Thursday, December 31, 2009

Two R's star in festive Turkey shoot as Wigan roll over....

There's a well used adage in football that states you can only beat what is put in front of you, by way of the quality (or lack of it, in the case of Wigan) of the opposition; The champions did just that in what was a fully blown festive Turkey shoot at Old Trafford last night and the second five-nil demolition job of the season on Wigan Athletic, it was a thoroughly professional job and one that enhanced United's goal difference into the bargain.

No matter that the champions could easily have won the game by a much wider margin - the fact they didn't do so was largely down to one man, Dimitar Berbatov. Despite eventually scoring, the Bulgarian's finishing was nothing short of woeful. United have two important cup ties coming up in the next few days; it's one thing missing easy chances when they are coming thick and fast, it will be quite another if Berbatov fails so miserably as he did last night against either Leeds United on Sunday in the FA Cup or Man City next week.

Berbatov continues to test the patience of the fans' and no doubting his manager too, despite some good touches and the odd moment of inspiration, all too often the former Spurs star is the source of utter frustration and bemusement. It's easy to see why many United fans' are apathetic or else indifferent towards the Bulgarian striker and it's also why it's doubtful he will ever win over the masses.

While Berbatov continues to frustrate the fans' and those who question his worth, in sharp contrast, the stock of his fellow strike partner Wayne Rooney continues to rise.

Against Wigan Rooney was brilliant at times and extremely unlucky not to add to his goal tally, he eventually and fittingly did manage to open the scoring with a superbly worked goal following an excellent Gary Neville like over-lapping run down the right flank by Rafael. Rooney expertly latched on to the Brazilian's low driven cross with a deft touch that diverted the ball and gave Kirkland in the Wigan goal no chance. Frankly, at that point in the first-half Wigan were lucky not to have been dead buried.

Prior to the flood gates opening, Rooney had hit the inside of Kirkland's far post after he'd turned the fullback inside out on the left edge of the visitors' penalty area - quite how the ball didn't end up nestling in the rigging is a mystery. Berbatov missed a catalogue of easy chances - if indeed it were possible, someone should have given him a killer instinct for Christmas because he sure as hell hasn't got one in front of goal.

Carping aside, it was very good night for Rafael da Silva, who over the last two games has shown the best and worst of his capabilities; against Hull at the weekend he gave away a penalty after finding himself on the wrong side of the man he was supposed to be marking, but when the Brazilian goes forward and attacks he does so with conviction and pace, not only that, unlike Gary Neville, he is a goal-scorer.

Last night against Wigan we saw the very best of Rafael and it was fitting that he made it three-nil just before half-time, with what was arguably the best goal of night. The Brazilian collected the ball from Rooney on the edge of the Wigan penalty as he skipped beyond the attention of three Wigan defenders before spinning and then driving the ball into the corner of Kirkland's net with a left-foot finish that any striker would have been proud of.

It was a night when most of United's best attacking moves came down the right flank and prior to Rafael scoring, Michael Carrick had doubled the champions advantage, but on this occasion it was Atonio Valencia who was the provider from deep inside the Wigan penalty area with a pin-point pull-back that invited Carrick to strike the ball goal-bound, and he did.

Just minutes into the second period and after more good work by Valencia, Berbatov finally got his name on to the score-sheet when making it four-nil, following yet another assist by the Ecuadorian; once again the damage was done from a move that started on the right flank, at that point, as a contest, the game was effectively over, but the fans' and players' alike were enjoying this festive feast of goals even if it came at the expense of a hapless Wigan team who were more or less devoid of ideas, spirit and fight.

The fans' had to wait until the 75th minute to quench their thirst for more goals and when number five arrived, on this occasion it was Rooney who turned provider for Valencia to score. Prior to arriving at United, the Ecuadorian was 'goal-shy', so his increasing tally is just cause to celebrate for both player and manager.

The win over Wigan, despite the opposition's many shortcomings is a major confidence booster for United and it has come just at the right time; December has been a month of highs and lows were results and performances are concerned, but the champions have notched eight goals in the last two games and only shipped one and so Ferguson and has players' have good reason to be confident about the challenges ahead as the turn of the year approaches.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Are 'one man team' United ready for showdown with City?...

Looking ahead to the Carling Cup semi-finals with neighbours Manchester City and following the impact of installing a new manager in Roberto Mancini, the champions could well be set for a torrid time of it over both legs. Even if City hadn't controversially sacked former manager Mark Hughes, City would have been up for it, because everyone in football is aware that this is one of their best opportunities of winning a half decent trophy since they last won the then named League Cup back in 1976.

IF recent form is anything to go by, then it's United who should be the more worried of the two; not only that but Reds fans are only too aware that in Fergie we have a manager who could well play into City's hands if he doesn't select his strongest possible team - in sharp contrast, Mancini will be acutely aware that winning a trophy - any trophy - would be, ahem, massive.

City are coming off the back of two wins without conceding a goal, next up they have the not so difficult looking task of facing 'Boro in the FA Cup away at the Riverside; the fact that City might well have improved their questionable defence in short order since the appointment of Mancini, could give them confidence about their ability to take on and beat the champions. City's achilles heel has been defending this season; goal scoring hasn't been an issue; they have three players in the Premier League list of top 15 scorers and have notched 38 goals in total, that's just two less than the champions; in contrast, United have just Rooney in the list of leading scorers with an impressive 13 goals. Rooney's form and importance to United cannot be overstated, a point well made (unusually it has to be said) by Jamie Redknapp over the weekend - without Rooney, United are very ordinary and for once I have to agree with him.

United have been showing mixed form at times in December; the champions lost badly at Craven Cottage when showing no fight or spirit, in what were admittedly difficult circumstances with so many key defenders missing through injury as they went on to lose 3-0; the Red Devils also lost at home to Aston Villa, again they were nowhere near their collective best.

On the positive side United won well at West Ham winning easily 4-0, they also won away in the Champions League against Wolfsburg when winning 3-1. In the Carling Cup, the holders came out on top over a lacklustre Spurs as well comfortably beating a second-string Wolves side at Old Trafford. The champions won again on the road this weekend in the league at Hull City when winning 3-1.

So United have been blowing hot and cold in December and it remains to be seen what January's fixtures will yield in terms of results. IF god forbid, City actually win the Carling Cup semi final (we the fans will never hear the end of it) they will in all probability go on to win that elusive piece of silverware. From a United perspective if the worst case scenario comes to being, then no doubting Fergie will attempt to gloss over that reverse when stating that the champions have 'bigger fish to fry' - if he does, he will be making a big mistake in the eyes of the fans', but let us hope any excuses won't be needed.

For now, we can look ahead to what will no doubt be an intriguing and very important month that ends with the Premier League clash with Arsenal at home. Interestingly, on the same weekend that Jamie Redknapp more or less described United as a 'one man team' another 'died in the wool' scouser, none other than, Alan Hansen, made United favourites to win the title, let us hope he is right...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Hit and miss United just about see off Hull...

Manchester United were back in action for the first time over the festive period when they took on Hull City at the KC Stadium this afternoon, thankfully and despite what was largely another well below expectations performance, they were just about good enough to secure all three points thanks to goals by Wayne Rooney, Andy Dawson (own goal) and Dimitar Berbatov.

Prior to today's win, United had lost their last two Premier League games against Fulham and Aston Villa; admittedly the champions have been struggling with no fit central defenders, against Hull City the defence was bolstered by the welcome return of Nemanja Vidic, Wes Brown and Rafael.

In his post match interview Ferguson said the return of his defenders was as important as the three points - few would argue would with that assertion; United have been plugging the gaps in defence with round pegs in square holes and despite what was a sloppy display at times against Hull, playing Fletcher and Carrick in central midfield gave the champions a more familiar look in the engine room.

Rooney was today's star man; he scored the first deep into first-half added time after great work by Fletcher who swung in a wicked low cross from the right that was pretty much undefendable. However, five minutes after the break Rooney went from hero to villain when he gave the ball away which led to Rafael conceding a penalty for a push; Fagan converted the resulting spot-kick when giving Kuszczak no chance.

Valencia - who had a quiet game - was replaced by Park (63), the South Korean would have surely got his name on the score-sheet if it wasn't for Hull defender Andy Dawson. Rooney more than made up for his earlier error in the build-up to United's second goal when he ran fully 60 yards to collect a Ryan Giggs pass before pulling the ball back from deep in the Hull penalty area for Dawson to convert into the Hull net as United regained the lead.

Rooney then put the icing on a man of the match performance with a brilliant pass to the feet of Berbatov who made no mistake with just Myhill to beat in the Hull goal. United's third goal came about when the game was very stretched following a long punt out of the Hull defence - but as has happened on so many occasions, the champions were quick to capitalise on the break, from that point on it was game over.

Today's result leaves United just two points behind leaders Chelsea; but the champions have lost five games already this season and no other club has lost that many games before Christmas and gone on to win the League.

According to Ferguson, the quality of the Premier League is the reason we have seen so many unexpected results; that is one point of view, but it could be argued the accepted 'top four' have so far, been disappointing, and that in point of fact the overall standard of the leading clubs has if anything dropped.

While it's true that United have been struggling with injuries, some of Ferguson's recent tactical decisions haven't helped the team; against Villa the United manager started with a lone striker in Wayne Rooney - this when United were playing at home at Old Trafford. Then against Fulham Ferguson committed suicide when electing to play three at the back, this when he only had one first-choice defender in Patrice Evra to call upon - it was an act of madness - a damning fact that the mainstream media has completely ignored.

United don't have the look of champions, but neither do Chelsea, or come to that any of the other leading contenders and so despite the lack of any standout team the battle for the title will no doubt see many more twists and turns in the weeks and months ahead as the turn of the year approaches.

Ferguson has made it clear United are unlikely to be stregthening in the January transfer window; but many observers would surely agree the champions need to sign a top quality striker, a quality central midfield player plus a central defender; with the danger of prematurely writing-off the champions - without the addition of some new blood it is difficult to see Ferguson and his team retaining the title.

