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.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reds back on track, as transfer talk erupts.....

United played more like the United we know and love at Loftus Road on Sunday, the champions ran out 2-0 winners and deservedly so. Wayne Rooney opened the scoring with an early headed goal from an Atonio Valencia cross from the right. Michael Carrick sealed the victory with an all too rare solo goal in the second-half following a 50 yard run at the Rangers defence.

It was Carrick's first goal for the club in 70 games - a stat that will have concerned both manager and player, but against Rangers, Carrick, showed signs that he's forging a useful  relationship with midfield star in the making, Phil Jones.

Carrick, Jones and Rooney linked up well throughout Sunday's fixture. Jones should have added to his tally for the season - on another day, he could easily have scored a brace. The former Blackburn defender shaved the post with his best effort and his driving runs from deep are invoking memories of Bryan Robson.

While Jones and Carrick controlled the game from the middle of the park, it was Wayne Rooney who was the real star of the show. Rooney hasn't enjoyed the last few weeks, following a run of indifferent performances - it was starting look as though the England striker might need  a rest - but with so many injuries that would have been difficult for Ferguson.

Thankfully, on Sunday, Rooney played like he did at the beginning of the season. The flicks and deft touches were there in abundance.  When Rooney plays as he did against Rangers he looks like a world beater. Danny Welbeck started alongside Rooney, despite playing for England and showing signs of promise, the young striker is not the finished article and he was eventually replaced by Javier Hernandez who made a welcome return to action and very nearly scored with his first touch.

Ashley Young appears to have fallen out of favour with the manager following a good run of games at the start of the season. On Sunday, Young replaced Nani with just 12 minutes remaining, but he didn't really have time to impress.

There was better news to report where the back four is concerned. Jonny Evans had another solid game; Ferguson appears to have faith in the Northern Ireland international - certainly more so than many fans.

In the absence of Vidic, Rio Ferdinand was defending on the front foot; on more than one occasion he charged out of the back four when making timely interceptions in midfield and then played a good ball to feet - let us hope the former England captain can maintain the form he showed at Loftus Road on Sunday, because he too was superb.

Chris Smalling was once again steady at rightback, but on the opposite flank Patrice Evra continues to be a source of concern.

Evra appears to have lost a yard of pace amidst suggestions that the Frenchman is lazy - an accusation that has only recently surfaced from the lips of fans and pundits alike. We never heard talk of laziness a couple of season ago...

So United appear to be back on track following the huge disappointment of Champions League elimination, with the loss of face and not forgetting the lost TV millions.

As we head towards 2012, predictably, with the transfer window set to open, United are being linked to just about anyone and everyone again. It was ever thus.  If we are to believe the latest tittle-tattle, United are set to agree a deal worth up to 40 million Euro's for Benfica's Argentine midfielder Nicolas Gaitan. According to reports the deal will go through in the summer.

Next up: United face Fulham in West London. United must take all three points if they are to keep the pressure on leaders City.

Coming up later this week, we will be reviewing Roy Keane's latest spat with Ferguson and what that all means. And we will we be giving our views on the Patrice Evra Luis Suarez row over those racism claims. The Liverpool striker has been banned for 8 games and given a £40,000 fine by the FA.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

United to step-up search for Ferguson's replacement?....We give our verdict on the names in the frame...

At the time of posting, Manchester United are currently five points behind leaders Manchester City in the Premier League. The gap between first and second placed club isn't unbridgeable, but City have the added advantage of a huge goal difference and truth be told, even at this relatively early stage of the season, they have the look of champions about them.

Not entirely unexpectedly, United and City were knocked out of the Champions League in mid-week and so both clubs will take their places at the paupers' table that is the Europa League.

As the dust settled following United's embarrassing Champions League exit, Ferguson derided the Europa League when describing United's participation in the competition as a "UEFA punishment". Predictably, much back-tracking has followed in the wake of the manager's unwise choice of words, but we know what Ferguson meant all right.

As if being knocked out of the Champions League by Basel wasn't bad enough, United are coming to terms with the news that Vidic has been ruled out for the rest of the season with knee ligament damage. According to the likes of Gary Pallister and Rio Ferdinand (among others) United will bounce back and Vidic will not be missed *that much*. As ever, many supporters will no doubt take a more realistic view, because given the problems faced by the manager and his depleted squad, United will do well to finish in the top four.

