Monday, August 31, 2009

Fergie made a post Ronaldo plan, he damn well needs to stick to it.

IF Saturday's extremely fortuitous victory was any sort of reliable indicator then it seems Ferguson's post Ronaldo plans are in tatters, because for far too long against Arsenal the United manager persisted with just Wayne Rooney up front that was until the 85th minute when he belatedly sent on Dimitar Berbatov. It actually took the champions until the 92 minute to create their first genuine goal-scoring opportunity, only for the cruel bounce of the ball to make United's Bulgarian striker look a bit stupid as he fluffed his lines.

In the wake of Saturday's lucky victory Mike Phelan has said 'there's work to be done', we don't quite know what that means given the club have so far failed to take advantage of the opportunity to bring in reliable genuine proven quality where new signings are concerned this summer. Owen is injury prone and Valencia is very much unproven at the very highest level. One is left to assume that Fergie's assistant is referring to the current squad, but it's questionable if those tasked with taking the club forward post Ronaldo and Tevez are good enough to do the job.

Rival fans and pundits alike had claimed that if you took Ronaldo out then Ferguson's team would be very average and going off United's early season performances they are right.

Ferguson had promised that we would see United playing 'differently' this season, when quizzed what that actually meant the Scot said that Berbatov would play alongside Rooney up top. It was a simple solution to a not so simple problem and one that will continue to be questioned.

On Saturday, and no doubt fearing a midfield mauling by Wenger's young guns, Ferguson abandoned the idea of playing two strikers and instead he opted to flood the midfield. It was a decision that very nearly backfired spectacularly.

United's five man midfield didn't stop Arshavin from nearly bursting the rigging and but for mistakes by Almunia and Diaby which led to the visitors eventually gifting United the points the champions would have lost two games out of just four.

Playing Rooney on his own as the main striker is never going to work, not when the manager is relying on players like Valencia, Fletcher, Nani and Carrick to score goals. Clearly and despite fears that United's midfield isn't strong enough, the manager needs to stick to his initial plan of starting with two strikers - any other option is doomed to failure - that is unless United continue to be extremely lucky, but as everyone knows in football, good luck and the decisions, both good and bad tend to even themselves out over the season.

Fergie made a plan he needs to stick to it, if he doesn't and he continues to play Rooney as the lone striker, United's attacks will continue to break down and the ball will keep on coming back which will eventually lead to the midfield and defence being over-worked, and that in turn leads to mistakes.

The merits of Rooney and Berbatov partnership is another huge talking point, what is beyond doubt is the fact that neither one of them is capable of consistently providing the goal-scoring solution on their own and therefore two strikers playing together has to be better than just one.

On a weekend of good fortune there was however yet more good news to report, because United's next opponents have been rocked with the news that Modric has suffered a serious injury and he will miss the clash with the champions. Despite the loss of Modric, Spurs will still give United a thorough examination and there's no doubt that Fergie and his players will have to rise to the occasion which didn't really happen against Arsenal.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Arsenal gift wrap United points as champions get lucky....

Arsene Wenger will wake up this morning knowing that his team should have won at Old Trafford yesterday, the fact that they didn't was down to two poor errors of judgement by his goalkeeper and the burgeoning young French midfield star that is Diaby.

Arsenal hadn't lost a game this season prior to Saturday's 2-1 reverse, the Gunners have been in scintillating form, in contrast Ferguson's team have been struggling following the loss of Ronaldo and Tevez and in the wake of those big name departures the United manager stated that his team would have to play 'differently'.

The clash with Arsenal was the first big test of the season for both managers. As things turned out, despite the defeat and being sent-off, Wenger should be the more satisfied of the two managers, because without any shadow of doubt the Gunners' were by far the better of the two teams.

Going in this clash of the titans, Arsenal were without arguably their best player in Fabregas who is out injured. For his part, Ferguson was denied the services of his first-choice 'keeper and Rio Ferdinand. The team that Ferguson sent out to battle consisted of just one striker, Wayne Rooney. Ferguson is seemingly reverting back to his bad old tinkerman days when playing one striker, on this occasion against a team that is probably the best at retaining the ball, which raises many questions.

Had the United manager forgotten the champions were playing at home?

Was this his definition of playing differently?

Does Ferguson have any faith in Berbatov and Owen to play in the big games?

Will the United manager continue to play 4-5-1 at home in the toughest looking fixtures?

Does Ferguson have any faith in his midfield?

Are United's current midfield options so lacking that the manger feels he has to flood it every time we face title contenders?

Notwithstanding unanswered questions, it was a tactic that was doomed to failure given that Rooney is 5'8" and therefore totally unsuitable to playing the lone striker role. It was a tactic that was bound to gift possession back to the visitors and predictably it did, eventually. However, despite the handicap of playing with just one striker, United did manage to somehow have the greater share of possession in the opening period; this was largely down to sheer effort rather than class and use of the ball.

Ryan Giggs had been selected in preference to Anderson, but the Welshman's first -half performance was woeful, more or less every time he came into contact with the ball he either gifted it back to Arsenal or else he simply played it to no one in particular.

Nani wasn't much better on the left; it was noticeable that the Portuguese winger was given an earful on more than one occasion after taking the wrong option and losing the ball. New signing Valencia simply wasn't in the game and apart from one good cross to the back stick; Clichy kept the Ecuadorian in check.

United huffed, puffed and harried Arsenal, but much of the champions attacking play was disjointed. Despite edging the first half possession stats, it was United who went behind five minutes before the break when Arshavin escaped the attention of United's five-man midfield who invited the Russian to shoot and there's no one better from thirty yards. The resulting thunderbolt flew beyond the flailing arms of Ben Foster who perhaps should have done better, though nothing should be taken away from Arshavin's fine effort.

The opening goal rocked United and from that point on it looked like there'd only be one winner and it wasn't going to be the champions. The first-half came to a close and United hadn't managed to register a direct effort on Almunia's goal.

Those United fans expecting positive half-time changes would have been disappointed as Ferguson elected to retain his starting eleven for the second period; quite how Giggs hadn't been withdrawn was to say the least baffling.

The fact that Ferguson chose to retain the same system with the same players was damning, because the balance of this game had clearly swung the visitors’ way and something needed to be done by the United manager, but he did nothing.

Arsenal could easily have extended their lead early in the second-half, but they were denied by Ben Foster who redeemed his first-half error when saving Van Persie's effort who must have thought he'd scored from just six yards out.

