Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Reds to march on Moscow - but only after a serious wobble...

So quite remarkably on the back of two of their most unmemorable performances in Europe, the Reds are going on the march to Moscow in May for the Champions League final, courtesy of a first-half thunder-bolt from the "Ginger Prince" Paul Scholes. Yet, it is Barcelona who must surely still be questioning how they managed to contrive to lose this semi-final, given how much of the ball they had.

Like in the first-leg, the Catalan's completely out-played United, even the goal came from a Barcelona mistake rather than from United's normal free-flowing attacking football, which was sadly lacking in evidence over the two ties.

Quite how United managed to secure their place in the final will no doubt be a talking point over the coming weeks ahead, rival fans will be keen to point out that Barcelona were the better team - and they rightly were - if only they'd not forgotten how to score a goal. The truth of the matter is that Barcelona while completely out-playing United over this semi final could not finish. The Red Devils had no answer to the quite brilliant Messi who seemed capable of beating the whole team on his own.

At the other end United could not keep the ball with Nani in particular gifting it back to the visitors. Throughout the game Ronaldo was urging his team-mates to support him, but to no avail. While the visitors laid siege to the United goal, they were thankfully unable to lay a metaphorical glove on the Reds.

In truth, Barca barely tested Edwin van der Sar, who at times did his level best to help the Catalans - it looked at one point as if the big Dutchman was playing with his bootlaces tied together - so atrocious was his kicking - though to be fair he wasn't helped one bit by Wes Brown kneeing him in the head twice.

It is therefore something of a minor miracle that United did not lose both legs of the semi-final given how little we actually had possession of the ball, but at the same time Barcelona will believe that they only have themselves to blame for not progressing to Moscow.

United fans wont care one jot - we are in the final - that is all that matters. Let us not forget that rivals Liverpool have crabbed their way to two recent finals aided by a fair few very dodgy decisions - at least you cannot level that against United - quite the reverse in fact as Ronaldo was denied a second cast-iron penalty in the first leg, by a homer of a referee.

It doesn’t alter the fact that United's performances over the two semi-final legs have been nothing short of embarrassing really, both in terms of tactics and from an attacking standpoint.

The Reds saving grace over this semi-final has been that the defence has played quite well - but watching this semi-final has not been easy, we fans had believed that this team was as good as any in Europe and some say perhaps United's best ever. Those views will have to be revised given how comprehensively we have been outplayed by a Barcelona team that was said to be low on confidence.

Despite his goal, Scholes has been little more than a passenger over the two ties, he no longer has the legs to support from deep, thankfully he managed to make one of those now rare trademark runs that led to him scoring that wonderful goal. Fergie has gone on record saying that Scholes has to start in the final - that assertion in my view is a complete nonsense - shouldn’t the team be picked on merit? This is not lads and dads football, where the favourite son always gets picked - Fergie has to act like the manager of a team in the Champions League final and not like a misty-eyed old grandad when picking the side.

United were at the best last night when Tevez got about the visitors, largely because the Argentine was charging around the Old Trafford pitch like a Tasmanian Devil, Scholes can no longer do this, and it is partly why our midfield currently has more holes in it than a Grimsby trawler fishing net.

United needed Anderson in the engine room - but bizarrely last night was once again he was completely ignored, while another veteran Giggs was brought on as a substitute. True, Fletcher was brought on too, but given the qualities of the Brazilian it is baffling beyond belief that he was ignored in preference to two lesser players given the task at hand.

Has Fergie forgotten how Anderson dominated Gerrard at Anfield? The Brazilian is by far our best ratter, but against Chelsea at the weekend he was played too far up front in the old Scholes role - we needed him deeper - just as we needed him there in both legs of the Champions League semi-finals and no doubting in the final too.

Over the last fortnight, as if confirmation was needed, Ferguson has proven that he is clueless where tactics are concerned. It is no wonder that we have failed so many times in the Champions League and it is entirely down to the manager.

Not only that, the manager has made some serious errors of judgment, in doing so putting a season's work potentially in jeopardy. Ferguson played Rooney against Chelsea knowing that he should have been rested. We still do not know the full extent of this folly, and the next three games will provide an answer to that question.

Ferguson has been a brilliant manager and he deserves great credit for all his achievements, including bringing this current crop of players together, but I personally believe that whatever happens in Moscow, it is time for Fergie to stand down - because he is not capable of taking this team on to the next level. We need a clear tactical thinker at the helm if we are ever going to dominate in Europe as well as at home.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Has Fergie given United's European hopes the "kiss of death"?

Ahead of United's must win second-leg Champions League semi-final at Old Trafford this evening Ferguson has been talking to the press about the big game.

It's feared that the Champions could be without the services of Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic due to injuries and with the tie delicately balanced at 0-0 from the first leg, few United fans will be 100% confident of victory given the Reds shaky form of late.

At the pre-match press conference Ferguson admitted that the first-leg performance was the worst this season in Europe - but there was no mention of his dire tactics that saw Rooney being deployed as an extra midfielder, or what is it an auxiliary right-back? No one is actually sure.

Despite United's injury problems and Ferguson's bizarre tactics, the team will have to overcome them against a Barcelona team that will include defender Carles Puyol who was missing from the first-leg.

However, Fergie might well have given us the proverbial European kiss of death when saying "I remain optimistic because I believe we have come a long way since falling at this last-four hurdle in the past."...

Let us hope the manager's ill-timed words do not come back to haunt us, Fergie could live to regret those comments in the worst case scenario.

The Champions have the players to win this game, providing that they believe in themselves and they don't listen/stick too much to Fergie's tactics. Tonight we have to do what we should have done last week, go to win the game the United way.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Striker gamble set to backfire on Fergie?...

Ferguson's gamble of playing an injured Wayne Rooney against Chelsea at the weekend could back-fire in spectacular style at Old Trafford on Tuesday night in the second-leg of the Champions League semi-final. The England striker was injured in the recent Blackburn match and had not fully recovered when the Reds travelled to Stamford Bridge on Saturday. It's likey that Rooney has only been able to play the last two games after taking pain-killing injections - the question is, has he made the situation even worse? Rooney is no Louis Saha and it's therefore likely that if it's at all possible he'd play even if he's carrying an injury.

