Tuesday, December 30, 2008

FA must punish Pogatetz the Boro strangler...

How many times have football fans been told that players are not allowed to raise their arms in a bid to man-handle an opponent? Countless times I'd venture. United took on Boro last night and won by a rather satisfying scoreline of 1-0 for the second game on the bounce, courtesy of Berbatov's second-half finish. Are you watching Liverpool?

As I'd mentioned in my pre-match preview, Boro are a dirty side and so it came as no surprise that 'mad dog' Pogatetz was involved in yet more controversy as so often is the case when these two teams meet, I actually blame Gareth Southgate for these problems. It is no coincidence that his players go over the top, Rodrigo Possebon was lucky not to have his leg broken when the two sides last met. Perhaps it will take a broken leg for Southgate to take action.

Last night at Old Trafford, Pogatetz took it upon himself to not only raise his arms, oh no, he went much further when appearing to strangle Cristiano Ronaldo. Question; is there an unwritten rule endorsed by referees, opposing managers and players who all believe it is ok to go out and hurt Ronaldo?

IF Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney or any other United player had attempted to strangle a Boro player I doubt they'd have stayed on the pitch. The fact is sadly too many of our poor referee's like to be the star of the show and sending off a player like Ronaldo catapult's the said official into the limelight.

If the FA does nothing and ignores Pogatetz's attempt to choke Ronaldo, it will add weight to the claims that it's one rule for United players and another for the rest. I'm actually looking forward to hearing what the FA has to say on this episode; one thing is for certain the referee cannot say he saw the incident and that no further action is required, because if he does he's sanctioning attempted strangulation on the field of play.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Blogger gives Liverpool's title hopes kiss-of-death...

Liverpool are going to win the Premier League title; there that should do the trick I have given Rafa's team the kiss-of-death, because as anyone who knows me will tell you (petebug RIP) I am an awful tipster and so with any luck the 'Merseyside Reds' will not win the league, instead the mighty Red Devils will overtake the Scousers' in this year's title race.

I have to admit though that Liverpool were very impressive against Newcastle on Sunday, they went on to win 5-1 and later that day Steven Gerrard went out on the town in Southport to celebrate. It now emerges the Liverpool skipper is currently under arrest following an assault along with five other men.

It would be totally wrong to cast aspersions about Gerrard's character or his role in this incident. Whatever the outcome of the police findings, I seriously doubt there will be any ramifications for Liverpool or the player between now and the end of the season. What's more we United fans do not want to hear any excuses emanating from Scouseland relating to this brawl, or indeed the media intrusion following what is likely to be a difficult period for all concerned. Those of you with half decent memories will recall the Leeds United players' who were involved in a not too dissimilar incident which in turn caused a great deal of upset for those involved.

As for the Champions of England, Europe and the World, next up it's Boro who visit Old Trafford later this evening. I don't know about my fellow Reds' but I've grown to despise everything about Gareth 'the Mullet whiner' Southgate and his team of under-achieving journeymen. In fact, in some ways 'Boro remind me of Boxing Day opponents Stoke City. What both Boro and Stoke lack in skill they try to make up for by using all means possible - even if it means kicking their opponents off the park -but surprisingly United have collected more yellow cards the Boro this season...I'm actually going to put this down to lousy refereeing :0).

Obviously United need a win against Boro, I'd take another 1-0 if it were offered.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The sack race: Is best of British time-served managerial experience the key to Premier League survival?

Like most seasons' in the Premier League the carnage of managerial casualties are everywhere. Last week the self-styled guvnor was cut-down to size as Paul Ince became the latest big name to fall victim of the chopping block, when Blackburn Rovers decided enough was enough.

Manchester City's owners are currently saying that Mark Hughes is safe at the Citizens', if that is so it makes a pleasant change. How many of City's former struggling managers' have been afforded time when the going gets tough? John Bond once a famously referred to the Blues' old main stand as a whispering gallery, he was gone not long after.

Despite City's Arabic money-men saying the right things behind the scenes you do get the feeling that it is only a matter of time before Hughes feels the sharp edge of the henchman's axe. Having watched City on a number of occasions recently, I'm stating the bleeding obvious that they cannot defend and yet all of the talk is of new strikers' and midfield players' arriving at Eastlands in January.

Hughes keeps his own council on potential targets - as any half-decent manager should - but I do fear for the future of the Welshman - especially if he cannot see where his problems lie. At the season's beginning much talk centred on Jo the young Brazilian striker, but his form has dipped amidst talk of dressing room unrest and bad influences, which if true could also see fans favourite Elano sent out on loan along with Jo. Here again, Hughes must be courting potential disaster with his own supporters' who are not known for backing under-fire managers'.

For me, the big question is who will replace someone like Hughes? With young managers' like Roy Keane and Paul Ince failing so badly it seems that now is not the time to back those with little or no managerial experience at Premier League level.

For reasons largely connected with off-the-field problems, Newcastle parted company with Kevin Keegan, but Joe Kinnear has come in and steadied the ship for the Magpies. It's the same situation at Spurs where Harry Redknapp has charted a course to Premier League safety in short order.

Big Sam Allardyce has come in and replaced Ince at Blackburn, instead of going for an overseas manager Rovers opted for a time-served Englishman and a safe pair of hands.

