Friday, January 30, 2009

Mourinho's Euro Vidic bid fails.......

Despite trying his level best to get Namanja Vidic banned for at least three games, UEFA have not followed the unwelcome advice of Jose Mourinho and those in the media who gave him a platform to promote the idea that the United defender should have received more than a one game ban for his red card in the recent World team Championship Final in Japan.

United fans and Fergie have not forgotten the manner of Mourinho's 2004 Champions League victory while he was in charge of Porto. Ferguson knows that it should have been United in the final and not the Portuguese and so when United face Inter Milan in the knockout round of sixteen the Reds manager will be keen to put one over on Mourinho, who is coming under pressure in Italy following some very poor results of late.

The news of Vidic's one game ban is a welcome relief to the Champions who this weekend face Everton in a Premier League game of huge importance. United need to take advantage of playing 24 hours before their nearest rivals with Chelsea facing Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday. If United can win on Saturday they will temporarily stretch their overnight lead to five points.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is, according to the Stretford End, "cracking up", so if United can manage a win against Everton, and the match at Anfield is drawn it will be very interesting to see how the Spaniard and the Liverpool fans react.

Only a few weeks ago, there seemed to be an air over-confidence emanating out of Anfield which was supported by the Merseyside Reds many friends in the media. Word has it that Steven Gerrard was out "celebrating" an important away win on the night of his arrest in Southport. On hearing about this Ferguson ceased upon this news with glee as he promptly told his players in training that Gerrard and the Liverpool players believed they'd won the title already.

Since Liverpool have been toppled from top-spot all of a sudden those who were writing off United - and there were many - have had a reality check. A perfect example of this appeared in the Times this week, the headline to the pro-Liverpool article was "you don't win or lose the title after one game". I could be wrong here, but I strongly suspect the article in question would not have seen the light of day only a few weeks ago when Liverpool and their supporters were getting giddy at the prospect of winning the title.

As for United and the remainder of the season, Ferguson and the players have been talking about the challenges ahead and thus far it seems everyone at Old Trafford is focused on the job of maintaining consistent form, so let us hope that complacency does not creep into the minds of the United players.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

United to make move in January transfer window, or just another desperate rumour?

OK, so you are an ageing Italian defender, you have just fallen out with your club coach; what does your agent do next? The answer is simple, said agent sets the transfer rumour mill wheels in motion by starting reported claims of interest from Europe's top clubs.

That is a time-honoured scenario, which has been played out across Europe for decades, so no one, other than the totally blinkered, should be surprised to learn that Christian Punucci's agent has gone on record stating "he's not yet been contacted by Manchester United". What a surprise.

Aside from the fact that any agent worth their salt would never publicly admit to contact being made, it's doubtful in the extreme Panucci has ever been, or is ever likely to be on Fergie's transfer radar.

It is true that United have suffered with injuries to defenders over the last few weeks, but it is also true that the Reds haven't conceded a Premier League goal in eleven games, which suggests that despite Fergie's injury concerns the team has coped rather well. This is why I’m filing the Panucci to United story in the bin.

Anyone with only half a grain of sense where all things United are concerned will tell you that if Fergie was going to make a signing in January, then another striker would be on the agenda.

United have just three main strikers to choose from, and only Berbatov is recognised as an out-and-out striker, but even he drops off the frontline on occasion. Tevez and Rooney are both second-strikers - the best in the business in my humble opinion. As for Danny Welbeck, despite showing some promise, he is still a kid and needs time to develop.

My big fear is player burn-out. United are still fighting to win four trophies, the Carling Cup recently cost the champions dearly with the loss of several stars to injury, I just hope that the players and especially the forwards can continue to cope.

Panucci set for exit door

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Van the man for United

Manchester United man-mountain Edwin van der Sar created a double slice of Premier League history on Tuesday as United smashed West Brom 5-0.

Van der Sar set a new individual record for the most minutes without conceding a goal when he surpassed Chelsea star Petr Cech's tally of 1,025 during the demolition job at The Hawthorns.

And if that wasn't enough for van der Sar he also clocked up an 11th successive clean sheet, beating the record set by Chelsea four years ago.

It's a remarkable achievement when you consider this season's Premier League will go down as the most competitive on record. Add to that the crippling injury list at Old Trafford and Edwin certainly comes out with more than a bit of credit.

Rio Ferdinand, who returned ahead of schedule from a back complaint against the Baggies, said: "Edwin is the best keeper I've played with. It's as simple as that.

"The record, the stuff we've won together, the assuredness that he transmits from himself to the back four, is great.

"I also don't think I've seen a better keeper with his feet to be honest either. He's got an extra year in terms of his contract and I am sure he's got the capabilities to go and do it again."

Ferdinand, Wes Brown and Patrice Evra have all been out of action for United over the last few months, but it's not fazed van der Sar who has been as solid as ever.

Fabio and Rafael de Silva along with Johnny Evans have filled in admirably and fired United into pole position in the Premier League and with the bookies, with United now football odds of 1.5 to retain their crown.

Van der Sar has in fact kept 15 cleansheets in the Premier League, however Nemanja Vidic has also been a massive part of United's defensive stability with the Serbian missing just one league game this campaign.

And Sir Alex only last week paid tribute to the former Spartak Moscow man saying he was 'as hard as nails' after the 1-0 win over Wigan.

By Phil Tomlinson, a professional sports writer who blogs about football and football betting.

Crisis, what crisis? United steamroll Baggies, Giggs is driving force...

The kick-off was late, but it only delayed what turned out to be an emphatic outcome as the champions steamrolled bottom of the table West Brom at the Hawthorns, winning by the margin of 5-0. It could have, and should have been a lot more.

Going into the game there was much talk of an injury crisis at United with so many players on the treatment table. Thankfully, Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville recovered from their respective problems to take their places in the starting eleven that faced Tony Mowbray's team.

Despite being at the foot of the table, West Brom's home form is pretty good, so United were expecting a tough game and judging by the performances of those in red they were not taking anything for granted in what turned out to be a very one-sided contest.

The story of this fixture was that United were simply too good for the Baggies. It was a comfortable win, but Fergie will be especially delighted with the performance of Dimitar Berbatov, who is looking more and more like one of THE signings of the season. True enough, there are moments when you wonder if the Bulgarian is actually on the pitch, but since Christmas he has made a significant contribution in every game in which he has figured and that includes when coming off the bench.

The goals have started to flow for Berbatov and he's also creating chances for others; his link-up play with Michael Carrick has been exceptional in the last two games and it also supports the theory that United have needed an out-and-out striker. Prior to signing Berbatov, many fans and those in the media were claiming that Rooney and Tevez drifted around the park, perhaps a little too much, was a common gripe. Now that Berbatov is delivering consistently, those claims look more justified.

Berbatov might not charge about the park like massive fans favourite Carlos Tevez, but he provides a focal point to the United forward line; his close control rarely lets him down and players' like Carrick and Giggs are then able to pick their passes to feet, safe in the knowledge the ball will stick.

Against the Baggies, United's slick passing around the opposition penalty area was a key feature of the visitors' performance, as was running off the ball and United's support play, with the Reds often having five players' inside the Baggies 18-yard box.

Arguably only Ryan Giggs, who gave yet another age-defying performance, could lay claim to the man-of-the-match award over Berbatov and Carrick. Earlier in the week, Fergie suggested that Giggs should be the player of the year; it's a good shout, because Ryan looks to be getting even better. Some of the Welshman's passing was a joy to watch, his subtle flick to Ronaldo which led to United' fourth goal will live long in the memory of this particular Red.

As for West Brom, like United on the night, they had injury problems to contend with, but skipper Robinson made a bad situation a whole lot worse when he was Red carded before half-time by Rob Styles for a poor challenge on Park. After the game, Tony Mowbray, refreshingly, did not blame the result on the official for what was a controversial decision.

The result means that the pressure is very much on Liverpool and the chasing pack as United have a narrow three-point lead at the top of the table as the champions sent out an ominous warning to their rivals. It also means that United hold the record for not conceding; it now stands at 11 league games.

Man-of-the-match: Ryan Giggs - like oak-aged vintage red wine, he just seems to get better with the passing of time.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Da Silva brothers are unpolished Gold, but Tevez is the main man....

Sometimes injuries conspire to give those who might not otherwise get opportunities to show what they are capable of, that was certainly the case for fabulous, Fabio da Silva, who came into United's starting eleven at left-back to face Spurs in the FA Cup on Saturday evening.

United fans have been eager to find out exactly how good the other da Silva brother is following some superb performances by his twin Rafael on the opposite flank.

It has been worth the wait, because while he was on the pitch, Fabio looked at home in the first-team and he linked up well with Ronaldo, indeed it was the young Brazilian and not the Portuguese World Player of the Year who looked the more dangerous of the two, as he bombed forward beyond United's superstar talisman.

Fergie will be wary of giving the 18 year-old da Silva twins too much exposure too soon, both are still developing physically and are having to adapt to the rigours of the English game. There will be a degree of concern within United's backroom team that Rafael picked up that hamstring injury recently and against Spurs his brother Fabio sustained a calf-injury. Of the two injuries, the hamstring is the more concerning, as it might well go again if United are not careful. Ryan Giggs used to suffer with hamstring strains in the early part of his brilliant and long career. When Patrice Evra first arrived at the club, he really struggled to deal with the physical demands of playing in the Premier League. The Frenchman has since then worked on weights and built himself up, as a result the improvements have been noticeable as he has become a big fans favourite. The da Silva brothers may well have to follow Evra and the same training regime if they are to go to become United legends.

