Friday, October 31, 2008

Real Madrid taken for ride in Fergie's wind-up car...

When it comes to winding up the opposition, there's no better exponent of the art than Sir Alex Ferguson. The United manager famously cranked up the pressure on Kevin Keegan, manager of Newcastle, who at one point in 1996 had a 12 point advantage over the Red Devils in the title race, but following the Magpies manager's rant at Fergie they squandered their lead as United eventually ran out champions again. During Keegan's hilarious outburst which was seen by millions of viewers on SKY TV he coined the phrase "Love it" which entered the football lexicon.

Over the years Fergie has used the media to get his point across, he's managed to use the press largely to his advantage especially where winding-up rivals are concerned.

The latest victim to be taken for a ride in Fergie's wind-up car is Real Madrid present, Ramon Calderon, over his failed pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo. Ferguson has reminded the Spanish club of their links to their infamous former backer General Franco. Fergie says that Real Madrid are well used to getting what they want - a tradition started by the dictator in the 1950s. It's a fair comment really, even though this is a history lesson that Real Madrid would no doubt prefer to be brushed under the carpet.

Fergie has been winding-up Real Madrid over the last few weeks, he first made the Franco analogy in the summer months, but repeated it recently when baiting former United star Gabriel Heinze, when stating that the Spanish club had only signed the Argentine as a pawn with view to prizing his mate Ronaldo away from Old Trafford.

In response, Ramon Calderon, has resorted to calling Ferguson senile. Real Madrid's lapdogs at Marca have somewhat predictably waded-in when comparing the United manager to a dictator when morphing an image of Fergie's head into that of General Franco.

No doubting that Calderon and Madrid are hoping that Fergie will soon retire, but I wouldn't rule out them being taken for another spin or two in Fergie's wind-up car before that happens.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

False smiles suggest all is not well at United despite win over Hammers'...

Cristiano Ronaldo's first-half brace was enough to see off the challenge of West Ham United at Old Trafford last night, but despite the victory doubts persist about the Champions title credentials.

Sir Alex Ferguson has assembled a fine squad of players, but since the arrival of Dimitar Berbatov the Reds' have been blowing hot and cold. The Bulgarian has striker has taken time to settle-in, but he has started to repay the faith shown in him.

Against Everton at the weekend, following an excellent opening 45 minute display by the Red's, like too many other United players Berbatov went missing in what was a poor second-half display by the Red Devils as the home team mounted a strong revival which saw David Moyes team take a point from the game. It would be wrong to blame Berbatov for the dropped points at Goodison Park, because if anyone should be blamed it was the defence and in particular Rio Ferdinand who had something of an off day.

Against West Ham at Old Trafford last night the former Spurs striker somehow kept the ball in play when it looked to be heading for a goal-kick, not only that he bamboozled a West Ham defender with a piece of skill that Cantona would been proud of, his trickery was capped-off with a slide-rule pass that ended with a fine goal for Ronaldo who did his level best to force a smile and celebration, but despite his two goals on the night the Portuguese winger and World Player of the Year has the look of a player who is not sure he wants be at the club.

Another player who looks less than happy right now is Carlos Tevez; Fergie took the unusual step of writing what could be described as an apology to the Argentine in last night's match programme. Tevez had been United's most consistent forward early on in the season, but all too often of late he has been left on the bench. The United manager clearly is concerned that he could lose the Argentine especially following reports linking him with other clubs including Real Madrid, added to which United have not made his signing permanent.

Wayne Rooney made way for Tevez against West Ham. No player likes to be 'rested' and Rooney is no different, he was left out against Bolton and immediately after his benching he found his scoring boots as he went on a blistering run of form which sadly ended against his former club Everton at the weekend in which he was well below his recent best.

Over the last few weeks I have been punting a new formation for United, one that would see Rooney dropping back into an advanced central midfield role. From this position Rooney could either support the attack alongside Berbatov or as he often likes to do, drop back when the need arises. Rooney would be perfect for this role as he has all the attributes of an attacking midfield player. If Fergie took this tactical decision he could then bring in Tevez on the left and have Ronaldo on the right. The United manager could then deploy two central midfield players behind Rooney, pick any two from six; Carrick, Fletcher, Anderson, Giggs, Hargreaves and Scholes.

The inescapable fact is that this current United team is lacking something when either Tevez or Rooney are left out of the starting eleven, that something is that fire-in-the-belly all-action style which both players possess.

I'm convinced that if and when Fergie tries this formation it will bring back the smiles to the faces of the players and fans alike. The game with Hull at the weekend would be the perfect time to field this new line-up. I also hope that Rafael Da Silva keeps his place in the team too, because he looks like the real deal to me.

In assembling this stellar squad, Fergie has given himself some big problems selection wise, he now has the job of keeping everyone happy while at the same time recapturing that winning consistency. It is to be hoped that if anything can focus his mind on the task at hand it is the thought of the Scousers wrecking what could be his retirement season by winning the title. Fergie, Fergie sort it out.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Should United adopt Liverpool's formation?

To the dismay of on-looking United fans Liverpool broke Chelsea's long unbeaten home record at the weekend, even though the winning goal was a fluke, there was nothing really lucky about the victory as the Scousers' hit the post too when Alonso beat Petre Cech all ends up, only to see his freekick rebound off the woodwork.

In truth it was a fairly comfortable win for Liverpool and the result means that they are serious title contenders for arguably the first time in over a decade.

Having watched the match with Chelsea on TV at the weekend, there was much to admire about the visitors display, perhaps most of all their combined discipline and work-rate. At no stage in the game did Chelsea look like winning or even scoring, save for Ashley Cole's wayward second-half attempt.

Organisation is the cornerstone of this current team, the Merseyside Reds play with two central midfield players in front of the back-four, this defensive shield allows Steven Gerrard to roam freely - he can support the attack or defend when required, it is the perfect position for the England midfield star.

A few weeks ago I punted the suggestion that Wayne Rooney should be deployed in a similar role to Gerrard. I described this switch as the old Paul Scholes position, it is the one earmarked for him when Veron arrived first at United, but for whatever reason Scholesy never became fully accustomed to this roving role.

Rooney would be perfect for an advanced central midfield attacking role, because he can tackle, shoot, pass and run all day long. If Fergie took this option he could also play Tevez on the left, Berbatov down the middle and Ronaldo on the right. Fergie could then slot in Carrick and Fletcher, Anderson or Hargreaves, Giggs or Scholes.

