Sunday, May 31, 2009

Are Manchester United really quite as bad as the media are making out?.....

Earlier this week United lost out to Barcelona in the Champions League final, and deservedly so. In the wake of that defeat, at least if we are to believe the mainstream media, anyone would think that United have all of a sudden "been found out" as it has been put by some "neutrals" and or that the champions of England are a poor team.

As is so often the case when our rivals set about trying to rewrite history they tend to focus on the negative in a bid to force home their point; the problem is there's always a danger of conveniently forgetting some of the facts. In this particular instance, it's worth remembering that United beat the very same Barcelona last season, a team that included Messi, Henry and Eto'o et al.

Not surprisingly, the revisionists are currently in full-flow as they try to find fault with the current United team - and the Premier League, in the case of Daily Telegraph

United fans are probably sick and tired of hearing about the Champions League Final, but I'm sick and tired of reading the same old claptrap from so called "experts" in the media and rival fans who do not really understand the game.

Somewhat ironically, and unusually the introspection that has followed United's defeat to Barcelona has NOT emanated from our own fans, that will be because (a) we are not bitter (b) our club has actually won the Premier League for the third time on the bounce.

United fans also know (as do our rivals) that if United had scored in the opening minutes of the final in Rome, then in all probability the club would still be the champions of Europe. The outcome of any big game can hinge on an early goal, as was proven in the Champions League semi-final at the Emirates, that tie was effectively over after a blistering opening fourteen minute spell by the then holders.

According the experts, Ferguson has to take a long hard look at the current United; I seriously doubt he pays much attention to the media, but I will agree with one point of view concerning the future of Berbatov. As much as I appreciate his goals, he simply hasn't fitted into the United machine. For me, and for many supporters, he doesn't do enough to justify his starting place every week at the expense of Carlos Tevez.

I do have some serious concerns about the future of several players, namely Tevez and Ronaldo (Fergie won't agree to sell him - but the Glazers might). I'd like to see Nani sold ASAP and I'd take whatever Spurs or City were willing to offer for Berbatov. I honestly be quite happy to give Macheda his big chance next season. Whatever happens I'm confident Fergie will sort it out - the revisionists can go **** themselves.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tiresome media persist with Ronaldo exit claims ...

It has been a bad few days for United supporters following the team's defeat in the Champions League final on Wednesday in Rome. It is bad enough losing, but now we are going to have to put up with another summer of transfer speculation surrounding Ronaldo.

In the wake of what was a bad night for the champions, it comes as no surprise that United's many enemies in the mainstream media have been attempting to destabilise the club by stirring up tensions between Fergie and Ronaldo.

In his post-match interview that followed the defeat in Rome, Ronaldo was honest in his assessment that United had played poorly and they'd made mistakes, he was also gracious in defeat when admitting Barcelona deserved to win. However, the media have been spinning for all their questionable worth by trying to create friction between manager and star player.

On the subject of next season, the Portuguese forward has on several occasions recently, stated categorically that his immediate future lies with Manchester United, despite this, the media have continued to speculate that Ronaldo will join Real Madrid this summer.

The latest news.... if that is a good word for it... surrounding the world player of the year, comes to us courtesy of the Guardian, the basis of this laughingly labelled "exclusive" is that as yet un-elected president Florentino Pérez will this summer launch a "spectacular project" that will include the signings of Ronaldo, Kaka and Franck Ribery.

Real Madrid have an amazing record where big name signings are concerned and they are still probably the biggest club in the world, despite what we United fans may think, so we cannot totally rule out that Ronaldo could join Madrid, but it is question of when that might be, next season seems highly unlikely given Ronaldo's recent comments on this subject.

The Guardian has also republished claims that there exists what has been described as "a legally binding document" for Ronaldo to sign for Madrid. The agreement in question was supposedly agreed between the disgraced former president Ramon Calderon and the Jorge Mendes, Ronaldo's agent. This particular story goes back to last summer and of course Calderon was eventually forced to quit over an alleged election rigging scandal.

Personally, I don't see how any document could ever be legally binding when Ronaldo remains under contract to Manchester United. Calderon and Mendes could well have agreed to do business, but that would have been on the understanding that United agreed to a transfer of the player, and while Fergie is in charge I honestly do not see that happening.

This so called legally binding agreement argument holds little water, it has if anything only served to cloud the issue because United hold all the aces. What's more, neither Calderon or Real Madrid were never going to sue Mendes and risk potentially losing out on signing Ronaldo at some point in the future.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

United players let themselves and the fans down, but congratulations to Barcelona.......

There's an adage in football that says you can only play as well as you're allowed to play and after the opening ten minutes of the Champions League Final last night in Rome it looked like Barcelona were going to allow United to dominate them. That was until United's midfield parted like the Red Sea as Andres Iniesta's strode through unchallenged to pick out Samuel Eto'o who turned Vidic inside out before toe-poking home a fine goal that beat Van der Sarr at his near post. United's Dutch 'keeper has been criticised for not dealing with the Cameroon striker's effort, but in fairness it was a snap-shot effort that flew beyond Van der Sarr at speed.

United never recovered from the opening goal even though it was completely against the run of play, but questions have to be asked as to why it was allowed to happen. Possession of the ball was fairly even for the remainder of the opening period, but the Catalans' were clearly given a major confidence boost by the early goal - sadly United's midfield did not rise to the occasion.

Barcelona went on to hammer the final nail in United's Champions League Final coffin, when Messi of all players, was allowed the freedom of the United penalty area to head home the well deserved second-half killer goal.

In the wake of what was bad night for United, not unexpectedly, the critics and enemies of the club in the media have enjoyed a field day. The BBC sport website used the headline "United outclassed", which is stretching the facts somewhat. United were not outclassed at all, yes they lost the game and mistakes were made, but the champions of England were NOT given a football lesson.

Apart from going over the mistakes at the back, the biggest single failure behind United's defeat was a catastrophic failure in midfield and it's here that Fergie needs to shoulder some of the blame. Ahead of the final, Fergie said that the side that does its best work on and off the ball would probably win the game; as far as United's midfield was concerned they were collectively awful in both respects and it has be said they missed the industry of suspended Darren Fletcher.

Ryan Giggs came into the starting eleven and early on it seemed that he'd been given the job of supporting Ronaldo through the middle, however, he was nowhere to be seen when Barcelona were in control of midfield and here again questions need to be asked about United's tactics. Fergie only served to confuse the nature of his own tactical plan when hinting that Giggs had been asked to do more of a defensive job a la Darren Fletcher; so was it a case of the Welshman failing to follow instructions or was the midfield just a complete muddle? To further compound matters, Anderson failed to take any measure of control in the engine room and so it came as no surprise that he was replaced by an out of sorts looking Carlos Tevez at the interval.

Ahead of the final, Graeme Souness rightly pointed out that Chelsea had done United a huge favour, because they very nearly beat the Catalans' and in so doing had put the fear of god into them; the point being Barca would be wary of playing another English club. At half-time when clearly it was going very badly wrong, Ruud Gullit opined that United had learnt nothing from the Chelsea performance in the semi-final; the point here was that the champions had failed to pick up on how to deny Barca space in front of the back four where defending was concerned.