The only disappointment on an otherwise great debut by Fabio was his second-half injury, which meant he had to be replaced by another youngster Richard Eckersley, who didn't let anyone down and so he too can be pleased with his performance.

Danny Welbeck started up front on the right with Tevez alongside Berbatov. Ronaldo was operating in a three man midfield along with Carrick and Scholes. Welbeck, had arguably his best game for United. In most of his previous games the young striker has started up front, against Spurs he was coming on to the ball as opposed to playing with his back to goal and it appeared to make a huge difference as he looked more comfortable and dangerous, so much so that he was unlucky not to score after one scintillating run in which he beat three players only to be denied by Gunter's last minute block challenge.

Spurs had raced into an early lead, with a well taken headed goal by Pavlyuchenko, but that setback only served to stir United into action, the Reds were unlucky not to score a hatful before half-time.

Only some brilliant shot-stopping by Alnwick and the woodwork denied man-of-the-match Carlos Tevez, before Scholes brought the champions level with a somewhat fortuitous scrappy goal on 35 minutes. Just 60 seconds later, Michael Carrick and Berbatov linked up superbly as the Bulgarian scored as good a goal as you're likely to see this season. Berbatov's strike turned out to be the winner and after the shenanigans of the summer involving Daniel Levy, it made the result all the sweeter.

If Fergie was in any about the fans feelings concerning the future of Carlos Tevez, that will no longer be the case as once again they implored the manager to sign him on. Tevez, gave another all-action performance and was extremely unlucky not to notch. United need to do the right thing and sign the Argentine before someone else comes up with money.

United 2-1 Tottenham
Man of the match: Carlos Tevez

Today's top story: Fergie at war with the Sun

Fergie goes to war with the Sun....

Fergie issues Red card to the Sun's Ian McGarry and Neil Custis: Banned for unspecified time limit

On the very day that the Times - somewhat bizarrely in my opinion - named Fergie as the most powerful man in sport, the Sun (another News International tabloid), attacked United and Fergie when labelling the club as "Cup Killers".

The Sun's story dominated Saturday's main back-page and it quoted Fergie stating that both United and Spurs would be investigating a little known 128 year-old rule which states that with the agreement of both participating clubs they could if they so wish play extra time in the event of a cup-tie being drawn at full-time, rather than go to a replay after 90 minutes.

Whether or not the Sun's back-page screamer headline "Cup Killers" brought about a change of heart by Fergie is a moot point. Even if both clubs had wanted to use the 128 year-old rule, it would have been impossible on this occasion because they needed to have given at least seven days notice prior to invoking the rule.

According to informed sources, the rule was designed to help clubs in the lower leagues in the earlier stages of the competition and invoking it at this stage would not have been in the spirit of the FA Cup, as Fergie later conceded in his post-match interview after United ran out 2-1 winners over Tottenham.

Fergie was speaking to ITV when the United manager back-tracked from his earlier comments and at the same time he went ballistic about the report when confirming it would be a very long time before he speaks to the Sun again. The most powerful man in sport has spoken and once again he has decreed that those who stitch-him-up must suffer the consequences.

United fans will have mixed feelings about Ian McGarry and Neil Custis taking Fergie to task over what appeared to be a clear indication to look into this rule. Some fans, will take the view that Fergie is right to ban the Sun because this story will only add to the media created myth that United have helped to take the shine off the FA Cup. These are the very same people who slag off United, but they conveniently forget that the champions hold the record for the most number of wins in the competition. Others like me wouldn't be happy to see the back of replays, my favourite game of all time was our replay with Arsenal in 1999 at Villa Park.

On balance I think the Sun - as they almost always do - went completely over the top with that headline. It was a ridiculous statement to make and one that has somewhat backfired on the newspaper - depending on your point of view that is.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Guillem Balague: Egg on face over Ronaldo to Real claims...

It isn't often that speculative reporting (creative writing) concerning the future of top footballers' goes as horribly wrong as it did for Guillem Balague recently, when via his own rumour mill website, the Spaniard confidently claimed Ronaldo had agreed a deal with Ramón Calderón to join Real Madrid next summer.

Earlier that week Ronaldo had been asked if he'd agreed to join the Spanish Champions, this was following media reports which claimed Florentino Pérez had struck an agreement with the player's agent. Ronaldo flatly denied the report.

However, the basis of Balague's story was that Ronaldo had no agreement with Perez, but with Ramón Calderón the then current Real Madrid President. But due to some rather unfortunate timing it then emerged that Calderón had been caught up in an alleged vote rigging scandal (no real surprise there) which led to his eventual resignation.

Sadly as United fans will be only too aware, the end of Calderón doesn't mean the end of Ronaldo to Real talk; indeed we will never really know if there was any truth behind the original claims made by the Spanish journalist. United fans will no doubt be aware that Ronaldo recently trademarked "CR9" and following on from that, one theory being bandied around is that Madrid have reserved the number nine shirt.

UPDATE on yesterday's top story: Gerrard in the Dock: as takeover talk erupts - a timely coincidence?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Gerrard in the Dock as takeover talk erupts - a timely coincidence?

So then on the very day that Steven Gerrard was due in court to face charges of assault and affray, media sources are all of a sudden reporting that there’s renewed interest from the Middle East, regarding taking over the troubled Merseyside club.
The timing of this takeover talk coming on the day of Gerrard’s initial court appearance is surely simply too much of a coincidence.

A cynic like myself would say it's a good day to bury potentially damaging news and following the events which led up to Gerrard spending a night in the Southport police cells, it seems that LFC have been using every trick in the PR book to deflect attention away from their captain and his problems.

First we had Rafa’s barmy rant at Ferguson; but the Spaniard didn’t stop there as he went to war with other high-profile targets. You do wonder about Rafa’s more recent scattergun rants, are they part of any concerted media campaign to deflect attention away from Gerrard, or is the Liverpool manager simply losing the plot? I'm fairly certain Rafa's rant at Fergie and today's news is an attempt to deflect attention away from Gerrard, as for the rest of it, I'm not really sure.

This might surprise Liverpool fans, but I wish them well regarding finding new owners. Like United, Liverpool are a huge club; both are institutions and as such they should be run accordingly without threat to their futures due to issues surrounding owners who fail to deliver on promises.

Following on from yesteday's post on possible interest from Dubai concerning taking over United and coming on the back of today's news about potential takeover's for Liverpool and Chelsea fans will be wondering where it will all end.

UPDATE: This update, is partially in response to the LFC fans who rubbished my story yesterday. For the record, and in case there's any misunderstanding; I wasn't suggesting that there is no substance behind the reports. I was however stating, very clearly, that the timing of the leaked story was suspect to say the least. Following on from that today the said Kuwaiti group have denied the takeover claims which further vindicates my initial assertions that the whole story was indeed leaked to time with Gerrard's court appearance.

United set for major shirt sponsor shock?...

Manchester United supporters have been no doubt rocking with laughter at City's chief executive Gary Cook this week following his botched attempts to sign Milan's Kaka, only to end up with Craig Bellamy.

However, United supporters might well be a little concerned to learn that the club's current shirt sponsor AIG could be looking to pull the plug as soon as this May. The AIG contract runs out in May 2010, but the US insurance giant is quickly selling off parts of the business following its recent unravelling and the subsequent US public-funded bail-out.

United's CEO David Gill did not want the club to find itself scurrying around looking for a new shirt sponsor as was the case when Vodafone gave United just six months notice.

Mega sponsorship deals take time, due to the figures involved and so the pressure is very much on United's deal-makers. Recent reports have suggested that United could be looking for as much as £22m per season from any new shirt sponsorship deal. It's squeaky bum time for David Gill.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sheikh Hamdan Maktoum; hereditary Prince of Dubai is a United fan...will his family bid to buy the club?

The transfer window is open until the end of the month, much of the activity and speculation has so far centred on big-spending rivals Manchester City, more on this later.

Before that and in the wake of the collapse of the Kaka transfer to City, BBC Sport online has today published a story which focuses on interest in football in the middle east, in which it has been revealed that Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, hereditary Prince of Dubai is a Manchester United fan, as is his brother... United up for sale?..

In another article that I have stumbled upon, it has been confirmed that Sheikh Hamdan Maktoum formed an investment company back in November with a view to investing in football.

I am taking on the role of devil's advocate here, but you do wonder if Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum and his investment company would be interested in acquiring the finest club in all the land? Friends, that is not Liverpool, before anyone makes the suggestion. The Glazer family will, I assure my readers be looking to sell on United at some point in the not too distant future.

Now back to the hilarious events surrounding City's botched attempts to sign Kaka. Gabriele Marcotti, the brilliant Times columnist has questioned the role of Gary Cook, City's chief negotiator and the events leading up to the collapse of what turned out to be a shambolic affair which ended in acrimony. I recommend that anyone who is remotely interested in the Kaka story should read Marcotti's excellent article in which he pins the blame squarely on the shoulders of Gary Cook. Milan did not bottle it, on the contrary Cook botched it..

