Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Will it be quintuple or bust for United?

United supporters will no doubt be eagerly awaiting the coming weekend and a return to Premier League action after what has seemed like an eternity due to the international break - which to me, seems to have really dragged on. It could well be the case that the defeats against Liverpool and then Fulham have made the break seem even longer - whatever the reason every day has felt like "Groundhog day" with barely any news to report on, save for Fabio Capello's tiresome "crazy man" jibe at Rooney.

Then we had our old friend, the ever optimistic Arsene Wenger posing the question; will United recover from the Liverpool defeat? In seasons gone by when Arsenal have been fighting it out at the top of the table with United the press would have had their usual field-day on the back of what could have potentially been another "war of words" between Wenger and Fergie, but the Arsenal manager's dig at the champions wasn't ceased upon by our all too often sensationalist news hungry media.

However, on this occasion I actually believe that Wenger has asked a fair question; will United bounce back and go on to win the big prizes or will the season fizzle out like a flat pint of lager?

The quintuple is still on, but the difference compared to just a couple of weeks ago is barely anyone is talking about it now, which could be viewed as a blessed relief. Nonetheless, some United fans are deeply concerned about the current malaise, so much so that I was talking to a Red who'd travelled down to Fulham and his reaction to a second league defeat on the bounce was United will be lucky to win any of the three remaining trophies on offer; his verdict was actually far more pessimistic than that but because I don't share those views I'm not going to post his analysis of what may lie ahead.

My own view, and with the very real danger of falling into the trap of using too many clich├ęs and stating the bleeding obvious, is that it could go one of two ways - it will either go pear-shaped or it could be the season to end all seasons. If I'm being totally honest, at this juncture I'm leaning towards the former rather than the latter, there's many reasons why I have lost some of the confidence I had just a couple weeks ago.

Wenger is right to say that United might not recover from the Liverpool defeat, because they might not rediscover that record-breaking blistering form that saw them climb to the summit of the Premier League table.

For his part, Fergie, bless him, tried his best to convince anyone who'd listen that United were the better side - let us be honest, it was a ridiculous thing to say because if that 4-1 defeat was reversed and if Rafa had come out with the same claptrap we United fans would be demanding the men in white coats come to take him away, to the funny farm...ha, ha, he, he.

On this occasion, Fergie's views cannot be taken seriously regarding the Liverpool defeat, to make it even worse in the very next game when the manager had promised a response it duly arrived with the axing of Rooney and Tevez as United went on to lose two-nil against Fulham who we'd convincingly trounced in the FA Cup just a few weeks before.

In a strange way, the Fulham defeat was much worse than the loss to Liverpool, because United needed to bounce back, but they lost again, ok there was some mitigating circumstances like the Scholes sending off, which gave United a mountain to climb, and then Rooney eventually saw red, after receiving his second and unjust yellow card from hapless Phil Dowd.

Apart from those gut wrenching defeats, the worry is that player confidence is on the wane. Fergie hasn't really helped the situation by chopping and changing so much because even before those two defeats some United players will no doubt have been bewildered about Fergie's selection policy; I refer to the likes of Fletcher and Anderson, who are finding it hard to get a game.

Then we come to Vidic and Evra who until recent events have been sublime, but their collective confidence must have been badly shaken. That said, providing the midfield and forward line do their jobs I have no fears about the back four regarding what lies ahead. However, the midfield is the real worry - that and Ronaldo's apparent lack of interest. I cannot help but feel Ronaldo's time at United is coming to an end. I no longer see the desire required to play in Red from the World Player of the Year, to me he is simply going through the motions.

Fergie is over reliant on Ronaldo, but when you rely on one player too much, what do you do when he's not playing well? That is one of the dilemmas facing the United manager. Fergie has so far done a magnificent job this season, even if he's chopped and changed, his record shows that his policy has worked, that is until now. Because the United manager is going to have to use all of his powers and every trick in the book to ensure the champions have any real chance or retaining the trophies they won last May and the possibility of winning the FA Cup again.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sick and tired of the "crazy man" ****? How to beat International Groundhog week ......

IT's only when these god forsaken international breaks come around that you realise exactly how much Manchester United takes over your life. What is a man to do on a weekend with no club football? A bit of girly shopping perhaps? Decorating? Gardening? You cannot even read the papers because they are still full of crap stories about Capello and his "crazy man" jibe at Rooney. I actually despise sections of our media; these feelings are intensified where Ingerlund are concerned.

In a bid to fill in any spare time and to get away from football at such times, I've decided to start drawing and painting, yes really.... On that note, any likeminded fans who fancy a stab at winning a new United shirt can do so by entering the Republik of Mancunia Competition

To enter all you have to do is create an image using Microsoft Paint, here's one I did earlier..

...all say "ah" for those oh so golden memories...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pompus commentators miss point over Rooney red card....

It's been a tough couple of weeks for United having lost two important league games on the spin and having three players red carded into the bargain. Predictably, the ABU media are having a field day at the champions expense, but some of them are totally missing the point, especially over Wayne Rooney who was sent-off at Craven Cottage as United went on to lose two-nil last weekend.

Sadly, but again all too predictably, in the aftermath the focus hasn't been on the legitimacy of Rooney's second yellow card, which was at the core of the United striker's frustration, no, instead it has been on Rooney who punched the corner-flag on his way off the pitch and Fergie's after match comments on Phil Dowd. Sections of the media appeared to want to see further action taken against Rooney for what they see as petulance.

My own view is that far from further action being taken against Rooney, the one match ban should be rescinded because the player was throwing the ball back towards where the United free-kick would be taken.

Sure Rooney was upset, he had every right to be, but if Phil Dowd had taken a moment to consider the players reaction, he would have realised that it was an act of frustration, but instead the red mist descended as the referee totally lost his own composure and produced a yellow-card. A better referee would have taken Rooney to one side and explained why he had stopped the play when United were on the attack, but that is the crux of the matter, like too many of his colleagues Dowd is a poor referee.

It comes as no surprise to read various journalists having a pop at Rooney and United in the wake of the defeats at Craven Cottage and against Liverpool. Patrick Barclay, formerly of the Telegraph but now of The Times, wrote that the skull and crossbones flies over Old Trafford, as if that wasn't bad enough he went to suggest that Rooney should follow the example of Diego Maradona. Surely, the last thing Rooney needs is to start snorting Charlie?

I don't know if The Times are paying their new chief football commentator to write controversial articles in the wake of the Martin Samuel's defection to the Daily Mail, but judging by his early input Barclay appears to be heading in that direction. Though to be fair, unlike the all too often agenda setting / axe wielding Samuel - who I've never personally rated - Barclay for his part is not a fan of a top flight English club. Samuel is surely the ABUs journalist of choice, given what has at times appeared to be a one-man-crusade against all things Manchester United.
In contrast, although he suffers with pomposity, on this occasion, Barclay totally missed the central point, which is that it was Dowd who was wrong and it is he that should be censured not Rooney.