Ultimately, United were not good enough on the night, the players let themselves, the club and the supporters down. The United fans in the stadium could barely be heard during the game, which is probably why one supporter later said the team and the fans didn't turn up.

While it was hugely disappointing for United, much credit has to go to Barcelona who have been the best team in the competition this season. On a personal note I wasn't happy about some of the unjustified hype surrounding this current United side with some pundits saying "this could be the best ever English side". For heaven's sake, it isn't the best United side that Fergie has produced, even though the man himself has only served to add weight to that myth.

The supporters would have been over the moon if United had won last night, but just perhaps this current team isn't quite what it has been cracked up to be, and so it is to be hoped that the defeat will serve to strengthen Fergie's resolve to reach the final again because where the manager has been totally correct is his assertion is that United have under-achieved in Europe.

United showed diginity and respect in defeat, both on and off the pitch and despite not playing well there was no sour notes to report on, or complaints about the result. There was no crying in the stands and the United fans who'd made the costly trip to Rome didn't let the club down by causing trouble after the match had ended. The final didn't quite live up to expectations, but that was largely down to United's poor performance on the night; it is hoped at least some of the players who tasted defeat last night will in time make up for what was a bad night for Manchester United and its supporters.

United's man of the match: Ronaldo - the only one who looked capable of doing anything on the ball all night long.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cowardly Italian knife wielding scum attack United supporter...

The atmosphere in Rome has in general been one of a celebration of football with both sets of supporters mingling without any problems, sadly fears that Italian Ultras could cause trouble have come to fruition with news that a United supporter was slashed last night outside his hotel close to the Vatican, the injuries were not serious and after spending a few hours in hospital the fan was released. In a second attack an American was knifed across the buttocks, reports claim it was a case of mistaken identity, the theory being the cowardly Ultras believed the person in question was a Manchester United supporter.

Fergie can rule in Rome ...but only if United defend like champions

Manchester United go into tonight's Champions League Final as slight favourites due to Barcelona's injury problems, even though it is expected that both Thierry Henry and Iniesta will both start the game after recovering from injuries. In the case of the former Arsenal striker, it remains to be seen if the Frenchman is 100% match fit. Going into the final many pundits are rightly talking about Messi who is arguably the world's number one, the Argentine can destroy any team because at times he is unplayable. Henry and Eto'o can be equally as devastating, both are blessed with electric pace, it is therefore vital that the United defend properly, and as a team from front to back for the whole game and especially in the opening period.

Ahead of the big game, Fergie talked about the need for United to retain possession of the ball, he said that the team who does this best could be key to victory. The United manager knows that Barcelona can retain the ball well; it is one of their strongest attributes. However, Ferguson did not talk about the weaknesses in the Barcelona back four - even if the Catalans' had been a full strength United would have fancied their chances, the fact that they will face the holders with a patched-up defence should give United confidence about their collective ability to find a way through.

Earlier this week I posted that United could win the final from set-pieces because they have the greater aerial threat, or least that should be the case providing Edwin van der Sarr doesn't have an aberration at the other end. In the days that followed it was interesting to read Jose Mourinho echo my thoughts on this aspect of the game, in that the Inter manager also highlighted what is a perceived weakness in the Barcelona defence.

United definitely have the ability to win the final providing they do not throw it away in the opening 30 minutes, because if the champions can fend off Barca's early probing attacks I for one fully believe they can and will hopefully retain the trophy. The big danger for both finalists is allowing their opponents to set the tone if either concedes an early goal or two, because as we saw in the semi-final against Arsenal, the game was all but over after just 14 minutes following United's opening brace.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Worst transfer rumour of the week: Real seek Ronaldo "escape clause"...

Here go again, summer is just around the corner and so we must now prepare ourselves for the usual collection of half-truths and downright lies, otherwise known as transfer rumours. I must admit, I nearly fell off my chair when I read this one which comes to us courtesy of guillembalague.com because after spending the last couple of seasons trying to sign Ronaldo, according to the aforementioned rumour spreading website, we are now being told that Real Madrid are exploring ways in which to escape from an agreement with Ronaldo's agent, Jorge Mendes.

This story goes back to last summer when rumour had it that Ronaldo was about to join Real Madrid - a deal that would have been subject to the small matter of Fergie allowing the player to leave. However, the original agreement was supposedly struck with Real Madrid's former president Ramon Calderon, who could soon be replaced by Florentino Perez and the latest spin on this particular story suggests that the Spanish club do not want Ronaldo because basically the deal would be too expensive.

So then we are being told that Madrid are talking to their lawyers in a bid to find a get out clause; well here's one for them, assuming for one moment that the document actually exists (which I personally seriously doubt) .... "The original deal would not have been legally binding because Ronaldo was still a United player and under contract".

The problem is sections of the media know full well they can create speculation without fear of any comeback, because from time to time the clubs will use the media to unsettle big star names. Real Madrid are world renowned for this typ of underhand scheming.

United fans are fully aware of Ronaldo's desire to join Real Madrid at some point, but as far as this summer goes it looks increasingly unlikely.

Over the next few weeks I will do my best to bring you the latest news on transfer speculation surrounding Manchester United, the worst rumour of the week will be well and truly slated as is the case with this latest effort from guillembalague.com.

King Eric keen to succeed Fergie

The smart money might be on Jose Mourinho to eventually step into Sir Alex Ferguson’s shoes at Old Trafford, but Eric Cantona has thrown his hat into the ring. The United legend who rammed in 82 goals in 185 appearances between 1992 and 1997 has revealed his desire to take up the United hot-seat.

"I will guide probably the strongest team in the world," said Cantona."I don't know how many years will go by before that happens but on the Manchester United bench my name is already written down. I'm not saying (Sir Alex) Ferguson will leave. I hope he will have eternal life with the Reds, I truly hope so. But for me the only alternative (to that of Manchester United) is guiding the England national team.

I like (England coach) Fabio Capello as a man and as a motivator. He transmits positive values. He is tough, precise and puts a lot of emphasis on attention to details. It's what was needed. But I can assure you that sooner or later you will see me guiding England because I have made history at Manchester United and I am number one."

The 43-year-old is currently coach of the French beach soccer side, but he seems keen to step up through the grades and put his legendary status as a player on the line. After collecting four league titles and two FA Cups in his time in the North-West, Cantona believes he is destined to return in the top job, but great players don’t always make good managers.

Just look at Bryan Robson. Captain Marvel was inspirational for United, and like Cantona, a cult hero, but his managerial career has been rather less successful. Indifferent spells at Middlesbrough, Bradford and West Brom have now seen Robson pack in the management game and take up the role of United's ambassador.

Robson's failings certainly might be something for Cantona to consider before he gets his feet under Fergie’s desk as it would almost certainly sour the memories of Cantona if he flopped in the hot-seat at Old Trafford.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rio injury fears as United enjoy stroll in the sun: Newcastle fans should sue Magpies...

So then, as expected, Newcastle and 'Boro have been relegated, few will have been that surprised at the outcome. In the wake of yet another truly awful performance the Messiah, aka Alan Shearer, said "we weren't good enough this season", how true.