Injury crisis: Like United before them, will Spurs be accused of devaluing the FA Cup?

Question: IF Fergie came out and followed the example of Harry Redknapp and said he wasn't going to risk his key players in this weekend's pick-of-the-round FA Cup tie, what would the likely media reaction be?

The answer is we would be told (for at least the next five years) that clubs no longer take the FA Cup that seriously because United have devalued the competition. It was ever thus, it is one rule for the Red Devils and another for the rest.

Nine years on, sections of the all too often one-eyed media are still blaming United for taking the gloss off the FA Cup following the Reds Brazilian farrago in 2000 when the FA rubber stamped United's entry into the much maligned FIFA World Team Championship. It was a decision that was backed by the National Federation of Football Clubs, added to which the government encouraged United's FA Cup exemption in a bid to help England's world cup bid.

Carping aside, like any fair minded fan, I totally agree with Redknapp's point of view. The economics of top-flight English football dictate that Premier League survival is paramount above all other considerations.

United have their own injury problems and it is likely that Fergie will have to reshuffle an already depleted pack. With Gary Neville, Rafael and Wes Brown injured, Darren Fletcher could once again be asked to fill-in at right-back.

John O'Shea could be asked to play in central defence if Jonny Evans ankle injury fails to respond to treatment, especially as Fergie will have one eye on Tuesday's trip to West Brom. If the Irishman plays centre-back, it means that Fabio da Silva could be given his debut at left-back.

United have enough fit bodies to fill midfield, but the continued absence of Rooney will be giving Fergie cause for concern. Danny Welbeck played up front alongside Tevez against Derby in midweek, the United youngster contributed when making John O'Shea's goal and he had one or two decent touches, but he's still a kid and raw at that. Welbeck hasn't fully developed yet and so we will be better able to judge him in 12 month's time.

It is at this stage of the season that United's strength in depth is being tested to the full. Fergie's resources are being stretched to the limit as we saw against Derby County in midweek when we lost three stars to injury.

Fighting on four fronts can turn out to be a costly exercise where those injuries are concerned - not forgetting the cost for cash-strapped supporters. You do wonder if Fergie has any regrets about going so far in this season’s Carling Cup, which no one really cares about that much - it is a competition that has been devalued more than the British pound and it's a situation which is likely to continue..

Finally, another question to end on; Is the big man really going for the ultimate, the Quadruple? It certainly seems that way. Personally, I wouldn't put any money on it actually happening, not until United have disposed of Inter Milan in the Champions League, if indeed it turns out that way.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fergie told to sign Tevez, as Reds are rocked by injuries.....

Manchester United are counting the cost of their continued presence in the much maligned Carling Cup after reaching the final following last night's 4-2(3) second-leg semi-final win over Derby County. However, Jonny Evans, Rafael and Anderson all sustained injuries which means that Fergie's already depleted squad will be tested to the full over the coming games.

With Rio Ferdinand already out suffering with back spasms, the most concerning of all was the injury to Jonny Evans, the Northern Ireland international took a nasty knock on his ankle and looks likely to miss the FA Cup tie with Spurs this weekend and Tuesday's trip to West Brom.

Rafael, who was once again impressive, sustained a hamstring injury which will keep him out of action for up to three weeks. It is not known how serious Anderson's injury is at this stage. Fergie will also be concerned over the fitness of Gary Neville; the Reds club captain looked at home in the centre of defence, but worryingly for United had to be replaced midway through the second-half.

The Champions raced into a three-nil first-half lead, this after a fairly quiet opening 15 minute spell, but goals by Nani, O'Shea and Tevez put United back firmly in control of the tie. The visitors hit back late in the second-half when Giles Barnes scored from the penalty spot after a limping Jonny Evans conceded a penalty.

The scoring wasn't over though, as minutes later former United stopper Roy Carroll brought down Tevez inside the Derby box and substitute Cristiano Ronaldo crashed home the killer goal. All credit to Nigel Clough's team though, because they kept on fighting and Giles Barnes was on target again on 90 minutes which made sure the match was keenly contested until the final whistle.

Injuries to key players aside, there was several memorable moments from this second-leg tie. The ever inconsistent Nani scored a wonder goal from fully thirty yards; it seems churlish to point out that Roy Carroll should have done better. Despite his goal, the Portuguese winger still flatters to deceive and needs to work on his final ball. The arrival of Serbian winger Zoran Tosic looks to have given Nani the kick up the back-side he needed. Time will tell if he can develop the potential he showed when he first arrived at the club.

Arguably, most notable of all though was the United fans who continually implored Fergie in no uncertain terms to sign Carlos Tevez. United fans will be hoping that the club are listening because judging by the Argentine's goal celebration it is what he wants too. Fergie, Fergie sign him on...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Benitez left choking on his bile after conceding advantage to United...

As expected talk of Liverpool winning the title looks to be premature following a poor run of results and performances, the latest coming at Anfield last night in the 1-1 draw with neighbours Everton. Cahill's late goal for Everton reportedly stunned the home crowd into silence. United fans will be wondering if Liverpool's outspoken Spanish manager will follow suit after his recent remarks about Ferguson.

Only a few weeks ago Liverpool were well clear at the top of the Premier League table and following a recent away win, word has it that Steven Gerrard went out on the town in Southport to 'celebrate'. However, the night came to a bitter end as Gerrard became embroiled in a row which ended with a night spent in the police cells and as a result he now faces a court date later this week.

On hearing about this news, Ferguson allegedly went into training next day and told his players that Liverpool believed they'd won the title already following Gerrard's premature celebrations. It doesn't matter if any of it is true; it's a good Fergie story and one that will only add to the United manager's much talked about man management skills.

Ferguson loves nothing better than a fight and Benitez recently made the big mistake of taking on the United manager when attacking him via the media, but as Simon Barnes of The Times put it the following week; it's a bit like one of those circus clowns threatening to chuck a bucket of water of someone; you know someone is going to get it and it's always the clown...

United know that Liverpool are a real threat this season despite Fergie recently saying that Chelsea remain their biggest challengers. Furthermore, United and Liverpool both know that nothing is decided in January, but from here on in it gets really interesting because after conceding advantage to United, Liverpool are now coming under real pressure and their next four league matches could see them falling behind the Champions in the race for the title.

The Merseyside Reds have a horrible looking sequence of fixtures on the horizon, starting with Everton in the FA Cup at the weekend which is followed by; Wigan (a); Chelsea (h); Pompey( a) and then Man City at home.

For their part, the Champions have, on paper at least anyway, a slightly easier looking run of games starting with the Carling Cup semi-final second-leg at Old Trafford this evening, followed by; Spurs FA Cup (h); WBA (a); Everton (h); West Ham (a); Fulham (h); Blackburn (h). Question: Is it only me who thinks that United could do with going out of the Carling Cup so we can concentrate on the big prizes?

Whatever the outcome of the Derby cup tie, at the end of the above sequences of games United could well see daylight between themselves and the chasing pack, what's more Liverpool, their supporters and manager must fear this.

The pressure is very much on the Merseyside Reds. Here's hoping that Fergie and United start to turn the screw and increase the pain for their nearest and bitterest challengers.

Kaka: City to ram raid United and what next for Hughes?

The news that Kaka has turned down moneybags Manchester City should be welcomed by football, it was the right decision for the game. It was the right decision for Kaka who says there are more important things in life than money.

True enough, we know that money talks where the beautiful game is concerned as has been demonstrated already this week with the signing of Craig Bellamy, but the proposed Kaka deal was on a completely different level. Reports that originated from Silvio Berlusconi's own media empire, claimed that City were to set to smash the world record transfer fee by doubling it with an incredible offer of £108m.

Then we come to City's reported wage offer to Kaka of £500,000 per week - the source of these headline grabbing figures? No surprises here, because was once again it was Berlusconi's Italian media outlets. One theory mooted is that the figures were leaked so that if the deal collapsed the publicity surrounding it would make the AC Milan owner look good. It was a win, win situation for Berlusconi.

Fancy footwork and money issues aside by the AC Milan owner, the most interesting aspect of City's failure to sign Kaka will be the ramifications for Mark Hughes and the club's new owners.

Manchester City are well used to humiliation, it has been this way for over 30 years, but for their Arab owners it must make for a rather unpleasant change - and in the full glare of publicity. City, we have been led to believe, were going to smash all records - those hopes, whether the figures are true or not - have been left in tatters.

The man under the most pressure following this massive humiliation is Mark Hughes, because make no mistake, no matter what is said by Gary Cook; City's hierarchy will find it hard to accept failure having come so close to pulling-off a shock transfer that had the football world talking. Someone is going to take the blame and according to reports, City are blaming Milan for "bottling it", that is the situation at this juncture, but it is likely to change once the dust has settled.

Perhaps worse still, the damage has been done regarding future transfers because having reportedly offered to double that record fee, other clubs will be expecting at least double the market value of any future targets, which is precisely what happened with Craig Bellamy and West Ham.

Ignoring the money issues, what will happen to Hughes? Again, if we are to believe what we are told, some of City's Brazilian stars are less than happy with the Welshman's management style - no doubting that in the days and weeks ahead, this will be cited as part of the reason behind Kaka's decision to turn down City. That is that the manager was part of the problem. Further to which, Robinho has walked out of training, amidst talk of him returning home to Brazil to suck his thumb...