United have been really struggling since the Manchester derby, in which the champions were totally outclassed and humiliated. Ferguson appears to have lost confidence in 4-4-2 - his previously favoured formation - that and his players ability to win by playing 'the United way'. As a result, much of United's play since the derby has been boring and to a degree predictable too.

Set against what is a gloomy looking backdrop, not surprisingly, sections of the media have once again started talking about the thorny issue that is Ferguson's future.

Ferguson will be 70 years of age at the turn of the year - quite obviously, he cannot carry on for much longer, so now seems like a good time to review the leading candidates.

The men who could replace Ferguson...

Guus Hiddink (born 8 November 1946) The much travelled Dutchman has recently parted company with the Turkish national team after failing to qualify for Euro 2012. The fact that Hiddink - with all his experience - is available is never a good thing for manager's who spend time looking over their shoulder. Chelsea's current manager André Villas-Boas has been under the spotlight following some indifferent performances this season, but having qualified for the knockout stage of the Champions League the pressure is off, for now. Nonetheless, Hiddink's availability will only add to recent speculation should the situation take a turn for the worse.

As far as the Manchester United job is concerned, at this moment in time, the vacancy hasn't been posted. But, if Ferguson and Gill have had dialogue about the manager's future, now seems like a perfect time to open preliminary talks with Hiddink, about the possibility of becoming the new manager, possibly as soon as next season. Hiddink is one of a very small number of managers who ticks all the boxes. The former Chelsea caretaker manager knows the game inside out. He speaks English. Hiddink has won trophies at club level and he has a wealth of knowledge about the game. For all of those attributes, it appears as though Hiddink prefers the comparatively cushy number that is international football management.

Surprisingly, Hiddink is only five years younger than Ferguson, but that too could be a slight sticking point for both the Dutchman and United's decision-makers. But if Hiddink fancied one last big club challenge - potential age issues aside - then he would appear to be perfect for the United job.

Our Hiddink Verdict:
Suitability 4/5
Probability 2/5

Jose Mourinho (born 26 January 1963). By common consensus, Jose Mourinho is one of the finest manager's in the world right now, certainly at club level at least anyway. Mourinho is a born winner. Wherever he's been the current Real Madrid manager has won trophies and has been hugely popular with supporters. Mourinho has the charisma, charm, knowledge and of course he speaks excellent English.

Assuming David Gill was able to convince Mourinho that he would be able to sign whoever he wanted in the transfer market, then Jose could just be the man to turn to. Manchester City are currently playing a brand of football that isn't that far removed from the Mourinho coaching manual, though it's true to state that City are currently playing with more flair than we often saw from Chelsea under Mourinho. Despite the club's success, United have undoubtedly suffered from being tactically naive under Ferguson at times, especially in Europe - Mourinho is an expert in-game tactician and this could be a massive boon for the current champions. In bringing Mourinho to Old Trafford, United would definitely have the right man to take on City at their own game when it comes to not conceding and hitting teams on the break.

The drawbacks? There are a few. Mourinho likes to get his own way, much the same as Ferguson - and that could potentially be a sticking point for David Gill and the club's owners. When Fergie eventually retires, the club's decision-makers may opt for a less autocratic manager. Like Ferguson, Mourinho is something of a control freak, but unlike Ferguson, he isn't renowned for developing youngsters and turning them into superstars.

Despite his glowing CV, MourinhoMourinho's needs when it comes to his demands in the transfer market - given the size of the City challenge, the price will be sky high.

Finally, Mourinho's ego and his propensity to up sticks and move on every two to three years. For all of those undoubted question marks, if we are to believe some expert pundits, it isn't a question of if, but more like when he will become the next United manager. For the time being and for who knows how long, Mourinho is the current manager of Real Madrid who could be about to knock Barcelona off their lofty perch.

Our Mourinho Verdict:
Suitability 4/5
Probability 4/5

Mark Hughes (born 1 November 1963) Without a shadow of doubt, Hughes is WILL be among the bookies favourites to succeed Ferguson. Hughes is easily the most suitable of the British candidates and former United players who've turned their hand to management.