Football is indeed a funny old game, not so long ago men like Allardyce and Kinnear were yesterday's heroes. No more, because by my reckoning Phil Brown at Hull City is probably the hottest young manager in the business and of course he's served his time as a coach under Sam Allardyce before taking up the challenge of becoming a number one.

Ultimately, results dictate everything and with the pressure of just remaining in the Premier League being so great, there are no hard and fast rules which can be followed for managerial stability, which is why so often club owners end up pressing the panic button. Men like Ricky Sbragia who is in temporary charge at Sunderland, is another with a wealth of coaching experience, but he could just as easily fail at the Black Cats, just as Brain Kidd did at Blackburn.

We can all talk about giving the likes of Ince and Keane the luxury of that which waits for no man, but the reality is time waits for no manager.

The English game has seen an influx of overseas managers' and star players' over the last 15 years or so, but right at this moment in time the stock of English managers' with Premier League experience appears to be flavour of the month especially for the second and third-tier clubs.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Evragate: How the FA stitched-up a United player again...

If you're like me you won't have been that surprised that the FA came down heavily on Patrice Evra following his clash with the Chelsea 'ground staff' at Stamford Bridge. Fergie has made it clear that Evra has accepted his part in the fracas, but importantly he believes the punishment does not fit the crime.

Whenever a United player steps out of line the FA ensure that they come down heavily on the player concerned as was the case with Eric Cantona following his moment of madness at Selhurst Park back in 1995.

In contrast with the treatment dished out by the FA to United stars, players from other clubs are all too often treated more leniently, a perfect case of double standards was that of Alan Shearer who booted Neil Lennon in the face during a Newcastle vs Leicester clash in 1998.

When the FA announced that they would investigate the matter, reports claimed that Shearer threatened to quit the international team before that summer’s World Cup in France. In the political wrangle which followed, the PFA were among those who asked Lennon to defend Shearer at a disciplinary hearing. After much soul-searching, the Leicester player agreed and Shearer was found not guilty.

"People kept ringing me up and asking me if I was going to take legal action," he says. "I have to say I was tempted. How he got away with it I don’t know. They turned it around as if me and the gaffer were villains of the piece. I thought I was going mad. Did my head get in the way? His boot must have been in a right mess. Glenn Hoddle had his say. Tony Banks had his say. I was just waiting for a telegram from the Queen. It just shows you that some players are untouchable" said Lennon.

Going back to the Evra incident at Stamford Bridge, Scott over at Republik of Mancunia has been looking at the FAs transcript from the tribunal in which United are basically called a bunch of liars. Please take a look at the story as it makes interesting reading and Reds' everywhere need to be made aware of the appalling bias against United.

It's another FA stitch-up: One rule for United and another for the rest.....

Sunday, December 21, 2008

United riding high on top of a wonderful world...

Manchester United fans have every right to be feeling rather smug with themselves with the club riding high at the top of the world game following their win over Liga de Quito over the weekend in Japan.

As if that wasn't enough, the "champions elect" (according to the BBC's many scouse supporting correspondents) Liverpool, were once again held to a draw at the weekend this time by Arsenal. If it wasn't for the Gunners' Keystone Cops' like defending they could have taken all three points, but instead they allowed the Scouse pretenders back into the game which eventually finished up 1-1. In the end a draw was a fair result and one that all but ended the Gunners' lingering title hopes.

However, the festive fun didn't end at the Emirates on Sunday as our, gone but not forgotten, old friends Leeds United, sacked their manager Gary McAllister.

SKY sports helped to make it a really Super Sunday when Manchester city deservedly lost to bottom of the table West Brom. I could be wrong here, but it looks to me that the City players' are trying to get Mark Hughes sacked, failure to win at Eewood Park next weekend will I fear mark the end for Sparky.

Then on Monday night at Goodison Park John Terry was red carded against Everton and once again the Renters' could only manage a draw. Chelsea and Liverpool should by rights have left United for dead by now, given the Champions haven't been at their very best all season long, but our rivals continue to leave the door open for the Reds'.

Meanwhile in Europe, the fast becoming joke that is Real Madrid continue to be linked with second-tier stars from the Premier League - oh how the once mighty have fallen. I will actually be quite pleased to see Liverpool knock them out of the Champions League this season.

As Satchmo himself used to sing "oh what a wonderful world"...

United the World Champions' put South American cloggers' in their place...

So then, United are the 'FIFA Club World Champions', hip, hip hurrah! The title has a nice ring about it and even the most cynical of fans like myself have to admit that the Reds took the competition seriously, as indeed did today's other finalists Liga de Quito.

From the moment the final kicked-off it was apparent that unlike the semi-final, this match was going to be no walk in the park for United as the South Americans game plan appeared to centre on taking it in turn to try to kick lumps out of Ronaldo and anyone else in the Red shirt.

Thankfully, the Reds had too much class for the Ecuadorians, the only surprise was that the first-half remained goalless which was in no small part down to de Quito 'keeper Cevallos who lived a somewhat charmed life with Rooney in particular going close on a number of occasions.