I feel a tad sorry for Hughes he has become little more than a pawn in all of this. The City manager has been trying his level best to convince a largely unbelieving public that he was party to the decision to buy Kaka.

Let us for a moment go along with this tale and that we are sat around our imaginary City transfer table in the Blues war-room; "So then Hughesy, who is on your shopping list?" opens Executive chairman Gary Cook, "Bellamy, Parker, Santa Cruz and what about that lad Kaka at AC Milan"? reply’s the Welshman . That would be a comedy sketch worthy of Paul Whitehouse's Fast Show, because it's a bit of a stretch from Bellamy to Kaka, even the most diehard City fan would surely admit that.

Clearly the problem here for both owner and manager is one of ambition. Hughes is probably the right manager for City; he has realistic targets and ambitions for a mid-table club like City. While steadfastly striving for success, the Welshman is plotting a very different path to that of his impatient owners who clearly want to see some trophies in the cabinet prompto.

The media have been reporting all along there's two possible future teams at Eastlands; one being picked by the manager, the other by the Arabs. From the moment that comedy spokesman told the world that if Ronaldo was worth £70m then City would offer £120m we just knew that there would fireworks and probably trouble ahead.

Furthermore, following Kaka's humiliating rejection, City's Arab owners might well reflect upon their decision to buy a second-tier English club, albeit on the cheap, because as I pointed out at the outset, it is hard enough for United to attract the world's best players' to Manchester, let alone City, as the song goes "City, Manchester City nobody knows your name".

Mickey taking aside, buying City is no longer looking a like a good deal, because no matter how much money Abu Dhabi United throw at this problem it isn't enough - they may well reflect that they have bought the wrong club.

As for Kaka, he has reportedly let it be known that he likes United and Arsenal and of course both clubs can offer regular Champions League football. Nonetheless, it is highly unlikely that Kaka will be coming to play in England, not at this stage of his career at least anyway. More likely he will end up in Real Madrid's team in the not too distant future.

As for Hughes and City's new owners, I suspect that if the Welshman was on borrowed time before the events of the last 24 hours, it will only hasten his likely departure. The Arabs will no doubt come to the conclusion that only Jose Mourinho is capable of attracting players’ of the calibre of Kaka to Manchester City.

Whatever happens, City have been tainted by Kaka's rejection. The die has been cast, any player who joins the Citizens from this point onwards will be dubbed as nothing more than a mercenary - because there is no realistic hope of glory – which is often cited as the reason for moving by the really top stars.

No doubting there will be talk of trying to buy United players, but I do not see Ronaldo or even Tevez signing for City, though the latter must be a possibility due to the nature of his ownership situation. For this reason, United fans cannot rule out a dramatic City ram raid for Tevez. I just hope that the Reds' can come up with the right deal that will see the Argentine signing for the Champions long-term.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Time for Tevez to step up

Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted that he almost took Carlos Tevez off moments before the Argentinian's cross was headed home by Dimitar Berbatov in the crucial 1-0 win at Bolton at the weekend.
United looked to be heading for a frustrating draw before Tevez wriggled away from a couple of challenges and clipped in an inch-perfect ball for Berbatov.
"I was ready to take Carlos off and then he makes a goal," said Ferguson.
"Danny Welbeck is a big lad and I just felt he might get us a goal from a cross. I am always prepared to gamble."
Tevez, who has made just nine Premier League starts scoring twice, looks all set to get another run-out on Tuesday night in the Carling Cup semi-final second leg.
The 24-year-old frontman has enjoyed plenty of success in this year's League Cup with five goals in just three starts in the competition and with Wayne Rooney injured and Dimitar Berbatov rested, Tevez will get the chance to fire United to Wembley.
Tevez is likely to be partnered by youngster Danny Welbeck as United attempt to claw back a 1-0 deficit from the first leg at Pride Park.
United are understandably football odds of just 1.23 to reach the final, while Ferguson could also include new boy Zoran Tosic in his squad.
Edwin van Der Sar will be rested with the bulk of the side that played in the first leg expected to get another chance on home soil.
For Tevez it will be a big night after reportedly voicing his displeasure to Argentina boss Diego Maradona about his lack of first-team games.
With Rooney missing with a hamstring problem over the next few weeks, Tevez will be keen to help United maintain their Premier League charge.
Rooney is certain to miss the league games gainst West Brom and Everton, as well as the FA Cup game with Spurs.
Time for Mr Tevez to step up to the plate.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

United go top: Are you watching Liverpool?

Manchester United fans are not used to seeing their beloved team sneak so many 1-0 victories; it's alright for Liverpool and Arsenal of old, but not the Red Devils. It is why United supporters have been singing "attack, attack, attack attack attack" so often this season. It was sung again against Wigan on Wednesday in another match that ended with the Champions winning by the only goal of the game.

But with so many injuries and with the games coming thick and fast in all competitions United fans realise that winning, no matter what the margin, is all important, especially given that we have been chasing Liverpool for so many weeks.

For their part, the Scousers will have been anxiously looking over their shoulders for the big Red juggernaut that has been in their rear view mirror and threatening to overtake them. It has been a bit like that Spielberg film, Duel, in which Dennis Quaid is being chased by a faceless truck-driving maniac, except in this case that maniac happens to be Fergie who is on a mission to run the Liverpool bus, giddy manager and passengers off the road.

I don't know about my fellow Reds fans, but I've been chortling at the thought of the Scousers, who will have been tuning in to every United game, when watching in hope of calamity for the Champions, only to see them clinch victory late on.

Yesterday, United took on the Trotters at the Reebok, it was another occasion which would have surely left the Scousers cursing long into the night, as they supped their beer, following Dimitar Berbatov's 90th minute winner against hapless Bolton.

Gary Megson's team looked to be playing not to get beaten from the very start of the game. United for their part were trying to win, but like in so many games this season, they found it hard to break down a packed defence and create clear cut goal-scoring opportunities. Despite the demolition job on Chelsea last weekend and the fact that United haven't been conceding, there is concern at the lack of goals this season.

Ronaldo is still some way off his very best, but in fairness, his first-half header was United's only other really threatening effort on goal against Bolton. Last season the Portuguese winger scored 42 goals, in what will probably turn out to be his finest season ever, he deservedly went on to win every top honour in the game.

In the current season, Ronaldo is still the Reds' leading scorer in the league with eight to his name, but the goals have been spread around with Berbatov, Ronaldo and Rooney on nine from all competitions, with Tevez just one behind. Nonetheless, creating and scoring goals is still a big problem for United.

United need to strive to find a way of creating more goal-scoring opportunities, because we have the players' who can finish. The Champions are still some way of their collective best, but last weekend against Chelsea we saw glimpses of what the team is capable of - the fans want to see much more of that and less of the nerve-racking late goal victories - but of course we will accept wins, no matter how they come about.

For their part, Liverpool fans will no doubt continue to hope that Fergie's big Red juggernaut ends the season in one big calamitous crash, just like in the movie Duel. United fans on the other hand, will be hoping that Liverpool and their supporters end the season having to once again rely on archive footage of former League Championship glories.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Manucho deal: Is Fergie going to sign another striker?

Sometimes you wonder what is going on in the mind of the wizard, aka, Sir Alex Ferguson. On Wednesday, United limped to a narrow one-nil victory over Wigan, courtesy of an early Wayne Rooney goal, but the Reds' hero sustained a hamstring injury and was replaced by Carlos Tevez.

Rooney is out of action for up three weeks - to make matters a whole lot worse, the Argentine was injured too in the same game. Now we learn that Manucho is going out on-loan to Hull City for the remainder of the season. However, it is also being reported that the Angolan hasn't yet received a work-permit, whether or not this has impacted on United's thinking in allowing the player to go on-loan is not yet clear.

Nonetheless, the decision to allow Manucho to leave at this juncture will no doubt baffle many United supporters, because it could potentially leave the Champions with just unproven youngster, Danny Welbeck, as the only recognised available striker to play alongside Dimitar Berbatov.

If this worst case scenario comes to fruition, the Champions will have no cover on the bench at the Reebok stadium when they face Bolton Wanderers on Saturday, in what is always a hard-fought contest.

It could also be the case that having taken a good look at Manucho in training, Fergie has decided the Angolan is not quite yet up to playing for United's first-team, but if that is so and with all the problems over Carlos Tevez and with the Champions still in the hunt for four trophies this season, then just perhaps Fergie will have to make a move to sign another striker in the current transfer window.

United have struggled to score goals this season and the manager has been gambling when having just three strikers' to choose from. Giggs and Ronaldo are not strikers', but in an emergency they can be pressed into action to support Berbatov, which is what I expect will happen on Saturday against Bolton.

The Reds' have worked hard to fight their way to second place in the table, this after a slow start to the campaign which saw them in the wrong half of the Premier League in the early part of the season. Having clawed their way to the shoulders of leaders Liverpool it would be criminal to allow the momentum to stop due to a lack of fire-power.

Last weekend United crushed Chelsea and the hope was that result and performance would be the perfect springboard to launch a full-bloodied goal-laden assault in the title race, but you get the feeling that, for now at least, United will have to continue to scrape to narrow victories.

United fans have faith in Fergie, and no doubting once again our nerves will be shredded at the season's end, let's just keep on hoping it's another glorious one...keep the faith.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why we should all admire Scolari after United hammering...

