Thursday, December 31, 2009

Two R's star in festive Turkey shoot as Wigan roll over....

There's a well used adage in football that states you can only beat what is put in front of you, by way of the quality (or lack of it, in the case of Wigan) of the opposition; The champions did just that in what was a fully blown festive Turkey shoot at Old Trafford last night and the second five-nil demolition job of the season on Wigan Athletic, it was a thoroughly professional job and one that enhanced United's goal difference into the bargain.

No matter that the champions could easily have won the game by a much wider margin - the fact they didn't do so was largely down to one man, Dimitar Berbatov. Despite eventually scoring, the Bulgarian's finishing was nothing short of woeful. United have two important cup ties coming up in the next few days; it's one thing missing easy chances when they are coming thick and fast, it will be quite another if Berbatov fails so miserably as he did last night against either Leeds United on Sunday in the FA Cup or Man City next week.

Berbatov continues to test the patience of the fans' and no doubting his manager too, despite some good touches and the odd moment of inspiration, all too often the former Spurs star is the source of utter frustration and bemusement. It's easy to see why many United fans' are apathetic or else indifferent towards the Bulgarian striker and it's also why it's doubtful he will ever win over the masses.

While Berbatov continues to frustrate the fans' and those who question his worth, in sharp contrast, the stock of his fellow strike partner Wayne Rooney continues to rise.

Against Wigan Rooney was brilliant at times and extremely unlucky not to add to his goal tally, he eventually and fittingly did manage to open the scoring with a superbly worked goal following an excellent Gary Neville like over-lapping run down the right flank by Rafael. Rooney expertly latched on to the Brazilian's low driven cross with a deft touch that diverted the ball and gave Kirkland in the Wigan goal no chance. Frankly, at that point in the first-half Wigan were lucky not to have been dead buried.

Prior to the flood gates opening, Rooney had hit the inside of Kirkland's far post after he'd turned the fullback inside out on the left edge of the visitors' penalty area - quite how the ball didn't end up nestling in the rigging is a mystery. Berbatov missed a catalogue of easy chances - if indeed it were possible, someone should have given him a killer instinct for Christmas because he sure as hell hasn't got one in front of goal.

Carping aside, it was very good night for Rafael da Silva, who over the last two games has shown the best and worst of his capabilities; against Hull at the weekend he gave away a penalty after finding himself on the wrong side of the man he was supposed to be marking, but when the Brazilian goes forward and attacks he does so with conviction and pace, not only that, unlike Gary Neville, he is a goal-scorer.

Last night against Wigan we saw the very best of Rafael and it was fitting that he made it three-nil just before half-time, with what was arguably the best goal of night. The Brazilian collected the ball from Rooney on the edge of the Wigan penalty as he skipped beyond the attention of three Wigan defenders before spinning and then driving the ball into the corner of Kirkland's net with a left-foot finish that any striker would have been proud of.

It was a night when most of United's best attacking moves came down the right flank and prior to Rafael scoring, Michael Carrick had doubled the champions advantage, but on this occasion it was Atonio Valencia who was the provider from deep inside the Wigan penalty area with a pin-point pull-back that invited Carrick to strike the ball goal-bound, and he did.

Just minutes into the second period and after more good work by Valencia, Berbatov finally got his name on to the score-sheet when making it four-nil, following yet another assist by the Ecuadorian; once again the damage was done from a move that started on the right flank, at that point, as a contest, the game was effectively over, but the fans' and players' alike were enjoying this festive feast of goals even if it came at the expense of a hapless Wigan team who were more or less devoid of ideas, spirit and fight.

The fans' had to wait until the 75th minute to quench their thirst for more goals and when number five arrived, on this occasion it was Rooney who turned provider for Valencia to score. Prior to arriving at United, the Ecuadorian was 'goal-shy', so his increasing tally is just cause to celebrate for both player and manager.

The win over Wigan, despite the opposition's many shortcomings is a major confidence booster for United and it has come just at the right time; December has been a month of highs and lows were results and performances are concerned, but the champions have notched eight goals in the last two games and only shipped one and so Ferguson and has players' have good reason to be confident about the challenges ahead as the turn of the year approaches.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Are 'one man team' United ready for showdown with City?...