The second-half was spoilt by the sending off of Vidic who was seen elbowing a Liga de Quito striker who was clearly holding down United's Serbian defender. The theatrics of the Ecuadorian striker in getting Vidic sent-off were worthy of an Oscar, but nonetheless Nemanja had to go.

With United playing with ten men for forty odd hard fought minutes it looked as if the match would go to extra-time and possibly penalties, but on 73 minutes Ronaldo cutely played in Rooney and the United striker did what he should have done in the first-half when he comprehensively beat Cevallos giving him no chance.

In the end Liga de Quito got what they deserved, which is precisely nothing, whether they were inhibited by United's class doesn't really matter, because they seemed to be intent of playing for extra time and penalties from the start of the final. It was only after going a goal down did this team of journeymen cloggers try to play some football.

It remains to be seen what the true price of today's victory will be for United. On Friday lunch United take on Stoke City in what will be another blood and thunder game at the Britannia Stadium. As a result of the sending off, Vidic will miss the first leg of United's Champions League tie with Inter Milan, but Jonny Evans will deputise so hopefully the Reds will cope in the heat of the San Siro.

The title of World Champions while being valid represents something of a hollow victory given the lowly stature of what can only be described as a Mickey Mouse tournament.

United will no doubt be the envy of the commercial and PR departments of rivals' such as Chelsea and Liverpool who like the Reds' continue to talk of the East as an untapped market. However, seasoned Reds like myself take an entirely different view of so called fans from the far East, which is they do not contribute to United's coffers in any meaningful way; they do not pay top dollar TV subscriptions nor do they buy official merchandise (don't all the snide shirts get manufactured in the Far East?) and they quite obviously cannot buy match-tickets apart for these side-show tournaments.

In short, the Premier League clubs who court the Far and near East are chasing fool’s gold because United's most important fans are those nearer to home. That said, United could score commercially where sponsors are concerned, so while fans from the Far East might not contribute directly there's no denying that United may well at some point cash-in on their undoubted popularity by possibly replacing AIG with say Toyota.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Inter Milan: It's the worst draw possible for United...

I was talking to a City fan this week about United and the recent derby, we also spoke about the impending Chammpions League draw and I said that the Reds would get Inter Milan. Ever since United won their group I've been thinking that we'd face Jose Mourinho's team. It is nothing short of a disasterous draw for United because Mourinho knows how to beat Ferguson and United.

It doesn't matter what the bookmakers say, Inter should be the favourites despite being drawn at home first. If only United had finished runner-up we'd now be facing Panathinaikos - you could say that view is with the benefit of hindsight, but I've had a bad feeling about meeting Inter for several weeks. Liverpool fans have been crowing about beating Inter comfortably last season, but that was before Mourinho arrived, they will be a much tougher proposition now.

I am not completely writing off United's chances because over the last few weeks the Reds defence has looked fairly solid away from home and the Champions have been playing some confident football, but without creating enough clear cut goal-scoring opportunities. My lack of confidence stems from United's current inability to create chances. Ronaldo hasn't been performing as he can and for me the Rooney / Berbatov partnership has not blossomed.

If however United can overcome Inter Milan then I'd expect them to win the competition, but at this moment in time I do not see the Red Devils progressing beyond the group of 16.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

United give "Mickey Mouse" FIFA Club World Cup credibility....

I really didn't think that I'd be writing this today, but United's performance in the much maligned FIFA Club World Cup has given the competition a degree of credibility, largely because the Red Devils took their first match - albeit a ludicrous bye to the semi-final - seriously by fielding a strong side that included Ronaldo plus many of the regular first eleven.

The semi-final was watched by millions around the football globe on tv and the stadium looked packed. Every time Ronaldo went near the ball the crowd went wild and rightly so because today he looked the part, which hasn't been the case every week thus far this season.

United were simply too powerful for Gamba Osaka, who showed some nice touches and made sure it was a decent contest by scoring arguably the best two goals in the match that ended 5-3 to the Champions of Europe.

The only sour note was the booking for substitute Wayne Rooney, who notched a second half-brace. For some reason Rooney decided to boot an Osaka player who was lay on the pitch while trying to retain the ball. Unlike the press, who have been trying their level best to get Rooney banned in Europe, I think it is about time that Fergie had a word with his star striker, because clearly there was no need for his second half yellow card - the incident was out of keeping of a match that had been played in good spirit.

IF you didn't manage to see the game, then make sure you do not miss the final next Sunday which will be screened in the UK on Channel 5 starting at 10.20 am. If the final is half as good as today's game then you will not be disappointed.

Have the Glazers' sanctioned Ronaldo to Real deal behind Fergie's back?

Real Madrid could be viewed as the dumbest club in the world, they claim to have a secret deal in place to sign Ronaldo and then one of their directors blows the secret by revealing it to the outside world. But is this latest plot plain dumb or is it the start of another calculated media onslaught in a bid to sign Ronaldo?

The media love these stories and as expected there's been no shortage of those repeating the claim that Ronaldo will sign for Real Madrid, but I for one do not believe the Portuguese star will be signing for Real Madrid any time soon.

It's worth noting that Real Madrid are a club in trouble, following their failed attempts to sign Ronaldo last summer and following on from that they're under performing in La Liga, but for Castillas they would have been totally humiliated against Barcelona in the Nou Camp on Saturday night.