United have been short of quality cover up front pretty much all season and now Ferguson's failure to act decisely in the transfer market could home to roost. It will be something of a tragedy if United do not win at least one trophy this season given how entertaining they've been, but following a recent run of dire away performances, even die-hard Reds must now have some doubts about their ability to cross the finishing line as Champions.

The news on Nemanja Vivdic isn't looking too encouring either, the Serbian lost a tooth courtesy of Drogba's knee, another tooth came through his lip. Vidic has been a rock all season in the heart of the defence, but like Rooney he did not train today with the rest of the United squad.

Reds fans will be hoping that both players give the manager the green light tomorrow, but it must surely be starting to look unlikely that either will face the Catalan giants.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

United players branded as "thugs" by gutter-press...

The London based gutter-press have laid into the United squad labelling them as "THUGS" following an altercation on the pitch immediately after yesterday's 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Patrice Evra was at the centre of what looked like nothing more than a case of 'handbags' when a member of the Chelsea 'ground-staff' allegedly swore at the Frenchman when telling the fullback and his team-mates to move to another area of the pitch.

The press are never slow to act as judge and jury whenever a United player appears to step out of line when in the public eye, so Reds fans won't be surprised at the reaction of some of the downmarket tabloids.

No one from United has commented on the provocation which led to Evra losing his cool. Until the facts come out we won't know what caused the Frenchman to snap. There has been no suggestion that racist comments were made but we cannot rule it out either.

After making a fairly quiet start to his United career, Evra has fast become something of a terrace hero with his all action style. The Frenchman was raised on the mean streets of Paris, and despite his tiny stature he can look after himself. The fact that he stood up for himself in this incident will do his reputation no harm at all where United fans are concerned.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

United in serious danger of throwing title away...

Manchester United's recent poor away form continued today with another dreadful performance which saw them losing by the odd goal in three to a hard working Chelsea team, who in fairness deserved the win, despite it coming on the back of a very dubious second-half penalty decision.

Quite unbelievably, in the space of a week United have managed to squander a five point lead at the top of the table and we are now level with Chelsea. It is beginning to look like the Reds could end the season in Devon Loch style by losing out to Chelsea who have galloped up on the rails and are now breathing down the collective necks of the Champions'.

It's great stuff for the neutrals, but United fans will no doubt concur that we ALWAYS have to do things the hard way, it's as if it's written in stone.

Ahead of today's game Fergie somewhat bizarrely rested Ronaldo, Evra and Hargreaves. Yet Rooney who was carrying an injury knock started against Chelsea - if anyone should have been rested it should surely have been the players who were injured. Despite scoring today, Rooney now looks to be in serious danger of missing the crucial second-leg of the Champions League semi-final with Barca on Tuesday after appearing to aggrevate a hip-injury. Should United lose the Barca game the players confidence could be shattered. It could turn out lead to be a catastrophic season's end.

To add to Fergie's woes Nemanja Vidic will surely miss the Barca game after suffering a nasty bang on the jaw from Didier Drogba.

United may well say they've been unlucky with injuries, but that would be an excuse as all clubs have to deal with injury problems. The fact is against Chelsea, United were second best all over the park. The midfield and back four consistently failed to deal with the power of Drogba which led to the opening goal on half-time, the Ivorian brushed off the half-hearted challenges of Wes Brown and Hargreaves before being allowed to cross to the head of the unmarked Ballack on 45 minutes. Throughout the first-half Drogba was allowed to turn and lay off the ball, this gave the visitors problems throughout the opening period.

Fergie no doubt had a few harsh words at half-time, because United did improve in the second period and they were given a lifeline when a Chelsea defender played the ball straight to the feet of Rooney who then made a superb diagonal run towards the Chelsea penalty area before expertly slotting home an unlikely equaliser.

Chelsea were gifted the points by a very generous decision by the linesman who judged that Carrick had handled the ball inside the Reds penalty area, it was a very harsh decision, there was no movement towards the ball. Avram Grant's team had to make two goal-line clearances from Cole and Shevchenko, it was Chelsea's day.

The worry is for United fans is that too many players seem to have lost their touch, added to which the manager's bizarre tactics and starting selections are not helping matters one bit.

If United lose the title race and end up with nothing this season, they will be able to blame no one but themselves. The will have thrown it away. However, we United fans have to believe that the season will still end in glory with the Reds winning two trophies. Tuesday night will hopefully turn out to be a great game.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

United set to bottle it again in Europe?

United were in action in the Nou Camp last night in the first-leg of the Champions League semi-final, the game did not live up to expectations and the Red Devils were hugely disappointing. Going into this match, we were told that Barcelona were 'really struggling' to find form. The Catalan giants were without Ronaldinho, Henry had been dropped and Messi was only just returning from yet another injury lay-off, added to which there has been suggestions that all is not well concerning Samuel Eto'o. Ferguson's team had their own problems, but in comparison they weren't anywhere near as bad as Frank Rijkaard's, with the rock that is Nemanja Vidic missing due to a stomach bug.

There was every reason to hope that United would win this game given Barca's problems. The visitors got off to a flying start when they were rightly awarded a penalty in the opening minutes, but sadly Ronaldo made a complete hash of it when hitting the crossbar.

From that point onwards, barring another great penalty shout when Ronaldo was felled in the Barca box and Michael Carrick hitting the side netting when he should have done much better, the Reds performance fell way below expectations.

United were not helped on the penalty that wasn't given, by a referee who did not cover himself in glory, the phrase 'homer' springs to mind. But United cannot rely on referees to win them the Champions League and in all honesty to do that last night would be an excuse that would only serve to paper over the cracks of what was in truth an appalling display by the champions.

Fergie had started with Rooney and Tevez up front, which was encouraging from an attacking perspective, well at least it should have been, but Rooney and Tevez were largely anonymous and dire respectively.

If United's forwards were bad, the midfield was even worse. Park, Scholes, Hargreaves and Carrick never got a grip of the game at any stage. On too many occasions the home team picked their way through the United engine room with quick incisive passing - and once again Scholes gave away too many free-kicks in dangerous areas. It's hard to be positive about any of United's front six players, not one of them could have complained if they'd been dragged off at half-time, Ronaldo being the only exception, he was again by far United's most dangerous player.

United's away form hasn't been good of late, drawing with Blackburn and 'Boro, as good as they both were on the day, suggests that the champions are struggling in the latter stages of this campaign away from home.