Personally, I actually have some sympathy for the Newcastle fans - yes, many of them were guilty of forcing the club to part company with Sam Allardyce and so it could be argued they've in part brought relegation upon themselves. However, if our beloved Manchester United appointed a manager whose tactics included consistently lumping the ball down the park, we'd soon be demanding change. Every fan in the land wants to see their club playing "sexy football", but it isn't always possible for very obvious reasons, one being not every club can afford to buy Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Going into the final weekend of the season there were some who advocated suing Manchester United if the manager selected a "weakened team" against Hull City, but as expected that is precisely what happened. Ahead of United's biggest game of the season, Ferguson rested the players expected to start against Barcelona in the Champions League final - it was the right thing to do for Manchester United and frankly nothing else mattered.

The fact that the champions went on to beat Hull City, courtesy of Darron Gibson's first-half pile-driver left those looking for retribution with no avenue but to turn their guns on their own relegated clubs. Perhaps the disgruntled supporters of Newcastle should consider suing the players who so badly let themselves the club down. Newcastle's second-half performance against Aston Villa was pitiful, the accused were guilty of failing to comply with the "trades description act" because there was no pride or passion.

Manchester United can now concentrate of the big game in Rome, but worryingly there was no Rio Ferdinand at the heart of the champions defence against Hull City, clearly that omission suggests that Rio will not start against Barcelona. If Ferdinand fails to recover in time to face Barcelona it could well tip the balance of the final in favour of the Catalans’, because while Jonny Evans has done well, he doesn't have Rio's pace. Ferdinand is arguably the finest interceptor in the game; his biggest asset is that he cuts out danger before it turns into disaster for United. Whatever team Fergie selects, United fans will be hoping they put on a show and bring the trophy back to Manchester again. Bring it on.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

United's "weakened team" debate: North East clubs have themselves to blame...

Going into the final day of the season we've been hearing a lot of pre-match squealing emanating from the so-called "hot-bed of football" aka the North East, with talk of Manchester United being potentially sued if Fergie selects a "weakened side" on Sunday when the champions face Hull City. Aside from the fact that this threat will not come to fruition, it's worth pointing out that according to Sky's Andy Gray and Martin Tyler if two English clubs reached the Champions League Final, the Premier League would bring forward the last round of games by 24 hours. United have reached the final, but for whatever reason, the Premier League did not bring forward the last round of matches.

In response to the bleating, Fergie has promised to send out a strong team on Sunday, but anyone who believes the United manager will select many of the players likely to start next Wednesday's Champions League Final is to say the least deluded. Nonetheless, two clubs will be relegated on Sunday along with WBA and so we can expect the carping to continue for weeks and months ahead. It isn't surprising there's been so much debate about this particular issue given what is at stake, but supporters of the clubs in question really should take a long hard look at their own self-made mess before floating the ridiculous suggestion that Manchester United could be potentially sued.

Earlier this week the BBC Sport website published an article asking why the North East Premier League clubs have found themselves at the wrong end of the table as they stare relegation in the face ahead of the last day of the season. Several "experts" including local BBC match commentators were asked for their opinions, various insightful gems were put forward for the dire situation Newcastle, 'Boro, Sunderland and Hull find themselves in; "haven't won enough games" was one which springs to mind. However, it doesn't take an expert to point out that the real problem at especially Newcastle, Boro and Sunderland lies at the door of the club's owners'.

Newcastle parted company with one of the few managers who knows how to keep a club in England's top division without spending a king’s ransom - I refer to Sam Allardyce. Apparently, the playing style of the former Bolton manager didn't sit well with the Magpies - more fool them for getting rid. Like him or loathe him, Kevin Keegan, was another who fell out with Newcastle's owners and so he parted company. No one is to blame for the unfortunate illness as far as Joe Kinnear's is concerned.

In a bid to save themselves from relegation, to the glee of the Geordie nation another 'messiah' Alan Shearer was engaged, but given his lack of management experience you do wonder if this was a wise choice, even though it was definitely a popular one.

As far as 'Boro are concerned, here again they went for the popular choice when choosing to appoint a former player. It may well have been another crowd-pleaser, but personally I worry about anyone who is still sporting a mullet in 2009. Far worse, Southgate is another who lacked experience - wouldn't someone like Roy Hodgson have been a more sensible option?

The surprise appointment of Roy Keane at Sunderland was described by Niall Quinn as a "world-class", which was stretching the facts a bit given it was his first job. Keane will always be a Manchester United legend, he surprised many observers with his apparent touchline coolness, but all the time you wondered if the aggression which all too often manifested itself on the field of play was lurking just beneath this new found thin veneer of self-control. There's no doubt Keane did a fine job when leading the Black Cats to promotion, even if he achieved relative success too soon and perhaps he needed more time to learn the job.

When Keane eventually parted company with Sunderland it came as no great surprise, many viewed it as a car-crash waiting to happen and the jury remains out on the Irishman following his latest appointment at Ipswich. After much talking and with big names being linked to the Sunderland job, Ricky Sbragia was given the task of saving the club, having only assisted Sam Allardyce as first-team coach at Bolton for two years, here again he lacked experience and so it was another shot-in-the-dark.

Phil Brown is the exception where experience is concerned, before taking the post at Hull City, the Tigers' manager spent many years learning his trade as a number two, serving the likes of Sam Allardyce (six years) and Colin Todd. Given the relative size of Hull City compared to the three other North East clubs, Brown has done an exceptional job and if there's any justice Hull will remain in England's top division.

If Newcastle go down, as I expect, you do wonder what will become of the Magpies in the future, but let no one kid you they have brought relegation upon themselves.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

O'Shea vs Henry: A nightmare in prospect?

If like me you've been keeping an eye on Barcelona this season you will have no doubt have raised at least one eyebrow when Fergie announced that John O'Shea will definitely play in next Wednesday's show-piece Champions League Final, because the Irishman will be up against Thierry Henry who has been back to his best this season.

At home in the Camp Nou Barcelona have been destroying their opponents, often in the first twenty minutes, the Catalans movement, link up play and quick passing to feet is a joy to watch and the thought of O'Shea trying to shackle Henry is enough to send pre-match shivers down the spine.

To put it politely, O'Shea lacks pace, he is also slow on the turn and so he is not an ideal choice for the position of full-back. So is it a wise choice by Ferguson? The answer to that question is the United manager probably believes selecting O'Shea is his safest bet. Since his return to fitness Gary Neville has not been able to re-establish himself as a regular starter and he's lost at least a yard of pace, so he was never going to be a serious contender to start the final, not when the manager had other options. Rafael da Silva could have been selected, but clearly Fergie has gone for experience over youth.

But for some unusually poor decision making by the manager when allowing a talented youngster to leave the club, Fergie could have called upon one of Barcelona's player's of the year, because Gerard Pique has been in outstanding form this season. Fergie doesn't often get it wrong when selling young players, but allowing Pique to leave looks to be a major mistake on the part of the manager. You do wonder if Pique will make United live to regret that decision in the final.

It's also interesting to note that Fergie has been trying to make his life a little easier with the advance announcement that the likes of Park and O'Shea will start the final, though it's true to say the loss of Darren Fletcher has eased the manager's selection dilemmas somewhat. Still, you wonder how Fergie will approach this game, does the manager try to match Barcelona's free-flowing style by deploying a 4:3:3 formation or will he try to nullify the Catalans probing attacks by flooding midfield with a 4:5:1 with Ronaldo used as the lone striker?