Hughes has done reasonably well wherever he's managed, his CV includes, Wales, Blackburn, Manchester City and Fulham. The Welshman was unlucky to lose his post at Manchester City where he was doing a good job. After being sacked by City, Hughes took over at Fulham, but only lasted 11 months - he quit and later questioned the West London club's ambitions.

Hughes is of course a former United player, he is also available at this moment in time and he knows all about Manchester United. In terms of his personality and his style, Hughes has always been known as a quiet man - which somewhat contradicted his style as a player. Hughes was a formidable target man; opposing defenders always knew they were in for a battle with the Welshman.

Nothing fazed Hughes as a player and he has remained cool under pressure as a manager. Unlike, Mourinho, United could bank on Hughes to see the job through for the long term, nor would he go bleating to the press about any perceived wrong-doings inside or outside the club. Hughes also has age on his side. The downside is that Hughes hasn't won any silverware, but given his experience and taking an overall view, we firmly believe he could well turn out to be the next Manchester United manager.

Our Hughes Verdict:
Suitability 3/5
Probability 5/5

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Abject United lurching towards crisis: No defence for De Gea, Rooney and Ferguson as sorry Reds crash out of Champions League...

Not for the first time this season, Manchester United pressed the self-destruct button in Europe when losing 2-1 against Basel in Switzerland last night, a result which sees the champions dropping into the Europa League. It is nothing short of an unmitigated disaster for Ferguson, his players and the club. On a purely commercial level, United will be left to count the cost of lost TV revenues; on a playing level, the ramifications and fall-out could be much worse.

A hugely disappointing result and performance ended with an unedifying pitch-side spat between Ferguson and his former captain Roy Keane, in which the United legend pulled no punches when blaming the young players and the manager. Ferguson's withering response, did not reflect well on the United manager. The Scot labelled his former captain as a "TV critic" and went on to pour scorn on Keane's managerial credentials when saying "I don't know why you are bringing this up from a television critic," he said. "Roy had an opportunity to prove himself as a manager and it's a hard job". Perhaps Ferguson will live to regret his comments which some will view as personal and totally out of order.

When Keane spoke out, he was only saying what millions of onlooking United fans already knew, he was speaking like a fan and on behalf of the fans: Ferguson has failed to adequately strengthen his midfield. Oh, how United could have done with Keane on the pitch last night. Keane was the ultimate warrior - a man who could be relied upon in the heat of the battle. How could Ferguson label his former captain as a mere "TV critic"? Ferguson's comments on Keane were nothing short of a disgrace. Shame on you Ferguson.

In mitigation, there will, as ever, be those who will defend Ferguson and his team, but football is a results business and United have been abject in the Champions League this season. Too many performances have been littered with mistakes which have led directly to goals.

Against Basel, it was David de Gea who cost United dearly on nine minutes. United had started very brightly - albeit without ever seriously threatening to score - but the Swiss champions scored with their first serious attack following a collision between Smalling and Vidic, one that left the England defender prostrate on the pitch. The referee should have perhaps stopped the game for what looked like a head injury, but that did not happen and de Gea went on to make what could only be described as a schoolboy error when failing to deal with a low cross into the United penalty area. The Spanish stopper inexplicably tried to boot the ball to safety, but he failed to do so which led to Streller scoring.

While there is no escaping the fact that de Gea was badly at fault, he was not on his own; Evra and Rio Ferdinand were guilty of ball-watching - they should have reacted and closed down the space between ball and man - but both were rooted to the spot.

No matter what the fans and media say about de Gea from here on in, it will be his own performances that dictate his future. While there's no disputing de Gea is capable for brilliance, he also suffers when making the occasional technically poor error. In the early stages of last night's clash, the Spaniard came off his line and flapped badly at a cross, he failed to clear his lines and that led to United coming under pressure. It remains to be seen if de Gea will go on to have a long-term future at United; his performances will dictate whether or not he will be viewed as a legend or else a costly gamble that went badly wrong. De Gea cannot afford many more high-profile errors, we can be 100% certain of that.

