Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Will it be 1968 all over again: United v City for the title?...Manchester humiliates North London's finest...

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Manchester United humiliated Arsenal on Sunday - worryingly for the Gunners - the 8-2 final score did not flatter the champions in the slightest. The brutal match facts: For the second home game on the spin it was Danny Welbeck who opened the scoring with another header, this time from deep within the Arsenal penalty area, that was on 22 minutes. Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young went on to score five goals between them; Rooney took the match-ball home after scoring a hat-trick. Ashley Young grabbed a superb brace - one that will have blown away any remaining doubts about his suitability. Park and Nani chipped in with a goal apiece to complete the rout. Arsenal's consolation goals were scored by Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie. Arsenal's Carl Jenkinson was sent off for his second booking of the game. Arshavin should most definitely have been sent-off, but referee Howard Webb saved Arsene Wenger further embarrassment when he did not branish his red card to the Russian.

The dust has not yet settled following the seismic events at Old Trafford and at White Hart Lane where earlier in the day Manchester City handed out a football lesson to Spurs when thrashing the other big North London club. As a result of City's 5-1 win, the Citizens' went briefly to the top of the Barclays Premier League. However, United's demolition job on Arsenal ensured City's stay at the top was a brief one.

For United and City fans it looks like it's going to be one hell of a season; both teams look capable of scoring goals galore, and both have strong squads. Pundits and fans alike fully anticipate that it will be United and City who will battle it out for the Premier League title - though Chelsea and Liverpool will also have a big a say.

You have to go back fully 44 years to the last time when both of the Manchester clubs were involved in a toe-to-toe title scrap and back then it was City who eventually came out on top. United finished runner-up in 1968, but Sir Matt Busby's team had the consolation of becoming the first English club to lift the European Cup, in so doing trumping City's title celebrations.

From a North London perspective, the outlook is at best uncertain, at worst positively gloomy. Understandably and predictably, questions are being asked about Arsene Wenger's future and Harry Redknapp is under pressure.

From the outside looking in, it certainly looks like Arsenal and Spurs have made a complete hash of their respective transfer dealings over the summer. Arsenal tried and failed to hang on to Fabregas and Nasri for far too long and the same can be said of want-away Luka Modric at Spurs.

Spurs boss Daniel Levy has a track-record of squeezing every last penny out of rivals' like Manchester United in his transfer dealings. United have had their transfer trousers pulled down on several occasions by Levy, but one suspects his game of brinkmanship over Modric is going to hurt bottom of the table Spurs in the pocket, because even at this very early stage, surely there's no way Tottenham can have any realistic hope of finishing in the top four.

United fans will not care too much about the problems of their North London rivals, not when the champions will be fighting City all the way to the finishing line next May.

Unlike his North London colleagues Ferguson did completed most of his transfer dealings early in the window. The United manager has done a remarkable job in assembling what has been described as a new team. The manager's new signings have all bedded in extremely well. David de Gea may well have allowed Theo Walcott's shot to go through his legs against Arsenal on Sunday, but that can happen to the very best goalkeepers, but other than that the young Spaniard is really starting look like he's at home with United.

Phil Jones will in all probability retain his starting place in the team and if anyone will make way for Ferdinand or Vidic it is likely to be Jonny Evans. But do not rule out Fergie leaving Ferdinand on the bench, Evans and Jones could well be the future first-choice centre-back pairing and for that reason Ferguson might well be keen to see this partnership given more time to flourish.

Ashley Young has, in very short order, repaid the faith shown in him by the manager. When Fergie splashed out £18m to capture the Aston Villa front man, eyebrows were collectively raised, not least because it was felt that the money could have been put to better use with a view to securing a world-class central midfield player like Wesley Sneijder who continues to be linked with United.

Whatever else happens between now and the summer transfer window closing, Ashley Young has blown away those doubts, not just with his hugely impressive goals against Arsenal on Sunday and his matching winning contribution at the Hawthorns, but also because of his intelligent use of the ball.

Unlike Park and Nani who all too often have a propensity for making the wrong decision when on the ball, Young has, up to now, almost always tried to play the right ball and most of the time it has come off.

Elsewhere, Tom Cleverley has done extremely well, so much so that it looks like he has edged out Michael Carrick. Unlike Carrick, Cleverley can do it all, he is quicker, his all round game is sharper and more incisive.

Danny Welbeck was once again on target when scoring with yet another header against Arsenal. Whether or not the United youngster will be able to reclaim his place now that Hernandez is fit again, only time will tell. One thing is certain, it looks like Berbatov has dropped right down the pecking order, and despite Fergie's claims to the contrary, do not be surprised if the Bulgarian is sold within the next 48 hours.

Chris Smalling continues to improve at right-back and he looks very dangerous going forward too and so Rafael will do well to win back his starting place once fit again.

While the new players and the youngsters have been in fine form, Wayne Rooney has been United's star man. Rooney is back to his very best and right now, he'd walk into pretty much any team on the planet including Barcelona. While Rooney has been in superb form, the same cannot be said of Nani who has reverted back to his bad old ways of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Will Nani ever learn?

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rivals' target De Gea, but Fergie's young guns' rise to challenge as Rooney inspires United...