This coming weekend United travel to Chelsea, who also looked very out of sorts against Liverpool on Tuesday, but the Reds need to improve massively on last night's performance. But if the champions can take a point or win at Stamford Bridge it would give Ferguson's team a huge confidence booster ahead of the return-leg with Barca next week.

However, there must fears that United could be set to bottle it again in Europe, we have been here so many times in the past, so near and yet so far. In the Champions League quarter final in 1998 we had drawn 0-0 with Monaco, but we went out on away goals when drawing 1-1 in the return leg Old Trafford, it was the same in 2000 stage against Real Madrid, the first leg in Spain it finished up 0-0 but we lost at home 3-2. Drawing 0-0 away from home in the first-leg is an ok result, but without that vital away goal it could come back to haunt United again.

Our history of bottling it in Europe means that few United fans will be truly confident of victory given that an under strength Barcelona pretty much dominated possession from start to finish, the Reds were not even at the races. I cannot help think that Chelsea, Liverpool or Arsenal would have won comfortably if they'd been up against that Barcelona team.

United will in all probability go on to win the league, but you do wonder if once again they will fold in the latter stages of Europe's premier club competition, because collectively and individually United seem to lack self-belief in their own abilities when it comes to the biggest stage. Quite how much of that is down to tactics is open to debate, the performance in the Nou Camp only served to raise more questions rather than provide answers on that score; for example where on earth was Rooney supposed to be playing? Where was he for most of the game?. Why didn't Anderson come off the bench? Had Park been out drinking on the Ramblas all afternoon with the lads?

Ferdinand and Evra did ok, the rest of the United players had game's to forget and we can be thankful that Barca's strikers couldn't hit an elephant’s backside with a banjo - just about any other Barca team of reasons seasons would have pasted the Reds last night. We got out of jail. Let us hope that we make amends with a value for money performance next week. Our home form this season should see us make it to the final in Moscow, but I wouldn't bet a single penny on that given our record.

But by the time the Barca clash comes around we could be de facto Champions again. It could be a very good weekend...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

United set for captivating clash with Barca, but is Liverpool's luck set to run out?

Manchester United fans around the world will be eagerly looking forward to the clash with Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Wednesday in the Nou Camp. It will hopefully turn out to be a match that satisfies those who enjoy watching the beautiful game being played as it should be.

United and Barca have by tradition played attacking football, the Catalan club have attracted some of the biggest stars in world football to the Nou Camp over the years, their latest big name players Ronaldinho, Messi and Henry have been struggling with lack of form and injuries. The Brazilian is out injured, but Messi and Henry are likely to face the Champions, both are lethal on their day and Ferguson will surely stress the need for 100% concentration at the back.

The latest team news is that Edwin van der Sar has recovered from a groin strain and Wayne Rooney, Owen Hargreaves and Anderson are all fit. Gary Neville and Darren Fletcher have also been named in the squad that leaves just 'sicknote' Saha out injured.

Meanwhile, in the other semi-final at Anfield on Tuesday Liverpool are set to take on Chelsea in a fixture that hasn't really lived up to its star billing in this competition, with both teams cancelling each other out whenever they've met.

Whereas the other semi-final is likely to be more open, Liverpool vs. Chelsea is bound to be a more cagey affair. The London club may have parted company with the arch-exponent of pragmatic football, but Mourinho's legacy lives on under the stewardship of Avram Grant - a man whose own personality is more in keeping with a lack of style.

The Israeli coach is viewed as being as dull as dishwater, but whatever anyone says about him, he has seen off the challenge Wenger in the league and guided his team to the Champions League semi-final. Not bad for a chancer.

In the other corner, we have the rather amusing side-show of Waldorf and Statler aka Hicks and Gillett, fighting it out in Merseyside's very own Muppet Show. Should Chelsea win the tie, we really don't want to hear any excuses - this semi-final will be won and lost on the pitch, end of story.

Of the game itself, Liverpool must have a slight psychological advantage having knocked Chelsea out twice in recent meetings. However, on both occasions Liverpool played the second-leg at home which was crucial. The Anfield crowd usually plays a huge part on such occasions, that was certainly the case in the first meeting in 2005, added to which the referee was guilty of getting some crucial decisions wrong, with most of them benefiting the home team.

While Liverpool are seemingly nowhere nearer winning the League title as they have been in the previous 18 years, they have proven that they still know how to win the big one, they are a very good cup team.

Against Arsenal in second-leg of the Champions League quarter-final, Liverpool once again had to prove their durability when coming back from a goal down to win, when for all the world it looked like the Gunners' were going to give them a hiding that they would not forget in a hurry. That really was a great game to watch and if Liverpool and Chelsea can match that in the two legs of semi-final, there will be few complaints from the viewing public.

The game at Anfield this evening could hinge on both sets of defenders ability to deal with the oppositions big name strikers, and from the Chelsea perspective, Drogba is 'an injury doubt' - I'll personally believe that when I see the team-sheet. At the other end Torres is capable of leaving anyone for dead over five yards, he is that quick.

My gut feeling is that Chelsea will turn Liverpool over, but once again there won’t be much in it. United would, I'm sure, prefer to play Liverpool in the final, should we be fortunate enough to actually get there. Bring it on.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Stage set for Fergie to retire - who should replace him?

IF United go on to win the Champions League and or the Premier League title, the stage would be set to bring down the curtain on Ferguson's glittering managerial career. Lessons were learnt from the last time the Scot stated his intention to quit, the announcement led to a malaise within the squad and so when the club eventually confirmed that the manager was staying on, it was also stated that in future things would be done very differently.

Ferguson has been asked when he's going many times; his response has always been fairly coy, usually he's brushed off the question when saying 'I don't know, it could be next week'.

Ill health has often been cited as a possible reason for going sooner rather than later, the manager has also hinted that he'd like to win the Champions League at least one more time before leaving Old Trafford for good.

If United do go on to win the Champions League, the manager could say enough is enough, who could blame him? Only Eric Cantona has quit United at the top in recent years and for Ferguson, lifting the big one in Moscow in May would be the ultimate way to go out in a similar blaze of glory. Few top managers have ever had the chance to leave of their own volition.

Personally, I believe that perhaps now is the right time for him to go. No one wants to see another Jock Stein. The then the Scotland manager died at Ninian Park in a World Cup qualifier against Wales in 1985.