The big problem with the latter formation is it will lead to Barcelona having the lion's share of possession because United would have just one forward and he won't be able to deny Barcelona's defenders time and space on the ball. Nonetheless, subject to injuries, I expect Fergie to start with the team that faced Arsenal at the Emirates in the semi-final with Giggs and Ferdinand coming in to replace the very unlucky Fletcher and Evans.

While United have the attacking players to worry any defence, this season's success has largely been built on the solid defensive partnership of Vidic and Ferdinand who have for the most part been immaculate. Ferdinand remains a major injury concern having been out of action for three weeks, but he says he is fit to play and that is precisely what I expect will happen, providing all goes well against Hull City this weekend when I expect him to start alongside Gary Neville.

While John O'Shea will have his work cut out stopping Henry, you do wonder how Patrice Evra will go about the unenviable task of snuffing out the threat of the quite brilliant Messi. One thing is nailed on, I expect Rooney to be detailed to help his full-back - personally I believe it should be Giggs who is given that job. I don't really like to see Rooney being wasted on defensive duties, but in fairness it has worked for Fergie, I just feel that United should be making more of Rooney's football talents in our opponents half, but his final ball is more often than not more accurate than the Welshman's, so here again there is some sense to Fergie's logic. Rooney is more likely to score from a central position too.

My preferred formation:


++++++++++++++++++++ Van der Sar

Rafael +++++++++++ Vidic +++++ Ferdinand+++++++ Evra

++++++++++++++++++++++ Carrick

++++++++++ +Park +++++ Anderson +++++ Giggs

++++++++++++++++++++++ Rooney

++++++++++++++++++++++ Ronaldo

The above formation would be flexible, in that I'd give Rooney a free role; When United are counter-attacking he would be the fulcrum supporting Ronaldo; When Barca have the ball Rooney would be expected to fill in right across midfield. I would almost always start with Carlos Tevez, but this game is an exception because Barcelona have dominated every opponent possession wise this season.

Barcelona are a tactical nightmare proposition for any opposing manager because the best made plans can quickly unravel if they score an early goal or two as has often been the case this season. However, Pep Guardiola has his own problems with the loss of his two first choice full-backs due to suspension and you do wonder if perhaps Fergie should therefore be concentrating more on giving the Catalan club more to think about from an attacking point of view rather than concentrating on containment as is likely to be the case. United could well win this final from set-pieces alone, because they should provide the greater aerial threat. All in all it promises to be an intriguing final. Let us hope United get the right result and it turns out to be a game to remember for the right reasons.

Fergie's probable team:
++++++++++++++++++++ Van der Sar

John O'Shea +++++++++++ Vidic +++++ Ferdinand+++++++ Evra

++++++++++++++++++++++ Carrick

++++++++++ +Park +++++ Anderson +++++ Giggs +++++ Rooney


++++++++++++++++++++++ Ronaldo

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Messi and Ronaldo to light up final

It seems fitting the Champions League final will take place between United and Barcelona because that's who Fergie believes possess the world's two most gifted footballers, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

While Ronaldo hasn't quite hit the heights of last year, and if he had we'd be questioning whether he was human or not, he has once again shone in the big games, while Messi has looked on a different planet to the rest of the dross in La Liga.

And it's no surprise that Sir Alex has singled the pair out ahead of next Wednesday's Rome showpiece.

Ferguson said: "There are some players, such as Kaka, Messi and Ronaldo who are innately gifted.

"But this is not enough, and there is a practice element which becomes very important.

"If you watch Cristiano Ronaldo, he practises after every squad training session, and quite a few others do the same.

"As a coach, we dedicate parts of the training to improving touch, movement, passing and speed of play, but the special quality, the detail, depends on the player being willing to sacrifice himself after training - this is a hallmark of the great players.

"If the big talents only rely on their natural ability, they won't have that extra edge. They must do something extra on their own".

When I think of the current generation, Lionel Messi is top level and, although he has never really taken my breath away, Kaka has impressed. Messi will almost certainly line up on the right wing against United and his battle with Patrice Evra will be one of the many highlights, but it will be interesting to see where Fergie decides to play Ronaldo in the Champions League final.

He played so effectively as a central striker in the semi-final second leg win over Arsenal and he could feature there again or Fergie might just go with Carlos Tevez with Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney either side of him.

United on brink of making major mistake over Tevez...

The other day I posted that United were in danger of being viewed as penny-pinchers over the future of fans favourite Carlos Tevez, just two days later we now read that according to the Sun, Liverpool are set to meet his owners' demands and have agreed a £26m fee.

United we are told, have been balking about paying a transfer fee of £24m, partly because the club had already shelled-out a hefty fee for the initial two year loan agreement with Kia Joorabchian, the representative of the player's owners. For his part, David Gill, United's CEO, has only served to cloud the issue by stating that any new deal would have to be "structured correctly,” and that the club will talk about the player's future again in June.

There was no ambiguity where Fergie is concerned on this issue because the other day he chipped in with “..everybody would be best served by a willingness to compromise". Make no mistake, the United manager was treading on dangerous ground here, because unusually for him, he appeared to be actually telling the Tevez camp to publicly lower their demands. Surely it would have been wiser if Fergie had not entered the debate on figures and left it to his chief executive.

Finger pointing aside, and IF the latest reports are true that Tevez is set to join Liverpool it will go down as one of the biggest mistakes in Ferguson's managerial career, one that could in all probability hand the title to the Merseyside Reds next season.

Just about every serious commentator agrees that allowing Tevez to leave United will be a major mistake, what's more the fans will be livid if it happens.

United have handled the Tevez affair badly and I now personally fully expect him to leave. The whole episode has been a total shambles and a public relations disaster with the manager openly telling his owners to reduce their asking price, which in turn has allowed a serious Premier League rival to step-in and all for the sake of a couple of million.

By the time David Gill gets round to talking to Kia Joorabchian again, chances are the deal with Liverpool will have been agreed, here again why did United have to wait until June? This in itself was sending out a coded message to the player that he wasn't wanted, because if the club was serious about signing Tevez the deal should have been done ASAP, but United dithered and now Liverpool have reportedly entered into negotiations.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Do United have a post Tevez plan? Because penny pinching doesn't win you trophies...

So then, let us for a minute imagine that Carlos Tevez and his owners' fail to agree a transfer fee, which is believed to be around £24m and United end up losing the Argentine, to lord save us, Liverpool or Manchester City (though the latter cannot be a serious option, can it?). If that happens it begs the question who on earth can replace Tevez, because many fans will agree that £24m seems quite modest given the player has delivered during his two year stint at the club.

Forget the amount United have already shelled out to Kia Joorabchian, which is largely an irrelevance, because the champions agreed that part of the deal at the outset. Over the course of the weekend David Gill confirmed that United want Tevez to stay and interestingly he used the words "If it can be structured correctly then yes we do want to sign Tevez", so if we ignore the exact fee at the moment you do wonder if part of the problem relates to how the fee will be actually paid, one presumes United would prefer to pay in instalments as is the way these days.

Some United fans would rather see the back of Berbatov rather than fans' favourite Carlos Tevez, because it is unlikely the Bulgarian is going to change a habit of a lifetime and transform into an all action Red hero.

