Sunday, December 30, 2007

End of year horror show as Reds pay price for complacency...

Manchester United ended the year with a horror show of a performance at Upton Park on Saturday when they deservedly went down losing 2-1 after being a goal in front, courtesy of a first-half headed Ronaldo goal, which was scored against the run of play on the counter-attack.

Going into the game, Fergie had left out Wayne Rooney and Anderson in preference to Saha and Fletcher and there was no Edwin van der Sar for the third game in a row. Had the missing trio been in the side from the start it may well have been a different story, but they weren't and West Ham were good value for this victory as they wanted it more than the United players.

United missed the chance to make it 2-0 when Ronaldo's second-half penalty went horribly wrong when blazing wide, not long after Aton Ferdinand equalised from a corner with a good header before Upson scored the winner on 82 minutes with another headed goal from yet another set piece. After the game Ferguson said that United had not performed and hinted that he was less than happy about the manner of the two West Ham goals which came from set-pieces.

However, in a bid to win the game it appeared as though Fergie tried to shut-up-shop and defend their slender one-nil lead when he replaced Tevez with Anderson on 64 minutes. Fans were left to speculate on the logic behind this decision, no doubting it was designed to rest control of midfield from the Hammers but to also close down the game, but with over 25 five minutes remaining on the clock it was far too early to start running the clock down. As things turned out it was a tactical howler by the United manager as it led to the Hammers having even more of the ball as the Reds only had the totally ineffective Saha up front.

The Hammers often seem to reserve their very best performances for the visit of Manchester United, Hammers fans and Reds supporters will be hoping that they continue in the same vein against the other top teams when they visit Upton Park this season.

As a result of this setback and Arsenal thrashing Everton at Goodison Park, it's the Gunners and not United who start the new year in poll position, if the first half of the season is anything to go by it looks like it's going to be a fantastic race to the finish.

If there is an upside to this setback, it comes in the hope that Ferguson finally realises that he cannot afford to tinker too much with his starting line-up. Anderson must start every game when fit, because he is head and shoulders above Carrick and Fletcher as is Hargreaves. Against West Ham the Reds never really controlled midfield and of course whoever dominates the engine room often wins the game.

Against the Hammers there was no Wayne Rooney who was left out of the squad completely which left United with no striker on the bench. Once again there is talk of a Rooney 'injury' but the suspicion is that Fergie had sanctioned his own 'mini-winter break' for Wayne. It's likely that Rooney will be back for the Reds against Birmingham which if true will only add fuel to that theory.

The battle for top-spot is so tight that some Reds would like to see Fergie starting with his strongest eleven every week and follow the Mourinho trend rather taking the tinkerman trail. No matter what team Fergie selects though, to a man they will have to match the opposition players for effort which did not happen against the Hammers on Saturday.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fergie backing for Big Sam - why talk is cheap...

Predictably and not for the first time, Fergie has backed one of his managerial mates who is coming under fire following a string of poor results. Newcastle have been punching well below their collective weight and their fans expectations for decades and in a somewhat patronising attempt to help his buddy, Fergie has stated that Newcastle have never recovered from the 5-0 thumping of Manchester United a few seasons ago when Keegan was their manager. The Geordies will just love Fergie for saying that.

Let us not forget that Fergie also backed another of his mates David "my young boys" O'Leary, who at the time was managing Aston Villa. Fergie's backing for O'Leary came at a time when the Villa boss was under fire following a run of poor results which led to abuse from their fans. It should also be noted that the Reds boss had sold Villa, Djemba-Djemba, of who some fans say he was so bad that they named him twice. Eric is now on loan at Burnley.

Fergie also sold Alan Smith to Newcastle and in doing so he recouped most of the £7m transfer fee that he'd forked out to acquire him from Leeds United. It was a decent piece of business from the Reds perspective, but one which Newcastle fans may well have mixed views on.

So while it's all very well Fergie talking the talk, it's not beyond him to offload unwanted stars when the need arises, because his actions have spoken louder than words when it comes to 'helping his mates' on occasion. So Fergie's platitudes should clearly not be taken that seriously.

Fergie has also gone on record telling fans of Manchester United that they should not expect any say in the running of their club, perhaps he should be told to keep his nose out of other clubs business.

On the wider point about sacking managers, as Fergie would no doubt concur, it's the club owners who have to make those decisions. These top-flight managers are in most cases multi-millionaires, no one should feel a grain of sympathy for any of them. On that note, what could be better than seeing Shearer fall flat on his face should he replace Big Sam?

One thing is for sure, Fergie cannot question the football knowledge of Mike Ashley the Newcastle owner, given that the Manchester United manager has expressed his support for the Glazers on so many occasions.

Friday, December 28, 2007

United to benefit from African Cup of Nations?

There cannot be that many Chelsea or Arsenal fans who think that the African Cup of Nations is a worthy tournament given its god awful timing, it starts on January 20th and runs until the February 10th. The winners of the 2008 competition, which is being staged in Ghana, will represent CAF at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup - another pointless FIFA competition? Why can't the 2008 competition be played in August when the average temperature is at its lowest point in the year? Or is that too simple for FIFA and the CAF?

No doubting Fergie and many other United fans will be quite happy about the fact that the international football calendar is out of sync with European football, given that United could be among those Premier League clubs who might benefit from rivals like Chelsea and Arsenal losing so many star names for a crucial period of the season.

Some clubs will no doubt think twice about signing young players from the African continent due to the timing of the African Cup of Nations.

Arsenal will lose the following:

While Chelsea could lose:
Obi Mikel

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Liverpool preparing to hoist white flag of surrender ...

If United win their match at Upton Park on Saturday they will go into the New Year as league leaders, they will also no doubt be many pundits favourite to retain the Premier League title.