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Well then, what did we learn about this new look Manchester United when Spurs visited Old Trafford on Monday night? Where do we begin, is a pertinent answer to that. Let's start with the bald facts: After an evenly contested hour of very open football, United eventually ran out comfortable three-nil winners. For their part, Spurs had little or no punch up front and wiley old Harry Redknapp had clearly briefed his players to 'shoot on sight'; the visitors game plan appeared to centre on exploiting on the perceived weaknesses of new boy David de Gea.

United's young Spanish goalkeeper has had something of a self-inflicted baptism of fire in English football. De Gea was badly at fault at Wembley in the Community Shield against Manchester City when allowing Dzeko to score from fully 35 yards. Then in United's Premier League opener against West Brom, De Gea was beaten too easily by Shane Long and even Ferguson didn't mince his words after that game when admitting that his new charge should have done better.

The fact that Spurs tried to capitalise on De Gea should surprise no one and make no mistake, we can expect others to emulate Redknapp's tactics. Spurs tried and failed to ruffle De Gea's feathers, but they will not be the last to test him.

To his great credit, De Gea pretty much dealt with everything that Spurs threw at him pretty well, in fact his handling - barring one second half cross - was exemplary.

How many times do we see goalkeepers' failing to make what look like bread and butter saves? The accepted norm these days is to attempt to punch the ball away to safety. We know that these lightweight footballs do swerve in the air, more than perhaps they used to, but the art of actually catching and holding onto the ball appears to have been forgotten, but last night against Spurs, we saw De Gea catching the ball with supreme confidence. It made for such a pleasant change to see a goalie not only catching the ball, but also gathering it up without spilling it and then delivering a pin-point throw out to a team-mate. De Gea's distribution is excellent, it is so good, it could prove to be worth a few goals this season.

Hopefully, De Gea will have gained a great deal of confidence by keeping a clean-sheet and from his performance against Spurs. It was great to hear the Old Trafford crowd chanting his name too. The only slight worry is those crosses and can the Spaniard deal with them effectively? Only time will tell, but let's us hope Ferguson and his scouting team have done their homework, but following that first home game the signs are looking more promising.

So what of United's other new summer signings? Phil Jones was sublime. The former Blackburn defender didn't put a foot wrong all night. At one point Jones gave Defoe an earful for diving and it was great to see the United youngster giving the experienced Spurs striker a verbal volley. Jones looked really at home alongside Jonny Evans and even though Spurs had pretty much nothing up front, the new centre-back pairing looked solid. Chris Smalling was once again excellent at right-back and with every passing game he continues to look like a big star with a very bright future at Manchester United.

Ashley Young looked more than useful on the left flank and he continues to link up really well with Rooney and the rest of his new-mates. If there was a minor gripe in the first-half, it was that United's final ball wasn't good enough and in this respect Young could have done better, but he wasn't on his own in that respect.

In central midfield, Ferguson once again started with Anderson and Tom Cleverley and it's worth asking if this new partnership will be the bedrock of a new look engine room, with no place in the starting line-up for Michael Carrick? Again, only time will tell, but it's beginning to look like Cleverley might well have carved out a starting place following a good pre-season and three solid performances in competitive games.

Danny Welbeck opened the scoring on 61 minutes and what a good goal it was too. Tom Cleverley supplied the killer cross from the right and Welbeck gave the hitherto difficult to beat Brad Friedel no chance with a well directed header. United doubled their advantage on 76 minutes when Welbeck back-heeled quite beautifully to the on-rushing Anderson who made no mistake with a left foot drive from deep inside the Spurs penalty area.

No doubt buoyed by his goal, Welbeck could have doubled his tally, but his acrobatic overhead-kick fell into the grateful arms of Friedel.

Fergie made a triple substitution on 81 minutes when replacing Young, Cleverley and Welbeck with Park Ji-Sung, Giggs and Hernandez.

Rooney wrapped up the scoring on 87 minutes with a great header from a Ryan Giggs cross. Welbeck was voted Man of The Match, but truth be told, Wayne Rooney was United's star man. Rooney looks like a new player - he actually looks five years younger following that much talked about hair transplant. Rooney looks and is playing like a 19-year-old. Long may it continue.

As for the performance of Danny Welbeck, up and until the 61st minute he was 100% certain to be replaced, because he had lost possession cheaply on a number of occasions and the ball wasn't sticking or else being used correctly and as a result United's attacks were breaking down.

Welbeck's goal gave him a big confidence boost and his performance improved, but it remains to be seen if he will ever be able to carve out a regular starting place at United.

One of the biggest talking points of the night was the absence of Dimitar Berbatov who continues to be completely ignored by Ferguson. Ahead of the visit of Tottenham, it was thought that the Bulgarian would start, but that didn't happen. United have some concerns about Berbatov's future in relation to his contract and earlier this week the club reportedly rejected a £16m offer from PSG.

With the much talked about Sneijder or Modric possibly moving to United, there must still be a slight chance that Berbatov could be involved a player plus cash swap deal. Watch this space on that one.

Overall, it was a very satisfying night for everyone connected with Manchester United. The United youngsters on show enhanced their chances of claiming a regular place in Ferguson's team and no doubting the manager will have a few selection headaches in the weeks ahead.

Next up, Arsenal are the visitors to Old Trafford on Sunday for what could be a cracker.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Man City four year spending spree more than Fergie's 25 year outlay....