Far from being a negative formation it would be the complete opposite given United's firepower.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Brown-nosing Real Madrid trying to get Ronaldo on the cheap?

Real Madrid's silence over the future of Cristiano Ronaldo was all too short, when they knew United were not going to sell their star player to the Spaniards' in the last transfer window, they somewhat reluctantly threw in the towel and temporarily conceded defeat.

Since then we've heard the usual media wind-bags, aka 'informed sources', spinning various lines such as "Real are no longer interested in Ronaldo". However, about a week ago, Bernt Schuster, the Madrid coach, stated that, yes indeed, his club still wants to sign Ronaldo.

In the summer Real used every trick in the book to try to force United to sell Ronaldo, there was even talk that they wanted the player to go on strike and again if we believe what the 'insiders' tell us to be true, the fact that he did not withdraw his labour allegedly upset the Spanish club.

Whatever the truth behind the rumours surrounding talk that Ronaldo was to go on strike, Real Madrid's heavy-handed media assault failed - it was a total disaster because they also lost Robinho.

It came as no surprise then to hear Ramon Calderon over the weekend stating that they don't want to upset United. Clearly having failed with the battering-ram, the Madrid president has changed tactics, because he's now trying to give us the impression that his club are distancing themselves from Ronaldo.

Coming on the back of the latest spin emanating from the Real Madrid president, is it not a bit strange that Marca of all media outlets published quotes attributed to Ronaldo which state that he has committed his future to Manchester United, with the added rider that "I'm happy for now"?

When you think about Madrid's media led summer pursuit of Ronaldo, it was handled very badly, it was dumb, because Ronaldo's price was probably as high as it was ever going to be. Following on from the failed transfer coup of last summer, it appears that Madrid have launched a slightly more subtle approach, with a view to possibly capturing the player for a lot less money.

The form of Ronaldo hasn't reached the heights of last season, there has been various theories punted about this, such as he's not yet fit following his operation. Then there are those who believe that perhaps Ronaldo is holding back.

The very fact that Ronaldo's quotes appeared in Marca adds a certain amount of weight to the theory that this latest burst of media activity surrounding Ronaldo's future is suspicious to say the least. Personally, I don't trust Marca - do they have an office at the Madrid club?

My gut instinct is that Calderon's recent statement over Ronaldo should be dismissed out of hand; the same can be said of the Ronaldo quotes in Marca. What we are seeing is the beginnings of another orchestrated media-led campaign to capture the player next summer.

Ronaldo's future pledge would have more credence if he'd spoken to the British media, rather than the Real Madrid publicity machine that is Marca. Until I hear Ronaldo say that he is totally committed to United I simply do not believe it.

Like many other sensible United fans, I have been more than happy to back Ferguson over Ronaldo and I hope that his faith will be rewarded with yet more silverware. If United win the title or the Champions League again this season, Ronaldo can go as far as I'm concerned, I suspect Fergie has hinted as much to the player, but again I think we the fans should back the manager's judgement over this issue.

Time will tell if I'm right or wrong over Real Madrid's media antics.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Giggs rises to occasion but United allow Everton off the hook..

Ryan Giggs rolled back the years with a superb performance at Goodison Park today to help United take a point from a game the Champions will feel that might have won. It finished up 1-1; United had more or less complete control of the opening period without creating many clear cut goal-scoring chances.

However, on 22 minutes Ryan Giggs opened up the Toffees defence with a slide-rule pass to the feet of Darren Fletcher who took one touch before slotting the ball home through the legs of Tim Howard.

United played some nice football in the first-half and Giggs was at the heart of all that was good about the visitors’ performance. United fans have seen Giggs deployed in a variety of positions, but rarely has he looked so at home in the centre of midfield, his passing and first touch against Everton was exemplary.

Wayne Rooney had a half-chance to score but Everton's defence held firm. On-looking Reds' fans feared that United might pay for not extending their first-half lead. Those fears were fully justified because after the interval the home team had much more of the game, no doubt after a severe dressing down from David Moyes the Everton manager.

The Toffees pressure and possession eventually paid-off when they deservedly equalised after some poor defending by Rio Ferdinand, which eventually led to Marouane Fellaini scoring with a well directed header beyond Edwin van de Sar.

Ferdinand nearly made it an afternoon to forget when moments later he made a horrible attempted pass-back which played in Yakubu, but Van der Sar deflected the Nigerian's shot on to the post as it bounced to safety.

After the game, Ferguson launched an attack on referee Alan Wiley for failing to protect his players, but apart from a poor looking tackle by Phil Neville on Ronaldo, there really wasn't that much to complain about. Vidic was deservedly booked, but Rooney was wrongly cautioned in the second-half, not long after the former Everton star reacted to the home fans taunting by clutching his United badge on his shirt, not surprisingly Ferguson then substituted the United star who had not played well against his former club.

A draw was a fair result, despite Fergie's carping about Wiley. Too many United players failed to react to Everton's second-half revival. United fans will see the result as case of two dropped points rather than one gained given the Champions first-half domination, time will tell how costly this result will be.

Man of the match: Ryan Giggs.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Beckham to Milan - Escape to victory or a cynical marketing ploy?

When I heard that David Beckham is set to join Milan in January for two months, my first reaction was this was good news for both club and player. I still hold that view. However, not surprisingly the news has received a very mixed reaction from the media; many observers are sceptical of both Milan and Beckham's motives. Some say this is mainly about keeping Beckham's name in the spotlight, others have added that Milan are looking to cash-in on the name of the LA Galaxy star.

No matter what Beckham's detractors say, he remains a huge favourite with many England supporters and rightly so, he didn't deserve to be dropped by former manager Steve McClaren. The decision to axe Beckham was nothing more than a disgraceful publicity stunt. McClaren went pandering to the clowns in the media and they loved him for it, but the fans knew better. What's more, neither Shaun-Wright-Phillips nor Aaron Lennon have been totally convincing while playing for their country in Beckham's absence. Theo Walcott is new on the block and despite his recent goals he has much to prove, he lacks consistency and none of the players mentioned can cross a ball like Beckham.

As for Milan, they've been going backwards for a couple of seasons with their ageing squad; it is partly why they find themselves in the European backwater that is the UEFA Cup. It could be argued that Beckham's move is a bit like that awful 1981 POW football film, "Escape to Victory", or simply "Victory" as it was known in the USA.

