Sunday, November 30, 2008

Webb spoils Manchester derby as United stroll to victory...

When he first arrived on the scene many were hopeful that at last English football might have a top-class referee in Howard Webb, but after some encouraging performances today's man-in-the-middle has let his standards drop. That was certainly the case in the Manchester derby at Eastlands where United took all three points courtesy of a first-half Wayne Rooney goal after great work by Park.

Unusually for the derby, there wasn't a bad tackle in the whole game, yet Webb fell into the trap of brandishing cheap yellow cards to firstly Rafael da Silva and then Darren Fletcher. By the letter of law and no doubt Webb will tell anyone who'd listen that both deserved to be booked; the Brazilian had unwisely thrown the ball backwards after he was adjudged to have committed a foul and then Fletcher was booked for a trip on Shaun Wright-Phillips.

Manchester derby's are notoriously difficult for referees' and today having booked two United players for petty offences, the official set the tone for the remainder of the game and in so doing he gave himself a big problem. It therefore came as no surprise that more poor decisions followed as not long after the names of Stephen Ireland and then Vassell were added to the Webb's notebook in the name of redressing the card balance on either side.

Having booked four players in the opening period, Webb had given himself a major problem and then on 59 minutes Ronaldo was harshly booked for a trip on Wright-Phillips.

With local bragging rights at stake and with some much riding on the outcome of the derby, a truly top-class referee would have used common sense, but that wasn't the case today in the derby. When a referee starts to dish out cards for fun in games of this nature there's always the danger of the spectacle being ruined by the man-in-the-middle.

With five players walking a disciplinary tightrope it was only a matter of time before Webb eventually brandished his Red card; the player in question was Ronaldo who later claimed he'd heard the whistle blow as United took a corner - or was it that he'd been pushed? In all honesty it didn't matter; Ronaldo had to be booked as it looked like he'd tried to seek an advantage from the corner when handling the ball. It was a ridiculous thing to do and frankly it was the first time in the game that a yellow card was deserved. The problem was that Ronaldo shouldn't have been booked earlier in the half and here again Webb's officiating had come back to bite him and Ronaldo on the backside.

By the end of what wasn't a dirty game Webb had dished out eight yellow cards, which is totally ridiculous and this is why this particular official needs to review his performance which in my view spoilt the derby.

As for United's performance, in truth, it was pretty much a Sunday stroll to victory, but make no mistake United had to work for this much needed win. It was arguably the Reds' best away performance of the season so far.

Fergie, against all expectations started with Rafael da Silva at right-back - regular readers of this blog will know that I have been suggesting that the Brazilian should have been in the side in preference to John O'Shea and thankfully today's switch paid-off handsomely as Rafael had Robinho in his back-pocket, so much so that the City star was reduced to continually fouling his fellow countryman.

Today United played as a team from start to front, the passing was good and Berbatov made a big difference on his return from injury. Everyone in the Red shirt looked sharp; in contrast City looked jaded - possibly due to their trip to Germany on Thursday. However, whatever Mark Hughes the City boss may claim, Robinho, who didn't travel to Germany, had no excuse for being totally dominated by Rafael da Silva.

While United were by far the better team in every department, Ronaldo had a shocker so much so that the visitors were effectively playing with ten men and when he did have the ball, today for whatever reason on too many occasions he gave it back to City.

While Webb deserves to be questioned after his poor performance in the middle, he could have made things far worse for Ronaldo who had unwisely applauded the referee’s decision to book him on 59 minutes. At the time, I wondered why the United manager didn't take Ronaldo off there and then, because apart from anything else he was not playing well. Ferguson could have paid the price for his indecision, but United ran out winners after a nervy ending, but only after both teams had to make goal-line clearances in stoppage time.

If Fergie was playing fair selection wise, then Ronaldo would be dropped for United's next game, but as we have seen of late, it seems to be the case that the Portuguese star picks himself in the United team, while others like Carlos Tevez are left out in the cold. This bemusing situation will not further tax the uneven hand of Fergie against Spurs as Ronaldo is out suspended.

On a more positive note, Fergie deserves much credit for belatedly doing what he should have done weeks ago, that is starting with Rafael at right-back. United's defence deserves much credit too, because apart from Van der Sar's first-half aberration and that late goal-line clearance they looked solid as a rock today.

Man of the man: Ji-Sung Park - what he lacks in genuine star quality, he more than made up for today with his work-rate which could not be faulted.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The derby: It's time for Rooney et al to walk the walk ...

Earlier this week I posted that I have little confidence in United pulling off a win in the Manchester derby this weekend. United do not have a settled side right now and they are not playing well especially in midfield and up front.

In contrast City are coming off the back of two fantastic wins and they are at home too, which in my view makes them favourites.

The fact is there's too many passengers in the current United squad, Park and Nani are not worthy of starting places in any competition other than perhaps the Carling Cup. With Nani and Park all too often there is no end product, their collective use of the ball is more often than not wasteful, yet Fergie chooses them over Carlos Tevez who is far superior in every aspect of the game. It is a baffling situation. My own view is that Fergie doesn't currently know what his strongest team is and that he's got himself into a muddle over Tevez.

Fergie has been deploying a 4:3:3 formation of late, on Tuesday in Spain Wayne Rooney was used as the lone striker with Nani and Ronaldo on either flank. The formation did not work and Nani did nothing of note, yet he remained on the pitch for 85 minutes.

To compound matters, the midfield trio of Fletcher, Anderson and Carrick were wasteful in possession, this was due in part to the lack of passing options up front, but even when players' were available United's passing was slipshod.

Due to injuries to Wes Brown and Gary Neville, Fergie has been using John O'Shea at right-back, if the Irishman faces Robinho on Sunday, United could be in for a torrid time because frankly O'Shea is another who really should not be starting Premier League games - especially at right-back, where his lack of speed on the turn could prove to be a big weakness in the United defence because O'Shea will up against a world-class forward in the Brazilian.

Fergie could play Rafael da Silva at right-back, yet it is unlikely that the young Brazilian will play due to the United manager dithering and sticking to his principles of the seemingly accepted pecking order.

As for the forward line, it seems that Berbatov may or may not start the game due to sustaining a hamstring injury. Chances are Rooney will play alongside Ronaldo and Park. The former Everton striker was asked about the derby earlier this week he said that the players owe the United fans a victory. Rooney promised to put City in their place. This talk concerns me as we've heard it all before, but it's usually Ryan Giggs who spouts-off before big games and then the team fails to deliver.

Talk is cheap and so I'm hoping that Rooney backs up his rhetoric with a superb performance, because he is due a good game, his form has dipped dramatically of late and he's getting a reputation for blowing hot and cold, just like Ronaldo this season.

It is time for United to stand up and be counted, if the Reds contrive to lose this weekend, we can forget any notion of retaining the League title. It's game on and I for one will be livid if United lose the derby.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Manchester derby omens don't look good for United....