With the danger of stating the obvious, it isn't my job to identify a potential replacement for Tevez and I'm glad that is the case. We hear that Valencia of Wigan is being lined up, but for crying out loud the lad has scored just three goals all season, this compares badly to Tevez who has so far notched 15, one more than Berbatov...what's more, will any of the seriously big clubs be knocking down Wigan's door to sign Valencia? I don't think so.

Knowing United, they'd end up paying close to £20m for the Wigan player and at that price we shouldn't be talking about taking a gamble, but the fact is, exactly as it has been with Nani, it would be a gamble. Why gamble at all when we already have the player the manager, players' and fans' want?

There has been rekindled talk of Benzema coming to United, but the Lyon president will demand in excess of £35m, so that is deal that looks unlikely to come off.

United of all clubs surely do not need to be reminded that penny-pinching does not lead to silverware in the trophy cabinet as Arsenal fans would agree.

Fergie has gone on record stating publicly that he has no plans to replace Tevez; we have to hope he has and that he's being coy - because one thing is for certain - if the Argentine is allowed to leave the club this summer United will not win the Premier League next season without signing a world class striker.

Champions target plastic treble as Fergie vows to continue....

United took on Arsenal needing just a solitary point to secure their third Premier League title in a row, in time honoured fashion they did it the hard way, because Saturday's clash was to say the least nerve-racking, in the end they crawled over the line and the 0-0 draw was a fair reflection of a game of few chances.

The fact that United did not put on a show in their final Old Trafford game in what has been a very long and hard season will have disappointed some fans, but others will surely concur that on reflection it was nonetheless a very sweet day knowing that every desperate Liverpool supporter will have been glued to their TVs hoping to see Arsenal nick a goal or two that would have kept the Merseyside Reds title hopes alive.

True enough United could have afforded to have lost against Arsenal providing they picked up at least a point against Hull City on the last day of the season, but no one really fancied a dog-fight just a few days before the Champions League final.

In his post-match interview Fergie made it clear that he is not for retiring just yet as he went to talk about winning yet more silverware. Quite where United would be without Ferguson is a question the fans might ask themselves from time to time, because what he has done for the club is nothing short of remarkable and it's equally remarkable that his desire to keep on winning looks as strong as ever. When you see Fergie during the match, he gives the impression he is kicking every ball, his thirst for yet more trophies has yet to be sated.

For those like Benitez who have ideas of putting one over on Fergie by rubbing his nose in it, remember the United manager has seen them come and go before without fulfilling that pledge. United fans may well recall former Leeds United manager David 'my young boys' O'Leary, saying "I am looking forward to kicking Fergie's ass next season", only for him to get the sack not long after.

The next big challenge for Fergie and his team is the Champions League final against Barcelona later this month. The Catalan club secured their domestic title at the weekend. United may well be ruing missing out on the opportunity of winning another treble, but in truth an FA Cup final against Chelsea would have given the players a test they could really have done without prior to facing such difficult opponents in Rome.

United can still win a treble of sorts, but it's only plastic and comprises of the Fizzy pop League Cup, the Premier League and the Champions League. The World Club Cup is nothing more than a trinket and so while being as labelled World Champions sounds good it isn't really a serious competition, even if it admittedly sounds good.

Friday, May 15, 2009

United preparing for more glory: Liverpool set to lose domestic kings crown...

I had to laugh at a BBC blogger last week who used the headline "Manchester United target elite clubs", because while I'll admit I clicked on the link, largely out of curiosity, the underlying thrust of the ridiculous story was that United are not currently apart of Europe's elite and by winning the Champions League this season (yes, that will be the same one many Liverpool fans have been running down ever since it was changed to a league format) they will join a select group of clubs who have won the Champions League four times.

The article in question smacked of being composed by a desperate Liverpool supporter, one who is clinging on to the hope Liverpool will continue to lord it over United in terms of the number times they've won Europe's premier club competition.

Prior to Fergie taking the helm at Old Trafford United supporters had to endure more than two decades without winning the league title, while for pretty much all of that period Liverpool were collecting silverware for fun. Much to the annoyance of United fans the media were always quick to remind them that the Merseyside Reds were "England's most successful club".

After this weekend and providing United do not lose against Arsenal, Liverpool and their friends in the media won’t be able to describe them as England's most successful club - not on the domestic front at any rate - United will have won as many League titles and more FA cups than our old friends from the wrong end of the East Lancs Road.

I make no apologies for sounding like a desperate United fan who is hoping we can turn the tables on the scousers, what's more I'm hoping Fergie goes on to complete the job by fulfilling his promise to win the Champions League twice more before he calls it a day and interestingly the manager has this week stated he is not interested in equalling records only breaking them.

As things stand it looks likely Liverpool will finish the season on 86 points, which in another season might have been enough to have won them the trophy for the first time, the fact is the Merseyside club blew it at Anfield where they've drawn too many games, they also failed to capitalise when United travelled to Japan for the contentious FIFA World Club Cup.

Liverpool will in all probability once again end the season potless, it is to be hoped United go on to secure the league title and Champions League to make it a thoroughly miserable season end for the increasingly desperate scousers, because this is payback.

Tevez saga no nearer a resolution

The ongoing Carlos Tevez saga, will he or won't he sign a contract with United seems no clearer despite Fergie's post-match comments on Wednesday.

The United boss suggested David Gill had met with Tevez's representatives and placed a contract offer on the table but immediately that was denied by Tevez's advisor Kia Joorabchian.

A statement read: "It is true (chief executive) David Gill came to see Mr Joorabchian and they had a cordial meeting.

"It is categorically untrue that Manchester United made an offer to try to persuade Carlos Tevez to stay at the club.

"In 2007 Manchester United agreed a two-year loan deal for Carlos Tevez and at the same time agreed the terms that would make the transfer permanent.

"They have not taken up that option."

Regardless of whether the Argentinian loanee remains at Old Trafford the speculation certainly has not affected his form. Tevez was inspirational for United as he climbed off the bench to grab the equaliser in the 2-1 win over Wigan.

Fergie, who previously had not seemed fully behind Tevez, made it clear he wants him to say - if his post-match quotes at The JJB are to be believed, but the sticking point appears to be as ever a financial one.

Sir Alex and United are understandably unwilling to line the pockets of Joorabchian, who somehow owns the rights to Tevez.

"The fact we're not negotiating with a football club is the problem - we'll see," added the gaffer.

Why on earth the Premier League did not sort out the problems with Tevez's registration when he arrived at West Ham is a mystery and it seems Gill and co are now left with that dirty job.

There will also be no shortage of suitors for Tevez - a fact which Joorabchian is mindful of and he seems intent on making as much profit as possible.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tevez rescues United again while Ronaldo gives cause for concern...

Manchester United very nearly paid a high price for some poor finishing at Wigan last night after Rodallega had given Steve Bruce's side a first-half lead. Referee Rob Styles and his linesmen were also guilty of some poor decision making because between they denied United a penalty, they also gave the home team the benefit of doubt on offside decisions when Ronaldo and second-half hero Carlos Tevez were clean through on goal.

Contrary to the views of Sky's Andy Gray and Martin Tyler, Styles did not have a great game, because not only did the referee and his assistants get some big decisions wrong, the man-in-the-middle was also guilty of continually allowing Rodallega to use his arms in a bid to hold down Vidic in aerial duels for most of the game, which in part led to the home to taking a first-half lead. The neutrals (sic) and millions of on-looking Liverpool fans would no doubt concur it made for a good contest and as things turned it did, that was until Fergie did what he should have done from the very start, that is he sent Carlos Tevez into battle.