***********

FAO 619 (for some reason the blogger platform is broken today hence my unusual reply)

619,

Of course I can see what you're getting at. Regarding the benefit of hindsight and Lucio, Fergie could learn a lot from Arsene Wenger who really does know when to sell players who are coming to their sell by date. Fergie could have offloaded Rio and got half of the ridiculous £30m fee we outlaid to Leeds (who were on the brink of administration at the time), and then he could have swooped for Lucio - that would have been the mark of a transfer genius. 12 months on it looks like Rio is heading for early retirement.

I'd also like to underscore the point I made about me not being Fergie; If I was paid to do his job with his massive resources, then I'd hope to know about every up and coming top player - while accepting your point about obvious targets, no one is going to convince me that there isn't anyone available for the three positions mentioned.

Furthermore, I have growing concerns about Fergie's scouting network and his ability to judge young players. Take the case of Tosic and his former team-mate Adem Laljic; according to the press, Tosic is up for sale and of course United pulled out of the Laljic transfer (believe what you will about that sorry episode).

Regarding the players you've mentioned and some of the manager's recent buys, here's my assessment of them:

Anderson: signed for a lot of money and has failed to improve as was hoped and he can't dislodge either Carrick or Fletcher, both are not exactly world beaters - the point being, Anderson is third choice when it comes to United's best formation (442) in a two man central midfield.

Nani: Another expensive buy, but one who all too often fails to deliver - hence him being up for sale too...

Gibson: Looks slightly overweight and slow - despite his obvious goal-scoring ability, the pace of the game has moved on since the days of Jan Molby. Prediction: He will eventually (within 2 years) be sold just like many other former youngsters with promise...

Welbeck and Macheda: I have major doubts about Welbeck making it at any club in the Premier League, let alone United, he simply doesn't look good enough in any respect; IMO Fraizer Campbell is a better player.

Regarding Macheda, I had high hopes for him after he burst onto the scene, but now I'm really not sure; he looks a bit too slow, but technically I'd say he's a better footballer than Welbeck. My gut feeling is they will both be sold within two years.

As for the two da Silva brothers; these two have a chance, but Fabio won't get in ahead of Evra and you have to wonder why Fergie is messing about when electing to start with players like Brown and O'Shea ahead of Rafael (when he's been fit).

Regarding Possebon; if United really believed in him and with the current midfield options (lack of genuine star quality) then why did we let him go out on loan? So again, I see no future for him at Old Trafford.

In a nutshell, some observers have stated Fergie is creating a new team with the players' you've mentioned; I disagree, the manager is persevering with players who aren't quite good enough, with a view to probably selling them and so I see no nucleus of a new team.

As I stated in my post, without Rooney the current United team are very average and uninspiring.

Berbatov is a misfit who would not get into Chelsea's team.

Wherever you look in the current United squad, there are problems in all departments and added to which Fergie has been a great manager when he's been giving bucket loads of cash to spend, but now you wonder how good he actually is without much to spend (if the reports are true).

The current team is going nowhere fast and the last time they lost five league games before Christmas was in 01-02 when we finished third.

I'm really not sure what Fergie is playing at right now; are his hands being tied in the transfer market, or does he genuinely believe there's no value where potential new signings are concerned?

Please do come back and remind if I'm proven to be wrong....

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fulham spank spineless United: Fergie gets it all wrong...

An injury ravaged Manchester United travelled to Craven Cottage this afternoon with only one first-choice defender in Patrice Evra. As if the defensive situation wasn't bad enough, Ferguson made it a whole lot worse when he gambled when electing to play three at the back. It would have been hard enough if the manager was able to select his first choice defenders, but expecting a makeshift three to deal with Fulham's in-form strikers' was frankly nothing short of ridiculous.

The champions went on to lost three nil thanks to goals by Danny Murphy, Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff. The result was a fair reflection of the game and United have no excuses as there was precious little effort from those in red shirts.

On the plus side, the manager did at least start with two strikers in Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney, but despite flooding midfield, the engine room was pretty much none existent and as far as senior players like Paul Scholes was concerned he went missing in action along Darron Gibson, Anderson, Evra and Valencia.

United didn't trouble Mark Schwarzer all afternoon - a damning fact even allowing for the injury problems.

The United players on duty at Craven Cottage today were a total disgrace and not one of them deserves more than 2 out of 10. The performance level was without doubt the worst of the season so far, in fact it was the worst for a very long time.

Ferguson has had a long running dispute with the BBC and so he no longer speaks to the corporation; but there is no excuse for not facing the music and the Sky cameras. Sending out Mike Phelan is not what the fans expect following such a poor performance.

United have now lost five league games already this season; it remains to be seen if the team and manager will respond because the champions grip on the title is slipping badly.

United must raise their game if they are to settle AC Milan score..

Manchester United will face AC Milan in the Champions League round of 16 - it is a draw that neither club will have wanted - but the Italians have every reason to be confident of progressing to the quarter final given the champions woeful record against Milan.

Ferguson gave his reaction to the draw to the media ahead of this weekend's Premier League clash with Fulham; according to the United manager the players' learnt more from losing last season's Champions League final than they did when winning it on penalties against Chelsea the previous season.

Apart from the opening ten minutes of the Rome final, in which United looked the better team, Barcelona wiped the floor with the Red Devils'; quite what the players' learnt from that sorry display - apart from the fact that they were comprehensively out-played in midfield would be a good question to ask Ferguson. It is one thing suffering the bitter taste of defeat – quite another being capable of doing anything about it should United meet Barcelona again.

Whatever Ferguson says about lessons being learnt it doesn't alter that fact that United have come up against Milan twice in Ferguson's reign, both ties ended in humiliation; the latest meeting came about in the 06'-07' semi-final, the champions won the first leg 3-2 at Old Trafford but then didn't turn up for the second-leg in the San Siro, as they wimped out without so much as a whimper when losing embarrassingly 3-0 - it was one of the most limp-dicked United performances in living memory.

If the events of 2006 were hard to stomach, that sorry episode paled into insignificance when the great unwashed aka Liverpool fought back to win the Istanbul final against Milan in 2005. Along the way, the Red Devils' once again proved to be too easy to beat in both legs of the round of 16 as Milan breezed into the quarter final when winning both legs 1-0 thanks to Crespo. The score-line wasn’t emphatic but Milan had controlled both legs in a manner that was totally unacceptable as far the fans were concerned.

Looking ahead to this year's round of 16, both teams have been seriously weakened with the loss of star players like Ronaldo, Tevez and Kaka. United have looked unconvincing in just about every department of late. The champions recently surrendered a long unbeaten European run at Old Trafford against Besiktas and very nearly lost against CSKA Moscow.

United were beaten by an in-form Aston Villa last weekend in the Premier League, uncharacteristically, home form has been something of a concern. It's true to say that while injuries have played a big part in some of the issues facing the manager, tinkering also played its part in some of those games.

There's a growing concern among some of the fans about Fergie's decision making, those concerns were highlighted again when the manager opted to start with one striker against Aston Villa last weekend.

With no out and out striker to select, Fergie should be starting with two strikers in every game, but despite this rather obvious weakness he flirts with 4-3-3 (4-5-1) which does not work with the manager’s current options up front. The fact that Fergie elects to start with one striker, not only can play into the hands of the opposition when United all too predictably lose possession, but it also speaks volumes about the manager's lack of confidence in his central midfield options which is why he attempts to flood that department.

It remains to be seen if United can raise their collective game, to a level that will see the champions end what has, for some, become a painful losing hoodoo against AC Milan; the two clubs have met four times and United have lost on every occasion - a losing run that stretches back to the 1950s.

On paper there shouldn't be much between the two teams; both have match winners in Rooney, Giggs, Owen, and Scholes. While Milan have players like Pirlo, Inzaghi, Huntelaar, Ronaldinho and most dangerous of all Pato. Some United fans will be surprised to learn that Michael Owen is currently second top in the leading scoring stakes with four, just two behind Ronaldo.

Milan only just sneaked through to the knockout phase of this year's competition after winning two games, drawing three and losing one to FC Zurich. While losing and drawing with the Swiss club was a surprise, Milan's 3-2 win away at the Bernabeu was the result and performance of the competition so far; the Italians' should have won more comfortably on the night - the fact they didn't was down to some very dubious refereeing decisions.

Despite the loss of Kaka, Milan pose a serious threat to United - the fans and Fergie will do not need reminding of that. However, Fergie's incoherent meddling with his formation, combined with defensive frailties, the odds should favour Milan progressing at United's expense for a fifth time, but while United have match-winners, most notably in the form of Wayne Rooney there is always hope.

In boxing parlance, United have a puncher's chance, but nothing more than that. While injuries have undoubtedly given Fergie a thumping headache of late, perhaps more than any other factor, the current United lacks character, knowhow and stomach for fight in central midfield. Barcelona cruelly exposed that weakness in last year's final, and Milan did it 2007 and 2005 when Genarro Gattuso stomped all over United's pitiful engine room.

It is time for United to raise their collective game and Fergie needs to stop talking clap-trap about lessons learnt from previous campaigns. Talk is cheap.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Friends of Liverpool go on moral crusade against Mick McCarthy following Wolves Old Trafford 'surrender'...

United eased their way to a comfortable 3-0 win over a depleted Wolverhampton Wanderers team at Old Trafford last night. It could have been 4-1 at half-time, the fact that it wasn't was down to Wayne Rooney's poor finishing; the United striker missed two gilt edged chances in the first 10 minutes.

Somewhat surprisingly given the quality of the opposition, the visitors gave United a few first-half scares, notably, when Friend narrowly missed the target following a throw-in from the left. Tomas Kuszczak suffered one of those unhappy flappy moments we he came off his line for a ball that clearly was never going to be his, thankfully the ensuing near mayhem came to naught.