IF Mark Hughes and Manchester City were watching United's 0-0 draw with Villarreal last night they will no doubt be full of confidence going into Sunday's derby at Eastlands, because frankly going off recent performances there's little to fear about this current United team. In fact, the biggest danger as far as City are concerned is being over confident going into this game, United and Reds' fans know all about that particular problem following defeats on the road at Liverpool and Arsenal recently.

City have had their fair share of problems this season too, which to a degree have centred around injuries at the back and some calamitous performances by Richard Dunne, who come the season end will able to run a one man own goal of the season contest.

The Blues had a great win against Arsenal last weekend further to which league positions can mean little ahead of derby games, but I don't want to dwell too much on the current City team, because United have their own problems.

Can I ask what in the mother of Mary is Fergie doing playing John O'Shea at right-back when he has Rafael da Silva at his disposal? No one will convince me that the Irishman should be getting a game at right-back in preference to the Brazilian. Yet, in the absence of Brown and Gary Neville, O'Shea has started the last two games. Let me be clear on this issue, I personally do not want to see Neville or O'Shea facing Robinho this Sunday - it is a nightmare prospect as both are too slow on the turn, Neville has lost at least a yard of pace and O'Shea never had any to start with, plus he has the maneuverability of a double wardrobe.

So what else is wrong about the current United team then? By way of attempting to answer that question let's look at the performance against Villarreal - who by the way look like a shadow of the team they've been over the last few seasons.

Fergie started last night's game with a 4:3:3 formation, with Nani on the left and Ronaldo on the right and Rooney down the middle. The general idea was that Ronaldo was given licence to roam and support Rooney.

The champions of Europe showed early promise during the opening 15 minutes or so with Patrice Evra taking the eye when raiding down the left flank, with the Frenchman linking up well with Nani and Ronaldo when playing neat one-twos.

Sadly, apart from a great effort from Ronaldo just before half-time, it pretty much went downhill after that all too brief opening spell by United. In fact, the performance on the night mirrored exactly what happened at Villa Park last weekend - a reasonable first-half was followed by a dire second-half performance - it was another occasion that United barely tested the opposition 'keeper and once again failed to score.

I have no doubt that some die-hard (blinkered) fans will hold the view that United were not really trying to win the game last night, and that 'we did what we had to do'. If only I believed that to be true.

The fact is United were trying to win last night, but it isn't happening right now. The team isn't being helped by the manager, who unlike the likes of Jose Mourinho has that ability to change tactics in-game often resulting in positive outcomes.

With Fergie, he makes the changes but all too often it is just more of the same. Many a rival will tell you that without Ronaldo United are nothing, well as things stand even with him the same is true and perhaps therein lies the problem. United and Fergie have become over-reliant on one man - it is hard to escape that conclusion.

AS Clive Tyldesley said in his commentary last night, United and Ronaldo are some way off at present and he's right. The Villarreal fans were waving their white hankies at the Portuguese winger late on following a debatable red-card for Joan Capdevila for a knee-high tackle on the United star.

I have to report that the white hankies were out long before the Villarreal fans in my abode and they were being directed at our other Portuguese winger Nani and then later at Fergie for bringing on Park.

It took Fergie until the 85th minute to bring on the one man who might have changed the game for the visitors, I refer to Carlos Tevez, he is at least a footballer and one who is a genuine United player unlike Park and Nani, one flatters to deceive the other simply isn't good enough.

On the wider point of tactics, Rooney can play as a loan striker, but he's not nearly as effective compared to when he's given licence to roam when paired with another striker.

The net result of the ineffective performances and the 4:3:3 formation left the midfield with too few passing options up front - added to which all too often United's distribution was poor too, particularly from Carrick, Fletcher and O'Shea.

The 4:3:3 also left United short in midfield, largely because of poor use of the ball with it being gifted back to the Spaniards'. United face City this coming weekend, the manager cannot afford to allow City's midfield to hit the Reds on the counter attack as they do go forward in numbers. Despite Robinho filling the headlines, Stephen Ireland has been the real star of the show for City this season following several match winning performances when driving on from midfield.

There is no easy way of putting this, but I have zero confidence in United's chances of winning on Sunday, not unless Dunne does us a favour or else we nick it by the odd goal. I for one will settle for another draw right now.

I make no apologies for the negativity contained within this post because it is my honest assessment of the current United.

To end on a slightly positive note. When he wasn't slipping on his backside, Jonny Evans looked really at home in the centre of defence alongside Rio Ferdinand and there were few genuine moments of panic at the back against Villarreal. United are not conceding goals at present, but we are not scoring them either and the latter will not win us the derby or any trophies.

City have to travel to Germany on Thursday night to face Schalke in the UEFA Cup. Mark Hughes, knowing how important Sunday's derby result will be, could rest some stars for fear of injury and or tiredness - and that is United's best hope in that we should be the fresher of the two teams.

The great United match-ticket giveaway...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

United v Aalborg ticket giveaway......

United fans never tire of this champagne video footage
from the 1999 Champions League final

United take on Aalborg at Old Trafford in December and the great news is I have a pair of hospitality tickets to giveaway, courtesy of Vodafone, to anyone who reads this blog that can answer the simple United related question below.

Question: When United won the 1999 Champions League final in Barcelona, on that very day it would have been a legendary former United manager's 90th birthday, who was that man?

Please don't leave your email address in any replies / comments on the blog, otherwise you will be attracting spam, instead email me with your answers you can get my email address from my profile. The lucky winner will be drawn from all correct answers. The match is on December 10th. Good luck.

I also have some news for anyone who wants a new laptop because Vodafone, sponsors of the Champions League, have teamed up with Dell to promote the new Dell Inspiron Mini 9 netbook - a mini-laptop with Wi-Fi and embedded mobile broadband - the first of its kind in the UK (all the others rely on dongles). The laptop's pretty small and dinky - it has an 8.9" screen and weighs less than 1kg. It's one of the fastest mobile broadband connections for such a model (up to 7.2Mb/s) and is exclusively available from Vodafone - more information is here Vodafone

To promote the launch Vodafone have given an Inspiron Mini 9 to a bloke they've nicknamed LiveGuy, who will be touring around various parts of the UK, testing out the netbook whilst leaving behind clues to his location.

Every day he's out, he will have up to three Inspiron Mini 9s to give away to anyone who comes up to him and says the magic phrase, and a fourth will be given away online to who can best locate him on a Google Map. Check out how he gets on via the LiveGuy blog as well as Twitter and look out for the very latest video updates on LiveGuy via YouTube

George Best: Tribute to a true genius and United legend....

It's three years to the day that United's greatest ever player passed away, in my opinion he was the greatest player the world has ever seen and that includes Pele. I refer to the one and only George Best.

Bestie is no longer with us, but the memories will never fade for those like me who were privileged to watch him play in the Red shirt of United.

George was the first football superstar; he was uniquely adored by men and women alike. Watching United and Best back then was an amazing experience because you just never knew what George was going to do.

I have many memories of watching George from the Stretford End terraces, but one of my favourites was his double hatrick against Northampton Town in the FA Cup in 1970. George had just served a lengthy ban, the press and media were even suggesting that he might have lost it as there were signs of decline, how wrong they were.