We all know about Manchester City's spending power and yesterday they sent out another ominous warning to the rest of the Premier League when taking three points from the Reebok; the 3-2 scoreline flattered Bolton somewhat because Sergio Aguero missed two absolute sitters.

After the first two games of the season, City are top of the table and even the most die-hard Red has to admit they are looking good. Roberto Mancini's team are beginning to look like the finished article, but following a four year £360m+ (excluding wages) spending spree then it's no real surprise, is it?

According Garry Cook, City's CEO, the club's spending is unsustainable - quite so. Having looked at the numbers and having compared them to Ferguson's spending over his entire 25 years at United, City have splashed out over £90m more in the last four years alone. That comparison is quite shocking as it really does bring City's recent spending into sharp focus.

Both Manchester clubs have yet to complete their summer transfer dealings and so the figures are likely to change. Note: we haven't included any figures for Carlos Tevez, because they are not available.

Man City Transfers    2008-09 - 2011-12
2011/12
Players in
PLAYER FEE
Gael Clichy £7,000,000
Stefan Savic £6,000,000
Sergio Aguero £38,000,000
Costel Pantilimon Signed
Total £51,000,000
Players out
PLAYER FEE
Donal McDermott Free
Jo Signed
Jerome Boateng £12,360,000
Shay Given £3,500,000
Total £15,860,000
2010/11
Players in
PLAYER FEE
Mario Balotelli £24,000,000
James Milner £26,000,000
Edin Dzeko £27,000,000
Total £77,000,000
Players out
PLAYER FEE
Javier Garrido £2,750,000
Stephen Ireland £8,000,000
Adam Clayton Signed
Robinho Signed
David Ball Signed
James Poole Signed
Shaleum Logan Free
Andrew Tutte Free
Scott Kay Free
Total £10,750,000
2010-2009
Players in
PLAYER FEE
Gareth Barry £12,000,000
Roque Santa Cruz £17,500,000
Dedryck Boyata Signed
Stuart Taylor Free
Carlos Tevez Signed
Emmanuel Adebayor £25,000,000
Kolo Toure £16,000,000
Sylvinho Free
Joleon Lescott £22,000,000
Patrick Vieira Free
Adam Johnson £7,000,000
Jerome Boateng £10,460,000
Alex Henshall £250,000
David Silva £26,000,000
Yaya Toure £24,000,000
Albert Rusnak Signed
Total £160,210,000
Players out
PLAYER FEE
Darius Vassell Free
Adrian Cieslewicz Signed
Daniel Sturridge £3,500,000
Gelson Fernandes Signed
Ched Evans £3,000,000
Elano £8,000,000
Kasper Schmeichel Signed
Richard Dunne £5,000,000
Angelos Tsiaklis Free
Paul Marshall Free
Jack Redshaw Free
Martin Petrov Free
Valeri Bojinov Signed
Filip Mentel Free
Total £19,500,000
2008/09
Players in
PLAYER FEE
Jo £18,000,000
Tal Ben-Haim Signed
Vincent Kompany £6,000,000
Shaun Wright-Phillips £9,000,000
Glauber Berti Free
Pablo Zabaleta £6,450,000
Robinho £32,500,000
Wayne Bridge £12,000,000
Craig Bellamy £14,000,000
Nigel de Jong £18,000,000
Shay Given £5,900,000
Total £121,850,000
Players out
PLAYER FEE
Sun Jihai Free
Andreas Isaksson Signed
Geovanni Free
Georgios Samaras Signed
Bernardo Corradi Free
Matthew Mills £300,000
Ashley Grimes Free
Paul Dickov Free
Rolando Bianchi Signed
Vedran Corluka £8,500,000
Sam Williamson Free
Total £8,800,000
Total outgoing £359,060,000
Total incoming £44,160,000
Grand Total Net deficit £314,900,000

Fergie's 25 year transfer record
Player In Out
Alan Smith 7 6
Alex Notman 0.25
Anderson 15
Anders Lindegaard 3.5
Andrie Kanchelskis 0.65
Andy Cole 6 8
Antonio Valencia 16
Ashley Young 17
Bebe 7.4
Ben Foster 1
Brian Carey 0.25
Brian McClair 0.85
Carlos Tevez 0 0
Carrick 18.5
Chris Smalling 10 2
Dan Higginbottom 2
David de Gea 18.9
Danny Wallace 1.2
David Beckham 25
David Bellion 2
David Healy 1.5
David Jones 1
David May 1.4
Dimitar Berbatov 31
Denis Irwin 0.625
Diego Forlan 7.5
Dion Dublin 1 2
Dwight Yorke 12.5 2
Eric Cantona 1.2
Eric Djemba-djemba 3.5 1.3
Fabien Barthez 7.8
Fraizer Campbell 3.5
Gabriele Obertan 3 0
Gary Pallister 2.3 2.5
Gordon Strachan 0.5 0.3
Graeme Hogg 0.15
Henning Berg 5 1.75
Jaap Stam 10.5 16.5
Jasper Blomquist 4.4
Javier Hernandez 10
Jim Leighton 0.75 0.2
Jon Greening 2
Jon Spector 0.5
Juan Veron 28.1 15
Karel Poborsky 3.5 2
Keith Gillespie 1
Kleberson 5.9 2.5
Lee Sharpe 4.5
Liam O'Brien 0.25
Louis Saha 12.8
Mark Hughes 1.8 1.5
Mark Robins 0.8
Micky Silvestre 4
Mike Phelan 0.75
Nani 15
Neil Webb 1.5 0.8
Nemanja Vidic 7
Nicy Butt 2.5
Ole Solskjaer 1.5
Owen Hargreaves 17
Park 4
Patrice Evra 5
Paul Ince 1 7
Paul McGrath 0.4
Paul Parker 2
Peter Davenport 0.75 0.75
Peter Schmeichel 0.55
Phil Bardsley 2
Phil Jones 16.5
Pique 5
Pique 0.15
Richardson 5.5
Rio Ferdinand 30
Ronaldo 12.8 80
Ronny Johnsen 1.28
Rossi 5
Roy Carroll 2.5
Roy Keane 3.75
Ryan Shawcross 1
Steve Bruce 0.8
Taibi 4.5 2.5
Teddy Sheringham 3.5
Tim Howard 2.3 3
Van Nistelrooy 19 11
Viv Anderson 0.25
Wayne Rooney 20
Wes Brown 0 1
Totals 450.455 226.45
Total Net Deficit 224.005