Meanwhile bitter rivals Liverpool currently lie nine points adrift of the champions, albeit with a game in hand, but if United should win against West Ham on Saturday and Manchester City beat Liverpool on Sunday at Eastlands it will surely mark the end of another fruitless title challenge by Rafa Benitez's team, if indeed it can be described as such.

It was only a few months ago that many in the media were writing-off United as they languished near the foot of the table, while at the same time many supporters were no doubt punting on the Merseyside Reds to finally win their first Premier League.

Liverpool last won the title in 1989-90 when it was the old first division championship, ironically the Margaret Thatcher era also came a crushing end in the same year as she was eventually replaced by John Major.

The early 90s also marked the end of the cold-war and the Soviet Union. East and West Germany were reunited and the early 1990s saw in the beginning of what was to become known as globalisation. It was a case of out with the old and in with the new, it was also a time for change on the pitch as United replaced Liverpool as the dominant force in English football.

While Liverpool fans are quick to remind United supporters that their club has won the European Cup/Champions League five times, they don't like being reminded that it is likely to be 18 years since they last won the thing which they crave the most, the league title.

United fans wont be banking on another league title victory just yet, but with the prospect of yet more problems for Arsenal and Chelsea with both clubs having players who will be involved in the African Cup of Nations in January and February, the champions look like a good bet

For Liverpool, they will surely be preparing to hoist the white flag of surrender above Anfield as the long barren run without a league title to celebrate is likely to continue as they look enviously on at United.

Keane in search of wise men as his team fail to close stable door...

The Reds heaped yet more pressure onto the shoulders of rookie manager and United hero Roy Keane on Boxing Day as Fergie's side took full advantage of the Black Cats generosity to make it a very happy Christmas for all followers of the Red Devils as the visitors ran out comfortable four-nil winners.

The Sunderland defence once again left open the proverbial stable door for Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha and then Ronaldo to score first-half goals in a game that in the end amounted to little more than a training exercise for United.

The manner of the first goal will give Roy Keane and his defenders nightmares, as Rooney was allowed the freedom of the Stadium of Light to score too easily. It was a goal that was fully in keeping with the Panto season and the home fans would no doubt have been shouting 'he's behind you' as Rooney found himself in acres of space which gave him enough time to place his drilled effort beyond Gordon. In point of fact the £9m 'keeper got nowhere near saving any of United's goals, so clinical was the Reds finishing.

United were all easy on the eye as they picked-off Sunderland at will with their swift counter-attacking football. It came as no surprise that thirty minutes into the game Louis Saha doubled the Reds lead after another passage of slick first-time passing, as once again the Sunderland back-four were opened-up in a move which ended with the Frenchman skillfully prodding home his first time effort leaving Gordon stranded on his line.

While it was good to watch for Reds fans it was another very uncomfortable afternoon for the home supporters and their manager who must now surely be feeling the heat after his team sunk to second from last in the table. Of the bottom eight sides in the Premier League only Boro and Sunderland have yet to sacrifice their manager...

Just before the break, Ronaldo added to Sunderland's miserable Christmas with a picture-book goal from fully 25 yards when he crashed home arguably his free-kick to date for United. All too often the Portuguese winger opts for power alone with his arrow like straight drives, but this time he went for finesse over brute-force when he curled his drive around and over the Black Cats wall. Fantastico.

Somewhat predictably United eased-off the gas in the second half after Fergie no doubt called off the dogs in a bid to save Sunderland and Keano further embarrassment. However, the Reds weren't done with as Louis Saha converted a second half penalty after Nani had been felled the box.

United had arrived at Sunderland looking for three points that would see them go top of the league table. Keane for his part, must now surely go in search of at least three wise men in a bid to stem the flow of goals which if not checked could see the Black Cats relegated again. It is not looking good for Keane or Sunderland.

For United, they head into the New Year in the number one spot and top of the tree after Arsenal failed to win at Portsmouth and contrary to Fergie's recently expressed view, it looks like it's going to be a two-horse-race between the Red Devils and the Gunners.

Monday, December 24, 2007

It's all set-up for a Boxing Day cracker as United look to put more pressure on Arsenal...

Of the top three United have what looks, at least on paper, to be the easier of the Boxing Day fixtures with a visit to relegation threatened Sunderland for a game that kicks-off at 3pm, while league leader's Arsenal face Portsmouth later that evening. There is of course no such thing as an easy game in the Premier League and Roy Keane's team will be chomping at the bit for their manager who will in turn be looking to put one over on his former boss and ex-team-mates.

During the Old Trafford meeting between the two teams in September, Keane who until that point had been more Father Ted on the touchline rather than the raging mad-axeman like warrior of his old United playing days lost it when decisions went against Sunderland. It was the first time this season that the latent aggression which lurks just beneath surface had manifested itself, but few will have been surprised. Nor should they have been given the man demands that every player gives 100% on and off the pitch in the cause of winning.

Since that Old Trafford meeting which United won one-nil courtesy of a late goal by Saha, Keane's Sunderland have really struggled and in some games like on Saturday against Reading they have not had the rub of the green on the big decisions. Keane was rightly furious with the officials at Reading who saw fit to rule that the ball had crossed the line, yet after umpteen replays no one can be sure of that, but in awarding the goal Steve Coppell's team took the spoils and once again Keane had the pained look on his face of a man who'd just had his wisdom teeth extracted with no anaesthetic.

United fans will be hoping that Keane can keep the Black Cats up this season so while a win for the Reds is vital there will no doubt be mixed feelings for the club's former captain. For his part, the Sunderland manager will be no doubt be banking on a some good fortune against his old club in the belief that lady-luck has to smile upon him and his players sooner or later. Whatever happens on Boxing Day, Keane has cemented his place among the true Old Trafford legends.

