Friday, April 29, 2011

Da Silva twins to play big part in the run-in?....

The Premier League's ridiculous fixture schedule, will as ever, do nothing to help United become the next winners of the Champions League. Thankfully, United did a thoroughly professional job on Schalke in midweek in the first-leg of the semi-final when winning comfortably with a well deserved two-nil victory over the Germans.

It's a good job that United already have one foot in the Champions League final, because either side of the second leg, the Reds travel to Arsenal on Sunday and the following weekend the league leaders face second placed Chelsea in what is likely to be a make or break game for the West London club. If United win on Sunday at Arsenal, then United could actually clinch an historic 19th league title against Chelsea the following weekend.

The dilemma facing Ferguson ahead of three truly massive games, is how best to juggle his resources. So far this season, with the odd exception, Ferguson has done a remarkable job and he's nearly always come up with the right team for the right opponents. The recent home game with Arsenal was a perfect example; the United manager started with the Da Silva twins in midfield - a decision which brought gasps of exasperation from some commentators, but in truth it was the obvious decision because the two young Brazilians are more suited to playing in midfield rather than the more restrictive position of fullback. Fabio scored the opening goal against Arsenal and the twins played a big part in United's second goal.

So the question for Fergie - and for that matter United fans too - is what can we expect in the remaining games of the season and of course everyone is talking about the prospect of United facing Barcelona at Wembley in the Champions League final.

Should United go on to reach Wembley, how will Ferguson try to combat Barca's free-flowing passing game? As we saw in midweek, the master tactician Jose Mourinho and his Real Madrid team were taken apart at the seams and once again it was "the Flea" aka Messi was the one who did the damage.

It goes without saying that few teams get the better of Barcelona; Jose Mourinho and Inter Milan did it in last season's Champions League semi-final by parking the proverbial bus on the line. However, United don't really know how to play defensively, it isn't the club's DNA. The 2010-2011 final could be a repeat of the 2009 final in which United lost two-nil. It could have been so different if United had taken advantage of their early dominance in the Rome final, but after Samuel Eto'o gave the Catalans' the lead United simply did not respond.

If United are stand any chance against Barcelona, then the Premier League leaders will have to match Guardiola's team in midfield - which is easier said that done. One thing is for certain, surely Paul Scholes will not be in the starting eleven because he no longer has the pace to live with the likes of Messi, Iniesta and Xavi; indeed few players are capable of matching the energy of the aforementioned trio.
If Ferguson wants to match the movement and energy of Barcelona in midfield then he could well turn to the Da Silva twins, both are mobile, both can tackle, pass, and shoot. The young Brazilians could in fact be the answer but will Ferguson make what many will say is a gamble and put his trust in these two exceptional young talents?
Watch this space, but don't be surprised if we see the Da Silva twins facing Arsenal on Sunday.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

CL Final beckons for United, providing Reds don't slip on Schalke banana skin...

The Champions League final beckons for Manchester United once again, Bundesliga outfit Schalke stand in the Premier League leaders way. United warmed up for tonight's clash in Germany on Saturday with an important one-nil over Everton, while while tenth placed Schalke lost at home by the same margin to twelfth placed Kaiserslautern.

United should fancy their chances of progressing to year's Wembley final and providing the team defends properly from start to finish, there's good reason to be confident. Ferguson wasn't so upbeat about his team's chances at the pre-match press conference when stating that his players must be wary of the Germans impressive record in the Champions League this season.

United will be without Dimitar Berbatov who is 'injured'. At the back Ferguson might well opt to start with Chris Smalling ahead of Rio Ferdinand who has been struggling and has yet to return to 100% match fitness following a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Jaded United must regroup: Anderson drinking in last chance saloon?

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Manchester United are back in action tomorrow when Everton are the visitors to Old Trafford. The Premier League leaders were poor after the opening 35 minutes of last weekend's FA Cup defeat against "noisy neighbours" Manchester City. On Tuesday United could only manage a draw away at Newcastle; the overall performance was very poor and the team looked jaded.