The champions were eventually gifted the lead on the half-hour from the penalty spot following a blatant handball by Ronald Zubar; Rooney converted and then Nemanja Vidic doubled United's lead 10 minutes later with a trademark header. It was all over on 66 minutes when Valencia added a third following United's best attacking move of the night; it started with Scholes who dinked the ball forward to Berbatov who in turn flicked the ball on to the Ecuadorian who made no mistake when crashing home a well hit first time half-volley with the outside of his left foot.

Despite the scoreline, United were nowhere near their best - they didn't have to be, which is a blessing. Apart from his part in the third goal, Berbatov was poor, as was Rooney - but at least he was trying.

Obertan started on the left and did quite well; he is one of the few bright spots about the current United team. Fergie will also no doubt be pleased with Valencia's goal tally (5) so far; quite incredibly he is the club's third top-scorer behind Rooney and Owen. The Ecuadorian is ahead of Berbatov...which says as much about the Bulgarian's season so far as it does about the former Wigan star.

De Laet was given another start, this time at right-back, where he did an okay job for the team. Given Ferguson's injury problems he will be pleased the fixture list doesn't - on paper at least anyway - look that taxing.

In the aftermath of what wasn't a great game, the media have predictably launched a witch-hunt against Mick McCarthy for his decision to make 10 changes to the side that beat Spurs at the weekend.

The media is snided out with former Liverpool players and fans; so it will not have surprised United supporters that the likes of Alan Green was reportedly raging on 5 Live last night about McCarthy. It is also not that surprising that The Times have also launched a moral crusade against the Wolves manager. The Times football editor, Tony Evans, is a big Liverpool fan. No doubting followers of the 'great unwashed' have been looking at their Boxing Day Anfield clash with Wolves - hence their over the top cursing.

Managers' make their choices, they quite often pay the price for failure with the sack; McCarthy will face that fate again if Wolves end up getting relegated. But isn't it funny that the likes of Alan Green and Tony Evans don't carp when their beloved Liverpool manager pulls the same stunt?

Scouse fans have short memories

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tevez underlines his worth as United crash at home to Villa.....

It had to happen sooner or later and the bad news for United is it happened on Saturday when Aston Villa ended a dismal 26 year sequence of results without winning at Old Trafford thanks to Agbonlahor's first-half headed winner on 21 minutes.

In the wake of the defeat the fans are raking over what was a poor performance and questions about being asked about the manner of the defeat and especially the manager's approach; notably, why did Ferguson feel it necessary to start with just Wayne Rooney up front in a 4-5-1 formation? Perhaps Dimitar Berbatov wasn't 100% match fit, because on a day of disappointment in front of goal, it was the Bulgarian who missed one of the champions few genuine scoring opportunities.

Berbatov came on when replacing the once again totally ineffective Park on 63 minutes, before that at half-time and in a bid to give Rooney more support Fergie brought on Michael Owen for Ryan Giggs who'd had a quiet first-half.

Ferguson also replaced Anderson with Darren Gibson but it was a day when nothing seemed to work. Despite a poor performance, United didn't deserve to lose and when Rooney hit the underside of the Brad Friedel's crossbar and bounced to safety on-looking fans will have wondered if it was going to be Villa's day and so it was.

Apart from Villa's well-worked goal, there wasn't a lot to admire about the visitors' who made it difficult for United when often putting 10 men behind the ball - which has been a common ploy used by Martin O'Neil down the years. Let us hope the Irishman is never offered the United job. However, we have to give some credit to Villa who have improved as the season has gone on - league positions do not lie.

While United were struggling so were Chelsea who could only manage a 3-3 draw at home to Everton; a result which was nearly as surprising as the United defeat. Meanwhile, Man City had to thank Carlos Tevez whose two goals salvaged a point at Bolton in another high-scoring 3-3 draw. Tevez is playing well for City and proving to be good value and how United could have done with his work rate against Villa at the weekend.

With the gap at the top of the Premier League is just three points between United and Chelsea it is very much all to play for; no wonder Wenger said that it was the most open title race for years.

None of the leading contenders are playing consistently well, but one of the most surprising stats that emerged over the weekend is that United do not appear to be missing Ronaldo's goals, not least as much as was feared in the closed season. While it's true to say we will only be able to make a proper judgement at the season end the scoring rate so far makes interesting reading:

Played: 26 Goals: 51
Goals per game: 1.96

Last season:
Played: 66 Goals: 119
Goals per game: 1.80

Lies, damn lies and stats anyone?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Obertan's 'Cruyff turn' secures Group B for makeshift United on night of intrigue and inspiration...

Ahead of last night's final Group B Champions League game Sir Alex Ferguson jokingly told the media he didn't have a clue how the team would line-up. The United manager had many selection headaches, so it was always going to be an interesting encounter. Patrice Evra skippered the side, the Frenchman was the only recognised defender in a makeshift back three alongside Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick. With so many absentees and with United needing just a point to finish top of the group it looked like a very big ask.

Fergie has previously flirted with three at the back, but only in pre-season and that was when he had the benefit of his first-choice defenders. The fact that Fergie hasn't tried this formation in the real heat of battle until last night against Wolfsburg and given the make-up of the defence makes last night's 3-1 win over Wolfsburg even more remarkable.

It turned out to be a night when Fergie could do no wrong; Nani who has been out injured, or was it rested (axed for carping to the press), started wide on the left and supplied a pint-point cross to the back-stick for Owen to open the scoring, that was just before the interval. If the Portuguese winger's cross was good, the build up was even better; the move started with Scholes and Owen combining in midfield, which allowed the England striker to shake off the attention of the Wolfsburg defenders, the ball was played to Nani and then Owen ghosted in and nodded home.

Michael Owen has rightly grabbed the headlines after scoring his first-hatrick since leaving Liverpool. Owen could have scored more, but importantly as he has consistently shown this season, he continues to find space inside the opposition penalty area. The fact that the former Newcastle striker was signed on a free transfer makes it all the more remarkable and yes those who described his arrival at Old Trafford as another potential Fergie masterstroke look like being proven right.

On what turned out to be a night of intrigue off the field, there was entertainment aplenty on it and Wolfsburg played their part, predictably they carved open United on several first-half occasions; Dzeko's aerial threat was apparent throughout the game, but Fletcher and Carrick were superb and barely put a foot wrong all night, in fact Fletcher looked like a natural central defender.

It came as no great surprise that Wolfsburg levelled on 56 minutes through alleged United target Dzeko. The 6ft 4in Bosnia international looks like a decent striker and his peformances against United this season suggest he is a worthy transfer target.

With no sign of the deadlock being broken Fergie made what turned out to be another important tactical decision that was to send on Obertan and Valencia for Welbeck and Nani.

Welbeck had a decent game and at times he linked well with Owen, but as he has done on other occasions he didn't play the right ball to his strike partner, but on the whole he should be satisfied with his contribution.

Unlike Park who was very poor throughout, Nani did ok and supplied the cross for the opener. Elsewhere in central midfield Gibson had a quiet game alongside the master, Paul Scholes, but for Owen's goals the ginger prince would have received my man of the match award, along with Fletcher who wasn't far behind.

Just like his manager it was a night when Owen could do no wrong, but it was the introduction of Gabriel Obertan who made it all possible because in one moment of pure magic he turned the Wolfsburg back four with a 'Cruyff turn' and then picked out Owen who netted at the far-post.

But the best was yet to come from Owen, there have been many doubts about the former Newcastle star, but the way he ran from close to the half-way line to finish the third goal was pure vintage. Owen must be in with a great shout for a starting place against Aston Villa this weekend, but knowing Fergie he will more than likely bring back Rooney and Berbatov.

Going into this clash Fergie told the media he wasn't sure if finishing second or first in the group made much difference, he was completely wrong on that point; United needed to win or at least draw to ensure they avoided Real Madrid and Barcelona in the next round and by winning Group B they've done as much as they could have done.

While United were celebrating a thoroughly well deserved win, news broke that UEFA had confirmed two CSKA Moscow players had failed a drugs test that was taken following the recent 3-3 draw with United. There was a suggestion that just perhaps the Wolfsburg players were aware of this news prior to last night's clash with the champions so they knew they'd be going into the knockout phase of the Champions League - the theory being they weren't trying - you'd like to believe that wasn't case because nothing should be taken away from Fergie and his players on what was a very difficult night.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Despite 4-0 win over Hammers United don't look like champions....

West Ham United have been shipping goals at home this season and so it came as no great surprise that United eventually slotted four without reply at Upton Park yesterday, however, like last weekend against Portsmouth the final score didn't tell the full story of what was an error ridden afternoon.

Last weekend United tonked Portsmouth 4-1 at Fratton Park, but they could easily have gone into the break losing if Pompey had taken their numerous goal scoring opportunities. Against West Ham this weekend there was barely an effort on Kuszczak's goal worthy of the term. But it might have been different if Jack Collison had taken advantage of an early Ryan Giggs schoolboy error, that thankfully came to nothing.

Manchester United were the better team in the opening period, and they didn't have to play that well against what was one of the poorest looking West Ham teams for many a year. Despite enjoying the Lion's share of possession, on too many first-half occasions United were guilty of poor passing.

Paul Scholes and in-form Darron Gibson had several range finders that were either blocked or way off target, especially as far as the Northern Ireland international was concerned, but if you keep on giving time and space to good players in your own half of the pitch you will eventually pay the price and that is precisely what happened just prior to half-time when Scholes slammed home a trademark drive from the edge of the Hammers penalty area.

At times during the first-half the benevolence of both teams was quite breathtaking such was the poor quality of this Premier League encounter, but United deserved to be at least one nil to the good given their territorial advantage. Once United took the lead any remote hope of the Hammers taking anything from this game quickly vanished, if anything Zola's team just went worse.

Darron Gibson made up for several embarrassing efforts on goal with one that was right out of Bobby Charlton's scrapbook on 61 minutes. Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney were involved in the build-up as they exchanged passes on the left before the Welshman laid the ball invitingly into the path of Gibson who was wasted no time in blasting the ball beyond the despairing reach of Robert Green in the Hammers goal.