Meanwhile, Arsenal who were not at their collective best in Saturday's win over North London rivals Spurs travel to Portsmouth who were on the wrong end of a 4-1 tonking at Anfield on Saturday. However, Pompey were not as bad as the scoreline suggested and they will give Wenger's side a tough game. In many ways, it might actually suit Ferguson if both United and Arsenal go on to win their respective Boxing Day fixtures as the pressure will mount on the Gunners as the weeks go on with the Red Devils breathing down their necks in second place.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

United thankful for another early Xmas present from Merseyside as Ronaldo ends Toffees unbeaten run...

United have been in action at Old Trafford in the 12-noon kick-off against Everton. The Toffees had gone 13 games unbeaten prior to today's visit for what was another very important Premier League fixture.

Ahead of the game, the United manager had sprung a few surprises with his team selection as there was no Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand or Owen Hargreaves, who we are told were all 'injured'. But there was no signs of injury where the star trio are concerned in the Reds last outing when they managed to pinch all three points off the other big Merseyside club Liverpool last weekend when Tevez did the damage.

So was Ferguson trying to be clever again by resting players in a bid to give everyone a game at this busy festive time? In the end it did not matter as United managed to somehow sneak a late, and in some ways a fortuitous victory. The deciding goal of three came late on in the game after Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar had what can only be descibed as a rush of blood to his head when sticking out his leg to bring down Ryan Giggs when the Welsh wizard was running away from goal and the ball was on his right foot. It was an act of madness and one for which the visitors paid a high price as Ronaldo converted the resulting penalty.

From the start of this game, Everton had the look of a team who were on an unbeaten run, they worked tirelessly all over the park when closing down anyone in the famous red shirt.

It took a piece of sheer brilliance to finally carve open the Toffees back four on 22 minutes when Ronaldo controlled a cross-field ball from Tevez on the edge of the area, in the blink of an eye and with little space to work, the Portuguese winger dropped his shoulder and then curled his left-foot drive round an Everton player before it flew beyond the reach of former United stopper Tim Howard in the visitors goal.

However, not long after David Moyes side were on level terms and at this point many reds will no doubt have been left questioning Fergie's team selection after Tim Cahill got in between Vidic and Evra to powerfully head home Pienaar's cross from the left wing. Perhaps if Fergie had not tinkered with his defence United might not have conceded that equaliser, as there had been effectively three changes in a back-four that has looked solid all season.

The rest of the game was nip and tuck and a great deal of credit must go to Everton who restricted United to few clear-cut openings, perhaps the most memorable chance of the rest of the game came late on in the first-half after Ryan Giggs and Ronaldo linked up twice before the Portuguese winger blazed just over the visitors cross-bar for what could have been one of the goals of the season.

Everton probably deserved a draw but Moyes will know that at places like Old Trafford you get punished when you make mistakes as did Steven Pienaar late on to hand Fergie and his team a get out of jail card and an early Christmas present. Coming on the back of last weekend's win over Liverpool, it has been a very good week and now United fans will hoping to make Keano's festive period one to forget when the Reds visit Sunderland on Boxing day.

While the victory had a huge slice of good fortune about it, Ferguson did at least make some positive moves with his substitutions in a bid to win the game when replacing Carrick with Saha late on and in fairness he also dropped Giggs back to midfield where he helped to steady the ship and keep United moving forward before going on to help win the match with that vital spot-kick.

Man of the match: The quite brilliant Ronaldo, who was closely followed by Ryan Giggs who was also very good throughout. The Welshman used the ball extremely well and barely wasted possession all game.

Friday, December 21, 2007

United sign new striker, but it's not all good news....

Subject to a work permit being granted, United are to sign a 24 year-old striker known as Manucho, real name Mateus Alberto Contreiras from Petro Athletico. The Angolan has been on trial with the Reds for three weeks and he's done enough to suggest that he deserves a contract.

If Manucho turns out to be a useful acquisition it could prove to be a very smart signing and it will prove that Arsene Wenger isn't the only one who can unearth gems' for next to nothing. Time will tell on that score. Fergie had this to say on this latest import "We have had Manucho here for a three-week trial and have been impressed enough to offer him a contract.

"He is a tall, agile, quick forward and through contacts that Carlos (Queiroz) has, was brought to our attention around six months ago."

United supporters will be hoping that Manucho doesn't turn out to be another Dong.

Meanwhile four United fans have been jailed in Rome for their part in the disturbances prior to the Reds recent clash with AS Roma. The four fans have been given the maximum sentences for this type of alleged offence - up to two and half years each. Apparently it wasn't even a proper trial and the United supporters have been effectively jailed without getting the chance to defend themselves.

A British Embassy spokesman has said that in the past these sentences have been suspended, but at this stage it is not known if this will be the case, so the four look likely to spend Christmas in an Italian jail.

It comes as no surprise to learn that no Italian's have been given custodial sentences despite the fact that four United fans were stabbed. So much for Italian justice.

Better news to report on the Champions League draw as the Reds will face the French champions Lyon (BBC Radio Five live today said it was Lille - oh dear, never mind).

While Lyon is a tough assignment, the Reds will play away first which is always a bonus but United will need to be at the collective best to beat the French outfit. The Reds look to have a decent draw where British clubs are concerned with Liverpool facing Inter and Arsenal facing AC Milan, while Chelsea face Olympiakos and Celtic have to overcome Barca.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

United to swoop for star duo?...

Reports in Germany have been claiming that United could be eyeing a raid on Bayern Munich with two big star names reportedly on Ferguson's wanted list. 30 year-old right-back Willie Sagnol has fallen out of favour with Ottmar Hitzfeld, the French defender picked up an injury back in April and has struggled to regain his place in the side, added to which Bayern could be about to sign a Brazilian defender in the January transfer window which could increase the pressure for places in the Bayern back-four.