United were looking to extend their lead at the top against the Magpies, but Sir Alex Ferguson was without last weekend's FA Cup villain Dimitar Berbatov who missed two gilt edged chances against City and following that defeat the media have been linking the Bulgarian with a cut-price move away from Manchester this summer.

According to reports, Berbatov didn't feel well enough to play against Newcastle; given the manner of his performance at Wembley, chances are he'd have been back on the bench where he's spent a lot of time in recent weeks.

Rio Ferdinand and Berbatov are both injury doubts for the visit of Everton as is Darren Fletcher who we are told is still suffering with a virus. Fletcher had not enjoyed a good season up and until he picked up this virus, his passing has been all too often inconsistent and to be frank, he hasn't really been missed based on his performance level this season.

United are in desperate need of a least two new top quality central midfield players when the transfer window opens. Paul Scholes is almost certainly going to retire this summer and that is the only explanation we can offer behind the club's willingness to offer Michael Carrick an improved contract extension. Like Fletcher, Carrick simply does not perform consistently well and he is not the complete midfield player. The same can be said of Anderson, only he is actually much worse than either Fletcher or Carrick. The Brazilian has been unable to nail down a regular starting place in central midfield since his big move to United and when he has been given a chance all too often Anderson has failed to live up to his billing.

Anderson started against Newcastle, but his performance left an awful lot to be desired, in fact he was by far the worst player in a red shirt in what was admittedly an awful team performance; quite how he remained on the pitch for so long beggared belief. You have to wonder how much longer Ferguson will stand by Anderson.

Chelsea and Arsenal are within striking distance of United and that six point gap needs to be maintained this weekend but you can bet Everton will have something to say about that.

Ferguson will be wrestling with the question of who should start and who should be rested ahead of what is undoubtedly going to be an extremely difficult Champions League semi-final first leg away at Schalke in midweek.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Swearing and the FA: One rule for United, another for the rest?

So then, according to reports "King Kenny" Dalglish will not be punished for swearing in front of a TV camera. What a surprise, not.

Daglish told Arsene Wenger to P*ss off during Sunday's clash with Arsenal in front of a global TV audience of millions. And yet the Liverpool manager will escape any further action. Compare and contrast the punishment dished out to Wayne Rooney who swore into the camera and yet the United striker was given a two game ban; one which conveniently meant that he missed last weekend's FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City. No wonder United fans are asking if the FA is rotten to the core and corrupt because David Bernstein just happens to be Man City's former chairman.

Following the Rooney incident there was a media campaign to get the player banned. It seemed the FA went looking for reasons why they could ban Rooney, but there was nothing which specifically stated anyone should receive a ban for swearing. It has been the exact opposite where Dalglish is concerned; the FA is looking for reasons why the Liverpool manager should NOT be banned... this is clearly selective and arguably unfair justice.

United fans don't want Dalglish banned and we didn't want Rooney banned, because as every sensible commentator said at the time, this would open up a can of worms and so it has.

As things stand, the FA stand charged as a bunch of double dealing / self serving hypocrites. If Rooney was banned for swearing then surely there has to be consistency and so Dalglish has to be banned too. But do not hold your breath.

Here's a prediction: The FA will eventually ban another player or manager, but it will be an act of tokenism and when it happens it will be someone with a lower profile. This action - if ever happens - will not justify the FAs unfair selective justice on this issue. As things stand, it is one rule for United and another for the rest.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Calamity Carrick and sulking Berbatov cost United dearly in FA cup defeat...

Any of United's strikers barring Berbatov would have taken one of the two gilt edged chances that the Bulgarian spurned at Wembley yesterday. Berbatov might well be the Premier League's top goal scorer, but he's also one of the biggest sulkers in the division and his half hearted lunge at that second golden opportunity to score in the first-half would definitely have been gobbled up by either Hernandez or Michael Owen.

When Fergie has everyone available, Berbatov is now very much second choice especially when the manager starts with a 4-4-2 formation. The fact is Hernandez has usurped the former Spurs striker and this is most probably why the Bulgarian has started some recent games with his socks half rolled down his leg. By rolling down his socks, Berbatov is sending out a clear visual message about his apparent unhappiness because of the position he now finds himself in; this is symptomatic of someone who isn't 100% focused on the task at hand and this is precisely why Berbatov didn't score against City yesterday. Berbatov cost United potential victory and City went on to win and deservedly so.