Looking ahead to the Carling Cup semi-finals with neighbours Manchester City and following the impact of installing a new manager in Roberto Mancini, the champions could well be set for a torrid time of it over both legs. Even if City hadn't controversially sacked former manager Mark Hughes, City would have been up for it, because everyone in football is aware that this is one of their best opportunities of winning a half decent trophy since they last won the then named League Cup back in 1976.

IF recent form is anything to go by, then it's United who should be the more worried of the two; not only that but Reds fans are only too aware that in Fergie we have a manager who could well play into City's hands if he doesn't select his strongest possible team - in sharp contrast, Mancini will be acutely aware that winning a trophy - any trophy - would be, ahem, massive.

City are coming off the back of two wins without conceding a goal, next up they have the not so difficult looking task of facing 'Boro in the FA Cup away at the Riverside; the fact that City might well have improved their questionable defence in short order since the appointment of Mancini, could give them confidence about their ability to take on and beat the champions. City's achilles heel has been defending this season; goal scoring hasn't been an issue; they have three players in the Premier League list of top 15 scorers and have notched 38 goals in total, that's just two less than the champions; in contrast, United have just Rooney in the list of leading scorers with an impressive 13 goals. Rooney's form and importance to United cannot be overstated, a point well made (unusually it has to be said) by Jamie Redknapp over the weekend - without Rooney, United are very ordinary and for once I have to agree with him.

United have been showing mixed form at times in December; the champions lost badly at Craven Cottage when showing no fight or spirit, in what were admittedly difficult circumstances with so many key defenders missing through injury as they went on to lose 3-0; the Red Devils also lost at home to Aston Villa, again they were nowhere near their collective best.

On the positive side United won well at West Ham winning easily 4-0, they also won away in the Champions League against Wolfsburg when winning 3-1. In the Carling Cup, the holders came out on top over a lacklustre Spurs as well comfortably beating a second-string Wolves side at Old Trafford. The champions won again on the road this weekend in the league at Hull City when winning 3-1.

So United have been blowing hot and cold in December and it remains to be seen what January's fixtures will yield in terms of results. IF god forbid, City actually win the Carling Cup semi final (we the fans will never hear the end of it) they will in all probability go on to win that elusive piece of silverware. From a United perspective if the worst case scenario comes to being, then no doubting Fergie will attempt to gloss over that reverse when stating that the champions have 'bigger fish to fry' - if he does, he will be making a big mistake in the eyes of the fans', but let us hope any excuses won't be needed.

For now, we can look ahead to what will no doubt be an intriguing and very important month that ends with the Premier League clash with Arsenal at home. Interestingly, on the same weekend that Jamie Redknapp more or less described United as a 'one man team' another 'died in the wool' scouser, none other than, Alan Hansen, made United favourites to win the title, let us hope he is right...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Hit and miss United just about see off Hull...

Manchester United were back in action for the first time over the festive period when they took on Hull City at the KC Stadium this afternoon, thankfully and despite what was largely another well below expectations performance, they were just about good enough to secure all three points thanks to goals by Wayne Rooney, Andy Dawson (own goal) and Dimitar Berbatov.

Prior to today's win, United had lost their last two Premier League games against Fulham and Aston Villa; admittedly the champions have been struggling with no fit central defenders, against Hull City the defence was bolstered by the welcome return of Nemanja Vidic, Wes Brown and Rafael.

In his post match interview Ferguson said the return of his defenders was as important as the three points - few would argue would with that assertion; United have been plugging the gaps in defence with round pegs in square holes and despite what was a sloppy display at times against Hull, playing Fletcher and Carrick in central midfield gave the champions a more familiar look in the engine room.

Rooney was today's star man; he scored the first deep into first-half added time after great work by Fletcher who swung in a wicked low cross from the right that was pretty much undefendable. However, five minutes after the break Rooney went from hero to villain when he gave the ball away which led to Rafael conceding a penalty for a push; Fagan converted the resulting spot-kick when giving Kuszczak no chance.

Valencia - who had a quiet game - was replaced by Park (63), the South Korean would have surely got his name on the score-sheet if it wasn't for Hull defender Andy Dawson. Rooney more than made up for his earlier error in the build-up to United's second goal when he ran fully 60 yards to collect a Ryan Giggs pass before pulling the ball back from deep in the Hull penalty area for Dawson to convert into the Hull net as United regained the lead.

Rooney then put the icing on a man of the match performance with a brilliant pass to the feet of Berbatov who made no mistake with just Myhill to beat in the Hull goal. United's third goal came about when the game was very stretched following a long punt out of the Hull defence - but as has happened on so many occasions, the champions were quick to capitalise on the break, from that point on it was game over.