One wonders what would happen if Fergie did decide to quit, would the likes of Ronaldo ask for a summer transfer to Real Madrid? A lot would depend on who replaced the manager - let us not forget that Jose Mourinho remains out of work, though the clever money is on him joining an Italian club, the current favourites are Inter Milan. While Mourinho is indeed a superb tactician, would his style of pragmatic football go down well at Old Trafford? The jury is very much out on that question, added to which he has record and a personality which suggests that he wont hang around anywhere for too long. There has been talk that Mourinho could even replace Benitez...

Many United fans would be happy to see Mark Hughes or even Roy Keane replace Ferguson; the latter is not for me, not at this stage at any rate. Keane has bought some very average players and lacks experience and he's spent a lot of money too. Hughes would be a far better choice at this juncture. However, the truth of the matter is, where former players are concerned, none stand out as the obvious replacement.

No doubting the usual suspects will be trotted out should Fergie decide to go, Klinsmann, Guus Hiddink and Frank Rijkaard will be among the big names front-runners and don't rule out Marco Van Basten being linked.

However, I believe that Roman Abramovich has first pick where Hiddink and possibly Rijkaard are concerned. The Russian Oligarch was behind Hiddink being appointed Russia's national team coach, where he has a contract until 2010. Hiddink will remain in charge of Russia for as long as the Chelsea owner wants is the bottom line.

Rijkaard is having a less than a happy time of it at Barca this season, though it's true to say that the board wants him to stay on. Informed sources claim that Rijkaard wanted to quit last summer due to personal reasons, he was persuaded to stay on by the Barca president according to the Spanish press.

Chelsea already have Henk Ten Cate working alongside Avram Grant, but it is being reported that the Israeli coach will be asked to stand down this summer, the Dutchman was of course assisting Rijkaard at Barca before moving on to Ajax, but there has been several stories claiming that the partnership could be rekindled at Stamford Bridge this summer.

Some of the biggest jobs in club football are likely to become available over the next few weeks is my prediction. Quite who will fill them will be interesting to find out. I am fully expecting one of the biggest managerial merry-go-rounds in recent times.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Friedel's cloak of invincibility undone by late Tevez goal as Reds edge closer to title..

United travelled to Ewood, AKA "Deadwood", Park, yesterday expecting a tough game, Blackburn didn't disappoint, especially in the first-half in which they took the lead through Santa Cruz on 21 minutes following some sloppy defending by Vidic and Ferdinand. At that point followers of the Champions must have thought 'oh no, here we go again' as this fixture is usually a tricky encounter.

It's fair to say that down the years United fans have become accustomed to opposing teams giving more to the cause whenever they play the Red Devils - Blackburn definitely come into this category. We Reds do not believe winning is our right, we expect the integrity of the league to be maintained by all teams who must be seen to give 100% every week and yet the previous weekend - no doubt to the annoyance of Everton fans - Blackburn rolled over like lap-dogs to have their collective tummies tickled by Liverpool, by all accounts Rovers were fairly pathetic.

It was entirely predictable that Rovers would improve when Fergie et al pitched-up.
For this reason, is it harder for United to win the league than any other club? Because opposing players give at least 20% extra when facing the Red Devils. Opposing managers like Mark Hughes must in some ways look forward to games with United, no team-talk is necessary. The Blackburn players went into Saturday's game knowing that if they do not perform they were likely to be run over by a big red steamroller.

It is the same every season, and this season is no different, United have recently travelled to Middlesbrough and Derby, both have been abject or dire in the case of the Rams for most of the season, yet against the Champions their players were collectively inspired.

It seems that playing against United brings out the very best in players who might have otherwise struggled. That was certainly the case concerning Afonso who notched a brace for 'Boro against the Reds recently. The Brazilian striker had not scored since making his debut for Gareth Southgate's team. It's not as if United do not have the best defensive record in the league as they clearly do - we are not easy to score against.

Back at Ewood Park in the game that kicked-off late in the afternoon, like on too many other recent encounters Brad Friedel donned his metaphorical cloak of invincibility for the visit of United. Does the American stopper have something against MUFC, which lingers on from his stint at Liverpool? Whenever he faces United, Friedel, is more often that not inspired and it was no different yesterday. It is not stretching the point to say that but for the Blackburn 'keeper the Red Devils would have won comfortably because in the second-half there was only one team that was going to win the game and it wasn't Rovers. No wonder Friedel was given the man-of-the-match award. Yes, I know that this is what we want to see, that is players' giving their all, but we want to see it every week. Instead followers of these rival clubs must at times feel short-changed. Let us be clear on one thing though, Friedel is an excellent goalkeeper who is more often that not pretty good.

Of the Reds performance, the first-half was sloppy, the home team could have added to their one-nil advantage if ref Rob Styles had awarded them a penalty. United themselves were denied what looked to be a cast-iron first-half penalty when Reid took the legs of Rooney and before that Tevez had missed a sitter.

No doubting the United players were given a severe half-time bollocking by Fergie, because from the start of the second-half United looked like a team who meant business. Friedel then took centre stage when denying the Reds making several superb saves and as the game headed towards its end.

It was turning out to be a game of the unexpected as few would have tipped Rovers to turnover the visitors. However, there was no surprises concerning the performance of hapless referee Rob Styles, who had another stinker of a game and denied United yet another penalty decision for a clear hand-ball inside the Blackburn box.

For all the world it looked like there was going to be an unlikely conclusion to what was a decent game to watch. That was until Carlos Tevez rescued the Reds from a corner in the 88th minute, his flicked header for once giving the excellent Friedel no chance.

It finished up one apiece at Ewood Park, the result means that United can afford to draw or even lose at Stamford Bridge next weekend and still the Reds could be crowned back-to-back Champions providing they win their remaining games against West Ham and Wigan. But it would be so sweet to be effectively crowned Champions next weekend...

Before the game with Chelsea, United face Barcelona in the Nou Camp on Wednesday. Wayne Rooney is an injury doubt after sustaining a hip injury and the Reds alarming lack of cover up front has been made worse with the news that 'sicknote' Saha is yet again 'injured'. Note to Fergie: Get rid of the Frenchman ASAP.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ferdinand deal bad for football....

News that Rio Ferdinand has 'agreed' to sign a new deal that will be reportedly worth a staggering £120,000 a week will undoubtedly divide opinions among the fans. Wes Brown and Michael Carrick have also agreed new and improved contracts along with the England defender.