I wasn't so surprised to read the Manchester Evening news United correspondent, Stuart Mathieson, posing the question "are United losing their discipline?” On the back of three cards, it could be argued this is a fair question to ask, but the fact is that view is totally wide of the mark, but then again this is the very same local journalist who a few years ago proclaimed Beckham was staying only for him to be sold to Madrid the following week.

I digress, the Scholes handball left Dowd with no alternative but to send him off, the Vidic red card the weekend before was a little more controversial as some argue the Serbian wasn't the last man, but to suggest United are losing it is wrong. Manchester United are not a dirty team to even suggest it is plainly wrong and it says more about Mathieson's own credibility than it does about the integrity and discipline of the United players.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why Ronaldo would be mad to join Real Madrid...

Cristiano Ronaldo's "dream transfer" to Real Madrid has become a nightmare. In short, he would have to be blind and a complete idiot to even entertain such "fantasies". Going there might fulfil a boyhood ambition, but would certainly put an abrupt pause on his career.

Real Madrid are a side on the wane, they are trying to play Dutch football without a solid Dutch defensive backbone. They have talent to burn, but not enough quality squad players to allow their "flair" players any time to express themselves on the pitch. They can't afford to play with Huntelaar, Raul, Robben, Van der Vaart and Snjeider on the pitch at the same time, because none of them are ball winners, and good distributors of the ball. Their defence is decidedly shaky, and have many a time been salvaged but Iker Casillas or lady luck (via the woodwork).

With their club Presidential elections being held in the off season, some very wild and idiotic rumours are flying out of the Bernabeu, names such as Beckham and Roberto Carlos are being touted by leading candidates as players he would like to bring back to the club, as he no doubt tries to usher in "youthful" talent to return Real to the heights of their former glory days. True, experienced squad players are required, but players who actually contribute are more useful to the team effort, than 30-something has-beens. John Brewin of www.soccernet.com wrote last week that Ronaldo is comparable to the "1st violinist" at United, an important player, but the orchestra can go on without him. he also said that at Real, he would be pressured into creating and taking opportunities, being 1 of only 2 players (Robben) who have any real ability to carve up opponents. I couldn't agree more. At United, Ronaldo is like a fine wine, good by itself, or even better with a good meal. At Real, he would become cheap liquor, only good to get you drunk, then sick.

Surrounded by the best players, Ronaldo will no doubt improve upon his already vast talents. A 40+ goal season, from the "new" Ronaldo is almost impossible. So much so, I'd like to go so far as saying, that if it shouldn't happen, it would rank as a failure for him to do so. The "new" Ronaldo is a passer of the ball, a technically gifted, athletic, fleet-of-foot winger, who can beat defenders with both pace and guile. He looks up, looks for Rooney, Berbatov, Tevez, sees where they are going, assesses the situation and does what's required. Gone are the days when he would "step-over" his way down the touchline and cross a ball into the side netting (to the frustration of Ruud/Ole and Saha), or bamboozle defenders and fizzle shots high and wide. The new Ronaldo is a team player, and requires a good team to play with.

There are 2 categories of things a footballer (especially a young, single, Portuguese footballer) looks for in a club.
1. Team - Success, Strength, Potential, Importance/contribution to team.
2. Town- weather, night-life, girls

At United, all 4 boxes of category 1 are ticked, and judging by the headlines in News of the World/The Sun, 2/3 from category 2 are as well. Not much you can do about Mancunian weather is there! At Real, team strength is poor, potential is limited without some seriously heavy spending, but they are equally if not more successful than united. At Real, however, he would be their latest "golden-boy" and would be placed under a mountain of pressure to win games for them.
Category 2, however, leans heavily to a life in Madrid; the warmer climes favour him, as does the "legendary" nightlife and "talent”.

Ronaldo, I believe, is smarter than he lets on, (he did come to United at the right time didn't he?) and would rather play in a team that can win without him, allowing him the freedom to express himself as he wishes, than for a side that use him as a crutch. Such pressure to perform brings out the best in some people, but we are yet to see Ronaldo truly light the fireworks in the biggest of stages, so I doubt he can be classed in that bracket(penalty in Moscow comes to mind). That said, he'll probably see it as a challenge and move to Madrid.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

United all at sea in gathering storm....

Last weekend United were on the wrong end of a 4-1 defeat to Liverpool, it was a result that sent shockwaves round the football world. After that game Fergie tried his best to convince the fans and media that his team didn't deserve to lose because United were the better side - it is akin to a boxer saying he didn't deserve to lose after been out-pointed before being sent crashing to the canvas in the eleventh round. When you've been badly beaten, better to admit your failings, because many will either politely ignore you or they won't take you seriously.

After that Liverpool defeat, the United manager promised there would be a reaction - because there always is - having benefited from a week's rest, everyone was hoping that the champions would hit back in the best possible way by getting back to winning ways against Fulham on Saturday. It didn't happen as once again United were sent crashing to the canvas when losing two-nil. The result while not being season defining has re-opened the title race that only a week ago looked like a formality.

The Liverpool defeat was hard to stomach given that United contrived to throw the points away with an error ridden performance. Many in the media are claiming that United have been rattled by the Liverpool reverse; it is hard to argue with that point of view because if one was going purely off results, on current form United are relegation material having conceded six and scored just one goal in two games.

The defence that has looked so solid all season now looks as dodgy as any in the division. Last weekend Vidic and Evra were forced into making catastrophic errors. Against Fulham, it was the turn of trusted midfield general Paul Scholes to have a complete aberration when handling the ball on the United goal-line, it was an instinctive arm movement by Scholes which left referee Phil Dowd no option but to brandish the red-card.

While United fans will be hugely disappointed with the result they will have a degree of sympathy for Scholes and the rest of the team, because when they went down to ten men they gave it their best shot and were unlucky not to come away with a share of the spoils. The fact that United left Craven Cottage empty handed was hard to take, but seasoned United fans well tell you the Red Devils rarely do it the easy way and have a habit of leaving the fans biting their nails until the last day of the season.

The champions ended the game with just nine men after Rooney received his second yellow-card, this after coming on at half-time when replacing an out of sorts looking Berbatov; it was a switch that transformed the visitors with the former Everton striker at the heart of everything that was good about United's attacking play. Park was unlucky no to score and Ronaldo, who once again way below his best, should have done better with a second half-header.

It was entirely predictable that Fergie would later question Rooney's second yellow card and resulting sending-off, which was for throwing the ball away, because United were on the attack and the play had to taken back. Frustration had got the better of Rooney - no doubting Phil Dowd will argue it was an act of petulance. However, many will agree that Dowd's interpretation of the rule on this occasion was wrong, added to which lack of consistency on such incidents was highlighted on the same afternoon when Ashley Cole threw the ball away after gifting a corner to Spurs at White Hart Lane, the difference being the Chelsea fullback went unpunished.

In truth, Dowd gave United little at Craven Cottage, Ronaldo was the victim of several challenges that went unpunished. Once again, United fans were left asking is it one rule for Ronaldo and another for the rest? The quality of our referees leaves an awful lot to be desired, a fact that was underscored by Dowd's rank bad performance.