The media recently claimed that Bobby Charlton had said that Ronaldo is a better player than Best, in fact that was not the case, this is what Charlton actually said “It was paradise watching George play football, just like it is with Ronaldo now... the only difference is that Ronaldo is probably stronger and faster.”
Opinions on greatness are subjective; you can make up your own minds after watching the accompanying videos on the attached link which has been kindly sent to me by Christofer.

Tribute to George Best

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rossi set to return to United or just more hot-air from Fergie?

Question, why did United allow Giuseppe Rossi to leave United to join Newcastle United and then Villarreal? Answer, he wasn't good enough to break into the first team at United. There was of course another reason that would be the reported 10m Euros the Spanish club offered for Rossi's services. United took the Spanish club's money, but perhaps wisely the Reds' also ensured that a buy-back clause was inserted into the contract.

Ahead of United's Champions League clash with Villarreal, Fergie has hinted that the English champions would be very interested in resigning the player who has made something of a success of his move to Spain by appearing in the first-team on a regular basis and by scoring goals along the way.

It comes as no surprise to me that Fergie is talking so openly to the press about the possibility of resigning Rossi, even though it's doubtful that Villarreal will be that happy about the manager of a rival club talking so openly about signing your centre-forward, especially in the week that the two sides meet.

Spurs threatened United with UEFA action over the reported talk emanating from Fergie over the protracted signing of Berbatov, but this time United do at least have this reported buy-back clause. Nonetheless, Fergie's timing is appalling - well at least it is depending on your perspective...

In my opinion though, Fergie probably has little intention of bringing back Rossi to United, largely for the same reasons which saw the Reds' sanction his move to Spain in the first instance. The manager must surely still have some lingering doubts that Rossi will be good enough to warrant a regular starting place in the United first-team. Is Rossi really better than out-of-favour Carlos Tevez - a player with heaps more experience? Rossi would be cheaper for sure, but buying second-tier strikers' does not win you European Cups - not unless you have the luck of Liverpool.

When talking up the prospect of bringing back Rossi, Fergie was waxing lyrical about a young player who had showed much promise at United, but one who was ultimately deemed not quite good enough.

Fergie has been quite clever in talking up the prospect of a move for Rossi, because in so doing and in the event of the Villarreal star scoring against the Champions of Europe and England, Fergie has somewhat covered his backside by issuing this statement of intent to resign Rossi. In my view, Fergie talking up Rossi is little more than a half-hearted insurance policy should things go pear-shaped in Spain this week.

Has Fergie lost the plot over Tevez?

IF you're a United fan, it has been a weekend of huge disappointment, because it won't be often that Liverpool and Chelsea both drop points on the same day and especially against opposition you'd normally back them to beat. Meanwhile, United of course failed to take advantage of our rivals dropping points when only managing a 0-0 draw with Aston Villa.

If Ferguson isn't furious with his stars' following what was a very poor second-half showing at Villa Park on Saturday, then frankly he isn't doing his job. On that note, many Reds cannot understand why Fergie is continually taking Carlos Tevez off, only to replace him with players who in the case of Nani will never be a genuine United star - the same can be said of Park.

Tevez is world-class, whereas Nani and Park are bit-part players at best, yet Fergie continues to frustrate when selecting triers over genuine quality. If asked, I'm certain Tevez could fill in on the left or right for United and what's more he'd make far better use of the ball.

Judging by the reaction of Tevez when being dragged off again, he will only be a United player until the end of the season, and let's be honest, who can blame him? The plain fact is many a rival would want to sign Tevez. The same cannot be said of Nani and Park.

You do begin to wonder if Fergie has been told not to build his team around Tevez, such has been his baffling treatment of the Argentine. To further cloud the picture, at the weekend Fergie hinted that he might recall Fraizer Campbell from Spurs. Why? Because from the outside looking in, Ferguson seems incapable of dealing with how best to accommodate three forwards, a fourth will only muddy his thinking even more.

I do not see Campbell returning to United in January, not unless the Berbatov injury is worse than we are being told. More likely, Fergie fears that Campbell might go on to embarrass the United manager by plundering goals for Spurs while at the same time the Reds' goals dry up on both the domestic and European front.

On the subject of shoddy work, Wayne Rooney will no doubt have nightmares about that missed opportunity at Villa Park, some are calling it the miss of the season.

Relive Rooney's nightmare miss here

Sunday, November 23, 2008

United and Arsenal's title race all but run....

With the very real danger of sounding like an old washer woman (again), if United's ambitions of retaining the title aren't all but over following the nil-nil draw away at Aston Villa on Saturday, then they could well be next weekend after the Manchester derby.

City fans love to beat and United, for some it is their very reason for living on the Red planet, much has been said about the club's new found wealth, but not entirely unexpectedly, it has so far been a bit of a bumpy ride for new manager Mark Hughes and his Brazilian stars & co.

Prior to United's clash with Villa on Saturday, I opted to watch City take on Arsenal, purely to gauge the form of the opposition. The first half at the City of Manchester stadium was a fairly even affair, but once again Stephen Ireland scored to give the Blues a crucial lead on the stroke of half-time.

For their part, Arsenal, sans William Gallas, were fairly dire in the second period after Robinho scored a wonderful goal.

I'll let you into a secret now though, I was watching the match on my PC via one of these streaming sites and after the Brazilian scored City's second goal, it appeared that someone (an Arsenal fan?) turned the channel over ( I don't know how this streaming works, but I've seen this happen a few times this week). I had to make do with listening to Radio 5 commentary for the remainder of the game.

There's a certain amount of irony in the fact that Arsenal's last two league games have been against Aston Villa and Manchester City, because that will be the case for United too after next weekend. If, god forbid, City win the derby I fear it will bring to an end our hopes of winning the title. I'm certain that Arsenal's title race has been all but run, the Gunners’ have too many problems at the back coupled with an unhappy dressing-room (according to reports).

As for our beloved United, regular readers of this blog will recall prior to the Villa game that I'd predicted that both Rooney and Ferdinand would make Lazarus like returns to fitness in time to face Villa (so I'm not always wrong).

I had also warned against the dangers complacency, but in truth that wasn't really an issue on this occasion - the plain fact is United weren't good enough to beat a hard-working Villa team, and I cannot help but feel that just about any other United side over the last 10 or so years would have come away with all three points yesterday.

United may well feel that they should have scored in the first half, but truth be told, overall the Reds' didn’t create enough clear-cut goal-scoring opportunities. Wayne Rooney missed a good chance, but there was nowhere near enough worrying moments for Brad Friedel in the Villa goal.

The champions’ have a few injury concerns going into a busy week, first up we have the trip to Villarreal, both clubs are all but through to the next phase of the Champions League and so it's likely that Fergie will shuffle the pack.

United fans can expect to see wholesale changes to the team that faced Villa, with the likes of Jonny Evans, Danny Welbeck, Manucho, Rafael da Silva and Rodrigo Possebon all playing some part in the game in Spain.