No one in their right mind would argue that securing the future of your star players' is a bad thing, but many supporters will have misgivings about paying someone £120,000 a week. This at a time when many United fans are struggling to pay for match tickets. I personally know of long-standing Reds who have had to give up their season tickets due to the ever increasing price rises at Old Trafford.

United players' have almost always been very well paid and especially since the conception of the Premier League. However, in 2005 fans favourite Roy Keane signed a new deal that saw his wages rocket by an unprecedented £38,000 to £90,000 a week. At the time, the majority of the Old Trafford crowd backed Keane's campaign to land a massive new deal.

Keane will always be an Old Trafford legend for what he did for United and so no amount of money was too much as far as the fans were concerned. However, at the time there was who voiced their concerns about this massive increase, which in turn has led to the negotiating landscape changing where big name deals are concerned at United and other leading clubs.

There will be those will argue that Rio himself helped Keane to negotiate that massive pay hike, because the club had shelled-out a record fee to acquire Ferdinand from Leeds in 2002 for a grand total of £33m. Since then there has been a great deal of speculation surrounding exactly how much Rio is currently earning, ranging from £66,000 to £100,000. No matter, this latest Ferdinand deal is a bad one for United and for football as a whole given that supporters are being priced out of going to the match.

Many fans can no longer afford to follow Manchester United, some after 30 years loyal support, David Gill, CEO, Ferguson and no other well known names currently at the club have been associated with United for that long, yet we had our ridiculous CEO telling us the fans this week that watching United is affordable.

United are winning at present and sure enough we all want to see that, but what will happen should things take a turn for the worse? The loyalty of the 'Johnny Come Lately' element of the current supporter base will then be put to the test.

Unlike some fans, I am in no way anti Rio - far from it - who wouldn't do the same in similar circumstances? It doesn't alter the fact that this latest Rio deal cannot be viewed as anything but bad for football as a whole.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Chelsea win means United cannot afford to lose at Blackburn..

Chelsea's one-nil victory over Everton means that the title race will continue for at least another a week. On Saturday Manchester United travel to Ewood Park for what is usually a very difficult game, the Champions have a narrow two point lead at the top of the table, a defeat against Mark Hughes team would give Chelsea the opportunity rest control of top spot next weekend when the two sides clash at Stamford Bridge. That scenario simply must not be allowed to happen.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Only complacency from Ferguson and his players can halt title charge...

Just when United fans least expected it, Chelsea somehow managed to throw away two precious points against Wigan (Thank you Brucey!) at Stamford Bridge on Monday night, which gives the Reds a five point lead at the top of the table.

We have of course entered the silly season, where results are concerned and United hopefully will not need reminding about that. On paper at least anyway, the Champions can only throw the title away now. Later this week Chelsea travel to Goodison Park and failure to win that game will almost certainly end the title race, especially if United win at Blackburn at the weekend. If Chelsea lose against Everton and the Reds win at Ewood Park the gap will be eight points - so nothing less than a win for under-fire Avram Grant and his team will be enough.

However, nothing should be taken for granted, with four games left to play anything happen and the Reds could contrive to lose out to Chelsea. If United lost at Blackburn and the Blues win at Everton, that would reduce the gap to just two points and then there's the nightmare scenario of the West London club taking the lead at the top of the table when the two sides clash at Stamford Bridge.

So now is not the time for complacency from the manager or his players. The trip to Ewood Park is usually a tricky one, with United often dropping points. Added to which Fergie will have one eye firmly fixed on the first-leg of the Champions League semi-final against Barca next week, for this reason we can probably expect the Reds to start with just Tevez up front at Blackburn. Fergie deployed the same system against Roma at Old Trafford, before that game he admitted that he'd gambled with his selection citing the need to rest players.

The big problem for the Champions is that teams who have been average, or even dire, for most of the season, somehow manage to put on super-shows against Manchester United, take the examples of 'Boro and Derby County recently...

With the danger of potentially inviting bad karma, and negative thoughts aside, this Red fully expects United to become back-to-back title winners again. It's a bit early to be talking about another Chelsea guard of honour, all we know at this stage is the drama is a long way from being over and there's hopefully so much more to look forward to.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

United see off Arsenal, but is it time for the old guard to be axed? ...

Manchester United delivered a mortal blow to Arsenal's title ambitions on Sunday when coming from a goal behind to win by the odd goal in three. The result brought down the curtain early on the Gunners season, the inquests have begun in earnest.

Some Arsenal fans have been saying that they'd rather win nothing if it meant reverting to style of football that is 'less pleasing on the eye'. Having spent donkey's years watching pragmatic football under George Graham, you can sort of understand that view, even if it is probably ever so slightly disingenuous.

There's no doubting that this current Arsenal team do play some pretty football, but sometimes they do over elaborate. However, Sunday's game with the Champions wasn't one of those occasions as the visitors created some excellent goal-scoring opportunities. Adebayor, the Gunners main striker was guilty of wasting two first-class chances, while at the other end Wayne Rooney was equally as bad in front of goal.

It was a game that swung from one end to other and it was as even as any between these sides in recent seasons. Sky Sports motor-mouth TV pundit Jamie Redknapp, and ex-red, Ray,’ the crab', Wilkins, saw it differently when claiming that Arsenal were the better side, especially in the first-half.

The questionable views of those in the studio were not reflected in the match-stats, which suggested that on chances there was nothing between the two teams. No matter, it was a good game to watch, which isn't always the case when there's so much to play for.

United had an unlikely goal hero in Owen Hargreaves who delivered the killer-blow from a free-kick on 72 minutes from just outside the box. Thankfully, it was close enough to goal for the former Bayern star to claim that it was within his range, otherwise Ronaldo, who relies on brute power would have taken it. The free-kick itself was masterful, the execution was perfect, there was no long run-up, just one pace and the ball was hit quickly over the wall and directly into the corner giving Lehmann no chance, leaving him rooted to the spot.

Whenever the two sides clash there is always a number of talking points and at Old Trafford on Sunday it was no different. The visitors were making the most of their possession and United's generosity, the Reds persisted in gifting the ball back to the visitors throughout the opening period. Though in fairness, Arsenal were pressing United all over the park.