Then against the odds and following a rare moment of inspiration from Ryan Giggs, the Welshman slotted an incisive pass through the heart of the Arsenal centre-backs, and United were rescued by Almunia who brought down Rooney inside the penalty area. Rooney was actually running away from the goal, even if he'd managed to control the ball there was an awful lot still to do, but thankfully the champions were given a get-out-of-jail-card with the award of a penalty which Rooney converted in style.

Despite drawing level, it was Arsenal who were still the dominant side. All too often United reverted to simply lumping the ball in the air from back to front in a vain attempt to find Wayne Rooney, inevitably the ball ended up back in the possession of the visitors'. The net result of Ferguson's hit and hope tactics was sadly predictable; at times it was like watching a lower division team play.

United had another narrow escape when only the woodwork denied Van Persie whose curling left foot drive looked to have beaten Foster all ends up, that effort came about following the award of a free-kick which been given after Diaby had been fouled by Evra.

Ferguson's tactics did not deserve anything from this game, but on 64 minutes and for the second time on what turned out to be United's day, the champions somehow escaped from jail again when a Giggs free-kick was inexplicably headed into his own net by Diaby.

Ferguson eventually made the belated decision to actually try to redress the balance of play; he replaced the ineffective Valencia with the equally ineffective Park, who contributed little of note.

Then on 85 minutes Ferguson finally brought on Berbatov in exchange for Giggs. United fans might well reflect that it actually took the champions until the 92 second minute before they created a genuine goal scoring opportunity, this came about when Arsenal were pressing for an equaliser and Nani played a superb ball to the feet of Berbatov, who surely would have scored but ironically on what turned out to be a day of extreme good fortune the ball bobbled unkindly and the Bulgarian totally miss hit his shot.

Arsenal had been by far the better side throughout the second period and they thought they'd equalised deep into added time through Van Persie, but his effort was ruled out for offside, which resulted in Arsene Wenger being sent to the stands.

In turned out to be a very strange day. Wenger had received his marching orders, which was quite amusing. United had won, but hadn’t deserved to, but nonetheless the performance of Ferguson and his team left many unanswered questions because on the evidence of this performance the champions look more or less totally devoid of ideas both on and off the pitch. It's doubtful United will be so lucky against Spurs and City.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Arsenal will provide ultimate test for 'new look' United ..

Later today United take on Arsenal in what will be an intriguing contest. The Gunners' recently sold Adebayor and Toure to big-spending neighbours Manchester City, but despite predictions of doom, Wenger's young team have so far confounded their many critics’.

In contrast to Arsenal and following the loss of Ronaldo and Tevez, the champions have looked short of ideas in front of goal. United's early season form has been mixed, last weekend they hammered Wigan when scoring five second-half goals, but prior to that they suffered one of the most embarrassing defeats in the last thirty years when losing one-nil to Burnley.

Many United fans are asking if the manager actually knows what his strongest team is and they have concerns about midfield amidst talk of dressing-room unrest, this follows on from a highly publicised 'spat' with Anderson. The Brazilian subsequently issued a statement saying he didn't want to leave following reports linking Anderson with a summer transfer. Ferguson has also denied those bust-up claims when describing them as "rubbish".

Michael Carrick has also fallen under the spotlight with reports linking him with a move; the former Spurs player was omitted from the squad that narrowly won against Birmingham and again for the trip to Wigan last weekend.

According to Ferguson, both Carrick and Anderson have been "rested" in the name of squad rotation. But the fans will be asking why on earth the manager feels the need to rest players after just three games...

Rotation issues aside, the manager's early season selection policy of chopping and changing adds weight to the theory that Ferguson doesn't know what his strongest team is. Fergie says he wants to give Darron Gibson as many games as possible, but despite this assertion his actions will only serve to inflame the speculation given expensive signings like Carrick and Anderson appear to have been axed in preference to a youngster.

Many pundits expect Ferguson to make at least one more signing, but you wonder if the champions could be about to off-load more big name players before the window closes. As ever a lot will depend on any offers the club receives; Anderson and Carrick are not officially up for sale so it will be interesting to see if either takes part in today's game.

Arsenal could be without Fabregas which could be a blessing; the Spaniard has been in superb form, but he's been given a 50/50 chance of playing at Old Trafford. No one is actually certain about the United line-up, as the manager could be about to spin his lottery selection wheel once more, but we know that Ferdinand and Van der Sarr are both injured and so they will miss-out.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

United to slip up in Champions League Banana skin group?...

So then the Champions League draw proper has taken place, Arsenal have been drawn in a relatively easy looking group H. United face difficult looking away trips to Moscow, Wolfsburg and Besiktas. No doubting Fergie and the Glazer family were desperate to avoid being drawn against Real Madrid for very obvious reasons - at least the potential for great embarrassment for all concerned has for the time being been delayed.

Wolfsburg are the Bundesliga champions and United have struggled against German, Turkish and Russian opposition in the not too past and surely Ferguson will not need reminding that United failed to qualify for the knock-out phase after being drawn against very modest looking opposition in 2006 in a Group D that consisted of Benfica, Lille and Villarreal.

On paper United should progress into the first knockout round, but of course it's rarely as simple as that and with so many questions being asked about the forward-line and exactly who will score the goals this campaign, it won't be that surprising if the champions have a really tough time in the Group phase of the competition.

Barcelona along with Real Madrid will be the favourites to lift the trophy and it certainly looks as though La Liga has the two strongest teams in the competition following the big money moves this summer at the Santiago Bernabeu and the Camp Nou. This year's final is in Madrid and if either of the big two Spanish sides progress through to the final it could be a real cracker.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ferguson set to gamble on 'The Glass Man’ in last chance saloon as duo exit talk surfaces...

If the rumours are true then it seems Carrick and Anderson could soon be looking for new clubs, because according to the media both players have been involved in spats with the manager following his decision to axe the pair of them.

Anderson was reportedly unhappy about being omitted from the United team that faced Chelsea in the Community Shield, while Carrick was dropped for the home game with Birmingham.

The fact that two players are reportedly questioning Fergie's decision-making isn’t anything new as it must happen all of the time, but in the past this sort of dispute has been kept behind closed doors, so the fans will be wondering to what extent the manager's authority has been questioned.