The Reds have injury concerns over Gary Neville who of course remains United's first choice right-back when fit, but the England defender has struggled to recover from a dreadful series of injuries and there will be concern about this ability to make a full and long-term comeback. At 30 years of age Sagnol would be very much a short term buy, but Fergie could get three good seasons out of the veteran French defender so providing a deal could be done there could be something in the stories linking Sagnol to United.

Sagnol's team-mate Philipp Lahm is also being strongly linked to United, but Bayern would surely demand a huge transfer fee for the 24 year-old who scored the opening goal in the 2006 World Cup. Patrice Evra has cemented his place in the Reds starting eleven after ousting Gabriele Heinze. The Frenchman is according to reports looking to extend his contract with the Red Devils, which hopefully should not be too much of a problem with him putting in consistently top performances of late. Evra is without doubt the most improved player in the United squad this season. A move for Lahm seems unlikely given the likely fee. A more likely target could be Reading defender Nicky Shorey who has been linked over the last few weeks.

Meanwhile Jonny Evans finds himself at the centre of rape allegations after the players Christmas party at a central Manchester hotel went horribly wrong. Apparently the Daily Mirror has bought the story...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ronaldo the prince who will never be king?..

It comes as no surprise to learn that Kaka has been voted FIFAs World Player of the Year for 2007. This news comes on the back of the Brazilian picking up the award of European Player of the Year at the beginning of December. Few, if any, would argue that both awards are richly deserved as the AC Milan player scored 10 goals in the Champions League last season on the way to winning the trophy.

Kaka polled 1,047 votes, Messi 504 and Ronaldo 426. The votes were drawn from national coaches and captains.

It begs the question will Cristiano Ronaldo ever make the transition from prince to king? To stand any chance of it happening United will have to win the Champions League again.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Apache strike unravels one dimensional Liverpool as the Reds end rival's title challenge....

The champions went briefly back to the top of the Premier League table courtesy of the only goal of the game scored on the stroke of half-time when a clever first-half Ryan Giggs corner in front of the Anfield Kop found the feet of Wayne Rooney, who was left totally unmarked on the edge of the Liverpool penalty area, the United striker's first time low drive was converted by Carlos Tevez who cleverly flicked the ball passed Pepe Reina who had no time to react.

Sky Sports expert pundits said that they thought United had planned the short corner routine after studying the way the Liverpool back-four marked opposing players inside the box. If indeed that was the case it was top marks for Fergie and his backroom team.

However, as so often has been the case down the years, as a spectacle it wasn't a great game to watch, with neither side controlling the first half. Ironically in that opening period Liverpool's best chances came after Edwin Van Der Sar made two major errors of judgement when going for cross balls which should have been left to the United defence to deal with. Thankfully, the little Brazilian Anderson was on hand to save the Dutch stopper when he cleared off the line, on the second occasion Fernando Torres blazed wide to the relief of the 3,000 strong travelling Red Army.

In the second half Liverpool had the lions share of the possession and referee Mark Halsey gave nearly every 50/50 decision to the home side, but despite penning United in their own half the home team could not find a way through the Reds rear guard.

As for United on too many second half occasions they fell into the trap of hitting the ball long in the style of Liverpool who throughout the game had reverted to lumping it down the park. From a technical point of view this game was not one to remember for the purist. The second-half only produced one really clear-cut goal scoring opportunity for the visitors when Ronaldo - who had a very poor game - found Rooney free on the edge of the Liverpool six yard box with only Reina to beat, but sadly the United striker pulled his shot wide of the target, the move was worthy of a goal and deserved a better finish.

Ryan Babel came on for Liverpool late on in the second-half and his introduction gave the Reds one major scare when he beat his man cut inside and fired just wide of the far post, but it wasn't to be as United hung on for that vital win which widens the gap between United and Liverpool to nine points. The result means that for Rafa Benitez the title race is all but over and perhaps Liverpool may well reflect on how much of their game centres of hitting the ball long, at times it was like watching England.

Ferguson was in reflective mood after the game saying that it was difficult for the referee Mark Halsey, but time and time again the man in the middle gave the big decisions to Liverpool but luckily for United and Fergie it was the Reds day, despite the best efforts of another very poor referee.

The London derby later in the afternoon finished up with Arsenal going back to the top of the league table courtesy of a first half headed goal by former Chelsea defender William Gallas and the news for Chelsea fans just got a whole lot worse with the news that John Terry has suffered a suspected fracture.

Sky Sports TV had billed the day as Grand Slam Sunday - an epic day - in truth it was anything but that, with both of the day's games leaving a lot to be desired. However, for United supporters the taste of victory is always sweet when it comes at the expense of Liverpool because there is no such thing as a bad win at Anfield.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Reds gearing up for new year sales, as Heinze talks of revenge....

Reports claim that there could be some activity in the January transfer window with Reading's left-back Nicky Shorey reportedly wanting to join the champions after refusing the offer of a contract extension.

United currently only have one specialist left-back in the form of Patrice Evra who ousted Gabriel Heinze who eventually moved on to Real Madrid after his preferred option of joining Liverpool was blocked by the Reds. The former United left-back has angrily spoken out about the champions blocking that transfer to tomorrow's opponents Liverpool. The Argentine says that he has no problems with the United fans, but it's a different story where the club's directors are concerned. The Real Madrid defender would like to meet the Reds in the Champions League and he says that his current team would be favourites.

Meanwhile, struggling Sunderland continue to be linked with Jonny Evans, team-mate Wes Brown is also said to be high on Roy Keane's wanted list. Ferguson recently hinted that some of his younger players could go out on loan and that option is more likely where Evans is concerned as Gerard Pique appears to have overtaken the young Northern Ireland international in the Old Trafford pecking order.

As for the future of Wes Brown a lot will depend on how much Sunderland offer and whether or not the player fancies a move to the North East.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Capellogate: Consultations of spin...