The comparison with Bobby Charlton was easy to make, because just like the former England maestro, Gibson hit the ball without breaking stride. It was a truly majestic strike and a lesson to all youngsters on how to hit a moving ball.

Making comparisons with former players is always a risky business and in no way is Gibson the next Bobby Charlton, but in his last two games the Ulsterman has scored three important goals, in so doing underscoring the value of having a player who can score from central midfield. But like the rest of the current crop of United's young stars in-the-making, the jury is still out on Gibson; if he continues to play well and take advantage of the limited opportunities that come his way he could have a future at Old Trafford.

Ten minutes later, Valencia and then Rooney hammered home the final nails in the Hammers coffin with what can only be described as a brace of very simple goals in a two-minute spell. By the end of the game Green had been replaced, but West Ham did at least test United's Polish stopper, but as a contest it was a non event.

On what turned out to be a good afternoon for the champions with Chelsea losing at Eastlands by the odd goal in three, Fergie's day was spoilt by injuries to Wes Brown and Gary Neville, next up United travel to Germany in midweek for the final Group B Champions League game with Wolfsburg.

Not for the first time in recent seasons, Ferguson is without all of his first-choice centre-backs. Against West Ham it was substitute Michael Carrick who finished up in the back four alongside Darren Fletcher. United need a point to ensure they finish top of Group B, if they draw or win it will mean they will avoid Barcelona and Real Madrid in the next round - given the manager's injury problems United could easily finish runner-up and if that happens questions will be asked about Fergie's decision to play a weakened team against Besiktas - especially if the Red Devils draw either of the Spanish giants.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Alarm bells ringing over Adem Ljajic transfer collapse...

News that the transfer of Adem Ljajic to Manchester United had collapsed sent shockwaves through the media and massed ranks of the Red Army. When the story first broke the fans were to led believe it was simply a case of United having cold feet; according to the media United's scouts had monitored the Serbian's progress over the last twelve months and they weren't happy with his progress. It was a simple explanation but one that was greeted with scepticism by supporters groups.

News of the deal falling through brought an angry reaction from Partizan Belgrade president, Dragan Djuric, who suggested the real reason was more to do with an Old Trafford cash crisis "maybe the real problem is that Manchester United is in financial crisis."

In response, United mounted a damage limitation exercise when Ferguson's assistant Mike Phelan told the media that the club pulled out of the deal because of potential work permit issues.

The supporters weren't happy when United failed to make any significant moves in the transfer market following the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo. The talk was that the Glazers had banked that £80m instead backing the manager to the hilt in the summer transfer window.

The worry is that United had described Adem Ljajic as "Serbia's brightest young talent" and the reasons for pulling out of the deal while plausible, to a degree, are worrying nonetheless.

Initially, United agreed to sign former team-mate Zoran Tosic and Adem Ljajic, the latter was said to the better of the two which makes this news even more of a disappointment from the fans' perspective.

Following on from the Ljajic saga the Times claims United and the Glazers have financial problems due to the Glazers being unable to refinance the huge loans which enabled them to purchase Manchester United.

While the team has performed well under the Glazer regime and importantly Ferguson's management it remains to be seen what will happen to the club in the next few years. Fans group MUST recently said that it is their belief the Glazer family will no longer own the club in five years time. For now though, the fans will be looking to see evidence that Ferguson can compete in the transfer market when the need arises and as far as the Glazers debt mountain is concerned everyone connected with the United would like to see action taken to bring that debt under control without the need for UEFA intervention.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Manchester United vs Manchester City in the League Cup: A warning from history...

After a less than impressive start against Spurs on Tuesday and after looking decidedly second-best in the first 15 minutes Sir Alex Ferguson's second-string managed to see off the challenge of the North London club thanks to two excellent first-half strikes from Darron Gibson.

Tottenham looked the most likely to score in the opening exchanges, but the visitors lacked a cutting edge up front. Gibson's second goal effectively killed the contest so it was United's name that went into the hat for the Carling Cup semi-final draw on Wednesday along with Aston Villa, Blackburn and neighbours Manchester City.

As far as the Red Army are concerned the League Cup has long been regarded as the 'Mickey Mouse Cup', especially in the early rounds, but every now and again the fans' interest levels rise, usually when United come up against a big rival. Without any shadow of doubt, interest levels rocketed again this week when United and City were drawn to face each other in the semi-finals.

Unlike the FA Cup semi-final's that have been hijacked by The FA the Carling Cup semi-final ties are played at home and the away venue, and United will travel to Eastlands before the Old Trafford return.

United have fans have been taking the Mickey out of City for the last 33 joyful years, due to the fact that it was 1976 when they last won a proper trophy, none other than the League Cup (Carling Cup)...

However, United fans might well reflect upon that fact the League Cup is the ONLY competition in which the Citizens' have won more Manchester Derbies, granted the margin is only narrow, but it was in this very competition that City enjoyed one of their biggest wins over United, that was in season 1975-76. The champions had just returned to the old First Division following a short but very painful spell in the old Second Division. After drawing 2-2 at Maine Road in September in the first League fixture between the two since United's return to the top flight the Red Devils were taken apart by City who ran out 4-0 winners in the 4th Round of the League Cup with Dennis Tueart (2), Joe Royle and Asa Harford scoring the goals. But it was United who had the last laugh when winning the final League game of the season 2-0 at Old Trafford, when Gordon Hill and Sammy Mac scored the vital goals.

For those Reds' who were around at that time, no doubt some of you still have memories of encounters with City from the 70s - dare I say some of them bitter. One that still rankles to this day was in 1977-1978 when the Reds’ took on City at Old Trafford.

City had won the first derby that season 3-1 at Maine Road thanks to goals by Brian Kidd (2) and Mick Channon. Reds’ fans and players' alike were keen to avenge that reverse; the return was played at Old Trafford on Wednesday March 15th, it finished up 2-2 on the night, City were two one down and thanks two goals by Gordon Hill; it looked like United would indeed take the points, but then late on referee Clive Thomas waved play on when Brian Kidd was standing fully five-yards offside when he received the ball. Kiddo scored the equaliser but only after Thomas had made one of the biggest refereeing mistakes of all time. Thomas 'the book' (as he was known) was a controversial official, not long after in the 1978 World Cup Finals he blew the final whistle and denied Brazil's Zico what would have been the winning goal against Sweden - that was a decision that has never been forgotten, and neither has his howler at Old Trafford just a few months earlier...

Roll the clock forward to 2009 and Fergie has been talking about sticking with the team that beat Spurs in the quarter final; there is no disputing the manager's reasoning, well there wasn't until the draw was made.

At no other time since the 70s have City looked so collectively strong, added to which Fergie recently went on the attack when calling our near neighbours a small club following City's provocative use of Carlos Tevez and that infamous "Welcome to Manchester" poster campaign.

Message to Fergie: IF you want to ensure that 33 year trophyless run continues and with Chelsea biting the dust then you'd better revise those plans and play your strongest team in both legs of the semi-final. Fergie should let his players do the talking on the pitch. If United lose the semi-final then in all probability City will bring to an end that 33 year hoodoo - if that happens the United manager could well stand charged with allowing it to happen, at least he will as far as many a seasoned Red is concerned. You have been warned.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Time defying Giggs on fire (again), but Chelsea look ominous....

John Westwood aka Mad Pompey fan added to the fun on the South Coast when he came in for ridicule from the visiting United fans singing "that's the worst f*****g hat we've ever seen' and 'have you ever seen your ***k have you ***k?!'.

United ran out 4-1 winners at Fratton Park on Saturday, the final score didn't exactly flatter the champions, but it didn't tell the full story of what turned out to be an incident packed game.

Referee Mike Dean gave United a soft looking penalty on 25 minutes for a trip on Wayne Rooney, which he converted in style. In a bid to balance things up, and as so often is the case, the home side were awarded a very dubious spot-kick just a few minutes later; If Rooney's penalty was soft Dean's decision to penalise Vidic (or was it Wes Brown?) was harsh in the extreme.

Tomasz Kuszczak was given a rare start in goal; the Polish stopper had to make two first-class saves to ensure United went into the half-time break on level terms. By some distance it turned out to be Kuszczak's best game for the club, but it remains to be seen if his future lies at Old Trafford.

Banished to the stands Ferguson had elected to start with a 433 formation, despite the fact that Portsmouth are bottom of the table, and despite fielding arguably his first-choice midfield that included Fletcher, Carrick and Scholes it didn't stop Pompey carving open the better of the first half goal scoring opportunities.

Most worrying of all was the centre-back pairing of Vidic and Wes Brown who were not on the same wavelength. On too many occasions there appeared to be a complete lack of communication and understanding, at times the lack of basic positional sense was alarming, this was at the heart of United's problems at the back in the opening period.

Apparently Fergie has gone on record stating that Brown is the most natural defender in the league; so is Brown more natural than Vidic or John Terry? Many an observer might well concur that Brown is better at rightback rather than in the centre.

If there were problems in defence it was the same up front where Rooney was crying out for support. It wasn't all bad though, far from it. Ryan Giggs and Atonio Valencia played well; it was a day when the Welshman's flicks came off - which isn't always the case.

On this day Giggsy could do no wrong, he played well from start to finish, just about everything he tried came off, it came as no surprise that he was involved in the move of the game when setting up Wayne Rooney for his second goal following a great supporting run and lay-off just three minutes into the second-half. From that point on there was only going to be one winner, the constant threat of Giggs and Valencia had the home team pinned back.

Just ten minutes later Frederic Piquionne brought Giggs down inside the penalty area and Rooney converted, in so doing bagging a hatrick. It was fitting that Giggs hammered the final nail into Pompey's coffin late on with a well placed free-kick.

