Saturday, February 28, 2009

Heartbreak for Rafael: Injury revelation sheds new light on Inter tie...

United fans will be shocked to learn that Rafael da Silva sustained a hairline fracture during the Blackburn game last weekend; the ankle injury means that the brilliant Brazilian will be out of action for at least a month. It also means that Rafael will miss Sunday's Carling Cup Final against holders Spurs at Wembley. Better news to report for United's other young players who have been ever present in the Carling Cup, as Fergie has confirmed that Danny Welbeck and Darron Gibson will start the Final.

Earlier this week United travelled to the San Siro for the first-leg of the Champions League round of 16, going into the Inter Milan tie United fans were blissfully unaware that United's young Brazilian star Rafael da Silva had suffered a serious injury; the speculation leading up to Tuesday's game in Milan suggested that Rafael would play if John O'Shea or Jonny Evans failed to recover from their respective injury problems. The Rafael injury was kept under wraps and the true extent of United's injuries was actually worse than had been revealed.

The injury revelation concerning Rafael could also explain why Jonny Evans had pain killing injections which enabled him to face Inter Milan.

Glazers’ Manchester reign pours down on Tampa...

Manchester United supporters should be keeping an eye on the strange happenings across the Atlantic in Tampa. The Glazers are totally dismantling the team and have sacked all its high-priced talent.

To my mind that can only mean one thing … they have severe cash problems. You will probably remember the stories last year that the Glazers couldn’t renegotiate their ManU debt and missed more than $41 million in payments.

With the recession the cash situation from their commercial property businesses and other ventures can only have got worse.

FYI it is easy for NFL clubs in the US to sack players and coaches. Contracts are not guaranteed. A few weeks back Tampa fired the high-priced coach John Gruden, who won the Super Bowl.

Then out went their number one quarter back and this week five veteran players were cut.

Under league rules Tampa now has about $60m to spend on players and the sad delusional fans believe the club will bring in some new players. My betting is they won’t spend much because the Glazers can’t afford to as they need to stave off default in Manchester.

I bet the money men who backed the Glazers in Manchester are worried sick they may actually have to take over the team come next year.

John Sterlicchi
Read my blog on Anglo-American culture at www.codswallopandfries.com

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mourinho loses his cool after drab display

Inter coach Jose Mourinho was feeling the heat on Tuesday night after a post-match snipe at referee Luis Medina Cantelejo.

The 'Special One' was distinctly unimpressed with the handling of the game by Cantalejo after four of his players were booked, including substitute goalkeeper Francesco Toldo - who received a yellow card for protesting by the touchline.

In a blast to deflect attention away from his struggling side he said: "Hopefully in the next game (at Old Trafford) the referee will be on our side...I don't want to go into details of things like how we didn't have a penalty.

"Everything was against us, every little detail. You watch how many free-kicks they had and we had. The way we got yellow cards and they did not. I think the tendency was clear."

UEFA have revealed they will look into Mourinho's comments and the former Chelsea boss could face a touchline ban - possibly for the second leg.

It would be music to the ears of United's faithful, who will thus be excused another Mourinho jig down the touchline if Inter manage to defy the football odds (2.54 to qualify) and do the business in the return leg.

Sir Alex Ferguson however saw Cantalejo's performance in a different light.

"The referee was first class," said Ferguson. "He wasn't intimidated, which is probably what Jose wanted."

In truth it was Morinho's Inter side who were disappointing and not the man in the middle. The Serie A giants were second best for long periods of the game and only wasteful finishing prevented United from taking a first-leg lead back to Old Trafford.

United, who are football odds of 1.64 to progress to the quarter-finals, will have to be cautious though, remember Mourinho's Porto five years ago?

Fergie's men were heading through on away goals until Costinha's last-minute equaliser put United out and a goal for Inter in two weeks' time would mean United would have to score twice.

By Phil Tomlinson

Fergie baffles Red army over Rooney benching as United let Inter off hook...

IF there were any doubts about Fergie being scared of Jose Mourinho then they were confirmed at the San Siro on Tuesday night. Fergie knew that his team needed to score an away goal against Inter Milan if he wanted to enhance United's chances of going through to the quarter-final of the Champions League, but bizarrely he left Wayne Rooney out of his starting line-up when selecting Ryan Giggs in preference.

Rooney returned to the United first-team last weekend against Blackburn and scored with his first touch, he looked razor sharp which made his decision to play Giggs all the more baffling.