The bottom line is the Real Madrid fans are desperately seeking some good news after the recent sacking of manager Bernd Schuster. The fact that a highly placed club source has blabbed this latest story about Real signing Ronaldo should be taken within the context of a struggling club who are desperately trying to appease their own supporters - even if it means lying to them and upsetting United again.

From the Red Devils perspective, Ferguson, as if it were needed, has once more made it crystal clear that there's no way United will do any sort of business with Real Madrid, he's actually gone on record today saying he "wouldn't sell them a virus".

There is of course a remote possibility that Real have gone directly to the Glazers' behind Fergie's back, but here again the fact that Fergie runs the club with an iron-grip would I hope rule out the club's owners doing the dirty on the manager by agreeing to sell Ronaldo without first seeking Fergie's consent. This is why I actually believe it's a good thing that this latest story has come out, because it has only served to further enrage Fergie who has publicly confirmed his stance on this issue. Following on from that scenario, the Glazers' would surely not dare to sanction any deal - even if they've been thinking about it...

IF however, Fergie has let the Glazers' know that he's set to retire at the season's end, it would I fear put a completely different complexion on the whole situation - but if the United manager is true to his word he will be in charge again next season which could be his last and if that is so then Ronaldo will not be joining Real Madrid next summer.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Has Fergie lost the plot over Mickey Mouse club world cup?..

I don't know what Fergie has been drinking lately but going off his comments coming out of Yokohama ahead of United's game with Gamba Osaka in the FIFA Club World Cup, it sounds like the United manager is losing the plot because he says "It's a big incentive to become world champions," and.."In 30 years' time you look back and say 'Manchester United - world champions' - to me that is what our club's about."

The fact of the matter is, few fans are in favour of what is a badly timed distraction, and surely United cannot be happy about having to trek half-way round the world to play what amounts to a couple of exhibition games.

On Fergie's point about this big incentive; this is utter nonsense, can anyone tell me who the previous winners are without reverting to the FIFA website? The answer to that is surely no, unless you're a complete anorak.

Winning the Club World Cup will be akin to the winning the old Watney Cup or else the Daily Mail five-a-side competition - actually, that's not true, because the latter had more cachet about it than Blatter's debacle.

Contrary to what Fergie says, in 30 years time it is likely that few will even remember this competition. The FIFA Club World Cup is an embarrassing joke of a tournament, it is a Mickey Mouse competition created by the Walt Disney of football, one Sepp Blatter.

In publicly supporting this tournament, Fergie is going along with United's PR games in the pursuit of greed. United are in Japan for all of the wrong reasons and anyone who says otherwise is either on the FIFA payroll or completely daft.

I will agree with Fergie on one thing though, which is his opposition to the 39th game which is another bad idea, the only saving grace is that Blatter didn't think of it first otherwise it might have been a goer.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The media: The enemy within.....

So then United have decided not to tackle the FA over their totally over-the-top decision to ban Patrice Evra for four matches following his contretemps with a member of Chelsea's low-life groundstaff. The decision not to appeal comes just 24 hours after the FA announced that no further action will be taken against Ronaldo following a minor fit of petulance at White Hart Lane on Saturday when the Portuguese winger was caught lashing out at Michael Dawson.

Not surprisingly, there was the usual cries for disciplinary action from some of the media, Rob Shepherd of the News of the World likened the incident to the David Beckham sending-off in the 1998 World Cup - but on this occasion it was the FA who saw sense when confirming that the Mike Dean had viewed the incident and concluded it wasn't a sending-off - such a pity the press couldn't come to the same rather obvious conclusion, but hey, we are talking about a Manchester United player and that is big news. It doesn't alter the fact that the press, like many commentators seem incapable of understanding the rules of the game.

It was the same idiots in media who wanted Rooney banned from the Champions League following the Aalborg clash last week when the United striker appeared to stamp on a Danish defender.

In the wake of the Aalblorg clash the sanctimonious media have been waging war on United by telling us all that Rooney needs "sorting out".
Question; do the press in Spain, Italy or Germany go out on a limb in a bid to have their top players suspended for European competition? The answer to that is no. The only conclusion that I can come to is that our press boys are too much like fans, why else would you want to see a rival's top striker banned from Europe.

Perhaps Fergie should restrict his press briefings to just MUTV, if that happened you really could not blame the United manager.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Fergie should extend media ban to Andy Dunn and Rob Shepherd...

At the back end of last week prior to the Spurs clash Fergie went on the offensive over what he saw as the media trying to get Wayne Rooney banned in Europe following United's clash with Aalborg in the Champions League.

Fergie was clearly upset with the Daily Express among others for pursuing Rooney and highlighting this episode. The United manager told the media that they would receive no information on Wayne Rooney at his Friday press-briefing.

Video footage confirmed that Rooney had indeed caught a Danish defender with his studs and UEFA promised to review the incident. The media have in the eyes of the United manager been doing all they can to stop United from retaining the Champions League by continually carping-on about Rooney. Well it hasn't worked, because UEFA have announced that no further action against Rooney will be taken..