I cannot even remember when Chelsea last lost by three goals to nil, which is what happened at Old Trafford on Sunday in what was a very important Premier League game. Since that crushing defeat Chelsea fans have, according to reports, been saying for a while that they were not playing well and unlikely to win the title and this after a great start to the season under new coach Big Phil Scolari.

Jose Mourinho was always going to be a tough act to follow, but the general consensus was that if anyone had a chance of pulling it off then it was the Brazilian. In the early weeks of the season, the press were full of praise for the new Chelsea; their players were free of their shackles and allowed to express themselves. The press were saying "Jose, who"?

However, since the turn of the year things haven't gone well for the new coach and his team amidst talk of dressing room unrest, and so followers of Chelsea were not that surprised when United ran out comfortable winners at the weekend.

The United result was damaging for Scolari and his team, the press have been predictably hovering and looking for reasons behind this slump.

When he first arrived in England, the media weren't sure if Scolari could speak any English at all, here again this would be another battle for the Brazilian given that Mourinho was a copy writers dream. However, big Phil soon allayed those fears when giving his first press-conference in English.

In the wake of the United defeat and ahead of Chelsea's FA Cup replay with Southend, Scolari was once again asked about if "communication" was a problem, clearly this was another jibe at the Brazilian's ability to speak English.

Refreshingly, rather make excuses, or throw his teddy out of the pram, Scolari his taken personal responsibility for trying to change the pattern of the United game when sending on a second striker at half-time, which he now concedes opened up the midfield.

At this juncture you do wonder what the Chelsea fans will be thinking and saying about Scolari, because back in August and the early part of the season they were full of praise for this "new Chelsea".

Pragmatism was out in favour sexy football - but you cannot have it both ways, and so you do wonder if the same fans who were bigging up Phil are now wishing that Jose was still in charge.

Personally, I'd be more than happy to see Chelsea drop back into mid-table mediocrity where they were before the Russian pitched-up and there are signs that he has grown bored of his West London play-thing.

As for Scolari and Chelsea, the result at Old Trafford on Sunday was good for football - what else do you expect from a United fan? However, it might not be good for the Brazilian if this poor run continues. Whatever happens at Chelsea, I admire Scolari more than I did before United's second-half demolition job.

When the Brazilian first arrived in England we were told that he was hard-man, but in his press conference this week he has shown honesty and he has taken the blame for what happened on the chin which makes a change for the better in the current blame culture.

Scolari takes rap for United defeat - he could have blamed Ballack et al - but he didn't

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Time for Ronaldo to tell truth about Real Madrid rumours....

Here's the good news. Cristiano Ronaldo has been voted FIFA World Player of the Year. It is well deserved and there's no need to debate that fact.

Now the bad news, despite Ronaldo recently stating there's no agreement with Florentino Perez to join Real Madrid in the summer of 2009, Spanish rumour monger Guillem Balague is claiming that the Portuguese winger will join Real as his agent has an agreement with Ramon Calderon.

United fans are sick and tired of hearing about this story and it's disappointing that it looks like we will have to put up with this tiresome saga again this summer.

Balague has added the rider that Ferguson is a major obstacle in the way of any potential deal.

While I'd like to completely dismiss this story, sadly I obviously cannot because it is the second time within the space of a week that it has surfaced, what's more, Ronaldo hasn't been at his deadly best this season, he looks to be holding back slightly, but he remains a very important player. It is therefore likely that Ferguson's resolve to keep the player will remain as strong as ever.

The United manager and Reds fans around the world will not be best pleased to learn that Balague is suggesting Ronaldo and his agent have a sealed this agreement with Ramon Calderon, and that the player is now prepared to request a transfer from Manchester United.

It is time for Ronaldo to tell truth about his future intentions.

Monday, January 12, 2009

United in pole position with bookies

Manchester United are the new Premier League favourites after destroying Cheslea 3-0 at Old Trafford on Sunday.
The champions brushed aside a blunt Chelsea challenge and netted three times - the first time they had scored more than one goal in a league game since smashing Stoke 5-0 in November.
Goals from Nemanja Vidic, Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov saw off the challenge of Luiz Felipe Scolari's men, who admitted afterwards that if his team had many more similar off days they would be out of the title race.
The Reds Devils are still a point behind the second-placed Blues and five points behind the leaders Liverpool, but they do have two games in hand on both those sides and the football odds compilers now have United odds-on to retain their crown.
It certainly was a dominant and powerful performance and Fergie's men restricted Chelsea to very few if any real attempts at goal.
It will have been a warning sign for Liverpool too, who could only manage a goalless draw with Stoke, with the Merseysiders due at Old Trafford on March 14.

"It is a significant result for us," said Fergie.

"We are chasing Liverpool and we are a bit nearer now. If our home form remains good we will have a great chance."

Why "disturbed" Benitez needs to be told to shut up....

Relations between United and Liverpool have been, at best, tetchy down the years, but for the fans it has been a case of bitter hatred which has all too often resulted in blood being spilt. That situation is in serious danger of becoming further inflamed following the Liverpool manager's continued attack on Ferguson and Manchester United.

Not satisfied with making incendiary accusations about the United manager, Benitez has now turned his fire on David Gill when hinting that his sphere of influence is too wide.

Before I get into David Gill's role at United, I'd like to remind you what Fergie said about Liverpool. The United manager made the perfectly reasonable suggestion that Liverpool might get "nervous" in the title run-in, given they were entering uncharted waters. That was it, nothing more. But it was enough to send Benitez into rant mode - warp factor six and counting.

It isn't surprising that Benitez has been receiving support from sections of the press, this is in no small part down to the fact that Fergie is the ONLY manager who dishes out bans ahead of his press briefings, as was the case of the three hacks sat around Brian Woolnough's, Sunday Supplement breakfast table yesterday morning.

Joe Lovejoy (Sunday Times), Andy Dunn (News of the World) and John Richardson (Daily Mail) confirmed that they'd all been banned by Fergie at one time or another. Lovejoy was keen to back Benitez, when stating that someone needed to 'stand up' to Fergie's bullying.

However, other than the 'crime' of banning mischief-making hacks, the assembled scribes were hard-pressed to back-up any charges against Fergie and United save for the Reds' manager recently getting off an FA charge on a technicality, but again they did not further expand on the detail of the case in which Fergie was eventually found not guilty.

Lovejoy says that the FA are frightened of United's legal team. However, like Benitez, the Sunday Times journalist could not back-up his claims with any hard facts. With that said, it is an accepted fact that Fergie is a bully, it is part of his management style. It is also a fact that all managers’ badger referees’ only a complete liar and total hypocrite would argue otherwise.

How many times down the years have opposing managers’ complained about the number of penalties given for Liverpool at Anfield? IT is exactly the same situation at Old Trafford for United, but as we saw against Chelsea yesterday and contrary to the popular myth, United do not always get the big decisions - because Ronaldo was denied a clear first-half penalty.

It is not surprising that a retired, rent-a-quote referee, is supporting Rafa’s rant. Did anyone seriously expect anything else? All too often these officials wrongly believe that they are the star's of the show.

It is the very same retired referees' who also wrongly believe that they have something important to say, hence penning their tiresome memoirs when the gravy train comes to a halt. Anything to earn an extra few bob and slamming Fergie is easy money, isn't it?

As for the role of David Gill at United and his wider circle of interest, if Benitez knew what he was actually talking about then he might be very satisfied with David Gill and his work...

Benitez has been keen to talk about facts. Well here's a few for him to consider concerning notable events, United the FA and our stars.

1995: United voluntarily banned Eric Cantona for the remaining three months of the season following is infamous kung-fu kick. The club hoped their ban would appease the FA, but instead they imposed their own nine month ban on Eric plus a record £20,000 fine.

2003: Rio Ferdinand failed to attend a drug test. The defender claimed he had forgotten because he was preoccupied. The FA imposed an eight month ban from January 2004 at club and international level and a £50,000 fine, he missed the rest of the league season and some of the next along with all of Euro 2004. United appealed against the verdict and sought to draw parallels to the case of Manchester City player Christian Negouai, who was fined £2,000 for missing a test. However, the FA upheld their original ban.

More recently, Patrice Evra was banned for four-matches for an off the pitch incident at Stamford Bridge which occurred last April and he didn't even take any part in the Chelsea game.

In the current season, United have complained bitterly about this season's fixture list in which the Champions had to play all of the top teams away from home in the first-half of the season, added to which the Reds had difficult away games following each and every Champions League away game. Even Arsene Wenger had to concede that this was unfair on United...

So all things considered, many United fans believe that David Gill et al are doing a fairly rubbish job of looking after the club's interests where officialdom is concerned. David Davies, formerly of the FA and a big United fan, has gone on record stating that rather than helping the club with his red connections, as was the popular misconception, in practise it works the other way around because the FA more often than not are keen to make an example of United and their players because of their lofty status.

No doubt all of the above will not stop the many crack-pipe smoking / lunatic conspiracy theorists supporters of Benitez continuing to text-in, half-arsed, egg-on messages to the "disturbed" one. Nonetheless, it needs to stop now, before matters get out of hand between the two sets of supporters who need little or no excuse for fisty-cuffs.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Fergie shuffles pack but Reds still thrash Chelsea...