If Anderson and Carrick push their luck too much they will soon be editing their CVs in pursuit of work elsewhere because few have seriously questioned Ferguson's authority and survived. The last high-profile player to fall foul of the manager's rules was Ruud Van Nistelrooy and before him it was Roy Keane.

If it wasn't for the fact that United's midfield is short on numbers and top quality options we might have seen the back of the star duo this transfer window, but that scenario must be unlikely given Ferguson's current squad.

While talk of possible star exits rages on the rumours linking Arjen Robben with a late move to Old Trafford are gathering pace, but you do wonder why the champions have waited so long before making their move - if indeed the rumours are true - because last summer the club's dithering nearly allowed rivals Man City to sign Berbatov.

Reports claim a number of Premier League clubs are interested in signing the former Chelsea winger, Robben, who has been dubbed ‘The Glass Man’ by the Spanish press due to his consistent injury problems. The reported fee will be around £26m which is an awful lot given the player is surplus to requirements at Real Madrid his current club. United may well be playing another game of brinksmanship but the stakes are high and Ferguson could be gambling in the last chance saloon as far his chances of retaining the title go this season because from what we have seen so far it doesn't look like the champions have enough goal scoring power up front.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Six players that Ferguson could have signed...

United banjoed a low on confidence looking Wigan side at the weekend, the five-nil score-line didn't flatter the champions, but Ferguson will know his squad's title winning credentials will be tested to the limit in the next three fixtures with United set to face Arsenal (h), Spurs (a) and then Man City (h).

Last week's embarrassing defeat against Burnley coupled with the lack of high-profile summer signings has resulted in Chelsea becoming the bookmakers favourites to win the Premier League - no great surprise there given the West London club have retained their big star names.

It also looks like good news for those who have complained that the accepted top four English clubs have dominated the League too often, because Spurs and even Man City will have a big say on where the title ends up next May - it could turn out to be one of the most competitive seasons in the relatively short history of the Premier League.

So what about United's chances of retaining the title? There's no doubting the champions are nowhere near as potent up front following the loss of Ronaldo and many pundits say Ferguson has big problems in midfield, as exposed by Barcelona in the Champions League Final.

The consensus is that Fergie needs to sign at least two quality players, a midfield player and a striker; despite a shortage of stand-out candidates for both roles there are a number of players who the United manager could have tried to sign.

Emmanuel Adebayor - City paid £25m for the former Arsenal star and already it is looking like money well spent. Fergie even admitted Adebayor or his agent contacted United and was desperate to come to Old Trafford, yet the manager failed to take advantage of the situation.

Gareth Barry - The former Villa star can play either in the back-four or in central midfield; it's partly why Liverpool wanted him. Like Adebayor he looks to be an excellent signing and his defensive qualities are arguably exactly what is missing in Fergie's existing midfield options. Fletcher has the legs, but his distribution let's him down at times and Carrick's tackling is poor.

Fergie obviously cannot sign Adebayor and Barry now, it's too late for that, but whenever anyone says there's been a shortage of candidates let us not forget United didn't even try to sign those two...

Real Madrid have four players who would add something to United's attacking options. Arjen Robben, Royston Drenthe, Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder are all available for transfer, here again Ferguson has made no move for any of the players mentioned. You do wonder if United fear having their transfer trousers pulled down after demanding and according the club "receiving" £80m cash for Ronaldo.

Whatever the reason for Ferguson's failure to move for any of the Real Madrid players it remains to be seen if the United manager will live to regret not bringing in more quality this summer. It might well be the case that Fergie doesn't rate any of the players mentioned, but I for one find that extremely hard to believe.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Goals galore brings smiles back but Arsenal, Spurs and City will be the true test...

The smiles returned to the faces of the Manchester United players yesterday as the champions ran out five-nil winners over Wigan, it was a victory that was much needed following the midweek embarrassment at Turf Moor.

After failing to capitalise on several good goal-scoring opportunities in the previous two games and then squandering three excellent chances in the first-half yesterday the visting supporters in the DW Stadium were wondering if United would end up dropping more points against a Wigan team who looked short on confidence.

Robbie Blake scored in midweek and stunned the champions, but on this occasion it was the visitors who were creating their own problems with Gary Neville and Darren Fletcher guilty of making awful mistakes in the opening period. Neville criminally conceded possession in his own half - but for a brilliant save from Ben Foster the visitors could easily have gone into the break one down, which would have been a travesty given the chances Scholes, Rooney and Fletcher had squandered.

In truth at half-time surely no one could have predicted the second-half rout that was to follow. Wayne Rooney (56) scored with a majestic header to the relief of the travelling fans from Manchester and just two minutes later Berbatov opened his scoring account for the season. The Bulgarian's extremely well taken goal effectively killed-off Wigan who visibly wilted at that point; it also lifted the confidence of the United players.

It came as no surprise that Rooney (65) scored his second with a deflection before substitute Michael Owen (85) got on the score-sheet with a skillfully taken goal after good work by Nani. Deep into injury time Nani hammered the final nail into Wigan's coffin with an impressive free-kick from fully thirty yards as Kirkland was left rooted to his goal-line.

United's goals against Wigan were much needed, as was the win (obviously), but it's difficult put the result into any meaningful context for the remainder of the season because Wigan didn't play like a team in the second-period and if they carry playing like that they will be relegation material.

In the wake of the victory over Wigan everyone has been talking about the goals, but equally as important was the very timely return of Nemanja Vidic. The Serbian defender was immense, he barely put a foot wrong and fears that he might be rusty following a long lay-off were dispelled.

Next up United face Arsenal and that could be cracker, both teams are coming off the back of thumping wins and both are at their best when attacking.

After the home game with the Gunners, the champions have a really difficult looking away game against Spurs in North London. Tottenham are flying at present, so much so that some pundits are even talking about a top-four finish for Redknapp's team - whether this is another case of early season optimism time will tell. Then United face neighbours Manchester City at Old Trafford and after that fixture we will know a lot more about the title credentials of United, Arsenal, Spurs and moneybags City.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ferguson set to spin lottery selection wheel again?

United take on Wigan tomorrow at the DW Stadium, a defeat will send the tabloids into overdrive because the champions surely cannot afford to lose two very winnable looking games on the bounce.

Earlier this week United were humbled by Premier League newcomers Burnley; it was arguably one of the most embarrassing results in Ferguson's reign as United manager.