Quite what team will face Man City next Sunday is anyone's guess at this stage, barring injury, it is safe to assume that Tevez and Rooney will be paired together up front. Do not be surprised if it's the same team that took on Aston Villa on Saturday.

IF United are going to keep their faltering title hopes alive, then they have to win their next three league games against Manchester City, Blackburn and Sunderland.

Sadly, I do not see this happening, Ronaldo is blowing hot and cold and there's too many question marks about the complexion of the forward line and midfield. United are disjointed right now, there's no consistency in selection or performance.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Villa to end United's lingering title hopes?

United travel to Villa Park this weekend for a Premier League fixture that usually produces lots of goals, it's also been a happy hunting ground for the Champions over the last few years. However, going off what happened at Anfield and the Emirates Stadium earlier in the season, United fans have every reason to be concerned at the prospect of losing this game, because like Liverpool, Aston Villa are due a victory over the Reds'.

Prior to this season, United have been unlucky no to win at the Emirates on their previous visits to Arsenal and if we are honest Reds' fans were fairly confident of putting that right this season, but it didn't happen as the Champions were turned over just as they were at Anfield.

There is always a danger that the players' and fans' can become over-confident and you wonder if that will be the case again this weekend, hopefully Fergie will have his players' fired-up for what is likely to be a very entertaining game.

Last weekend, Aston Villa pulled off a great win away at Arsenal and so they will be really up for the visit of United on Saturday evening. Villa stars' Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young will be full of confidence after starring for England against Germany in midweek so the United back four will have to be at their collective best.

As far as the United team news is concerned, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney are according to reports 'injury doubts', but I expect them both to play. One player who won't be taking part in any action over the coming weeks is Wes Brown who is to have ankle surgery which is likely to keep him out for lengthy period.

Even worse news for the fans' and manager alike is that Dimitar Berbatov misses this weekend's trip to Villa Park after sustaining an injury while playing for Bulgaria. The Reds' record signing could also miss next weekend's Manchester derby.

Wayne Rooney has missed the Reds' last two games due to suffering with a 'minor chest' infection, at least that is the official line coming out of Old Trafford, but I have my doubts about the validity of this claim.

My own view is that Rooney has been given time off following a dramatic loss of form. Fergie benched the former Everton star earlier in the season and he came back all the hungrier after his axeing, as he went on an amazing goal-scoring spree for both club and country.

If selected, Rooney will hopefully respond to his absence with a welcome return to form alongside Carlos Tevez, both stars' have a point to prove to the manager, or so it would seem.

Villa vs United preview

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fergie's new 'ass kicking' book: Haven't we heard it all before?

No one will be that surprised that Fergie is going to cash-in again following the news that he's going to publish another book. We might not be surprised, but I for one am disappointed in Fergie (not that he will care), because if the publicity surrounding this latest Tome is true the manager is going to give several United legends a shellacking, I refer to; Roy Keane, Ronaldo, Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

For good measure and for the umpteenth time Fergie is reportedly going lay into Posh Spice for her part in David Beckham's move to Real Madrid. I don't actually care too much about Posh; I actually begrudge wasting space in this blog even mentioning her.

Question, does anyone after all this time, really care why Stam, Ruud and Keano left the club? At the time, yes, many were upset, especially over the manner of Keano's exit.

Even more perplexing for many, was the total and utter buffoonary surrounding the Stam transfer that saw United replacing a defender who according to Fergie had lost "a yard of pace" only to replace him with one who'd lost four yards of pace in Lauren Blanc.

But it's history now, haven't we heard enough of this back-biting nonsense? With the exception of Ronaldo, everyone has moved on, so should the United manager in my view.

It's not as if Fergie needs the money is it? Lowering himself in this manner adds nothing to his reputation as a great manager. I personally still haven't forgiven Fergie for slagging off Brian Kidd in an earlier book, that episode was shameful; it was no way to treat a former loyal colleague.

When he finally retires, we will rightly remember Fergie as a great manager, but also one who lacked class at times, which is such a pity because Fergie has been a great man manager.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Is this United's goal of the season?

It isn't often that a 17-year-old will have put the likes of Ronaldo and Tevez in the shade where goal-scoring is concerned, but that's precisely what Danny Welbeck did on Saturday at Old Trafford when he scored that 30-yard pile-driver against Stoke City.

Ronaldo scored two goals from a brace of stunning free-kicks, but the general consensus in my Red abode was that Welbeck's effort was by far the best of the bunch. Will we see a better United goal this season? I have my doubts....

Check out Danny Welbeck's wonder goal...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Rooney axed for poor finishing? But Welbeck shines brightly...

Fergie has every right to be delighted after the Reds' hammered Stoke City 5-0 on Saturday at Old Trafford, because despite making changes when leaving out several star names, United were still far too good for the visitors.

Ronaldo opened and ended the scoring with another clinical brace, in so doing scoring a century of goals for the club, in between Carrick was on target, Berbatov finished smartly and best of all Danny Welbeck came off the bench in the second half to score arguably United's best goal of the season so far, with a thunderbolt from distance.

Going into the game the United manager did what he's been threatening to do for a while, that is he left out Wayne Rooney in consecutive games.

Rooney was rested against Bolton recently, but he came back in blistering goal-scoring form. More recently, the England striker has been way below his best, especially against Everton and Arsenal, in the latter game Rooney had chances to have earned the Champions at least a point.

Tevez has started the last two games in place of Rooney, but his own form has dipped, no doubt due to a loss of confidence about his future at the club, coupled with lack of first-team action. It remains to be seen what the future holds for the Argentine who is a massive fans favourite. United say they will make his move permanent in December before the January transfer window opens, but only time will tell if they turn out to be honest brokers.

As for Rooney, no doubting he will be aware that Ronaldo demanded to be selected recently after Fergie had hinted he was to be rested. Rooney may well feel as if it's one rule for the Portuguese star and another for him, but the fact is, Ronaldo keeps on scoring - even when not at his very best - that is the big difference. Added to which we had the long running transfer saga with Madrid and no doubting Fergie told Ronaldo how important he was to his team.

Fergie has a well earned reputation for tinkering with his team, thankfully, it happens less frequently these days, but when it happens as it did against Stoke, the manager rests several stars' and so it was that Rooney and Rio were completely left out along with Ryan Giggs.

Rooney will not be happy about being axed, but later in the season he might well be thankful, because in my view only good can come out of these enforced pre-winter mini-breaks. It's a very long season, keeping players’ fresh is key, what's more, Fergie needs to keep players' fighting for their places and I'd say, Tevez aside, the manager is just about getting it right.

See all Saturday's goal action here...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

IF Keane walks out on Sunderland, could he cope with the United job?

According to reports, second from bottom Sunderland could soon be looking for a new manager amidst reports that Roy Keane could be set to walk out on the Black Cats. Bookmaker, Paddy Power has suspended all betting on Keane and the Sunderland job following a deluge of betting on the manager to go.

Roy Keane cannot complain about the lack of backing from the Sunderland board since he took charge of the club, but the Irishman has found it hard to attract top quality players to the North East. An inside source has denied there's any truth in the rumours, but the bookmakers are often the first to know about these managerial shake-ups.

