Saturday, October 24, 2009

United see off Russians, but Red Devils must be wary of wounded Scousers...

Football is as someone once famously said, a funny old game, in part, the game's unpredictability makes it what it is, but Fergie wasn't laughing when the Champions League fixtures were drawn and United were given a tough looking assignment in Moscow against CSKA followed by the biggest annual domestic grudge match of the season away at Anfield.

But here again things didn't quite turn out as expected, because United went to Moscow on Tuesday and it was a proverbial walk in the park. This years beaten finalists strolled to a 1-0 win thanks to Antonio Valencia's second goal for the club. It could easily have been the Ecuadorian's third goal for United since his summer signing, because he came within a whisker of giving the visitors' the lead when hitting the woodwork following some excellent inter-play with Nani on the edge of CSKA's penalty area.

If United fans are honest, CSKA were hugely disappointing on the night. However with some surprise results around Europe this week, there's no worries about unpredictability so far in Group B, which is shaping up to expectations with the champions and Wolfsburg occupying the top two places. United should have no problem qualifying for the next phase of the competition and going into Tuesday's game Fergie was able to rest Ryan Giggs, and Patrice Evra. Darren Fletcher and Wayne Rooney were also missing, with knee and calf injuries respectively.

In the wake of the win in Moscow - United's first against Russian opposition - Fergie has rightly been singing the praises of his squad for matching Ajax's fourteen game unbeaten run away from home in the Champions League, it's an impressive stat, United fans will be hoping it continues for as long as possible.

United face Liverpool on Sunday at Anfield and we can forget about current form because if there's one game the Scousers rise to it is the visit of the champions. Going into this huge fixture, both managers have injury problems with the likes of Torres and Gerrard struggling, while Rooney and Fletcher a big doubts for United.

After four defeats on the bounce Liverpool are desperate for a win and if comes against United it will quickly end all the talk of crisis at Anfield, the result could well prove to be pivotal from a Merseyside perspective.

For our part United know that winning will enhance the club's chances of retaining the title, and while it's far too early to be seriously talking about silverware, Fergie and the fans know beating Liverpool will harm them, with the loss of more league points, and the psychological effect of losing five games on the spin another reverse could be a significant point in their season.

For anyone hoping that Gerrard and Torres will miss the game, let us not forget that they both missed this fixture last season. Giggsy, we love you, but please do not commit the same offense again tomorrow...

Not surprisingly, there's a lot of attention on Michael Owen, he will probably start the game on the bench and is it too much to hope that he will be given a half-decent reception by the home fans - can pigs fly?

Owen is still struggling to find his very best form, he was very lucky last weekend against Bolton, quite how the ball ended up in the Trotters net is still a minor mystery, but with Owen on the pitch you always get the feeling that United do look more likely to score. No matter how badly he's playing, no matter how many chances he's missed, Michael Owen doesn't hide - and that is a strong point because as we saw against City in the derby he might take that chance. Nonetheless, Fergie is currently using Owen from the bench - as an impact player if you like - if the former Newcastle striker finds his true form the manager will no doubt review his strategy but for now expect the super-sub scenario to continue.

Against CSKA, Dimitar Berbatov was given the role of the lone striker, while United won, the ploy didn't really work and it highlighted the lack of options up front.
CSKA really were there for the taking, justice was done in the end, but when looking around Europe this week, what price a player like Pato in the red shirt of United?

While United have some problems up front, it's at the back where we will need to be rock solid on Sunday. Vidic will know he cannot take any liberties with Torres, not after last season, and please no more sloppiness from Rio Ferdinand.

If United's back four are solid, as ever, it should provide a platform to attack a Liverpool back four that has looked dodgy in all departments recently. In midweek Lyon exposed Liverpool down the flanks and it is to be hoped the champions are as strong as they have been of late down the left with Evra and Giggs linking up to great effect.

Here's hoping for a good performance at Anfield and a winning goal from Michael Owen - we can all drink to that tonight.


  1. Yes, I'm pretty certain a draw would be a good result for United. Carragher will be doubly focused for this game, and Vidic will be constantly looking over his shoulder.

    I don't know if Rooney or Fletcher will start, Rooney most probably will, but I do know that Gerrard and Torres will probably start, even if they are at 80-85% fitness, and that will give Vidic some problems. And we haven't even mentioned Ferdinand's recent form.

    I would love United to simply just take a point out of this next game, because on balance, despite their terrible form, it seems to me that Liverpool have a better chance of winning it.

    I think so because of the many frailties of United have been papered over in the last few games. Lack of creativity in central midfield, uncertain defending in the middle, the right-back position, as always. Gerrard might dominate and burst into the box very often as he did precisely in Old Trafford last season. I don't see any United midfielder stopping him, or doing the same at the other end.

    Pato is Milan's last hope, but signing him would be the most significant coup by United since Rooney. Beckham's seen him play, as have other greats in the game, and most reckon he's going to be one of the greatest strikers in history, and you can tell with the amount of goals and his composure.

  2. Uday,

    I have to agree with the following commment: "it seems to me that Liverpool have a better chance of winning it"...

    Here's why. At Anfield, visitors are up against the referee who almost always give them the big decisions, that's because there's so much pressure on them.

    Regarding Gerrard. I think it's a popular misconception that he is a complete midfield player, since the departure of Alonso that theory seems to me to have been completely unravelled.

    I think in many ways Mascherano is a better central midfield player. Gerrard tends to drift in and out of games, but he is deadly in the final third.

    As for Rio, he was fast becoming a liability and I cannot put it much plainer than that. He is still very much on trial following some big high-profile errors.

    United will do well to take a point from tomorrow, but, if we can keep them out we have a chance because of their fragile defence.


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