Going into what will be another tricky away fixture, Ferguson has been rocked by the news that Rio Ferdinand will be out injured for up to four weeks. However, Nemaja Vidic is set to make his first appearance of the season - and the fans will be hoping the Serbian isn't being rushed back to soon having missed the whole of pre-season and having only trained for ten days.

The very fact that Vidic is being rushed back so soon smacks of a panic measure, but given Jonny Evans was withdrawn after 75 minutes at Turf Moor in midweek the manager may well claim he has no alternative.

It is hoped the return of Vidic will not backfire because United really do need to get back to winning ways, especially in the wake of the Burnley defeat, many supporters are asking why Fergie needed to make so many changes to the team that faced Birmingham at Old Trafford last Sunday, because United had only played one game.

The United manager has got away with chopping and changing his team over the last few seasons, largely because Cristiano Ronaldo was an ever-present and it was his goals that helped the champions secure six points from fixtures against many of the clubs outside of the top four last season.

The other big talking point concerns Michael Owen, the former Newcastle striker has so far failed to find his goal-scoring touch and it remains to be seen who will partner Wayne Rooney up front on Saturday. Some supporters would like to see Macheda given his chance because so far the young Italian has been completely ignored in preference to senior players who have so far failed to deliver.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fergie refusing to hit panic button

Sir Alex has refused to hit the panic button despite, against all football odds, Wednesday's shock 1-0 defeat at newly-promoted Burnley.
United once again dominated possession and carved out numerous clear-cut chances, as well as missing a first-half penalty, but in the end were beaten by a superb strike by Robbie Blake.
Just as they did at the weekend against Birmingham, the champions bossed proceedings but their lack of killer instinct in front of goal has already started to worry some fans, but not Ferguson.
"When you look at the chances we had, one or two should have been off the mark.
"Michael Owen missed a chance in the fist half, Ryan Giggs had a great chance, Wayne Rooney had a couple and Michael Carrick had the best chance when the ball was squared to him in the box but he took a touch and lost the opportunity."
Fergie remains cool and it's far too early in the season yet to start bemoaning the arrivals of Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia - the pair expected to replace the departed Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez.
United have stuttered against Portsmouth, Reading and Newcastle at the start of recent campaigns, but that didn't stop them from racking up three successive Premier League titles.
But Fergie has to decide whether his current strikeforce is strong enough to see them through to January.
Owen, who missed a golden chance against Birmingham to get off the mark, once again passed up a couple of chances at Turf Moor and Ferguson will be seriously considering whether to make football news and add to his senior forward line of Dimitar Berbatov, Owen and Rooney.
However with under two weeks to go to the end of the summer transfer window the United chief has little time to manoeuvre and his transfer efforts will more likely be aimed at lining up a deal to strengthen United in the January window.

Rivals laughing at United: Owen continues to fluff his lines as champs turn to chumps..

The fixture list gave United a relatively easy looking start to the new Premier League season, but just two games in talk of the champions retaining the trophy for the fourth time in a row is already looking optimistic and that is putting it mildly.

On Sunday United just about managed to see off the challenge of newly promoted Birmingham City thanks to a Wayne Rooney goal, but last night at Turf Moor Burnley sent Ferguson's team crashing to the canvass following a first-half hammer blow by veteran Robbie Blake.

Worryingly for Ferguson, for the second game in succession Michael Owen failed to convert excellent goal-scoring opportunities and the fans will be wondering how much longer the manager will give the former Liverpool and Newcastle striker. There has to be a serious danger that Ferguson will make what could prove to be a costly panic buy given his limited striker options. Owen might well say he'd be more concerned if he wasn't getting into goals-scoring situations, which isn't the case, but nonetheless he doesn't look sharp. Pundits and fans alike will be questioning if the former England striker will ever recapture his cutting-edge, but the early signs do not look good for Owen and United.

To compound United's misery, Michael Carrick saw his first-half penalty saved by the man-of-the-match Brian Jensen. United's failure to score from the penalty-spot only served to highlight that currently the club doesn't appear to have anyone who is confident enough and capable of converting from just 12 yards out - which is an alarming fact following the departure of Ronaldo.

Ferguson's concerns go way beyond the lack of a penalty taker. Rio Ferdinand's injury problems appear to be getting worse and talk of Vidic leaving the club is getting louder by the week. Against Burnley United's makeshift defence was stretched too many times and Owen Coyle's team could easily have scored more goals.

The problems were not confined to the back four, because the midfield was equally as shaky. Michael Carrick was largely anonymous throughout this game, but perhaps Ferguson didn't help him when electing to play Anderson on the left wing and Giggs in central midfield. It's true to say Giggs was one of the champions better performers on what was a truly awful night, but Anderson was like a fish out of water on the left and here again Ferguson's tactics will be come under scrutiny, because ahead of what was always going to be a tricky away game the United manager had decided to completely change his midfield following Sunday's win over Birmingham.

Ferguson will be expecting his team to bounce back when they travel to Wigan on Saturday, but if that doesn't happen and United lose again it will be further of evidence of a team in decline. Following the departure of Ronaldo and Tevez there was always going to be a period of readjustment; the common consensus was that Ferguson needed to sign someone to score goals and the lead the forward line and so not everyone will be that surprised the champions are struggling in front of goal even against modest Premier League opposition.

United lack genuine star quality in too many areas and new recruits like Atonio Valencia have so far failed to convince the fans that he is capable of stepping-up to the mark. On a night of wholesale changes, Park-Ji-Sung was preferred to the Ecuadorian, but time and time again he gave away possession cheaply as United's forward play broke down on the right.

Against Burnley, United had the look of a mid-table Premier League outfit, one that will struggle to score goals and one that could leak them at the other end, while the engine room was at sea following too many changes. To compound matters there are no leaders in this United team.

It would be totally ridiculous to talk of a crisis at this early juncture, but it won't stop the ABUs from having a good laugh at United's expense following last night's defeat. All credit to Burnley, because they created some excellent chances and their victory was well deserved.

It was only last season that Ferguson suggested this was his best ever squad, it was a silly claim at the time, but a just a matter of weeks further on it is one that looks positively barmy now. The harsh truth is United have relied on Ronaldo too much, without him the current squad is struggling against the calibre of Birmingham and Burnley.