The coverage of the Rooney stamping incident by the News of the World also needs to be highlighted. It should come as little surprise to United fans that pants
scouse columnist Andy Dunn wanted Wayne Rooney banned; he used the phrase "throw the book at Rooney" - I for one hope that Fergie now bans Dunn in turn.

While the United manager is at it, he could also ban Rob Shepherd, who wanted Ronaldo banned for his kick at Michael Dawson at Spurs on Saturday. Shepherd recalled that Ronaldo's kick was just like Beckham's in the 1998 world cup finals - no mention that the Beckham sending off was in the mind of most clear thinking fans an unjust reaction to what was petulance which at worst warranted a yellow-card.

It just goes to show that when the media have a witch-hunt against a player or as in this case a club, they will dig up incidents from the past even if it means making reference to events from 10 years previously which is fairly pathetic it has to be said.

Happily, it has been announced that no further action will be taken against Ronaldo, let's hope that Fergie now issues his own bans to Shepherd and Dunn.

Fergie needs to crack away form formula.....

It has been another frustrating weekend of missed opportunities for Manchester United after the Reds' failed to capitalise on Liverpool and Chelsea dropping points with the Champions unable to turn possession into clear cut goal-scoring opportunities at White Lane on Saturday.

Much has been made of the Spurs revival since Harry Redknapp took charge, but it was the visitors who controlled the game for long periods of what turned out to be a fairly dull game in many ways.

The 0-0 final scoreline was a fair one, Rio Ferdinand missed United's best chance with a free header from a corner, apart from that Park and Giggs forced Spurs stopper Gomez into making a couple of good saves. At the other end, Modric looked the most likely to score for the London club when going close on a couple of occasions.

Going into Saturday's game, all the talk centred on Berbatov; in the end it was much ado about nothing because Michael Dawson kept the former Spurs striker in check for the most part. Since he arrived at Old Trafford the Bulgarian has been blowing hot and cold and so the jury is still very much out on his suitability, there is also the accusation that he's lazy.

To compound matters Carloz Tevez has fallen down the United pecking order. At the beginning of the season the Argentine was arguably the Reds' most in-form striker, but when Berbatov arrived it quickly became clear that Tevez would make way. More recently following talk of a possible Old Trafford exit, Tevez has allowed his form to slip - some say he's been trying too hard - which is something United fans do not say about Berbatov. On top of this, Cristiano Ronaldo isn't playing well by his own standards, in some games, like on Saturday; it appears to be a case of going through the motions.

Partly as a result of lack of form from key forwards, United currently lack a cutting edge up front. However, opposition teams are wary of trying to mix-it with United for fear of being hit on the counter-attack and so even away from Old Trafford, at grounds such as White Hart Lane, Eastlands and Villa Park recently, there's been reluctance for the home team to throw-men forward in pursuit of three points.

Instead, what we are seeing is the home team deploying a six-man defensive shield on the edge of their penalty area - and you cannot blame them really. The problem is that these teams do not pose enough of a threat up front themselves, hence United end up controlling the game - which is all well and good when you're scoring and winning away from home, but that isn't happening enough right now.

My own view is that perhaps United need to start such away games with more of a sense of urgency, because while the Reds' are proving to be very good at playing patient football, they need to somehow start scoring more goals - especially on our travels.

While United are struggling to win away from home, rivals Chelsea and Liverpool look awful at home - the latter will soon surely shoot their bolt if they keep on failing to win against the also-rans of the Premier League.

The Red Devils are of course away in Japan for Sep Blatter's ridiculous FIFA World Club Cup (or whatever it is called). It is a trip that United could well do without, let us hope United return fit and ready for the winter battles that lie ahead.

Friday, December 12, 2008

All eyes on Berba - it's time for Ronaldo to deliver...

United head into this weekend's clash with Spurs knowing that they need to win and with Fergie saying that it is the most important game of the season so far. It is testament to the work of Harry Redknapp that the North London club have been quickly transformed from a relegation threatened club into the in-form team in the Premier League.

The Red Devils will be without suspended pair of Wayne Rooney and Patrice Evra, so Carlos Tevez will likely make his 100th appearance for English club's; the left-back slot will be contested by Jonny Evans and John O'Shea. Michael Carrick and Rio Ferdinand are also giving Fergie cause for concern.

Dimitar Berbatov has a slight ankle strain, but he is expected to recover in time to face his former team-mates and he will be expecting a torrent of abuse from the home fans, this despite the fact that the Bulgarian has spoken very highly of the club since his somewhat acrimonious and protracted departure.

Fergie has rightly stated that White Hart Lane has been a happy hunting ground for the Champions over the last few seasons, but the United manager knows that the Reds' will face a stiff test.

Spurs will be desperate to keep their winning momentum going and they will no doubt be paying special attention to Berbatov, which might well leave the door open for Ronaldo who has lost much of the sparkle of last season.

Since Ronaldo collected the prestigious Ballon d'Or award there has been the expected sniping from the usual suspects "he's not really the best in the world..." is the common line. Well it's about time that Ronaldo rammed it down the throats of his detractors. A match-winning performance against Spurs on Saturday at White Hart Land would be a great place to start.