Ferguson's own performance will not escape the scrutiny of the fans and many will be wondering exactly why United's most potent weapons were left festering on the bench against beatable opposition in the shape of Fulham.

United were not playing Inter Milan, yet Fergie left out Tevez and Rooney. Why? Perhaps this was the response that Fergie had alluded to earlier in the week, which was to axe those deemed to have under-performed against Liverpool the weekend before. It was surely no coincidence that Darren Fletcher came into the starting eleven along with Giggs and Scholes.

Fergie recently confirmed what many had suspected for some time that is he doesn't know what his strongest team is, which is worrying as far as I'm concerned. After two mind-numbing defeats on the bounce, no one is about to question Fergie's record, but there can be no doubt that United's collective confidence has been shaken to the core.

In such troubled times, other well known opposition managers' might well opt for a belt and braces approach by sending out what is deemed to be their strongest eleven; While at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho had an accepted first eleven - every one of those players knew that they would start in the most difficult fixtures. In stark contrast, at United Fergie chops and changes at will - no one, save for the back four and Ronaldo can be sure of their starting place.

Of particular concern to United fans should be the fact that there's no leaders in midfield, Michael Carrick has been nothing short of woeful in his previous two games. Scholes has been poor too, only Ryan Giggs has performed with any degree of consistency throughout the season and he was once again United top performer against Fulham, along with Rooney.

Fergie cannot be accused of allowing the players to rest on their laurels; by axing stars he is trying to keep them on their collective toes. It is to be hoped this chopping and changing starts to work as successfully as it did prior to the Liverpool game.

One thing is for certain, it is going to be another bumpy ride, but if you're going to have a sticky-patch, better in March rather than April or May - because at least there's time to get it out of the system before the business end of the season comes around.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

United fans urged to shoot to win £1,000.....

If you're like me then you will have been in something of a daze following the events of last week; first we had the joy of knocking out Inter Milan in doing so progressing to the Champions League quarter-finals, but then just over 48 hours later we suffered the indignity of losing heavily to our biggest rivals Liverpool. The manner of that defeat has been hard to take, given the fans lofty expectations of this current United team.

Hopefully, all will come good as the season unfolds before us; next up it's Fulham and United will be expecting a tough game, before that and in a bid to ease the pain of losing to Liverpool we bring you some light relief and the chance to win £1,000 courtesy of LG's "Shoot to win" photo competition.

City of Angels Reds we are here!

I have submitted the photo opposite for the March competition, it was taken back in 2003 in the Los Angeles Coliseum, just after United had beaten Club America. There was no time to think about the composition of the picture, which captures the moment of victory. I like the sun shining across the image and the old fashioned floodlights in the background.

I'm in no way a religious person/nutter, but it could argued there' a degree of synergy with the banner message coupled with the fans arms pointing upwards, along with those flag poles which are also pointing towards the sky.

Two of my oldest United supporting mates are holding our banner aloft, sadly one of them is no longer with us as Peter B passed away last June. Pete was an author on this blog.

The competition runs monthly and I will submitting more United photographs over the coming weeks.

Please add your own images and don't forget to submit your votes :0).

Please note if you want to vote, or enter the competition, you have to register, to do so you have to submit your email address together with a password, you then need to confirm your registration details by clicking on the email link which was sent to the email address supplied.

Enter the LG competition and vote to win

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Fergie: Who can replace the irreplaceable?

The on and off romance Sir Alex Ferguson has with the concept of retirement, most likely brought about by Mrs Ferguson’s concern’s for her husband’s health, has once again fueled media speculation about who could/may/should inherit the world’s strongest squad and the world’s highest expectations. The big names like Mourinho and Capello have been bandied around, but a more rigorous and thorough examination of credentials, experience and ability needs to be done before any appointments can be made.

To start the process, all contenders have been placed in three distinct groups; Ex-United players, Ex-United Assistants, and Others. Group 1 contains: Steve Bruce(48), Mark Hughes(45), Laurent Blanc(43), Gordon Strachan(52), Roy Keane(37), Paul Ince(41), Eric Cantona(42), Mike Phelan(46) and the younger ones who are completing/ or have completed their coaching badges, Giggs(35), G. Neville(34) and Solskjaer(36). Group 2 contains: Steve McLaren (47), Walter Smith (61), Carlos Queiroz (46), Brian Kidd (59) and Archie Knox (61). Group 3 contains: Jose Mourinho (46), Fabio Capello (62), David Moyes (45), Martin O’Neill (57), Frank Rijkard (46), Martin Jol (53), Bernd Schuster (49) and Guus Hiddink (62).

Taking over the most high-profile team, with the world’s largest supporter base carries with it great responsibility and expectation. To succeed in the position, the man in the hot-seat would need to be driven to succeed, a good manager of footballers’ and their egos, the ability to rotate the squad without harming the teams’ ability to win, a good motivator, tactically knowledgeable, with the ability to respond to situations during a game and at half-time (taking players off if they are not playing well and changing the game by introducing effective replacements), the ability to ensure the team peaks at the right time during a season and is able to string wins together at the sharp end of the season.

The chosen candidate must be hard working, a good communicator (preferably able to speak several languages) and also a good judge of young talent, both local and internationally. An ideal candidate would have some European exposure, either in the UEFA Cup or Champions League, must have a healthy ego, self-respect and the ability to speak to and with the media without being the subject of news (too often). He must take pride in his team, be loyal to the United Spirit and play “the United way”. Last but not least, he must be able to manage expectations, fulfill season goals and be gracious both in victory and defeat.

The standard set by Sir Alex’s on-field success is impressive, but grows formidably larger when the skills shown by him off-field are analyzed from a distance. None of the younger generation of ex-united players have enough experience to take over the top job, which rules out Giggs, Neville, Solskjaer, Ince and Keane.

Steve McLaren and Carlos Queiroz both have questionable records managing senior domestic sides, though Queiroz had a decent record at Real and although they didn’t win anything in his single season, he had a win percentage of 59.32%. Both men are more suited to assisting managers, as they are both technically very sound and innovative.

Age would appear to rule out Fabio Capello, Guus Hiddink, Walter Smith, Archie Knox and Brian Kidd, although Capello or Hiddink may be a good choice if the club looks to hire a manager for a short stint of say 2-3 years.

Thus the whole of Group 2 have been eliminated, and Group 1 only has Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes and the dark horses Gordon Strachan and Laurent Blanc remaining in contention, as Eric Cantona has never expressed any interest in a career in management, though he would be a popular choice with the fans.

Appreciation for “The United Way”, the style, flair and attacking minded football the team plays immediately rules out Jose Mourinho. Perhaps just as importantly, Mourinho also lacks the required loyalty and longevity, seeing clubs as projects, moving on to a different challenge every few years, hoping to tick off all the major awards in his search for world domination( ‘England, Italy & Spain’ he said.)

Martin O’Neill and Martin Jol have always set about playing attractive football, to various levels of success at their past and current clubs, while Bernd Schuster has been credited with bringing stylish football back to the Bernabeu, winning La Liga with three games to spare in the process.