It wasn't a good weekend elswhere with Chelsea hammering Arsenal and Liverpool winning at Everton. Hopefully, the self-styled 'Biggest' or is it 'Greatest club in the club in the world' aka Man City will beat Chelsea on Saturday, but don't bet on it... United face West Ham United earlier in the day in the three o'clock kick-off. The Hammers have been shipping goals at home so hopefully the champions will come away with the right result, before that Spurs are the visitors to Old Trafford in the Carling Cup.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Neville's comments on Liverpool's Champions League exit..here we go again, more media **** stirring...

Gary Neville wears many hats; he's club captain at Manchester United, he is the players' union rep, but diplomat he most certainly isn't - not when it comes to inter-club rivalry and winding-up the opposition. Following the latest round of Champions League results Neville was asked to comment on Liverpool's, shall we say, unfortunate exit, not surprisingly, the former England rightback jumped in with both feet and told it like it is when saying: 'Liverpool deserved to be knocked out'. Of course they did, so why the fuss?

Answer: It's a quiet news day and Neville can usually be relied upon to stir the rivalry pot and of course our news hungry media do not need a written invitation to keep the pot boiling.

The fans love a laugh especially when it comes at the expense of your biggest rival, but it remains to be seen who will have the last laugh because despite the loss of face and the prestige of playing in Europe's premier club competition, Liverpool have more chance of winning the Europa League.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Obertan outshines Macheda and Welbeck, but what has happened to Rafael as Besiktas end Euro run..

Ferguson wasn't too upset about Besiktas ending United's 23 game unbeaten Champions League run at Old Trafford. The United manager doesn't get that many opportunities to play his youngsters' but having already qualified for the knockout stage the champions only needed a point to cement their place at the top of Group B. However, all good things come to an end eventually, and on this occasion Besiktas won courtesy of Tello's first-half long-range speculative strike that took a deflection off Rafael.

Following last night's defeat and with only one game left Ferguson must now face up to the possibility of finishing second in the group because Wolfsburg and CSKA Moscow are level on seven points apiece, with United leading the group on 10 points.

Finishing top of the group is by no means any guarantee of an easy tie in the next round; last season United finished top but still ended up facing Inter Milan. However, on this occasion and in a worst case scenario, United could face Barcelona or Real Madrid, both look likely to win their respective groups. On the flip side, if United win or draw in Germany on December 8th they could be drawn against either of the Milan clubs. Whatever the outcome of United's next Champions League fixture, you do wonder if Fergie will regret not fielding a stronger starting XI against Besiktas. Let us hope that won't turn out to be the case.

As for the performance against Besiktas, it was a very mixed night with the youngsters' getting another opportunity to shine. As expected United had the lion’s share of possession but they came up against a well organised Besiktas team who performed at the top of their game. Tello scored the vital goal midway through the opening period and frankly United should have been two-nil down not long after following the best move of the game that ended with Fink hitting the outside of Ben Foster's post, when he should have scored.

At the other end, without any shadow of doubt United's best performer was Obertan. The jury has been very much out on the Frenchman since his summer signing, but he showed glimpses of real promise when taking on two and three opponents at a time and often beating them.

One of the most annoying aspects of the media is the constant and all too often inappropriate comparisons with star names, both past and present. Obertan isn't the next Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs or the next Thierry Henry (who would want to be compared with him right now?). Obertan is very different to anyone we've seen playing for United, he isn't at all like Park or Valencia, without doubt he is more skilful than the South Korean and the Ecuadorian. While Park and Valencia offer industry and old fashioned wing play, Obertan brings trickery and a more thoughtful brand of attacking play. Obertan has excellent balance and could turn out to be a good buy, but it is very early days and no one at Old Trafford will be getting too excited at this stage.

While Obertan impressed it was a very mixed night for the likes of Danny Welbeck who continues to look good on occasion, but then spoils it when electing to shoot when team-mates are better placed for a pass; this has been a common occurrence in every game he has featured for the first-team. If Welbeck is going to make it, then someone needs to get a grip of him and tell him in no uncertain terms where he is going wrong.

While Welbeck often makes the wrong decision, in sharp contrast, his striker partner Macheda more often than not played the right ball, and to feet without any fuss. Against Besiktas it was the Italian who looked the more accomplished striker and the most likely to go on at the highest level.

On a night of few genuine goal scoring opportunities as far as the champions were concerned it was a difficult night in front of goal, but credit to Besiktas for that. United's pressure eventually carved open the visitors late on in the game and only two good saves from veteran stopper Rustu denied the home team a share of the points.

To little effect, the senior trio of Michael Owen, Michael Carrick and Patrice Evra came on when replacing the totally ineffective Park, Gibson - who had a quiet game - and Rafael.

Perhaps most perplexing of all is the form of Rafael, granted last night he was playing in the unfamiliar role of left-back, but it is as if the young Brazilian is a different player to the one that burst onto the scene last season.

Rafael made a big impression with his attacking wing-play, and while questions were asked about his defensive ability, it seems United's coaches may well have over-coached the Brazilian because frankly now he looks like a shadow of the player he was when he first arrived, he looks ordinary now, so much so that some will be wondering what all the fuss was about.

Whatever United's backroom team have been telling Rafael, something needs to be done to reinstill his attacking instincts, because without it he is going backwards on the evidence of his recent outings, which admittedly have been limited.

Next up, United travel to bottom of the table Portsmouth, anything less than three points should be viewed as nothing short of a total disaster.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fergie tipping Barca to win CL, so much for United's chances...

Manchester United fans' joy at Liverpool's Champions League exit has somewhat been spoilt by our own manager; we should have been laughing at the Scousers and Rafa, but not for the first time of late Ferguson has dropped a clanger when admitting his favourite to win the Champions League is Barcelona.

Fergie is seemingly making a bad habit of putting his big foot in it; he recently blasted Alan Wiley and then had to issue a groveling apology. The latest blunder came about when Fergie was talking to the media ahead of tonight's Champions League clash with Besiktas. The United manager stopped short of saying he's backing Barca at the bookies - that would have been asking for trouble, especially in the wake of yet more 'match-fixing claims' this week. There's nothing wrong with honesty, but surely Fergie will regret his public admission that Barca are his favourites, if he is right they will become the first club to retain the Champions League.

There was an air of desperation in Fergie's latest press conference that took place on Tuesday, the United manager was clearly hoping some of the big guns (not including Liverpool) would fail to qualify for the next phase; apart from Liverpool, it appears Fergie is going to be disappointed because with the exception of possibly Bayern Munich, it is likely the big guns will all qualify.

You do wonder how far United will go in this season's Champions League; the champions lack punch up front and genuine quality strength in depth, added to which questions have been raised about the back four and midfield.

There has been very little to get excited about this week; on Saturday United easily turned over a poor Everton team with Darren Fletcher scoring the goal of the game, which ended 3-0. As a contest, it was a complete non-event. The excitement of the Manchester derby seems like a very long time ago now.

Looking at the fixture list the champions have a run of very winnable games coming up; on paper at least anyway, United don't have a really difficult looking fixture until the end of January when we take on Arsenal at Old Trafford - that is if you don't include this week's clash with Spurs in the Carling Cup.

United could conceivably be top of the Premier League by the time the Arsenal game comes around at the end of January because in that period league leaders Chelsea face the Gunners and Man City away from home.

If Fergie's confirmed favourites to win the Champions League are Barca, you wonder if Chelsea are his favourites to win the Premier League?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Keane's views on disputed "hand of Henry" goal will lead to further questions about his managerial style...

Even the most die-hard Roy Keane supporter will surely have been left dismayed following the Ipswich Town manager's rant over France's midweek winner in that World Club qualifying second-leg play-off.

The infamous "hand of Henry" goal led to Ireland's elimination and not surprisingly comparisons have been made with Maradona's 1986 "hand of god" goal. The manner of France's winning goal and Ireland's exit has left the world of football debating what should happen next. To his credit, the villain of the piece Thierry Henry has admitted the fairest outcome would be a replay. FIFA have yet to make a decision, though many expect the result to stand.

Former Republic of Ireland skipper Roy Keane has given his twopenneth and controversially he says the goal scored by William Gallas should stand, but the Manchester United legend didn't stop there; when asked for his views Keane said if he had been manager instead of blaming Henry he would have blamed his defenders and goalkeeper for allowing the ball to bounce in the area.

It is by no means the first time Keane will have dismayed his supporters and countrymen; in 2002 the Manchester United skipper fell out with the then Republic of Ireland manager at the World Cup when he made an alleged vicious foul-mouthed personal attack on Mick McCarthy.

Keane has had plenty to say about the Republic of Ireland setup and the FAI, some of his comments led to positive changes and no doubting players both past and present have benefited from improvements ranging from travelling first-class to training facilities; the point being, we should not forget Keane's positive contribution both on and off the field where he was quite simply magnificent.

However, on this occasion you have to wonder whether Keane's latest comments are tongue in cheek - the worrying alternative is he actually believes what he said about France's winning goal.

Ipswich Town supporters will also be concerned about Keane's comments, especially if their manager actually believes the Irish defenders and goalkeeper should have dealt with that bouncing ball, because Henry not only blatantly cheated when first controlling the ball with his hand, but he then used it a second time. There was also a suspicion of off-side. Keane says the Republic of Ireland players' missed their chances to score in both legs, which is another point of view, but no matter they did not deserve to be on the wrong end of such a travesty.

While to some degree it is refreshing to hear a manager not blaming the officials, it doesn't alter the fact that France won that hugely important fixture courtesy of blatant cheating and yes poor officiating, especially by the linesman who had a clear view of the second Henry handball.

Supporters and pundits alike have been left wondering about Keane and his managerial style, because if he genuinely would have blamed the likes of Richard Dunne and Shay Given it is really quite worrying. Players need the support of their manager when it is deserved and no one, not even Roy Keane could question the Republic of Ireland's commitment, defending, technique and organisation against France in midweek.

No Rio, no loss, on current form, as Reds prepare for Everton...

United take on Everton this weekend while neighbours Manchester City face Liverpool at Anfield earlier in the day. A draw at Anfield would be the ideal result as far as the champions are concerned, but with Chelsea and Arsenal set to take on Wolves and Sunderland respectively it is vital United do not concede any more ground at the top of the table.