Many United fans will no doubt have been dismayed on hearing the team news ahead of the visit of Chelsea. United had to make do without Rio Ferdinand again, due to another back spasm, as if that was bad enough there was no Michael Carrick or Paul Scholes in midfield, but after his midweek performance at Pride Park the latter came as no surprise.

The midfield trio consisted of Fletcher - who is usually selected whenever United face Chelsea - Ryan Giggs and Ji Sung Park. The Reds midfield threesome combined well on the day, but on paper before the game kicked-off it simply did not look right with no obvious ball-player in the engine room.

Fergie had by the looks of it, decided that what he needed for the challenge of Chelsea was fresh legs in midfield. As things turned out, it was a gamble that paid-off handsomely with Giggs and Park running their hearts out for the Champions, so much so that Park came close to winning my man-of-the-match vote. Yes, there were times during this game when the South Korean gifted possession back to Chelsea cheaply, as he so often does, but then on other first-half occasion he linked up well with Ronaldo, Park would have scored if it hadn't been for John Terry's sliding block on the edge of the Chelsea six-yard box.

Park's performance epitomised the spirit United needed today, it was a case of bollock bursting none stop effort from start to finish and he wasn't the only one in the Red shirt to give his all, with Giggs and Fletcher getting about Chelsea whenever required.

As is often the case when United meet Chelsea, it was a midfield battle in the first-half, it was also a fairly even contest with neither side creating much in the way of clear cut goal scoring chances.

However, once again card-happy Howard Webb had a poor game when refereeing this fixture. Webb denied United a cast-iron first-half penalty when Carvalho clearly man-handled Ronaldo to the ground inside the Chelsea 18-yard-box. Bizarrely, Webb then booked Ronaldo and the Chelsea defender and gave the visitors a free-kick, this after he'd had the benefit of a clear view of the foul. Webb needs to be shown a video-clip of the incident and he really should be offering a explanation for what was an truly rank-bad awful decision.

There was yet more controversy to follow, as just before half-time the Champions took a quick corner on the right and Ronaldo nodded home a Giggs cross beyond the reach of Cech - only for the goal to be disallowed because Rooney had not told the officials he was taking a quick short corner. Fergie later disputed that the officials needed to be told, which only added to the confusion. As things turned out, United scored from the retaken corner when man-of-the-match Vidic scored with a towering header at the far post to give Fergie's team a well deserved half-time lead.

It came as no surprise when at half-time Scolari sent on Anelka who replaced the totally ineffective Deco. It changed nothing, as United took an even stronger grip on the game as the second period progressed. It came as no surprise when the Champions doubled their advantage after good work by Ronaldo, who was having another fairly quiet game. In the 63 minute, the Portuguese winger cleverly flicked the ball to another man-of-the-match candidate Patrice Evra. The Frenchman's superb cross found Wayne Rooney, who finished in the best possible way when slamming home the ball from in between the legs of Ashley Cole - it really doesn't get any sweeter than that.

From that point onwards it looked as though United might get three or even four and a rout was beginning to look on the cards. On 87 minutes, Ronaldo won the Red Devils a free-kick on the left, deep inside the Chelsea half after he was hacked down twice by substitute Belletie. From the resulting free-kick Vidic blocked-off the challenge's of John Terry and then Di Santo which allowed Berbatov room to run to the near post unchallenged and then smash home the killer third goal.

Anyone who saw this performance, perhaps other than a diehard Chelsea fan will likely tell you that this defeat could be telling and possibly even crushing for Scolari's team and their title hopes.

The defeat changes little in terms of league positions at this stage of the season, all is still to play for both United and Chelsea, but the manner of the defeat will worry followers of Chelsea as there was no response or fight-back and most damning of all, the visitors had no shots on target but I'd put much of that down to United's back four who were magnificent today.

Make no mistake though, Chelsea's hack friends in the press will be after Scolari's blood following this thrashing by the Champions. Jose Mourinho was sat in the Old Trafford stands and you do wonder what he made of it all, no doubting we shall hear all about that over the coming days following this dusting by the Champions.

The result will have on-looking Liverpool fans worried and they have every right to be concerned given that the Champions are starting to look ominous and this after Fergie had made some surprise changes to his team.

Rafa Benitez, had prior to the game, tried to influence the referee when suggesting that United and Fergie get away with murder, well the tables have been well and truly turned and the pressure is now very much on the Spaniard and his title chasing pretenders.

One nil to Fergie in Benitez war of words...

The general consensus of the media, while many agree with the points raised in Rafa's double rant at Fergie is that the United manager has scored a victory, because Benitez has responded, in so doing, Liverpool needed to win at Stoke City on Saturday and of course that did not happen.

The press reaction to the 0-0 scoreline at the Britannia Stadium was greeted with headlines like "Cracking Up!” According former Liverpool captain Alan Hansen, the result has only served to increase the pressure on Benitez and his team following his bizarre rant at the United manager, who hadn't said anything which warranted such an outburst.

Let us remember that Fergie had simply stated that Liverpool are heading into uncharted waters in this season's title race and so they might well get nervous. There is nothing that provocative or wrong about that, the Red Devils manager was responding to questions from journalists. But it is true enough; there is often method behind Fergie's words. However, the FA has confirmed that they will be looking at the Liverpool manager's carefully worded rant this week. FA to investigate Rafa Rant.

On the wider issue of Benitez receiving moral support for his one man crusade against Fergie. Apart from the fact that the Liverpool manager is wrong when stating that Fergie always gets away with it, many in the media have personal axes to grind with the United manager because they have been banned from attending Fergie's press conferences. So it comes as no surprise that the Liverpool manager has been receiving moral support for his rant - even if many view the outburst as an own goal.

Ferguson appears to thrive on confrontation, it is a part of his management style, he will not back down from a fight when he believes he is right as the BBC have discovered to their cost.

The remainder of the season will be very interesting and of course later today United take on Chelsea, but given Liverpool's result yesterday, both teams will not be too concerned about the result at Old Trafford.

Benzema to United: Fact or fiction?

IF and it's a very big if, we are to believe the all too often desperate Sunday tabloid press, then United have decided that Lyon's Karem Benzema is the man who will eventually replace Carlos Tevez. Predictably though, there's not a shred of evidence to support this latest transfer tale.

We the fans cannot totally rule out that there is some truth behind this latest story, because it's a well known fact that clubs will often allow the media to do their bidding for them when tipping-off selected journalists ahead of a big money transfer. The News of the World have tagged the story as an "exclusive" - which must be the most over used term in the paper's football pages.

It also cannot rule that Benzema's name has simply been hacked out of a potential list of summer transfer targets, with a view to creating a back-page splash headline in a bid to increasing today's Sunday sales figures.

Personally, I have my doubts about Benzema signing for United, reason being, he is hot property and so he has the pick of Europe and what's more he's been quoted saying that he'd like to play in Italy. Real Madrid and Barcelona are said to be interested.

There is also the question of the transfer fee. It's well documented that Lyon's owner has put a huge price-tag on the player's head. United are reportedly balking at paying £32m for Tevez. If we believe the Lyon president, we will end up paying a lot more for Benzema and so I simply do not see that happening.

My money is on United agreeing a deal with Tevez and his agent, at least that is what I hope happens.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Marcotti guilty of instigating Ronaldo to Madrid reports?

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have little time for our sports writers, but I'm almost always fascinated by Gabriele Marcotti's depth of knowledge on the European scene. So it was with some interest that I read his latest report in The Times yesterday in which he claimed that Cristiano Ronaldo's agent Jorge Mendes has, according to reports in Spain, agreed to join Real Madrid at some point. There's nothing new about this story, United fans are sick and tired of it, as is Fergie who recently said he wouldn't sell the Spanish club a virus.

Despite the fact Ronaldo's form has dipped this season, I along with many fans want to see the player committing his future to United and fresh talk of a move to Madrid is not welcome, as tiresome as it is.

In a bid to seek out the original source of this latest story I have been trawling the net. My first port of call was the tissue of lies and half-truths that is, but the only reference to the story is a link to Marcotti's piece in The Times. There's no mention of the story in El Mundo. Further which it seems that the story has indeed been created by Marcotti and or a Daily Mail hack. Spanish football sports.

It could well be the case that the story has come by way of Marcotti's European links and for whatever reason the author decided that the origin of the report was Spain. However, if Marcotti has penned the story, it seems a bit odd that he isn't claiming an exclusive. Could it be the case that The Times does not want to been seen as an English version of Marca?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Rafa Benitez beginning to crack under pressure...

So then it looks like Rafa Benitez has become the latest victim to be taken for a ride in Fergie's wind-up machine. In time honoured fashion, the United manager has baited a title rival, this time it's the turn of the 'Merseyside Reds' when stating that they would likely crack under the pressure of being top of the table.

The Liverpool manager was asked about Ferguson's comments at the Friday press briefing prior this weekend's Premier League fixture with Stoke City. Benitez, clearly rattled by Fergie's comments hit back when stating wrongly that Ferguson is the only manager who can get away with making comments about referees'. However, the Spaniard completely contradicted himself when quoting that Fergie has been disciplined this season when he was given a two-game touchline ban. This makes complete nonsense of Rafa’s claim.