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Everyone talking about de Gea, but for the wrong reasons....

Two competitive games, two mistakes - it hasn't been an encourageing start for David de Gea. According to reports, Ferguson and his scouts studied the Spaniard for up to two years before the manager splashed out £18m when buying de Gea - a club record for a goalkeeper, but following those mistakes some are beginning to wonder if it that money was well spent.

De Gea endured a torrid first-half at Wembley in the Community Shield, when Dzeko scored from long-range as United went two-nil down, but fought back strongly to win 3-2. At the Hawthorns on Sunday, the Spaniard was beaten too easily when allowing Shane Long to equalise, but again United ran out winners thanks to another new signing, Ashley Young.  For the first thirty five minutes, United completely dominated West Brom, but when eventually tested, de Gea didn't look particularly strong on crosses. It was also noticeable that De Gea was tested a couple of times from long-range - again, no surprise, given the former Athletico Madrid  star's stats from La Liga last season.

United's new 'keeper wasn't helped one bit by the inconsistency of referee Jones who made some bizarre decisions when booking players who shouldn't have been booked (Not the disgrace that is Steven Reid who hacked down Ashley Young) and then on other occasions not booking players who should have been booked. Shane Long cleaned out de Gea twice in the second-half with two poor challenges. Shane Long  took his first-half goal very well, but United fans might not be too surprised to learn that in his youth the Irishman played Hurling - a game that combines violence with speed.

There was prescious little protection for de Gea at the Hawthorns and it was pointed out in commentary that the Spaniard, can "expect to be roughed up", as happened to Peter Schmeichel when he first arrived at United. This fact was trotted out as if we should expect this kind of treatment - it was wrong in Schmeichel's day and it is equally wrong now.

Schmeichel is of course United's greatest ever 'keeper  and in a bid to give the critics no further ammunition, the Great Dane has been silenced by Ferguson. As  an aside, you have to wonder why United didn't actually employ Schmeichel to help find van der Sar's replacement...

Schmeichel is a giant of a man, his physical presence was immense, he was an intimidating goalkeeper. De Gea is not an intimidating goalkeeper, his build is slight and during TV close-ups, he appears to have what looks like a nervous squint. The best goalkeepers are the ones who command what used to be known as the 'six yard box' and only time will tell if de Gea is going to be a success and a commanding goalkeeper.

The pressure on new players to make a good impression is always intense, but at a club like Manchester United it is even greater. But for now at least, De Gea has the backing of everyone connected with United. The reaction from the club's supporters, has in the main been very supportive. The mantra is: de Gea will come good.  Guillem Balague, the respected Spanish pundit Tweeted "People doubting David de Gea? Seriously? No, no, seriously?? Hahahahahahaha... it will be a feast of eaten words at the end of the season".

While de Gea will continue to recieve support from the manager and the fans', the reality is, it is down to the goalkeeper to silence any would be critics; it is performances on the pitch that matter and not talk off it. The fans' backed Bebe to the hilt, but he has subesquently been farmed out and it wouldn't surprise this blog if we never see him pull on the famous red shirt again.

Predictably, various newspapers have been drawing up lists of former players who've succeded following shaky starts to their United careers, but here again, there's no gaurantees as far as de Gea future is concerned.

While some players have blossomed following an indifferent start, others went backwards. Take the example of Ben Foster, who came to United touted as potentially the next England goalkeeper; he spent five years with United but only made 12 appeareances, he left the club with his reputation in tatters after failing to live up to expectations.

Those of you with good memories will recall Massimo Taibi: the Italian who the media dubbed the "the Venetian Blind". Taibi made just four appearances for United, but in so doing made two howling mistakes and paid the price.
 
Having broken the club record for a goalkeeper, there's no way de Gea will not be given ample opportunities to prove his worth and so we can expect to see a lot more of him this season.
 
With Vidic and Ferdinand likely to be missing through injury for at least one game, it will be a case of all change in the heart of the defence, hopefully, that situation won't bother the Spaniard too much and there's no doubting United have quality cover with Evans, Smalling and Jones to select from.
 
