someone who CAN afford to buy the club with their own money rather than see United go the same way as Leeds United a few years ago. Yes, United have won trophies under the Glazers ownership, but it has come at a huge price.

My gut feeling is that Dubai Royal family will end up buying Liverpool because they are a long term target. I fear this latest rumour linking in the Red Devils has been leaked to give the Liverpool deal more momentum.

Update: The DIC investment group have today officially ruled out buying Liverpool and or any other Premier League club including Newcastle - this announcement doesn't actually change anything as we were already were aware that DIC had cooled their interest in acquiring Liverpool, the Dubai Royal family could still yet buy a top English club.

Read today's top United story:Are United too reliant on Ronaldo?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fergie facing huge striker dilemma .....

In the aftermath of what turned out to be an Anfield horror show on Saturday by the Red Devils, Fergie hinted that he was a little bit perplexed as to why new signing Dimitar Berbatov didn't build on this excellent contribution which led to United taking the lead in the opening minutes of a pulsating clash.

It would be wrong to blame the defeat on United's new striker, but like the rest of the team he was hussled out of it by the Liverpool players. Fergie also made the point that the referee Howard Webb appeared to be affected by the Anfield crowd; the United manager has always held the view that match officials are all too often swayed by the home supporters.

There is an element of truth in what Fergie says because down the years and despite gaining the upper hand on Liverpool, the Reds have been up against the ref and the home crowd. On the flip side, visiting supporters and managers will no doubt say the same about teams coming to play at Old Trafford.

Carping aside, Fergie did admit that his team were very much second best on the day and it was a very uncharacteristic performance by the Champions.

On reflection the United manager may well take the view that international matches and travelling may have taken their toll on the players. The Reds were also affected by the loss of Michael Carrick at half-time through injury.

Whatever the truth behind United's poor Anfield performance, there is no time for moping as Villarreal visit Old Trafford on Wednesday in the Champions League. Fergie has confirmed that he has a full squad to choose from and he has much to consider selection wise.

Vidic was sent-off at Anfield for two yellow card offences and misses next weekend's huge clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the Blues will want to make amends for losing in the Champions League final and if they win the Champions will be nine points adrift. If that scenario comes to being then it will not be the end of the world, but United will know that they cannot afford to drop many more points given how Chelsea have started the season.

Ahead of the Villarreal and Chelsea games, Fergie will have to decide who comes in to replace suspended Vidic. Brown could move to the centre of defence, but the situation is quite complex as despite recovering from injury Gary Neville hasn't been able to win back his regular place in the side.

My gut feeling is that the manager has reservations about Neville, who looks to have lost a yard of pace, which is understandable given his lengthy lay-off and coupled with his age. The manager may well opt to bring in Jonny Evans, as a straight swap for Vidic, this will effectively result in one defensive change and not two. Brown is also a bit too similar to Rio, in that they both prefer to intercept rather than be aggressive central defenders like Vidic. The big question is who will mark Drogba?

Ronaldo is fit and ready to play again and Fergie has hinted that he will only be a substitute at Chelsea. Prior to the match with Liverpool and despite having seven subs on the bench the United manager hinted that he is still finding it difficult to know who to leave out.

Set against the the Reds poor Anfield performance it begs the question; will Fergie leave out Ronaldo as a matter of convenience given that he faces benching either Tevez, Rooney or Berbatov? The latter is almost certainly untouchable being the new boy. The most likely scenario is that Tevez will be the odd man out, be it against Chelsea or whenever Fergie starts with Ronaldo again.

Given his performances so far for United, it would be totally unfair to drop Tevez who has been the Reds star performer thus far this season, so that means Ferguson is facing the very real prospect of having to drop Rooney - but that is unlikely to happen. Leaving out Tevez, could come at a price, the danger is the manager will upset the player and worst case that could eventually lead to an exit.

Fergie has also managed to tie-himself in knots over his public declaration that Rooney needs to stay up front. Given that the club knew all along that they were going to sign Berbatov, it does make you wonder about Fergie's wisdom going public about Rooney's future role. There is another option for the United manager which is to play Rooney in midfield alongside Hargreaves, Anderson and or Scholes.