Basel extended their lead as the game headed to its sorry conclusion with a goal from Frei and here again, it was in part down to another mistake when Smalling failed to deal with a cross into the box. Jones scored a late consolation goal following a melee in the Basel penalty area - but the game was up and it too little too late. United were simply not good enough to beat an average Swiss team - which in itself speaks volumes about the champions.

After the final whistle and set against the noisy backdrop of the visiting fans chanting his name, Keane criticised United's young players and he was right to do so. Ashley Young started his United career well, but since the derby, like too many others, he hasn't really been doing the business.

Keane singled out Ryan Giggs for a degree of praise, when saying it was ridiculous that United were relying on a veteran who is pushing 40. Here again, Keane was bang on the money and on this note it is Ferguson who must ultimately carry the can. Ferguson has failed to strengthen United's engine room and there is no excuse for that, not when Man City have signed David Silva who was available - if only the manager and his scouts had the gumption to spot him. As far as we know, United never even tried to sign Silva...and that is damning.

For his part, Wayne Rooney is not beyond criticism; the United striker was in red-hot form earlier in the season, but since the derby, the England striker has been poor. Rooney had a stinker against Basel last night - not only did he miss an open goal, but he barely hit the target with any of his efforts on goal. As ridiculous as this may sound, at times, it was almost as if he was trying NOT to score...

So what does the future hold for United and Ferguson? For starters, with games being played on Thursday, the Europa League will cause havoc for Ferguson and his injury ravaged squad. Vidic became latest injury victim when he went off with suspected knee ligament damage. Ferguson is in trouble, of that there is no doubt. In the wake of the derby, there is a theory shared by some pundits and fans that the United manager may well have under-mined his players confidence with his changes in formation and his chopping and changing. Whether or not that is a factor is open to debate and only the players themselves can answer that question.

What is beyond doubt is the fact that United are struggling and come the end of the season, we might well be grateful if the team goes on to secure a Champions League spot for next season - that we confidently predict, will turn out to be main goal in what is fast becoming a season to forget. Finally, do not be surprised if last night's Champions League tie was Ferguson's last in the competition...he cannot continue forever.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

City v United in the FA Cup: It's the worst draw possible for Ferguson...

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Manchester United haven't been the same team since the derby. The early season swagger, attacking play and flair that saw the champions serge to the summit of the Premier League seems like a distant memory. City currently lead United by five points, that and a massive goal difference. In terms of style and approach, City are playing a calculated brand of football, one that is based on not conceding and punishing any mistakes made by their opponents. Arsene Wenger recently hinted that City could have the League title wrapped up by Christmas - while that is highly unlikely, we know what the Arsenal manager meant.

In short, and while it is hard to acknowledge this, Mancini is doing a stunning job for his club, so much so that the Italian is making it all look a bit too easy. City are on target to smash the record for most goals scored in a Premier League season. Chelsea are the current holders of that record with 103 goals in 2009-2010. Ironically, City currently hold the record for the lowest number of home goals in 2006-2007, but, oh, how times have changed. At the current rate, City will score over 130 goals - if that happens they won't broken the record, they will have blown it to smithereens.

Mancini weighed up the Premier League for a couple of seasons and after initially being criticised for being too defensive, he now looks to have found the perfect system; one look at the goals for column backs up that theory. City are very difficult to score against and they are ruthlessly efficient at the other end - it is proving to be a lethal combination, one that is not without style, with David Silva pulling the strings.

United fans cannot complain too much, given the club's success under Ferguson, but as we head towards the turn of the year, and with another derby on the horizon in the 3rd round of FA Cup, we are heading into the unknown. Anything could happen. City could well go on to dominate English football for the next decade - in the same way that United have dominated on the domestic front. With the backing of an oil-rich nation, City can continue to buy who they choose. It is nothing short of a near miracle turnaround for a club that not so long ago was regarded as a yo-yo-club.

With Ferguson pushing 70, he will not be around to stop City for much longer.
The United manager suffered the most embarrassing defeat of his career when the two teams last met in October and the worry is, City are playing so well, we cannot rule out a similar scoreline in January.