Whatever happens, it is going to be fanscinating to watch, hopefully, David de Gea will live up to his billing.
 
 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Red-hot favourites raring to go: United looking to capitalise on rivals' early setbacks..

Latest odds: WBA v Manchester United

Manchester United start their league campaign later this afternoon afternoon at the Hawthorns. The champions saw rivals' Liverpool and Arsenal drop points at Anfield and St James Park, with both games ending in stalemate. Liverpool's pre-season optimism following Dalglish's £50m spending spree will no doubt have been tempered, and worryingly perhaps for their supporters, Sunderland looked stronger in the second forty five minutes. For their part, Arsenal are mired in problems with players looking to leave the club and their supporters will be hoping Wenger has a few aces up his sleeve.

The real challenge for United's title crown is expected to come from Manchester City and Chelsea; realistically, Arsenal and Liverpool will be scrapping for a Champions League spot and no more than that.

A cursory glance at United's fixtures makes for very interesting reading, because the champions will have played all of the big guns before the end of October, with the trip to Liverpool being the only away game. Apart from the derby at Eastlands in April for once, the run-in doesn't look too difficult. No wonder United are red-hot favourites to make it League title number 20.

No one connected with United is suggesting the coming season is going to be easy - it never is, but many of the expert pundits have tipped Ferguson and his team to come out on top again.

It has been a strange summer in many ways, with Scholes retiring and having lost the Champions League final when coming very much second best again to Barca, because fans and pundits alike have been voicing concerns about United's engine room.

United have been trying to broker a deal to sign Wesley Sneijder who is viewed as the answer to the problems in midfield and that deal could still happen with over two weeks remaining in the summer transfer window. However, following that dramatic comeback against Man City at Wembley in the Community Shield, all of a sudden some supporters are suggesting the club doesn't actually need Wesley Sneijder.

The confidence among the fans' is understandable given the emergence of Tom Cleverley, who was the catalyst for that revival in the Wembley derby last weekend. Whether that confidence is misplaced only time will tell.

What is beyond any doubt is that Cleverley gives the manager a different option in midfield. United's preferred formation has pretty much always been 4-4-2, but to be successful and against really strong opposition, with this formation you need two top quality all round central midfield players. At one time Ferguson could call upon Keane and Scholes, or Keane and Ince before them we had Bryan Robson.

These days we have Carrick and Fletcher, both have their critics - no serious commentator would suggest that either are complete midfield players. And so while many pundits are tipping United to retain the title few will be backing Ferguson to win the Champions League, because the all too obvious problems in midfield exposed by Barcelona are still very much apparent.

But in Cleverley, Ferguson at last has a player who has an excellent short-range passing game. Cleverley, is more adventurous around the opposition penalty area; as we saw against City, he will drive on into the box instead of looking to pass sideways. Cleverley might well provide part of the midfield solution.

Without doubt, United are stronger at the back following the signing of Phil Jones who is not that dissimilar to John Terry in his style of play and of course Chris Smalling has been a revelation since his move from Fulham. Despite allowing Wes Brown and John O'Shea to leave to join Sunderland, Ferguson's defensive options look stronger than at any other time in recent history.

The only real concern is new goalkeeper David de Gea who had an absolute nightmare at Wembley in the Community Shield. De Gea doesn't look strong when high-balls are being pumped into the penalty area and then there's that worrying stat - he conceded the most goals scored from outside the box in La Liga last season.

Any mistakes again today against the Baggies could lead to the beginning of a crisis of confidence and so it is vital that there's no more errors from the young Spanish goalkeeper.

As Ben Foster and a string of former United goalkeepers will attest, you don't have the luxury of time to prove your worth if you repeatedly get caught out and make mistakes.

United's striker options have been bolstered with the addition of Danny Welbeck and Frederico Macheda. Both were loaned out to Sunderland and Sampdoria respectively last season, but for now at least, Ferguson says they will be staying put.

The champions do look strong in pretty much every department so on the domestic front, there's every reason to be optmitic about the challenges ahead.

United will be looking to take three points from today's visit to West Brom but there will be no place in the starting line-up for Javier Hernandez who is still recovering from concussion. Danny Welbeck, Michael Carrick and Patrice Evra are rated as doubtful. Darren Fletcher misses the trip to the Hawthorns after recovering from a mystery virus, but he is set to play 45 minutes for the reserves on Monday.

Latest odds: WBA v Manchester United la

Soccerlens Manchester United season preview


Friday, August 12, 2011

Sneijder not joining United: Have the Glazers' pulled plug on deal?

United fans are waking up to the news that the club has officially ended their interest in signing Wesley Sneijder. It brings to an end weeks of speculation about the Inter Milan star and it is a bitter blow to Ferguson who knew the importance of making what would have been a crucial signing - one that according to several respected commentators could have ensured a 20th league title.

David Gill broke the news to reporters, when somewhat bizarrely claiming the club's interest in Sneijder ended a couple of weeks ago. However, it's thought that United have been desperately trying to broker a deal with Inter's Dutch maestro whose huge wages demands are said to be the sticking point.