The catchphrase for the film was "now is the time for heroes". The cast included Bobby Moore, Osvaldo Ardiles and Pelé. Former Ipswich Town stars Kevin Beattie and Paul Cooper stood-in for actors Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone, hilarious really. To take the analogy further, some of the Victory team members tried to escape at half-time, again a bit like Beckham leaving LA Galaxy at the season end...

While some will pour scorn on my not so serious comparison of Milan and Victory, there is a thread of truth in it as respected Times columnist Gabriele Marcotti has described Milan as 'galácticos lite', following the recent of addition of big stars names who are heading beyond their sell-by date, if somewhat prematurely, I refer to Ronaldo (the fat one) Ronaldinho and now Beckham. According to Marcotti, the arrival of Beckham et al is a part of Silvio Berlusconi's long-term vision to add glitz and glamour to the Milan mix...

Poking fun Milan and Berlusconi aside, you do wonder how well Beckham will fit into the Milan side, if selected. I really hope the Milan move works out well for Beck’s; he did himself no favours when he left United - it was handled very badly by his advisors, at least that is the fans' view of his transfer to Madrid. Since then I for one have mellowed about that episode and I really do wish him well because he has been a true professional. I also hope that Beckham goes to South Africa with England and plays some part in the World Cup Finals.

Beckham is a product of the once fabled, but now largely unproductive Manchester United youth system and like his former team-mates Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs he has been an absolute credit to the game.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reds cruise to Celtic win, but concerns grow over Ronaldo and Tevez..

Manchester United took a giant step forward towards the next phase of the Champions League at Old Trafford last night when cruising to a deserved three-nil win over Scottish champions Celtic.

The visitors played some good football at times and had the best scoring chances early on in what turned out to be a decent match, but Celtic were badly inhibited by the loss of key players. However, it was United who dominated possession and the Reds pressure was eventually rewarded with two disputed tap-in goals from new striker Dimitar Berbatov.

Wayne Rooney delivered the coup de grâce with another nice finish on 76 minutes to make it nine goals from ten seven games, but for a poor second-half decision by the linesman it would have been ten, but Rooney was adjudged to be offside, in point of fact it was the worst decision of the game by the officials.

It may seem a bit odd to be even suggesting this, given that United cruised to victory over Celtic and are starting to look like a real force again, but all does not look well when you scratch below the surface of selection issues and in particular concerning the future of two big stars names. I refer to Ronaldo and Tevez.

Going into the Celtic match Fergie had announced to the press that Ronaldo would likely be rested. Somewhat bizarrely the United manager reasoned that his former assistant Carlos Queiroz held the view that Ronaldo is not up to playing two games in a week. In his post-match interview Fergie revealed that Ronaldo had read about the decision to rest him in the newspapers, the Portuguese winger immediately asked his manager what he was talking about and demanded that he should play.

Fergie's revelation over this issue raises many questions. Clearly Fergie had not told Ronaldo of his decision to rest him before announcing the news to the media and why exactly did he use his former assistant as an excuse? Surely United's backroom staff know a lot more about Ronaldo's ability to play two games a week rather than the Portuguese who only see him every few weeks?

One cannot but help feel that Ferguson has revealed his not often seen soft-under belly over this Ronaldo selection issue. WE the fans and media hold the view that Ferguson is one tough son of a bitch, he is when the need arises, but he's human too and he finds it very hard to leave out star players, because Fergie's revelation effectively meant that Ronaldo had selected himself to play against Celtic.

We should be applauding the fact that Ronaldo wanted to play, that is if you believe the claptrap about Quieroz, I do not. Here's why.

Fergie has a massive problem to solve; that is how to accommodate all his big star names including Tevez, who isn't getting many games right now. The situation is very unfair on the Argentine, you cannot help but feel that this is partly down to he who shouts at Fergie the loudest as was the case with Ronaldo and presumably Rooney too who was dropped against Bolton recently. No one likes to be left out.

In theory all should be well at United right now, but you would not think so judging by the faces of Ronaldo and Tevez. We all know that Ronaldo will leave United; it's a matter of when and not if. At the same time, United fans will be delighted if we go on to win more silverware and then he is eventually sold, as long as it's not to City and for the right money.

The situation with Carlos Tevez is much more complicated. He has not signed yet and until that happens there must be a chance that a rival will do the right thing by acquiring a truly world class-second striker. Judging by the look on the face of Tevez when he came on against Celtic, he is starting to lose patience with his manager and you can totally understand that.

There is an argument that Tevez should have played more games for United recently, especially if we are going off form, but the team hasn't been selected purely on form of late because if it was Berbatov, despite his tap-ins, wouldn't be in the side.

The downside to Fergie's pecking order is that top players can become disillusioned as could be the case with Tevez.

United fans know and accept that we will eventually lose Ronaldo to Real Madrid, but losing Tevez too would be completely and totally unacceptable given the player really does want to stay if at all possible, at least that is the impression he has conveyed while on the pitch, face like a smacked backside apart.

There is an upside to the current situation as it could be argued that dropping Rooney recently gave him the kick up the derriere that in part led to this sudden goal-rush. Competition for places is no bad thing, as long as it's a fair contest...

Fergie, Fergie sort it out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rooney ready to put Celtic to the sword...

The big games cannot come quickly enough for in-form Wayne Rooney who is currently on a hot run of scoring form that has seen him plunder eight goals from his last six games.

Tonight United welcome Celtic to Old Trafford in the Champions League, I won't use the worn out term "Battle of Britain" to describe this clash, because for one thing the Red Devils are not representing England. Matches between United and Celtic are usually quite entertaining, largely because both teams share the same attacking philosophy, but that is as far as it goes because we have little else in common with Celtic.

The notion that there's some sort of empathy between the two sets of fans has by and large been dispelled, this is due to off the field events before and after recent meetings, I refer to the not so not so noble art of fisty-cuffs when the two sets of supporters have clashed. So what has caused these recent dust-ups? According to reliably informed reports, United supporters took exception to Celtic fans "larging it" and especially their gross behaviour in the city centre during their last visit to Old Trafford. I will spare my readers the gory details... It is to be hoped that both ties with Celtic will be peaceful affairs, both on and off the pitch.

Ahead of the big game and following his latest United goal, Wayne Rooney, hinted that he cannot wait for the next game to come around. Rooney was talking to the media after United's win against West Brom last weekend and no less than three times he called upon the Red Army to crank-up the atmosphere when Celtic take on the champions.