So following on from the rather lengthy, but ultimately pointless, consultation process which saw 'Wallace' of 'Wallace and Gromit' lookalike fame AKA Brian Barwick, talking to everyone about who should be the next England manager we have arrived at Fabio "where's my coat?" Capello. News of which has been greeted with a large degree of scepticism and dismay from among others the League Managers Association and former England players alike including Steve Coppell, Paul Ince, Gerry Francis and Tony Adams.

To be honest no one will be or should be that much surprised about the appointment of yet another foreign manager, because as we know the FA are a hapless bunch who lurch from one disaster to another. They just had to find a big name to replace the former manager Steve McClaren.

But what has led to the powers that be appointing a man who barely speaks our native tongue? Because on this point Arsene Wenger has this week hinted that it is perhaps more important to be able to speak English than any other managerial attribute, including that of technical knowledge, of which Wenger says Capello has plenty. It is well documented that Wenger had also gone on record saying that he believes the next manager should be English. So clearly the Arsenal manager did not back Capello.

No doubting Ferguson would have said the same, that is, if the FA couldn't get Mourinho...who of course does speak English well, plus he knows the players. So Fergie didn't back Capello - and if anyone believes otherwise - then why wasn't he quoted on this prior to this news? Make no mistake the FA would have made sure we knew about it if it actually happened.

So the truth of the matter is that when it comes down to it, this whole interview process has been nothing more than an exercise in spin in a bid to cover the sweaty backsides of the FA.

Reading between the lines it seems none of the leading managers or indeed former England stars backed Capello from the start to take the job. Perhaps Gromit thought it was a good idea?

United strikers plotting another Merseyside raid...

United will be hoping to add Steven Gerrard's woes by pinching another three points off the Scousers as happened the last time the Reds played at Anfield. The man who did the damage last season was our very own artful Irish dodger, big John O'Shea, who stole in to score the only goal of the game which secured a somewhat fortuitous late victory and a very welcome three points.

For rivals Liverpool it has been a mixed week for Gerrard in particular with a thumping victory in the Champions League against Marseille. However, the personal joy was short lived with the news that Gerrard had just become the sixth Merseyside based big name player to have his mansion robbed.

In the wake of this latest but all too predictable burglary, Rafa Benetiz has been talking about the need to improve security off the pitch, but this weekend's clash could also prove to be a timely reminder that he also needs to add a new central defender or two to this squad as the Merseyside Reds have looked pretty shaky in some games at the back this season.

United have the strikers to capitalise on any slip-ups and ahead of this Sunday's huge game at Anfield on Sunday Louis Saha has been speaking about the intense atmosphere which always surrounds this absorbing fixture. The Frenchman said "Without doubt, it is the most intense atmosphere for a Manchester United player.

"I have played there a few times now but the win we had there last season was amazing. That is one of the greatest feelings I have ever had as a footballer.

"My main memory of last season is that the win at Liverpool kick-started us towards the title. It proved we were strong enough.

"We are going there much earlier in the season this time and there is still a long road ahead. But it does give us a chance to show exactly how good we are."

Meanwhile team-mate Wayne Rooney says that he's plotting to add further daylight between the Champions and Liverpool.

"Obviously, Liverpool away is a massive game, probably our biggest of the season.
"It won't decide the title but it is a chance to put some daylight between us".

Thursday, December 13, 2007

United fans on sharp end as Italians once again fail the security test...

Once again Reds supporters have been attacked and stabbed by cowardly knife wielding Italian scum prior to the AS Roma vs. United game in Rome last night. We were led to believe this would not happen again following the appalling scenes of last season when visiting fans were attacked by both the locals and the police. Sadly and predictably, it happened again with several supporters sustaining 'serious' looking facial injuries.

At least one supporter was reportedly attacked by a policeman prior to the game which ended in a creditable draw. It could have been much worse, visiting fans can be thankful that they didn't find themselves on the wrong end of a Carabinieri bullet, unlike the Lazio fan who was killed recently. There's no point in saying that something will only be done when someone gets killed - as clearly little or nothing happens in Italy even when there's a fatality and as we saw last night the violence carries on unchecked.

No doubting that UEFA will come down hard on United again, but Reds supporters have an excellent recent record when travelling abroad and surely it's no coincidence that yet again trouble flared up in Rome.

Many fans will no doubt be amazed to learn that despite the appalling behaviour of the Carabinieri, Roma "stewards" and "Roma fans" UEFA has awarded the Champions League 2009 Final to Rome - which must be in Europe's top three worst cities when it comes to football related violence.

The joke that is UEFA, recently fined both United and Roma for the events of last season and then we learn that the city has been awarded this prestigious final - what sort of message does this send out to Italian football? What is the Italian phrase for "corruption and brown paper bags stuffed with Lira"?

Of the match itself, despite fielding a team which lacked experience in the back four United were marginally the better side without creating too many clear cut openings.

Gerard Pique gave the visitors a deserved first half lead from a corner. The Spaniard's header was the Reds main first-half highlight in a game that wasn't as dull as some feared it might be with both sides having little to play for. Nonetheless it did not stop the Italian TV director spending an inordinate amount of time showing gratuitous crowd shots. Viewers learnt as much about the latest Italian headwear of choice as they did about the stars on display in the somewhat sparsely populated Olympic Stadium. For those looking for fashion tips and if you did not see the game, beenie hats and bandanas appear to be the current di-rigour.

United's own fashion icon (tee he) Wayne Rooney looked pin-sharp and dare I say slimmed down. 'Wazza' had a decent game without unduly troubling the Roma back-four, apart from a fantastic second half one-two with Louis Saha that should have ended with United making it 2-0 only for the Roma stopper deny the Frenchman. Not long after the home team levelled through Mancini after Roma boss Spalletti made several late changes, by which time Rooney had been taken off and safely wrapped in cotton wool for his return to his native Merseyside for that huge game on Sunday when United visit Liverpool.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fergie fans flames of transfer row as Queiroz is branded 'persona non-grata'...