In other news, Edwin van der Sar has just signed a one year extension to his current deal which is good news given United's current reserve options. I am less than impressed with Kuszczak and for me the jury is out on Foster.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Great Danes rise to the occasion, but United look unconvincing...

I'm hoping that United fans will have appreciated the performance of Aalborg who came away with a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford last night. United were guilty of missing a few chances, but for me the result was a pretty fair reflection of the game and so the visitors deserve much credit. Aalborg closed United down all over the pitch, in so doing ensuring that it was a proper Champions League contest and not the walk-over that some will have predicted prior to kick-off.

The result meant that United finished up as Group winners, the Reds' also equalled a 19-match unbeaten European run held by Bayern Munich and Ajax. So much for stats, but what are United's chances of becoming the first club to retain the Champions League since its inception?

United's performances in Europe thus far this season have been less than stellar, which may or may not be an omen for what lies ahead, because the competition starts from here on in as we head into the knockout round of 16.

I'm of the opinion that the Champions League has been pretty much wide open for any of the leading teams to have won the competition for a number of years and this season is no different - which is why anyone connected with United, be that supporters, players or even the manager would be foolish to write off say, Real Madrid, or god forbid Liverpool.

I have a question for any readers of this blog, can anyone tell me with any degree of conviction that you know what Fergie believes to be his strongest first-team? Despite his contribution in the derby win, I’m of the opinion that Ji Sung Park should not be starting in the really big games. You can say the same about Fletcher...so what I'm saying is Fergie himself is unsure of what his strongest team is...

Furthermore, I happen to believe that the United manager is bedevilled with questions concerning the role that the likes of Scholes and Giggs should play for the remainder of the campaign. These veteran midfield stars could potentially make or break United's season is my view and in knockout competitions you don't have the luxury of putting it right as in the group games.

Seasoned observers of United know that tactics are not one of Fergie's strongest points and so it will be very interesting if the Reds' come up against Jose Mourinho and Inter Milan, because the former Chelsea coach is something of a tactical genius - even if you do not like his style of play one has to appreciate his work.

While tactics are undoubtedly an important factor I also believe that there needs to be a degree of continuity where selection issues are concerned, but right now I just do not know what United's strongest midfield is.

For the reasons outlined in this post I'm unconvinced that United will retain the trophy they won in Moscow last May.

On slightly more positive note, in the recent Manchester derby Fergie made Mark Hughes look tactically inept, if only the Champions League could be such a walk in the park.

For what it's worth here's my Champions League verdict on the remaining 16:

Roma - doubtful winners
Panathinaikos - gone as far as they can
Barcelona - doubtful winners
Liverpool - potential winners
Manchester United - potential winners
Bayern Munich - potential winners
Porto - Unlikely winners
Juventus - potential winners
Chelsea - potential winners if they do not lose focus
Inter Milan - strong contenders
Sporting - making up the numbers
Atletico Madrid - making up the numbers
Villarreal - making up the numbers
Lyon - making up the numbers
Arsenal - doubtful winners
Real Madrid - doubtful

United destined for Real match-up

Sir Alex Ferguson has said he is looking forward to tea and biscuits with Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon in the knockout phase of the Champions League.

United clinched their place in the Champions League knockout phase as group winners on Wednesday night and destiny could see them drawn with Real in the last 16.

Fergie has been at loggerheads with Real chief Calderon for most of the year over the pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo and after Real could only finish second in their group behind Juventus, a meeting is now possible when the draw is made on December 19.

When asked about the prospective draw Ferguson said: "That would be a nice party wouldn't it?. I look forward to tea and biscuits with Ramon Calderon."
United, who are third favourites to win the trophy again, are football odds of 7.2 with Barcelona heading the betting and Chelsea second favourites.
Fergie's men will be at home in the crucial second leg of the knockout phase, while their other prospective opponents could be Inter Milan, Sporting Lisbon, Atletico Madrid or Lyon.
I think it's safe to say that Fergie would be keen to avoid one of the two clubs from the Spanish capital, but a last-16 match-up with Sporting would be considered a plum draw for the Red Devils.
Fergie though will be concerned about UEFA potentially taking disciplinary action against Wayne Rooney after his tangle with Kasper Risgard in the 2-2 draw with Aalborg.
Risgard believed Rooney should have been dismissed after he ended up with stud marks down his chest. Let's hope UEFA don't follow the lead of the FA, otherwise Rooney could be handed a four-match ban!

By Phil Tomlinson

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Fence sitting FA happy to brush racist abuse claims under carpet...

I'm glad that United are going to explore all possibilities in relation to the FAs totally over-the-top decision to ban Patrice Evra for four matches following a brawl with Sam Bethell, a member of the Chelsea ground-staff. United have claimed that Evra was the victim of racial abuse, my own view is that Evra must have been severely provoked into defending himself in such a manner, because the notion that stars' like Evra will pick a fight with a staff member of the opposition for no good reason is fanciful at best.

Football is a game in which sadly racial abuse is all too often tolerated or else it is brushed under the carpet, which could well be the case on this occasion. In fining Evra heavily and worse still banning him for four matches - which will harm United's chances of retaining the title - the FA have chosen to ignore the Frenchman's defence and all in probability the witness statements submitted in support of Evra by his team-mates on this matter.

