Sunday, November 29, 2009

Time defying Giggs on fire (again), but Chelsea look ominous....

John Westwood aka Mad Pompey fan added to the fun on the South Coast when he came in for ridicule from the visiting United fans singing "that's the worst f*****g hat we've ever seen' and 'have you ever seen your ***k have you ***k?!'.

United ran out 4-1 winners at Fratton Park on Saturday, the final score didn't exactly flatter the champions, but it didn't tell the full story of what turned out to be an incident packed game.

Referee Mike Dean gave United a soft looking penalty on 25 minutes for a trip on Wayne Rooney, which he converted in style. In a bid to balance things up, and as so often is the case, the home side were awarded a very dubious spot-kick just a few minutes later; If Rooney's penalty was soft Dean's decision to penalise Vidic (or was it Wes Brown?) was harsh in the extreme.

Tomasz Kuszczak was given a rare start in goal; the Polish stopper had to make two first-class saves to ensure United went into the half-time break on level terms. By some distance it turned out to be Kuszczak's best game for the club, but it remains to be seen if his future lies at Old Trafford.

Banished to the stands Ferguson had elected to start with a 433 formation, despite the fact that Portsmouth are bottom of the table, and despite fielding arguably his first-choice midfield that included Fletcher, Carrick and Scholes it didn't stop Pompey carving open the better of the first half goal scoring opportunities.

Most worrying of all was the centre-back pairing of Vidic and Wes Brown who were not on the same wavelength. On too many occasions there appeared to be a complete lack of communication and understanding, at times the lack of basic positional sense was alarming, this was at the heart of United's problems at the back in the opening period.

Apparently Fergie has gone on record stating that Brown is the most natural defender in the league; so is Brown more natural than Vidic or John Terry? Many an observer might well concur that Brown is better at rightback rather than in the centre.

If there were problems in defence it was the same up front where Rooney was crying out for support. It wasn't all bad though, far from it. Ryan Giggs and Atonio Valencia played well; it was a day when the Welshman's flicks came off - which isn't always the case.

On this day Giggsy could do no wrong, he played well from start to finish, just about everything he tried came off, it came as no surprise that he was involved in the move of the game when setting up Wayne Rooney for his second goal following a great supporting run and lay-off just three minutes into the second-half. From that point on there was only going to be one winner, the constant threat of Giggs and Valencia had the home team pinned back.

Just ten minutes later Frederic Piquionne brought Giggs down inside the penalty area and Rooney converted, in so doing bagging a hatrick. It was fitting that Giggs hammered the final nail into Pompey's coffin late on with a well placed free-kick.

It wasn't a good weekend elswhere with Chelsea hammering Arsenal and Liverpool winning at Everton. Hopefully, the self-styled 'Biggest' or is it 'Greatest club in the club in the world' aka Man City will beat Chelsea on Saturday, but don't bet on it... United face West Ham United earlier in the day in the three o'clock kick-off. The Hammers have been shipping goals at home so hopefully the champions will come away with the right result, before that Spurs are the visitors to Old Trafford in the Carling Cup.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Neville's comments on Liverpool's Champions League we go again, more media **** stirring...

Gary Neville wears many hats; he's club captain at Manchester United, he is the players' union rep, but diplomat he most certainly isn't - not when it comes to inter-club rivalry and winding-up the opposition. Following the latest round of Champions League results Neville was asked to comment on Liverpool's, shall we say, unfortunate exit, not surprisingly, the former England rightback jumped in with both feet and told it like it is when saying: 'Liverpool deserved to be knocked out'. Of course they did, so why the fuss?

Answer: It's a quiet news day and Neville can usually be relied upon to stir the rivalry pot and of course our news hungry media do not need a written invitation to keep the pot boiling.

The fans love a laugh especially when it comes at the expense of your biggest rival, but it remains to be seen who will have the last laugh because despite the loss of face and the prestige of playing in Europe's premier club competition, Liverpool have more chance of winning the Europa League.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Obertan outshines Macheda and Welbeck, but what has happened to Rafael as Besiktas end Euro run..

Ferguson wasn't too upset about Besiktas ending United's 23 game unbeaten Champions League run at Old Trafford. The United manager doesn't get that many opportunities to play his youngsters' but having already qualified for the knockout stage the champions only needed a point to cement their place at the top of Group B. However, all good things come to an end eventually, and on this occasion Besiktas won courtesy of Tello's first-half long-range speculative strike that took a deflection off Rafael.