Today's result leaves United just two points behind leaders Chelsea; but the champions have lost five games already this season and no other club has lost that many games before Christmas and gone on to win the League.

According to Ferguson, the quality of the Premier League is the reason we have seen so many unexpected results; that is one point of view, but it could be argued the accepted 'top four' have so far, been disappointing, and that in point of fact the overall standard of the leading clubs has if anything dropped.

While it's true that United have been struggling with injuries, some of Ferguson's recent tactical decisions haven't helped the team; against Villa the United manager started with a lone striker in Wayne Rooney - this when United were playing at home at Old Trafford. Then against Fulham Ferguson committed suicide when electing to play three at the back, this when he only had one first-choice defender in Patrice Evra to call upon - it was an act of madness - a damning fact that the mainstream media has completely ignored.

United don't have the look of champions, but neither do Chelsea, or come to that any of the other leading contenders and so despite the lack of any standout team the battle for the title will no doubt see many more twists and turns in the weeks and months ahead as the turn of the year approaches.

Ferguson has made it clear United are unlikely to be stregthening in the January transfer window; but many observers would surely agree the champions need to sign a top quality striker, a quality central midfield player plus a central defender; with the danger of prematurely writing-off the champions - without the addition of some new blood it is difficult to see Ferguson and his team retaining the title.


FAO 619 (for some reason the blogger platform is broken today hence my unusual reply)


Of course I can see what you're getting at. Regarding the benefit of hindsight and Lucio, Fergie could learn a lot from Arsene Wenger who really does know when to sell players who are coming to their sell by date. Fergie could have offloaded Rio and got half of the ridiculous £30m fee we outlaid to Leeds (who were on the brink of administration at the time), and then he could have swooped for Lucio - that would have been the mark of a transfer genius. 12 months on it looks like Rio is heading for early retirement.

I'd also like to underscore the point I made about me not being Fergie; If I was paid to do his job with his massive resources, then I'd hope to know about every up and coming top player - while accepting your point about obvious targets, no one is going to convince me that there isn't anyone available for the three positions mentioned.

Furthermore, I have growing concerns about Fergie's scouting network and his ability to judge young players. Take the case of Tosic and his former team-mate Adem Laljic; according to the press, Tosic is up for sale and of course United pulled out of the Laljic transfer (believe what you will about that sorry episode).

Regarding the players you've mentioned and some of the manager's recent buys, here's my assessment of them:

Anderson: signed for a lot of money and has failed to improve as was hoped and he can't dislodge either Carrick or Fletcher, both are not exactly world beaters - the point being, Anderson is third choice when it comes to United's best formation (442) in a two man central midfield.

Nani: Another expensive buy, but one who all too often fails to deliver - hence him being up for sale too...

Gibson: Looks slightly overweight and slow - despite his obvious goal-scoring ability, the pace of the game has moved on since the days of Jan Molby. Prediction: He will eventually (within 2 years) be sold just like many other former youngsters with promise...

Welbeck and Macheda: I have major doubts about Welbeck making it at any club in the Premier League, let alone United, he simply doesn't look good enough in any respect; IMO Fraizer Campbell is a better player.

Regarding Macheda, I had high hopes for him after he burst onto the scene, but now I'm really not sure; he looks a bit too slow, but technically I'd say he's a better footballer than Welbeck. My gut feeling is they will both be sold within two years.

As for the two da Silva brothers; these two have a chance, but Fabio won't get in ahead of Evra and you have to wonder why Fergie is messing about when electing to start with players like Brown and O'Shea ahead of Rafael (when he's been fit).

Regarding Possebon; if United really believed in him and with the current midfield options (lack of genuine star quality) then why did we let him go out on loan? So again, I see no future for him at Old Trafford.

In a nutshell, some observers have stated Fergie is creating a new team with the players' you've mentioned; I disagree, the manager is persevering with players who aren't quite good enough, with a view to probably selling them and so I see no nucleus of a new team.

As I stated in my post, without Rooney the current United team are very average and uninspiring.

Berbatov is a misfit who would not get into Chelsea's team.

Wherever you look in the current United squad, there are problems in all departments and added to which Fergie has been a great manager when he's been giving bucket loads of cash to spend, but now you wonder how good he actually is without much to spend (if the reports are true).