Chelsea have been fined £25,000 for failing to control a staff member. This is another example of wrist-slapping both parties and fence sitting with the FA clearly wanting to be seen not taking sides. However, sections of the media have taken the view that the FA have vindicated Chelsea's claim that there was no racial abuse of Evra, but if the racial abuse claims are true, it effectively means that the FA have abdicated their responsibility as custodians of the game in the name of keeping a lid on sordid events such as this latest spat.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Keane walked before he was pushed.....

Roy Keane has without doubt done the right thing in resigning as Sunderland manager, because if he hadn't gone soon, then the Black Cats would in all probability have fired him.

Keane's ghost-writer Eamon Dunphy came out earlier in the week and said that the Sunderland manager had 'lost the plot', which pretty much sums up the situation having bought so many players.

In resigning now and at this stage of the season at least it gives Sunderland a chance to appoint a new manager who will have time to turn things around.

On Roy Keane's future, as Dunphy said it's another case of a great player failing on the managerial scene.

In many ways it's a sad state of affairs given how much experience the Irishman has as a player at the very highest level, because in England chances are that Keane will be written-off as a potential managerial candidate in the future, at least at any of the big clubs.

In sharp contrast, on the continent when a manager fails in a country like Italy, the reaction to managerial failure is looked upon differently, the general view is that the project and not the manager has failed.

Ironically, Dunphy was totally wrong about one thing which is that he didn't expect Keane to quit...

United take on Sunderland this weekend, you wonder if the prospect of another hammering for the Black Cats was simply too much for Keane to take.

Listen to Dunphy's damning verdict on Keane

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Does Scholes still have the legs for United's engine room?

Paul Scholes is set to return the United squad that faces Blackburn Rovers in the Carling Cup at Old Trafford this evening. The former England star has been out injured after suffering knee ligament damage. Ferguson says that Scholes is chomping at the bit to play. The question is, does Scholes still have the legs to be effective enough to warrant a regular starting place the Reds' engine room? I'm personally not so sure, against Liverpool at Anfield earlier in the season it was apparent that he wasn't covering the ground as a central midfield must where defensive duties are concerned.

Fergie is currently selecting Carrick and Fletcher as his central midfield pairing in a flexible formation which switches between 4:3:3 and 4:4:2 as the need and pattern of the game dictates.

With Owen Hargreaves out for the rest of the season, only Carrick appears to be a regular first choice pick, so the door is definitely open to reclaim his place in midfield should Scholes press home his claim for a quick return to the first-team.

Anderson, somewhat surprisingly hasn't taken advantage of the injury to Hargreaves and then there's Rodrigo Possebon whose progress was affected by an injury following a horror tackle sustained against 'Boro.

If Possebon is going to press home his claim for a midfield starting place in the first-team, then like other squad plyers knocking on the first-team door, he too has to impress when given the chance and it's likely that he will start against Blackburn in midfield alongside countryman Anderson and Gibson.

It's likely to be another really cold night in Manchester and so for the sake of the match-going fans, let's hope that the Red's get the job done in normal time. However, Blackburn will be out to win with Ince fielding a strong team, so the Reds' can expect a really tough game. Danny Wellbeck could be another starter along with Carlos Tevez and or Manucho, it could turn out to be a decent cup-tie.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Fergie mulling over Tevez future

Manchester United seem reluctant to tie up the permanent transfer of Carlos Tevez, but is it the credit crunch or has Fergie set his sights on someone else in the summer?
The Argentinian frontman has been linked with a switch to Real Madrid this week, but with the La Liga giants closing in on Klaas Jan Huntelaar that rumour can be put to bed, but still Tevez's future in Manchester looks far from assured.
The 24-year-old has only made six starts for United in the Premier League this term, scoring once and he is firmly behind Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov in the pecking order.
Tevez, who reportedly is growing more frustrated at his lack of first-team outings, will have cost United around £7million when his loan deal expires next summer, but Fergie will have to fork out another £20million-plus if he wants to secure Tevez's long-term future.
It's uncertain whether Fergie is stalling on the deal until the summer to see whoe else might become available or whether the purse strings have been tightened until the close season.
You can guarantee whether United win any silverware this season or not there will be a host of big names linked with a move to Old Trafford at the end of the campaign and former Red Giuseppe Rossi is already on Fergie's radar.
Ahead of the recent date with his current outfit Villarreal Sir Alex heaped praise on the striker who was sold in 2007 for around £6million and a return for the Italy international would not be out of the question with United having first refusal on the 21-year-old.
Tevez though at least will get another run-out, in what will be a virtual reserve side, in the Carling Cup on Wednesday.
Still, the football odds compilers have United chalked up as the tournament favourites and you can expect Tevez to be going full tilt to shoot down Blackburn and add to his other Carling Cup goal, which came from the penalty spot in the 1-0 win over QPR in the previous round.

By Phil Tomlinson

Rafael to become rightback King of Old Trafford?...

When Ruud Van Nistelrooy left Manchester United to join Real Madrid following a bust-up with Ferguson, it was an acrimonious break-up. The parting of the ways also meant that the three 'R's' of Old Trafford became just two. Unlike the Dutchman, Rooney and Ronaldo stayed and have gone on to greater things.

