Monday, January 30, 2012

Mourinho unlikely to choose cash-strapped Manchester United...

News that Jose Mourinho could be about to de-camp to yet another club will no doubt result in managers at some of Europe's top clubs looking over their shoulders. It was ever thus.

Mourinho is of course hugely successful; his wins to games ratio at 69% is astonishing, that's an incredible ll% higher than Ferguson's - though, it's true the United manager has been around for a lot longer.

Mourinho, may not be everyone's cup of tea, but in the eyes of many he is the finest club coach in the world. If we are to assume he could move on this summer, will he come to Manchester United and take over from Ferguson? The odds of Jose becoming to Old Trafford will be short, not because it is likely to happen, but because many United fans will back the current Real Manager. The bookies favourite doesn't always win...

When and if Jose moves on, he will have the pick of the top jobs - including the United job...but why would Mourinho take over a debt ridden, cash-strapped club when there's more attractive offers on the table? Mourinho is a winner, but wherever he's been since he left Porto, he has been backed to the hilt in the transfer market and that simply would NOT happen at Old Trafford.

Chelsea and Manchester City will be able to meet Mourinho's financial demands. In contrast, sadly, United have lost much of their clout in the transfer market since the Glazer family takeover in 2005. Ferguson can no longer compete effectively because of the financial constraints placed upon him.

Whoever takes over from Ferguson is on a hiding to nothing - after all his success who, apart from Mourinho could follow that? But, it's extremely doubtful that Jose would accept the United job, because it represents too much of a challenge.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

No excuses for De Gea and United as Liverpool deliver FA Cup KO....

Manchester United were knocked out of the FA Cup at Anfield on Saturday by a less than impressive Liverpool team. United enjoyed the lions share of possession for long periods of a game that they by and large controlled, but the champions were once again guilty of making costly defensive errors and at the other end they were toothless up front.

Ferguson elected to start with Carrick, Giggs and Scholes in the engine room - a decision that can only be described as a gamble. United's central midfield trio had a combined grand old age of 107. As if that wasn't enough of a concern, United were also without the services of Wayne Rooney, thanks to yet another injury.

The fact that United went on to control the game for long periods of this FA Cup tie, probably says more about Liverpool than the champions - though the Merseyside club may well counter that they'd had a tough game in midweek against Man City....

Despite his years and his lay-off, it was Paul Scholes who pulled the strings in midfield. Strangely, Liverpool seemed to be content to sit back and wait to hit United on the break - much to the annoyance of those on the Kop - who let their feelings known throughout...

Valencia was very unlucky not to open the scoring on 16 minutes, but his superb drive hit the base of Reina's far post. As things turned out, that was one of the few efforts on goal by the visitors, much to the collective disappointment of the 5,000 or so United fans who'd travelled to Anfield for what is always a grudge match, but on this occasion even more so than normal following the Evra and Suarez spat and subsequent lengthy suspension for the Uruguayan.

Liverpool went on to win the tie by the odd goal in three, but annoyingly for United fans, they were handed victory on a plate by David De Gea and Patrice Evra - both were guilty of making basic errors.

Liverpool were poor - but  they didn't have to be *that good* to beat United and that is the real sickener for Ferguson, the supporters and players. Liverpool didn't have to work for their victory - it was handed to them on a plate.

Following a spell on the sidelines, under-fire 'keeper David De Gea was somewhat surprisingly brought back into the white-hot atmosphere of Anfield. The young Spanish goalkeeper appears to have lost his spot as the number one goalkeeper at Old Trafford, but with United playing in the FA Cup this was an opportunity to give the former Athletico Madrid goalkeeper a chance to redeem himself.

Sadly, it all went badly wrong again for De Gea, as he was largely responsible for Liverpool taking the lead on 21 minutes. Gerrard's corner into a crowded penalty area was headed home by Agger.