You do wonder how much longer Ferguson will persevere with players who continue to under-perform and how much longer the manager can continue to ignore younger players like Macheda and Gibson. Whatever team the manager selects it looks like it's going to be a very bumpy ride if the first two league performances are any sort of indicator but there's no reason to think otherwise on the evidence of what we have seen so far.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

United ready to rumble, but can Man City really gate-crash Premier League top four?

The new season kicked-off yesterday and there was no shortage of talking points. Ahead of the opening Premier League fixtures just about every leading neutral pundit (Bob Wilson, Paddy Crerand and Paul Lake don't count) had written-off Arsenal and big-spending Manchester City (I use the term neutrality advisedly, because it is a rarity where punditry is concerned - as Alan Green would no doubt concur - more on him later)...

Arsenal haven't won a trophy since 2005 and of the accepted top four English clubs many "experts" have been claiming that Arsene Wenger is the manager most likely to come under pressure following the loss of Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure. Lack of silverware in the Gunners trophy cabinet has unsettled some supporters, it's not surprising because many fans had become used to regular success, but that was prior to the arrival of Roman Abramovich, whose multi-millions have ensured Chelsea have finished in the top-two places of the Premier League four times out of the last five - who says money can't buy success?

On Saturday and with few expecting fireworks, aside from the oh so very predictable mixed reaction given to Manchester City transfer target Joeloen Lescott, it turned out to be a complete rout as Arsenal thrashed Everton 6-1 at Goodison Park. BBC 5-live 'ABU' commentator Alan Green pointed out that he'd not seen a ground empty so quickly since Liverpool hammered Manchester United 4-1 at Old Trafford last season - and he really DID emphasise the word hammered... (Nice early dig Alan).

As for Manchester City, no one is actually sure of the whereabouts of the keys to their trophy cabinet, it hasn't been opened for so long. However, with limitless funds at his disposal and following a summer in which Mark Hughes has upset just about every leading manager in England with his dogged pursuit of his top transfer-targets from rival clubs and several astute signings expectations have rarely been higher.

For City fans, success isn't judged on how many trophies their team has won in a season or even a decade or three - only one thing matters - how many points they can win in the Manchester derby and it's been like that pretty much forever.

For United fans, up and until this season Liverpool were considered bigger rivals, at least on the pitch at any rate. However, with Fergie taking time out recently to tell City exactly how small a club they are, you wondered if the great man is more than a little bit worried about the prospect of facing what looks like being a serious threat. Because if yesterday's performance is any sort of indicator of what might lie ahead then it looks like City will indeed be genuine contenders for one of those top four places this season.

City won two-nil away at Blackburn, which is no mean feat given Ewood Park isn't always a happy hunting ground for either of the Manchester clubs. The scoreline wasn't particularly impressive, but the performance of what is essentially a new team was polished and despite Shay Given being called into action more than once when making good saves, it was City who were by far the better team. Former Liverpool transfer target Gareth Barry was at the heart of everything that was good about City's midfield and his link-up play with Ireland worked extremely well. With the very real danger of being subjected to the wrath of angry United fans, City look like a very useful outfit, with no apparent weaknesses in their team, aside from possibly Richard Dunn...

United and Liverpool kick-off the season later today when facing Birmingham (h) and Tottenham (a) respectively and many will be wondering if they can start the season with a win to match City, Arsenal and Chelsea, who had to rely on an injury time winner from Drogba against Hull City.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Come in number 19? Experts divided on United's title chances....

It should come as no surprise that the expert pundits are divided on who is likely to win the Premier League title this season, however the general consensus is the accepted top four will not change with United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal all finishing in the Champions League positions next May, in fact Sky's Andy Gray is so confident that he'd wager £1,000 on that outcome...

When it comes to actually winning the title, the experts are split:

Alan Hansen and Phil McNulty (BBC): Liverpool
The BBC MOTD pundit is desperately hoping his beloved Liverpool will deny United title number 19 and no doubting the scouse Red Army will concur. McNulty says United will finish third.

Mark Lawrenson and Henry Winter: Manchester United
Despite the loss of Ronaldo the former Liverpool defender says the champions are still the team to beat, but he's also convinced Fergie will bring in a goal-scorer before the window closes. Lawrenson says the Red Devils might well find it more difficult to take six points off the also-rans this season following this summer's high-profile departures. Henry Winter says tipping United is a gamble, but like Lawrenson, he says the Red Devils are still strong enough to retain the title.

Patrick Barclay & Andy Gray: Chelsea
Andy Gray and Patrick Barclay agree that Chelsea will be the strongest having held on to their big star names and with the addition of Carlo Ancelotti at the helm they believe this combination will prove to be too much for the rest. United fans might well recall that it was Barclay who predicted England would go on to win the 2006 World Cup...

So what of big-spending Manchester City, what are their chances of winning the title? No one - apart from City fans - expects them to finish in the top four, but Alan Hansen says of the accepted leading clubs it's Arsenal who are the most likely to come under pressure from the Citizens, that view is completely understandable given the Gunners questionable summer transfer activity.

All in all it promises to be a very interesting season.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fergie admits to Berbatov mistake

Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted he made a major mistake last season with Bulgaria striker Dimitar Berbatov.
The former Spurs frontman, who arrived for £30.75million last summer, came under fire last season after not living up to Old Trafford expectations, but Fergie has said he played the striker too deep.
The 28-year-old started 36 games and scored 14 goals last term for United, but he often drifted in and out of games and was often disappointing in the big matches.
Ferguson said: "Berbatov probably suffered from a lack of confidence last season, he didn't show it outwardly but it may have affected his inner thoughts.
"But we were a bit unfair to him last season because we asked him to play too deep. We thought that suited him because of how he played at Spurs, but we were wrong.
"We realise now he is at his best in the final third of the pitch, where he's a real threat. We know how to use him this season and he won't change from that.
"Part of the image problem he's had is that he has this languid style of running. But although he hasn't the pace of Cristiano Ronaldo or Nani, he's still quickish. He is probably as quick as Rooney."
Berbatov was a starter in the 2-2 draw with Chelsea in Sunday's Community Shield and put in an impressive performance with his link-up play with Wayne Rooney a highlight ahead of the new season.
Sunday's line-up was a big hint that Sir Alex will partner Rooney and Berbatov together for Sunday's Premier League opener against Birmingham with Michael Owen set to take his place on the bench.
Fergie seems confident Berbatov can improve on his efforts last season and United's switch to a more conventional 4-4-2 might just help him along the way.
His partnership with Rooney has shown promise, but the signing of winger Antonio Valencia could be key for Berbatov with the former Wigan man expected to provide a fruitful supply line from the right flank.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Rooney and Berbatov shine as new look United impress...