In 2004, Ferguson paid the price for being cautious against Mourinho's Porto when leaving Ronaldo out of both starting line-ups as United went out of the same competition on the away-goals rule.

Last night at the San Siro, Ferguson once more opted for caution when axing Rooney. United dominated the first-period and made Inter look ordinary, but Jose Mourinho who looked shell-shocked throughtout the first-half made several telling changes at the interval. Ferguson, for his part, dithered and did nothing until the 83rd minute before bringing on Wayne Rooney.

United fans in the San Siro and the millions watching on TV will have been cursing throughout the second-half imploring Ferguson to do make the obvious change, it was the most frustrating 45 minutes of United's season so far and many will now be wondering if this will turn out to be another missed opportunity. Inter were there for the taking if only Fergie had taken the initiative, but he did not.

It came as no surprise to hear Ferguson talking like a beaten man after the final whistle, because the United manager knows full well that the tie has swung in favour of Mourinho. Inter will come to Old Trafford looking to pinch a goal on the break and then to defend a lead should it come about, the Italians know they do not have to chase the game, it is a horrible scenario for Ferguson and United.

Going into the first-leg, Jose Mourinho said that United had changed and he's right; the Reds might be champions of Europe, but leaving out your star striker is tactical madness of Rafa Benitez proportions. United fans will be hoping that Ferguson's tactical thinking doesn't once more lead to another frustrating Champions League exit.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

United need away goals to end Mourinho hoodoo...

The winner of the Inter Milan vs. United tie will more than likely go on to win the Champions League. To coin a phrase, it is a massive game - the biggest in Europe so far this season. It will be an intriguing contest for many reasons, but for United, apart from wanting to progress, there's other business to take care of, it will hopefully turn out to be pay-back time for Jose Mourinho.

Jose Mourinho's name was catapulted into the limelight following Porto's win over United in the Champions League in 2004. Looking back at that tie, Fergie opted for caution going into both legs when leaving Cristiano Ronaldo out of the starting eleven; for their part the Porto players used every trick in the book which including diving and conning the referee. United eventually lost the tie on the away-goals rule after Costinha's last minute-strike ensured that the second-leg at Old Trafford ended all square, this after Paul Scholes had a perfectly good goal ruled out for offside.

Memories of Mourinho dancing down the Old Trafford touchline celebrating that fortuitous victory still rankle many Reds', because like on so many other ocassions during Fergie's reign it should have been United's year.

Since 2004 Mourinho has gone on to cement his reputation as one of Europe's top coaches, but he has so far failed to reach the final of Europe's Premier Club competition despite having the backing of one of the richest men in the world while at Chelsea. Somewhat predictably (according to some), Mourinho's stay in West London ended in tears; old sages will have it that the firebrand Portuguese manager will never stay with any one club for too long, hence the move to Inter Milan.

Tonight in the San Siro Fergie has the opportunity to pay Mourinho back for that 2004 exit; the United manager says that he is unconcerned about the champions poor record against Jose's teams'. It is of course a lie, because we all know that Mourinho has got underneath Fergie's skin. Article continues below...

In many ways Fergie and Mourinho are the exact opposite of each other, but both are winners and here they share common ground. Despite being a winner, or a "champion" as Jose would have it, many United fans abhor everything about Mourinho; they do not like his tactics and they do not like the man. There is talk that Jose could eventually replace Fergie, that debate is for another time...

United are set to take on Inter Milan, with what could be a patched-up central defensive partnership, if as expected Jonny Evans fails to recover from an injury picked up at the weekend. John O'Shea is likely to play along Rio Ferdinand. Going into the game Mourinho has suggested that United will not attack Inter - to a certain extent this could turn out to be true, because there is likely to be more emphasis on the likes of Carrick stationing himself just in front of the back-four to mop-up any poor clearances.

Fergie has predictably responded to Mourinho's pre-match baiting by saying that United rarely go out not to win - the truth is that the United manager isn't the best at the tactics, it is also true that United are at their collective best when going forward. Playing cagey football is not, and hopefully never will be, the United way.

Going into the tie, Mourinho will no doubt have been concerned at the number of times the Champions have won by the narrow margin of 1-0 - has Fergie been reading the Jose Mourinho book of tactics? Inter's manager could be forgiven taking that view from afar, but he would be wrong of course.