Frank Rijkard oversaw one of the most successful periods of Barcelona dominance, winning the league twice and clinching the 2006 Champions League title, though things started to unravel at the Nou Camp, as he was unable to keep the side disciplined and was consequently let go once things turned for the worse ( Real went on to win the league, right from under Barca’s nose). Both could be effective at Manchester United, although one wonders what sort of reception they might receive having managed United’s fiercest of European rivals in the recent past, added to which Rijkard is being hotly tipped to takeover from Hiddink at Chelsea.

Of the rest, Moyes and Bruce have done extremely well, given the financial limitations placed upon them by their respective clubs, Everton and Wigan. Both managers believe in trying to play attractive football when they can, player availability and opposition strength permitting, and can knuckle down and fight for survival when required (which I believe is harder than fighting to win trophies, as if come second in the league, you still make Europe, but if you lose the relegation battle and come 18th, you lose your place in the top league, you lose players and you lose one hell of a lot of money)

Sparky will be hard to reclaim, (once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate you destiny) as I do not see the oil Sheiks letting such a good manager go, especially one who is striving hard to meet all expectations.

I think the short-list of contenders could well boil down to Bruce, Jol, Schuster, Strachan and Moyes, because Rijkard has really only ever managed at the top and so he hasn’t had to deal with smaller clubs, which I think is crucial when managing a big club well. I believe that all managers need to be time-served having started their apprenticeship at the lower levels before working their way up to the top-tier clubs.

O’Neill misses out because he’ll be bordering on 60 when SAF calls time, and unless Randy Lerner can help him expand the squad to sustain the challenge into the top four and Europe, 08/09 could well turn out to be a flash in the pan for Villa, because I predict that Gareth Barry, Ashley Young and Agbonlahor will move on to bigger clubs.

Laurent Blanc, may be considered in a few years if he converts promising seasons to titles in France and gains more experience, possibly in England/Italy or Spain, though I like what he has developed at Bordeaux; remember SAF didn’t have any “big club” experience before getting the United job. The managerial statistics of the shortlisted candidates are on the end of this post, and fans must take into account the relative squad strengths and financial clout of the clubs compared to those in the same league at the time.

Schuster did very well in his second season at Getafe, although his win record shows otherwise, and surprised La Liga by coming 7th, and beating Barca 4-0 to get into the Copa del Rey final and booking a spot in the UEFA Cup. The German brought back style and flair to Real, but then got caught up in the politics of the club and was eventually forced out when events took a downturn.

Moyes worked his Preston side from mid-table League Two into table toppers (1999) and champions in 2000, and then almost secured a dream double promotion into the Premier League. Moved onto an Everton side that was, simply put, inconsistent, and managed avoid relegation. He has managed to stave-off the threat of relegation several times, bought some real gems to the club (Cahill, Arteta) and sold United Rooney (for which United will be eternally grateful). He’s also been awarded the LMA Manger of the Year, in the season Everton came 4th.

Strachan has led three Celtic sides to the SPL title; restructuring the team as required and refreshing the squad as players have come and gone. Has won the Scottish Cup and League Cup, and the manager of the year award twice, in the three full season’s he’s been there.

Steve Bruce has shown great character and determination to become successful at the many jobs he’s taken. Making the most of limited resources and talent, he’s built a reputation of no nonsense football, rebuilding Birmingham and gaining promotion into the Premier League. He would work wonders with a talented squad. Main advantage; he knows what it’s like playing for United, what’s required and what’s deemed adequate. Comes with the loyalty inbred.

Martin Jol is a strict disciplinarian, with a great work ethic, gets his players to play great, attractive football, and if given more time, would’ve built a great side out of Tottenham. Jol brought Berbatov to English soil and gave him vital match-exposure, preparing him for an assault on the league title with Keane, Bent and Defoe, only to see it pulled out from under him and his squad dismantled by a bunch of lunatics. Would do well with a board that listened to his plans and understood the requirements of a long term strategy.

Any of the aforementioned short-listed candidates would gain my support.

Vishnu Chari

The candidates managerial statistics...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Will losing to Liverpool spur on United to yet more silverware?

The traumatic weekend loss to Liverpool left much to be desired from our big-game players. Individuals on both sides made uncharacteristic errors that led to goals, but unfortunately United made many more than our opponents. Liverpool fans will believe the manner of the win is a sign that United are starting to crack and that they have a chance to win the League for the first time in nearly two decades.

Pessimistic United fans will think that United are once again in for a nervy finish to the season, they may well have doubts about the side’s chances of conquering all before them too. I on the other hand, think that this is the best possible game in March to lose.

In the last two seasons United have dropped points in March, last season we were eliminated from the FA Cup by a Portsmouth team that rode their luck and came up trumps against a team that arguably needed a shot in the arm to propel themselves to success. Giggs went on record saying that FA Cup defeat still grated, and that it was an ideal chance to win the FA Cup and consequently the Treble!

This season, United won the FA cup tie against Fulham, the Champions League tie against Inter Milan and have progressed to the semis and quarters of both cup competitions. Losing one game in a league we somewhat-comfortably lead, even though it was against our main rivals, really isn't that big of a deal. With a 4 point lead and a game in hand, United could have that seven point lead back by the time we break for the Internationals.

In fact, a loss in the league, is exactly what United needed to kick start our midfield and attacking engine.

I'm happy we didn't draw the game against Liverpool, because a "decent" result after playing poorly doesn't keep the players on their collective toes, letting them relax. Getting into a habit of drawing games, isn’t a recipe for title success just ask Arsenal this season, and any Liverpool fan who has half a memory of season's past (sorry, the question can't be asked then can it. ) I'd rather lose one game and win the next instead of drawing two in a row.

The liverpool game, was, in my opinion, lost in midfield. I might have the somewhat unfair advantage of hindsight in my analysis, but we lacked a box-to-box midfielder against liverpool. Against a side that deploys two defensive midfield players, United needed players in midfield who could track back and intercept passes to the feet and head of Torres and Gerrard while also getting forward to augment the attacking instincts of Rooney and Co.

Anderson and Carrick were not suited to defending AND getting forward to attack. In an ideal world Owen Hargreaves would start next to Fletcher. Players capable of making those crucial interceptions and also getting forward to supply ball to the forwards and make 'late" runs into box and take shots on goal.

In the absence of Owen Hargreaves, I would have prefered Carrick and Fletcher, with Carrick at CDM and Fletcher as CM. Anderson was out of place, trying to man-mark Stevie Gerrard while also helping midfield, and ended up doing neither. When we were chasing the game with reckless abandon, Anderson came into his element, dribbling running at defenders and looking for the incisive pass.

Ronaldo is starting to annoy me. I was resetting my watch alarm during the game, and ronaldo went on a run and lost the ball, again, I kept my eye on my watch, as the seconds went by, Ronaldo hadn't even started moving back towards the game for 15 seconds, and had only come back into the United defensive half after 45 seconds. Time in which Liverpool enjoyed possession and made Park, Rooney and Tevez all run hard to close down space, and left John Oshea exposed to the attacking run of Riera and Aurelio.