Up and until this week, it was hoped that a deal would still be possible. Rumours of what would have been one of the biggest summer transfers have been rumbling on since the season end and on Thursday a well known sports journalist suggested that the deal was so complex it would have to be approved by the full MUFC board; whether or not, that is true is open to question, but it will undoubtedly leave many wondering if the Glazer family have pulled the plug on Sneijder's move to United due to financial constraints.

United have spent heavily this summer, but it was vital that Ferguson was backed in the transfer market. Sneijder would have been very costly, but success often comes at a high price and only time will tell how failure to land the manager's top midfield target will impact on the season ahead.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Great Dane told to button it over David de Gea...

One of the more interesting snippets of news over last week was the confirmation that Ferguson has told Peter Schmeichel to keep his opinions to himself in relation to new boy David de Gea. United's Spanish stopper had what can only be described as a nightmare at Wembley in Sunday's 3-2 Community Shield win over Manchester City.

United went into the half-time interval two-nil down and for many it was hard to accept that fact, given the team's performance over the first 35 minutes in which the champions dominated, but then in a calamitous five minute spell, City scored twice.

De Gea didn't cover himself in glory on City's opening goal and he was badly at fault for the Citizen' second goal. United fans have predictably been jumping to the defence of the new goalkeeper, which is only to be expected. Nonetheless, it hasn't stopped the introspection which comes with the territory, with many pundits and fans alike asking questions about the poor marking on both of City's goals - but we cannot ignore the fact that the goalkeeper was also at fault too.

Peter Schmeichel is by common consensus, United's greatest ever 'keeper and so it is only natural that the media turn to him occasionally for his goalkeeping opinions. However, the former United star said "I have promised not to interfere, but will make one comment," he told The Mirror.

"I think it is absolutely ridiculous, listening to people already criticising him after one game.

"Everyone in this country always gets a chance, so what is the point of doing that now?"

So why exactly did United (presumably Ferguson himself) ask the great Dane to keep his opinions to himself on this occasion? The answer to that question is quite simple; Schmeichel recently spoke out about United's other new goalkeeper, Anders Lindegaard. Schmeichel basically implied his fellow compatriot wasn't up to playing for Manchester United.

Being a goalkeeper at any club is difficult, because you simply cannot afford to make many mistakes, when you do, the ball will invariably end up in the back of the net and as a result the pressure can be immense, but at a club like Manchester United that pressure is so much the greater.

When mistakes happen, there is a rush to take collective responsibility by the players and staff, but in relation to goalkeepers at United recent history tells us you can only defend a goalkeeper for so long; Ben Foster, among others, is testimony to that.

Mistakes lead to a breakdown in confidence between goalkeeper and the players in front of him and when that confidence is broken, that is when the manager has to act.

There's no doubt that Schmeichel knows what it takes to be a top goalkeeper and it therefore begs the question - why on earth the club hasn't sought the advice of the great Dane in relation to recruiting Edwin van der Sar's successor? Fergie is one of the few who can answer that question and maybe one day the manager will shed light on that one.

For now and looking forward to the season ahead, it is to be hoped that David de Gea is the right man to replace Edwin van der Sar, but respected commentators like Gabriele Marcotti are already saying the manager has taken a 'giant leap of faith' when paying what was a club record for de Gea.

Over the weekend, it emerged that in La Liga last season, de Gea conceded more goals from outside the penalty area than any other 'keeper - a stat that will have been greeted with plenty of raised eyebrows....Other pundits have hinted that de Gea might not be ready to make such a big move at this stage of his career.

So how long will de Gea be given at United? That question will only be answered over time, and hopefully, the young Spaniard will bounce back with a run of good games, and if that happens everyone including Schmeichel will be delighted.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The never ending Sneijder transfer saga, those Twitter rumours and it's goodbye Obertan...

The will he, won't he, sign for Manchester United story rumbles on. It was exactly the same prior to the arrival of Dimitar Berbatov; that was another drawn out saga and many United fans had bitten their fingernails down to the quick by the time the deal was eventually completed. At that time we feared neighbours City might beat us to the punch and land Berbatov - it didn't happen because the Bulgarian wanted to pull on the famous red shirt and  play for a big club.  Roll the clock forward to August, 2011 and we have exactly the same situation with Wesley Sneijder.  The difference is, we now have to live with the added distraction of rumours appearing on social networking sites like Twitter, with users, trying to give the impression that they have sources with insider knowledge.

For his part, Sneijder has dropped hints that, yes, he would like to play in the Premier League and according to is compatriot, Rafael van der Vaart, the Inter Milan star would be a good fit at United. But, importantly, no deal has been done and until we get final confirmation from one of the parties concerned, then we have to ignore the many unconfirmed rumours on Twitter, because they are nothing more than that. 

In other (real) news, Gabriel Obertan has left United to join Newcastle United and everyone connected with the champions will wish him well at his new club. The jury was very much out on Obertan, but the arrival of Ashley Young and the fact that United have cover on both flanks left the French youngster scrapping for the occasional cameo role on the bench and as a result his career was likely to stall. Moving on was the right decision for all concerned.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Quick footed Tom Cleverley at heart of United's dramatic shield comeback as champions edge out City...

Manchester United had to fight back from two-nil down at Wembley today but came back strongly to deservedly win three-two, in what was one of the more memorable curtain raises to the new season.