Following last night's defeat and with only one game left Ferguson must now face up to the possibility of finishing second in the group because Wolfsburg and CSKA Moscow are level on seven points apiece, with United leading the group on 10 points.

Finishing top of the group is by no means any guarantee of an easy tie in the next round; last season United finished top but still ended up facing Inter Milan. However, on this occasion and in a worst case scenario, United could face Barcelona or Real Madrid, both look likely to win their respective groups. On the flip side, if United win or draw in Germany on December 8th they could be drawn against either of the Milan clubs. Whatever the outcome of United's next Champions League fixture, you do wonder if Fergie will regret not fielding a stronger starting XI against Besiktas. Let us hope that won't turn out to be the case.

As for the performance against Besiktas, it was a very mixed night with the youngsters' getting another opportunity to shine. As expected United had the lion’s share of possession but they came up against a well organised Besiktas team who performed at the top of their game. Tello scored the vital goal midway through the opening period and frankly United should have been two-nil down not long after following the best move of the game that ended with Fink hitting the outside of Ben Foster's post, when he should have scored.

At the other end, without any shadow of doubt United's best performer was Obertan. The jury has been very much out on the Frenchman since his summer signing, but he showed glimpses of real promise when taking on two and three opponents at a time and often beating them.

One of the most annoying aspects of the media is the constant and all too often inappropriate comparisons with star names, both past and present. Obertan isn't the next Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs or the next Thierry Henry (who would want to be compared with him right now?). Obertan is very different to anyone we've seen playing for United, he isn't at all like Park or Valencia, without doubt he is more skilful than the South Korean and the Ecuadorian. While Park and Valencia offer industry and old fashioned wing play, Obertan brings trickery and a more thoughtful brand of attacking play. Obertan has excellent balance and could turn out to be a good buy, but it is very early days and no one at Old Trafford will be getting too excited at this stage.

While Obertan impressed it was a very mixed night for the likes of Danny Welbeck who continues to look good on occasion, but then spoils it when electing to shoot when team-mates are better placed for a pass; this has been a common occurrence in every game he has featured for the first-team. If Welbeck is going to make it, then someone needs to get a grip of him and tell him in no uncertain terms where he is going wrong.

While Welbeck often makes the wrong decision, in sharp contrast, his striker partner Macheda more often than not played the right ball, and to feet without any fuss. Against Besiktas it was the Italian who looked the more accomplished striker and the most likely to go on at the highest level.

On a night of few genuine goal scoring opportunities as far as the champions were concerned it was a difficult night in front of goal, but credit to Besiktas for that. United's pressure eventually carved open the visitors late on in the game and only two good saves from veteran stopper Rustu denied the home team a share of the points.

To little effect, the senior trio of Michael Owen, Michael Carrick and Patrice Evra came on when replacing the totally ineffective Park, Gibson - who had a quiet game - and Rafael.

Perhaps most perplexing of all is the form of Rafael, granted last night he was playing in the unfamiliar role of left-back, but it is as if the young Brazilian is a different player to the one that burst onto the scene last season.

Rafael made a big impression with his attacking wing-play, and while questions were asked about his defensive ability, it seems United's coaches may well have over-coached the Brazilian because frankly now he looks like a shadow of the player he was when he first arrived, he looks ordinary now, so much so that some will be wondering what all the fuss was about.

Whatever United's backroom team have been telling Rafael, something needs to be done to reinstill his attacking instincts, because without it he is going backwards on the evidence of his recent outings, which admittedly have been limited.

Next up, United travel to bottom of the table Portsmouth, anything less than three points should be viewed as nothing short of a total disaster.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fergie tipping Barca to win CL, so much for United's chances...

Manchester United fans' joy at Liverpool's Champions League exit has somewhat been spoilt by our own manager; we should have been laughing at the Scousers and Rafa, but not for the first time of late Ferguson has dropped a clanger when admitting his favourite to win the Champions League is Barcelona.

Fergie is seemingly making a bad habit of putting his big foot in it; he recently blasted Alan Wiley and then had to issue a groveling apology. The latest blunder came about when Fergie was talking to the media ahead of tonight's Champions League clash with Besiktas. The United manager stopped short of saying he's backing Barca at the bookies - that would have been asking for trouble, especially in the wake of yet more 'match-fixing claims' this week. There's nothing wrong with honesty, but surely Fergie will regret his public admission that Barca are his favourites, if he is right they will become the first club to retain the Champions League.