While Berbatov definitely needs lashing with the cat o' nine tails, the same punishment should be dished out to Van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand, O'Shea and especially Michael Carrick. At the end of the game Ferdinand went for the clown that is Balotelli, but it was an act of frustration because the United defender knows full well that he played a part in City's winning goal. Ferdinand's initial pass back to Van der sar wasn't the best, the Dutchman's kick was pathetic and the ball eventually came back to O'Shea who then played another poor ball to Carrick and in turn he set up Yaya Toure to score.

When you first start learning to play the game at schoolboy level, one of the first lessons you learn is not to lose the ball in dangerous areas of the pitch but Carrick suffers from delusions about his own ability - he isn't good enough to play tippy-tappy around the United penalty area and even though O'Shea's pass was the wrong option, it should have been booted down field, but that didn't happen and United paid the price.

United had four opportunities to clear that ball before it ended up in the net and that in itself is damning.

United got what they deserved in the end, precisely nothing. Ferguson made mistakes with his substitutes too. Park should have been taken off.

The Scholes sending off was unfortunate, but personally, I'm not 100% convinced that he deliberately went to injure the player, it looked like a case of Scholes being too slow, but it didn't look good and if the boot was on the other foot United would have expected the perpetrator to be sent off.

Scholes didn't cost United the game though because even with 11 players on the pitch we weren't good enough on the day, but it would have been oh so different if sulking Berbatov had shown more desire when it really mattered.

United desperately need to strengthen midfield with the signing of someone like Wesley Sneijder, but will it happen? As we saw against City, United were very poor in central midfield once they had gone behind, there was no response.

Next up, United face Newcastle and the league leaders must get back to winning ways as quickly and as convincingly as possible.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

United's defence could be key to victory in FA Cup semi final...

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United know all about Wembley, we've been there enough times over the last 20 years, but for today's FA Cup semi final opponents, it is an entirely different story. While many City players will have played at Wembley for their respective countries, the team is not so familiar the surroundings and so this is a truly MASSIVE game.

Everyone connected with Manchester City knows that if they win today, they will be huge favourites to win their first serious piece of silverware since 1976.

City are due a win against United and that is what will be concerning the fans. So who will win? City lost their talisman Carlos Tevez in the same week that James Milner was upset about being hauled off at Anfield - so it doesn't look great where player moral is concerned.

Media pundits and Rio Ferdinand are right to state that the spirit of unity in the United camp is much better than it is at Eastlands, and that is because of one man, Sir Alex Ferguson.

The United manager has been calling the right shots over the last few weeks, not always from the start at places such as Blackpool and West Ham, but he's always managed to pull it round with some inspired substitutions.

Today, the United manager will have to somehow make up for the loss of suspended Wayne Rooney who has been in very good form of late. The battle for control of midfield will be key, as it always is, but if United have an advantage over City it could be in defence where by and large they've been excellent.

Paul Scholes could come back and start, but will his legs hold out? It is likely to be a very bumpy ride for all concerned. Personally, I just hope I can stand the tension. Derby's are the most nerve racking of games.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chelsea luck runs out: United through to CL semi finals again...

You don't always get what you deserve in football and United fans know all about that following too many wrong decisions going against their team when playing Chelsea in recent seasons. It was for this reason that many United supporters were hoping that Chelsea's luck had to run out sooner or later and in the Champions League at least anyway, those hopes have been realised because it is United who progressed into the semi-finals for the fourth time in five seasons thanks to goals from Hernandez and Park as United ran out 3-1 winners on aggregate.

Second-half substitute Didier Drogba pulled a goal back to equalise on the night after Hernandez had given United the lead just before half-time, but Park settled the tie and the nerves of the Old Trafford faithful with a sublime finish with just twelve minutes remaining on the clock. It was a pulsating quarter-final but United just about deserved to win following what was a good start by Chelsea who failed to make the most of their chances.