The way he's playing right now Rooney is coming close to being unplayable, not surprisingly sections of the media have put this upturn in form down to Fabio Capello. While that point of view cannot be totally dismissed, the truth of the matter is that Rooney has been striving to improve his goals to chances ratio for a good while. Rooney had to overcome a summer virus too, so the truth of the matter is that there are many factors behind this very welcome goal avalanche.

IF Celtic pay too much attention to shackling Rooney, his partner-in-crime Ronaldo can be even more devastating and there's Carlos Tevez who will likely start the game. I'm expecting United to rattle in a few goals this evening. It should be a cracker.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Can Rooney go on to become the ultimate penalty-box predator?

It's not often that you come out of an international break with any talking points other than that of players who have been injured while playing for their respective countries. That certainly hasn't been the case for those who like to discuss the form of Wayne Rooney, which of course includes those who believe that they have some sort of say in the matter, I'm not only referring to United fans but those in the media and the England fans too.

Rooney is currently hot, having notched eight goals from six games for club and country, of that number four came while on international duty. Fabio Capello had gone on record telling the United striker that he needed to improve his goal scoring record. There is no argument on this point as Rooney himself has talked of the need for greater consistency in front of goal.

For their part, United fans have been more than happy with the job that Rooney has done for the club so far. Goals aside, we could not ask for more from the little man, he gives his all in every game.

As ever and because Rooney plays for England, his form has turned into a national debate. One theory that has emerged over the last week is that Fergie has 'ruined Rooney'. Prior to the weekend clash with West Brom, Fergie took time out to talk about Rooney and at the same time have another go at Gary Lineker.

Fergie says that Rooney will only get better, it's all about maturing according to the United manager, but he also said that he maybe needs to work on the art of becoming a penalty area predator, like former England striker Gary Lineker. However, Fergie then added that Rooney will never be a goal hanger. One cannot escape the inference that the United manager was having a bit of a pop at the Match of the Day presenter. In fairness, Fergie had also paid Lineker a back-handed compliment regarding his fantastic goal-scoring achievements for club and country, a record which spanned over 500 games from which he netted a goal every two games.

My own view is that Rooney can improve and this week he's hinted that he's been listening to the advice of Fabio Capello, who has helped him with his positioning.

Taking advice is no bad thing, providing it’s coming from the right people and especially if Rooney wants to become more of a penalty-box predator.

Ferguson recently hinted that maybe Rooney needs to be a little more selfish if he wants to become a better striker, if that is the case and it would probably have to be over Fergie's dead body, but Rooney could a lot worse than talk to Lineker and study footage of the former England and Everton star in action.

A large part of being a top finisher is undoubtedly possessing the ability to be in the right place at the right time. Lineker scored four goals on two separate occasions for England. Outside of the penalty area, Lineker played his part for the team, but it was all about economy of effort, whereas Rooney charges up and down the park, the two players are in marked contrast in this respect and despite his present goal scoring run I haven't seen anything which suggests that Rooney has changed his game just yet.

I personally wouldn't want to see Rooney lose his all action style, it's what makes him the player that he is, but if he can learn something from studying other top players, then all well and good.

Another talking point which has been raised this week is the form of Emile Heskey. Following some good performances for England, there have been rumours of a move back to Liverpool. Heskey is a striker who has never really fulfilled his promise, he's very much a poor-man's Didier Drogba, but they are very alike in one respect, they both fall over too easily for big men, they also win a fair number of free-kicks, a point which was always recognised by Liverpool fans.

Regardless of opinions on Heskey, his new partnership with Rooney has raised the question of pairing the little and large strikers together. United fans have long been talking about the need to bring in a target-man, that man could have been Saha, but for his almost constant injuries.

Ferguson has on occasion signed players based on instinct; I'm referring to Eric Cantona, who was signed at a snip for around £1m. More recently we signed Berbatov for £30m, at present he isn't looking like a value for money signing. Time will tell whether Fergie will be proved right over Berbatov, it is too early to be making judgements, but at least the little and large combination for England has given Fergie something to think about, maybe Manucho will go on to do a similar job for United in this respect?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Wayne Rooney set to boing, boing Baggies?

In football there's rarely such a thing as a dead-cert and on Saturday it's eighth v ninth when West Brom visit the champions at Old Trafford. The Baggies away form isn't that bad having won last time out at 'Boro, but they've struggled to hit the back of the net, so I'm expecting nothing less than a United victory and with the very real danger of putting the 'kiss of death' on the outcome for the Champions I'm boldly predicting a thumping win.

Following an international break and with Celtic due to visit Old Trafford on Tuesday in the Champions League, the United manager has to decide who will start this match. Ryan Giggs has been pencilled in, but Hargreaves and Carrick will definitely miss this fixture due to injury. According to reports, the likelihood is that Carrick will be back before Hargreaves whose injuries must be starting to be a real source of frustration within Old Trafford.

As has been the case so far this season the biggest puzzler for Fergie concerns the forward line. Tevez and Anderson do not return to Carrington until Friday afternoon, chances are Fergie will leave both on the bench on Saturday and start the match with West Brom with Rooney and Berbatov up front. Rooney is on fire right now and he will be keen to add to his goal tally against the Baggies.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Media getting carried away over Rooney, Gerrard and Capello...

The nation (at least those of us who are actually still interested in following England) will no doubt be thinking about the 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa today following another win for the Three Lions, this time against Belarus to make it four victories from four.

It comes as no surprise to hear the experts telling us that qualification from Group six looks increasingly as if it will be a formality for Capello's team. All well and good if that actually happens, but as ever, sections of the media are starting to get giddy when asking questions like "Are England world-beaters?”

It was the very same media that only a few weeks ago were questioning last night's heroes; Wayne Rooney (positional sense) and Steven Gerrard (one in ten for England). To be fair to the media, Rooney has added to the debate by informing us that, yes, Capello has helped him with his positioning. However, with the danger of being a kill-joy, from what I saw of Rooney against Belarus and as undoubtedly brilliant as his second goal was he hasn't changed a damn thing.

Against Belarus there were times when the former Everton striker was deep in England's own half. Rooney's biggest problem, for both England and United, hasn't been a lack of effort, or indeed his positional sense, it has consistently been his poor finishing, against Belarus it was exemplary.