The current team is going nowhere fast and the last time they lost five league games before Christmas was in 01-02 when we finished third.

I'm really not sure what Fergie is playing at right now; are his hands being tied in the transfer market, or does he genuinely believe there's no value where potential new signings are concerned?

Please do come back and remind if I'm proven to be wrong....

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fulham spank spineless United: Fergie gets it all wrong...

An injury ravaged Manchester United travelled to Craven Cottage this afternoon with only one first-choice defender in Patrice Evra. As if the defensive situation wasn't bad enough, Ferguson made it a whole lot worse when he gambled when electing to play three at the back. It would have been hard enough if the manager was able to select his first choice defenders, but expecting a makeshift three to deal with Fulham's in-form strikers' was frankly nothing short of ridiculous.

The champions went on to lost three nil thanks to goals by Danny Murphy, Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff. The result was a fair reflection of the game and United have no excuses as there was precious little effort from those in red shirts.

On the plus side, the manager did at least start with two strikers in Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney, but despite flooding midfield, the engine room was pretty much none existent and as far as senior players like Paul Scholes was concerned he went missing in action along Darron Gibson, Anderson, Evra and Valencia.

United didn't trouble Mark Schwarzer all afternoon - a damning fact even allowing for the injury problems.

The United players on duty at Craven Cottage today were a total disgrace and not one of them deserves more than 2 out of 10. The performance level was without doubt the worst of the season so far, in fact it was the worst for a very long time.

Ferguson has had a long running dispute with the BBC and so he no longer speaks to the corporation; but there is no excuse for not facing the music and the Sky cameras. Sending out Mike Phelan is not what the fans expect following such a poor performance.

United have now lost five league games already this season; it remains to be seen if the team and manager will respond because the champions grip on the title is slipping badly.

United must raise their game if they are to settle AC Milan score..

Manchester United will face AC Milan in the Champions League round of 16 - it is a draw that neither club will have wanted - but the Italians have every reason to be confident of progressing to the quarter final given the champions woeful record against Milan.

Ferguson gave his reaction to the draw to the media ahead of this weekend's Premier League clash with Fulham; according to the United manager the players' learnt more from losing last season's Champions League final than they did when winning it on penalties against Chelsea the previous season.

Apart from the opening ten minutes of the Rome final, in which United looked the better team, Barcelona wiped the floor with the Red Devils'; quite what the players' learnt from that sorry display - apart from the fact that they were comprehensively out-played in midfield would be a good question to ask Ferguson. It is one thing suffering the bitter taste of defeat – quite another being capable of doing anything about it should United meet Barcelona again.

Whatever Ferguson says about lessons being learnt it doesn't alter that fact that United have come up against Milan twice in Ferguson's reign, both ties ended in humiliation; the latest meeting came about in the 06'-07' semi-final, the champions won the first leg 3-2 at Old Trafford but then didn't turn up for the second-leg in the San Siro, as they wimped out without so much as a whimper when losing embarrassingly 3-0 - it was one of the most limp-dicked United performances in living memory.

If the events of 2006 were hard to stomach, that sorry episode paled into insignificance when the great unwashed aka Liverpool fought back to win the Istanbul final against Milan in 2005. Along the way, the Red Devils' once again proved to be too easy to beat in both legs of the round of 16 as Milan breezed into the quarter final when winning both legs 1-0 thanks to Crespo. The score-line wasn’t emphatic but Milan had controlled both legs in a manner that was totally unacceptable as far the fans were concerned.

Looking ahead to this year's round of 16, both teams have been seriously weakened with the loss of star players like Ronaldo, Tevez and Kaka. United have looked unconvincing in just about every department of late. The champions recently surrendered a long unbeaten European run at Old Trafford against Besiktas and very nearly lost against CSKA Moscow.

United were beaten by an in-form Aston Villa last weekend in the Premier League, uncharacteristically, home form has been something of a concern. It's true to say that while injuries have played a big part in some of the issues facing the manager, tinkering also played its part in some of those games.

There's a growing concern among some of the fans about Fergie's decision making, those concerns were highlighted again when the manager opted to start with one striker against Aston Villa last weekend.

With no out and out striker to select, Fergie should be starting with two strikers in every game, but despite this rather obvious weakness he flirts with 4-3-3 (4-5-1) which does not work with the manager’s current options up front. The fact that Fergie elects to start with one striker, not only can play into the hands of the opposition when United all too predictably lose possession, but it also speaks volumes about the manager's lack of confidence in his central midfield options which is why he attempts to flood that department.