Whether or United are good enough to go much further in this competition is open to debate, but if the Premier League leaders can continue to defend as they have done in this competition this season then they have a chance of progressing to the Wembley final, where in all probability they will meet the favourites Barcelona.

Man of the match: Ryan Giggs. The Welshman once again proved his worth, this time in central midfield where he pulled the strings with the likes of Carrick and Rooney. Giggs created both goals with two superb passes.

Finally, a couple of predictions: Chelsea will drop points at West Brom this coming weekend, they will also implode and offload Drogba and or Torres.

Next up, United face bitter rivals Manchester City at Wembley on Saturday in the FA Cup semi-final. Bring it on.

Monday, April 11, 2011

United treble talk is cheap as Reds prepare for Chelsea...

United warmed up for the visit of Chelsea at the weekend with a 2-0 home win against the other West London club Fulham - as tests go, it was a proverbial walk in the park. Berbatov and Valencia were on target for United, Nani was the architect with a brace of assists. It wasn't exactly a great game and no one in a red shirt really stood out, but Nani received the pundits plaudits for his contribution.

It is likely to be an altogether different story when Chelsea visit Old Trafford on Tuesday night for the second-leg of the Champions League quarter final. Chelsea prepared for their trip to Old Trafford with an unconvincing 1-0 home win against struggling Wigan on Saturday.

United are the bookies favorites to go through to the Champions League semi-final
following last week's 1-0 away victory in the first-leg and it could turn out be one of those great European nights at Old Trafford if the home crowd really get up for this very important cup-tie.

According to Frank Lampard and John Terry, Chelsea are hell bent on avenging their 2008 final defeat against United in Moscow. No matter what motivates Chelsea no United supporter needs reminding that Carlo Ancellotti's team are still very much in this tie.

Chelsea have potential match-winners wherever you look in their team, and so it's vital that United defend from front to back throughout what is likely to be a very tense encounter. Ahead of the game, Ferguson will be pondering how best to approach this game; should he start with an 4-4-2 attacking formation or will he go with a more defensive 4-5-1? There's no doubting the vast majority of home fans would opt for attack rather than sit back and attempt to defend that slender lead.

United could conceivably win the treble, but while it is a possibility the reality is it is highly unlikely. Without Wayne Rooney (thanks to David Bernstein and the FA) Manchester City could well come out on top at Wembley on Saturday in the FA Cup semi-final - should that happen any talk of another treble will evaporate in the North London air.

Even if United win on Saturday against City, it would be best for all concerned if we ALL forget about the treble. As Rory McIlroy found out to his cost in the US Masters on Sunday, you must never believe your own publicity because it can and will come back and bite you on your backside.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

United stand firm against cheating Chelsea as Reds take control of Champions League quarter final tie...

Prior to last night's 1st leg Champions League quarter final with Chelsea, Sir Alex Ferguson bemoaned that, in his opinion, United had been on the wrong end of rough justice when visiting Stamford Bridge for the last seven seasons. Ferguson doesn't easily forget perceived injustices against his team and only Chelsea fans would argue that David Luiz shouldn't have been sent-off when the two sides met in March in the Premier League; the Brazilian went on to equalise and Chelsea won that match. At Old Trafford last season Didier Drogba scored the winning goal from what was a clear off-side position. The list goes on...

While Chelsea have undoubtedly had the rub of the green where the big decisions are concerned against United in recent seasons, much of the talk ahead of last night's tie centred on Chelsea avenging the 2008 Champions League final defeat, but going into this fixture the feeling among United fans was that it was about time Chelsea were put in their place, because sooner or later their luck had to run out.

Thankfully, justice was done thanks to a wonderful Wayne Rooney goal in the 25th minute. Veteran Ryan Giggs made the goal when he collected a superb raking cross-field pass from the right boot of Michael Carrick. Giggs brought down the ball magnificently and pushed it beyond Bosingwa and then pulled it back for Rooney who passed into the net.