The Community Shield has all too often been little more than just another pre-season workout, but yesterday's curtain raiser provided much more than that. From a Manchester United perspective, it was the beginning of life without Ronaldo and Tevez following their high-profile departures, it was the first real test of Ferguson's re-jigged forward-line that consisted of Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov, so how did it go?

Well, United went on to lose the game on penalties following a two-two draw after 90 minutes -no big deal there - apart from the fact that Giggs and Evra took two of the most awful spot-kicks you are ever likely to see, but let's forget about the lottery of penalties and instead we should focus on what the fans can look forward to in the season ahead.

Personally, I didn't expect Ferguson to start with a 442 formation, but that is precisely what the manager did and all credit to him because it was a decision that could easily have backfired against a powerful looking Chelsea side who are keen to avenge recent defeats against the champions.

Nani and Park were on opposite flanks and in central midfield Fletcher and Carrick were in harness. Nani scored a very good goal and showed signs of improvement when working back for the team on defensive duties, but no doubting Ferguson will be taking him to task following a lapse of concentration which in part led to Carvalho equalising, in so doing wiping out the Portuguese winger's first-half effort.

It was so refreshing to see Rooney set free from being tied to the left flank where he has been stationed at the start of so many recent big games; his link-up play with Berbatov was very good. The Bulgarian had a fine game, so good in fact that he would have been my man of the match. I cannot recall seeing Berbatov play so well alongside any other United player during his relatively short time with the club, so there's much to look forward to there hopefully... at times against Chelsea, Berbatov's control and speed of thought was little short breathtaking. With the danger of going over the top, at times it seemed as though we were watching a different player because there seemed to be a greater sense of urgency where the former Spurs striker was concerned.

It wasn't just Berbatov and Rooney who played well in what was an absorbing opening period, barring Ben Foster in goal, the whole United team seemed to be sharper than the team in Blue. The champions first time passing and movement gave them an edge and the surging runs of Evra and Nani down United's left flank gave the West London club problems aplenty.

Both teams failed to capitalise on further first-half opportunities, but after the half time break it was Carlo Ancelotti's new team who took control of the game.

Chelsea are a very powerful side and they will always create chances against opposing teams who allow you to play and with Ferguson adopting a more offensive 442 formation, it was always going to be that way, however, the United manager had every right to be unhappy when Chelsea eventually took the lead through Frank Lampard (71), because moments earlier Ballack appeared to elbow Patrice Evra.

Michael Owen could so easily have put the champions on level terms after just failing to connect with a header after he'd replaced Berbatov late on. Fabio da Silva looked good at right back and Valencia looked useful when replacing Nani who came off with a shoulder injury.

In added time Wayne Rooney ensured the match went to penalties when he equalised after being put through by substitute Ryan Giggs.

On a day that ended in defeat there was many plus points about this United performance, the formation stood up to the power of Chelsea; the courage of Ferguson was rewarded with a fine fist-half display. It's very early days though and it will be very interesting to see how the new strike partnership of Rooney and Berbatov develops, the early signs look good with the Bulgarian looking as though he has taken onboard the manager's comments about the need for everyone to take up the challenge of replacing Ronaldo and his goals.

Result aside, there were some concerns, John O'Shea looked vulnerable at rightback and United's central midfield was stretched badly more than once in the second-half as the Reds pushed for openings in search of an equaliser. United were simply short on numbers at times and that's a dangerous game when you're facing players of the calibre of Drogba and Lampard.

Ben Foster looked nervous and edgy in goal and his kicking and decision-making left a lot to be desired on several occasions and Ferguson will no doubt be having some serious words with the stopper in the wake of what was a very average performance.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Predictions for United and the season ahead...

Seeing as the new season is just around the corner now seems as good a time as any to make a few predictions. Following a summer of low-profile signings United are unquestionably much weaker than they were last season having lost Ronaldo and Tevez. Everyone is asking where the goals will come from, Ferguson has responded by demanding the whole team scores more goals between them, but it's safe to say that many fans and neutrals alike do not share the manager's confidence.


Premier League: 3rd
Champions League: Group stage.

I expect the Red Devils to have a good start in league and we could head the table in the early weeks of the season, but I do not see this squad scoring enough goals. The best United can hope for is to win either the FA Cup or the Carling Cup.

Premier League: 2nd
Champions League: Quarter-final

Like him, or more likely loathe him from a United perspective, the Liverpool manager has been doing a good job. However, the loss of Alonso could affect the Merseyside Reds this season because whenever Gerrard was missing through injury the Spaniard ensured the skipper was not missed. If Gerrard and Torres can remain fit they will push Chelsea all the way in the title race.

Premier League: 1st
Champions League: Semi-final

Chelsea are the strongest of all the accepted top four having kept hold of their big star names. Do not expect the West London club to have it all their own way from the start to what is likely to be another close run finish. The jury will be out on Ancelotti, but I think he will do well and go on to secure his first Premier League title. The best hope for Chelsea's challengers is that their new Italian manager takes time to settle in early doors, but the former AC Milan coach has bags of experience and I expect him to come through.

Premier League: 4th
Champions League: Group stage

Of all the leading manager's Arsene Wenger is under the most pressure. Arsenal haven't won a trophy since 2005 and that is a long time for the Gunners. Like Ferguson, Arsene Wenger has seen some of his better players sold, and just like his opposite number at Old Trafford he has been unable to replace them like for like.

Manchester City
Premier League: 5th
With the danger of upsetting many United fans, I can see City doing something they've not done since 1976, that is win a trophy.

Champions League: Barcelona
FA Cup: Liverpool
Carling Cup: Man City

Finally, for those of you who love your football check out the launch of The Season, the Guardian’s ultimate guide to the new football season, its free with the paper on Monday 10 August. As well as providing you with essential team-by-team information, The Season, also offers readers some off-the-wall and interesting critiques on the football league's top teams. This all comes in a handy guide size, small enough to take to the terraces, but large enough to satisfy your appetite for endless stats and rumours.