From the outside looking in, Keane would be crazy to quit the club and in doing so not only blemishing his short managerial career, but it could also potentially wreck any chance of landing the United job in the future. If Keane does walk out on the Black Cats, questions will be asked about his ability to stand the pressure-cooker heat of the managerial hot-seat.

What's more, with the exception of their trip to Old Trafford in December, the Black Cats have a run of games from which they should be confident about their chances of moving out of the drop zone:

Blackburn v Sunderland, 15:00

Sunday, 23 November 2008
Sunderland v West Ham, 16:00

Saturday, 29 November 2008
Sunderland v Bolton, 15:00

Saturday, 06 December 2008
Man Utd v Sunderland, 17:30

Saturday, 13 December 2008
Sunderland v West Brom, 15:00

Saturday, 20 December 2008
Hull v Sunderland, 15:00

Friday, 26 December 2008
Sunderland v Blackburn, 15:00

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fergie to play Rooney, Tevez, Ronaldo and Berba against City?..

United take on Stoke City this weekend and any slip-ups could extinguish the Reds hopes of retaining the title, with rivals Liverpool and Chelsea set to face Bolton and WBA respectively, it's difficult to see either of the top two dropping any points. It is therefore vital that United take all three points from the clash with Stoke City.

Fergie has several selection issues to consider, after his late goal against Arsenal last weekend and another solid performance against QPR in midweek, I expect Rafael da Silva to face the Potteries club. Don't rule out the manager selecting all of his top-guns for this fixture, which all being well, should be a home banker.

There is no reason to rest anyone with no midweek fixture this coming week and there's no reason why Fergie shouldn't start the game with Tevez on the left in place of Park or Nani.

Stoke have only scored three goals on their travels and so Fergie should be confident enough to field his big name forwards from the start - only the fear factor can stop Fergie from starting this fixture with a very offensive line-up.
United v Stoke preview

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rio spills beans on his past and United...

It's not often that the fans get a chance to get near to their idols, but that was the case in central Manchester this week when Rio Ferdinand showed up at the Nike Store, for an event billed as Be Inner Circle. Having been invited I went along to see what all the fuss was about, as things turned Rio had quite a lot to say in what turned out to be a limited out of time.

Most notably, the United star said that he believes that English clubs should not be bringing in overseas youngsters in preference to our own boys. It's a point that many fans will agree with, but at the same time, who among the Red Army would want to be without Rafael da Silva and Rodrigo Possebon? Not me, I might add.

Rio is a firm believer in developing home-grown talent having risen through the ranks as a youngster along many with other talented stars at his first club West Ham United. The England defender says that to this day he's in regular contact with Tony Carr, the Hammers' Director of Youth Development.

On the subject of the current season, although it is of little comfort, Rio gave the fans a degree of reassurance when imparting that the players are gutted about losing at Arsenal last weekend, added to which he says he doesn't want to see City winning anything. Was this a case of saying the right thing? Undoubtedly so, but he did seem to be genuinely upset about the Arsenal defeat.

Of other interest to United fans will be the not totally surprising revelation that prior to joining the club he admitted that he'd vowed NEVER to play for Manchester United. Footballers' have to try to say the right thing to the right audience, it's partly why the players have media training and it's fair to say that Rio knows how to cover his ass, ergo, no Leeds player would ever admit to wanting to sign for Manchester United...

Having become a United player, Rio says that you have buy into everything about the club, including learning about United's history "otherwise, you're out". The United defender also says that when players first arrive they can be intimidated about the club and its former stars like Law, Best and Charlton. It's not until you've won trophies that you feel as though you arrived properly and you're on your way to making your mark in the club's illustrious history.

It came as no surprise to hear that Fergie rules the club with an iron grip, though Rio didn't offer any new anecdotal evidence.

It's fair to say that Rio was not universally accepted by certain elements of United's support, especially when he first became a Red, but I think he's now managed to win most fans over and he says that United's away support is second to non.

On a personal note, I have to say that I think Rio is one of the better performers in front of the mic and importantly he's a superb central defender, in fact I'd go as far as stating that he's one of the world's best in his position, which is why I believe that it's about time that Fergie made Rio United's full time skipper.

I would like to have asked Rio a few searching questions, but alas that was not possible on this occasion due to time constraints.

The event with Rio in Manchester was part of Nike's ongoing commitment towards helping young players, which is a very hot topic right now. Only this week Trevor Brooking and PFA chief Gordon Taylor have both spoken out about the lack of improvement in our youngsters and the problem of so many young players being discarded by England's top clubs.

Talk is cheap, but marketing and advertising are not and it remains to be seen if Nike has a genuine commitment towards helping young players, only time and results will tell. It would be nice to believe that Nike's initiatives are more than just cheap publicity stunts.

Fraizer Campbell puts Scousers to the sword on night of surprises for Liverpool and Chelsea... .

I was out in Manchester last night and to be honest I'd forgotten that Liverpool and Chelsea were playing in the Carling Cup. Imagine my surprise to learn that both were knocked out. In the case of Liverpool, perhaps predictably so given they were up against in-form Spurs and of course our very own Fraizer Campbell notched a brace against the Scousers. Spiffing.

However, come the morning after the night before and having gone in search of news of Tottenham's win, I find that there's barely any mention of Liverpool's defeat on the BBC Sport website.

Is the credit-crunch biting so hard at the BBC and they cannot afford to do the result justice by giving the game web-space? I doubt it personally, more likely the BBCs many Liverpool supporting online staff would rather brush the result under the carpet and of course the Chelsea defeat to Burnley made it a good day to bury bad news as this is a bigger story.

Unlike, United, Liverpool and Arsenal, Chelsea fielded a much stronger looking starting eleven with the likes of Didier Drogba included.

Having run down the competition for any number of years, I'm not going to start trumpeting the importance of what has become popularly known as the "Fizzy Pop Cup". The fact of the matter is that Liverpool and Chelsea may well feel, with some justification, that they are better off out of it, because they have bigger fish to fry.

United of course narrowly beat QPR on Tuesday night at Old Trafford courtesy of a second-half Carlos Tevez penalty, the game had been billed as unmissible, as things turned out, truth be told, it was anything but that. What's more the club were charging £25 for tickets, many fans feel it should have been a lot less. When will they ever learn?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Brazilian blend is Fergie's Carling Cup of cheer..

United took on plucky QPR in the rainy city last night, like the weather of late, it turned out to be a rather damp affair. Not unexpectedly, the Lodoners' were encamped within their own half for long periods of the game and it wasn't until the 73rd minute that they registered their first effort on goal.

For their part, the Red Devils made eight changes to the starting eleven that faced Arsenal at the weekend. Rodrigo Possebon came into midfield after his recent injury and could have scored. Park was unlucky with a rasping second-half effort which rebounded off the woodwork, but as hard as United tried they didn't create many clear-cut goalscoring opportunities and once again Carlos Tevez was alone up front for United.