Clearly, this United team and in particular the defence has been playing on the mind of Mourinho who has been doing his usual level best to psyche-out Fergie. Mourinho, tried and failed to not only extend Vidic's one match-ban, but he also tried his best to get Rooney banned too when complaining about the United's striker's kick-out at an Aalborg player. Fergie likes to share a bottle of wine with opposing managers following the white-hot heat of battle, on this occasion he could be forgiven if his parting gift was a "Glasgow kiss".

As far as tactics go, there has been too much talk surrounding the make-up of the United defence, which is perhaps understandable given United's injury problems, but in all probability it will be mistakes that prove to be costly if the Champions of Europe fold in the San Siro.

IF United are to avoid defeat in the San Siro they must not give possession away cheaply, the last Fergie thing will want to see is an already weakened defence being over-worked due to sloppy forward play. Park and Ronaldo cannot allow Inter's fullbacks to press forward and supply crosses. United need a ninety minute performance from Berbatov. Discipline will also be an important factor, do not rule out Inter's players trying to get Rooney or Ronaldo sent-off.

On too many previous occasions Mourinho's Chelsea hit United on the counter attack, but if United can hold out without conceding an early goal, the visitors could give Mourinho a taste of his own medicine. Carlos Tevez could have a vital role to play when coming off the bench if United go in search of those vital away goals. Ronaldo has been showing signs of coming to the boil over recent games and you do wonder if the World Player of the Year will live up to his star billing. Going into the game, Wayne Rooney looks fighting fit and razor sharp, if I was going to back anyone from United score it would have to be the former Everton star.

Score prediction: 2-2.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

United heading for Milan nightmare?

Manchester United's victory over Blackburn came at the expense of losing defender Jonny Evans to injury. Fergie says that the Ulsterman is unlikely to be fit for the Reds biggest game of the season when they face Inter Milan on Tuesday. United are already without Wes Brown (injured) and of course Vidic is suspended. The United manager rested Vidic for the visit of Blackburn in preparation for the trip to Milan; the Serbian's absence could prove to be very costly as Fergie is now desperately short of central defenders.

Earlier this week I posted that it was all going a little too well for the Champions and I also added that hopefully United's many injury and suspension problems were over - but having followed United for nigh on forty years I for one fully expected many twists and turns ahead.

United have been in impressive form; they are eight points clear of Liverpool, but Blackburn's Roque Santa Cruz scored on Saturday, in so doing ending that record breaking run for not conceding in the Premier League.

The manner of Blackburn's goal will have annoyed Fergie and many United supporters, because it came about following some very sloppy play by Nani, the Portuguese winger allowed Ooijer to pinch the ball and then play in the Paraguayan striker who rounded Ferdinand, to compound matters Kuszczak slipped leaving an open net. The United manager has every right to be annoyed with the schoolboy errors made by Nani and Kuszczak.

Fergie will not be too concerned about that 14 game shut-out record coming to an end, but any doubts about the futures of Nani and Kuszczak will have been further underscored. Nani is a very frustrating player; he is capable of brilliance as he proved with his superb first-half pass which led to Rooney's opening goal yesterday, but on too many occasions he loses possession cheaply. As far as Kuszczak is concerned; goalkeepers' need presence and they need to inspire confidence, sadly the Polish stopper does neither.

United won the game courtesy of a brilliant second-half free-kick from Ronaldo, but the winner came about after Blackburn had hit the woodwork and the visitors also had a late penalty claim turned down by Howard Webb, who once again made some very strange decisions.

Webb is supposedly England's top referee, but he had a stinker in the Manchester derby when sending off Ronaldo - which came about after the official wrongly booking the Portuguese winger for a challenge on Wright-Phillips in the first-half at Eastlands.

Yesterday, Webb bizarrely disallowed Jonny Evans' first-half headed goal. Having made a basic error of judgement, it's fair to ask if 'England's top referee' had been made aware of his error at half-time, because it could be argued that he over-compensated by giving United a few second-half decisions in a bid to 'even things up' as referees often do.

Leading up to United's trip to Inter Milan the media has been full of stories plotting United's route to an improbable quintuple, but following the Blackburn game many will now be revising their thoughts on the probability of Fergie winning five trophies - such are the vagaries of top-flight football, because in the space of ninety minutes the whole scenario could come apart.

The odds on United winning that quintuple will surely be affected by injuries, but while it is still possible the fans and media can continue to speculate. IF United can go to Milan and come away with a good result everyone will be talking about the Reds winning the lot again. On the flip side if United take a hammering in Italy in midweek there will be added pressure going into the Carling Cup final.