Instead of Withdrawing Park for Berbatov, Ronaldo should've come off at 55min, for either Berbatov or Nani, who would've at least tried to complete passes. Ronaldo was one of many who had a bad day. Hopefully we don't have so many passengers during the next time we play.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mistakes and tactics cost United.....

United supporters and Fergie will no doubt spend the next week picking over the bones of the Liverpool hammering wondering quite how the champions contrived to concede four goals to their bitter rivals.

Much of the focus has rightly been placed on the error ridden performance of Nemanja Vidic, who will hopefully never play as badly again in a United shirt. If it had been just about any other player who'd committed such errors, the fans wouldn't be so forgiving; the fact is, until yesterday, the Serbian has been a rock at the heart of that United defence and all players have their off days - sadly, Nemanja's had to come against Liverpool of all clubs.

While it is very easy to rake over the mistakes made by the United back-four on Saturday, a more difficult task for Fergie is how best to deal with this Liverpool team should the two sides meet again this season.

After yesterday's defeat, Fergie stated that he was generally happy with the effort of his team; he didn't single out any individuals for criticism, but he hinted that he was slightly disappointed with certain aspects of the performance.

From a tactical point of view, Fergie might well come to the conclusion that in future he may well have to sacrifice either a wide player or even a striker, because on Saturday, Gerrard wasn't dealt with effectively, the Liverpool skipper was able to collect the ball in very dangerous areas and then run at the back four, to coin a Fergie phrase that is "suicide football".

The pace of Torres rattled Ferdinand and Vidic as United went on to pay a huge price for the Serbian's first-half mistake which allowed the Spanish striker to equalise.
In a bid to cope with the pace of Torres, United's two central defenders dropped deep, but this left a large gap between the defence and midfield, and Gerrard was the beneficiary because he was able to exploit the space.

It is to be hoped that when Fergie has time, he recognises why Liverpool were able to force United into making so many uncharacteristic mistakes, but judging by his post-match reaction that is by no means a given, because if you had not seen the game you might well take the view that the champions were unlucky, but that was not the case - in football you make your own luck as the United manager knows full well.

Benitez, has the luxury of being able to field just one striker, this is largely because of the Spaniard's blistering pace, in contrast United do not have a striker in the mold of Torres, nor do United have anyone like Gerrard.

On Saturday, Anderson was brought in to presumably deal with Gerrard, but the Liverpool skipper was playing more in a supporting role behind Torres and United's young Brazilian star wasn't ever really close enough to the man he was supposed to be marking, if indeed that was the plan. United fans can talk all day long about Vidic, but failure to deal with Gerrard was at the heart of United's downfall on Saturday.

United lost the game, but Fergie also lost the tactical battle with Benitez which is why Vidic and Evra ended up making so many mistakes and poor challenges on the day.

At the other end of the pitch, United's failure to break down the Liverpool back four was also a feature of this game.

Given that Jamie Carragher had been booked and was playing out of position at rightback, it is a fair question to ask why Ronaldo wasn't switched to the opposite flank earlier, but then again it is also fair to ask why Ronaldo stayed on the pitch at the expense of Park, who was at least working for the team unlike the world player of the year, who frankly did not look at all interested and showed little or no desire which is totally unacceptable.

Until this week, Michael Carrick has done remarkably well in the continued absence of Owen Hargreaves, but the former West Ham star has been dire in his last two games. There's no shortage of midfield players at the club, but United's collective inability to pass the ball accurately has been a consistent feature of the last two error ridden performances by the champions. You cannot and will not create goal scoring chances if your midfield keeps on gifting possession back to the opposition, which is what happened against Inter Milan and Liverpool.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

United pay price for sloppiness in Liverpool rout.....

Manchester United were on the wrong end of 4-1 hammering by Liverpool at Old Trafford today, the margin of the win will send shockwaves around the football world given that not even the most optimistic of Liverpool fans could have anticipated such a big victory over the Premier League leaders.

Losing this game did not come as a total shock, even if the manner of the defeat was alarming. Ahead of what is always a tough encounter I had warned that the danger signs were there in midweek against Inter Milan, but thankfully the Italians did not take advantage of United's sloppiness in midfield; today it was a different story with mistakes in defence being punished.

United had started the game brightly as once again the champions made the perfect start after going ahead from an early Ronaldo penalty following good work by Tevez and Park (United's best two players on the day).

Ronaldo converted the resulting spot-kick, but after that breakthrough, his performance left much to be desired - in a nutshell the world player of year simply didn't look interested, because there were too many occasions when Ronaldo lacked desire to support those in Red shirts when it was needed.

Ronaldo wasn't the only United player who looked jaded, apart from one second-half turn and shot, Carrick had another game to forget - which made it two in a week because his passing was appalling, just as it was against Inter Milan.

It wasn't long before Liverpool hit back at United after Nemanja Vidic, of all players, was made to pay for failing to effectively deal with a routine high ball; instead of using his head, the big Serbian tried to control the ball and turn, which gave Torres half a chance to pinch the ball, which he did before beating Van der Sar with a cool finish to level the sore.

The mistakes didn't end there though, as Gerrard was brought down in the United penalty area by Evra and the Liverpool skipper converted the spot-kick.

United came out after the break and rested a degree of control from the visitors for fifteen minutes, but United couldn't find a way through the Liverpool rear-guard.

Then on 76 mins, Vidic capped-off a day to forget when bringing down Steven Gerrard for which he was sent-off. United fans might well be asking why Reina wasn't sent off for the earlier challenge on Park which led to the Reds first-half penalty. It is a fair question to ask given that last season Tomasz Kuszczak was sent-off in an FA Cup tie and Rio Ferdinand had to replace him in goal.

To add to United's woes, Aurelio slotted the resulting free-kick when leaving Edwin van der Sar rooted to his goal line, after that third goal there was no way back into the game for United.

Second-half substitute, Dossena made it four on 90 minutes. Steven Gerrard missed an easy chance to make it five after another passage of rank bad defending by a very ragged United defence.

In the wake of this heavy defeat there will be much soul-searching by Fergie and his players. Going into this game, the United manager freshened up his team when leaving out veterans Scholes and Giggs, but he also left out Berbatov plus Fletcher. Anderson, Park and Tevez came in as replacements, the Argentine and the South Korean were two of United's better performers on the day; which begs the question was tiredness an issue coming on the back of some big games recently, coupled with the fact that Liverpool had the benefit of an extra day's rest after the respective midweek Champions League games?

Losing to Liverpool is bad enough, but in all honesty, the situation could have been a whole lot worse if Inter Milan had taken advantage of United's sloppiness in midweek, that is the only upside to what was a rout at Old Trafford today.

Perhaps a defeat was coming after such a wonderful run in all competitions; time will tell how the rest of the season will pan out for United. In the context of what lies ahead, the best way to deal with today's setback is to learn from it and bounce back - that is the hope for United supporters and the manager.