Highlights include:

Manchester United without Ronaldo
Manchester City’s prospects after spending almost £100m in the summer
Rafael Benitez, Liverpool’s history and their need for the title
Foreign players' experiences in England focusing on Wigan’s Roberto Martinez
World Cup qualifying clips and great World Cup clich├ęs
Newcastle's chances of getting out of a tough Championship
Carlo Ancelotti's Twitter page
The Michael Owen-style brochures you might have missed
The possible shift in power from the Premier League to La Liga
ESPN and the BBC’s involvement in showing live football
A funny look at the new and very complicated Europa League
Uefa's experiment with five referees per match

Also, Featured:
Premier League team-by-team guide and previews of the Championship/League
One/League Two and the Scottish Premier League

Owen set to take Berbatov's place in United's starting XI?....

Towards the end of last season it appeared as though Ferguson had realised that just perhaps he'd made a big mistake in signing Dimitar Berbatov as the manager left him out of the starting line-up when facing Arsenal on three occasions, as well as the team that faced Barcelona in the Champions League Final.

Ever since his arrival from Tottenham last summer his worth has divided opinion among the fans, some were unhappy when the champions opted not to sign Carlos Tevez but instead the club chose to shell-out £30m to acquire the services of the Bulgarian striker - in fairness, it looked like a reasonable deal at the time even if the asking price was over-inflated.

Roll the clock forward 12 months on following the high-profile departures of Ronaldo and Tevez and everyone including Ferguson is wondering where the goals will come from this season, added to which the United manager has started his mind-games early when attacking rivals Manchester City and Liverpool, some fans are asking exactly why this is given we are still in pre-season. The suspicion is Ferguson is trying to deflect attention from his own problems. As ever though, the talking counts for little because once the action starts the real talking points will centre on results on the pitch and not what goes on off it.

Tomorrow United face Chelsea in the Community Shield, the West London club have installed Carlo Ancelotti as their new manager and it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure of his first overseas appointment, but given the Chelsea squad has so much experience they are likely to be as strong as ever this season and they must start Sunday's curtain-raiser as firm favourites.

United will be without Vidic, who we are told has a "calf injury", Jonny Evans is set to deputise. Edwin van der Sarr is out with a broken figure, but Ben Foster is more than an adequate replacement.

As far as Berbatov is concerned there must be a strong possibility that he faces being benched again, only this time it's likely that Michael Owen - a free signing from Newcastle no less - will be his replacement. Even if it doesn't happen at Wembley on Sunday it is only a matter of time before Owen edges out the Bulgarian at some point, because the simple truth is despite Berbatov's hefty price tag and reputation, he is unlikely to be United's main striker this coming season and that's despite what Ferguson said recently. Like last season, Ferguson will almost certainly leave out the former Spurs striker, possibly for the some of the most important fixtures, not least because doubts persist about Berbatov's commitment and desire, but somewhat frustratingly, there are no questions about his ability.

Some say Ferguson is a lucky manager and you do wonder if fate will play a part in the season ahead, because the United manager may not have a lot choice but to blood his budding young players due to missing out on his main transfer targets this summer, the fans like nothing better than to see a rising star come up through the ranks and make it in the United first-team. The club has a long and proud tradition of producing home-grown talent and so even if Ferguson missed out on players like Benzema we might well see the emergence of Macheda and Welbeck.

It promises to be arguably one of the most interesting seasons in Ferguson's amazing reign as United manager and if he actually goes on to win the Premier League title it could well be the most rewarding of all given the squad at his disposal. On that note Ferguson went on record last season stating that the current squad was his strongest ever, you do wonder what his response would be to the same question a few months down the line?...

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Foster set for United chance

Edwin van der Sar’s untimely bad break has given Ben Foster the chance he has been craving for at Old Trafford.

Van der Sar is facing the prospect of eight weeks out after undergoing surgery on a broken finger and bone in his left hand.

The 38-year-old Dutchman sustained the injury saving a penalty from Danijel Pranjic in the Red Devils' 7-6 shoot-out defeat to Bayern Munich in the pre-season Audi Cup in Germany.

It means Foster, who played the first half of United’s 2-0 friendly win over Valencia on Wednesday, is in line to face Chelsea in the Community Shield at the weekend before starting the season as United’s number one.

The 26-year-old, who has appeared 10 times in the United first team, is expected to be Fergie’s preferred choice ahead of Tomasz Kuszczak.

Ferguson is a big fan of the player and believes the former Watford stopper will go on to become an England regular, despite the fact that he’s only played once for his country under Fabio Capello.

“Ben Foster will be England's goalkeeper in South Africa, I have absolutely no doubts about that," Ferguson said last month.

"He is streets ahead of any other English goalkeeper.

"He has magnificent abilities. He is lightning quick, has excellent use of the ball and is exceedingly brave. He is a top drawer goalkeeper."

Foster, who has just penned a new four-year deal, has himself been the victim of a catalogue of injuries since he was signed from Stoke four years ago.

After two seasons on loan at Watford, a cruciate ligament injury wrecked his first season at Old Trafford, a broken finger then cost him a place at last year's Club World Cup in Japan before a thumb injury ended his hopes of appearing on the bench for last term's Champions League final defeat to Barcelona.

The latter problem was particularly costly given Foster would almost certainly have won two more caps in the World Cup qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Andorra last month.

Fergie no nearer solving striker conundrum as big kick-off looms large...

United were in action last night in another pre-season friendly as the champions ran out two-nil winners over Valencia at Old Trafford, the star of the show was Antonio Valencia who helped to create a glut of goal scoring opportunities. Michael Owen spurned four good chances, but he was eventually replaced by Macheda on the hour. Wayne Rooney and youngster Tom Cleverly were on target as the Reds enjoyed another useful work-out.

While Fergie will have been delighted with his new signings, the most serious pre-season test will come this weekend when United take on Chelsea in the Community Shield at Wembley. Ahead the traditional curtain-raiser to the season proper Fergie is still without Nemanja Vidic which must now be a major concern for the United manager. Edwin van der Sarr is also out with a broken finger, but the champions have decent cover in the form of Ben Foster.

Injury problems aside, the most intriguing questions about the new United, post Ronaldo and Tevez, concern how Ferguson will set about re-shaping his team. We have been told that United will play a different way this season, no one (including Fergie one suspects) knows what this actually means, because prior to the Valencia clash Rooney and Owen hadn't featured on the pitch at the same at any point during pre-season, let alone been paired together in tandem as the main strike pairing.