It remains to be seen if United can raise their collective game, to a level that will see the champions end what has, for some, become a painful losing hoodoo against AC Milan; the two clubs have met four times and United have lost on every occasion - a losing run that stretches back to the 1950s.

On paper there shouldn't be much between the two teams; both have match winners in Rooney, Giggs, Owen, and Scholes. While Milan have players like Pirlo, Inzaghi, Huntelaar, Ronaldinho and most dangerous of all Pato. Some United fans will be surprised to learn that Michael Owen is currently second top in the leading scoring stakes with four, just two behind Ronaldo.

Milan only just sneaked through to the knockout phase of this year's competition after winning two games, drawing three and losing one to FC Zurich. While losing and drawing with the Swiss club was a surprise, Milan's 3-2 win away at the Bernabeu was the result and performance of the competition so far; the Italians' should have won more comfortably on the night - the fact they didn't was down to some very dubious refereeing decisions.

Despite the loss of Kaka, Milan pose a serious threat to United - the fans and Fergie will do not need reminding of that. However, Fergie's incoherent meddling with his formation, combined with defensive frailties, the odds should favour Milan progressing at United's expense for a fifth time, but while United have match-winners, most notably in the form of Wayne Rooney there is always hope.

In boxing parlance, United have a puncher's chance, but nothing more than that. While injuries have undoubtedly given Fergie a thumping headache of late, perhaps more than any other factor, the current United lacks character, knowhow and stomach for fight in central midfield. Barcelona cruelly exposed that weakness in last year's final, and Milan did it 2007 and 2005 when Genarro Gattuso stomped all over United's pitiful engine room.

It is time for United to raise their collective game and Fergie needs to stop talking clap-trap about lessons learnt from previous campaigns. Talk is cheap.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Friends of Liverpool go on moral crusade against Mick McCarthy following Wolves Old Trafford 'surrender'...

United eased their way to a comfortable 3-0 win over a depleted Wolverhampton Wanderers team at Old Trafford last night. It could have been 4-1 at half-time, the fact that it wasn't was down to Wayne Rooney's poor finishing; the United striker missed two gilt edged chances in the first 10 minutes.

Somewhat surprisingly given the quality of the opposition, the visitors gave United a few first-half scares, notably, when Friend narrowly missed the target following a throw-in from the left. Tomas Kuszczak suffered one of those unhappy flappy moments we he came off his line for a ball that clearly was never going to be his, thankfully the ensuing near mayhem came to naught.

The champions were eventually gifted the lead on the half-hour from the penalty spot following a blatant handball by Ronald Zubar; Rooney converted and then Nemanja Vidic doubled United's lead 10 minutes later with a trademark header. It was all over on 66 minutes when Valencia added a third following United's best attacking move of the night; it started with Scholes who dinked the ball forward to Berbatov who in turn flicked the ball on to the Ecuadorian who made no mistake when crashing home a well hit first time half-volley with the outside of his left foot.

Despite the scoreline, United were nowhere near their best - they didn't have to be, which is a blessing. Apart from his part in the third goal, Berbatov was poor, as was Rooney - but at least he was trying.

Obertan started on the left and did quite well; he is one of the few bright spots about the current United team. Fergie will also no doubt be pleased with Valencia's goal tally (5) so far; quite incredibly he is the club's third top-scorer behind Rooney and Owen. The Ecuadorian is ahead of Berbatov...which says as much about the Bulgarian's season so far as it does about the former Wigan star.

De Laet was given another start, this time at right-back, where he did an okay job for the team. Given Ferguson's injury problems he will be pleased the fixture list doesn't - on paper at least anyway - look that taxing.

In the aftermath of what wasn't a great game, the media have predictably launched a witch-hunt against Mick McCarthy for his decision to make 10 changes to the side that beat Spurs at the weekend.

The media is snided out with former Liverpool players and fans; so it will not have surprised United supporters that the likes of Alan Green was reportedly raging on 5 Live last night about McCarthy. It is also not that surprising that The Times have also launched a moral crusade against the Wolves manager. The Times football editor, Tony Evans, is a big Liverpool fan. No doubting followers of the 'great unwashed' have been looking at their Boxing Day Anfield clash with Wolves - hence their over the top cursing.