I don't know about my fellow United supporters, but I for one haven't been so excited about the arrival of a new young star since the Ronaldo donned the Red shirt. I refer to Rafael da Silva. After only a couple of performances for the club I predicted that by the end of the season he will have ousted Gary Neville and Wes Brown, in so doing claiming the right-back slot in Fergie's team.

It's always difficult for young players to make it, with so many big-name established players' coming to play in England. The media do not really help, because they have an annoying habit of burdening young players with labels when likening them to stellar football talents.

Only this week United have been linked to a couple of young Partizan Belgrade stars, one of them has already been dubbed as "little Kaka". Down the years, how many youngsters have been called the next George Best? Isn't it hard enough to make it without this nonsense?

Rafael's arrival at the club was thankfully not accompanied by the burden of expectation, as can often be the case. But in only a short spell with United, the fans and the media alike are talking about the Brazilian in glowing terms. Sky pundit Andy Gray said at the weekend that he can go on to become one of the Premier League's really great fullbacks.

With the very real danger of being labelled as a hypocrite and following Sunday's superb performance in the derby, in which he played with Robinho in his back-pocket, there surely can be no doubt that Rafael da Silva is the third R, or else the new found right-back King of Old Trafford.

Rafael da Silva should not be compared to anyone, past or present, he is a unique talent and one who I hope will go on to have a long and trophy laden career at United.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Boneheaded English do not deserve Ronaldo...

What a topsy-turvy few days it's been for Cristiano Ronaldo, at the weekend he was sent-off in the Manchester derby, today he has been crowned European footballer of the Year. It is thoroughly deserved and Ronaldo joins a trio of United legends and previous winners of the prestigious Ballon d'Or; Denis Law (1964), Bobby Charlton (1966) and George Best (1968). The last Premier League player to win the award was Michael Owen (it must have been a bad year).

United's Portuguese winger has his critics, but I'm not one of them. Sure, he wanted to join Real Madrid last summer, far from knocking him I personally believe that we should admire him for his honesty. A famous ex-United star joined Real Madrid but went about it in an entirely different way when trying to blame the club for his move, when all along his agents had been trying to work his ticket behind the scenes.

The sad fact is that some fans, for whatever reason, will always try to find fault in big star names. It is especially disappointing, as in the case of Ronaldo that some of them happen to be United supporters.

There have also been accusations that Ronaldo is a "diver". Let's get one thing straight here, only English fans, who are too easily led by our all too often jingoistic media, have a problem with players trying to win at all costs.

In South America and pretty much the rest of Europe, cheating or winning at all costs, is an accepted part of the game. This view is a more adult way of looking at what is after all a game, the aim of which is to win. It is up to the referee to sort out any cheating or gamesmanship.

The English seem to have this old fashioned notion that there should be gentlemen and players. In contrast in Italy all they are concerned about is winning, it is partly why they have won the World Cup so many times and it's also partly why England have only won it once. Former Chelsea star Gianluca Vialli pretty much made the same observations after several years in English football.

Perhaps even worse still is our one-eyed treatment of foreign stars like Ronaldo. After the recent Villarreal game, Wayne Rooney admitted that he'd dived inside the penalty area when seeking to win a penalty. Has anyone come out and called Wayne Rooney a cheat? No, there was more or less a deathly silence.

I'm not sure why some English fans have a general dislike of Ronaldo, I can only put it down to jealousy, because he has it all. Despite what the naysayers will try to have us believe, Ronaldo is a worthy winner of the prestigious Ballon d'Or. All I will say to the boneheads who dislike Ronaldo is that I'm glad he's one of ours and he doesn't play for Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool.

Fergie has often spoken out about the need for protection for players like Ronaldo, because there's another big problem in English football, which is that the opposition and to an extent even referee's are happy to see Ronaldo being kicked up and down dale, it seems to be the case that the officials have the attitude of "it's okay, it's only Ronaldo, he's a cheat you can kick him..".

Part of the problem is that referees are too easily influenced by the crowd and the media and the sad fact is - as Howard Webb showed at the weekend - all too often they do not know when and when not to produce yellow or red cards.

Ronaldo is a great player, in my view he is not a cheat, he will always be fouled because he moves his feet and the ball so quickly. But on this point I have a degree of sympathy with referees' who have to make spit-second decisions.

In bid to help the officials get it right more often there's has been talk of introducing video evidence. On open play, I say forget the notion of introducing evidence, reason being the experts often cannot agree even after reviewing footage over and over again.

Take the example of Ronaldo's unjust first booking at Eastlands on Sunday. Graeme Souness and Andy Gray said that Ronaldo had clearly nudged the ball away from Shaun Wright-Phillips. Fully 24 hours later, Alan Shearer on MOTD2 said it was a definite booking. So who is right? The point is, even after 24 hours had elapsed it comes down to an opinion, but importantly the experts cannot agree. If that is the case then we might as well leave it to the man-in-the-middle. All it would do is transfer responsibility away from the referee and I suppose there's an argument for that in reducing a degree of pressure, but it will not undisputedly mean that referees' decisions are more often right than wrong as illustrated by the point about Ronaldo's first booking on Sunday.