Later this week I will be previewing the Inter game - the thought of Gary Neville trying to match Adriano in the air is good reason for a few sleepless nights.

Whatever happens this season, United have done something that no other English club has ever done having already secured an unprecedented treble.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Fergie having a laugh at Chelsea's expense?

Many seasoned United fans will concur that it's a little early to be talking about winning the title, so it was somewhat surprising that Fergie went on record earlier this week writing off Chelsea following the ridiculous sacking of Big Phil Scolari.

It wasn't that long ago that United over-turned Newcastle's twelve point lead at the top of the table to clinch the title in dramatic circumstances, it's also worth remembering Kevin Keegan's "love-it" rant in the full glare of the media. The then Newcastle manager had lost the plot following some timely comments by Ferguson.

The Manchester United manager is well versed in using the media; Fergie chooses his words carefully knowing every word will be ceased upon. So the question is does Fergie really believe that Chelsea's title race is all but run? I seriously doubt it personally; more likely Fergie is taking great pleasure in poking fun at Chelsea and Peter Kenyon.

Guus Hiddink is a world-class coach, he has a squad of world-class players, no one should write off Chelsea at this stage of the season. There will be many twists and turns ahead which is why I expect Arsenal to finish in the top four.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Scholes back to his brilliant best: Can United get even better?

Fulham became the fourteenth Premier League club to try and then fail to score against the champions last night as the Reds ran out comfortable three-nil winners, courtesy of goals by Scholes, Berbatov and Rooney.

The result means that United now have a five-point lead at the top of the table and with Blackburn set to visit Old Trafford before second placed Liverpool play on Sunday there could be even more pressure on the Merseyside club if United can take all three points from the Rovers game on Saturday evening.

Earlier this week I stated that it doesn't seem to matter who Fergie selects in his starting eleven; the team continues to perform and produce results. Over the last few weeks we United fans have marvelled at the performances of Ryan Giggs who has been a revelation - so much so that even former Liverpool captain Alan Hansen has tipped the Welshman to win the player of the year award.

Against Fulham it was the turn of Paul Scholes who was the driving force and arch schemer behind many of United's best attacking moves. Mark Schwarzer in the Fulham goal will no doubt have nightmares about his poor performance on the night, but nothing should be taken away from Scholes who opened the scoring from a well rehearsed corner routine as he lashed the ball goalwards from the edge of the box. The Fulham stopper was no doubt deceived by the flight of the ball as it dipped and curled one way and then the other - those were the mitigating circumstances which led to the Australian allowing the ball slip beyond his despairing grasp. Yes, Schwarzer should have done better, but instead of castigating him let us heap praise on Scholes; like Ryan Giggs he continues to defy the years when giving match winning performances.

Over the last few weeks United have had their share of injury problems, added to which the FA came down hard on Patrice Evra when banning him for four games following a ruck with a member of the "Chelsea ground-staff" last April. The punishment dished out by the FA still rankles Fergie; it was totally over-the-top given the incident took place after the game in which the Frenchman didn't even take part.

Throughout what has been a difficult period, Fergie has been able to call upon the likes of Scholes and Giggs, they have been integral in several games when playing their part along with the rest of what is a superb squad.

I don't know if I'm on own in thinking that everything seems to be going a bit too well, because we United fans are not used to being in such a comfortable position, if that sounds odd, I will explain. In previous seasons United have gone on to win the title on many occasions, but since 1992 it has almost always been the case that Fergie's tinkering has often left the fans cursing and head-scratching, but the wizard, as was we used to call him, has to his eternal credit almost always got it right in the end, but not without many of us sprouting a few too many grey hairs along the way.

The United defence has been the subject of much debate following fourteen league shut-outs on the spin; I'm personally putting most of this feeling of calmness down to fact that the Reds have been so mean at the back. Next week, United face Inter Milan, sans Vidic and if anyone can unsettle the champions then surely Mourinho and Co must represent the biggest challenge. I have a feeling that if United can overcome the Italians over two legs then this team could go all the way to final in Rome.