Not that it makes a jot of difference; Fergie has been given a reprieve from his two-game touch-line ban for the visit of Everton. As far as team news goes, United are reportedly without Rio Ferdinand until the New Year, on current form, frankly, he's no great loss. Jonny Evans will deputise in the heart of the United defence alongside a fit again Nemanja Vidic. Earlier this week the Serbian spoke to the media about his own recent form when saying his season has been affected by niggling injuries. Vidic also says United need Rio, but only when he's fully fit. Quite.

Everton will be no push-over and so United will expecting a tough game. On the domestic front at any rate, the Toffees away form has been pretty good; they won last time out away at West Ham. Assuming he's fit, which can never be certain, even when he's involved in pre-match warm-ups, no doubting Louis "sicknote" Saha will be keen to put one over on Fergie. Likewise, Tim Howard will keen to impress. The American stopper will be given a warm welcome by the home crowd, but it's likely Saha will be given a mixed reception.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The contenders for Fergie's job: Mourinho, Bruce, Blanc, but definitely not Roy Keane...

It's another god awful international break, there's very little to write about of any real interest concerning Manchester United. Is it just me, or is international football becoming really boring? Part of the reason international football has become boring stems from the fact that there are no great surprises any more with players from every continent plying their trade across Europe. I digress; I'll save my ire for the world game for later.

It has been very quiet week news wise, and so not surprisingly the media have dusted down one of their favourite topics for such occasions, that is; who will replace Fergie once he spits out that last piece of chewing gum and calls it a day? No one actually knows for sure when that day will be, the guessing games looks set to continue with the media punting various candidates, so for what it's worth here's a rundown on some of the names that have been touted:

Jose Mourinho - the favourite, but it's by no means a cert..

Without doubt, the charismatic Portuguese manager could have the pick of any job around Europe and if we believe the media he would like to rekindle his 'love affair' with the Premier League.

Like many great manager's before him Mourinho was not a winner as a player, by all accounts he was very average, but like him or loathe him there is no disputing his record as a coach. Mourinho transformed Chelsea from a collection of highly paid losers into serial winners; before that he made his name with Porto when securing the Champions League after knocking out Manchester United. Following his high-profile exit from Chelsea, he won Serie A with Inter Milan and his team currently leads Italy's top division.

However with media reports claiming Mourinho is sick of Italy you can bet the likes of Real Madrid will also come a knocking for his services should the Inter coach pursue an exit strategy. The question is, will Manchester United be vying for Mourinho's services should he become available? While Fergie is said to be an admirer of Jose's work, and the Scot will no doubt be consulted on his successor, but the current United manager will not have the final say and you do wonder if Mourinho is the right man for the job.

Mourinho ticks most of the boxes, and if United's power-brokers were choosing the next manager purely on coaching ability his name would be right at the top of the candidate list. In many ways Mourinho and United seem like a perfect fit, the job would not inhibit him, nor would the constant media attention and providing he was given adequate funds he is without doubt the most likely to succeed when it comes to winning silverware.

So then why is it some pundits and fans think Mourinho to United is a non-runner? For starters, as good as he undoubtedly is Mourinho's relatively short but very successful spells in England and Italy could well work against him, especially given Fergie has been at the club for so long.

Before offering Jose the United job, the club would have to talk to Mourinho about a long-term commitment, but with the ownership of Manchester United itself likely to be a hotly debated topic over the next few years, you do wonder if the Glazer family will be thinking that far ahead. Influential fans group IMUSA recently stated it was their belief the Glazers' will not be the club's owners in five years time...

Ownership of United could well feature in any talks about Mourinho coming to United, because any marriage is a two-way commitment and Jose would no doubt want some assurances about spending and here again that could be a potential stumbling block. Following the sale of Ronaldo to Real Madrid and a summer of low-key signings, the rumour-mill has been awash with claims that the £80m from the Ronaldo sale went to pay the Glazer family debts.

Speculation concerning future transfer budgets and the Glazer family will rumble on, but Mourinho to United is by no means a certainty. If Mark Hughes fails to win a trophy between now and the end of next season then Mourinho to Manchester City could turn out to be a more realistic prospect. Mourinho could dictate his own terms to a desperate, but now very club like City, it would be win, win for both parties.

Steve Bruce - a gamble that could pay off

The name Steve Bruce will not feature alongside that of Jose Mourinho where the top managerial jobs around Europe are concerned and for sound enough reasons. That is unless that job happens to be Manchester United where Bruce blossomed into one of the finest, yet uncapped English players of his time.

Bruce is a big favourite with the United faithful, he is fondly remembered by the fans and everyone connected with the club. Unlike some of his former United team-mates who have tried and failed, Bruce has made a relatively successful switch from player to the managerial hot-seat at clubs like, Birmingham, Wigan and now Sunderland. On paper Bruce should not be offered the United job, because there are too many holes in his CV, namely; lacks European experience as manager; hasn't won any big prizes as a manager.

Despite not ticking some of the really important boxes, there is something about Steve Bruce that makes this Red believe he will be a genuine contender. Where Mourinho offers flair and ability in equal measure, he also brings a degree of risk where stability and continuity is concerned. Although Bruce has been something of managerial nomad himself, like Fergie in Scotland before his move to England, the former United skipper has been on an upwardly mobile journey slowly working his way from bottom to top.

Lauren Blanc - flavour of the month, a Jonah, or the real deal?

As previously mentioned it has been a quiet week, but I missed something last weekend that would surely have jolted me from my mini hibernation, that was the news that another former United defender is being strongly linked with Fergie's job. That man is Larry White, aka Lauren Blanc. Now I have nothing against Blanc whose name has suddenly risen to prominence following some good performances in the Champions League by his current club Bordeaux. With the danger being labelled as an Englander, I have some fears about the appointment of Blanc, the former French defender secured the French League title in only his second season as manager, so it could be argued he ticks more boxes than someone like Steve Bruce. But Blanc is said to be a quiet man and United have had their fair share of problems following the appointment of quiet men, the names of Frank O'Farrell and Dave Sexton still send shivers down the spine of seasoned old-stagers like myself. Personally, and if it came down to the choice I'd pick Bruce over Blanc every time at this juncture. I don't exactly know why, I'm putting it down to gut instinct.

United fans will no doubt recall Blanc was the man Fergie brought in to replace Jaap Stam, as Alan Hansen famously said at the time: "I don't get it, Fergie' has replaced a defender who he says has lost a yard of pace with another who has lost four yards of pace".... Blanc's playing career doesn't really have anything to do with Hansen's comments or come to that his managerial ability, but for now at least anyway, as far I'm concerned, his name will be remembered as a poor choice for a replacement. Blanc could turn out to be the football equivalent of a Jonah, someone who could bring ill luck with him. Not only that, I'd prefer someone who has real passion for the game as Bruce recently demonstrated with his near dustup with Benitez on the touchline.

Roy Keane - "The fans choice" only a couple years ago, but surely not now, not ever....

I wish I had a tenner for every United fan that told me in no uncertain terms that Roy Keane would eventually be a Manchester United manager. From the outset I remained unconvinced and following some very dodgy transfers when he was manager of Sunderland I put a tenner on the Black Cats getting relegated. Only Kenwyne Jones saved Keane and Sunderland that season and I lost my tenner, but he didn't last much longer and it is only a matter of time before the Irishman and Ipswich Town part company following what looks like a disastrous appointment. Keane like Bobby Charlton before him is seemingly destined not to become a top flight manager.

Wilf McGuiness was the man who was tasked with replacing the great Sir Matt Busby, poor old Wilf (left) lasted just half a season before his hair fell out due to the stress of it all...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

FA punishment for Fergie: It's a slap on the wrist...

The tiresome saga surrounding Fergie's ill-timed and ill-conceived attack on Alan Wiley has finally been dealt with; the punishment will no doubt be seen as a slap on the wrist. The FA's decision to fine the United manager and ban him for four games, two of them suspended, isn't going to harm Manchester United or the manager. Granted the decision to ban Fergie for his-post match comments is a first, but still with some justification the referees' are likely to be unhappy with the outcome.

Despite the punishment and suspended ban, privately, Fergie might well feel vindicated in making his point so publicly, in so doing he has made his point and he's got away with it. It is also highly unlikely that the United manager has changed his views on the general standard of fitness where the officials are concerned.

There's no doubting some referees have looked unfit, but apparently Wiley is among the fittest and that was Fergie's big mistake, following the heat of battle with Sunderland in a Premier League fixture that ended 2-2, the Scot picked on the wrong one. One school of thought is that Fergie was actually trying to deflect attention away from his team's poor performance on the day - the attack was a diversionary tactic, but one that back-fired.

However, having catapulted the fitness issue into the football headlines, it is a topic that is likely to be revisited time and time again; ergo referees' will need to be seen to be on their toes and not lagging behind play.

Sure enough Fergie has been warned, but the spotlight is also firmly on the men in the middle. In time, it could well be the case that in voicing his concerns, Fergie could have done "the game" a favour if the general standard of referee fitness improves over the coming weeks and months.

Fitness issues aside something needs to be done about the standard of refereeing in general, the performance of Martin Atkinson last weekend at Stamford Bridge left an awful lot to be desired.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Cheating Chelsea and poor referee does for United...

So then United eventually went on to lose in West London, but with many a Red fearing the worst prior to kick-off (and that was before we learnt that the champions would be without the first-choice centre-back pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand) an unlucky one-nil defeat was a much better outcome than many would have been expecting. That does not make the manner of the defeat any easier to take, because frankly today was another case of the officials getting the big decisions wrong.

Twice in the first-half at Stamford Bridge the linesman and the referee were guilty of making the wrong decision when giving Chelsea the rub of the green; the first howler involved Wayne Rooney who was clean through on goal, but the United striker was wrongly adjudged to be off-side, this when the linesman had the added benefit of the grass lines on the pitch, clearly Ashley Cole had played Rooney on-side. Hapless Sky Sports pundit said: "it could have gone either way" - message to Andy; if that fence goes any further up your arse it will be sticking out of your throat.