Scholes, by his standards, had a very poor game at Anfield and at the age of 34 it remains to be seen how much longer he can be accommodated in a three man midfield.
Rooney has the legs, passing skills and vision to play anywhere in midfield and what's more he can tackle better than Scholes (who can't? :0)).

Possible future answer to Fergie's selection dilemma:


++++++++++++++++++++++++++...EVDS

++++++++++++++++Brown.....Vidic (Evans)......Rio....Evra

+++++++++++++Hargreaves(or Carrick)......Anderson (or Giggs)

+++++++++++++++++++++++ Rooney(or Scholes)

+++++++++++Ronaldo (or Park)....................Tevez (Nani or Rooney)

++++++++++++++++++++++++...Berbatov

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Jaded United allow Liverpool off hook and leave Fergie in search of answers...

United have become so accustomed to winning at Anfield these days that we now expect to win, whereas in years gone by it was the other way around, so losing by the odd goal in three as we deservedly did was something of a shock. The result has given United fans and Ferguson in particular a lot to think about regarding selection issues.

Going into the game which is always fiercely contested, many were looking forward to seeing Dimitar Berbatov making his United debut. After just three minutes the Bulgarian started to repay the huge transfer fee invested him when he set-up Carlos Tevez for a trademark thunderbolt from the edge of the Liverpool area after neat work by the former Spurs star. At that early point in the game United fans will have thinking it wasn't so much a question of are we going to win today, but by how many. It was the perfect start for the Champions; the Kop had been left in silence and shock at how easily their back-four had been breached.

Sadly, apart from some nice football in the opening 25 five minutes and another Carlos Tevez chance that should been converted, from then on it was all downhill. After that opening period the Reds were simply not in the game and when we had possession, all too often it was gifted back to the home team.

Edwin van der Sar had an absolute stinker and looked suspect on a number of occasions. Every time the ball was passed back to the Dutchman, which was all too frequent, United fans hearts would have collectively skipped a beat. In fact it was all too reminiscent of years gone by when we United fans joked about Liverpool using the pass-back, but such was the pressure being exerted on the visitors that they had to play it back to van der Sar - whose kicking isn't good.

It didn't come as a total shock when the United 'keeper gifted Liverpool an unlikely way back into this game when he made another error of judgement when failing to deal effectively with a low cross. As a result of the Dutchman's stupidity, Wes Brown had the misfortune of scoring another United own goal at Anfield which seems to be a habit these days.

If van der Sar's schoolboy error was bad, second-half substitute Ryan Giggs was even worse when he failed to put the ball out for a corner, instead he criminally lost possession on the United by-line as Babel went on to win the game for Liverpool.

After the game the United manager was quick to highlight where it all went wrong. United could not tackle and Liverpool wanted the victory more with their players collectively getting first to the ball all over the park.

Scholes in particular looked very tired and couldn't cope with Liverpool's industry, the Ginger one wasn't so much a prince today but a passenger. It wasn't just Scholes who was off-key, and no excuses for him about being tired from international duty. Rooney, who did extremely well for England against Croatian did not play well in his new position of right-wing and here again the impending return of Ronaldo will give Fergie a lot to consider.

United lacked pace up front today and of course the inclusion of Ronaldo will solve that problem at a stroke. More worryingly for Ferguson is how best to accommodate Berbatov, Rooney and Tevez, because as we saw today the Red Devils midfield could not cope and on too many occasions we were second to the ball.

Apart from his part in the opening goal Berbatov did not instil a great deal of confidence that United have at last found the answer to their striker problems, but it is of course very early days.

Going off what we saw today Ferguson has some big issues to resolve. How much longer can he keep faith with Scholes in the engine room? What to do about van der Sar, is he becoming error prone at the age of 37?
Who will make way for the returning Ronaldo?

Ferguson will be very concerned about the result and in particular the manner of this reverse, because collectively United were rank bad from front to back, only Tevez and Ferdinand came out of the game with any degree of credit the rest were average to poor at best.

The fixture computer has not been kind to the Champions and following the late sending-off of Vidic, United may well have a mountain to climb following a difficult looking away trip to Chelsea who we face next in the league.

There will no doubt be many clowns in the press and the media who will write-off United, just like they did last season, they do so at their peril. Ferguson has the tools to do the job, the trick is finding the right balance and it needs to happen prompto.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Liverpool v United: Is it make or break for the Scousers even at this early stage?