One thing is for sure, talk of the quintuple will be dampened. There is also an argument the Premier League is all the stronger because of the Liverpool win, but that view will not be shared by United or the supporters who will have to lick their collective wounds until the next game comes around.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Why United HAVE to beat Liverpool.......

IF United lose this weekend's clash with Liverpool there will be some who will argue that winning meant more to the "Merseyside Reds". However, wiser United fans will tell you that losing to the Scousers should NEVER be accepted under ANY circumstances.

There is also the prospect of yet more clashes with "the great unwashed" this season in the Champions League. True enough, if United go on to lose on Saturday (please, do not let that happen - playing like a team of strangers against Inter is one thing - but it will not be accepted against Liverpool) the players will have an opportunity to in part redeem themselves in Europe's premier club competition - Liverpool will also take that view too should they lose.

Wayne Rooney did not play well against Inter Milan, he wasn't on his own. In the build-up to Saturday's clash, the United star has said that he is looking forward to effectively ending Liverpool's lingering title hopes; let us hope that he can once again back-up the talk with a match-winning performance.

United need to grind Liverpool into the Old Trafford turf, in so doing, giving them a hiding that they will not forget, this in turn will give the champions a psychological advantage when and if we meet again this season.

Liverpool come into this fixture bang in form having demolished Real Madrid in impressive style in midweek; they will fancy their chances of winning at Old Trafford. For his part, Rafa Benitez, has been the subject of ridicule since his half-baked attempts at influencing referee's and the media following his rant at Ferguson.

Liverpool have largely underperformed since Rafa launched his attack on the United manager when producing his so called fact sheet. Ahead of the big game, United fans might want to take a look at a new fact sheet that will not go down well on Merseyside.

IF you fancy a free bet on the United vs Liverpool game check out Free Bet Updates.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sloppy United through: Fear factor inhibits performance....

As someone put it to me last night "the result was more important than the performance". I am of course referring to United's two-nil win over Inter Milan; a result which sees the champions of Europe through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

It was another good night for English football, as Arsenal eventually overcame Roma after a penalty shoot-out, in so doing joining United, Liverpool and Chelsea in the last eight of Europe's premier club competition.

United deservedly won two-nil, but they rarely played like champions on the night; this after the Reds had made the perfect platform from which to build when scoring after just four minutes, when the once again quite brilliant Nemanja Vidic scored with another bullet header, this after sweetly giving Patrick Vieira the slip from a Ryan Giggs corner.

United's second goal came four minutes into the second-half after Giggs, Scholes and Rooney linked up to supply Ronaldo, who scored his first goal in the Champions League of the current campaign with another great header.

The goals were the high points of a performance which left much to be desired from the champions - because in truth, it was one to forget. While every United supporter will be rightly delighted about securing a place in the quarter-final, there will be many who were left wondering why so many United's players were so off colour on such a big occasion, because based on how they played against Inter Milan, United are going to have to improve massively if they are to retain the trophy this season.

Going into the big game at Old Trafford many were wondering how United would approach the game, given the holders had failed to score that vital away goal in the San Siro in the first-leg. My own view was there was a very real danger that the team could be affected by Fergie's pre-match negativity when admitting that he felt "vulnerable" - a word that the United manager has never used before to my knowledge prior to any game.

One could argue that the United manager was being honest, and under normal circumstances in everyday life such honesty could be appreciated, but the business end of top flight football requires all sorts of psychology where the mindsets of the players are concerned.

Ferguson, has his own very special methods when it comes to psyching-up the players; it can involve throwing tea-pots, tea-cups and football boots around the dressing room, but on this occasion you do wonder if Mourinho's record had gotten underneath his skin.

Ferguson has a reputation for saying the right thing in press conferences, usually to get what he wants or else to get at an opponent via the media. However, this week, for once, he may have been a little too truthful, because with the tie being so delicately balanced and with so much at stake the pressure seemed to have affected many of the team that faced Inter Milan. I for could not help feel that Ferguson's own fear of failure had affected the team given the nerve racked performance of so many of the United players - what other explanation can one give, given that the same players are usually immaculate?

Paul Scholes, was for the most part quite poor, he wasn't on his own. Michael Carrick was just as bad and Wayne Rooney looked off the pace. Of the three Rooney did at least work hard for the team on the left during the second period, but rarely have Scholes and Carrick been so wasteful when in possession.

John O'Shea was once again dodgy at right-back, his name could have easily appeared in the referee's notebook as early as the first five minutes after giving away cheap free-kicks and possession all too readily. The fact that John O'Shea didn't get booked early in the game - which would have heaped yet more pressure on United - was down to the German referee, who it has to be said had a very good game.

While Scholes was having one of his worst games ever for United, Ryan Giggs was again the attacking star of the show; the only problem was that the Welshman wasn't on the ball enough.

After the game Vidic went on record saying that Fergie hadn't told the team to play defensively, perhaps, it was simply the pressure of the occasion which led to so many players choking on the night; whatever it was, the fans and the United manager will want to see a big improvement when Liverpool are the visitors to Old Trafford on Saturday.

Ahead of the Champions League draw, a few weeks ago I wrote off Barcelona's chances, I still believe that they won't win the competition. My gut feeling is any one of the remaining English clubs will win the Champions League; my outside tip is Bayern Munich.

I predict that the draw will unfold as follows:
United vs Barcelona (we always have to do it the hard way)
Liverpool vs Villarreal
Arsenal vs Chelsea
Bayern vs Porto

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fergie talking like a beaten man: Mourinho's record has the United manager worried....

Going into what are without doubt the two biggest games of the season the last thing any United fan wanted to hear was the manager saying "I am not infallible. I am vulnerable", which is what Fergie said on the eve of the Reds must win clash with Inter Milan.

Fergie says that he isn't worried about Jose Mourinho's record against United, but clearly that isn't so, given the United manager has admitted he feels "vulnerable". Has Ferguson ever used that word before in a run-up to any game? I don't think so.

The fact that Fergie is feeling vulnerable should be cause for concern over his state of mind, because last week he more or less admitted that he doesn't know what his strongest team is. True enough, no matter what team Fergie has selected it has largely been hugely successful, but the next two games are the biggest of the season so far and so now is not the time for muddled thinking over tactics and selection issues.

Fergie knows that the Reds may well live to regret not scoring in the first leg of this Champions League tie. If, god forbid, United contrive to allow Inter through to the quarter-finals, then for the rest of his life, Fergie, will wonder why he left Wayne Rooney out of his starting eleven in the San Siro.

It is inconceivable that Fergie will once again leave out Wayne Rooney against Inter Milan tonight. However, United fans will recall that in 2004 the manager left Ronaldo out of both starting line-ups against Porto, who went on to win the competition...

Ferguson needs to be bold in his selection; he needs to send out his strongest attacking team which has to include, Rooney, Ronaldo and Berbatov. If United go out of the Champions League with all guns blazing the fans will live to forgive Fergie, but should the Reds go out without so much as a whimper - as they have done so many times under Fergie - then who knows how the rest of the season will unfold starting with Saturday's clash with Liverpool.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Mourinho talks up United job prospects: But is he the right man to replace Ferguson?