I doubt Rooney will score many better goals for England, or indeed United, the way he out-foxed that defender with that dummy and then shook-off the attentions of the second defender with that subtle feint was pure genius. Fabio Capello, nor even Fergie can show or tell a striker like Rooney how to perform such trickery. Rooney's movement that led to his second goal of the night came from his instinctive imagination, split-second timing is critical as is the ability to keep cool at the vital killer moment when confronted with the goal at your mercy.

AS for Steven Gerrard - as well as he played against Belarus, the jury is very much out on this particular Scouser where England are concerned - one good game in ten for your country doesn't make you a top international footballer.

Gerrard knows this all too well, but if you believe the media they will have it that the Liverpool midfield star is both the problem and the potential solution behind England's inconsistency. Time waits for no player and IMO Capello needs to give Gerrard a serious boot up the backside - he needs to be given the hard-word, shape up or prepared to be left-out.

The coach and players do deserve a lot of credit, managing England has to be one of the most difficult jobs in the world, not least due to the over-inflated opinions our of true standing in the world game, because no matter how much the media try to convince us otherwise, the record shows that England have been a very average international team, arguably since 1970.

Capello has a great record, no one can deny that, but he's no miracle worker and as good a job as he's done so far, how can a team with serious ambitions of winning the World Cup rely upon the likes of Emile Heskey?

Chances are England will qualify for the World Cup Finals and by the time the squad arrives in South Africa, the competition will be "all but won" (that is, if you believe the media hype) but then reality will once again bite and England will be on the first plane home after the first serious knockout game.

One of the reasons that I actually hate these international breaks is the media's gross over-reaction, both good and bad, to anything and everything connected with England. Why cannot we as a nation keep our sense of perspective where the England team is concerned?

I know I bang on about the media but I blame them for raising the fans expectations too high, over the last forty years results have proven that we all should know better. England will probably go to South Africa, but we should go there in hope rather than with any sense of real expectation, to think otherwise would be delusional.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Is Manchester just a stepping stone for Brazilian stars?

Following another weekend with no Premier league action to feast upon, we had to make do with the best that International football could offer; obviously I'm not referring to England. The Wembley first-half was a snoozefest but Kazakhstan weren't that bad and were making a fist of it. The second-half improved with United's, Rooney and Rio getting among the goals. By way of an added bonus, it was nice to hear Ashley Cole getting grief; even it was from the Ingerlund Neanderthals. It was alslo nice to hear the same fans applauding Beckham.

At one time, it seemed to be just United players who got stick from the Wembley crowd, the last Red to suffer the Wembley fan wrath was Phil Neville, but more recently it's been 'Fat Frank' Lampard and now it's Ashley Cole's turn to be on the receiving end.

You do wonder how long it will be before the morons start booing Steven Gerrard, reason being he seems to pick and choose when he puts in a decent shift these days for England - when was his last decent game for the Three Lions?

On Saturday evening I took in the Argentina vs. Uruguay game from Buenos Aires, it finished up 2-1 to Carlos Tevez and Co. It was a hard fought contest and that's putting it mildly as both teams were putting the boot-in. The pace of the game was frantic which didn't come as any surprise given Argentina were desperate for a win. Overall it was a good contest and one that gave the punters a fair degree of value for money.

On Sunday night I was busily flicking between three different TV channels, early on each time I tuned into the Venezuela vs. Brazil match it coincided with the Brazilians scoring another goal. The match ended in a marvellous four-nil thumping win for Dunga's team. Watching this game got me thinking how fortunate rival's Manchester City are right now, given they had two players on view. Elano was signed by Sven and Robinho only came to City largely because Chelsea badly screwed things up with their heavy handed pursuit of the Brazilian winger. Will Robinho stay with City, given that he's gone on record stating that wanted to join Chelsea and Big Phil Scolari?

From a tactical point of view, watching Robinho is interesting, I was listening to a radio commentary on City recently and the summariser commented that Robinho drifts in and out of the game too much - the inference was clear, when City are defending he's a passenger.

I'm also wondering if Robinho is all right foot, this struck me last night when instead of using his left he switched onto his right foot for what was an extremely well taken goal, but nonetheless it's something to look out for as I do not watch Robinho that often. Over time, you might well see fullbacks pushing the winger down left the flank, because he's deadly once he comes inside onto what looks like his favoured right foot.

City also have another brilliant Brazilian in Jo, the striker, who like team-mate Elano was signed from Russia. Until recently we didn't see that many South Americans playing in England and of course United currently have Anderson, Possebon and the two Da Silva brothers on the club's books, with talk that more are on their way...

It remains to be seen where all these Brazilian players will end up playing in a few seasons; Spain must be a likely destination, given the climate. For now though, United and City fans can only dream about what may lie ahead with such talented players playing for both clubs.

Hopefully, some of these fabulous players will lay down some roots and hang around for a long time so that Manchester public see them blossom and reach their full potential in the rainy city.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Watch "Free football" over the internet - too good to be true?

Ok it's that time again, it's another weekend of tiresome international football. Does anyone really give a flying **** about England? I lost interest in the Three Lions a long time ago, the best we can hope for is that our respective club players do not sustain any injuries while on England duty this week.

As ever, the largely pathetic and all too often jingoistic press are full of stories relating to England with headlines like "Rooney has a new haircut", yawn. As if that isn't bad enough, we have to also endure unfunny Borat too.

Anyway, one game that might be worth tuning into this weekend is Argentina vs Uruguay, it's the oldest South American derby, the venue is River Plate, kick-off 18.00hrs local time.

Argentina go in search of their first victory in five games as the South American World Cup qualifying group reaches the half-way point. This for me is the game of the whole weekend, the only problem is its not on TV as far as I know, which brings me nicely onto watching football over the internet.

A few months ago I joined one of these sites which supposedly was going to give me "free access" to watching football matches over the net. Did it work? No, it most definitely did not. I won't name the site in question, but all I ended up with was a host of links to sites in places like China and I never did get to see a match. In my experience the exercise was a complete and utter waste of time.

Some, but not all of these free football sites, charge a joining fee, largely from what I can tell for the dubious privilege of providing links. I'd like to hear from anyone (not connected to one of these sites) who regularly watches football over the net, who has had a positive experience. I'd also like to hear from folk like me who have had a negative experience...

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fergie goes in search of British Manucho....