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Liverpool take on the Champions this coming weekend, it's a fixture that all football fans look forward to, even though it doesn't always live up to its star billing.

United have dominated recent encounters, so much so that Rafa Benitez has yet to notch a league victory over Ferguson since he arrived at Anfield in 2004. The fact that the Merseyside Reds haven't won a league game in four years will worry Reds supporters given that it could be argued Liverpool are due a win.

Liverpool fans and their manager are sweating over the fitness of Steven Gerrard and their talisman Fernando Torres. According to the latest injury news both are on course to return soon and given the timing of Gerrard's recent operation both player and club have clearly targeted his return for this coming weekend.

It isn't stretching things too far to say that Liverpool are something of a two-man team these day - without Gerrard and Torres, Liverpool will know that their chances of victory will be hugely diminished.

If Liverpool lose this match with United it will underscore the fact that the Merseyside Reds are a long way off being genuine title contenders, realistically the Anfield club are looking at another top four finish and it's been that way for a long time now.

Losing to United again in the league will also add pressure on Benitez and the clubs owners who have failed to back their manager in the transfer window.

United have their own injury concerns with Ronaldo who is out until next month, but the Red Devils attack will be bolstered by the addition of new striker Dimitar Berbatov who will make his debut at Anfield. Carlos Tevez was harshly sent-off for Argentina at the weekend meaning he misses Wednesday's match with Peru, but it also means he is fresh for United.

However, it isn't all good news as Rio Ferdinand has been suffering with a back complaint, but if fit he will play for England against Croatia. Ferguson will be desperately hoping both his central defenders return from international duty unscathed.

Latest match odds from Sky Bet. Man. Utd 6/4, Liverpool 2/1, Draw 2/1

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Money won't buy patience for Mark Hughes at City - could he eventually replace Fergie?

Sections of the media are suggesting that Mark Hughes has already been undermined by recent events at Manchester City concerning transfers and that was before the ABU Dhabi United Group arrived on the scene. The story goes that City tried to offload Corluka and Ireland behind the former Blackburn manager's back.

Hughes quickly regained control of the situation following meetings with the club's senior management team. However, Corluka was subsequently sold on this week, which was quite a turnaround given that we have been led to believe that the Welshman didn't want to lose the Croatian defender. The suspicion is that Hughes wasn't in control of transfers; clearly he wasn't fully aware of what was going on behind the scenes.

Football has changed over the last few years with "directors of football" being brought in to oversee transfers at several Premier League clubs, but rather than help it has caused conflict at Newcastle and West Ham. How long will it be before Kevin Keegan joins Alan Curbishley in the ranks of the unemployed managers? It's being reported that Denis Wise, former Chelsea star and director of football at Newcastle is at the heart of Keegan's gripes with the Magpies.

So it comes are no surprise to learn that sections of the media are already claiming that Hughes is manager of City in name alone. The front man of the ABU Dhabi group Dr Sulaiman Al-Fahim has wasted no time in making bold statements about who HE wants to see playing for City, if Hughes thought it bad before the events of this week, clearly it is going to get a whole lot more complicated, with Al-Fahim talking like the club's de facto manager about his plans for new players.

Hughes is in a no win situation, if he argues his corner on transfers, the chances are the Arabs will do exactly what Newcastle United, West Ham and Tottenham have done, that is they will bring in people above the manager. When that happens, as we have already seen, it rarely works and it can quickly end in tears.

City may well be the richest club in the world, but if they are going to be successful they will need stability on and off the pitch. A classic example of how not to do it is Real Madrid, they dismissed Vincente del Bosque who was one of the club's most successful manager's in recent times, but a succession of replacements failed and no amount of stars could put things right on the pitch.

Having spoken to City fans, they believe that Hughes will be given no longer than 12 months to make a big impact. If he fails, as I think he will, he will be in prime position to take the United job where hopefully he will carry on the great work done by Ferguson.

Taking the City job is an important part of Mark Hughes managerial apprenticeship, he is about to learn some tough lessons, but they will serve him well when the United position comes up.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

City fans launch petition to stop Ronaldo from joining the Blues...