The row over the future of talented young midfield star Miguel Veloso has taken a twist following suggestions that United might be interested in signing yet another Sporting Lisbon star at some point in the not too distant future.

The man at the centre of what has turned out to be a public spat is Carlos Queiroz who in the run-up to the recent clash between United and the Portuguese club, for some reason allowed himself to fall into the trap of appearing to suggest that, yes, the Red Devils fancied Veloso.

Sporting Lisbon's chairman, Filipe Soares Franco hit back when launching a verbal attack on Fergie's assistant stating that Queiroz's conduct was `ethically and morally, very low' and at the same time he branded him `persona non-grata.' Strong stuff.

In defence of Queiroz, Ferguson has hit back saying.

"We have never been interested in Veloso at any stage. He is not what we need,"
"We have six midfield players so why should we be interested?
"When we went for Nani and Ronaldo we spoke directly to the club, so why we wouldn't we do this again?".

Fergie is clearly trying to dampen the raging transfer fire and the flames which are lapping up the trouser leg of Queiroz. But Fergie's view certainly makes sense as the Reds are indeed well off in the midfield engine room at present. If however Paul Scholes called it a day next summer and maybe Fletcher or Carrick was allowed to leave the club then things might be different.

Capello appointment: All aboard the comedy train for another mystery tour...

So here we go again, the FA look set to appoint another foreign England manager. Having sacked Steve McClaren, we were told that lessons had been learnt on his appointment and that this time things would be different...

Leading managers such as Ferguson were consulted as part of the revamped vetting process, predictably we were told that the United boss thought that Mourinho was the right man to replace McClaren. However, Jose isn't ready to turn his back on club football right now, but it didn't stop him from playing the media like a well used fiddle to flush out interests from Europe's biggest clubs.

Last weekend the News of the World ran a somewhat amusing exclusive. Rob Beasley, massive Chelsea fan - and one of Jose's hacks of choice - wrote a very funny story claiming that the self anointed 'special one', had over the space of 24 hours decided to take the job only for him to change his mind on Saturday morning. You really could not make it up and yet the laughable News of the World had the brass nerve to devote the whole of their back page with this exclusive story that when decoded was really confirming what many of us suspected all along that they didn't have a f****** clue what was happening. Jose had been toying with Beasley et al, by pulling down their collective trousers. It serves these fawning tail-wagging hacks right is my view.

Following on from the Mourinho pantomime comes the news that Fabio Capello will be the new England manager. Now I have nothing against the former Real Madrid coach, he's obviously got the credentials, only a fool would argue otherwise. But take a look at the list of World Cup Winning nations and one thing stands out, Brazil, Italy and Germany have all won the trophy several times, none of them have been managed by a foreign coach. I strongly suspect that none of those nations mentioned would even contemplate having a foreign coach, the very idea would rightly cause outrage among the populous.

It's one thing for an African nation to appoint a bloke who looks like the former lead singer of Abba to be their manager, it should be quite another for former World Cup winning nations such as England. However, that is where we are, this is what it has come to. England are in fact officially rubbish and we have known that for a very long time.

In football you get what you deserve and England will get the same. Does anyone seriously believe, for even half a minute, that Capello will change the culture and attitude of English football? Does anyone believe that Capello will succeed where others have failed? If the answer to both questions is NO, then we might as well have saved ourselves the embarrassment of making English football look even more foolish than England already look. Capello will not be able to change English football from the grassroots upwards. Italian footballers are generally better technically than English players, this stands out when comparing defenders especially. God damn it, the Italians are even better at cheating which is considered as part of the game - winning is everything - in England we have this half arsed idea about gentlemen and players. This is partly is why we have a sideboard full of full fourth and fifth prizes and it is why the Italian's have won the World Cup four times. Capello isn't the answer he is not even close to it.

It's interesting to note that one man (recently voted the best manager of all time) who was consulted on the next England appointment was more or less completely ignored by the media and the FA. I refer to none other than Arsene Wenger who said the next manager should be English.

It's worth pointing out that prior to McClaren getting the job, I was personally in favour of Scolari, but I have since changed my mind and I agree with Wenger. Capello wont make the difference - we will get what we collective deserve and such we might as well stick with an Englishman.

Give me Steve Copell over Capello any day.

Rooney v AS Roma - no red mist or new injuries please...

So United are set to take on AS Roma in a game of little significance with the Reds having already secured their passage into the knockout phase of the Champions League by winning group F along with Roma who finished runner-up. No doubting the Italians will want to avenge last season's 7-1 mauling, which must still hurt, as will to a lesser extent the 1-0 defeat earlier this season. So there is something to play for.

When the two sides met in October at Old Trafford Wayne Rooney was the man who scored the match-winner. Tonight in the eternal city, Rooney will skipper a side that will be largely drawn from reserves and youngsters. The former Everton striker has suffered two serious injury setbacks already this season, the last thing United or Fergie needs right now is for Wayne to collect any new injuries, or to get himself sent off in a game that should in theory cause few problems for either side. However, football is a funny game and as we have seen from time to time when the dreaded red mist descends Rooney can lose it. Please do not let it happen tonight Wayne.

Saha, Nani, Fletcher, Brown and O'Shea are included in the squad along with Rooney and the manager will be desperately hoping that all of his senior players come through his this game unscathed ahead of the titanic clash with Liverpool at the weekend. Should Fergie lose Rooney due to events in Rome then the United manager will be left cursing his decision to play the England striker.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Veloso transfer tapping-up 'row' storm in a teacup?