United are hopefully over the worst of their problems with injuries and suspensions and so there is every reason to confident regarding what lies ahead.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

United primed for another shut-out

With the economic downturn hitting savings rates, United's home date with Fulham on Wednesday night is the ideal opportunity to make more of your hard-earned dough.
It's 13 consecutive Premier League shut-outs for United and Fulham look unlikely to upset that record at Old Trafford.
The champions have been majestic in defence with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in imperious form and they are more than capable of seeing off a Fulham side who have not won away all season and have managed a paltry three goals in 12 games.
The home win looks a sure bet, but at 1.25 it is very short odds so taking the 1.6 about a United cleansheet is far better value.
However United, who have amazingly won eight of their last 11 top flight games 1-0 are priced at 6.8 to rack up another 1-0 triumph and a small interest could again pay off against a Fulham side who have been defensive-minded on the road.
Fergie's charges can march five points clear with a home victory and will take another giant step to defending the crown they won last season.
Wayne Rooney returns to the squad after missing seven games with a hamstring injury, but he is only likely to take his place on the bench with Fergie set to reshuffle his side after the FA Cup win over Derby.
Cristiano Ronaldo was used in a central role at Pride Park but he is likely to return to the wing with Dimitar Berbatov returning to the line-up.
Meanwhile the bookies are running scared of United's Quadruple bid with the price as short as 14/1 in some places.

By Phil Tomlinson, an online sports writer for Betfair – Check them out for a Cheltenham free bet.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A step-over too far for red faced Wayne Rooney....

It isn't often that you see Wayne Rooney out-skilled on the football pitch, but that is precisely what happened when the England striker was shown a clean pair of heels by local boy Callam who nutmegged United's £20m star during a recent Nike Five tournament. The exclusive movie clip shows Rooney on the receiving end of a superb meg, which had team-mate Rio Ferdinand in stitches. Nike Five is a celebration of urban football, United fans can expect to hear a lot more about Five's country-wide tournaments over the coming weeks and months.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ferguson can do no wrong as United romp to cup victory...

According to Nigel Clough Manchester United could win the lot this season, the former Forest star and Derby manager was speaking to the media after watching the Rams lose 4-1 to the champions as they marched ominously into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.

Ahead of Sunday's Pride Park cup-tie and with one eye on the midweek clash with Fulham, Fergie took the opportunity to rest several stars including Vidic, Tevez, Scholes, Berbatov and Gary Neville.

Having already secured FIFAs Club World Cup Championship, United are top of the Premier League table, they are through to the Carling Cup final and in the Champions League last 16. If United win their game in hand against Fulham they will be five points ahead of the chasing pack.

The worry for United's rivals is that no matter what team Fergie sends out, they are producing impressive results. Against Derby County, in truth it was all a bit too easy for the visitors. The gulf in class was all too evident; United were far too strong for Clough's team. Ryan Giggs was once again in majestic form, he didn't get his name on the score-sheet, but his passing was sublime and in this match Fergie had decreed that the Welsh wizard should play up front alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.

The match was screened live on ITV and on seeing the team-sheet United hero Teddy Sheringham, opined that the Derby County players would take great encouragement because "the United forward line wouldn't be able to make the ball stick". Oh, Teddy, Teddy, how very wrong you were...

As is often the case there was much to admire about United's goals; Nani scored a goal that was a carbon copy of the one Ryan Giggs scored against West Ham; Gibson coolly lashed home a low volley from the edge of the box; Ronaldo scored with a trademark header and Welbeck finished like a veteran with a wicked curling effort late on to seal a comfortable victory. Addison (56 mins) was on target for the Rams to give the score-line a degree of respectability, but it turned out to be a consolation, there was no dramatic comeback on this day.

Fergie recently admitted that he doesn't actually know what his strongest team is; this news came as no great surprise to this particular Red. The United manager has also hinted that this is potentially his strongest squad ever. Such matters are very subjective given how many great teams Fergie has bestowed upon us. Added to which we all have our opinions on greatness - though we the fas are are mere mortals and as such our views count for little, that much is true.

Whatever our collective views on greatness, this squad of players have before them the opportunity to go beyond the magnificence of 1999, when United won that historic treble.

The pursuit of chasing so many honours brings with it added pressure, becuase as the trophies are racked up, so is the pressure.