Benitez went further when suggesting that referee Steve Bennett has been kind to Manchester United down the years when favouring the Champions. United fans will recall that Bennett denied United what looked like a perfectly good goal in the FA Cup final against Chelsea. Bennett has also sent Ronaldo off, not once but twice. In short and in response to Rafa's misguided claims, Steve Bennett is simply a bad referee and he's no friend of United or Liverpool.

Fergie will no doubt be chuckling to himself on hearing about Rafa's outburst, so expect more of the same in the next few weeks. Fergie's wind-up machine looks set to run and run into the New Year.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Nani must go, as Derby defeat gives Fergie much to ponder...

Let's get one thing straight, Manchester United do not like losing semi-finals as happened when they went down 1-0 to Derby County at Pride Park last night, in the much maligned Carling Cup, it was a result which will have hurt the Champions.

As expected, Fergie fielded a young team, but it was one that also included Paul Scholes, Carlos Tevez, Anderson and Nani.

To say that United were disappointing would be a gross understatement. United were rubbish pretty much throughout and make no mistake the performances of several players will have given the United manager a lot to think about regarding their futures - if hasn't then something is wrong - because it was that bad.

After the final whistle Fergie admitted that the Reds' were lucky to lose by just the one goal, it could have been much worse. Fergie even went as far as saying it was a "great result" - which is stretching the point but, we knew what the manager meant under the circumstances.

Fergie was asked if the 'kids' will be given another chance in the second-leg of the semi-final at Old Trafford at this point he more or less blamed the poor result on the senior players' - namely Paul Scholes - as he was the only senior player on duty in the United engine room which hadn't performed well on the night.

Nonetheless, it was slightly surprising that it was Scholes who was the first to be substituted when he was replaced by Ronaldo on 63 minutes. Fergie made two further changes when taking off Anderson for Carrick and then Welbeck for Rooney.

The changes did affect the flow of the game, but still United were unable to create any decent chances from open play and so the Reds' had to rely on Ronaldo's free-kicks - but the Portuguese star failed to hit the target which is criminal for a player with his reputation.

Fergie defended the performance of Danny Welbeck, when saying that he'd had no service. Personally and with the danger of being accused of going over the top, I thought Welbeck was awful. True enough the service was poor, but when the United youngster was on the ball his first touch was like that of baby elephant. What's more, his movement off the ball was poor. I have to admit that I don't watch United's youth team or even the reserves, but based on what I saw last night I don't expect Welbeck to make it at United because he isn't good enough - but I will add that I hope I'm proven wrong on that score.

If the performance of Welbeck was poor, it wasn't nearly as unacceptable as that of Nani who was once again dire throughout. United fans must be sick and tired of seeing Nani waste possession - his crossing from corners is pathetic. It can only be a matter of time before Fergie decides enough is enough and the club cuts its losses on a player who is little more than a show pony. Quite how Nani remained on the pitch for 90 minutes beggars belief.

While we are on the subject of poor decision-making by the manager, playing Gibson on the right wing was so wrong it stood out like tits on a bull. Only when Gibson was switched into central midfield late on did he look at home.

As for Carlos Tevez, he looks as though he has given up trying to impress the manager and the writing looks to be on the wall, an exit surely beckons - but here again if this comes to fruition the club needs to have a long hard look at the way they've handled the Argentine, not least because United will have pay through the nose when they eventually replace Tevez, if indeed he moves on as now I expect.

Paul Scholes was pretty anonymous on the night and this against a team who only just narrowly avoided defeat to non-league Forest Green in the FA Cup at the weekend. Sadly, it looks like time is running out for Scholes, who can no longer be expected to be the magnificent midfield general that he has been over the last decade. If Fergie cannot see this then I'd be surprised, but given the manager's post-match comments it was pretty clear that Scholes had been marked down as the major culprit where failure was concerned against Derby. Added to which the very fact that Scholes started the game seems to indicate that he is now playing second-fiddle to Carrick and possibly Fletcher too.

Of the starting front six that faced Derby County, only Anderson came out of the game with any degree of credit, but Gibson did ok in the last twenty minutes. The back four were a bit shaky at times and so Fergie will be glad that Evra is back from suspension in time for the visit of Chelsea.

Derby thoroughly deserved their victory and if they play like that in the second leg, do not rule a major shock for the Champions. Technically, the Rams were more than a match for the Reds' and their players collectively wanted it more.

24 hours to forget for Ronaldo

It's not been a good 24 hours for Cristiano Ronaldo.
After failing to inspire United from the bench on Wednesday night in the Carling Cup defeat by Derby the winger this morning 'wrote off' his Ferrari in a tunnel near Manchester Airport.
He was uninjured in the incident which happed just after 10am and was spoken to by police at the scene.
A Greater Manchester Police spokesman confirmed no-one was injured in the incident.

A statement read: "At about 10.20am police were called to the A538 Wilmslow Road near to Manchester Airport following reports of a road traffic collision.

"Officers attended and discovered a Ferrari had collided with a barrier.

"No one is believed to have been injured. Inquiries are continuing."

The club have confirmed the collision and said: "He's fine and is training as normal with the team this morning."

The 23-year-old, along with Wayne Rooney, was a second-half substitute in the 1-0 first-leg defeat at Pride Park but he was unable to fire United level although he did come agonisingly close with a trademark free-kick.

Former Red Devils keeper Roy Carroll was rooted to the spot as Ronaldo's 25-yard effort whistled just the wrong side of the post.

Sir Alex's men are still odds on to reach the final at Wembley and are football odds of 1.8 to win the trophy with the likely opponents Harry Redknapp's Spurs after their 4-1 demolition of Burnley in the first leg.

Fergie admitted he thought United were lucky not to have been beaten by a heavier margin after failing to create many significant goalscoring chances.

And then he cleverly switched the negative result into a positive by saying: "We were so bad and Derby will rue the fact they didn't score more."

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

United's broken promises to Tevez will cost them dearly...

So then, what are we to believe regarding the future of Carlos Tevez? One minute he says he wants to stay at United, the next day he is quoted in the media saying he's open to the idea of moving to Real Madrid. Incidentally, I don't have a problem with players' being honest about wanting to join a club like Real Madrid, if indeed those quotes are accurate, because at least Tevez is being honest, unlike a former United hero who worked his ticket out of Old Trafford and then tried to blame it all on United.

The Argentinean striker has also spoken of his love for the United fans and he says that they deserve to know the truth. According to Tevez, the truth is that United haven't so far backed up their numerous promises about cementing his future at the club.

Forgetting the fact that we the fans do not know the whole truth behind this sorry saga and if worst case Tevez is allowed to join Real Madrid in the current transfer window, it could be potentially disastrous for United's ambitions of securing yet more silverware this season.

United currently have just three strikers to choose from, we can forget Welbeck and Manucho, they are not ready for the first-team. So if Tevez leaves will be down to the bare bones and if that happens frankly it will be unacceptable for a club the size of Manchester United. At this point in time, there has been no suggestion that Tevez will be allowed to leave in January, more likely it will happen this coming summer when his short-term contract expires.

If however, Tevez is allowed to leave in January the club will have to replace him and there's no obvious readily available targets and even if there was anyone available, going off previous form United would end up paying a lot more than the said player's true worth as was the case with Berbatov, Nani, Carrick and many others down the years.

I'm beginning to wonder if United actually have the money to complete the Tevez deal. We have to remember that Manchester City forced the club into paying between £5m and £10m over the odds for Berbatov when they revealed their interest on transfer deadline day, into the bargain Spurs had United's collective trousers down (again) when demanding Campbell be part of the deal.

Whatever the financial situation at United at this juncture, if Tevez leaves those broken promises will cost the club dearly, because who else with the Champions buy? Even if the Reds' wait until next summer there's very few top quality potential targets and so wouldn't it be better to keep a player like Tevez who has fitted in extremely well? I'm hoping that United can agree a deal with Tevez and his agent, because for me he is the best available option and so allowing him to leave would be complete and utter madness.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Should Giggs retire along with Scholes and Neville?

When you have been an integral part of the United first-team for as long as Ryan Giggs, it must be hard to accept becoming a squad player, which is precisely what has happened to the Welshman over the last couple of seasons. Giggs has pretty much been an ever-present whenever Fergie has played his strongest side. No more, because these days nothing is certain where selection issues are concerned, it is the same situation for "club captain", Gary Neville and Paul Scholes.

So it comes as no surprise that Ryan Giggs has stated he might retire at the end of the current season. According to the media, Manchester United are 'stunned' at this news. Well I am not, because I can totally understand why Giggs is saying that now might be the time to go.

True enough, Giggs can still do a job for the Champions, he's had some good games this season, but he obviously he feels that the end of his illustrious United career is in sight.

A part of Giggs may well feel that he's blocking the progress of younger players at the club. I am thinking of Park and Nani - but in my opinion, neither are fit to lace the boots of Giggs. I'd be quite happy to see Park and or Nani sold in the summer, as neither player is capable of delivering consistently.

I have torn my hair out at Ryan Giggs over the years when his crossing has let him down - but Nani is far worse as he is hopelessly wasteful when in possession. As for Park, he is just a headless chicken, his work-rate cannot be faulted, but a footballer he is not. Unlike Giggs, the South Korean lacks composure whenever a goal-scoring opportunity comes his way, he is the proverbial rabbit caught in the headlights and what's more unlike Giggs he cannot see a subtle pass.