The ineffective Paul Scholes made way for Tevez, but in truth the Argentine could have replaced just about anyone in the red shirt including Rooney, Berbatov or Ronaldo. Tevez brought United level just three minutes after entering the action with a brilliant back-heel; it was an improvised piece of skill executed in the blink of the eye.

While there was much to admire about the equalising goal it isn't stretching the facts to state that United's play improved following the introduction of the Argentine. The catalyst for United's increased tempo was once again the little man from Buenos Aires. United's travelling army of fans predictably implored Ferguson to sign Tevez on, quite right too.

Michael Carrick secured the points with a cool finish after great work by John O'Shea, who must take great credit for his raid into the Wigan penalty area and then supplying the pass which led to a sweet finish from the England midfield star.

In his post-match interview Ferguson appeared to hint that Tevez has been offered good terms by the club for next season. The United manager also said that the club were trying to negotiate with the player's owners but nothing was concrete at this stage.

It beggars belief that even after saving United against Wigan and Spurs recently, some United supporters cannot appreciate the worth of Tevez, because sadly and quite unbelievably that still appears to be the case judging by national phone-ins, if indeed that is any kind of reliable indicator.

One worrying aspect of this game was the link-up play between Berbatov and Ronaldo, it was good at times, but on other occasions the Portuguese star didn't appear to want to run for the Bulgarian's return pass and more than once it led to both players holding their arms aloft at each other by way of making a protest.

In the wake of recent and continued criticism directed towards the Bulgarian, United have been trying to take the heat off Berbatov following his pathetic penalty miss against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final. We the fans have been told that the players "like to play alongside Berbatov", well as far as Ronaldo was concerned that did not look to be the case at times against Wigan.

Ronaldo recently came out strongly and said Manchester United need to keep their best players and Carlos Tevez is one of them. You wonder if Ronaldo's relationship with Berbatov is becoming strained and if so, are we starting to see evidence of this on the pitch? Fergie cannot allow players to throw their proverbial teddy-bears out of the pram on the field of play. United look set to retain the title providing we can take at least a point from the games with Arsenal and Hull City then we face Barcelona in Rome.

If United are going to become the first club to retain the Champions League trophy they will need to play like a team for the whole game and we cannot afford to have players openly arguing with each other while the final is in progress, anything less than 100% effort will lead to defeat.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

United's betrayal of Carlos Tevez...

United supporters will awake to the news that the Premier League's biggest diver has collected a prestigious award. As if that isn't enough to turn your stomach there's even worse news because according to reports Carlos Tevez could join the comedy club aka Manchester City or worse still Liverpool this summer.

The latest speculation suggests that the Argentine could be tempted with a move to Eastlands on the promise of leading City in pursuit of Premier League glory next season - the later is a fairy tale that Hans Christian Anderson would be proud of and one would assume Tevez isn't stupid enough to believe the increasingly desperate hype that surrounds the laughingly known self-styled "biggest club in the world". It's unlikely that City will be playing in Europe next season and surely any top player with serious ambitions would not join a tin-pot club just for money, especially when the said player is hot-property.

Talk of Tevez moving to Liverpool is a serious option, what's more Fergie would be powerless to stop it from happening. Last month the United manager went on record stating that he has told the player repeatedly that there's not much more he can do. We the fans are left to assume that for whatever reason United's money men have been unable to sanction this move.

In fairness to the club David Gill has backed the manager in the transfer market and by default we the fans have to accept begrudgingly that so have the club's owners even if it's not with their own money, but that was until now, because you do wonder if this is the first concrete signs of the credit-crunch having a direct effect on the Glazer family and Manchester United. Even before the credit-crunch gripped the nation, United and the Glazers' were already in debt to the tune of some £650m+. If Fergie's hands haven't been tied with regard to spending, then why is the club appearing to dither and back-track over promises to the player?

Interestingly, in response to yet more questions about the future of Tevez the United manager said he has no replacements in mind, he has also hinted there will be no big signings this summer when saying "We have a big squad and I can honestly say there's no one we've identified we want to bring here at the moment". You can never tell if Fergie is playing a game of bluff, but if he's being true to his word and if Tevez leaves then United will be short of a world-class forward.

As things stand the club looks as though they are guilty of breaking promises, many supporters are unhappy about the handling of the Tevez deal and want to see the player sign on the dotted line before Liverpool make their move, if the latter happens United will look like a bunch of incompetent shylocks.

The prospect of seeing Tevez playing in the red shirt of Liverpool against United is one which will fill the fans and probably the manager too with dread and it must not be allowed to happen.

Some fans are so unhappy they have started a petition to sign the player.
Sign the Carlos Tevez petition

Monday, May 11, 2009

UEFA luddites: Are video replays a complete waste of time?...

So then after UEFA initially hinted that they might overturn the red card that was wrongly issued to Darren Fletcher against Arsenal they have now decided that the original decision stands. UEFA's decision is disappointing if not entirely unexpected.

The decision to give Fletcher the red card has been widely criticised, because it was plainly a poor one, but having made some conciliatory noises which gave the player hope that they might rescind the ban on compassionate grounds it seems that the faceless suits of UEFA have backtracked.

We have to assume that UEFA decided not to intervene because it might have set a precedent for the future. United's Champions League final opponents have been hit even harder than the holders because Barcelona's Eric Abidal and Dani Alves will both miss the final after their respective appeals failed.

As far as Eric Abidal is concerned the ban is equally as harsh as the case of Darren Fletcher. Dani Alves had no real hope of his ban being rescinded given his suspension is based on the number of yellow cards being brandished in his direction.

However, in the cases of Fletcher and Abidal UEFA have got it badly wrong, the fans and clubs alike want to see justice done when the need arises, but when the referee makes a glaring mistake as in these two cases then video evidence after the event should be studied and if necessary action needs to be taken in the name of justice and fair play.

By rejecting the appeals of Fletcher and Abidal UFEA has shown no compassion and what's more European football's governing body will be viewed as 21st century Luddites for which Michel Platini should hold his head in shame.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pathetic City crushed: Liverpool knocked off top spot, title race effectively over..

Fergie enjoys nothing more than knocking Liverpool off their fu*king perch, his team did that again today when they reclaimed top spot in the Premier League and it's highly likely United will now go on to secure their third title in a row.

The Merseyside Reds had briefly taken an overnight lead in the title race, albeit on goal difference, thanks to a pathetic performance by West Ham United which saw Liverpool win out three nil in East London yesterday. In response the champions crushed the self proclaimed "biggest club in the world" aka Manchester City, thanks to first-half goals by Cristiano Ronaldo and want-away fans favourite Carlos Tevez.

Ahead of today's Manchester derby at Old Trafford, Rafa Benitez had said he hoped to be going into next weekend's fixtures on top of the table, it might well have been a tongue in cheek comment by the Liverpool manager because he knew full well how important today's result was at Old Trafford, nonetheless it's a nice feeling knowing the smug smile has been well and truly wiped off his face.