Arsenal eventually made the Reds pay just after half-time, after a series of slick inter-passing which eventually led to the ball being crossed from the left into the United penalty area. Rio Ferdinand later came up with the excuse that he heard the shout of 'keeper's ball' - at least that was his reason for allowing Adebayor time and space to elbow the ball into the net. Bizarrely, the United players' didn't even appeal to the referee. The goal stood, clearly it should have been disallowed.

Just three minutes later and United were level after a totally ridiculous hand-ball by William, 'tears', Gallas. Quite what the big defender was thinking would be interesting to know. It was an aberration.

No one from United was complaining though as the iceman that is Ronaldo crashed home the spot-kick, but only after being made to retake it because several players had encroached into the penalty area.

In midweek, the Gunners lost in the quarter-final of the Champions League to Liverpool, going into that game Arsene Wenger had predicted that his team would win Europe's premier club competition and the Premier League.

A week later and those predictions lie in tatters, the Gunners season has effectively ended and we are not yet midway through April. Arsenal supporters and their manager blamed the Liverpool defeat on the Norwegian referee after he awarded a late penalty to the home team at Anfield last Tuesday. There is no doubting that Gunners were hard done to in the first-leg of their Champions League quarter-final, as they were denied a cast-iron penalty, others may disagree with the view that penalty at Anfield was unjust.

No doubting the griping and inquests will continue for a short while longer, but already Arsene Wenger has boldy predicted that this team will win trophies. He is absolutely correct is my own view. Wenger is, as always, doing a brilliant job.

But where did it all go wrong for Arsenal this season? The Gunners have been extremely unlucky with injuries of which there has been many, perhaps none more critical than losing Eduardo in a game in which they eventually dropped two points at Birmingham. Then there was the FA Cup demolition job by United and of course the penalty claims in the recent clashes with Liverpool in the Champions League.

Despite the fact there's a great deal of rivalry between United and Arsenal, we Reds would have to be totally blinkered not to acknowledge the merits and potential of this current squad. Those who claim this Arsenal crop of players cannot compete are deluding themselves, I for one have no doubt this current team will be around for a good few seasons, but perhaps sans Senderos as the Gunners back-four does need strengthening.

For United, they are bang on course to win back-to-back titles; the confidence must surely be flowing and all connected with the club must surely be able to almost scent yet more silverware in the wind.

We also have the mouth-watering prospect of the Champions League semi-finals with Barcelona, and for those of who love free-flowing attacking football it is to be hoped that we are treated to two great games which culminate in United reaching the final in Moscow... (Don't all English fans want other English clubs to do well in Europe? :0))

It seems almost ridiculous to question the manager, yet doubts persist about Fergie's tactics, because it was only when Ferguson replaced an out of sorts Paul Scholes for Anderson coupled bringing on Tevez for Park did United really look like they were capable of beating the Gunners on Sunday.

There is no place for sentiment in football, and Ferguson above all others shouldn't need reminding of that. The United manager surely cannot keep on leaving out Anderson and Tevez. Rooney does his best work when the load is shared with another striker. Anderson covers a lot more ground than Scholes and he can play – the Brazilian has the energy and the guile that is required and he has the legs. It is time for Scholes and Giggs to move over.

There would be no more fitting end to Fergie's magical career than lifting the big one in Moscow in May, we Reds just hope that any perceived tactical weakness doesn't stop us from getting there (again)...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hargreaves energy ensures United see off Roma...

Manchester United secured their passage into the semi-finals of the Champions League last night, winning one-nil and three-nil on aggregate. Carlos Tevez scored the killer goal from a superb Owen Hagreaves cross from the right wing.

The former Bayern Munich star was the outstanding player on the night, having not played that much football of late, he was bursting with energy and was unlucky not to score on a couple of occasions.

Hargreaves has a reputation for being a defensive midfield player, but against Roma he showed that he there's a lot more to his game, when creating chances for others by supplying superb crosses or else making lung busting runs in the mode of Red legend Bryan Robson.

Over the last week there's been some stories in the press suggesting that one of the reasons Hargreaves hasn't figured so much in the Reds starting line-up of late is down to the player being reprimanded by Ferguson for poor time-keeping.

United fans will be hoping that both player and manager have patched things up regarding any spat, because it was most definitely a case of Hargreaves making a perfectly timed comeback against Roma, it was a performance that will certainly give his manager a lot to think about where future selection matters are concerned.

To the consternation of many, the Reds had started the game sans Rooney and Ronaldo. Was Ferguson taking Roma for granted, resting on his laurels with a two-nil advantage? It certainly seemed that way and somewhat controversially at the other end Rio Ferdinand started the game when it was thought he might be out injured after suffering with a bruised foot sustained against 'Boro on Sunday.

However, concerns over Ferguson's selection quickly seemed to be unfounded as from the off United took the game to Roma and could have been three up after 20 minutes with Giggs, Park and Hargreaves all having chances to score.

Then on 29 minutes the Norwegian referee was conned into giving the visitors a ridiculously soft penalty when Wes Brown was judged to have fouled Mancini inside the United penalty area. Thankfully, Daniele de Rossi smashed the resulting spot-kick high into the Stretford End, justice had been done. That miss by the Italian international could have been a turning point and then questions about leaving out Ronaldo and Rooney could have come back to haunt Ferguson.

The penalty award seemed to knock United completely out of their collective stride, as they failed to put their game together until the second half as Roma gained in gained confidence. While the game didn't turn out to be one of those great Old Trafford European nights, it was a decent game to watch with both teams missing opportunities to score.

The killer blow finally arrived on 70 minutes and once again it was Hargreaves who had opened up the Roma defence with an arching cross from the right wing, Carlos Tevez dived bravely to expertly head home giving Doni no chance.

Rooney and O'Shea came on for Carrick and Giggs on 74 minutes and to the delight of the Old Trafford crowd Gary Neville came on for a late cameo role in central midfield when replacing Anderson on 84 minutes.

After the game Ferguson, who was no doubt very relieved that his selection had proven to be vindicated, said that he believed this United team is much stronger in terms of energy levels when compared to last season. The manager pointed out that prior to the Reds semi-final visit to the San Siro, Milan rested no less than eight players the previous weekend.

While Ferguson is absolutely correct about the squad being much stronger this season,
United's striker department is lacking in depth and with Arsenal next up on the horizon at Old Trafford on Sunday; the big-guns will surely be restored for a game that will no doubt be incident packed.

The semi-finals with Barcelona should be a bit special. Bring it on.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Rio to miss vital Roma clash...