There was an air of desperation in Fergie's latest press conference that took place on Tuesday, the United manager was clearly hoping some of the big guns (not including Liverpool) would fail to qualify for the next phase; apart from Liverpool, it appears Fergie is going to be disappointed because with the exception of possibly Bayern Munich, it is likely the big guns will all qualify.

You do wonder how far United will go in this season's Champions League; the champions lack punch up front and genuine quality strength in depth, added to which questions have been raised about the back four and midfield.

There has been very little to get excited about this week; on Saturday United easily turned over a poor Everton team with Darren Fletcher scoring the goal of the game, which ended 3-0. As a contest, it was a complete non-event. The excitement of the Manchester derby seems like a very long time ago now.

Looking at the fixture list the champions have a run of very winnable games coming up; on paper at least anyway, United don't have a really difficult looking fixture until the end of January when we take on Arsenal at Old Trafford - that is if you don't include this week's clash with Spurs in the Carling Cup.

United could conceivably be top of the Premier League by the time the Arsenal game comes around at the end of January because in that period league leaders Chelsea face the Gunners and Man City away from home.

If Fergie's confirmed favourites to win the Champions League are Barca, you wonder if Chelsea are his favourites to win the Premier League?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Keane's views on disputed "hand of Henry" goal will lead to further questions about his managerial style...

Even the most die-hard Roy Keane supporter will surely have been left dismayed following the Ipswich Town manager's rant over France's midweek winner in that World Club qualifying second-leg play-off.

The infamous "hand of Henry" goal led to Ireland's elimination and not surprisingly comparisons have been made with Maradona's 1986 "hand of god" goal. The manner of France's winning goal and Ireland's exit has left the world of football debating what should happen next. To his credit, the villain of the piece Thierry Henry has admitted the fairest outcome would be a replay. FIFA have yet to make a decision, though many expect the result to stand.

Former Republic of Ireland skipper Roy Keane has given his twopenneth and controversially he says the goal scored by William Gallas should stand, but the Manchester United legend didn't stop there; when asked for his views Keane said if he had been manager instead of blaming Henry he would have blamed his defenders and goalkeeper for allowing the ball to bounce in the area.

It is by no means the first time Keane will have dismayed his supporters and countrymen; in 2002 the Manchester United skipper fell out with the then Republic of Ireland manager at the World Cup when he made an alleged vicious foul-mouthed personal attack on Mick McCarthy.

Keane has had plenty to say about the Republic of Ireland setup and the FAI, some of his comments led to positive changes and no doubting players both past and present have benefited from improvements ranging from travelling first-class to training facilities; the point being, we should not forget Keane's positive contribution both on and off the field where he was quite simply magnificent.

However, on this occasion you have to wonder whether Keane's latest comments are tongue in cheek - the worrying alternative is he actually believes what he said about France's winning goal.

Ipswich Town supporters will also be concerned about Keane's comments, especially if their manager actually believes the Irish defenders and goalkeeper should have dealt with that bouncing ball, because Henry not only blatantly cheated when first controlling the ball with his hand, but he then used it a second time. There was also a suspicion of off-side. Keane says the Republic of Ireland players' missed their chances to score in both legs, which is another point of view, but no matter they did not deserve to be on the wrong end of such a travesty.

While to some degree it is refreshing to hear a manager not blaming the officials, it doesn't alter the fact that France won that hugely important fixture courtesy of blatant cheating and yes poor officiating, especially by the linesman who had a clear view of the second Henry handball.

Supporters and pundits alike have been left wondering about Keane and his managerial style, because if he genuinely would have blamed the likes of Richard Dunne and Shay Given it is really quite worrying. Players need the support of their manager when it is deserved and no one, not even Roy Keane could question the Republic of Ireland's commitment, defending, technique and organisation against France in midweek.

No Rio, no loss, on current form, as Reds prepare for Everton...

United take on Everton this weekend while neighbours Manchester City face Liverpool at Anfield earlier in the day. A draw at Anfield would be the ideal result as far as the champions are concerned, but with Chelsea and Arsenal set to take on Wolves and Sunderland respectively it is vital United do not concede any more ground at the top of the table.