The Spaniard knew that if City didn't take at least a point off their neighbours then the game was up for them, because United now need just four points from their three remaining games. Next up United face Wigan Athletic on Wednesday followed by Arsenal next Saturday at Old Trafford when in all probability they will be crowned champions, only a disaster and or divine intervention will deny Ferguson and his team now.

It has been an excellent week for United and their supporters, because in the space of just a few days the club has dealt mortal blows to Arsenal and Liverpool, the icing on the cake was rubbing City's nose in it.

As for today's action it was all at little too easy for United and no doubting City's poor performance will have annoyed their own supporters and ABUs alike. Ronaldo scored a regulation free-kick and Carlos Tevez scored a beauty after good work by still-in-the-doghouse Dimitar Berbatov.

Sadly it looks increasingly likely that United's Argentine star is set to leave the club following yet more hints to the press today in which he clearly stated that he is reluctantly preparing to say goodbye to the champions and its supporters who have taken him to heart.

If United do not manage to broker a deal with Tevez and his owners then I have no doubt the club will live to regret his departure because according to the latest rumours the former West Ham striker wants to move to a Premier League rival, the thought of Tevez playing against United is frankly unthinkable. Fergie, Fergie sort it out before it is too late.

Bitter Blues looking to dent United's title hopes.

United are set to take on the Bitters, aka Manchester City, the Citizens fortunes have turned around of late following wins over Everton, Blackburn, West Brom and Hamburg, so it should be a decent game, especially if Mark Hughes selects his flare players; I refer to Robinho and Elano.

For their part, United need to keep on winning after Liverpool predictably rolled over West Ham United, thus ensuring the pressure remains on the champions. I didn't expect anything less from Liverpool (or West Ham), who only have to play West Brom and Spurs. The "Merseyside Reds" will go on to take all six points from those games which means that United have to take seven points from their four remaining games.

With every victory United take a giant step towards the title and so while winning today is not essential - in mathematical terms at least anyway - it is a derby and so winning really does matter. In many ways as far as today's derby is concerned the title race is secondary. Putting City in their place is paramount, a thumping win always give you a nice Monday morning glowing feeling - let's hope the champions can heap more misery on the blues and the on looking Scousers.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

It's Barcelona vs United: Poetic justice done as cheating Chelsea bite the dust...

I wonder how many neutral supporters like me fell off the sofa laughing and cheering when Andres Iniesta fired Barcelona into the Champions League final deep into added time at Stamford Bridge? As far as I was concerned justice was done - by far the best team over two legs won and only one of them played like the home team in both semi-final legs, it wasn't those who play in Blue.

Forget about Chelsea's debatable penalty claims, but I honestly wouldn't personally have given any of them. The fact is Didier Drogba - as a great a player as he undoubtedly is - has to be the biggest cheat in the Premier League, only Steven Gerrard runs him close when it comes to diving in the penalty area. There was one second-half occasion when the Ivorian went down clutching his head when replays clearly showed there had been no contact with the lump of wood that rests between his shoulder blades. Don't get me wrong, I really like Drogba, but his antics are annoying to say the least.

It wasn't surprising that the Barcelona bench accused Drogba of cheating when waving those imaginary yellow cards at him following another attempt at conning the referee. Drogba doesn't need to cheat; he is good enough to win games without resorting to that.

It also wasn't that surprising that Sky's largely pro Chelsea pundit panel slaughtered the Norwegian referee when saying "how many big games does he get?” I personally founded those comments distasteful and insulting. The referee had a really difficult job controlling this game, with Drogba looking to fall over like a sack of spuds at any given moment - only for him to then get back up onto his feet and start charging around the pitch again. So I wasn't that surprised that the Norwegian didn't give a penalty to Chelsea, I was actually more surprised that the Ivorian wasn't booked for simulation. One of our rank bad English referees would no doubt have caved-in on the night under pressure, but the Norwegian stood firm, in my opinion he deserves much credit for that.

According to Graeme Sounnes, the biggest penalty claim was Gerard Pique's "handball". The former Liverpool and Rangers manager said "the direction of the ball clearly changed", yes Graeme it clearly did change direction, because it hit his arm - but his arm never moved towards the ball - that is the important bit. Rules are open to interpretation and on this occasion it went Barca's way, on another day with a weak referee in charge I have no doubt Chelsea would have been awarded at least one of those penalty claims, but Tom Henning Ovrebo did not fold like a cheap suit.

It was by no means a perfect performance by the Norwegian referee, he wrongly sent off Eric Abidal and he could just as easily have awarded Barcelona a penalty for a trip on Messi, Ballack and Drogba should have been red carded too, for their disgraceful antics at the end of the game.

I'm really glad Barcelona are through to the final, this is for several reasons. I didn’t want to see the same two teams in the final this year; that would have been bad for the competition. I also didn't want to give Chelsea the opportunity of avenging last year's defeat in Moscow, I also cannot stand Ashley Cole and the thought of him goading United in Rome if the final went pear-shaped is a vision of hell I can live without.

Losing to Barcelona is the more acceptable option out of the two in a worst-case scenario, but I also happen to believe United can beat the Catalans and what's more it will be far more entertaining that watching Chelsea booting the ball into the stratosphere with their rugger style of football.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Mobile Ron too hot to handle

Ronaldo has admitted he was back to his best after dismantling Arsenal's Champions League hopes on Tuesday night. And who can argue with the United forward after he blasted two goals to help Fergie's men to a comfortable 3-1 success and 4-1 aggregate win over the Gunners.

Asked if he is now at his peak, he told ITV1: "I think so, yes.

"In the last few games I have felt good, felt fit. This is a crucial time in the season and the best games are coming."

Ronaldo, who netted 42 times last season, has had his critics this term with pundits and fans alike suggesting his mind was not focused with reports of a move to Real Madrid hitting the news headlines.

But since the turn of the year he has scored 14 times and he was in scintillating form as he hammered home an astonishing 40-yard free-kick before finishing a sweeping counter-attack with a confident finish with Ji-Sung Park also on the scoresheet.

But it was Ronaldo's movement and mobility that had Arsenal's rearguard in a flap. Sir Alex opted to use Wayne Rooney down the left with Park operating in a similar role down the right and Ronaldo as the central striker. However, Ronaldo was deployed in far from a conventional manner and his willingness to come deep and collect the ball and roam wide into the channels meant that Arsenal's centre-back pairing of Johan Djourou and Kolo Toure were often left with nobody to mark.

The pair of them were unwilling to follow Ronaldo around the park and then when he did get in and around the penalty area his movement often allowed him time and space on the ball. In truth both Rooney and Park once again put in heroic performances and their ability to interchange positions along with their undoubted workrate meant that Arsenal never got to grips with the champions.

United were simply a class apart, not just at The Emirates but in the first leg at Old Trafford as well and it's a safe football bet that they thoroughly deserve their place in the Rome showpiece.

Ronaldo guns down sorry Arsenal as ref spoils party...

When all of the pre-match talking stopped and it came down to the action it soon became clear that Arsenal were not - as their manager had confidently predicted - going to the Champions League final in Rome later this month, as the Red Devils went on to crush the Gunners in the opening eleven minutes of what turned out to be a scintillating performance by Manchester United who strode to a comfortable 3-1 win on the night thanks to Park's early opening goal and a stunning brace from Ronaldo.