In the build up to that Liveroopl goal, De Gea made what can only be described as a 'schoolboy error' when he managed to get caught in no-mans-land - he was nowhere near the ball; knowing he couldn't get to the ball he should have dropped back onto his line, in so doing, giving himself half a chance of making a save from that slightly withdrawn position. The ball ended up in the United net and Ferguson later appeared to blame his defenders for getting in De Gea's way. Frankly, Ferguson's defence is laughable and ridiculous. A commanding goalkeeper like Schmeichel would have knocked his own players and the ball out of harms way, but clearly, De Gea is no match for the Great Dane - or come to that even a Tim Howard.

Liverpool knew that De Gea has a weakness on crosses and the only real question was, why after taking the lead didn't they keep on pressurising De Gea? At least that one was one of the questions asked by ITV's pundits after the game - the answer to that was simple: Liverpool didn't have the ball...

Despite going behind against the run of play, United kept their passing game together, but without penetrating the Liverpool penalty area or testing Reina.

But then, in what seemed like a blink of the eye, United equalised thanks to a very well worked goal on 38 minutes. Rafael combined quite brilliantly with Valencia on the right flank as they carved open the Liverpool defence. The Brazilian's cross found Park lurking deep inside the box, the South Korean finished in impressive style with his first touch - but that was to be the high point of his game, because on too many other occasions he was guilty of giving the ball straight back to Liverpool.

Half-time came and went, many of those in the crowd at Anfield and the millions watching on TV must have wondered if Ferguson would pull De Gea out of the firing line, but he didn't.

The story of the second-half was much like the first; United dominated for long spells but couldn't find a way through. Danny Welbeck looked totally lost up front on his own - he cannot lead the line without help.

Scholes predictably began to fade and he made way for Hernandez on 76 minutes, but to no great affect. It was Dalglish who made the more telling substitutions when sending on Kuyt, Bellamy and Adam for Carragher, Gerrard and Maxi.

Despite chasing the game for long spells without the ball, it was Liverpool who made the vital breakthrough on 88 minutes and a more simple goal you will not see this season. It came from a regulation long punt down field by Reina. Carroll nodded the ball on to unmarked Kuyt who drilled the ball home from deep inside the United box. In the TV replays that followed, it was clear that Evra's positioning was all wrong. United's captain was caught on the wrong side of Kuyt and De Gea could have done much better too.

Roy Keane summed up today: United made too many mistakes at the back and they didn't trouble Reina enough. That summed up United at Anfield in this FA Cup tie. There was very few positives from a United perspective. Rafael and Valencia were two of United's better  performers. Scholes and Smalling had decent games, but  collectively it wasn't good enough.

In the wake of what has been a disappointing day, Ferguson has many problems to address:

United's midfield continues to creak like an old gate.

How much longer can United continue to expect to rely on Scholes and Giggs?

Would a great club like Barcelona ever find themselves in this ridiculous situation?

It looks as though Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison will be sold and soon - a worrying situation given the hype surrounding two promising young players.

Berbatov's future continues to be the subject of intense speculation; will he be sold before the transfer window closes next week?

It looks as though the money invested in De Gea has been wasted. Anders Lindegaard was signed to be a backup 'keeper and no more than that, but it looks as though the Dane will continue to be the no.1 until Ferguson finds a suitable long-term replacement for Edwin Van der Sar.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

United set to lose £30m: Berbatov to move on a free transfer next summer?

The future of Dimitar Berbatov continues to be the subject of intense media speculation. The £30m striker is out of contract next summer and is therefore free to talk to would be suitors.

The former Spurs striker has been linked to CSKA Moscow, Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen.

Last month, Ferguson hinted that he was ready to activate a clause in the Bulgarian's contract; one that would extend his current deal by 12 months.

However, the 30-year-old’s future must be in serious doubt after he was photographed by the media boarding a flight to Frankfurt.

Manchester United could lose £30m if they are unable to persuade Berbatov to sign that contract extension.