Managers' make their choices, they quite often pay the price for failure with the sack; McCarthy will face that fate again if Wolves end up getting relegated. But isn't it funny that the likes of Alan Green and Tony Evans don't carp when their beloved Liverpool manager pulls the same stunt?

Scouse fans have short memories

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tevez underlines his worth as United crash at home to Villa.....

It had to happen sooner or later and the bad news for United is it happened on Saturday when Aston Villa ended a dismal 26 year sequence of results without winning at Old Trafford thanks to Agbonlahor's first-half headed winner on 21 minutes.

In the wake of the defeat the fans are raking over what was a poor performance and questions about being asked about the manner of the defeat and especially the manager's approach; notably, why did Ferguson feel it necessary to start with just Wayne Rooney up front in a 4-5-1 formation? Perhaps Dimitar Berbatov wasn't 100% match fit, because on a day of disappointment in front of goal, it was the Bulgarian who missed one of the champions few genuine scoring opportunities.

Berbatov came on when replacing the once again totally ineffective Park on 63 minutes, before that at half-time and in a bid to give Rooney more support Fergie brought on Michael Owen for Ryan Giggs who'd had a quiet first-half.

Ferguson also replaced Anderson with Darren Gibson but it was a day when nothing seemed to work. Despite a poor performance, United didn't deserve to lose and when Rooney hit the underside of the Brad Friedel's crossbar and bounced to safety on-looking fans will have wondered if it was going to be Villa's day and so it was.

Apart from Villa's well-worked goal, there wasn't a lot to admire about the visitors' who made it difficult for United when often putting 10 men behind the ball - which has been a common ploy used by Martin O'Neil down the years. Let us hope the Irishman is never offered the United job. However, we have to give some credit to Villa who have improved as the season has gone on - league positions do not lie.

While United were struggling so were Chelsea who could only manage a 3-3 draw at home to Everton; a result which was nearly as surprising as the United defeat. Meanwhile, Man City had to thank Carlos Tevez whose two goals salvaged a point at Bolton in another high-scoring 3-3 draw. Tevez is playing well for City and proving to be good value and how United could have done with his work rate against Villa at the weekend.

With the gap at the top of the Premier League is just three points between United and Chelsea it is very much all to play for; no wonder Wenger said that it was the most open title race for years.

None of the leading contenders are playing consistently well, but one of the most surprising stats that emerged over the weekend is that United do not appear to be missing Ronaldo's goals, not least as much as was feared in the closed season. While it's true to say we will only be able to make a proper judgement at the season end the scoring rate so far makes interesting reading:

Played: 26 Goals: 51
Goals per game: 1.96

Last season:
Played: 66 Goals: 119
Goals per game: 1.80

Lies, damn lies and stats anyone?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Obertan's 'Cruyff turn' secures Group B for makeshift United on night of intrigue and inspiration...

Ahead of last night's final Group B Champions League game Sir Alex Ferguson jokingly told the media he didn't have a clue how the team would line-up. The United manager had many selection headaches, so it was always going to be an interesting encounter. Patrice Evra skippered the side, the Frenchman was the only recognised defender in a makeshift back three alongside Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick. With so many absentees and with United needing just a point to finish top of the group it looked like a very big ask.

Fergie has previously flirted with three at the back, but only in pre-season and that was when he had the benefit of his first-choice defenders. The fact that Fergie hasn't tried this formation in the real heat of battle until last night against Wolfsburg and given the make-up of the defence makes last night's 3-1 win over Wolfsburg even more remarkable.

It turned out to be a night when Fergie could do no wrong; Nani who has been out injured, or was it rested (axed for carping to the press), started wide on the left and supplied a pint-point cross to the back-stick for Owen to open the scoring, that was just before the interval. If the Portuguese winger's cross was good, the build up was even better; the move started with Scholes and Owen combining in midfield, which allowed the England striker to shake off the attention of the Wolfsburg defenders, the ball was played to Nani and then Owen ghosted in and nodded home.

Michael Owen has rightly grabbed the headlines after scoring his first-hatrick since leaving Liverpool. Owen could have scored more, but importantly as he has consistently shown this season, he continues to find space inside the opposition penalty area. The fact that the former Newcastle striker was signed on a free transfer makes it all the more remarkable and yes those who described his arrival at Old Trafford as another potential Fergie masterstroke look like being proven right.