Rooney has been grabbing the headlines for the wrong reasons and we await the outcome of his appeal following the FAs decision to ban him for two games for his antics against West Ham last weekend. But against Chelsea, Rooney was quite superb. The United striker was hacked down twice and on both occasions the perpetrators got away with it. Whether or not the Chelsea players were trying to get Rooney sent-off is a good question to ask. Whatever the plan was, it did not work, as Rooney kept his composure as did the rest of his team-mates, despite the fact that on too many occasions Chelsea players left a foot-in when the ball had been played.

Equally as bad was the sickening antics of Torres and Drogba; the Chelsea strikers persistent attempts to con the referee bordered on embarrassing. Drogba is a giant of man, yet all too often he acts like a big schoolgirl when feigning injury at every opportunity. As for Torres, the former Liverpool striker should have been booked for his diving inside the penalty area. If there was a trophy for playing-acting in football, Drogba and Torres would have a sideboard full of Oscars between them.

Chelsea had a good shout for a late penalty turned down when Evra brought down Ramires - but it was their turn to be on the wrong end of rough justice.

United just about deserved to win but the tie is definitely not over and anything could happen in the second-leg next week. Realistically, neither of these two teams are good enough to overcome Barcelona should they reach the final, but for this Red at least anyway, knocking out Chelsea will be very satisfying indeed.

Monday, April 04, 2011

FA boss and City fan Bernstein behind groundbreaking Rooney ban?

Fans and pundits alike are wondering if new FA boss and former Manchester City chairman David Bernstein has intervened to ensure that Wayne Rooney misses the FA Cup semi-final with the club that he still follows.

Rooney made the mistake of appearing to swear in full view of the TV cameras after completing his hat-trick against West Ham on Saturday. Having "reviewed" the incident the FA have broken new ground when banning Rooney for two matches and as a result the United striker is likely to miss Saturday's game with Fulham as well as the FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City....

As far as we know, no player has ever been banned for swearing and so this is new ground for the FA and players alike. From now on, can we expect the FA to review every incident in which a player is caught on TV swearing? Or is it the case that Rooney is being used as an example because he plays for Manchester United?

As ever it seems it's one rule for United players and another for the rest...

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Rooney and Vidic walk the line as United deliver Hammer blow to title rivals...

Sir Alex Ferguson and everyone connected with Manchester United will have enjoyed Saturday night following an eventful day in the Premier League with results going the league leader's way. Chelsea only managed a draw at Stoke and Arsenal dropped two valuable points at home to Blackburn.

Earlier in the day United made life difficult for themselves when going two-nil down inside the opening 25 minutes after conceding two penalties against West Ham. There was no doubt about the award of the first penalty - a clear handball by Evra. United's defence was unusually slipshod, despite the fact that Vidic returned alongside the rapidly improving Smalling. The irony was that United were very much on top and yet the defence looked unusually vunerable to the counter-attack.

Then in the 25th minute, referee Lee Mason took it upon himself to re-write the rulebook when deciding Vidic's trip on Carlton Cole was inside the box, when in point of fact the challenge was clearly on the line. It was a poor decision and those in favour of video replays were given more ammunition, because any TV review would clearly have resulted in a free-kick outside the box. Former Arsenal striker and Sky sports summariser Alan Smith commented "Vidic can have no complaints", in point of fact, the Serbian had every right to complain.

Mark Noble converted his second spot-kick; onlooking United fans won't have expected any other outcome with stand-in Kuszczak in goal. United's third-choice stopper did not inspire confidence in the absence of Van der Sar who we are told was "injured".

At the point in the contest, supporters of Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City will have been praying that West Ham held on and truth be told despite their dominance United created precious little by way of clear cut chances. Park was the only United player to test Robert Green inside the opening 30 minutes; the South Korean should have scored on his return to action following a lengthy injury lay-off, but his effort was blasted straight at the former Norwich and England 'keeper.

Despite being two goals to the good, West Ham had the look of a team destined for relegation. A more confident team could have gone on and perhaps taken advantage of United's wobbly back-four, but that didn't happen and you always felt that if the visitors could score one goal they just might have a chance.