Not that it makes a jot of difference; Fergie has been given a reprieve from his two-game touch-line ban for the visit of Everton. As far as team news goes, United are reportedly without Rio Ferdinand until the New Year, on current form, frankly, he's no great loss. Jonny Evans will deputise in the heart of the United defence alongside a fit again Nemanja Vidic. Earlier this week the Serbian spoke to the media about his own recent form when saying his season has been affected by niggling injuries. Vidic also says United need Rio, but only when he's fully fit. Quite.

Everton will be no push-over and so United will expecting a tough game. On the domestic front at any rate, the Toffees away form has been pretty good; they won last time out away at West Ham. Assuming he's fit, which can never be certain, even when he's involved in pre-match warm-ups, no doubting Louis "sicknote" Saha will be keen to put one over on Fergie. Likewise, Tim Howard will keen to impress. The American stopper will be given a warm welcome by the home crowd, but it's likely Saha will be given a mixed reception.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The contenders for Fergie's job: Mourinho, Bruce, Blanc, but definitely not Roy Keane...

It's another god awful international break, there's very little to write about of any real interest concerning Manchester United. Is it just me, or is international football becoming really boring? Part of the reason international football has become boring stems from the fact that there are no great surprises any more with players from every continent plying their trade across Europe. I digress; I'll save my ire for the world game for later.

It has been very quiet week news wise, and so not surprisingly the media have dusted down one of their favourite topics for such occasions, that is; who will replace Fergie once he spits out that last piece of chewing gum and calls it a day? No one actually knows for sure when that day will be, the guessing games looks set to continue with the media punting various candidates, so for what it's worth here's a rundown on some of the names that have been touted:

Jose Mourinho - the favourite, but it's by no means a cert..

Without doubt, the charismatic Portuguese manager could have the pick of any job around Europe and if we believe the media he would like to rekindle his 'love affair' with the Premier League.

Like many great manager's before him Mourinho was not a winner as a player, by all accounts he was very average, but like him or loathe him there is no disputing his record as a coach. Mourinho transformed Chelsea from a collection of highly paid losers into serial winners; before that he made his name with Porto when securing the Champions League after knocking out Manchester United. Following his high-profile exit from Chelsea, he won Serie A with Inter Milan and his team currently leads Italy's top division.

However with media reports claiming Mourinho is sick of Italy you can bet the likes of Real Madrid will also come a knocking for his services should the Inter coach pursue an exit strategy. The question is, will Manchester United be vying for Mourinho's services should he become available? While Fergie is said to be an admirer of Jose's work, and the Scot will no doubt be consulted on his successor, but the current United manager will not have the final say and you do wonder if Mourinho is the right man for the job.

Mourinho ticks most of the boxes, and if United's power-brokers were choosing the next manager purely on coaching ability his name would be right at the top of the candidate list. In many ways Mourinho and United seem like a perfect fit, the job would not inhibit him, nor would the constant media attention and providing he was given adequate funds he is without doubt the most likely to succeed when it comes to winning silverware.

So then why is it some pundits and fans think Mourinho to United is a non-runner? For starters, as good as he undoubtedly is Mourinho's relatively short but very successful spells in England and Italy could well work against him, especially given Fergie has been at the club for so long.

Before offering Jose the United job, the club would have to talk to Mourinho about a long-term commitment, but with the ownership of Manchester United itself likely to be a hotly debated topic over the next few years, you do wonder if the Glazer family will be thinking that far ahead. Influential fans group IMUSA recently stated it was their belief the Glazers' will not be the club's owners in five years time...

Ownership of United could well feature in any talks about Mourinho coming to United, because any marriage is a two-way commitment and Jose would no doubt want some assurances about spending and here again that could be a potential stumbling block. Following the sale of Ronaldo to Real Madrid and a summer of low-key signings, the rumour-mill has been awash with claims that the £80m from the Ronaldo sale went to pay the Glazer family debts.

Speculation concerning future transfer budgets and the Glazer family will rumble on, but Mourinho to United is by no means a certainty. If Mark Hughes fails to win a trophy between now and the end of next season then Mourinho to Manchester City could turn out to be a more realistic prospect. Mourinho could dictate his own terms to a desperate, but now very club like City, it would be win, win for both parties.