IF you're like me and you're not particularly interested in watching England these days, you will no doubt be at a slight loss regarding what to do with your time this weekend, what with international football taking centre stage. The good news is that United will be on TV this weekend, albeit on Sky 1 at 12pm and 8pm.

Ferguson is set to star in a programme entitled "Nike Most Wanted", in which the United manager goes in search of potential young stars who have escaped the football net due to one reason or another.

Apparently, there was over 35,000 applicants from Britain and Ireland, of that number 1,600 became hopeful contenders for the actual trials, which eventually led to just 22 finalists taking part in a training session overseen by Ferguson himself. During the show the United manager talks to the finalists about what it is like to be a professional footballer, "it's a good life", Fergie tells the wannabe stars of the future.

Fergie uses the example of new striker, Manucho, to make his point when saying that it was only two years ago when the Angolan became a professional footballer. Those of you with half decent memories will no doubt recall that in the mid '80s Arsenal's Ian Wright was catapulted from non-league obscurity into the big-time. Closer to Manchester, Wayne Collins was another who made the step up from Winsford Town to join Crewe, then Sheffield Wednesday and then Fulham among other professional clubs.

While the players mentioned undoubtedly have proven that it is still possible to find a way into the top-flight, even at the age of 24 like Manucho, sadly the reality is that finding stardom once you are out of your teens cannot be anything but a dream. So why exactly is that then? United and other top English clubs have scouting networks which stretch far and wide, so the chances of not being spotted at an early age these days are extremely remote.

In the programme Fergie also brings up another issue that has no doubt burdened many managers, which is that of allowing players to leave the club too soon. The United manager hints that maybe he would have liked to have given some players longer before making what truly must be an awful decision for all concerned.

The search for new talent starts a very young age these days, at one time the club would invite youngsters down to train with them with a view to joining the United school of excellence, which later became the Academy.

I have personally been involved in taking youngsters to train with United and Oldham Athletic and I have seen kids under the age of 10 having their dreams shattered when being told that, no, they won't be invited back the next year. At the same time, I have heard coaches telling parents that they realise that they will not get it right all of the time.

Fergie has drawn upon his personal experiences when alluding to those young players who he's allowed to leave United, some of which perhaps prematurely, but the record shows he's barely put a foot wrong in this respect, as no one that I can think has gone on to better things after being shown the Old Trafford exit door at young age - though Robbie Savage might well argue the point...

In the case of Manucho, given that the talent net is cast wide and far these days in the trawl for new stars, the fact of the matter is that some countries like Brazil for example, have an excess of burgeoning young players. Take the example of recent signing, Rodrigo Possebon; until he signed for United he was unheard of in his native country.

While United and Nike had over 35,000 hopeful applicants, I predict there will be no professional contract at the end of this show; this is due to the reasons outlined in this post. However, no matter what the reality is, if you have bags of talent, coupled with dedication you've got a chance and that is what this show is all about, the chance to fulfil a dream of playing for the biggest club in the world, let's hope it makes good TV.

I have my own views on how things could be improved regarding nurturing and finding young talent, but I'll save that for another time.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Jealousy is behind UEFA's threat to kick United out of Europe...

Let's stop beating about the bush, UEFA's latest threat to kick heavily in debt clubs out of Europe is targeted at Manchester United and Liverpool - Chelsea and their mega wealthy owner, Roman Abramovich, are a completely different case and everyone knows it too.

If, and it's a very big if, this threat is actioned, the likelihood is that it won't be restricted to just one club like United and of course UEFA do like to make examples of British clubs as we have seen before.

As a long-standing Manchester United supporter and someone who is still vehemently opposed to the sale of the club to the Glazer family, this UEFA threat to boot United out of Europe has got me onto my soap-box. Here's why.

Thousands upon thousands of United supporters were totally opposed to the sale of the club to the Glazers', not just because of who they are and what they stand for, but also because fundamentally they could not afford to buy the club without borrowing a king’s ransom which has put the club massively into hock with the banks.

Question, why didn't UEFA poke their snotty noses into this affair at that juncture? Because if they had done, just perhaps the sale of the club to the Glazers' would never have taken place.

But no, UEFA did not take any action, I seem to recall at the time they did their usual trick of buck-passing to the English FA, which is their get-out-of-jail-card for those occasions when they really cannot be bothered to take any action.

Role the clock forward to 2008 and the newly formed European Club Association and added to which the recent appointment of Michelle Platini. Over the last few month's there has been reports suggesting that some European Club Association members have been bending Platini's ear about the unfairness of the current situation, whereby some European Associations, specifically the English FA, have allowed clubs to rack up huge debts with the banks.

Here's a question: If United, Chelsea and Liverpool were failing to qualify for the Champions League, does anyone seriously think that the Germans and UEFA would be complaining? The answer to that is a rather obvious NO.

The reason that UEFA and the Germans are unhappy is because the English clubs are growing stronger and they do not like it, they are jealous; it is as simple as that. If that isn't so, then why didn't UEFA see this coming when it mattered, when they could have tried to stop the Glazers from their debt laden mission of madness which has resulted in thousands of rank and file United fans being priced out of following their beloved club?

I remain totally opposed to any new owners who come into the English game looking to exploit our clubs with a view to cashing-in on the back of our supporters and the game we know and love.

Despite my feelings on ownership, I for one remain unconvinced that UEFA is on solid ground over this threat. Here's why. As I understand it, the Glazers' have a holding company which is totally separate from Manchester United and it is this company which is responsible for the bulk of their debts, so I'm not even convinced that booting United out of Europe would stand-up on legal grounds.

There is also an argument that United, taken as an ongoing business is as solid as a rock, it is the owners acquisition debt that is weighing down the club's finances due to staggering annual interest payments to Red Football Ltd.

We all know and realise that UEFA and FIFA think that they are a law unto themselves, but could UEFA really kick out a football club if their parent company is on dodgy ground?

I suspect there would be a very strong legal challenge from United and anyone who thinks otherwise must surely be mistaken, there is too much at stake for all concerned.

Let us take this a step further. Let us assume that UEFA carries out this threat, let us also assume that this move sent out United and the Glazers' out of business. It could happen - especially the latter, it would seem to me that the Glazers' would have a solid case against UEFA for bringing down their empire, given that they had moved the goal-posts after the takeover and by banning the club they have effectively bankrupted, Manchester United, formerly the biggest club in the world. Now would UEFA really fancy taking that on in court?