With the game looking likely to go into extra time - the absolute worst scenario for those in the Old Trafford stands - and then to the relief of the home crowd, second half substitute Danny Wellbeck was felled inside the QPR penatly area and United were awarded a just spot-kick which Carlos Tevez converted, in doing so sending the 'keeper the wrong way.

After the game, Fergie praised Wellbeck saying 'he made the difference'. No doubting Fergie will also have been pleased with his two young Brazilian stars, Rafael da Silva and Possebon, who both continue to look like players with excellent futures at the club. United are in the last eight of the competition - it can only get better from here on in, can't it?.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tribute to Andy Cole: United fans will never forget his fantastic goals and his outstanding contribution...

After just two first-team appearances he was discarded by Arsenal and then sold to Fulham, before he signed for second division Bristol City where he blossomed and became one of English football's hottest young prospects, but it was Kevin Keegan at Newcastle United who in February 1993 was the one who gave Andy Cole his big chance. Cole scored 12 goals in as many games as the Geordies won promotion to the Premiership.

The former Arsenal starlet went on to score 41 goals from all competitions the following season, in so doing breaking Newcastle United's all-time scoring record, which stretched back 70 years.

Cole signed for Manchester United in January 1995, in a shock £7m transfer which at the time was a British record in a deal that saw young Northern Ireland International Keith Gillespie moving in the opposite direction.

Fergie had long been chasing a top goalscorer, he tried and failed twice to sign, Alan Shearer, who to the consternation of the Red nation failed to sign and instead joined Blackburn and then Magpies; decisions that the former England striker, if he's honest, will regret for all his days. However, the loss of Shearer cannot be viewed as anything but a positive outcome for United because Fergie has since confirmed that if the Reds' had signed Alan Shearer, then we would not have signed Eric Cantona, what's more, it's almost certainly the case that United would have never harnessed Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke in tandem.

United fans knew all about Andy Cole, the previous season in our second home game of the season Cole scored an excellent goal for the Geordies on their return to the top-flight at Old Trafford in a game that ended all square with Ryan Giggs scoring for United.

The deal that saw Cole arrive Old Trafford turned out to be a masterstroke by Fergie especially following the signing of Dwight Yorke in 1998, the pair went on to forge the best strike partnership that I've ever seen at United and I started following the Champions back in 1969-'70.

Cole might not be United's best ever striker in the view of many Reds' fans, the very subject is somewhat subjective, but his contribution to the Red Devils glorious history from 1995-2001 is beyond doubt. For an all too brief period and to the delight of the Red Army, the partnership of Yorke and Cole terrorised opposition defences on both the domestic and European front.

Looking back at the Cole and Yorke goals in the video content which accompany this tribute leaves me in no doubt that United haven't even come close to replacing the dynamic duo and that in itself says a lot about one half of this never to be forgotten United goalscoring double-act.

Andy Cole's long and distinguished playing career ended somewhat acrimoniously this week, ironically at his home town club of Nottingham Forest.

Thanks for the memories Andrew...

Golden swashbuckling video memories of Andy Cole and Manchester United:

1998-'99 Barcelona v United Champions League Group D.

1998-'99 Juventus v United Champions League Semi-Final.

Cole and Yorke - the best United striker partnership ever

Andrew Cole and his music...Outstanding? You decide...but the lyrics are interesting...

Andrew Cole's career history

Monday, November 10, 2008

Young players get chance to be a part of Rio's inner circle...

As part of Nike's ongoing commitment to helping young players, they have announced that Rio Ferdinand will be at the NikeStore in Manchester on Wednesday 12th November, from 6 till 8pm. The United and England defender will be hosting a Q&A session, talking to young players and imparting his experience and insights on playing at the very top level of the game.

Rio's inner circle goes large...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Did Fergie hand points to Arsenal and is Rooney set for axe?...

If you're like you me you will have been slightly concerned at the likes of Ronaldo who was quoted in the press saying that he expected to win ahead of Saturday's clash with Arsenal. It was only a few weeks ago when going into the Liverpool game at Anfield that we heard the same over-confident noises coming out of Old Trafford (and yes, if we're honest the fans expected a win too). In both games our rivals were well below full strength and yet United still ended up losing on both occasions, arguably deservedly so.

The Anfield defeat was in some ways far worse, because the manner of the reverse was quite worrying as United's midfield was virtually over-run as Liverpool powered to victory, albeit thanks to an error ridden second-half showing and a schoolboy error by Ryan Giggs, who gave the ball away in criminal circumstances which ended with Ryan Babel scoring the winner.

Going into the clash with Arsenal on Saturday, Fergie had to decide who would play right-back and who should be deployed on the left side of midfield. The choice for the right-back slot was straight-forward; Gary Neville or South American star Rafael da Silva.

Fergie went for the experience of Neville, but in my view this was the "Wizard's" biggest tactical mistake of the day. Time and time again Neville was too slow to react, Arsenal mounted several attacks down their left flank and of course it was Neville who had the misfortune to score the Gunners' crucial opening goal with a deflection.

Question; would Rafael have reacted quicker than Neville and would he have booted the ball to safety? We will of course never know, but on the evidence of what we have seen so far Rafael is much sharper and quicker to the ball than Neville, which is only to be expected given their respective ages.

Make no mistake what happened on Saturday will not be forgotten by Fergie, especially as Rafael scored a wonderful goal after coming on as a second-half substitute for Neville.

The United manager will no doubt be wondering about the wisdom of selecting a 34 year-old over the rising star that is the young Brazilian. I don't want to labour the point, but Neville didn't do much right against Arsenal, he was slow in the tackle and when he had the ball his distribution was poor. To muddy the waters even further Fergie gave the captain's armband to Neville.

The fact of the matter is the captain's armband is currently being awarded on the basis of long-service. It is not being awarded on merit through performances on the pitch. Is it not about time that Fergie ended this charade once and for all and in so doing hands over the armband to Rio Ferdinand on a permanent basis?

Wearing the captain's armband meant something in the days of Roy Keane and Steve Bruce, right now there is a bit of a leadership void in this current United team. Before anyone reminds me, yes I know it was the same team and situation that led us to domestic and European victory last season. It doesn't mean to say that the current situation is right, neither Giggs or Neville deserves to wear the armband, after glorious careers, both are heading over the hill and Fergie needs to recognise that.

My third big gripe about the defeat to Arsenal was Fergie's decision to select Park. I have nothing against the South Korean and to be fair he had one of his better games on Saturday. However, I have another question; Is Park really better than Carlos Tevez? The answer to that is an empathic NO in my view. If Fergie wanted to play 4-4-2 then why didn't he put Tevez on the left flank? The Argentine did a fine job for West Ham on the left and he started for United on the left in the Champions League final albeit in a 4-3-3. I'd venture to suggest that Tevez would do a much more effective job than Park on the left even in a 4-4-2. With Tevez, more often than not there is an end product, with Park it is all too often the opposite. I love Park's work-rate, but he is not in the same class as the Argentine.