The fact that United went two behind in the first-half was down to a combination of poor defending and rank bad goalkeeping.

The champions had dominated the opening 35 minutes, but couldn't break down City's backline, but in the space of five dreadful minutes United conceded two goals. David Silva provided the opener with a wicked left-footed free-kick following a foul by Patrice Evra who'd found himself on the wrong side of James Milner and as result brought down the former Villa winger with a clumsy looking challenge. Silva delivered the perfect cross from the resulting free-kick from just outside the United box and Lescott beat Vidic to the ball and nodded beyond de Gea who was caught as in no-mans-land. It was a good goal from City's perspective, but a bad one to concede as far as the champions were concerned.

But then it got worse, much worse, for United as David de Gea was beaten from fully thirty yards out by Dzeko whose low swerving grass-cutter flew beyond the young Spanish keeper. De Gea should have done much better, and the player will no doubt acknowledge that fact.

United supporters will be concerned to learn that de Gea conceded 11 goals from outside the penalty box last season - more than any other goalkeeper in La Liga.

De Gea has had a baptism of fire today at Wembley, and it's hoped his confidence hasn't taken too much of a knock in what was a very high-profile game. The Spaniard, needs to regain his composure and quickly in these important first few weeks as a United player. One thing is for certain, opposing managers will look at the goals United conceded against City and they will no doubt be looking to cash-in on any perceived goalkeeping weaknesses. Confidence is a huge part of being a top goalkeeper and everyone connected with the club will be hoping de Gea can handle the pressure of playing for United.

Ahead of the Community Shield, Ferguson had made a pre-match promise to make wholesale changes at half-time, but given the circumstances he didn't make as many as anticipated. One of those Ferguson left on the bench was Anders Lindegaard, United's other new stopper. If Fergie had earmarked a goalkeeping change, he didn't make it, and no doubting the manager was fearful of de Gea's reaction and the resulting media frenzy. Ferguson made the right call in sticking by de Gea who did well in the remainder of the game, when pulling off one smart save at his near post.  De Gea looks to have excellent distribution, but his build is only slight and he doesn't have a physical presence and that could be telling on high crosses into the United penalty area.

Going into today's game, we had been led to believe that Michael Carrick would miss the Wembley showpiece, but when the two teams lined up, the England midfield play-maker was selected alongside Anderson and so United were pretty much at full strength, sans Hernandez who is out nursing a sore head following a bout of concussion. 

United were the better team in the opening 35 minutes, but it was City who provided that vital cutting edge in front of goal and so going into the interval two goals down you wondered how on earth the champions would respond, especially given the anticipated substitutions.

Well,  the army of United fans who'd been pretty quiet in the opening half, soon had plenty to shout about as Fergie's changes worked a treat. In what was a very bold move, Vidic and Ferdinand were replaced by Phil Jones and Jonny Evans. Carrick was replaced by Tom Cleverley.

Cleverley barely put a foot wrong and he was at the heart of everything that was good about United's second half performance. At one point in that second half, United's average age was under 23. Whether or not it was the age factor, or fatigue on the part of City, we will never know, but the United players looked stronger and sharper than their blue counterparts.

United were finally rewarded for their dominance on 52 minutes when Chris Smalling stole in between City's central defenders to flick home Ashley Young's well flighted cross from the left flank. Game on.

Six minutes later and United were on level terms thanks to a wonderfully worked goal by the champions. Rooney started the move from deep inside the City half, his pass was met by Cleverley who played it forward to Welbeck and he laid it back to Nani who then ran into the box and exchanged passes with Cleverley before slotting quite beautifully into the rigging. It was so good, it could well be the goal of the season.

From that point on, United largely had the better of it, as the pattern of the game didn't alter that much, but City always look dangerous on break. David Silva can make things happen in the blink of an eye and remained a constant threat throughout. In a bid to change City's fortunes, Roberto Mancini replaced the totally ineffective and sulking Mario Balotelli who made zero impact on the game.

With the game heading towards 90 minutes, it looked like going into extra-time and in all probability being decided with a dreaded shoot-out - which is always an unsatisfactory way to end any game. Thankfully, everyone was spared that outcome thanks to Nani who rounded Joe Hart deep into added time and scored his second goal of the game following an uncharacteristic mistake by Kompany.

In summary, United's youngsters stood up well to the physical challenge presented by City who will be a much tougher proposition in the weeks ahead. Referee Phil Dowd had an excellent game, despite brandishing his yellow card throughout, but in so doing he managed to keep a lid on what was a highly charged derby.

In Tom Cleverley, Ferguson might well have found part of the answer to his midfield problems. Cleverley, is neat and tidy, he uses the ball well and he's has great feet; he sees a pass early and he plays it quickly and accurately - and that made for a very welcome change.

Phil Jones looks as solid as a rock at the back and Chris Smalling looked more than useful in the rightback slot. Danny Welbeck did ok, but he is still very raw and the jury is still out on him; he loses possession too often, but his movement is pretty good and he played his part in today's comeback.

Ashley Young did quite well on the left flank and United found plenty of space behind Micah Richards, but there's room for improvement when it comes to crossing with his left foot. Young tends tends to cut back inside onto his right foot, which looks to be the stronger, but overall, he can be quite pleased with his performance.