At half-time and in a bid to make the breakthrough, Ferguson did what he should have done at the outset - that is he sent on Hernandez when replacing Evra who had a day to forget. Giggs dropped back to left-back in what turned out to be a game changing tactical shuffle.

The fact is though and not for the first time this season, the United manager was guilty of getting his team selection completely wrong. Ferguson made the same mistake at Blackpool and as a direct result United went two-nil down, but fought back to win.

There are times to be cautious and there are times when you have to attack; United should have taken the game to West Ham with two genuine strikers, but somewhat bizarrely Ferguson opted for caution when starting with a five-man midfield. As a result, United lacked punch up front and the goal threat simply wasn't there in that opening period. Valencia was seeing plenty of the ball, but he needed that second striker in the box.

Vidic could have been sent-off for a challenge on Ba just outside the United penalty area just minutes after the restart, but Mason made the correct decision with the award of a free-kick to West Ham.

The pattern of the second-half was just like the first - United were on top, but they couldn't make that vital breakthrough.

After starting with caution and going on to pay the price, Ferguson then threw the proverbial kitchen sink at the Hammers when sending on Berbatov for Park. Berbatov brought an added touch of class with his silky skills and he personified coolness under pressure and made it look easy.

Then in then 65th minute, Michael Carrick was brought down outside the West Ham penalty area. United had wasted several free-kicks and Giggs had not inspired with his all too often wayward corners. As Giggs and Rooney stood over the ball, United fans looked on in hope rather than with any real sense of expectation, because the club doesn't have a dead-ball specialist. But on this rare occasion, Rooney delivered and then some with a quite brilliant effort which gave Green no chance. Game on.

Eight minutes later Rooney levelled with another quite brilliant goal thanks to an assist by Valencia. Rooney controlled the ball with his magnificent first touch on the edge of the West Ham box, and at the same time he'd pushed the ball into a shooting position and with his second touch he blasted beyond Green and into the corner of the rigging. Only the very best strikers are capable of scoring such quality goals and against the Hammers Rooney was just that. Ironically, Rooney didn't have a great allround game, because on too many occasions his passing wasn't as good as it could have been.

With United on level terms and with 20 minutes still on the clock there was only going to be one winner and it wasn't the East London club.

Fabio, who is wasted at fullback, once again proved his worth in attacking role when he burst into the West Ham box and pulled ball back from the goal-line only for Upson to catch ball with his arm. It was a tough decision, but Mason awarded the spot-kick - which in part, made up for his earlier mistake on the penalty award against Vidic.

Rooney cooly converted for his hat-trick when sending Green the wrong way, but he is mired in yet more controversy after scoring following his foul-mouthed goal celebration into a TV camera.

Berbatov laid on what should have been another goal for United with a great pull-back to Darron Gibson on the edge of the Hammers penalty area, but the Irishman blazed over embarrassingly and at that point you wondered if the visitors would live to regret what was a howling miss.

However, Hernandez relieved any remaining tension and saved Gibson's blushes when he secured the points with a typical Chicharito poachers goal thanks to an assist by Ryan Giggs.

United ran out 4-2 winners and in the end it was great entertainment, but it was once again a case of doing it the hard way. Bring on Chelsea.

Man of the match: Rooney.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

United vs West Ham: No time for slip-ups - the run-in starts against Hammers.....

The dark cloud that is international football has thankfully disappeared as we look forward to the commencement of domestic and European action.

United are set to take on the Hammers in East London and there can be no slip-ups with Arsenal and Chelsea in close pursuit of the league leaders.

With United set to take on Chelsea in the Champions League on Wednesday in the first leg of the quarter finals, Ferguson and his backroom team will hoping to avoid further injuries to what is a somewhat depleted squad. However, Nemanja Vidic is set to return to action today alongside Chris Smalling against relegation threatened West Ham United.

Darren Fletcher (virus) is absent for umpteenth time. Evans is suspended (three matches) along with Scholes (one match). Anderson is doubtful.
While the following will definitely miss this very important fixture through injury: Wes Brown & Rio Ferdinand (calf), Owen Hargreaves (shoulder), Anders Lindegaard (knee), John O'Shea & Rafael da Silva (both hamstring).

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