Wednesday, December 28, 2011

United keep pressure on City ahead of busy month of action ...

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In this festive update, we look forward to the New Year and assess the champions recent improvement on the pitch as well as United's prospects of retaining the title.

United have been in fine festive form scoring 10 goals without reply. Fulham were the first to be dispatched at Craven Cottage, where the champions ran out comfortable five-nil winners. Ferguson will have been very pleased to see the names of five different goal scorers. The contest was effectively over at half-time when the score was 3-0. Rooney and Berbatov chipped in with late goals to add to those scored in a scintillating first-half by Welbeck, Nani and Giggs.

Despite a catalogue of injury problems facing the manager, United put on the style for the fans' with a repeat performance on Boxing Day at Old Trafford where Wigan were the visitors. Dimitar Berbatov - United's very own Panto villain, was the hat-trick goal scoring star of the show. The Bulgarian striker was the club's top goalscorer last season, but he has fallen down the pecking-order behind Hernandez and Welbeck.

Not surprisingly, there has been much talk of a possible move to another club for last season's top goal-scorer - but for now at least - he is still a United player - one who is blessed with a silky touch and an eye for goal. One thing is for certain, Berbatov's goals will help United when it comes to negotiations in relation to any transfer fee...

Park Ji-sung and Antonio Valencia were also on target against Wigan. United's South Korean star opened the scoring following a superb driving run into the Wigan penalty area by Patrice Evra.

Evra has in the eyes of many observers, fallen well short of expectations over recent weeks, amidst talk that the Frenchman is 'lazy' - ironically, we never heard those claims when he was playing consistently well for the club. No matter, Evra will hopefully continue where he left off against Wigan.

While Berbatov and Evra have rightly been praised for their efforts, we shouldn't forget Antonio Valencia and Michael Carrick - both were asked to play out of position due to Ferguson's injury problems. Against Wigan, United were without Ferdinand, Smalling, Vidic and Jones at the back.

Despite the fact that Rafael was on the bench, Ferguson opted to start with Valencia at rightback - where he was superb, while Carrick played alongside Evans.

Carrick, has of late, been receiving glowing reviews from his manager - but it hasn't always been like this, far from it. Carrick has at times been out of favour with Ferguson, but due to what could potentially be a long-term illness to Darren Fletcher, the former West Ham and Spurs midfield man has become more important. But against Wigan, Carrick demonstrated his versatility  and with some aplomb.

United's injury problems have been a tale of woe this season - those problems were made all the greater when Jonny Evans sustained a calf-injury mid-way through the game on Boxing Day, which led to another re-shuffle and an unlikely central defensive partnership of Evra and Carrick.

With so many injuries, Ferguson will no doubt have been thankful that the opposition wasn't as tough as it could have been. For the record, United have met Wigan 14 times and the champions have ran out winners on each occasion.

Hopefully, both Jones and Smalling will return in time for United's home game with Blackburn on New Year's Eve.

As a result of Man City dropping two points at West Brom, United pulled level at the top of the table. Not surprisingly, December's improvement on the pitch has led to revived talk of United finishing the season on top, but until the win over QPR earlier in the month, the champions have been blowing hot and cold and all too often, when doing 'just enough' to win games.

It is turning into a season of highs and lows. It doesn't get any lower than losing 6-1 at home in the derby and then of course United suffered the embarrassment of not reaching the knockout stage of the Champions League - in what was by common consensus an easy group from which to qualify.

The fact that United have been knocked out of Europe's elite club competition, appears if anything, to have spurred on the players' and the manager too - let us hope December's improvement continues well into the New Year...

Despite currently sharing top spot with City as we head towards the turn of the year, we know the big prizes are not decided until May - ergo, being top counts for very little at that this very early stage...

Looking ahead to January's fixtures, many pundits will surely concur that this could potentially be a defining month for the Champions. United have difficult looking games at Newcastle, Man City (away in the FA Cup), another derby at Old Trafford (of sorts) with Bolton, plus a tough looking assignment in North London with Arsenal. In the first two weeks of February, United take on Chelsea (away) and then Liverpool (home). United will then face Ajax in the much derided Europa League before the difficult looking trip to Carrow Road at the end of February.

The beginning of March sees United travelling to White Hart Lane where they will face red-hot, Spurs.

In marked contrast to United, with the exception of Arsenal, City have played the big guns away from home. City's remaining fixtures include away games at Norwich, Arsenal and Newcastle.

At Eastlands City have league games with Liverpool, Chelsea and United, but Roberto Mancini's record at home is the best in the division and given their fixture list, Man City are likely to remain the bookies favourites to win the Premier League.

Some City fans are concerned about the absence of Yaya Toure, who will miss the home game with Spurs and the away trip to Everton, plus the second semi-final leg of the Carling Cup with Liverpool due to the African Cup of Nations. But City's squad is without doubt the strongest in the division, surely they will cope without Yaya Toure?

No matter how well City perform, if United are still in contention following that Spurs game at the beginning of March at White Hart Lane then that will be the time to talk about the possibility of retaining the title.

Without any shadow of doubt, United have a much more difficult looking fixture list when compared to City and course they haven't suffered with injuries.

Coming up soon. We will be looking at Ferguson's future in relation Jose Mourinho's very interesting Boxing Day comments about coming back to manage in England and what that might mean for United. We will also be blogging about United's widely acknowledged midfield problems; recent talk of another contract extension for veteran Ryan Giggs has served, in part, to highlight those issues. It is widely accepted that Ferguson needs to add at least one world-class central midfield player to his squad, but when will this happen?...that's all coming up in the next few weeks.


  1. I really like your blog! All of your posts are wonderful, and I absolutely love Man U! Thanks so much for keeping all of your readers like me in touch with what happens in the world of soccer.

  2. Good blog, but very anti Fergie I must say.


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