Reports claim that United's chances of signing Miguel Veloso have been damaged because Sporting Lisbon are upset about Carlos Queiroz speaking publicly about the Reds interest in the player. Fergie's assistant manager did not, as far as I recall, say that the player would soon become United player, Queiroz was merely responding to a question from a journalist about the club's reported interest. Perhaps Queiroz could have been more tactful by avoiding giving a direct answer, but having already received £30m plus from United for Ronaldo and Nani, it seems unlikely that Sporting would turn down a big offer for another of their young stars should Ferguson press home his reported interest next summer. Judging by his own comments, Miguel Veloso clearly wants to come to United which always helps to oil the transfer wheels.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Weekend of contrasting fortunes for two of Manchester's finest...

It was another one of those very wet weekends in Manchester, and one of contrasting fortunes for two of the city's finest sons, for both it will be one which will never be forgotten, but for very different reasons.

For Ricky 'The Hitman' Hatton it was a case of tasting defeat for the first time in 44 professional fights as he was knocked-out in Las Vegas by Floyd Mayweather Jr. In the wake of Hatton's first defeat, respected voices within boxing circles are telling the Hitman to retire. By all accounts, the step up in class and weight was a step too far for the little man from Hattersley who says that his pride more than the punches has been hurt.

Meanwhile 12 hours previously and five thousand miles away in the rainy city, the adopted son of Manchester that is Ryan Giggs celebrated his 100th league goal on Saturday for the Reds as the Champions narrowed the gap to just one point at the top of the table when they brushed aside relegation candidates Derby County 4-1.

Cristiano Ronaldo denied Carlos Tevez the opportunity of scoring a hatrick as the Portuguese winger scored late on from the penalty-spot after being hacked down on a rain sodden Old Trafford pitch. Before that Tevez scored in either half with two well taken goals, his first was similar to the Giggs opener in that both players were in the right place to capitalise on any openings when lurking on the edge of the visitors six-yard-box. It was a case of perfect timing and positioning for the Welshman and the Argentine.

In his post match interview, Fergie said that he wasn't totally happy with the Reds passing, but given the state of the pitch he was rightly very satisfied with the victory - nothing less was expected given the Rams plight.

However, while this fixture may well have looked easy on paper, Premier League games of this nature can turn out to be a case of 'sheep to the slaughter' for the visitors or they can be coupon busting disappointments as was the case when Sunderland took a point off United a couple of seasons ago during that woeful campaign which ended with the Black Cats being relegated.

One player who has seen it all before is Ryan Giggs. The Welshman has divided opinion among fellow Reds on his undoubted abilities like no other United player that I can recall in recent times. Throughout his United career Giggs has often been quite brilliant but also very frustratingly annoying on other occasions. What is beyond doubt is the Welshman's sublime record.

Apart from this glittering collection of silverware, Giggsy has several lesser known claims to fame, such as he remains the Premier League's all time top goalscorer for a none striker. He scored the United's quickest ever goal against Southampton (15 seconds) against Southampton in 1995.

United fans voted his FA Cup semi-final replay match winner as the Reds greatest ever goal when he beat four Arsenal defenders (Lee Dixon twice) along the way.

The Welshman has the privilege of being the only player in the Premier League to have been named in an episode of the Simpsons.

To date Giggsy has scored 144 goals for the Reds from 731 games and he has 284 assists. Ryan very nearly made it 145 United goals against the Rams on Saturday with a wonderful second-half left foot effort that just went beyond the far post. Long may it continue.

United fans will have many fond memories of their top Giggs moments. What in your view is his most important league goal? Ryan scored a match winning brace late on against Southampton when the Reds were one down as Fergie side eventually ran out 2-1 winners in a game of huge importance in that defining season of 1993 when United ended that 26 year wait to finally secure the league title.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Fergie set for transfer swoop?

With the transfer window set to open, reports are linking United with two left-backs, the latest name to emerge is Branislav Ivanovic (23). the Serbian defender is currently playing for Lokomotiv Moscow, reports claim the fee could be as much as £10m which seems like an awful lot of money for a fullback (we will always make comparisons to Dennis Irwin who cost the club buttons to sign but went to on to become a red legend). Ivanovic is under contract until December 2011 and it's thought that Fergie will no doubt have consulted Vidic on his fellow Serb who is another international.

The Reds have also been linked to Reading's Nicky Shorey who is apparently stalling on signing a new deal. Shorey has 18 months remaining on contract.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Should Rob Styles be rested again?...

Referee Rob Styles has landed himself in another controversy following his decision not to award Manchester United a penalty when Cristiano Ronaldo was brought down by Fulham keeper Niemi on Monday night. The Reds eventually ran out two-nil winners courtesy of a well taken Ronaldo brace. Ronaldo was on a hatrick when the former Saints keeper brought him down inside the box - it was a clear penalty - yet Styles booked Ronaldo for diving.

As a result of the yellow card the Portuguese winger now faces a possible suspension at some stage in the season. Ronaldo made the mistake of applauding Styles for the poor decision and no doubting the FA will take the easy way out by saying the player had been booked for dissent which was not the case as the referee had already brandished his yellow card before the winger reacted.

This latest incident comes on the back of another recent poor Styles display in the game between Liverpool and Chelsea after which the referee was 'rested' for poor decision making. In that game Styles wrongly awarded a very soft penalty to Chelsea.

The FA set a precedent by punishing Styles and having done so, there needs to be some consistency. Which raises the question should Styles be rested again? If the FA has a grain of sense they will strike-off Ronaldo's yellow card as the result was not affected by the none award of the penalty - the real damage was the yellow card and surely there has to be some sympathy for the player on this occasion given it was a blatant spot-kick.

This latest decision must be a concern for all concerned because clearly this was another easy to decision to make and yet again Styles got it completely wrong. Earlier on in the week Fergie stated that he fears standards of refereeing are in decline, after this latest howler many will agree.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Mourinho to United anyone?