Ferguson made all the right moves today, the only real concern was the performance of David de Gea and only time will tell if he is United material. Jones, Young and de Gea have won their first piece of silverware in what was their first truly competitive game for United and they along with the fans will be hoping it won't be their last.

Star man: Tom Cleverley, he gave an inspiring performance.

Shield: United likely to stuggle against City at Wembley....

Manchester United face neighbours Manchester City at Wembley later today in the Community Shield. Ahead of the game, Roberto Mancini has done his best to put the pressure on his opposite number by claiming United will be the favourites. For his part, Ferguson said the game has no real significance, but the United manager admitted no one likes to lose at Wembley and that it is an important marker for the big Premier League big kick-off the following weekend.

Ferguson was absolutely right, the fans will not enjoy the spectacle of seeing United lose to City at Wembley on consecutive visits. City could be far too strong for United, who will be without Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher in midfield. As a result, United will have a makeshift midfield, one that is likely to consist of Tom Cleverley and defender Phil Jones.

The battle for control always rests in midfield, and it is in this very important area that United will struggle. City's David Silva was the shining star in Dublin last weekend with the Spaniard pulling the strings against Inter Milan, who were made to look very ordinary. City ran out comfortable 3-0 winners over Inter Milan and  it could quite easily have been five or six. If City can reproduce a similar performance at Wembley today, there will only be one winner and sadly, it will not be United.

If United do go on to lose, and convincingly so, then it might force the club's money men to seal the much talked about Wesley Sneijder transfer and if that happens partly as a result of a poor Wembley showing against City, then it will at least make the pain easier to bear.

Weekend reports in Gazetta Dello Sport claimed that City were about to scupper United's hopes of signing Sneijder, but those claims have been rejected, but it remains to be seen if the Dutchman will join the champions.

In other news, the Sunday Mirror claims the Glazer family could be about to sell up to 25% of Manchester United on the stock market. This news is likely to be welcomed by supporter groups as it will lead to more transparency.

Finally, Gabriel Obertan is set to join Newcastle United having failed to convince the manager and his back-room team about his long term prospects.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Fergie facing potential Sneijder selection headache as United prepare to welcome returning Fletcher...

The news that Darren Fletcher is about to return to full training will be welcomed by everyone connected with Manchester United. The Scot missed much of last season due to suffering with a "mystery virus", but the former United trainee completed a full training session earlier this week and he finally looks to be on the road to full recovery. Fletcher's game is built on work-rate and it remains to be seen how long it will take him to return to full match fitness.

While acknowledging Fletcher's contribution to the champions cause in recent years, it's fair to state that he wasn't missed that badly last season, certainly not on the domestic front with United winning the Premier League title again.

Ferguson - along with every top manager in Europe - is striving to unlock the Barcelona code; United have suffered more than most at the feet of the Catalans' having lost twice in the Champions League final in the last three years and convincingly so. If, United are to have any hope of overcoming Barcelona, then the manager simply must improve his midfield options and his players must make better use of the ball by not giving it away cheaply, and by retaining possession.

Fletcher's strength centres on his ability to break up the play by winning the ball back - that coupled with his boundless energy, but there is room for improvement when it comes to his passing.

United are on the trail of Wesley Sneijder and reports suggest a very good offer has been tabled and so now it is a waiting game. The arrival of the Inter Milan maestro cannot happen soon enough following weeks of speculation.

While the arrival of a player like Sneijder will be welcomed, and rightly so, it will be interesting to see how the player slots into the United team and how this will affect the managers tactical planning.

United are at their counter-attacking best when there's two strikers and two wingers in the team. When his powers were at the their peak, Paul Scholes often occupied one of the two central midfield slots alongside Roy Keane, however, the arrival of Juan Veron in 2001 had consequences for Scholes.

With a newly acquired silky midfield star at his disposal, Ferguson initially tried to utilise Scholes as a second striker with a view to making best use of his attacking assets,  but that ploy didn't work and as a result Scholes eventually ended up on the left wing in some games; clearly this was a fudge and it wasn't making best use of England's finest midfield general.

Roll the clock forward to 2011 and Ferguson faces a different set of problems, because Sneijder is very much like Scholes, but if anything, he is more suited to playing in that slightly more advanced position behind the main striker. In the bread and butter Premier League games, there will be no problem; Sneijder is likely to fill one of the two central midfield slots, but in the most difficult looking fixtures, especially tough European assignments, Ferguson will have plenty to think about.

The United manager will more than likely rest either Rooney or Hernandez and Sneijder will play in front of the two central midfield players. Hernandez is the most likely to stand down in this scenario. First things first though, obviously, United have to sign Sneijder and pondering who to leave out will be a nice problem for the manager. The Veron, Scholes selection headache was much more of an issue for Ferguson, because it had a really negative impact on the then England star.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Fergie - we don't want Barton under any circumstances...

Only a fool would tell Ferguson how to do his job, but sometimes you have to voice your concerns and the news that United are being strongly linked to Joey Barton will surely have angered many United fans. Free signing or not, this blog doesn't want to see Barton pulling on a Manchester United shirt under any circumstances.

We have re-opened our poll asking whether or not Fergie should sign Barton. Have your say. If you do not support Manchester United, respectfully, can you please keep your opinions to yourself as we do not want your input. Thank you.

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