Over the weekend Fergie let it be known that he isn't even thinking about retiring, he jokingly said "they might have to carry me out". Well as far as jokes go, that's fine, but no one wants to see Fergie's flame flickering-out due to the none-stop pressure of the game like Jock Stein who died in 1985 at Ninian Park, just after Scotland had beaten Wales to qualify for the 1986 World Cup.

While Fergie can joke and he surely is enjoying this season, perhaps as much as any in his illustrious career, there's one thing he cannot do, which is hold back time itself and talk of his eventual successor has been a recurring theme over the last few seasons. The United manager recently stated that he would not go beyond 2010, but there's been no definite finish date as of yet.

With United set to face Inter Milan in the Champions League this week, there's been no shortage of big stories; it came as no surprise to learn that Jose Mourinho has been spouting-off saying that he could do Fergie's job - of course he could, but do United really want him? According to reports, Sir Bobby Charlton and Bryan Robson both have doubts about the former Chelsea manager's ability to mold a team in the best traditions of United.

Mourinho's teams are known for playing win-at-all-costs pragmatic football, whereas with United the philosophy has always been to keep on attacking teams even when they've been winning games with ease.

Making comparisons of players doesn't often work, it is exactly the same with managers, so comparing Fergie and Mourinho is a little pointless, but importantly both men are winners - so despite any misgivings about the Portuguese manager he scores highly in the credibility stakes unlike those former United players who have gone on to manage other Premier League clubs.

Unlike Fergie, Mourinho exudes charisma, but he never stays at any club for any great length of time which is a fact that will not have escaped United's power-brokers.

There is a feeling among some of the club's supporters that Jose Mourinho's brand of football would perhaps be better suited to say, Liverpool, who themselves have been known to be less cavalier that the Red Devils.

However, it begs the question, if Mourinho does not eventually go on to replace Fergie, then who will? If it were not for his Russian connections, then many fans may well have backed Guus Hiddink (my own choice).

Send me your suggestions for Fergie's eventually successor. IF you fancy a free bet on anything United related check out Free Bet Updates

Quintuple talk: Why rivals are under more pressure than United to win any trophy..

With a seven point advantage in the Premier League and looking good in all remaining competitions many are talking about Manchester United winning a unique quintuple, to go alongside the club's unprecedented treble of 1999. While the quintuple is possible the talk will continue. Normal logic would suggest that such a feat is improbable, but as far as United's remaining domestic challengers are concerned, the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea are arguably under just as much pressure to win a trophy - any trophy.

If they can win at Old Trafford on Saturday, Liverpool will believe that they still have a chance of winning the title, but should they lose or draw, their target list will be revised to a top four finish and winning the Champions League. No matter what the outcome of that massive league clash with United, the pressure is on Benitez and his team.

Arsenal are battling for a top-four finish and I have been writing for some time that the Gunners will end the season in the leading group of clubs; like United they are also in the hunt for FA Cup and Champions League glory, but having gone so long sans any silverware Arsene Wenger is under more pressure than ever before to win something.

After what happened last season in the Champions League final and the turmoil of the current season, it goes without saying that Hiddink is also under pressure to win something for megabucks Chelsea.

As for United, it is not surprising that the media are describing the champions as "unstoppable" following another demolition job, as the Red Devils thumped Fulham 4-0 on Saturday to secure an FA Cup semi-final place where they will face Everton.

Going into the FA Cup quarter-final, it looked like a very difficult fixture for United, especially given that the champions face Inter Milan and Liverpool within the space of three days later in the same week, no surprise then that Ronaldo and Berbatov were rested for the trip to Craven Cottage.

Ferguson is of course blessed with a fine squad of players and it is quality strength in depth where United have a slight advantage over the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal. Chelsea can match United in terms of the size and quality of their squad, but internal squabbling and player cliques have potentially wrecked their season following the sacking of big Phil Scolari.

So what are the chances of United actually winning this quintuple? I will leave the numbers scenario to the bookies, but it's definitely worth a punt. If you haven't already done so, take advantage of a free bet on the improbable quintuple with a free bet, courtesy of Free Bet Updates

United breeze into FA Cup semi-final...
In truth, after the opening 20 minutes at Craven Cottage it was all a little too easy for Fergie's team; aside from an early Andy Johnson scare which came about because of a mix-up between Nemanja Vidic (once again immaculate) and Edwin van der Sar. After that near miss, a somewhat bemused Roy Hodgson looked on as United eased gently through the gears and the goal-scoring opportunities soon followed.

United had started the game uncharacteristically with some sloppy passing, but after that opening spell, Rooney missed a good chance before heading onto Tevez who scored with an unlikely header at the far post.

United's brilliant Argentine striker then underscored his worth when he scored one of the best goals of the season so far, when advancing at speed before surging to his right before launching a superb drive which gave Mark Schwarzer no chance.

Any hopes of a second-half revival by Hodgson’s team were soon dashed as Wayne Rooney lashed home another picture-book goal just after half-time. After that third killer goal, as a match this cup-tie was effectively over. However, the scoring wasn't over as Park crowned an excellent display with a well taken goal that will go some way to silencing his critics who say the South Korean lacks composure inside the opposition penalty area. It was particularly satisfying to see Park score after he'd been brutally hacked down several times by Pantsil, who should have been sent off by referee Mike Dean.

Final score: Fulham 0-4 United.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Fergie admits selection concerns

United might have strolled into the FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday, but Fergie is a worried man.

The 4-0 demolition job on Fulham was a terrific way to warm up ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League showdown with Inter Milan, but Sir Alex is concerned about picking the right team for their midweek mission.

The second-leg encounter with Jose Mourinho’s boys is delicately poised at 0-0 and Fergie knows he has to put the right players on the pitch at Old Trafford if United are to successfully defend their Champions League crown.

Carlos Tevez started at Craven Cottage and was outstanding scoring twice, but he is likely to revert to bench-warming duty against Inter.

Dimitar Berbatov was on the bench and he's likely to replace him with Cristiano Ronaldo, who was rested, also back in the fold.

"My biggest concern is picking the right team, it's not easy for me leaving out great players in every game.

"I hope at the end of the season it will be recognised that everyone has made a contribution,” said Ferguson.

United have a slight worry over Rio Ferdinand, who went over on his ankle at Fulham, but Inter Milan are set to travel with just two fit central defenders after losing Marco Materazzi and Nicolas Burdisso to injury on Saturday.

Mourinho said: "Christian Chivu, Walter Samuel, Materazzi and Burdisso are out."

It certainly sounds bleak for Mourinho with only centre-backs Ivan Cordoba and Nelson Rivas fit for the clash, but Fergie won’t read too much into it - he's heard all the mind games before, but the news is sure to keep United's football odds down.

United are 1.54 to qualify and 5.3 to win the tournament outright.

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

Friday, March 06, 2009

Taylorgate, it's official: One rule for United stars, another for the rest......