Whatever happens from here on in, United will not end the season empty handed, they are currently the World Champions and so we the fans can look forward to hopefully lifting the Carling Cup early in March. Before that United have a daunting trip to Inter Milan - if the Red Devils can come away with a good result in Italy then you never know what might happen; one thing is for certain if you support United then your nerve endings will likely be in shreds come the season end...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

More to come from United

United might be flying high at the top of the Premier League but the feeling is there might be more to come from the champions after Sir Alex admitted he doesn't even know his what his best team is.
United have been on an amazing run chalking up 13 consecutive cleansheets in the league which has seen them overhaul Liverpool and surge two points clear at the summit - and just think what they might be capable of when Fergie works out his best line-up.
While the two centre-backs Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, if fit, pick themselves, Fergie has revealed the problems he has had over the last 12 months selecting his strongest XI.
"I don't know," Ferguson told MUTV when asked what his strongest side was.
"It's a great thing until you have to pick your team.
"If all the players are fit for a cup final then you have to pull one or two aside and say 'I'm sorry'.
"For instance in the cup final in Moscow Ji-Sung Park was upset.
"I'd decided two weeks before that I had to play Owen Hargreaves in the middle because it gave me the ability to switch to a three-man midfield and match Chelsea.
"Then from there I had to judge the substitutes differently and I wanted an impact player such as Nani and had to leave Ji-Sung out which was a tragedy."
And while rivals Chelsea scramble around looking for a suitable replacement for Luiz Felipe Scolari and Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez shows increasing signs of wilting in the heat, United know their foundations are solid as a rock.
"I don't even think about retirement," said Fergie when asked if he envisaged the end in sight.
Good news for United, who are still on track for an unprecedented Quadruple at football odds of 15.5, now that would be some way to finish.

By Phil Tomlinson, an online sports writer for Betfair – Check them out for Cheltenham betting odds.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Why United's rivals have good reason to be concerned..

Going into Sunday's clash with West Ham United, I foolishly predicted the Champions would concede a goal and that they would also be held to a score draw. Thankfully, neither scenario came to fruition thanks to a majestic second-half finish from Ryan Giggs.

Liverpool were the Premier League's overnight leaders after coming from behind twice to win 2-3 at the death at Fratton Park. While Liverpool fought back impressively to win at Portsmouth, the fancy Dans of the King's Road could only manage a home draw with Hull City; following that result and in my pre-match update on Saturday, I somewhat jokingly posed the question "taxi for Scolari?!" To be honest, I didn't seriously expect the Brazilian to be treated so shabbily by Chelsea; it is a ridiculous decision to sack him so soon. The same can be said of sacking Tony Adams at Pompey.

As for United's win at Upton Park, I was extremely relieved this difficult away fixture came about in February and not in May when the pressure will no doubt be testing our collective nerve ends to their limit.

United's rivals in the Premier League have every reason to be concerned about the Reds' long unbeaten run, because it shows no sign of ending. What's more, those United players who have been out injured are coming back to give Fergie even more choices. The United manager can do no wrong at present, he can send out the youngsters such as the da Silva twins and or Jonny Evans. On Sunday Fergie opted for the class and experience of Giggs and Scholes, once again it was a decision that was fully vindicated as they combined to score one of the goals of the season.

The way Giggs glides beyond lunging challenges of the type we saw at Upton Park really is something to behold, not just by United fans, but all lovers of the beautiful game. The same can be said of the killer pass by Scholes; that ball was struck so truly and quickly to the dancing feet of the Welshman, it actually gave Giggs another second on the ball, in which time he weighed up his next move. The goal and its execution was poetry in motion; when these veteran United stars hang-up their boots it will be a very sad day, going off recent performances that day could still be some time off.

Fergie has done a magnificent job in assembling this squad of players and he's making the best use to them, with the possible exception of Carlos Tevez. I do not want be drawn on how many trophies United will win this season; we all know what is possible, but to win the lot you need a bit of luck along the way. For now, suffice to say United are looking good, the rest have every reason to be worried.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Scousers' throw down title gauntlet: United record to end?

Well, well, well, who would have believed it; 2-1 down with just ten minutes to go and Liverpool come back to win 2-3 at Portsmouth. It was great result for the Mickeys' and the result ensures that the nation continues to be gripped by the title race, so yes, in a way, it was good for the Premier League too - especially with Chelsea dropping two points to Hull City at home at Stamford Bridge; "taxi for Scolari", anyone?

Liverpool have been very good on their travels thus far; it's been their home form which has let them down, so winning away at Pompey would have been expected, at least it would have been prior to the loss of Gerrard, but the very fact that they conceded two goals against a club who are just two points off bottom place suggests that the Merseyside Reds are indeed wobbling under pressure.