However, last night Owen and Rooney were up front for United and the conclusion is Fergie is still tinkering with his forward-line in search of the most productive combination. It begs the question, who will play up front against Chelsea on Sunday and what will the United formation be?

With Owen being withdrawn on the hour against Valencia it seems almost certain that he will get the nod to start against Chelsea. As for the champions formation, given Chelsea's power in midfield and knowing that Fergie is unlikely to dare to play 442, it's a knocking bet United fans can look forward to Wayne Rooney playing wide left again with Antonio Valencia on the opposite flank in a 433 formation.

Ferguson isn't renowned for his tactical nouse and so can the fans look forward to more of the same regarding tactics ; will United play differently this coming season? For the toughest looking games, Rooney could once again find himself on the left flank; there will also no doubt be question marks about the strength of United's central midfield, as exposed by Barcelona in the Champions League final.

We cannot rule out that Ferguson will surprise us all by opting for a different formation in a bid to get the maximum from his squad, but so far this summer there's been no signs of that actually happening, so chances are we can expect more of the same.

Prestige aside, Sunday's result means little, but onlookers will be looking for signs that Ferguson does indeed have a post-Ronaldo plan, because it's one thing to write off rivals like Liverpool and Manchester City, quite another proving it on the pitch where off the field talking counts for nothing.

United know what to expect from Chelsea and the fact that Fergie is still striving to find his strongest team is no bad thing in some ways; the players will be only too aware that places are up for grabs, so players like Macheda will no doubt be relishing the opportunity to prove that he is worthy of a starting place.

I personally expect United to come off second best on Sunday, but it could be an interesting game if Macheda enters the scene and he is given enough time to show what he is capable of.

Monday, August 03, 2009

United fans get chance to put Alan Hansen in his place in League of Gentlemen...

So then you think you know your football, right? Well now is the time to prove it by joining my Daily Telegraph Football Fantasy Super League aka the "League of Gentlemen". Don't miss this opportunity to pit your wits against some of the UKs top football brains (and Alan Hansen). My Super League has attracted the attention of a former National Football Fantasy League winner, so expect the competition to be fierce.

Bragging rights are at stake, but if that's not enough the Daily Telegraph is offering a grand prize of £150,000 and a weekly prize of £30,000.

To join and get the chance to kick Hansen's butt send me an email via my contact details on this blog (click on my name under contributors) and I will send you an invitation.

The Fantasy League starts on Saturday, August 15th and runs until the end of the season. Terms and conditions apply see the official website for more details.

Telegraph Fantasy League - don't miss this opportunity to put Alan Hansen in his place

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Could wingbacks provide answer to Fergie's problems?

Fergie says he's going to have to try something different if United are going to hit his target of 100 goals this coming season. The United manager says he expects players like Park and Valencia to do something that they've not done before in their careers that it is to score goals frequently. As far as the South Korean is concerned the idea that he might contribute say ten goals would appear to be doomed to failure from the start.

After a somewhat disappointing first season Fergie says he will use Berbatov in a different way - as the main striker no less - the success or failure of this plan pretty much hinges on the Bulgarian himself and so far he's remained silent, and quite what the former Spurs striker thinks about this new role would be interesting to know.

Berbatov is something of an enigma, he can produce moments of brilliance, but then moments later he can appear to look disinterested and lazy, but during his time in England at Spurs and United he has never looked like an out and out striker. Fergie's solution looks to be a lazy one from the outside looking in, but given we have a manager who plays strikers as wingers (Rooney) and wingers as strikers (Giggs) then nothing should surprise us.

United needed to sign a quick all round centre-forward this summer to complement their existing strike-force, because Berbatov most definitely is not that man.

From a tactical perspective, the fact that most observers will rightly accept the manager does need to do something different, is it not disappointing that Fergie hasn't even tried to do something different in pre-season? It's easy to say "we will simply shove Berbatov up front..." the idea is different, but it isn't exactly radical and worse still it's unlikely to work.

So then what else could Fergie have tried this summer and what other options are there? Fergie could opt for 4:4:2; this formation hinges on having a very strong central midfield pairing - think Ince and Keane and or Robson and Moses. Another vital ingredient is the addition of two hard working flank players. Valencia or Park could be perfect on the right, but for the left flank, you wonder if Tosic or Nani are quite good enough. Tosic looks too small while Nani has flattered to deceive on too many occasions and he doesn't defend well.

As far as the central midfield pairing goes, Fletcher and Carrick do not score enough goals, neither does Anderson. Given the various options at Fergie's disposal it would seem 4:4:2 would only work in the bread and butter domestic games - it is unlikely to yield positive results in the major encounters.

Another option would be to use wingbacks. United have some really pacey attacking fullbacks in the Da Silva brothers and Evra, so providing the defensive trio of Rio Ferdinand, Vidic and Wes Brown could organise themselves then playing three at the back could be another avenue.

Three at the back. Possible line up:

++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Rio Vidic Brown ++++++++++++++

+++++++++++ Rafael ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Evra +++

++++++++++++ Valencia ++ Fletcher ++ Carrick ++++

+++++++++++++++Rooney (or Owen) Berbatov (or Macheda)+++++++

Playing three at the back is the most difficult system of all to implement because it relies on the intelligence on five defenders to do the right thing at the right time. One of the issues centres on the third central defender who is in danger of becoming under-employed when facing a 4:5:1 formation (Chelsea - who often employ just Drogba as the main striker), to counter this, one of the three central defenders has the option of pushing further up the pitch into by the opposition's attacking third. Of equal importance is when and when not to attack from the wingback perspective.

The biggest problem with playing three at the back is the system takes time to adapt to and that Fergie freely admits he is no tactical genius. It would take a coach of who has total belief in different systems (Louis Van Gaal or Mourinho) and so in all probability the very idea would never get beyond the tactics board (assuming there actually is one)...

The United manager also has the option of deploying 4:5:1, but here again who would be the main striker? It would have to be Owen, because at least he has pace. Do not be surprised if Fergie opts for 4:5:1 in the not too distant future.

With all that said, we United fans love Fergie, we love his tactics - even if on paper they don't make a lot of sense because he's brought us a lot of success and joy down the years, but it wasn't for nothing that not so long ago the fans named him 'Tinkerbell' and you do wonder if that moniker will be used more frequently in the weeks ahead...