To add to the United manager's woes, he could also lose Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison due to contract issues.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Scholes vindicates return. De Gea left out again, but all is not well at Manchester United....

United went level with Manchester City at the top of the Barclays Premier League thanks to Saturday's three-nil win over struggling Bolton. In truth, for the second home league game in a row, despite the winning margin, United made hard work of it. While the win over Bolton keeps the pressure on leaders City, it was not the performance of champions.

Jonny Evans and Rafael were restored to the United starting eleven, at the expense of Jones and Smalling, both were rested along with Anderson who we are led to believe suffered a knock in training. Interestingly, Paul Pogba was among the United substitutes, but as things turned out, he was left on the bench along with Dimitar Berbatov (more about these two shortly).

But for the poor quality of United's final ball into the Bolton penalty area in the first ten minutes, the champions could have been three-nil up, but that didn't happen.

With Scholes pulling the strings in midfield, United's build up play was good, at least it was until that vital final ball was delivered into the Bolton box.

Rooney failed convert a penalty in the 24th minute, but much credit should go to Adam Bogdan in the Bolton goal who made a fine save. Bogdan, had an excellent first-half, but he could do nothing about Paul Scholes tap-in on the stroke of half-time.

Danny Welbeck very nearly denied Scholes his first comeback goal when he appeared to try to control Rooney's pass, but he failed to do so, luckily for United, the former England midfield general was on-hand to open the scoring.

From that point onwards, United should have gone on to close the goal-difference gap on leaders City, but the crispness of passing, speed of thought and accuracy wasn't there for much of the second-half. At least that was the case as far as too many were concerned in the famous red shirt.

Scholes was the exception - at the grand old age of 37 - he was by far United's most effective midfield player on show. Scholes made the effort to get into the Bolton penalty several times, but the quality of United's final ball wasn't what we have come to expect from Nani and Valencia.

Scholes and Nani were eventually replaced by Giggs and Park in the 68th minute. Scholes didn't look too impressed with the manager's decision - and with some justification too, because he was by some distance United's most effective player on show. At the time of that double substitution, United were only one-nil to the good, no doubt fearing another Old Trafford slip-up, Ferguson took the decision to bring on fresh legs and to rest Scholes.

Former Liverpool striker, David Ngog missed the opportunity to put Bolton on level terms, but instead his shot nearly ended up in the third tier of the East Stand.

United's second-half play was sloppy on too many occasions and this gave the visitors' encouragement to push for an equaliser.

United finally scored a much needed second goal on 73 minutes and once again it was Rooney who was the provider. Despite being the attentions of a Bolton defender, Rooney managed to somehow prod the ball into the path of his strike partner and Welbeck finished with his first touch from just inside the visitors' penalty area.

The joy of scoring looked initially to have come at a high price, as both Rooney and Welbeck were felled just after getting what turned out to be a vital touch on the ball. Welbeck in particular looked to be in real pain as he lay writhing in agony inside the Bolton penalty area. With United travelling to North London next weekend to face Arsenal, the last thing Ferguson needs is more injury concerns.

Michael Carrick eased any prospect of another lapse by the champions when he hammered home a rare goal, one that ensured victory on 83 minutes with a well taken low curling drive into Bogdan's bottom right-hand corner.

In his post-match interview, Ferguson criticised referee Peter Walton for not showing Zat Knight a red card for his trip on Welbeck which led to the penalty. Nothing annoys manager's more than refereeing inconsistencies - fans and pundits alike will concur with the United manager on this aspect of the game.

In summary, Ferguson's decision to bring back Scholes in United's hour of need has been fully vindicated, at least it has for now. Scholes is still by far the most comfortable player on the ball, in any given situation; he is still the best passer of the ball at the club. However, while Scholes is likely to continue to prove his worth for the remainder of the season, his return to the first-team squad has had a knock-on effect where the likes of Anderson and Pogba are concerned.