The other day I posted an article on Jose Mourinho about him being linked to the vacant England manager's position, there's been plenty of speculation suggesting that former Chelsea boss wants the job. As ever though, the truth of the matter is that the media hasn't got a clue as to what Mourinho's true intentions are. Some reports claim that the 'special one' is using his fawning friends in the press and the gullible FA to flush out interest from Italy's top clubs. This is a plausible suggestion in my view as Mourinho surely isn't daft enough to be tempted into the taking the poisoned chalice that is the England job.

Mourinho we are led to believe cannot coach in England for a couple of years, which would rule him out of taking over from Fergie should he suddenly throw in the towel after United lift the Champions League next May. It could happen. If it did happen, those who are charged with replacing Fergie, namely the Glazers - who by the way were subjected to a ketchup sauce attack in Manchester by disgruntled fans this week - would have the massive task of finding the right man to replace him.

If he's not already in harness at a big Italian club, then surely Mourinho would have to be in the frame. But would United and the fans want him? I have my doubts personally. Sure Jose is a winner, but his philosophy doesn't match United's best traditions of playing attacking football. Jose's teams win, but often it can be ugly, which is still in evidence at his former club when the Blues revert to route one football lumping the ball onto the granite forehead of Didier Drogba as they did against West Ham at the weekend.

A more likely destination if Mourinho does return to manage in England is Liverpool, which is a move that has been mooted in the press of late. My personal view is that Mark Hughes will become the Reds next manager.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

It's Aston Villa v United in the 3rd round of the FA Cup again...

United fans will be reasonably happy on hearing the news that the Reds have been drawn against in-form Aston Villa in the third round of the FA Cup. The champions demolished Villa 4-1 at Villa Park in October, but Martin O'Neill is doing a fine job and his young team are a match for anyone in the Premier League as they showed against Arsenal on Saturday when narrowly losing to the league leaders.

United beat Villa 2-1 at Old Trafford in the third round last year and it will be the fourth time in seven seasons that the two clubs will have met in the FA Cup.

The champions also beat Villa in 2002 and 2004.

Kaka wins top award after rule changes as Ronaldo comes runner-up..

United's Cristiano Ronaldo came, not surprisingly, runner-up to AC Milan's Brazilian star Kaka who has been named World footballer of The Year after winning the most votes to secure France Football magazine's prestigous Ballon d'Or award.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi came third in the voting.

Not a lot of fans will be aware of the recent rule changes which coincided with this year's competition. The Ballon d'Or came to being in 1955, prior to 2007 the award was more popularly known as the European Footballer of The Year. The rules stated that nominees had to play for a club within UEFA's jurisdiction, and until 1995 all nominated players had to be European.

However, from 1995 until 2006 all players at European clubs were eligible. In 2007 France Football magazine announced that they had opened to the competition to players from across the globe making it a truly international award.

On winning the 2007 Ballon d'Or Kaka secured the most votes from the group of 96 journalists of which and for the first time, only 53 were Europeans. The judges had to choose five players from the list of 2007 nominees. Each of the five selected nominees is then awarded either one, two, three, four and five points.

Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten of Holland and Michel Platini of France are the only players who managed to win the award three times. With the recent rule changes the competition has surely become a lot harder to win.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Mourinho for England: Why José would be right to turn down the job...

So Fergie is apparently going advise the FA on who should replace Steve McClaren. Not that Brian Barwick is going to ask me, but my personal view is that the red hot favourite that is José Mourinho would be mad to accept the job when he has the pick of virtually any position he chooses. Here's why.

The England job is a poisoned chalice as every manager since Sir Alf Ramsey has found out to their cost. Apart from perhaps Bobby Robson, none of the former England coaches have left the job with their reputation intact. Following the 1990 World Cup, Bobby Robson eventually went on to manage Barcelona. However, even so the former Ipswich Town boss had was unmercifully hounded by the British press during his tenure as England manager. In 1998 following a draw in a friendly with Saudi Arabia one headline screamed "In the name of Allah, go", there were many other occasions when Robson was hammered by the press - it comes with territory. Ironically while at Sporting Lisbon who he joined in July 1992, Robson worked alongside a Portuguese interpreter by the name of José Mourinho.

Another former England manager Graham Taylor suffered the indignity of having an image of his head artworked into a turnip by the Sun Newspaper. Many will feel that Taylor was the wrong man for the job, but this theory only holds water for those who truly believe that England have been punching below their weight since 1970. Which is questionable at best in my view given the lack of technical skills of English players in general.

The press will have the fans believe that Terry Venables is the messiah, when it comes to tactics and the technical side of the game, but if that was the case Barwick et al would not be consulting a Scotsman about their next appointment. Venables would be the obvious candidate every time, but he is not and rightly so on this occasion.

In weighing up his options Mourinho will take everything into consideration. The former Chelsea manager isn't stupid and he knows that unlike with club football, his hands would be largely tied. He cannot go out and bring in who he likes as you can at club level. Mourinho would not be able to go out and deploy his brand of percentage football when needs must, because England do not have a Didier Drogba.

Not only that the self anointed special one has a hard earned reputation as a winner and perhaps above all else this will be his overriding consideration. Can he actually make a difference by transforming serial losers into winners? If Mourinho comes to the conclusion that, no he cannot, as I expect he will, given the limitations of the job, then he will rightly turn down the FA's huge offer - reported to be a staggering £6m a year.

José Mourinho doesn't the need the FAs cash and while the reported money of offer is ridiculous, this will not be the deciding factor. He would be mad to accept the position is my view. The depth of talent isn't there at present and even Mourinho cannot change that.

IF on the other hand Mourinho's massive ego gets the better of him, then just maybe he can be persuaded to take the job on in the misguided belief that he can succeed where so many others have failed miserably.

IF Mourinho did accept the job offer at least then Barwick and the FA will no doubt feel that they have done as much as they can do in the search for the right man to replace McClaren. That view may well be correct in some ways, but the problems which beset English football go way beyond the appointment of the next manager. Mourinho may well hold that view privately which will be another consideration.