United are not playing well - everyone knows it - and Ferguson's job is being made more difficult with a succession of injuries to key players. Javier Hernandez became the latest injury victim at Villa Park on Saturday when he inexplicably fell over for no apparent reason and damaged ankle ligaments. It was a bizarre injury, one that will have left Ferguson cursing his luck. United won at Villa Park and Phil Jones was the goal hero. The overall performance was marginally better than we've seen of late, but United are still not quite collectively at it and you worry about the battles ahead.

United travel to Basel on Wednesday night needing just a draw to qualify for the knockout stage of the Champions League. For their part, Basel need to win to avoid being relegated to the Europa League. If United lose, they will end up in the Europa League and that in itself will without any shadow of doubt have implications for the champions. Europa League games are played on Thursdays and that means you lose a day's rest ahead of domestic games and it's one reason why Premier League club's have struggled in this competition. City could also easily end up in the Europa League, if Napoli win away at Villarreal.

It's going to be an emotional roller-coaster...

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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Another "wake-up call" for Fergie, as Palace dump sorry Reds out of Carling Cup...

Crystal Palace deservedly dumped Manchester United out of the Carling Cup at Old Trafford last night. The performance and the result was hugely disappointing from a Red perspective and for the second time in recent weeks Ferguson was left apologising to the fans.

The United manager described last month's 6-1 derby thrashing as a "wake-up call". Following the Palace defeat last night, Ferguson didn't mince his words, he simply apologised to the fans when saying "that wasn't a Manchester United performance". There was a hint of "...this is the first time this happened this season" in the manager's tone. We know what the manager meant alright, but sadly, many will beg to differ, because frankly, United have been awful since the derby.

On an individual and collective level, last night's performance was so poor - it barely merits space on this page. But all credit to Crystal Palace who were the better team. United can complain about the manner of the winning goal, but the mid-table Championship club were good value for the victory.

The truth is, there has been too many performances that have fallen way below the expectations of the fans this season; but by and large United have been getting away with it because the team has been winning. Nonetheless, it doesn't alter the fact that the punters are less than happy with much of the fare being served up by the manager and his players.

There's nothing particularly new about domestic cup home defeats; York City won 3-0 at Old Trafford in '95-'96 and of course Leeds embarrassed the champions in the FA Cup two years ago. Such defeats are never forgotten, but they are seen for what they usually are - nothing more than a blip in the big scheme of things.

Worryingly, this loss of form and attacking confidence appears to be much more than a blip, because United have started to struggle at home at Old Trafford and that is a danger sign for any team with serious trophy winning aspirations.

It was only a week ago that Ferguson attempted to brazenly laugh off suggestions from the media that United are struggling in Europe. The fact is, Fergie can laugh as much as he likes, but Basel could quite easily wipe that smile off his face when the two sides meet in the final Group C game which could see United being eliminated from the Champions League.

United are struggling, everyone, and most of all Ferguson knows it. The big question is, what if anything in the short-term can be done to address the problems?

Those hoping that Ferguson will address his central midfield problems in January, are likely to be disappointed, because according to Ferguson, no one of the desired quality is available.

The first part of that problem is identifying your targets; is it fair to ask if David Silva was ever on Fergie's radar? United have been too busy chasing the likes of Sneijder, when we know, at least one potential target most definitely was available, but the manager stands charged of not even trying to sign a player who has lit up the Premier League this season.

The serious issues in central midfield were first exposed by Barcelona in Rome two years ago in that one-sided Champions League final. We saw a repeat of that dispiriting performance by United in last year's final when Barcelona easily cantered to victory. Since then Ferguson has done precious little to address the midfield problems, apart from complain about the "lack of value in the market".

It's one thing losing to the best team on the planet, quite another seeing United humiliated at home by the likes of City and then losing to lower division clubs. United are not playing well in the bread and butter games - and that should be a big concern for everyone connected with the club.

United have stagnated and the manager's buying has been mixed. There has been some unqualified success stories, like Javier Hernandez, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, but there has been other less successful deals.

Perhaps Ferguson needs more help from his assistants when it comes to buying, scouting and tactics, and on this note, some fans are asking if the manager has surrounded himself with too many 'yes men'. Only time will tell what the future holds. But for now, United look beatable at Old Trafford and the word has gone out. The way the team is playing, Palace won't be the last opposing team to win on the champions turf.

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