Reports claim that Rio Ferdinand will miss tonight's vital second leg of the Champions League quarter-final at Old Trafford tonight. The England defender sustained a foot injury on Sunday at the Riverside. Silvestre and Gary Neville are both fit and available after recovering from injury.

The United manager says both teams will have their chances, adding that he believes it could be a very attacking game and that United will be looking to hit the visitors on the counter-attack.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

X-rated defending costs Arsenal dearly...

Arsenal and Liverpool fans must have been getting sick of the sight of each other following so many close encounters between the two sides within the last seven days. The week's previous two matches had finished one apiece and so many neutrals among the viewing public must surely have been thinking that the game at Anfield on Tuesday night was going to be another stalemate snooze fest, but no, it was a lot better than that. As it turned out it was arguably the best game in the Champions League for quite some time.

It's not often that United fans will admit that watching either of these two teams represents more than a mild passing interest, because where excitement is concerned neither club is on the same page as far as we are concerned. However, the second leg of this quarter-final proved to be one of those rare occasions that lived up to the pre-match hype and star billing.

In the first 25 minutes Arsenal was awesome going forward, they were too strong and powerful and Liverpool looked in danger of being swamped. Adebayor and Diaby looked dangerous and threatening more or less every time they were on the ball. When the breakthrough came on 13 minutes it was a goal of the highest quality as Diaby powered into the Liverpool penalty area before hammering a low drive beyond Reina in front of the Kop. Wonderful, even for on looking United fans.

The Gunners opening salvo had served notice that they were very much up for it, whereas the Liverpool players didn't know what had hit them. It looked like Benitez and his team was going to be run over by Wenger's juggernaut.
In fairness, the Merseyside Reds did eventually improve as the half went on and they were given a crucial lifeline when Hyypia headed home an equaliser on 30 minutes - Senderos afforded the veteran Liverpool defender a criminal amount of space.

It is impossible to understate how important that equalising goal was in terms of this game and the rest of the season, it galvanised the home team, who went to on to deservedly win, but only after the visitors had shot themselves in the collective feet of their back four. Though there was no stopping Torres when he scored a wonder goal on 69 minutes, but again the hapless Senderos gave the Spanish striker too much room.

Arsenal, were not done though and substitute Walcott went on a mazy run leaving the desperate lunging challenges of a trio of Liverpool players in his wake before pulling the ball back for Adebayor to score another brilliant goal. At that point at 2-2 and with only a few minutes left to play the Gunners looked to be going through to the semi-final.

Low and behold just two minutes later, Liverpool won a penalty when Toure found himself on the wrong side of Babel, as the Dutch winger was wrestled to the ground. Gerrard, who had not been his usual threatening self in front of goal, scored the spot-kick.

As the game headed deep into injury time, Babel, gave the Gunners their last rites when he raced away to hammer the final nail in Arsenal's Champions League coffin.

It now remains to be seen what lies ahead in the remainder of the season for both clubs. Liverpool will rightly fancy knocking out Chelsea - but they wont fancy playing United or Barca in the final, but they know better than anyone else in this particular competition that in a one-off game anything can happen.

For Arsene Wenger, the Gunners collective defending at Anfield on Tuesday night left an awful lot to be desired and so it looks like the Arsenal manager has much to do in that department. This Arsenal team is very, very good going forward, but at the back they can be suspect.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Double boost for United ahead of Roma clash...

Manchester United have announced that Rio Ferdinand has not broken any bones in his foot after being substituted in Sunday's 2-2 draw with Middlesbrough. However, the club have yet to say how long the England defender will be missing from the Reds starting line-up. The fear is that United could be without Nemanja Vidic and Rio on Wednesday when Roma visit Old Trafford for the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final. The Reds have a strong two-nil advantage from the first-leg and so Ferguson will be confident of reaching the semi-finals of Europe's premier club competition. United have been given yet more cause for optimism with the news that reports claim Francesco Totti will miss the second-leg.

The visit of Arsenal on Sunday represents the chance to kill-off Wenger's lingering title hopes and so it's vital that Ferdinand or Vidic makes a swift return to fitness. If the Reds first-choice central defenders do not recover in time for Roma or Arsenal, either Pique, Silvestre and or Wes Brown will deputise.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

United held by battling 'Boro.

Manchester United had to fight back from a goal down at the Riverside today in a keenly fought contest that finished up 2-2. The Red Devils steamed into an early first-half lead on 10 minutes when the man of season Cristiano Ronaldo scored after Michael Carrick had expertly pulled the ball back after beating his man inside the Boro penalty area.

During the opening 15 minutes, it looked like United's attacking play was going to swamp Gareth Southgate's team. However, the home team fought back strongly and deservedly equalised on 35 minutes after the Red Devils were caught out at the back when Boro launched a long ball into the visitors' half, which eventually fell to the feet of Brazilian striker Afonso Alves who gave Van der Sar no chance with a cool finish.

United were without Nemanja Vidic and his absence clearly had a negative effect, as the Reds defence looked anything but solid on a number of first-half occasions in what turned out to be a very open and attacking game..

As early as the first minute of the second period United found themselves on the back-foot as 'Boro as continued to press United all over the park. At the other end the visitors' were not functioning as an attacking unit after being knocked out of their collective stride.

On 56 minutes the Reds resistance was once again broken and it was Alves who did the damage as United fell behind for the first time in the game. The worry is for Ferguson and United fans, both of Boro's goals came about after the Reds defenders' failed to deal with long balls being played in the air.

It came as no surprise that on 67 minutes Fergie replaced John O'Shea with Wes Brown in the centre of defence and Hargreaves came in at right back. To make matters even worse on 69 minutes, Rio Ferdinand had to be taken off due to what looked like a thigh injury as Pique came on to play alongside Wes Brown.

Ferguson sent on Park for Carlos Tevez, who had struggled to make any real impact, the decision paid dividends as the South Korean winger skipped round the challenge of a 'Boro defender and then pulled the ball back from the by-line for Rooney to score after a deflection. From that point onwards it was nip and tuck as both teams tried to win the game. In the end a draw was a fair result.

After the game 'Boro fans will be no doubt asking themselves why their team cannot play like they did today in every game, if they had done so then they would not have been relegation fodder as they have been for most of the season.