On what turned out to be a night of intrigue off the field, there was entertainment aplenty on it and Wolfsburg played their part, predictably they carved open United on several first-half occasions; Dzeko's aerial threat was apparent throughout the game, but Fletcher and Carrick were superb and barely put a foot wrong all night, in fact Fletcher looked like a natural central defender.

It came as no great surprise that Wolfsburg levelled on 56 minutes through alleged United target Dzeko. The 6ft 4in Bosnia international looks like a decent striker and his peformances against United this season suggest he is a worthy transfer target.

With no sign of the deadlock being broken Fergie made what turned out to be another important tactical decision that was to send on Obertan and Valencia for Welbeck and Nani.

Welbeck had a decent game and at times he linked well with Owen, but as he has done on other occasions he didn't play the right ball to his strike partner, but on the whole he should be satisfied with his contribution.

Unlike Park who was very poor throughout, Nani did ok and supplied the cross for the opener. Elsewhere in central midfield Gibson had a quiet game alongside the master, Paul Scholes, but for Owen's goals the ginger prince would have received my man of the match award, along with Fletcher who wasn't far behind.

Just like his manager it was a night when Owen could do no wrong, but it was the introduction of Gabriel Obertan who made it all possible because in one moment of pure magic he turned the Wolfsburg back four with a 'Cruyff turn' and then picked out Owen who netted at the far-post.

But the best was yet to come from Owen, there have been many doubts about the former Newcastle star, but the way he ran from close to the half-way line to finish the third goal was pure vintage. Owen must be in with a great shout for a starting place against Aston Villa this weekend, but knowing Fergie he will more than likely bring back Rooney and Berbatov.

Going into this clash Fergie told the media he wasn't sure if finishing second or first in the group made much difference, he was completely wrong on that point; United needed to win or at least draw to ensure they avoided Real Madrid and Barcelona in the next round and by winning Group B they've done as much as they could have done.

While United were celebrating a thoroughly well deserved win, news broke that UEFA had confirmed two CSKA Moscow players had failed a drugs test that was taken following the recent 3-3 draw with United. There was a suggestion that just perhaps the Wolfsburg players were aware of this news prior to last night's clash with the champions so they knew they'd be going into the knockout phase of the Champions League - the theory being they weren't trying - you'd like to believe that wasn't case because nothing should be taken away from Fergie and his players on what was a very difficult night.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Despite 4-0 win over Hammers United don't look like champions....

West Ham United have been shipping goals at home this season and so it came as no great surprise that United eventually slotted four without reply at Upton Park yesterday, however, like last weekend against Portsmouth the final score didn't tell the full story of what was an error ridden afternoon.

Last weekend United tonked Portsmouth 4-1 at Fratton Park, but they could easily have gone into the break losing if Pompey had taken their numerous goal scoring opportunities. Against West Ham this weekend there was barely an effort on Kuszczak's goal worthy of the term. But it might have been different if Jack Collison had taken advantage of an early Ryan Giggs schoolboy error, that thankfully came to nothing.

Manchester United were the better team in the opening period, and they didn't have to play that well against what was one of the poorest looking West Ham teams for many a year. Despite enjoying the Lion's share of possession, on too many first-half occasions United were guilty of poor passing.

Paul Scholes and in-form Darron Gibson had several range finders that were either blocked or way off target, especially as far as the Northern Ireland international was concerned, but if you keep on giving time and space to good players in your own half of the pitch you will eventually pay the price and that is precisely what happened just prior to half-time when Scholes slammed home a trademark drive from the edge of the Hammers penalty area.

At times during the first-half the benevolence of both teams was quite breathtaking such was the poor quality of this Premier League encounter, but United deserved to be at least one nil to the good given their territorial advantage. Once United took the lead any remote hope of the Hammers taking anything from this game quickly vanished, if anything Zola's team just went worse.

Darron Gibson made up for several embarrassing efforts on goal with one that was right out of Bobby Charlton's scrapbook on 61 minutes. Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney were involved in the build-up as they exchanged passes on the left before the Welshman laid the ball invitingly into the path of Gibson who was wasted no time in blasting the ball beyond the despairing reach of Robert Green in the Hammers goal.

The comparison with Bobby Charlton was easy to make, because just like the former England maestro, Gibson hit the ball without breaking stride. It was a truly majestic strike and a lesson to all youngsters on how to hit a moving ball.