UEFA need to understand that talk is cheap. Nothing will come of these empty threats of that I am fairly certain. United and Liverpool will be told to get their houses in order, you do wonder if that in turn could eventually lead new owners of both clubs.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Fergie has to be bold over Carlos Tevez dilemma...

IF we are to believe what we read in the press, then Carlos Tevez is becoming frustrated at the lack of progress regarding a permanent Old Trafford deal. United have reacted to the speculation by stating that there's no problem and that they will conclude the Tevez deal by the end of the year. Ironically that will be when would be suitors like Man City could make their move to capture the Argentine, which would be hugely embarrassing for United and our supporters.

If Tevez is sold to another club, it would be a tragedy given what the former West Ham star has for the United so far - it would also be seen as an act of betrayal by the Champions, given the player clearly wants to stay if at all possible.

As ever with these contractual situations it cannot be ruled out that this latest story has been leaked to press via an agent, with a view to moving the deal along, because according to the club - Tevez remains cool about the current state of affairs.

However, one thing that is surely beyond any doubt is the fact that Tevez will not be happy about being constantly left on the bench, because since the arrival of Dimitar Berbatov the Argentine's role has been reduced to that of bit-part player.

Any sensible Red will tell you Fergie has to find a way of accommodating Tevez, Rooney, Berbatov and Ronaldo into his team. So how exactly does Ferguson achieve result? The answer is simple.

Ferguson needs to be bold; he needs to ask Rooney to drop back into the old Paul Scholes role, the one earmarked for him when Veron arrived at United. Rooney needs to be given license to drop back into midfield when required and to launch forward when the Reds are attacking.

The facts of the matter is, and love him as we rightly still do, Scholes is too slow now, this was self-evident in the defeat an Anfield where our midfield was swamped for long periods of the game.

Ferguson has been hampered by the loss of Carrick and Hargreaves through injury and until such times as they are both fully fit, the manager will have to make do with the likes of Fletcher, who has done pretty well when given a chance.

If and it's a big if, Fergie took the bull by the horns and went for it with the following formation, it could be devastating:

...................Van der Sar

Da Silva.........Ferdinand.....Vidic......Evra

.......Hargreaves or Anderson.....Carrick......

.................. .Rooney.....................


I fear that Ferguson will not take the bull by the horns and make the necessary changes due to the manager being sentimental regarding his favoured son in Paul Scholes. The fact of the matter is that both Rooney and Tevez have better engines than Scholes, they can tank up and down the park all day long and so United will lose nothing by way of work-rate by selecting the above formation.

Tevez will not put up with being a bit-part player for any length of time, this coupled with the lack of deal progress could open the door for an Old Trafford exit, Ferguson must realise this too and it is why he needs to take decisive action.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Berbatov and Ronaldo ignite Reds afterburners...

United went into their Premier League clash with Blackburn at Ewood Park on Saturday knowing that they needed to kick-start their season with a good win, for their part Blackburn went into the game on the back of three wins. Going into the game the media had tried to build-up the clash by focusing Ferguson vs. Paul Ince aka "Big Time Charlie".

Ince talked this week of his respect for his former manager, but make no mistake the Rovers boss would have loved to have put one over on the Reds by winning what turned out to be a good game to watch, albeit from a United perspective.

The first-half was a decent contest, but United could have been and perhaps should have been two up after the first 20 minutes after Vidic and Fletcher failed to convert good chances.

Ryan Giggs had a good effort saved by the Rovers keeper on thirty minutes, but a minute later Blackburn's resistance was finally broken from a corner when Wes Brown nodded the Champions into a well deserved but controversial lead, because Vidic had clearly elbowed keeper Jason Brown when the two clashed inside the six-yard box.

From that point on there was really only going to be one winner - it wasn't the home team. However, it took until the 64th minute for United to score the vital second goal, but it was well worth the wait.

The move that led to Reds second goal started deep in United's own half, with Berbatov laying the ball off, which led to a succession of quick passes before it eventually came to Ronaldo, who then majestically brushed aside the challenge of a Rovers defender then expertly picked out Rooney whose finish was clinical and emphatic. The goal was one of the seasons' best so far; it took 18 seconds from the time it left Berbatov's boot to it ending up in the Rovers net.

Rooney (unlucky not to) and Ronaldo (sans shooting boots) should have added to United's tally. Such was the Champions dominance, if the match had finished five-nil, no one, including "big time Charlie" could have complained. It didn't stop the justified carping of Paul Ince over the opening goal, but it really wasn't a serious contest for much of the game and the Rovers manager did admit as much saying that United were too strong for his team.

Despite that wonderful second goal, the most encouraging aspect of this game was the performances of Berbatov and Ronaldo, both have been struggling to find form. Against Blackburn, Berbatov, looked much sharper than in his previous United games, he was pulling the strings all around the Rovers penalty area, his quick passing was incisive and to feet.

For his part, while Ronaldo did miss some good chances to have extended United's lead, he still managed to contribute with another vital assist and he is starting to ghost beyond defenders with ease. The threat that Ronaldo carries for United cannot be under-estimated, his pace is frightening at times, it is why the Champions are so dangerous on the break.

Tevez came off the bench and should have scored following another superb run and pin-point cross-field pass to feet by Ronaldo, but the Argentine's 25-yard low fizzing shot came back off the foot of the Rovers woodwork.

Our bitter enemies have been wallowing in the Reds slow start to the new campaign, at Ewood Park on Saturday, United served noticed that the Champions are fiding their form. The message has gone out loud and clear, United are back.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Star duo sign new deals...

Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher have signed extensions to the current contracts. Scholes who is 34 in November has signed until 210, while Fletcher has signed a three-year extension to his current deal.

Scholes is a model professional and that's partly why he's been able to remain at the very of English football for so long. Flethcer has courted interest from the likes of Everton over the last few months. The fact that the Scottish international has extended his current deal means that he's happy to continue to fight for a starting place in the Reds' first team along with Scholes and the rest of United's galaxy of star names.

Could United finish outside of the top four?

The very thought that Manchester United could finish outside of the Premier League's top four would, just a few weeks ago, seem totally implausible, but right now it doesn't, here's why.

Having spent £30m on a new striker in the summer, fans were hoping that Dimitar Berbatov was going to be the final piece in the United jigsaw, but at the same time some supporters were not convinced about the suitability of the Bulgarian. After a handful of games and scoring two goals in midweek against Aalborg, the doubters will have been given cause for a degree of optimism, but the jury is very much out on whether Berbatov will fit in long term.