For United fans, like Ferguson, they have been left to ponder what may lie ahead in the remaining weeks of the season with the Reds looking likely to lose both first choice centre-backs through injury. It is very much a case of bad timing and bad luck.

United are still very much in the driving seat having a three point lead at the top of the table, but they will quickly need to recover their collective composure for the visits of Roma and Arsenal for what is going to be a massive week.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

United's Champions League hopes given massive boost...

United fans will no doubt be delighted to hear that Ronaldinho is out for the rest of the season after tearing a muscle in his right leg, it's a massive blow for the Catalan club. The good news has been offset with the bad news that Lionel Messi could soon be back in action for Barca in time to face United.

The Red Devils have their own injury concerns to star defender Nemanja Vidic who could be out for up to three weeks, but he should be back in time for the Champions League semi-final, should the Reds see off the challenge of Roma at Old Trafford in midweek.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Vidic injury will revive Arsenal's title hopes, but United must press home their advantage at 'Boro...

Nemanja Vidic is going to be out injured for up to three weeks, this when United looked to be on course to romp home and win the Premier League and also on the verge of securing their passage into the Champions League semi-final.

With a bit of luck, the Reds will still cruise home and win the title and see off Roma in the second-leg of their Champions League quarter-final next week, but for United supporters there will be concerns that a defence that has been rock-solid for most of the season could be breached in the Serbian's absence, which potentially could open up the title race again.

The next two games are of paramount importance as Fergie will want to keep the winning momentum going. The United manager will of course be keeping an eye on another clash at the Emirates on Saturday when Arsenal and Liverpool once again face each other - a draw would do the Reds very nicely indeed. If Man City can somehow manage a draw with Chelsea on the same day, come 5pm Saturday United could be going to the Riverside looking to stretch their lead at the top of the table.

Against 'Boro on Sunday United will face a team that is lacking confidence, added to which goal-scoring has been a big problem, Southgate's team have only scored three in their last five home games. Cardiff recently knocked Boro out of the FA Cup winning two-nil at the Riverside.

Going off recent form Fergie's team should be able to cope without Vidic this weekend. However, United fans know full well that the 'smog-monsters' have had some very good wins against the Reds, but Even without Vidic, United should be confident of out-scoring 'Boro.

If results go United's way in their next two games the Reds can look forward to hopefully effectively ending the Gunners' title hopes the following weekend, by the time that game comes around Wenger's side could be out of the Champions League.

It is to be hoped that Vidic recovers quickly, while all the talk has rightly centred on Ronaldo of late, there's no doubting that the partnership of Ferdinand and Vidic is arguably just as important to United.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Ronaldo and Rooney pull off the Italian Job...

Manchester United made a stunning smash and grab raid in Rome last night when beating AS Roma 2-0 in the Olympic Stadium, Ronaldo and Rooney were the men behind this spectacular heist scoring goals in either half, both came very much against the run of play.

As expected Fergie tried to flood his midfield in a bid to rest control of the game from the Italians', there was no place in the starting eleven for Carlos Tevez, it was a decision which left the visitors lacking passing options up front.

However, it was Cristiano Ronaldo and not Wayne Rooney who was deployed as the lone striker - Napoleon once said 'give me lucky generals' and there can be no doubt that Ferguson came into that category in Rome last night - because while Ronaldo scored one of the finest headers in the history of the European Cup, the visitors started the game looking devoid of options and ideas going forward.

Ferguson's plan of attack appeared to amount to hoofing the ball to Ronaldo, who at one point had to take on no less than six Roma players'. With few attacking options, United's play was sloppy as time and time again they gave the ball away or else played it sideways or backwards.

Against Aston Villa at the weekend the Reds were irrepressible, but against Roma they looked disjointed and matters were made a whole lot worse when on 29 minutes they lost the rock that is Vidic, due to a knee injury. Not long after John O'Shea had replaced the Serbian, Spalletti's team could have taken the lead when Vucinic skipped beyond the challenge of Carrick inside the penalty area, only to pull his shot wide of Van de Sar's far post.

United continued to give the ball away cheaply and Roma were starting to dominate the game when on 39 minutes the Reds finally strung a few forward passes together, after Rooney had drifted in from the left wing, turned and beat his man to find Scholes on the right who in turn crossed the ball blindly into the heart of the Roma penalty area. Ronaldo, who at the start of this move was some 35 yards from goal, made a late but powerful and determined run to get onto the end of what was a hopeful cross - the Portuguese winger leaped like a Salmon and smashed home his header, it was an unstoppable effort and no superlative can truly do it justice.

The goal clearly rocked Roma who been completely taken by surprise, the half fizzled out without further incident.

Roma regained their composure after the break and once again they dominated the possession as they went on to create a string of decent chances. Panucci in particular was guilty of missing when only six yards out and Van der Sar had to make one world-class save to deny the home team.

It looked like it was going to be only a matter of time before Roma equalised and the truth was that United could have had no complaints if they had because their play continued to be disjointed with Scholes in particular giving the ball away cheaply on numerous occasions.

Ferguson sent on Hargreaves for the ineffective Anderson, the tactic only worked to a point as the Reds continued to lack potency up front.

Then on 66 minutes United broke down the right wing and Wes Brown's deep cross was brilliantly headed back across goal by Park, who until that point had little impact in the game - Doni then gifted the visitors a second and unlikely goal after he failed to hold onto the ball as he collided with Mexes, only for it to fall to the grateful Rooney who had the simple task of putting into the unguarded net. Like the first goal, it came against the run of play. No wonder Ferguson later conceded that his in-game tactics were wrong and that United were lucky not to concede two goals after the break.

From that point on Roma were there for the taking as the Reds took control of the game and Ronaldo went on to hit the post after a typical dazzling run. Carlos Tevez came on for Rooney and within minutes he linked up with Ronaldo only for the player being described as 'the best in the world' to blaze over the bar.

In the end United were comfortable winners, but the score-line didn't truly reflect the pattern of the game, because the Reds could have had no arguments if they'd gone at least 2-1 down early in the second period, once again Fergie's tactics away in European were questionable at best.

In perspective, there is no such thing as a bad win in Italy and the result is massive for United, because they will surely finish the Italian Job back at Old Trafford in the return leg. A semi-final with Barcelona looks likely and by all accounts Barca are not playing that well. For United supporters there is every reason to be hopeful that they could be going to Moscow in May - as long as Ronaldo stays fit that is. Bring it on.