A couple of days ago I predicted that Liverpool could be edged out of the top four, that prediction is starting to look a bit dodgy with Chelsea faltering badly; whatever happens to Chelsea and Liverpool I remain convinced that Arsenal will finish the season in the top four and it's good to see Aston Villa continuing to make an impression in the leading group.

For their part, United fans will have been slightly gutted on hearing about developments at Fratton Park, but let's be fair the Champions have had their share of late wins this season.

The Red Devils travel to Upton Park later today and Fergie will be keen to avoid defeat, which hasn't been the case on United's last two visits to East London, where United have twice seen the title snatched from the jaws of victory.

West Ham are in fine fettle and the new managerial partnership of Zola and Steve Clarke seems to be working a treat. I actually have a bad feeling about today, at the very least I expect United to concede. Defeat wouldn't be catastrophic for Fergie - it will only add to interest in the title race - but I'm predicting a score draw.

I expect Wayne Rooney will start today's game on the bench, but it's likely the England striker will play some part in the match. United will need some big performances from their former West Ham players, which hasn't happened that often when the two clubs have met in the capital.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Liverpool to fall by wayside in title race, is it United's to lose?

I'm sure that I wasn't the only United fan who took a casual interest in what was going on at Goodison Park in that FA Cup replay last night. Everton deservedly knocked out their near neighbours with a well taken extra-time goal by Gosling. ITV made a complete Donald Duck up of the coverage - everything was ok for over 115 minutes, but then the lights went out, which led to many viewers missing the goal. How embarrassing for ITV.

The result means that the Merseyside Reds are now fighting to win two competitions. Realistically, that should be just the one - the Champions League - because following injuries to Gerrard and possibly Torres too - the latter eventually limped out of the action - Liverpool will not be the same force going forward.

Gerrard is Liverpool's biggest loss; unlike previous season's Benitez has resisted the temptation to rest his skipper, but a hamstring injury is consistent with tiredness and overplaying.

I actually predicted this scenario might come to fruition following the bizarre sale of Robbie Keane. Here's a few additional predictions for you; Manchester City will take at least a point off Liverpool; Aston Villa and Arsenal will edge Liverpool out of the top four places in the Premier League.

I am not predicting United will win the title, but their chances have been slightly enhanced by the hilarious buffoonery going on at Anfield.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Credit-crunch, what credit-crunch? Sky blitz rivals in TV rights bidding war...

In these troubled times how often do we hear the phrase "lack of confidence" where finance is concerned? Well, today's big story is that Sky has bucked the current doom laden news trend by retaining its current Premier League broadcast rights by winning four of the available six packages on offer. It's believed that Sky's bid was in excess of £1.3 billion. The existing Premier League deal runs out in 2010, as things stand Sky have the right to broadcast 92 out of the available 138 games.

Following Tuesday night's announcement that Sky had made a clean sweep of the first round of bidding, a second round of bidding will take place between the competing broadcasters which are thought to include Sky, Setanta and ESPN. Under current EU legislation Sky can compete to win one of two remaining packages on offer.

It would be a shame to see Setanta aka "Tinker telly" bite the dust after making such a good start, which is unlikely, but it cannot be ruled out.

Whatever happens in the next round of bidding the arrival of another broadcaster has made it more expensive for armchair fans - that's the price the fans have to pay for competition, with that said watching the match live on TV remains by far the cheapest option, but it's a poor second when compared to the real thing.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Questionable transfer deals could give United even more of an advantage.....

Manchester United fans are still waiting for the club to sign Carlos Tevez, but to the frustration of all concerned that particular deal has yet to be concluded. The Red Devils were busy at the beginning of January when Fergie completed the double signing of Zoran Tosic and Adem Ljajic from Partizan Belgrade, but since that double swoop it has been a quiet month apart from James Chester going out on loan.

While United have been going about their business without the usual media frenzy where transfers are concerned, rivals Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal have been more active in the market. The most bizarre transfer deal of the whole season has to be that of Robbie Keane moving back to Spurs.

Keane is not everyone’s idea of a £20m striker, but he's proven Premier League quality, so what on earth is Benitez playing at? The Irishman scored seven goals for Liverpool and the sale of Keane effectively means that Benitez is now reduced to just two strikers in Kuyt and Torres. From the outside looking in, it seems that Liverpool's manager is indeed cracking up; it is an act of complete madness given that the Merseyside Reds are still competing in three competitions.

For their part Chelsea have just signed Ricardo Quaresma and you do wonder what has gone wrong in his short career after such a sparkling start alongside Ronaldo at Sporting Lisbon. If anyone could have gotten the best out of the former Barcelona winger then surely it was Jose Mourinho, but seemingly not.