The second rank-bad decision involved John Terry and Atonio Valencia when the United winger was fouled inside the penalty area by the Chelsea skipper, but once again referee Martin Atkinson failed when getting another really big decision completely wrong.

Contrary to pre-match expectations, United were the better team for much of today's table-topping clash, but it simply wasn't going to be our day. It came as no great surprise that Chelsea eventually scored late on in the second period and once again there was an element of Chelsea players cheating.

The first culprit was Ashley Cole who jumped up in the air as if he'd been shot with a blunderbuss, in point of fact Darren Fletcher barely touch him and won the ball cleanly. While castigating Martin Atkinson for what followed we have to acknowledge that it isn't easy for the officials with so much cheating going on. Nonetheless, United went on to lose this game thanks to a combination of Chelsea players conning the referee. Carlo Ancelotti's team took the lead from that wrongly awarded Chelsea free-kick, but not without with the help of yet more cheating, this time by Drogba who was not only off-side, but also fouling Wes Brown at the same time. A few minutes earlier Didier Drogba had been doing his usual 'dying-man' impersonation - yes we've been here before, umpteen times..

After the game Fergie rightly question the performance of referee Martin Atkinson; the United manager was right to point out that Atkinson had somehow managed to work himself into a dreadful position for that vital free-kick which decided this contest. The fact that Atkinson managed to position himself so badly beggars belief and he should be taken to task for that poor passage of play from his perspective.

It's also worth commenting on Mike Phelan's "proud of the team" verdict. It is not coming to something when United have just lost a big game and the management are proud? But yes Mike, we know what you were driving at, we didn't get hammered and yes just perhaps this Chelsea team are not quite what they are cracked up to be.

With all that said, the current United squad has some glaring weaknesses; today Giggs who has been superb this season at times was quite simply awful, he barely put did anything right all game long. If the manager had better options on the bench Giggs would have been replaced much earlier than he eventually was.

Carrick and Fletcher did their best and overall did quite well. Anderson was given the difficult job of supporting Rooney while at the same time he was expected to drop deep and defend, but by and large United were the better team and only poor refereeing and cheating denied the champions at least a point. However, one cannot help but feel United need to sign another top-class striker. According to the latest transfer rumours Fergie could be lining up three new players.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

United can beat Chelsea, but Fergie would take a draw right now if it were offered....

Manchester United go into tomorrow's big Premier League clash against Chelsea with many pundits expecting a hammering for the champions, there's no surprise there given what happened at Old Trafford in the summer with the loss of two world-class strikers and the quality of the replacements that followed.

The general consensus is United are weak in midfield, lack punch up front and have problems in defence. In sharp contrast the league leaders look strong in all departments.

Since the departure of Ronaldo Ferguson has had to change tactics and formation and against Chelsea who are very strong in midfield no doubting the United manager would like to play five in the middle, but the problem is United do not currently have a player who can lead the line like Didier Drogba or else a striker like Fernando Torres who frightens defenders to death with his pace. Ferguson faces a massive tactical dilemma; if he selects just one striker in Wayne Rooney, he will keep on losing possession and the ball will keep on coming back at United's midfield and defence; If Fergie selects two strikers the champions will be more of an attacking threat but the midfield will be the weaker. It's a no-brainer for Ferguson with the players at his disposal - which is why he'd almost certainly take a draw if it were offered, if indeed it were possible.

Despite the very obvious problems facing United, they can win at Stamford Bridge, but only if every single player in the red shirt gives nothing less than 100% and plays close to their very best.

This isn't a David vs. Goliath clash, but if United are on the wrong end of a pasting in West London the media will have a field day at the champions’ expense. If Chelsea win convincingly it might even persuade Fergie to strengthen his squad in January because there's no doubting United are at least two players short at present. The return of a fit Owen Hargreaves will go a long way to resolving some of the midfield problems, but that will not solve the striker dilemma that surfaces every time the champions have a really tough looking game.

Quite obviously nothing will be decided whatever the result tomorrow, it's also too early to write off United's and their title credentials, but a good win for Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea will give the blues yet more momentum.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Rooney ensures Reds preserve record, but Akinfeev is star of the show..

United went into last night's Champions League tie with CSKA Moscow needing just a point to ensure qualification to the knockout phase of the competition, it should have been a formality - in theory at least anyway - but it wasn't. United have made a habit of doing it the hard way and last night's performance was no different, after going 3-1 down it eventually finished up 3-3 on what was a night of defensive errors.

Going off the first meeting between these two teams in October supporters and pundits alike were no doubt expecting an easy three points and with the Champions set to face Chelsea this coming weekend it came as no surprise that Fergie took the opportunity to rest Berbatov and Rooney.

In what was a very open game, too open for Fergie's liking, the Russians had not come to Old Trafford to roll over and took the lead with a well taken goal by Dzagoev (25 minutes). When Edwin van der Sarr and his manager review replays of that opening strike they will know the Dutchman should have done better, but take nothing away from Dzagoev who somehow managed to score from an unlikely angle with a powerfully hit shot.

Michael Owen was paired up front with Macheda, and once again the former Newcastle and Liverpool striker missed a bag-full of chances. But good players don't hide and as in many of his previous games for the club since he signed, Owen eventually scored (29 minutes) after the ball broke kindly to him after a touch from the once again totally ineffective Nani following a cross from the right.

The frustrating thing is Owen continues to work himself into some great positions around the visitors’ penalty area, but all too often he either fails to connect with the ball or else he misses the target, often with the goal at his mercy. It's as if there's a problem with Owen's balance, as he appears to be struggling to get his body shape and feet in co-ordination at the vital moment. If Owen could rediscover his goal-scoring touch it could yet prove to be the masterstroke signing that some pundits trumpeted on his arrival. Only hard work on the training ground will solve Owen's problems - that and more playing time.

If Owen was struggling in front of goal the Russians were not, as they once again stunned the Old Trafford crowd with another well worked and well taken goal, this time by Krasic, which was just two minutes after United had equalised.

United's back four was made up of Neville, Evans, Brown and Fabio - as a unit they less than covered themselves in glory, but they weren't on their own as Scholes and Fletcher could have done more were marking was concerned on what turned out to a bad night of defensive performances all round. It didn't come as a massive surprise that CSKA scored a third when Vasili Berezutski stole in at the far post unmarked, on this occasion it was Fabio and Macheda who were guilty of not marking.

Macheda had a decent game, whenever the ball came to him he used it wisely and ensured United retained possession, he didn't really deserve to be substituted but with United's unbeaten four year Champions League home record at stake it was vital that Ferguson made changes, the Italian was eventually replaced by Obertan.

Before that and with the champions chasing the game, the United manager had to do something dramatic if he was to going to preserve that impressive home record. The solution was on the bench, and fresh from celebrating the birth of his first son, Wayne Rooney was eventually unleashed as he lit up Old Trafford with his usual all-action style. Rooney's introduction ensured United clawed their way back into the game on what turned out to be an error ridden night for both teams, but it made for absorbing last 30 minutes.

Without Rooney United are very ordinary and against CSKA Moscow his worth was there for all to see, but in his way was the equally impressive Igor Akinfeev. The Russian stopper made a string of impressive saves to ensure the visitors two cushion was left intact, but United's relentless pressure eventually paid off when Scholes popped up with a rare but very welcome headed goal six minutes from time.

Georgi Shchennikov deflected an Atonio Valencia shot on 90 minutes to ensure United had a share of the points and that European record was maintained. Deividas Semberas was sent-off in injury time for his second yellow-card.

After the game Ferguson once again attacked the referee, but this time the United manager was absolutely right in his assertion that United should have had a penalty when Fletcher was tripped in the second-half, but instead, bizarrely, Olegario Benquerenca booked the Scot. It was a truly awful decision and there should be right of appeal - the last thing United need is to lose Darren Fletcher through suspension again in Europe later in the competition because of the totting-up procedure.

Next up it's Chelsea and United will need to improve massively on recent performances. The champions cannot travel to Stamford Bridge sans their collective 'A' game, but you wonder if this game has come a week too early for Fletcher who usually does quite well against the West London club.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Jaded United look battle weary against dire Blackburn ...

It should have finished up 5-0 to the Champions, the fact that it didn't was down to one thing - poor finishing. Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney eventually got their names on the score-sheet with two fine second-half goals against a workmen-like Blackburn Rovers side that looked short of ideas. Right from the kick-off it seemed as though the visitors were playing for a draw. Blackburn showed too little ambition throughout what turned out to be a one-sided contest - at least it was after the dreadful opening thirty minutes.

Saturday's early evening clash at Old Trafford wasn't a classic, that’s an understatement, but it takes two teams to make a proper football match and sadly for Blackburn supporters, they were dire.

For our part, United didn't play well. Worryingly, Wayne Rooney looked lethargic and off the pace and slow off the mark, his wonderfully taken goal was in marked contrast to the rest of his game. Berbatov had earlier missed a great chance to score with an easy header on 29 minutes, the Bulgarian had the simplest of tasks from just six yards out, but instead he only headed downwards and right at Robinson in the visitors goal. Berbatov made amends for his first-half miss with a skillfully taken goal after he controlled a Patrice Evra shot on 55 minutes. But like his strike partner, he can do a lot better than he did against a struggling for form Blackburn team.

Embarrassingly for him, Gabriel Obertan missed another sitter, the French youngster was making his Old Trafford debut after replacing the once again hugely disappointing Nani who barely did anything of note. Obertan didn't fare much better than his Portuguese counter-part, quite how he managed to completely miss the target with an open goal at his mercy will no doubt haunt him for quite some time. Michael Owen missed another easy looking chance after being put through by Atonio Valencia. Owen had replaced Berbatov on 78 minutes and even though he continues to miss good goal scoring opportunities he continues to get into good positions - it is to be hoped he eventually rediscovers his finishing touch – but will he?