Many United fans will have no doubt been slightly concerned on hearing the news that City's Arabian owners have pledged to sign Cristiano Ronaldo. The talk is they will make the Reds an offer they cannot refuse, £135m to be precise.

United fans will not want to see Ronaldo in a blue shirt so please sign the petition to stop it from happening...

Sign here...

Berbatov : "Bring on the Scousers"....as Fergie enhances his legend status...

The ink has barely had time to dry on Dimitar Berbatov's signature following his dramatic deadline day transfer to the Champions, yet already he's talking like a veteran United player relishing the battle with our biggest rivals Liverpool, which just happens to be the Reds next fixture.

Berbatov has also made it clear that he's not come to Old Trafford for money alone; he says he could have signed for City or Chelsea if that was the case. Thank god that he chose not to do so given the potentially cataclysmic events at Eastlands this week.

The very fact that Berbatov is a United player is down to the Reds cunning plan which unfolded dramatically on deadline day. Spurs wanted to sell Berbatov to City after their £32m bid was accepted for the Bulgarian, the only problem was they couldn't because Fergie himself had gate-crashed the Blues welcoming committee at Manchester Airport and then promptly personally driven him to Carrington.

All the while Spurs were frantically trying to locate their prized asset. Once Sky Sports TV pictures confirmed that the player was indeed being shown around Old Trafford, the North London club threatened the Champions with legal action following the potential loss of a £32m transfer fee from City.

As the night unfolded it became clear that United's plan centred on not allowing Berbatov out of their clutches, though he was a willing hostage to fortune and as the clock counted down towards midnight Spurs were forced into a corner, it was deal with United or no deal.

It turned out to be a costly exercise for the Champions given they had to match City's offer and trump it by giving Spurs Frazier Campbell for a season long loan, in doing so losing out on the £7m Hull had offered for Campbell.

Unconfirmed Reports have even suggested that Fergie had to order Campbell to join the North London club and Reds fans will have a degree of sympathy for the United youngster given that he has largely been ignored in all of this. Football is a strange game at times and sometimes things fall in place unexpectedly - take the events at Eastlands as a classic example of that - if Campbell does well and develops then maybe he will come back to United. Goals come at a premium and therefore there will be plenty of clubs like Hull who will be willing to take a chance on a rising star like Campbell.

United fans are still coming to terms with what happened on the final day of the transfer window, the supporters and myself included have at times questioned Fergie's wisdom, but his legend status was further enhanced after he personally took charge of events on deadline day in doing so foiling City's attempt to spoil the party.

The story of Fergie's role in the Berbatov transfer will be retold a million times, some fans might not be a 100% sure about the Bulgarian, but the determination of the United manager to get what he wanted should be recognised, he went for it and he wasn't going to be out manoeuvred by the late intervention of our bitter rivals from the across the city. Long live Fergie.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Man City's new owners will hike-up transfer fees...

Manchester United spent weeks trying to purchase Berbatov for the 'right money', the Reds and Spurs had spent weeks haggling over the likely fee which eventually spilled out into the public domain. Clearly United were banking on no other club coming in and offering anywhere near what Spurs were demanding for the 27 year-Old Bulgarian striker, £30m to be precise.

United's Berbatov acquisition plan looked sound, that was until yesterday morning, when 'loads-of-money' Man City pitched up and then it emerged that Spurs had accepted a totally ridiculous offer of over £31m from 'cash-rich' Man City.

The transfer carnage didn't end there by a long way, as the Blues flush with new Arabian money made several moves on transfer deadline day. City eventually went on to break the British transfer record for Robinho which in turn had left Chelsea with the choice of either matching or beating City's offer - in the end the London club did neither as they ended up losing a dramatic transfer battle that lasted less than 24 hours.

United were also faced with either losing Berbatov or matching City's over-the-top offer. Losing out to City on this occasion was unthinkable given how far the Champions had gone to acquire Berbatov, but winning this battle came at the cost of losing out on the £7m transfer fee Hull had offered for Fraizer Campbell who goes on loan to White Hart Lane for the remainder of the season.

What happens with the future of Campbell, time will tell, but already City and their new owners have made a devastating impact on English football by hiking up the price of transfers which is a trend that is likely to continue.