The only sour note on an otherwise great night for Ferguson was the red card wrongly issued to Darren Fletcher which led to a late consolation Arsenal penalty. United are hoping once the referee sees footage of the incident, he will ask UEFA to overturn the resulting ban.

In the wake of the first-leg defeat at Old Trafford last week the Arsenal manager put on a public show of faith in his players, that was despite the fact that he'd just witnessed his team narrowly avoid a first-half beating. Somewhat uncharacteristically in the following days leading up to second-leg, Wenger continued to talk-up the Gunners prospects of turning the tie around. However, all the pre-match talk of unity, togetherness and confidence from the Frenchman evaporated in an emotionally charged Emirates atmosphere in the opening minutes as United went for Arsenal's jugular.

The man who was most responsible for Arsenal's destruction was Cristiano Ronaldo, who showed exactly why he was voted the world's number one. United supporters love affair with Ronaldo has been on the wane following his courtship with Real Madrid, but to his credit he remains United's top goal-scorer, and that is despite the fact many believe he has been playing with the proverbial handbrake on throughout much of the season.

Against Arsenal last night we saw the real Ronaldo, he was at his menacing best and the Gunners had no answer to his blistering pace and power. Ronaldo created Park's opening goal, albeit one that was aided by an unfortunate slip by Gibbs - you do wonder if the Gunners groundstaff had been busily watering the pitch beforehand, because United's South Korean winger also slipped has he flicked the ball over the advancing Almunia in the Arsenal goal.

Ronaldo doubled United's advantage on the night following the award of a debatable free-kick on eleven minutes when firing beyond Almunia from fully forty-one yards, the second goal effectively killed the tie stone-dead as a serious contest. United continued to create chances, while at the other end Edwin van der Sar barely had a shot to save.

United were the dominant force throughout this semi-final, but it wasn't until the second-half that they went on to score the goal that they deserved and one which was worthy of winning any competition. Ronaldo, Park and Rooney linked-up as the champions launched a stunning counter-attack which ended with the Portuguese world player of the year nearly ripping out the rigging in Almunia's goal.

In his post-match interview, Arsene Wenger complained about the free-kick which led to the second goal when saying that the referee had a bad game. The Arsenal manager went to suggest that Italian officials are whistle happy, which is somewhat ironic given the Frenchman has often called for more protection for his own players - but in fairness, the Arsenal manager also stated that Darren Fletcher was very unlucky to be red carded. Wenger also congratulated United on the win when paying Fergie and his team his biggest compliment to date, when wishing them well in the final and conceding that they'd punished every mistake his team had made on what he described as a disappointing night.

Despite the manner of the defeat Wenger refused to criticise his young players and here again he deserves great credit because his belief in his squad is absolute. Against the odds the Arsenal manager had done his level best to try to convince everyone and importantly his own players that they were good enough to beat a more experienced United team, but despite deploying virtually every trick in the book - which included the Gunners giving away flags to every supporter - it wasn't to be.

For their part United fans will rightly believe that this result had been coming, because on too many occasions the champions have been on the wrong end of bad fortune and poor refereeing decisions when playing at the Emirates and Highbury over the last few seasons.

Fergie also deserves to be congratulated because many United fans will not have agreed with the manager's decision to leave out Carlos Tevez when selecting Park in preference, but once again the manager proved his doubters wrong with a near faultless performance from his players.

So United will now meet either Chelsea or Barcelona; my head says it will be Chelsea, but United vs Barca could be a great final.

Man of the match: Ronaldo.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

United linked to the Jewel of French football......

Here we go again, the summer transfer window will open in just a few weeks time and not surprisingly we are starting to read stories linking new players to United. The latest big name to be linked with the club is "the Jewel of French football", Franck Ribéry, according to the Guardian, United will break the world transfer record for the French winger with an offer that is likely to exceed £63m - as if that figure isn't far-fetched enough, the Guardian goes on to suggest that the move will trigger a move to Real Madrid for Ronaldo.

United fans will be wondering if this is another example of media kite flying on what has been an otherwise quiet news day - seasoned observers know full well the media can create transfer speculation without fear of any comeback, what's more it sells papers, so what are the chances of this latest transfer talk actually becoming a reality?...

Fergie went on record at the weekend saying that United had no replacements for Carlos Tevez in mind; he also rubbished talk of the champions paying silly money for Kaka. The fact is Fergie cannot reveal his transfer plans for obvious reasons and so the manager has to remain tight-lipped about any potential summer moves, but while many fans will go along with the manager's denial about Kaka it seems unthinkable that Fergie does not have a plan in place sans Tevez, should the Argentine eventually move on.

As far as Ronaldo is concerned, here again we cannot rule out a summer move to Real Madrid and that's despite the fact that the Portuguese star was quoted at the weekend saying "the Real Madrid dream is over".

So what are we to make of the Franck Ribéry story? My own view is file it under unlikely, because for starters I do not see United paying £63m for any player. There's no doubt the Bayern Munich player is hot property and he is one of the few who regularly matches his star billing with consistent performances, but I wouldn't rule out Franck Ribéry moving to Real Madrid, who are club in complete turmoil following the hammering by rival's Barcelona at the weekend.

My money is on Tevez agreeing a deal to stay at United and I wouldn't rule out Ronaldo staying too, if that happens forget about Franck Ribéry. Even if United lose Tevez, I do not see the Frenchman singing for the club this summer.

Arsenal talking the talk, but can they walk the walk?..

I can certainly understand Arsenal feeling confident going into what has been described by many as the biggest game in the careers of several young Gunners'. The champions have yet to win at Arsenal's new stadium and the North London club have been in excellent form of late, but you do wonder if there's been a bit too much talk emanating out of the Arsenal camp ahead of the Champions League semi-final second-leg against Manchester United at the Emirates tonight.

Former United defender Silvestre went as far as suggesting his former team-mates will not be looking forward to this meeting given previous results between the two clubs in London, the word "fear" was used.

United perhaps should have put the tie to bed at Old Trafford in the first-leg, immediately after that game Arsene Wenger was said to be in confident mood about his club's prospects of reaching the final, but given his team's performance on the night it was suggested the Frenchman's reaction was one of relief rather than being based on logic given how many chances United had squandered.

For their part, United may well feel that they've been extremely unfortunate not to have won on previous visits to the Emirates, they may well believe that they are overdue a victory. In contrast to several Arsenal players talking about what they are going to do, the United camp has been fairly quiet and to be honest I for one am happy about that because we've heard too many big name stars talking the talk what ahead of important Champions League games down the years only for the said players to then let themselves down.

United need to defend properly and take their chances if that happens we will probably meet Chelsea in the final. Whatever happens let's hope it turns out to be a match worthy of the final itself with no controversy.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

United pile pressure on Liverpool...

Manchester United went down to the Riverside on Saturday and strolled to a comfortable two-nil win over relegation threatened Middlesbrough, thanks to goals from player of the year Ryan Giggs and Park. It was the first time in weeks that United had played before their bitter rivals Liverpool, and the result means the Merseyside Reds are six points behind the champions. Much has been made of Liverpool's superior goal difference, but that has now been wiped out. Later today Newcastle play Liverpool at Anfield and you do wonder if the pressure will lead to points being dropped the Merseyside club.

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