Steve Bruce - a gamble that could pay off

The name Steve Bruce will not feature alongside that of Jose Mourinho where the top managerial jobs around Europe are concerned and for sound enough reasons. That is unless that job happens to be Manchester United where Bruce blossomed into one of the finest, yet uncapped English players of his time.

Bruce is a big favourite with the United faithful, he is fondly remembered by the fans and everyone connected with the club. Unlike some of his former United team-mates who have tried and failed, Bruce has made a relatively successful switch from player to the managerial hot-seat at clubs like, Birmingham, Wigan and now Sunderland. On paper Bruce should not be offered the United job, because there are too many holes in his CV, namely; lacks European experience as manager; hasn't won any big prizes as a manager.

Despite not ticking some of the really important boxes, there is something about Steve Bruce that makes this Red believe he will be a genuine contender. Where Mourinho offers flair and ability in equal measure, he also brings a degree of risk where stability and continuity is concerned. Although Bruce has been something of managerial nomad himself, like Fergie in Scotland before his move to England, the former United skipper has been on an upwardly mobile journey slowly working his way from bottom to top.

Lauren Blanc - flavour of the month, a Jonah, or the real deal?

As previously mentioned it has been a quiet week, but I missed something last weekend that would surely have jolted me from my mini hibernation, that was the news that another former United defender is being strongly linked with Fergie's job. That man is Larry White, aka Lauren Blanc. Now I have nothing against Blanc whose name has suddenly risen to prominence following some good performances in the Champions League by his current club Bordeaux. With the danger being labelled as an Englander, I have some fears about the appointment of Blanc, the former French defender secured the French League title in only his second season as manager, so it could be argued he ticks more boxes than someone like Steve Bruce. But Blanc is said to be a quiet man and United have had their fair share of problems following the appointment of quiet men, the names of Frank O'Farrell and Dave Sexton still send shivers down the spine of seasoned old-stagers like myself. Personally, and if it came down to the choice I'd pick Bruce over Blanc every time at this juncture. I don't exactly know why, I'm putting it down to gut instinct.

United fans will no doubt recall Blanc was the man Fergie brought in to replace Jaap Stam, as Alan Hansen famously said at the time: "I don't get it, Fergie' has replaced a defender who he says has lost a yard of pace with another who has lost four yards of pace".... Blanc's playing career doesn't really have anything to do with Hansen's comments or come to that his managerial ability, but for now at least anyway, as far I'm concerned, his name will be remembered as a poor choice for a replacement. Blanc could turn out to be the football equivalent of a Jonah, someone who could bring ill luck with him. Not only that, I'd prefer someone who has real passion for the game as Bruce recently demonstrated with his near dustup with Benitez on the touchline.

Roy Keane - "The fans choice" only a couple years ago, but surely not now, not ever....

I wish I had a tenner for every United fan that told me in no uncertain terms that Roy Keane would eventually be a Manchester United manager. From the outset I remained unconvinced and following some very dodgy transfers when he was manager of Sunderland I put a tenner on the Black Cats getting relegated. Only Kenwyne Jones saved Keane and Sunderland that season and I lost my tenner, but he didn't last much longer and it is only a matter of time before the Irishman and Ipswich Town part company following what looks like a disastrous appointment. Keane like Bobby Charlton before him is seemingly destined not to become a top flight manager.

Wilf McGuiness was the man who was tasked with replacing the great Sir Matt Busby, poor old Wilf (left) lasted just half a season before his hair fell out due to the stress of it all...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

FA punishment for Fergie: It's a slap on the wrist...

The tiresome saga surrounding Fergie's ill-timed and ill-conceived attack on Alan Wiley has finally been dealt with; the punishment will no doubt be seen as a slap on the wrist. The FA's decision to fine the United manager and ban him for four games, two of them suspended, isn't going to harm Manchester United or the manager. Granted the decision to ban Fergie for his-post match comments is a first, but still with some justification the referees' are likely to be unhappy with the outcome.

Despite the punishment and suspended ban, privately, Fergie might well feel vindicated in making his point so publicly, in so doing he has made his point and he's got away with it. It is also highly unlikely that the United manager has changed his views on the general standard of fitness where the officials are concerned.

There's no doubting some referees have looked unfit, but apparently Wiley is among the fittest and that was Fergie's big mistake, following the heat of battle with Sunderland in a Premier League fixture that ended 2-2, the Scot picked on the wrong one. One school of thought is that Fergie was actually trying to deflect attention away from his team's poor performance on the day - the attack was a diversionary tactic, but one that back-fired.