Of the "big four" only Arsenal look to have significantly strengthened in the January window with the protracted transfer of Andre Arshavin, if the Gunners can get their top stars like Fabregas, Rosicky, Walcott and Eduardo off the treatment table and back into the first-team then I for one wouldn't be surprised to see them above Chelsea or even Liverpool come the end of the season.

It has been a good January for United because Arsenal aside, their closest rivals in the title race haven't made any significant signings - quite the reverse in the case of Liverpool.

Rooney champing at the bit

Wayne Rooney is straining at the leash to be involved in Sunday's Premier League date with West Ham.
And Sir Alex Ferguson might be tempted to throw Rooney back into the action considering United's recent record in the East End.
The Hammers defeated United 1-0 in 2006 at Upton Park and won 2-1 last term and although United have beaten them twice at Old Trafford since, you can be assured Fergie will have made it known to his players that United need to set the record straight.
Rooney has missed the last five games with a hamstring problem and he will be a welcome return to a side which haven't been firing on all cylinders in attack, despite their record-breaking defensive run.
While Edwin van Der sar has kept 12 consecutive clean sheets in the top flight - and he is football odds of 1.74 to make it 13 on Sunday - nine of those games have ended goalless or 1-0.
Fergie has been patient with Rooney but the 23-year-old could be back over the weekend to add to his record of six league goals in 16 starts and help United into overdrive.
United have still bagged 40 Premier League goals in 23 games this term, but they are down on last season when the champions ended the campaign with 80 top-flight goals from their 38 games.
Carlos Tevez has started all five games since Rooney's injury against Wigan and he will be the unlucky man to drop out if Rooney is thrown in.
Another man who could also return is Patrice Evra. The French flyer has been out of action for a month with an ankle knock, but he is also on the verge of a return against the Hammers.

By Phil Tomlinson, an online sports writer for Betfair – Check them out for Cheltenham betting odds.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Scousers make running in title race as Fergie predicts trouble ahead..

United's five-point lead at the top of the table was cut to just two points on Sunday after Liverpool snatched victory late on at Anfield, thanks to two goals from Fernando Torres. The manner of the Spaniard's second goal will have no doubt had even United fans smiling given that it stemmed from a gift by Ashley Cole. It was a narrow victory for Liverpool and the same can be said of United's 1-0 win over Everton, Michael Carrick was the star of the show, he was easily the best player on the park and fully deserved to be man-of-the-match.

Following a fairly steady, if not spectacular, start to his United career, Carrick has blossomed into United's arch midfield instigator, taking over from the genius Paul Scholes. The complexion of United's engine room seems to be in an almost constant state of flux with the manager chopping and changing when he sees fit, but results have proven that Fergie has been getting it consistently right. The manager's work has to a large degree been made easy by the Champions rock-solid defence which hasn't been breached in 12 league games, which is an impressive record and one that will be the envy of United's rivals.

Going into Sunday's game on Merseyside, many neutrals in the media were hoping that the Sunday's clash at Anfield would end in victory for one of the two teams - anything but a draw was the percieved ideal outcome. With a game in hand and a five-point advantage the fear was that the Champions might streak away from the chasing pack. Fergie and United fans on the other hand, were not surprisingly hoping for a draw, it wasn't to be, but the Reds remain in pole position and they remain fully justified favourites to win the league again.

Ferguson has been keen not to talk up the Champions title winning credentials, the United manager has seen it all before and he knows that nothing is won at this stage of the season. It was therefore with good reason that following the win over Everton he spoke of the "twists and turns" ahead. Next up United travel to Upton Park to face West Ham for what is almost always a difficult away game.

West Ham, like many teams seem to reserve their very best performances for the visit of United. Fergie and United fans have bitter memories of trips to East London, added to which the Hammers are bang in form and haven't lost at home since December when Villa won courtesy of an own goal.

The managerial partnership of Zola and Steve Clarke seems to be working very well; they will be looking forward to pitting their wits against Fergie next Sunday, in what will be an intriguing encounter with Ferdinand and Carrick returning to their old stomping ground.

For their part Liverpool have chance to regain top-spot in the Premier League when they travel to Portsmouth on Saturday evening. It is all to play for and with United still heavily involved in four competitions they are going to need some luck when avoiding injuries over the coming weeks ahead.

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