I personally would not rule out City buying players for the sake of stopping rivals as Chelsea did to United a few seasons back.

The Arabs might well be good for City, but it's questionable if they will turn out to be good for English football as a whole. What's more, if the playing field was uneven before the events of Monday, it could soon resemble a 1:1 incline if City start shelling out £100m on one player.

It is doubtful that UEFA and the Premier League will allow that scenario to continue without interjecting by introducing controls in a bid to ensure there is some parity for the sake of fair play and 'the good of the game'.

The situation is bad enough as it stands with the current top four and few would argue that we could do with that little cartel being broken up, but not at the expense of becoming what could be turn out to be a division which is dominated by one team alone.

There has been a lot of talk that UEFA will soon be taking heavily in debt clubs to task; reports claim that German clubs have been complaining to Michel Platini.

Acting president of the newly formed European Club Association
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has the ear of Platini, the former Bayern star wants to see UEFA taking a more proactive role when dealing with issues concerning what the Germans see as an unfair playing field where finance is concerned.

Granted the current griping centres on clubs in debt, but do not rule out UEFA trying to introduce measures to control transfer fee excesses in the not too distant future too.

There is a suspicion among many English fans that UEFA does not like to see to English clubs winning in Europe and so it came as no surprise to hear Platini recently restate his intention to take action with a view to introducing rules on how clubs are managed financially. Related comment:Will City ever be bigger than United?.

Will Man City EVER really be bigger than United?...

It isn't just Manchester City fans who are in a total state of shock relating to the amazing events over at Eastlands (or should that be Middle Eastlands?). Chelsea, and in particular Peter Kenyon will be totally gutted after losing out in the battle to sign Robinho, few saw that particular deal coming on what turned out to be a truly remarkable final day of the summer transfer window.

City fans that I spoke to could not believe the news when it emerged that of all clubs they had been taken over by the mega rich Abu Dhabi United Group, who we are told own 65% of Ferrari - the Arabs have their fingers in many pies.

Coming on the back of the Robinho transfer plus combined reported bids of over £300m on transfer deadline day, morning reports claim that City will try to sign Liverpool's Fernando Torres and Ronaldo, the theory goes that the Arabs will think nothing of offering a mind boggling £120m for the 'world's best player'....could any club turn down that sort of money? The answer to that question will be answered when the window opens in January with the bigger deals being done next summer.

So why exactly did the Arabs takeover City, given they've never really been considered to be a big club? The answer is quite simple. It was a case of perfect timing. The Blues were not the Arabs first choice - which has been confirmed - they wanted to buy Arsenal, but that deal was deemed too complicated. Liverpool and United are owned by Americans and of course Chelsea by a Russian.

City, prior to the last couple of days were owned by the fugitive that is Thaksin Shinawatra who is on the run and faces extradition to his native Thailand. According to reports, Shinawatra didn't expect to be in the tight spot in which he finds himself and perhaps it is therefore only because his assets have been frozen that the Arabs were invited to takeover. Word has it that City's former Chairman had to lend Shinawatra money to pay the players wages at the back of the season - there was even talk of administration.

At the weekend reports suggested that the Arabs could be about to buy a minority stake in the Blues which was thought to be worth around £80m. Few apart from those at the very centre of the deal which led City being taken over were aware of this impending move.

Whatever the reasoning which led to the events of the last 24 hours the football world has been shaken to its core; many observers of the game are saying that what happened yesterday is only the start. The Arabs are talking about winning domestic and European trophies. City supporters are rightly saying that if Chelsea can do it, anyone can do it with the right backing.

However, when Peter Kenyon stated his intention to make Chelsea the biggest club in the world and bigger than United, he was rightly laughed at. You cannot reinvent yourself overnight, City despite the Arabs wealth do not have a long and distinguished history. Tim Vickery, the BBCs expert on South American football says that the word coming out of Brazil is that no one had even heard of City until Elano signed for them - until then Brazilians referred to United as "Manchester".

On the future transfer battles that lie ahead, United struggle to attract the world's finest talent, reason being, it isn't just about money. As we have heard from Berbatov, he wants to win trophies, he could have signed for City but he did not.