However, having catapulted the fitness issue into the football headlines, it is a topic that is likely to be revisited time and time again; ergo referees' will need to be seen to be on their toes and not lagging behind play.

Sure enough Fergie has been warned, but the spotlight is also firmly on the men in the middle. In time, it could well be the case that in voicing his concerns, Fergie could have done "the game" a favour if the general standard of referee fitness improves over the coming weeks and months.

Fitness issues aside something needs to be done about the standard of refereeing in general, the performance of Martin Atkinson last weekend at Stamford Bridge left an awful lot to be desired.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Cheating Chelsea and poor referee does for United...

So then United eventually went on to lose in West London, but with many a Red fearing the worst prior to kick-off (and that was before we learnt that the champions would be without the first-choice centre-back pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand) an unlucky one-nil defeat was a much better outcome than many would have been expecting. That does not make the manner of the defeat any easier to take, because frankly today was another case of the officials getting the big decisions wrong.

Twice in the first-half at Stamford Bridge the linesman and the referee were guilty of making the wrong decision when giving Chelsea the rub of the green; the first howler involved Wayne Rooney who was clean through on goal, but the United striker was wrongly adjudged to be off-side, this when the linesman had the added benefit of the grass lines on the pitch, clearly Ashley Cole had played Rooney on-side. Hapless Sky Sports pundit said: "it could have gone either way" - message to Andy; if that fence goes any further up your arse it will be sticking out of your throat.

The second rank-bad decision involved John Terry and Atonio Valencia when the United winger was fouled inside the penalty area by the Chelsea skipper, but once again referee Martin Atkinson failed when getting another really big decision completely wrong.

Contrary to pre-match expectations, United were the better team for much of today's table-topping clash, but it simply wasn't going to be our day. It came as no great surprise that Chelsea eventually scored late on in the second period and once again there was an element of Chelsea players cheating.

The first culprit was Ashley Cole who jumped up in the air as if he'd been shot with a blunderbuss, in point of fact Darren Fletcher barely touch him and won the ball cleanly. While castigating Martin Atkinson for what followed we have to acknowledge that it isn't easy for the officials with so much cheating going on. Nonetheless, United went on to lose this game thanks to a combination of Chelsea players conning the referee. Carlo Ancelotti's team took the lead from that wrongly awarded Chelsea free-kick, but not without with the help of yet more cheating, this time by Drogba who was not only off-side, but also fouling Wes Brown at the same time. A few minutes earlier Didier Drogba had been doing his usual 'dying-man' impersonation - yes we've been here before, umpteen times..

After the game Fergie rightly question the performance of referee Martin Atkinson; the United manager was right to point out that Atkinson had somehow managed to work himself into a dreadful position for that vital free-kick which decided this contest. The fact that Atkinson managed to position himself so badly beggars belief and he should be taken to task for that poor passage of play from his perspective.

It's also worth commenting on Mike Phelan's "proud of the team" verdict. It is not coming to something when United have just lost a big game and the management are proud? But yes Mike, we know what you were driving at, we didn't get hammered and yes just perhaps this Chelsea team are not quite what they are cracked up to be.

With all that said, the current United squad has some glaring weaknesses; today Giggs who has been superb this season at times was quite simply awful, he barely put did anything right all game long. If the manager had better options on the bench Giggs would have been replaced much earlier than he eventually was.

Carrick and Fletcher did their best and overall did quite well. Anderson was given the difficult job of supporting Rooney while at the same time he was expected to drop deep and defend, but by and large United were the better team and only poor refereeing and cheating denied the champions at least a point. However, one cannot help but feel United need to sign another top-class striker. According to the latest transfer rumours Fergie could be lining up three new players.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

United can beat Chelsea, but Fergie would take a draw right now if it were offered....

Manchester United go into tomorrow's big Premier League clash against Chelsea with many pundits expecting a hammering for the champions, there's no surprise there given what happened at Old Trafford in the summer with the loss of two world-class strikers and the quality of the replacements that followed.

The general consensus is United are weak in midfield, lack punch up front and have problems in defence. In sharp contrast the league leaders look strong in all departments.