SO then, referee Steve Bennett has reviewed video footage of the Steven Taylor karate chopping Ronaldo and has decided that the incident was only worthy of a yellow card and not red.

Manchester United supporters around the world should be shocked at this news - but then again maybe not - because there's long been a suspicion that contrary to the views of the likes of Arsene Wenger, United stars are treated more harshly than the rest, this latest sorry episode concerning Taylor is confirmation of that. It comes on the back of Patrice Evra receiving a four match ban for an incident which didn't even take place in the Chelsea vs United match last April.

United fans will recall that in 2001, it was Bennett who sent-off Roy Keane for throwing the ball at Alan Shearer, the United skipper then raised his arms in an aggressive manner, but importantly he never actually made contact with the Newcastle striker - for this Keane received his marching orders together with a three-match ban.

Are we then to assume that since 2001, Bennett has rewritten his own rule-book and elbowing players in the face is now worthy of a yellow card? In point of fact it seems that Bennett has two rule-books; one for Manchester United stars and another for the rest. You also wonder if Bennett needs his eyes testing given he never saw Taylor's elbow on Ronaldo, more likely he chose to turn a blind eye to the incident.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Bennett bottles it over big decision as Reds overcome Newcastle rough stuff...

I'm certain I'm not the only Red who doesn't actually care if Newcastle United end up getting relegated this season; part of me thinks that Mike Ashley deserves it for the way he's messed up at St James' Park. Last night a patched-up Newcastle took on the Champions and gave arguably one of their best performances of the season, caretaker manager Chris Hughton was of the opinion that his team didn't deserve to lose the game - but of course they did, courtesy of goals by Rooney and Berbatov, but not before Peter Lovenkrands had given the home team an early lead in what turned out to be decent match to watch.

Going into the Newcastle game, United were under a degree of pressure following wins by rivals Chelsea and Liverpool the night before. As expected Fergie made changes to the starting eleven that beat Spurs in Sunday's Carling Cup final; in came Vidic, Fletcher, Carrick, Van der Sar, Rooney, Park and Berbatov. This coming weekend United face Fulham in the FA Cup and it will be interesting to see who Fergie leaves out because after that United face Inter Milan and then Liverpool in two season defining games. Incidentally, Liverpool have no game this coming weekend and this may well have a bearing on Fergie's team selection for the Fulham cup-tie.

On the face of it, United have little to worry about on the domestic scene having already won one competition and with the league campaign going so well, but as we saw last night, the Reds cannot take any result for granted; not even against relegation threatened Newcastle and so it was comforting to see Fergie shouting and balling at his players and referee Steve Bennett in the final minutes of what was a hard-fought contest - there will be no let-up or indeed complacency from the United manager.

While many United fans will no doubt be looking forward to the next three games, those with an eye for detail will share a degree of concern over what has been until the last three games a rock-solid back four; reason being John O'Shea is a rather obvious weak-link at right-back. At half-time in the San Siro, Jose Mourinho weighed-in on the Irishman when stationing Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Inter's left flank, it was a switch that ensured the second-half wasn't dominated by the visitors....

There was more concern for United fans at right-back in Sunday's Carling Cup win, as once again O'Shea's lack of pace resulted in him being booked following what was admittedly a "hospital ball" from Paul Scholes, nonetheless according Sky's experts, United's stand-in right-back was lucky not to be sent-off during the second period, he was however not long after substituted...

It was interesting to note then that United were once again coming under pressure down their right-flank early on at St James' Park; Newcastle's early raiding paid off when John O'Shea was caught out when allowing Gutierrez to fire in a dipping shot which Van der Sar could only tamely parry to the feet of Peter Lovenkrands who in turn brought to an end the big Dutchman's run of shut-outs.

It wasn't that surprising that after the game all of the focus was on the Van der Sar mistake, but those with keen eyes, like Mourinho, will have noted the mixed performances of John O'Shea who in fairness did play a big part in Rooney's excellent equalising goal, but make no mistake, the word has gone out that the Red Devils defence can be got at via the stand-in right-back...

In point of fact Van der Sar had a bit of a stinker against Newcastle; his kicking was poor and he didn't effectively deal well with at least one other cross, but some credit must go to Newcastle who managed to fire in some good crosses in from both flanks.

Other big talking points from this game centred on the performance of referee Steve Bennett, who I doubt is on Ronaldo's Christmas card list having sent him off previously. Just before last night's interval, Ronaldo was victim of what could best be described as an attempted karate chop to the throat by Steven Taylor who then proceeded to make a very poor challenge on another United star.

How many times have football fans been told that players cannot raise their arms to an opponent? Countless times, yet Bennett, who by the way has yet to issue a red card this season, only booked the Newcastle defender. Rio Ferdinand complained bitterly to Bennett at the break and was booked for his troubles, but the fact of the matter is, even though Taylor was booked the video footage needs to be reviewed and action needs to be taken against the referee and player.

Without any question, it was one of the worst decisions I have seen for many a long season and it adds weight to the claim that players believe that they allowed to assault Ronaldo without too much fear of comeback, because when an official such as Bennett makes such a poor decision - what other conclusion can one come to?

The game was eventually decided indirectly because of yet more foul-play by a Newcastle player, this time Martins who clearly elbowed Vidic, which resulted in a nasty looking cut on the face of the Serbian; but poetic justice was done when stand-in centre-half Wayne Rooney supplied a killer pass to the feet of Ji-Sung Park who beat Harper and slid the ball into the path of Berbatov who did the rest.

Bring on the Cockneys, Italians and Scousers.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Is trophy clean sweep a realistic aim?

Manchester United added the Carling Cup to thier list of achievements this season and as expected the talk of a trophy clean sweep intensified.

But Sir Alex has dampened down the expectations of a possible six trophies - don't forget United's victory in the Community Shield - and believes the FA Cup might be a bridge too far.

The Champions are now seven points clear in the Premier League, with a game in hand, and success in both the FA Cup and the Champions League would enable Fergie's team to eclipse any previous single-season achievement in the English game.

"It would be great to think we could do it, but my experience says we could go to Fulham next weekend, there will be a deflected shot off someone's backside and we're out of the FA Cup," said Ferguson.

"I won't get carried away with it and the rest of the players will keep their feet on the ground.

"The best thing we can do is gather ourselves, energise ourselves for Newcastle on Wednesday, which will be a very difficult game for us, and go from there, taking it one step at a time."

United, who already have the Club World Cup in the trophy cabinent, needed a penalty shoot-out to defeat Tottenham at Wembley on Sunday and United are now football odds of 11.0 to clean up with the FA Cup, Premier League and Champions League.

With hundreds of thousands of pounds thought to be riding on United winning the Quadruple (Carling Cup, FA Cup, Premier League and Champions League) and some of that money placed at triple-figure odds the football gambling industry are facing a multi-million pound pay-out.

But as Ferguson points out it's a big ask for his squad, despite their undoubted depth and quality, and one bad bay at the office could be the end of their FA Cup or Champions League dream.

But while the sextuple is still possible let's make the most of it.

By Phil Tomlinson