The beauty of this current United side (when we are playing well) is the fluidity of the team. We can talk about 4-3-2 and 4-4-2 all day long, but to a very large degree we have to rely on the intelligence of the players to know when to attack and when to defend and as I've mentioned several times recently, Rooney and Tevez can play alongside Berbatov and Ronaldo providing they do their respective jobs properly. For this to happen Fergie has to play them all from the start.

The big problem as I see it at present is that the manager has it stuck in his head that he can only start with either Rooney or Tevez. This perception of Fergie's is totally and utterly wrong, what's more you can bet that Rooney is set to be axed for our next game.

Fergie is getting it wrong at present with Rooney and Tevez, his insistence on playing one or the other is only serving to upset both players and perhaps worse still, the team is not functioning as it should going forward.

Fans will often refer back to the unprecedented treble winning season of '99 (we should have done it again last season) when Fergie had four great strikers' to select from. The United manager will no doubt be retelling the story of '99 to Rooney and Tevez, citing the words, 'rest and rotation'. All well and good when the team is playing well and you're winning, but right now, the current United team are not playing as well they should be given the current squad.

One could argue that after Rooney was benched for the Bolton game he came back all the stronger, by the same token you could argue it didn't work on Saturday after being left out against Celtic last week. While blaming Fergie for poor decision making, Rooney has to take his share of the blame for missing a couple of easy goal-scoring chances on Saturday.

Fergie has to get his starting selections right and soon, because if he keeps on getting it wrong, Chelsea and Liverpool will be waving cheerio via their rear-view mirrors before Christmas. The way the team is performing and based on Fergie's baffling decision making, United are in serious danger of becoming the fourth best team in the Premier League.

If United somehow contrive to end the season in fourth place, then serious questions will need to be asked of Fergie, because the Reds did not spend £30m on a new striker to drop three places, especially given that our rivals barely stregthened at all in the summer. To me and to many others it will be almost inconceivable that United will have effectively gone backwards, but already I'm hearing United fans say "...we are not going to win anything this season".

United do not have a divine right to win anything, but given our expectation levels after all Fergie has done it is understandable that we the fans do expect yet more glory. Fergie, Fergie sort it out.

Replay the Emirates goal action here

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Tevez on the brink of quitting United following Celtic clash?

If we are going to judge players on their body language then Fergie should be very worried following his decision to substitute Carlos Tevez at Parkhead last night. The Argentine has, in the view of many United supporters, been treated unfairly since the arrival of Dimitar Berbatov. More often than not, the former West Ham striker has been left on the bench by the United manager. Fergie knows that Tevez is unhappy, because last weekend he took time out to write an apology in the United match-day programme explaining that the player is an important squad member. Words of consolation alone are unlikely to appease the Argentine, who is a big favourite with the fans and players alike.

Against Celtic last night, Tevez was given a rare starting place, but from the beginning it looked like a pretty hopeless task, given he was paired with Ryan Giggs who will never be a striker as long as he has a hole in his backside.

United pretty much out-played Celtic from start to finish, but they created few clear cut chances from open play in the first-half which ended with Celtic taking a one-nil lead into the break, McDonald's goal was scored against the run of play, but there was no question about its quality.

Fergie had predictably left out Wayne Rooney and Berbatov ahead of the weekend trip to Arsenal. It came as no surprise that Berbatov was brought on at half-time when replacing Nani, who was once again totally ineffective - it begs the question why Tevez cannot be deployed wide left as he often was at West Ham?

Midway through the second period Fergie replaced Tevez with Rooney and judging by the look of the Argentine when he came off, he will be seeking urgent talks with his agent about his future. We have been led to believe that at least one meeting has already taken place between all parties. Tevez has yet to sign permanently - the door could be about to open for one of several rivals to move in for Tevez. If it happens, it will be totally down to Fergie and his decision-making concerning how to get the best out of his mega-talented squad, keeping everyone happy, is by no means an easy task with so many talented players.

United face Arsenal at the weekend, lack of goals aside, if they play like they did against Celtic at Parkhead they should be ok, Ryan Giggs scored the Reds’ late equaliser following an Alamo like siege on the Celtic goal, however, it's doubtful the Welshman will start at the Emirates on Saturday, chances are he will be on bench warming duty alongside Carlos Tevez, unless Fergie sees the light and starts with the Argentine wide left.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Gerrard cons referee on night of Champions League surprises...

Let's be frank here, Steven Gerrard conned the referee when he went over like a sack of spuds late on at Anfield last night, in so doing winning his side a penalty and an undeserved draw against Athletico Madrid. The Spaniards' were rightly gutted at the injustice of the penalty award in a game where both teams had more justified claims for spot-kicks.

IF Cristiano Ronaldo had won a penalty in such circumstances we would never hear the end of it, but the fact is, as Gerrard proved last night, English players and the Liverpool skipper in this particular instance are no angels in this respect, far from it.

Sections of the press and many of our numpty fans alike would have us believe that cheating is something that we associate with foreign stars. That notion is complete and utter tosh. The biggest cheat of them all was former Man City and England star Francis Lee ("Lee won pen"), who to this day, holds the record for scoring and winning the most penalties in a season.

I actually believe that as a nation we are dumb regarding our attitude towards winning 'at all costs' because at the end of the day, that is what it is all about, winning. Cheating is part of the game; it's up to the officials to get it right. I have no qualms about calling Gerrard a cheat, because that is what he was last night. By the same token, I see nothing wrong with him trying to earn a point for his team by falling over like Bambi on ice.

We are getting well used to seeing the Scousers take points late on in games, but I seriously doubt their luck will continue throughout the season. They have peaked too soon is my view, they will not win the title or the Champions League; at least that is my gut feeling.

While it came as no surprise to see a dubious penalty award at Anfield, I was pleasantly surprised to see Chelsea being turned over by AS Roma. Mikel will have nightmares for quite some time about that half-hearted challenge that led to one of Roma's goals. Mikel has been poncing around in midfield as if it's his own domain this season, as good a player as he undoubtedly is, I cannot help but dislike him.

It's always nice to see Chelsea being brought down a peg or two; they are not as good as the English media would have us all believe. That said, there's a shortage of really top-class teams in Europe right now, which is why it is possible for even Liverpool to win the competition again.

On a night of surprise results (US election excluded) the biggest shock was reserved for big-mouthed Jose Mourinho and Inter Milan, who were held to a high scoring 3-3 draw by a Cypriot club, Anorthosis Famagusta.

There's been some talk of late that Mourinho might be the one to replace Ferguson when he eventually retires. Personally I'm not sure I want to see Jose bring his brand of 'fear football' to Old Trafford. So what is 'fear football' I hear you ask? That is not allowing your players to express themselves, which is what Ferguson, for all his tactical faults has done down the years, largely in part because he knows no better or different.

While Mourinho has undoubtedly pulled off some great results with his very astute in-game tactical changes, there's a down-side to him and I don't really know if I can stomach his 'me, me, look at me!" self. Though he does bring some comedy value to the table, who will ever forget him calling Wenger a voyeur? And then hiding in the kit-bag in the Chelsea dressing room when he was banned?