For the third game in succession, David de Gea was left on the bench and it looks, for now at least, that Anders Lindegaard is the new no.1 goalkeeper at Old Trafford. De Gea will be given at least one more chance but any more mistakes could signal the end of his short United career.

ALL NOT WELL AT MANCHESTER UNITED...
With the January transfer window open, any of hopes of Ferguson adding much needed quality to his squad appear to be hopeful rather than tangible. Not unsurprisingly, Darron Gibson has been sold to Everton for a lowly transfer fee - as little as £500,000 has been reported.

The future of Dimitar Berbatov continues to be the subject of speculation linking the striker to PSG among others including Bayern

The re-emergence of Scholes has had a much talked about knock-on affect where the likes of Anderson and Pogba are concerned.

Anderson has failed to consistently live up to expectations - given his hefty price tag the Brazilian has been a disappointment.

In the case of Paul Pogba, United appear to have hit a stumbling block, because the club have revealed ongoing contract negotiations continue to be problematic. This situation has led to speculation about the youngster's future. According to one report over the weekend Manchester City are about to pass up the opportunity of signing Pogba on a pre-contract agreement for fear of causing upset with the neighbours.

Pogba's three year deal expires this summer - though United are thought to have an option to extend his current deal by 12 months. The notion that City wouldn't sign Pogba for fear of upsetting United is, it to put mildly, ridiculous. Man City signed Tevez and Hargreaves - their motives as far as the latter are concerned were questionable at best.

The future of Ravel Morrison has been the subject of much speculation over the last week, with United announcing the highly rated youngster is up for sale. United claimed the player has refused their contract offer, while Morrison has denied knowledge of any offer via Twitter. Newcastle are said to ready to sign Morrison. Manchester United have rejected at least one offer from the Magpies and so it looks as though it is only a matter of time before a deal will be completed.

The extent of United's contract troubles have been added to with the news that Danny Welbeck has become the subject of speculation about his future. United have reportedly offered the young England striker a bumper pay rise in recognition for his improvement and goals this season, but as yet we understand that deal remains unsigned.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Scant reward for Moral Cup victors as Scholes makes unlikely United return....

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Manchester United went into Sunday's third round FA Cup tie with neighbours City on the back of two league defeats on the spin. It was therefore not surprising that there wasn't a great deal of shared optimism among United fans ahead of the derby. The prospect of a third defeat in the space of a week seemed like a distinct possibility. To state that the champions hadn't played well against Blackburn and Newcastle in the previous two games would be to understate just how poorly United had performed that week.

Ferguson's squad has of course been decimated by injuries this season - a situation which has led to much talk of possible new signings, but then when Sunday's team news filtered through, to the absolute amazement of many, Paul Scholes' name appeared among the United subs.

Rumours of a possible Scholes comeback had been mooted on Saturday, but it at best it seemed unlikely. What did this all mean for Manchester United and would Ferguson be bold enough to throw the veteran into the heat of a derby battle following months of no first-team action? The fact Scholes had returned to help United just added to the sense of anticipation and yes, to a degree, bewilderment, too.

As things turned out, despite being on the receiving end in the opening exchanges it was United who took the lead thanks to a quite brilliant Wayne Rooney header on 10 minutes.

From the moment Rooney opened the scoring it just got better and better from a red perspective - at least it did in that action packed first-half. The joy of taking the lead was quickly followed by another major turning point, that was the red card issued to Vincent Kompany for a two-footed lunge at Nani. United's Portuguese winger saw the challenge coming and smartly skipped out of harms way; Kompany had jumped in, won the ball and without fouling Nani. Wayne Rooney ran to referee Chris Foy and made his feelings known. The referee immediately brandished his red card. Foy's decision to send-off Kompany has subsequently been the subject of much debate.