United have pretty much always had pots of money spend, but management is another huge factor - it took United 26 years to win back the league title, it wasn't until Fergie arrived that we laid that ghost to rest. How many managers will City go through before they win some silverware because you do wonder if Hughes will be viewed as the right man, again though it might turn out to be perfect timing for the Welshman, given that he too wasn’t thought to be City’s first choice.

There is also the bright lights of London which will sadly always attract players from the continent over rainy Manchester, which is one of Ronaldo's biggest gripes. If it wasn't for the clumsy way in which Chelsea conducted themselves in their pursuit of Robinho they might have won that battle, but somewhat surprisingly it is being reported that the West London club would not match Real's valuation.

Ramon Calderon made a snidey parting comment on Robinho's move to City suggesting that the Brazilian hasn't moved for "sport reasons" - clearly this man isn't bothered who upsets, given he had just agreed a deal which broke the British transfer record. Calderon is no diplomat, but no matter what the likes of the Real President says or thinks, money talks and what happened yesterday was a statement of intent.

While City fans are still coming to terms with the news of the last 24 hours, supporters of other clubs will be rightly concerned about the likely ramifications.

For those who wanted to see the big four being broken up, this takeover is great news - whether it happens this season or next isn't the point, it will happen eventually and the way things are going it's likely that Liverpool and or Arsenal will fall by the wayside.

However, in financial terms all of the existing top four including United will struggle to compete, especially if what we are hearing about the Arabs’ sanctioning £120m fees is true. Only Abramovich could compete with that kind of money, but event that is unlikely.

City fans might have to get used to the idea that their club is likely to fast become the most despised club in the land, but will they care? I doubt it. What happened yesterday has potentially changed football forever; at least it has until the Arabs grow tired of playing with their new found toy and then pack up their tent and move on to their next project.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Berbatov latest: Star undergoing medical...

Reports are claiming that despite United not having permission to speak to Dimitar Berbatov, the player is undergoing a medical at a South Manchester hospital with a view to a move to Manchester United.

Meanwhile, rivals Manchester City are still hoping to scupper the Berbatov transfer after having a £30m+ bid accepted by Spurs for the Reds top summer target. However, giving the timing with only a few hours left on transfer deadline day it seems ulikely that City will be successful in the attempts hi-jack Berbatov's move to Old Trafford.

More on Berbatov...

City in drivig seat to sign Berbatov

Berbatov arrives at Carrington for talks...

Berbatov Update: "Man City in drving seat"...

According to the very latest news Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy has made it clear that he has NOT given United permission to speak to Dimitar Berbatov, yet earlier reports in the day claimed that Ferguson himself had collected the Bulgarian striker from Manchester Airport and drove him to the Reds Carrington training ground for talks.

Media reports are now suggesting that rivals Manchester City are in the driving seat to sign the Spurs star given that they have reportedly had a £30m+ bid accepted from the Citizens.

Meanwhile, contrary to earlier reports from Spain, Real Madrid are not interested in signing Berbatov, speculation suggested that the Spanish club were about to launch at £35m raid on White Hart Lane to scupper the Champions hopes of capturing their top summer target.

Berbatov in talks at Carrington - but will heads roll if City capture United's top target?

Manchester United and Manchester City fans are in a total state of shock due to the amazing unfolding events at Eastlands. City, we are led to believe are about to be taken over by the mega rich Abu Dhabi United Group. Coming on the back of that news, the Blues look to have agreed a deal with Spurs over long term United target Dimitar Berbatov for a fee believed to over £30m.

However, despite the fact that City boss Mark Hughes has confirmed that City have had their cheeky bid accepted the player is in fact at Carrington in talks with Fergie.

If and it's a very big IF, Berbatov eventually decides to join City, it will leave United counting the cost of putting all of their transfer eggs into one basket on the search for a new striker.

Clearly if Berbatov doesn't sign for United and instead joins rivals City, questions will need to be answered as it will be hugely embarrassing for the likes of David Gill who is supposed handle transfers.

Ferguson in particular is likely to be livid with David Gill for allowing what will be described as a minor catastrophe for United. Having been crowned European and domestic champions it seems implausible that the Reds have been unable to make one significant signing as we heading into the final hours of the current window, especially given how quickly the Champions moved last summer in the transfer window.

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