It was of course a big night for football, but one result stood out above all others and the quote of the night belonged to a female news-presenter on Sky who said: "...where was you when Barack Obama pulled it off?" Now, that's what I call entertainment...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Celtic have to attack United to keep their Champions League hopes alive....

Manchester United realistically only need a point to end Celtic's Champions League hopes at Parkhead on Wednesday night; the holders are on seven points, while the Glasgow club have just one point. With the very real danger of stating the obvious, Celtic go into this match with a simple game plan; throw everything, including the kitchen sink at United because they have nothing to lose really given their plight.

Matches between the two teams are usually reasonably entertaining affairs, going into this game the United players will know what to expect from the home crowd, who will do all they can to help Celtic further their slim hopes of progressing to the next phase of the competition.

United's defence has been unusually porous over the last couple of games, with both Ferdinand and Vidic making mistakes which have led to goals. At the weekend United just about did enough to see off the challenge of plucky Hull City, while Celtic won 2-0 at Hearts.

There's little danger of complacency in the United camp given how many times our players have come up against Celtic recently and of course Fergie would no doubt like to put one over on the Celts.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to see another 4-3 as happened last weekend. Tevez will likely start and I have a gut feeling his name could end up on the score-sheet for United. The battle for competition for places in the Champions team is red-hot right now, which should hopefully make for a full-blooded slugfest. Bring it on.

One cautionary note to Wayne Rooney; calm down lad - we do not want to see him getting sent-off in this game, he has been like a coiled spring in the last two matches.

Check-out the latest free bet offers for Celtic vs United

Monday, November 03, 2008

Have giddy Liverpool peaked too soon?

United fans will no doubt be looking forward to going to work this Monday morning after an excellent weekend of results for the Champions. The Premier League has a more familiar look about it, with United up to third following defeats for Liverpool and Arsenal. Then of course Lewis Hamilton became the youngest F1 World Champion on Sunday, while at the same time over at the Reebok, Richard Dunne, added to his ever-growing, hilarious collection of own-goals with another lovely finish to ensure cITY lost again on their travels, sweet.

The Merseyside Reds were unlucky at Spurs, but I for one am wondering if they really do have what it takes to stay the course over the season. There's no doubt that Benitez appears to have found the system that best suits his squad of players, but for some reason I have this nagging doubt about their ability to fend-off the challenges of both United and Chelsea.

I am fairly certain this Liverpool team will fight all the way to the finish-line, but just like the Ferrari team in the Interlargos pit-lane on Sunday, will it turn out to be a case of getting giddy too soon?

I must admit, I don't see United winning the title at this juncture, mainly because Fergie hasn't been able to find the right system, too many players seem to be out-of-sorts, I refer to the make-up of our forward line. Does anyone, including the manager, really know what Fergie's strongest line-up is right now?

On the flip side, if United can keep winning and assuming we take three points from our game in hand, the Red Devils' will be within touching distance of the front-runners and if and when we really find our best form the Champions could end up retaining the title.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Fergie tames Tigers' then vows to gun down Calderon over Ronaldo..

It's a testament to Phil Brown's achievements at Hull City this season that after taking a 4-1 lead the Champions were left hanging on at the end of a pulsating, if error ridden game, that finished 4-3.

It's not often that the United home crowd see visiting teams come to Old Trafford and throw men forward in pursuit of three points, but that is precisely how the Tigers approached Saturday's encounter with the Red Devils.

Ronaldo opened the scoring after just three minutes when he linked-up with Berbatov, the goal came about after the Portuguese winger knocked the ball back to the Bulgarian on the edge of the Tigers penalty area who then played it back to Ronaldo who made no mistake with a smart finish at the near-post.

Hull fought back and equalised on 23 minutes after Vidic gave away a cheap free-kick on United's left flank for shirt-pulling, Daniel Cousin, scored with a good header from a well worked set-piece.

Six minutes later, returning from injury Michael Carrick restored the Champions advantage, following a sweeping move that was started by a somewhat out-of-sorts Wayne Rooney and then Dimitar Berbatov, who is really starting to pull the strings for United. Carrick was rather fortunate to see his low-driven arrow-like shot go through legs of Paul McShane on its way into the corner of the rigging.

United extended their lead before the break and once more it was Dimitar Berbatov was at the heart of another attacking move, which ended with Rooney being felled inside the Hull penalty area before the ball ran out of play. From the resulting corner Ronaldo crashed home a powerful header, but once again there was an element of good fortune involved as MsShane had the last touch before the ball flew into the net.

Vidic made it 4-1 on 57 minutes, but the scoring was far from over as Hull's second-half substitute, Mendy, laid to claim to the tag of man-of-the-match, after scoring with a well judged lob after out-muscling Patrice Evra and then winning a penalty after a collision with Ferdinand. Geovanni made no mistake with his spot-kick and in so doing ensured it was a nervy ending for the Champions who were mighty relieved to hear the final-whistle.

As far as entertainment goes, this was a good advert for the Premier League; however, both managers will be unhappy about the manner of some of the defending, especially on set-pieces.

Ferguson will also be slightly concerned about Wayne Rooney, who had a very frustrating afternoon, on several occasions he was left cursing team-mates who elected to shoot rather than square the ball to him. Rooney's frustrations got the better of him, as happens when the dreaded red-mist descends, he could be have been sent-off late-on when dived-in with both feet off the ground following a bounce-up.

From a tactical perspective while Berbatov is bedding-in nicely, concerns persist about the future of Carlos Tevez who made little impact after replacing, Nani, who once again didn't really do enough to warrant a starting place.

Following the introduction of the Argentine, Rooney, was somewhat bizarrely dispatched onto the right-wing which no doubt only added to his woes.

Clearly, Fergie has yet to work out how to get the very best out of his array of attacking options; the hope is that the United manager can keep all of his strikers happy and at the same time find a way of accommodating them all in the same team. With the very real danger of sounding like stuck record, this goal can be achieved if Fergie plays Rooney in an advanced central midfield attacking role and then gives Tevez the wide-left attacking berth.

Berbatov; showed some fancy-footwork at times, but importantly he used the ball to great effect and almost always played the right ball.

Anderson; worked tirelessly and used the ball well.

Meanwhile, in other news, the war of words between Manchester United and Real Madrid is not over following the Spanish club's failed pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo. Earlier in the week Fergie baited Ramon Calderon and his club over their links to the dictator and former backer General Franco, in response the Real Madrid president labelled Fergie as "senile".

Fergie says that he is perfectly happy that United still have Ronaldo and he's more than ready to do battle with Real Madrid in January, should they start their tiresome media games in a bid to prize away Ronaldo. The United manager even went as far as hinting that Ramon Calderon & Co could be heading for Boot-Hill following another duel in the next transfer window.

"There was no question of Ronaldo leaving anyway, absolutely no question."

Ferguson added: "Yes, it's possible that these are the first shots of another attempt to get him. They do it all the time. We're ready.

"We have enough ammunition ready. I'm only using one gun at the moment. I'll get the Gatling gun out in January!" continued Fergie.

How sweet would it be to meet and eliminate Real Madrid from the Champions League this season?...

See all the goals for free from the United vs Hull City game