Blackburn substitute Kalinic had a goal disallowed for offside in the 90th minute which left Rovers boss Big Sam Allardyce berating the linesman. Allardyce claimed his team had been denied what they'd deserved. Sam, you got what you deserved that is precisely nothing.

As bad as Blackburn undoubtedly were, this United team looks ordinary too, apart from brief glimpses of brilliance from Rooney and Berbatov the champions look like a team that is going nowhere fast. With injuries to key defensive stars like Vidic and the once solid, but now rapidly turning to jelly Rio Ferdiand the prospect of facing an in-form Chelsea next weekend will rightly be giving concern to the Red Army.

Before that United take on another rag-bag outfit when CSKA Moscow are the visitors to Old Trafford in midweek. Champions League qualification looks certain and only an unmitigated disaster will stop the champions progressing into the knockout phase of the competition.

Fergie will likely ring the changes in midweek, but right now there isn't a lot to shout about in the 'stiffs', the best we the fans can look forward to is the da Silva brothers turning on the style - at least it is going off what we have seen so far from the likes of Macheda this season. The jury is out on Macheda and Danny Welbeck and so it comes as no great surprise that Fergie is being linked to some big names from around Europe. Let us pray the Glazers’ back the manager to spend, and if needs be spend big in January.

The sporting highlight of the coming week could be the Scousers near certain elimination from the Champions League. Even for a die-hard United fan, that is quite sad, nonetheless, I'll drink to it if it happens.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tykes test United on mixed night for Reds youngsters....

So then following Sunday's 'no show' at Anfield, the champions bounced back with a just about deserved two nil win at Barnsley in the Carling Cup last night, thanks to goals by Danny Welbeck and Michael Owen. United are through to the next round and with rivals Manchester City likely to be in the draw what chance a quarter final meeting? It if happens, interest levels in the lowly 'Fizzy Pop Cup' will rise markedly... and then some.

So what of the performance at Oakwell? Fergie likes to give the kids a chance in this competition, especially in the early rounds, last night was no different. Gabriel Obertan made his first team debut and so all eyes were on the Frenchman, who did quite well in the first-half, but faded in the second period. Obertan, has the build of former Fergie 'fledgling' Luke Chadwick, it is to be hoped he doesn't follow in his footsteps...

The two da Silva brothers started and played the whole 90 minutes. Fabio was steady at leftback, but not overly impressive. Rafael played in the centre of midfield and after one or two nice early touches, like Obertan he faded and was largely anonymous.

Macheda was given a rare start and he failed to impress and looked slow off the mark at times - it is be hoped rumours of stardom going to his head plus alleged off the field antics are not going to hinder his progress after such a promising start to his career at United.

Danny Welbeck scored early doors with a regulation header from a corner, but in truth the marking was nothing short of criminal. Welbeck does some things quite well at times. Against Barnsley, his best moment came in the first-half when he took the ball out of the air with one touch a la Berbatov, but that moment of brilliance was spoilt by what happened next as he took the wrong decision when Michael Owen was better placed for a pass. It's too early to tell if Welbeck will develop into the finished article, he needs to beef up and he needs to improve in just about every aspect of what it takes to become a top striker - if doesn't improve he will follow the likes of David Healy out of the Old Trafford exit door.

Owen was United's star man in attack, whenever he actually managed to get on the ball, unlike Welbeck, he usually found someone in a United shirt. However, the former Newcastle striker had another mixed night in front of goal; he missed one excellent chance, but he more than made up for that with his late second-half effort when scoring with a textbook Owen goal.

Ben Foster was in goal and at times you could almost sense tension between himself and the defenders in front of him. Following a run of dodgy first-team games and his subsequent axing, the England stopper looks like a bag of nerves, but to his credit he made one truly world-class second-half save when he looked beaten all ends up.

Jonny Evans and Wes Brown were in harness in the centre of defence and they didn't cover themselves in glory, because the Tykes could easily have scored four in the second half, but a combination of Foster's 'keeping and poor finishing ensured there was to be no upset at Oakwell.

Gary Neville received his marching orders following what looked like a rash challenge. Neville went over the ball, but didn't follow through - if had done he would have broken Adam Hammill's leg. It looked as though Neville thought about it, raised his leg but in a split second came to his senses and pulled back from the brink, but by that time it was too late because in real-time it just looked bad. No wonder Fergie didn't defend his club captain in his post-match interview, but in truth it really wasn't such a bad challenge and Hammill needed no treatment whatsoever.

All in all, we didn't learn very much about those on duty at Oakwell, at least not from a United perspective. Ho hum, bring on the Bitter Blues.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

One step forward...two steps back.

You would think they had won the cup the way they celebrated, but I can confirm Liverpool were only awarded three points for their win against United on Sunday.

As I start to digest the result from Anfield, I feel it would be easy to blame the referee for his inconsistent decisions throughout the game. But for such a committed contest in an intimidating atmosphere, he could have got a lot more wrong than he did, and he never truly lost control. He easily could have done though, with the Liverpool fans baying for blood every time a United player went in for a tackle.

No, what United lacked was desire, a desire Liverpool had - no doubt borne out of the frustration of four straight defeats. And in the end what they lacked in fluid attacking play, they made up for in aggression and commitment, and I admit a moment of class from Torres.

As for United, it just looked flat. I felt Fletcher was missed in the centre of the park - Scholes was out muscled too easily. I also felt the lack of a target man meant our options were limited; this game was always going to be won ugly and we didn't have the players to do so.

At the back Rio Ferdinand still looks out of sorts. He was far too slow for the opening goal and I'm sure if Sir Alex Ferguson had the players available he would seek to give him a rest. But he doesn't so we have to hope he can play his way back into form.

It’s turning out to be a mixed month and although I think the side is yet to click properly, the erratic form of the other sides around us means we are not slipping behind the leaders. It seems like the top four are taking turns to upset the football odds and lose at the moment.

However, we still need to compete because any more performances like Sunday, which should have required no motivation, and it seems a safe Premier League bet that we will again fall short.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Marriner sinks in Anfield atmosphere as Liverpool expose glaring United weaknesses...

United deservedly lost 2-0 at Liverpool on Sunday, going into the game all the talk was of crisis at Anfield, the focus was on Rafa Benitez, but when the final whistle blew the focus of attention had switched to the performance of rookie referee Andre Marriner and Manchester United, who were pretty much second best all over the pitch.

Andre Marriner is not the first referee to buckle under the pressure of the Anfield crowd and he won't be the last. It was Marriner's first really big game and he failed the test, it wasn't the fact that he sent-off Vidic and Mascherano, because he was right to do so.

Marriner was guilty of giving Liverpool too many first-half decisions, he booked Patrice Evra for his first poor tackle. In sharp contrast, Lucas committed a catalogue of equally poor challenges yet his name did not enter the referee's notebook. Dimitar Berbatov was also booked in the first-half, it was another harsh decision by an in-experienced referee.

There were other questionable decisions; Ryan Giggs was fouled inside the Liverpool penalty area, and Carragher could have been sent-off late on in the game, but Marriner gave the benefit of doubt to the home team when denying United a spot-kick and only issuing a yellow card to the Liverpool defender.

Marriner was poor throughout the game and no doubting whoever makes these appointments will argue the case for promoting an in-experienced referee in a bid to gain experience. How else will they learn?

Whatever the questionable performance of Marriner, United cannot use that as an excuse for their own shortcomings, this against a Liverpool team that had lost four games on the spin, as it turned out, it was the visitors who looked out of sorts and short of ideas.

In midfield Fergie had elected to start with Scholes and Carrick with Giggs and Valencia on the flanks. Scholes guilty of wanting too much time on the ball and he very nearly cost United in the first half when he lost possession on the half-way line.

To suggest United were totally out-played would be wrong, because they had an equal share of possession; the problem was there was no cutting edge up front. Berbatov didn't look interested and Rooney didn't look 100% match fit.

Ferguson has a major selection dilemma with this squad, he cannot realistically start with a lone striker, because none of his current first-choice forwards are best suited to playing in 451/433 formation, if he does, against a top team at any rate, the opposition will easily regain possession quickly and the ball will keep on coming back at United's midfield and defence.

Without any question the most suitable formation for this United squad is 442, however, Fergie doesn't currently have two monster central midfield players to call upon. Scholes was excellent against Stoke City recently, but on Sunday against Liverpool he was found wanting, he didn't have the legs and so it came as no surprise that Fergie eventually substituted him in the second-half.

While 442 should be Ferguson's preferred formation, until such times as Owen Hargreaves and Darren Fletcher are both fit again, the champions will struggle in central midfield in the biggest of games.

By his own admission, Fergie could have signed Adebayor in the summer and he would have given United a different dimension, the manager could then have deployed 433/451. For whatever reason, Fergie kept his powder dry and instead he signed Michael Owen on a free transfer, he will probably never admit it, but his failure to sign the former Arsenal striker must surely go down as a major missed opportunity.

Torres scored the vital opening goal midway through the second period. The value of a powerful pacey lone striker was underlined by Liverpool's Spanish star, who was a constant threat to Vidic and Ferdinand.

It was evident that United's two central defenders were wary of the Spaniard's pace throughout and so it was vital the visitors didn't concede too much ground in front of the back four, but sadly that is how the opening goal came about as Liverpool mounted a swift counter-attack. Ferdinand couldn't live with the pace of Torres and Edwin Van der Sarr went down to early at his near post instead of standing big.

The gap between the back four and a light on numbers midfield was apparent on several occasions, throughout this encounter. It came as no surprise when the champions paid the price late on when substitute Ngog hammered the final nail in United's coffin in added time.

On a day of poor performances, United's two star-men were Michael Carrick and Atonio Valencia who could have scored late on, only to his shot hit the crossbar. Carrick's passing was excellent throughout, but he couldn't do it all on his own.

On the evidence of Sunday’s poor performance, United will fall short where the big prizes are concerned this season.

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