Since the departure of Ronaldo Ferguson has had to change tactics and formation and against Chelsea who are very strong in midfield no doubting the United manager would like to play five in the middle, but the problem is United do not currently have a player who can lead the line like Didier Drogba or else a striker like Fernando Torres who frightens defenders to death with his pace. Ferguson faces a massive tactical dilemma; if he selects just one striker in Wayne Rooney, he will keep on losing possession and the ball will keep on coming back at United's midfield and defence; If Fergie selects two strikers the champions will be more of an attacking threat but the midfield will be the weaker. It's a no-brainer for Ferguson with the players at his disposal - which is why he'd almost certainly take a draw if it were offered, if indeed it were possible.

Despite the very obvious problems facing United, they can win at Stamford Bridge, but only if every single player in the red shirt gives nothing less than 100% and plays close to their very best.

This isn't a David vs. Goliath clash, but if United are on the wrong end of a pasting in West London the media will have a field day at the champions’ expense. If Chelsea win convincingly it might even persuade Fergie to strengthen his squad in January because there's no doubting United are at least two players short at present. The return of a fit Owen Hargreaves will go a long way to resolving some of the midfield problems, but that will not solve the striker dilemma that surfaces every time the champions have a really tough looking game.

Quite obviously nothing will be decided whatever the result tomorrow, it's also too early to write off United's and their title credentials, but a good win for Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea will give the blues yet more momentum.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Rooney ensures Reds preserve record, but Akinfeev is star of the show..

United went into last night's Champions League tie with CSKA Moscow needing just a point to ensure qualification to the knockout phase of the competition, it should have been a formality - in theory at least anyway - but it wasn't. United have made a habit of doing it the hard way and last night's performance was no different, after going 3-1 down it eventually finished up 3-3 on what was a night of defensive errors.

Going off the first meeting between these two teams in October supporters and pundits alike were no doubt expecting an easy three points and with the Champions set to face Chelsea this coming weekend it came as no surprise that Fergie took the opportunity to rest Berbatov and Rooney.

In what was a very open game, too open for Fergie's liking, the Russians had not come to Old Trafford to roll over and took the lead with a well taken goal by Dzagoev (25 minutes). When Edwin van der Sarr and his manager review replays of that opening strike they will know the Dutchman should have done better, but take nothing away from Dzagoev who somehow managed to score from an unlikely angle with a powerfully hit shot.

Michael Owen was paired up front with Macheda, and once again the former Newcastle and Liverpool striker missed a bag-full of chances. But good players don't hide and as in many of his previous games for the club since he signed, Owen eventually scored (29 minutes) after the ball broke kindly to him after a touch from the once again totally ineffective Nani following a cross from the right.

The frustrating thing is Owen continues to work himself into some great positions around the visitors’ penalty area, but all too often he either fails to connect with the ball or else he misses the target, often with the goal at his mercy. It's as if there's a problem with Owen's balance, as he appears to be struggling to get his body shape and feet in co-ordination at the vital moment. If Owen could rediscover his goal-scoring touch it could yet prove to be the masterstroke signing that some pundits trumpeted on his arrival. Only hard work on the training ground will solve Owen's problems - that and more playing time.

If Owen was struggling in front of goal the Russians were not, as they once again stunned the Old Trafford crowd with another well worked and well taken goal, this time by Krasic, which was just two minutes after United had equalised.

United's back four was made up of Neville, Evans, Brown and Fabio - as a unit they less than covered themselves in glory, but they weren't on their own as Scholes and Fletcher could have done more were marking was concerned on what turned out to a bad night of defensive performances all round. It didn't come as a massive surprise that CSKA scored a third when Vasili Berezutski stole in at the far post unmarked, on this occasion it was Fabio and Macheda who were guilty of not marking.

Macheda had a decent game, whenever the ball came to him he used it wisely and ensured United retained possession, he didn't really deserve to be substituted but with United's unbeaten four year Champions League home record at stake it was vital that Ferguson made changes, the Italian was eventually replaced by Obertan.

Before that and with the champions chasing the game, the United manager had to do something dramatic if he was to going to preserve that impressive home record. The solution was on the bench, and fresh from celebrating the birth of his first son, Wayne Rooney was eventually unleashed as he lit up Old Trafford with his usual all-action style. Rooney's introduction ensured United clawed their way back into the game on what turned out to be an error ridden night for both teams, but it made for absorbing last 30 minutes.