Then we come to Carlos Tevez, he is another who is talking openly about leaving, but his situation is very different from that of Nani and Park, they've both been signed on longer term contracts whereas the Argentine is still waiting for United to come up with enough money to secure a deal.

I suspect Giggs, Scholes and Neville will hang around until Fergie calls it a day and from the outside looking in, I think the three of them have accepted that they are no longer first-choice picks. Nonetheless, it doesn't make it any easier for the veteran star trio to play second fiddle to younger players on match-days.

When David Beckham left United, it was a tragic mess, the whole thing was handled badly by his agents and as a result many Reds' were livid with a player who'd given so much in the Red shirt. I can tell you exclusively that before Beckham was eventually sold, United sent a high-powered club official to meet a group of hardcore United fans to find out what the likely reaction would be to the news in the event of the player being sold.

The said official was told that there would be no fan backlash, because like the club they blamed the Beckham camp for not signing that new contract and this in turn was conveyed back to United's decision-makers. Beckham was eventually sold to Real Madrid - there was no angry reaction from the fans - many were actually seething with Beckham and his camp for trying to suggest it was the club who'd done wrong, when all along it was the other way around.

In sharp contrast to Beckham; when Giggs, Scholes and Neville eventually leave United they will do so with their heads held high because they are, almost uniquely these days, one club players. They are special, because that club happens to be the biggest and best in the world.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Nothing saintly about Southampton, in men against boys cup-tie......

For the opening twenty minutes of United's FA Cup tie with Southampton it was for the most part a fairly decent contest which managed to keep the St Mary's crowd on the edge of the collective seats. That was until John O'Shea was allowed a free header from a corner which was initially well saved by Davis, before Danny Welbeck nodded home the opening goal of what turned out to be a one-sided contest. From that point on it was pretty much all downhill for Southampton's young team. Paterson was rightly red-carded on 37 minutes for a horror tackle on Nemanja Vidic - make no mistake, it was a potential leg breaker, save for the Serb's shin-pads.

Many of Southampton's victorious team from the epic 1976 FA Cup final were there to see this latest encounter between these two clubs. Many of them will have been totally bewildered at what they saw, because this current Southampton team lacks experience, so much so that it was almost frightening at times. It should have been a day when United needed no help from referee Mike Riley, but it didn't stop the official from awarding the Reds' a penalty for handball just three minutes into the second half - which Nani converted and in so doing further angering an already unhappy home crowd.

Rooney came on for a late cameo performance and he supplied the killer ball for Gibson, another second substitute, to deliver the final nail in Southampton's FA Cup coffin.

On a day when it was all a little too easy for the Champions, Fergie will have learnt little from this FA Cup tie, the same cannot be said for Southampton who are flirting with relegation in the Championship.

Next up, United take on struggling Derby County in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final at Pride Park. The Rams only just scraped beyond the FA Cup challenge of non-league Forest Green when winning by the odd goal in seven, whether or not that result will have any bearing on Fergie's selection plans will be interesting to find out. Do not be surprised if United field a young team in midweek ahead of the biggest game of the season in Europe so far, when United take on Chelsea on Sunday at Old Trafford. If United can take all three points it will give the Champions the perfect start to the second-half of the season.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

United's new star signings come two by two...

It's very refreshing to see that even though Fergie cannot be long off retiring, he is still trying to build for United's future with the double signing of Zoran Tosic, 21 and Adem Ljajic, 17. It was at this time last year that Fergie agreed the deal for the da Silva brothers. After some red-tape issues the Brazilians eventually arrived at Old Trafford in July along with Rodrigo Possebon.

Rafael and Possebon have proven that you can acquire good players in January and the Reds' will be hoping that their latest signings prove to be as good as their young South Americans.

United wrapped up the signing of Tosic and Ljajic just as soon as the January transfer window opened, amidst talk of interest from Real Madrid and Manchester City - the latter, despite their new found wealth had no chance of hi-jacking the deal. According to United's Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic, the Partizan Belgrade stars' couldn't wait to join the Champions.

Zoran Tosic who plays wide left is seen as the long-term successor to Ryan Giggs and Fergie has hinted that he will play some part in the current season, depending on how quickly he adjusts to the pace of training and the special demands of playing in England. One thing is for certain, United will not rush Tosic into action as there's no need given the galaxy of stars' at the manager's disposal.

Reports have suggested that the arrival of the Serb duo could signal the end for Nani and Park Ji Sung, but Fergie has played down this speculation when confirming that the South Korean will be given a new contract.

The fact is that as far as Nani and Park are concerned money talks and if Tosic does well then I wouldn't rule out United accepting a summer offer for either player.

Adem Ljajic, who plays on the right side of midfield, will spend another season playing for Partizan before moving to United. The transfer fee both players’ could eventually rise to £16.3m, but the deal is target related and so it could be a lot less, depending on how both players' fair.

When Fergie eventually retires he will leave us with many fantastic memories, that day could turn out to be some time off, but no one is sure. As recent events have proven, one thing is for certain, the manager is still working tirelessly to sign the best talent from around the globe.

Finally, Fergie has also announced that Gary Neville will be rewarded with a new deal, here again there has been talk of interest from rival clubs, including Everton - somehow I cannot see Neville moving to Scouseland.

Did the Premier League Fixture List Working Party really stitch-up United?

Fergie has once again opened up the debate about this season's fixture list by stating that the process has handicapped United's bid to retain the title. It's actually not difficult to see why Fergie's has a major gripe given that the Champions have had to play all the leading contenders for the title away from home in the first half of the season, added to which United were drawn away from home following each and every Champions League away fixture.

The fixtures are initially created by a special piece of software, but they then have to be agreed by a Working Party. And it's at this point that human input comes into play with various bodies including the Police and the Premier League having their say, but importantly we are told that the overriding factor is "the luck of the draw". United are so incensed by this season's fixture list that club secretary Ken Ramsden has since joined the said Working Party. Fergie has hinted that the club want to see how the process works, but the United manager stopped short of calling it a fix when saying "They tell me it's not planned - bloody hell!”

The Reds have yet to win against any of the accepted top four challengers' so far this season, but they will be hoping to put that right when United meet Chelsea at Old Trafford next weekend.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Berbatov the enigma, Fergie and the role of Tevez...

Having seen so many strikers' with hitherto big reputations sign for United and then go on to fail to impress, I like many other Reds' have some concerns over Dimitar Berbatov following his performances for the Champions since he put pen to paper at the end of August.

In terms of goals, so far the former Spurs striker has notched just seven. United fans of my age will recall that it took Gary Birtles a full season to score his first league goal when he signed back in 1980 - now that is a record that no big name striker would want. Birtles eventually scored just 12 goals before he was sold back to his former club Nott's Forest for a knockdown fee.

Although Berbatov hasn't so far managed to meet the fans' huge expectations since his big money move to United, he has made a vital contribution in the Reds' last two fixtures. Against Stoke City on Boxing Day the Bulgarian came off the bench to lay on the only goal of the game for Carlos Tevez, then against Boro he scored a vital match-winner which kept the Champions title hopes alive.

In United's last two Premier League games, while the Bulgarian has been instrumental when making vital contributions at the same time questions have been raised about his lack of involvement, especially against Boro.

There can be little doubt that Ferguson will be both delighted and yet perplexed about the dilemma he faces with Berbatov, because the manager has other options at his disposal, namely Carlos Tevez. The Argentine has yet to agree a permanent contract with the club and so it was reassuring to see fresh quotes attributed to Tevez confirming his commitment to stay at United - if only a deal can be agreed soon.

Even though United have managed to win by the narrow margin of just one goal in their last couple of games, it is to hoped that Fergie has learnt something about the roles of both Tevez and Berbatov. Because as we saw against Stoke City, Berbatov can make a difference when coming on as a substitute and just perhaps this could in part be the key to yet more glory in the current campaign.

Striker rotation saw United lift that historic treble in 1999, but back then Fergie has four top stars to choose from, now he has just three. In theory at least anyway, keeping three stikers' happy shouldn't be that difficult, but given the galaxy of star names as his disposal, selection issues are rarely easy for Ferguson. Tevez, in the view of many supporters that I have spoken to, has been particularly unlucky in this respect and just maybe we will see more of the former West Ham star in the second-half of the season in which hopefully the Argentine and Bulgarian will play vital roles in helping the Champions retain the title and helping themselves to yet more trophies.

United fans to put skids under John Terry?

Well we are into the New Year folks and our first match of 2009 will be against Southampton in the FA Cup on Sunday. United fans will not need reminding of the significance of this fixture because the Saints inflicted one of the biggest shock results in English Cup history when Bobby Stokes broke our collective Red hearts in the final back in 1976 when scoring the only goal of the game. The encounter this weekend represents something a banana skin for the Champions, especially as reports claim Fergie is likely to rest several players' in readiness for the visit of Chelsea the following weekend.

The clash with Chelsea will be without doubt United's biggest game of the season so far and it will be the first time that John Terry will have played at Old Trafford since his penalty miss in Moscow last May, which gifted the Reds the Champions League. Ahead of the Chelsea clash United fans are being encouraged to buy inflatable bananas you can read all about it here. United fans set to remind Terry of his banana skin slip