No one really wants to see players being sent-off, especially in a local derby, because it can spoil the contest. In October United lost Jonny Evans in the Old Trafford derby just after half-time and went on to lose 6-1, but on that occasion there wasn't much argument about the decision to issue a red card, the case was more clear-cut.

In this latest incident, it appeared as though Foy sent Kompany off for what was potentially a very dangerous challenge - when you dive in with both feet off the ground you leave yourself open to the possibility that the referee might issue a card. There's no doubting Kompany's scissor challenge is one that is dangerous and several players have suffered with long-term injuries as a direct result of similar lunges.

City have announced that they are to appeal on behalf of Kompany, but it will be difficult for the FA to rule in favour of the defender because to do so will send out the wrong message, one that will by default give the green light to two footed lunges.

The incident certainly affected the game and United raced into a three-nil by half-time with goals by Danny Welbeck and one from the penalty spot converted by Rooney, albeit at the second attempt following a fine save by Pantilimon.

Danny Welbeck missed a golden opportunity to put the tie to bed just before half-time, but the young striker failed to connect with Atonio Valencia's excellent cross from the right flank.

After the break City really came out fighting and hit back early thanks to an excellent free-kick from Kolarov, following a foul on Richards by Evra - for which the United defender was booked. When Anders Lindegaard reviews a replay of that Kolarov goal, he may concede that he should have been in a more central starting position instead of being too far to the right. United could have put a man on the post - but that didn't happen either and as a result Kolarov's stunning free-kick ended up in the rigging.

The 5,000+ visiting United fans cheered on Paul Scholes who had been warming up on the touch-line, and then on 59 minutes, the red legend made his return to action when replacing Nani who'd picked up a cheap yellow card in the first-half for petulance.

Scholes looked in confident mood, he was always willing to receive the ball - always available for the pass. United were then denied what looked like a certain penalty when Kolarov brought down Valencia, but on this ocassion, Foy favoured City.

Then just six minutes into his comeback, Scholes gifted the ball back to City deep in United territory - and the ball ended up in the United net. Lindegaard initially saved Aguero's shot on the turn, but the United goalkeeper only succeeded it pushing back to the city striker and he made no mistake from close range with his second attempt.

At that point, it felt as though anything could happen. Were United really going to throw away what looked like certain victory at half-time? United had raced into a deserved three-nil lead, but it looked as though City - who were down to ten men - might claw their way back into this dramatic cup tie.

United hung on, but truth be told, City were the better side in the second-half. In his post-match interview, Roberto Mancini praised his players' for their hard work, belief and excellent organisation. Micah Richards said City had come away with a moral victory. In contrast, Ferguson was less than pleased with his team's second-half performance, but it was United who went into Sunday's draw.

In summary, United missed an opportunity to really rub City's collective noses in it following that 6-1 defeat in October. But the result and especially the first-half performance exceeded the expectations of many United fans. Sure, it wasn't by any stretch the perfect United performance and it was one that left us with many talking points.

Scholes made his comeback and Ferguson just about got away with his calculated gamble to throw him in at the deep end. Rio Ferdinand looked very uncomfortable at the back at times; his choice of pass wasn't always the right one and he was quick to wrongly blame the likes of Phil Jones when it went wrong and it did on several occasions, but again United just about got away with it.

While it is easy to focus on the negatives, there was plenty of positives too. Rooney was United's star man, he'd made a point of kissing the United badge when he opened the scoring - and following his spat with Ferguson and the headlines that followed, his joy at scoring was all too obvious.

Danny Welbeck had played well and scored a very good goal - a pity he didn't finish off the tie before the break, but it was good experience to score against City.

Smalling did ok at the back and Jones while not having a good derby will have benefited from 90 minutes football after his recent injury setbacks. Atonio Valencia looked much more at home in his natural position and provided the crosses for the goals and a carried threat whenever he received the ball.

United have been drawn against Liverpool in the next round and the tie will be played at Anfield later this month - scant reward for a hard fought Moral Cup victory.

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