Without Rooney United are very ordinary and against CSKA Moscow his worth was there for all to see, but in his way was the equally impressive Igor Akinfeev. The Russian stopper made a string of impressive saves to ensure the visitors two cushion was left intact, but United's relentless pressure eventually paid off when Scholes popped up with a rare but very welcome headed goal six minutes from time.

Georgi Shchennikov deflected an Atonio Valencia shot on 90 minutes to ensure United had a share of the points and that European record was maintained. Deividas Semberas was sent-off in injury time for his second yellow-card.

After the game Ferguson once again attacked the referee, but this time the United manager was absolutely right in his assertion that United should have had a penalty when Fletcher was tripped in the second-half, but instead, bizarrely, Olegario Benquerenca booked the Scot. It was a truly awful decision and there should be right of appeal - the last thing United need is to lose Darren Fletcher through suspension again in Europe later in the competition because of the totting-up procedure.

Next up it's Chelsea and United will need to improve massively on recent performances. The champions cannot travel to Stamford Bridge sans their collective 'A' game, but you wonder if this game has come a week too early for Fletcher who usually does quite well against the West London club.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Jaded United look battle weary against dire Blackburn ...

It should have finished up 5-0 to the Champions, the fact that it didn't was down to one thing - poor finishing. Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney eventually got their names on the score-sheet with two fine second-half goals against a workmen-like Blackburn Rovers side that looked short of ideas. Right from the kick-off it seemed as though the visitors were playing for a draw. Blackburn showed too little ambition throughout what turned out to be a one-sided contest - at least it was after the dreadful opening thirty minutes.

Saturday's early evening clash at Old Trafford wasn't a classic, that’s an understatement, but it takes two teams to make a proper football match and sadly for Blackburn supporters, they were dire.

For our part, United didn't play well. Worryingly, Wayne Rooney looked lethargic and off the pace and slow off the mark, his wonderfully taken goal was in marked contrast to the rest of his game. Berbatov had earlier missed a great chance to score with an easy header on 29 minutes, the Bulgarian had the simplest of tasks from just six yards out, but instead he only headed downwards and right at Robinson in the visitors goal. Berbatov made amends for his first-half miss with a skillfully taken goal after he controlled a Patrice Evra shot on 55 minutes. But like his strike partner, he can do a lot better than he did against a struggling for form Blackburn team.

Embarrassingly for him, Gabriel Obertan missed another sitter, the French youngster was making his Old Trafford debut after replacing the once again hugely disappointing Nani who barely did anything of note. Obertan didn't fare much better than his Portuguese counter-part, quite how he managed to completely miss the target with an open goal at his mercy will no doubt haunt him for quite some time. Michael Owen missed another easy looking chance after being put through by Atonio Valencia. Owen had replaced Berbatov on 78 minutes and even though he continues to miss good goal scoring opportunities he continues to get into good positions - it is to be hoped he eventually rediscovers his finishing touch – but will he?

Blackburn substitute Kalinic had a goal disallowed for offside in the 90th minute which left Rovers boss Big Sam Allardyce berating the linesman. Allardyce claimed his team had been denied what they'd deserved. Sam, you got what you deserved that is precisely nothing.

As bad as Blackburn undoubtedly were, this United team looks ordinary too, apart from brief glimpses of brilliance from Rooney and Berbatov the champions look like a team that is going nowhere fast. With injuries to key defensive stars like Vidic and the once solid, but now rapidly turning to jelly Rio Ferdiand the prospect of facing an in-form Chelsea next weekend will rightly be giving concern to the Red Army.

Before that United take on another rag-bag outfit when CSKA Moscow are the visitors to Old Trafford in midweek. Champions League qualification looks certain and only an unmitigated disaster will stop the champions progressing into the knockout phase of the competition.

Fergie will likely ring the changes in midweek, but right now there isn't a lot to shout about in the 'stiffs', the best we the fans can look forward to is the da Silva brothers turning on the style - at least it is going off what we have seen so far from the likes of Macheda this season. The jury is out on Macheda and Danny Welbeck and so it comes as no great surprise that Fergie is being linked to some big names from around Europe. Let us pray the Glazers’ back the manager to spend, and if needs be spend big in January.

The sporting highlight of the coming week could be the Scousers near certain elimination from the Champions League. Even for a die-hard United fan, that is quite sad, nonetheless, I'll drink to it if it happens.