Berbatov's arrival should have in theory strengthened United's forward line, but in the last two games the manager has had to drop Rooney and Tevez, in order to accommodate his new signing.

Then we come to the question of exactly where Rooney should be deployed. There's a school of thought which suggests that the former Everton striker isn't being used to his full potential. It was also put to me this week that Ferguson isn't getting the best out of Rooney. I do not buy into those theories, because Rooney isn't a classic centre-forward. I also do not believe in pigeon-holing players into roles or making comparisons with other players.

The minute you restrict Rooney, you take something away from his game, as he wants to be involved all of the time. Normal football logic would dictate that playing Rooney on the left or right wing would be a ludicrous thing to do, but Fergie has by and large got away with it, this is because Rooney drifts into different positions, in doing so making it hard for defenders to mark him.

If Fergie asked Rooney, at just 5'8", to stay up front for ninety minutes against the likes of John Terry et al, he'd be easy to mark, given he's not blessed with pace, which is why I for one believe that Ferguson has been getting the very best out of Rooney, when he's on top form, which he hasn't been all season to date.

For the longer term I see Rooney dropping back into an advanced central midfield role, as Fergie said recently, he'd play in goal if you asked him too. While that was said in jest, Rooney would make an excellent midfield player and importantly if Fergie decided to take this option he could accommodate Tevez, Berbatov, Ronaldo and Rooney in the same starting eleven.

IF there are question marks surrounding the forward line, there's just as many in midfield. Ferguson has talked about retiring at some point in the not too distant future, it could happen next summer and there's a feeling that he might well take Scholes and Giggs with him.

The question is should Fergie still be building around the ageing legs of Scholes? As clearly, Scholes is the central plank in his midfield. Again, with the danger of making unfair comparisons with others, Michael Carrick was brought in for his ability to pass the ball and of course both Carrick and Scholes are currently out injured.

The midfield picture has been complicated due to almost constant injuries to Owen Hargreaves - who is, the complete midfield player in the eyes of many. Then we come to Anderson, somewhat surprisingly, he was left out of the starting eleven which faced Aalborg, especially given that Fergie had stated it was his strongest team. Anderson hasn't so far cemented a regular starting place, which is concerning given his ability.

As for Ronaldo, he will be key to what happens this season. Last weekend he won a penalty and had an assist against Bolton. In midweek against Aalborg Ronaldo had another assist and should have scored and he's not yet 100% fit.

The defence will look after itself, of that I have no doubt, especially with the emerging Rafael Da Silva, who is a class act, as is his injured compatriot Possebon.

There are concerns about the consistency of Edwin van der Sar, given some recent errors, but hopefully he will come good, if he doesn't there's no obvious heir apparent.

Looking at United's squad of players, there can be no doubting that we have enough quality, but the team has to start winning and importantly gelling soon, because if we do not recapture that momentum then Chelsea will canter to the title.

To me at least anyway, Arsenal and Liverpool look like racing certainties for another top four finish and that is despite some surprisingly poor results from the Gunners. Ironically, at the season start, I was thinking Liverpool could be edged into fifth place, but they've started well and Torres is looking good after a year in England.

United have not been helped by the fixtures, but we have to get on with it. The worry is that either Aston Villa or god forbid even Man City could finish above us in the table, the latter is a real doomsday worst-case scenario.

For the record I am NOT predicting United will finish outside of the top four, but I am saying that Fergie has to solve this problem of how to get the best from his resources, because right now mainly due to injuries it has not happened.

There are too many question marks surrounding the complexion of the forward line and midfield, as a result this current United team has not gelled and our opponents are only too aware of this. Failure to win at Blackburn this weekend will be another painful body-blow and potentially very damaging regarding United's hopes of retaining the title.

The big problem is that until Fergie has a full squad to choose from, he won’t be able to consistently field what he believes is his strongest team.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Norsemen swamped by Red tide....

Manchester United's players went into Tuesday's Champions League clash with Aalborg with warnings from Fergie about what they might expect from the home team and crowd. The Danes were up for it all right, but they simply couldn't match the Champions' quality as the visitors' ran out fairly comfortable three-nil winners with goals from Rooney and a brace from Dimitar Berbatov.

Rooney's first-half goal was the pick of the bunch, it started on the right when Nani made a smart turn inside (pretty much the only thing he did right in the game) and found substitute, Ryan Giggs, who expertly threaded a ball to the feet of the onrushing United striker who applied another clinical finish.

New boy Berbatov weighed-in with a second half double, the first was an absolute gift following a mistake by a defender. The second goal came after smart work by Ronaldo who pulled the ball back from the Danes by-line for the Bulgarian who killed the game off with another decent finish from just outside the six-yard box.

While the contest was a pretty much one-sided affair, the Danes had their fair share of possession, but they failed to make any real impression inside the visitors' penalty area and so it was an easy night for Van der Sar et al.

The game wasn't without its talking points, at the beginning of the season I predicted that by the end of it, Rafael Da Silva and Rodrigo Possebon, could become permanent fixtures in the United first team. Given that Fergie had stated he'd start the Aalborg game with his strongest team and as things turned out that meant sans Wes Brown, it looks like half of my prediction may come to fruition sooner than I'd expected...The Brazilian right-back did his chances of claiming a regular starting place no harm at all with an excellent performance, so much so that he was United's stand-out player on the night, closely followed by Rooney and Giggs.

For his part, Berbatov should have scored his first hatrick for the club, he missed an absolute sitter after just five minutes, however, once he'd scored that brace his game improved, until that point he'd been pretty dire really, all too often his passing was quite poor, given what he is capable of.

Despite his two goals, Berbatov's best moment in the game came late on when he curled a lovely arching ball with the outside of this right boot for Ronaldo to run onto, the Player of The Year should have scored, but instead he pulled his shot wide.

While it wasn't a dirty game, the win came at the expense of United collecting a few injuries to Rooney, Scholes (up to eight weeks) and Da Silva. The good news is that both Hargreaves and Carrick will be back soon as will Neville.

United can cope better these days with injuries to midfield players given the current squad, so even without Scholes the Reds should be ok, added to which it gives Fergie the opportunity to ring the changes. Next up it's Blackburn Rovers and I expect Owen Hargreaves and Anderson to be deployed in the engine room with Tevez starting up front.