Making comparisons with former players is always a risky business and in no way is Gibson the next Bobby Charlton, but in his last two games the Ulsterman has scored three important goals, in so doing underscoring the value of having a player who can score from central midfield. But like the rest of the current crop of United's young stars in-the-making, the jury is still out on Gibson; if he continues to play well and take advantage of the limited opportunities that come his way he could have a future at Old Trafford.

Ten minutes later, Valencia and then Rooney hammered home the final nails in the Hammers coffin with what can only be described as a brace of very simple goals in a two-minute spell. By the end of the game Green had been replaced, but West Ham did at least test United's Polish stopper, but as a contest it was a non event.

On what turned out to be a good afternoon for the champions with Chelsea losing at Eastlands by the odd goal in three, Fergie's day was spoilt by injuries to Wes Brown and Gary Neville, next up United travel to Germany in midweek for the final Group B Champions League game with Wolfsburg.

Not for the first time in recent seasons, Ferguson is without all of his first-choice centre-backs. Against West Ham it was substitute Michael Carrick who finished up in the back four alongside Darren Fletcher. United need a point to ensure they finish top of Group B, if they draw or win it will mean they will avoid Barcelona and Real Madrid in the next round - given the manager's injury problems United could easily finish runner-up and if that happens questions will be asked about Fergie's decision to play a weakened team against Besiktas - especially if the Red Devils draw either of the Spanish giants.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Alarm bells ringing over Adem Ljajic transfer collapse...

News that the transfer of Adem Ljajic to Manchester United had collapsed sent shockwaves through the media and massed ranks of the Red Army. When the story first broke the fans were to led believe it was simply a case of United having cold feet; according to the media United's scouts had monitored the Serbian's progress over the last twelve months and they weren't happy with his progress. It was a simple explanation but one that was greeted with scepticism by supporters groups.

News of the deal falling through brought an angry reaction from Partizan Belgrade president, Dragan Djuric, who suggested the real reason was more to do with an Old Trafford cash crisis "maybe the real problem is that Manchester United is in financial crisis."

In response, United mounted a damage limitation exercise when Ferguson's assistant Mike Phelan told the media that the club pulled out of the deal because of potential work permit issues.

The supporters weren't happy when United failed to make any significant moves in the transfer market following the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo. The talk was that the Glazers had banked that £80m instead backing the manager to the hilt in the summer transfer window.

The worry is that United had described Adem Ljajic as "Serbia's brightest young talent" and the reasons for pulling out of the deal while plausible, to a degree, are worrying nonetheless.

Initially, United agreed to sign former team-mate Zoran Tosic and Adem Ljajic, the latter was said to the better of the two which makes this news even more of a disappointment from the fans' perspective.

Following on from the Ljajic saga the Times claims United and the Glazers have financial problems due to the Glazers being unable to refinance the huge loans which enabled them to purchase Manchester United.

While the team has performed well under the Glazer regime and importantly Ferguson's management it remains to be seen what will happen to the club in the next few years. Fans group MUST recently said that it is their belief the Glazer family will no longer own the club in five years time. For now though, the fans will be looking to see evidence that Ferguson can compete in the transfer market when the need arises and as far as the Glazers debt mountain is concerned everyone connected with the United would like to see action taken to bring that debt under control without the need for UEFA intervention.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Manchester United vs Manchester City in the League Cup: A warning from history...

After a less than impressive start against Spurs on Tuesday and after looking decidedly second-best in the first 15 minutes Sir Alex Ferguson's second-string managed to see off the challenge of the North London club thanks to two excellent first-half strikes from Darron Gibson.

Tottenham looked the most likely to score in the opening exchanges, but the visitors lacked a cutting edge up front. Gibson's second goal effectively killed the contest so it was United's name that went into the hat for the Carling Cup semi-final draw on Wednesday along with Aston Villa, Blackburn and neighbours Manchester City.

As far as the Red Army are concerned the League Cup has long been regarded as the 'Mickey Mouse Cup', especially in the early rounds, but every now and again the fans' interest levels rise, usually when United come up against a big rival. Without any shadow of doubt, interest levels rocketed again this week when United and City were drawn to face each other in the semi-finals.

Unlike the FA Cup semi-final's that have been hijacked by The FA the Carling Cup semi-final ties are played at home and the away venue, and United will travel to Eastlands before the Old Trafford return.

United have fans have been taking the Mickey out of City for the last 33 joyful years, due to the fact that it was 1976 when they last won a proper trophy, none other than the League Cup (Carling Cup)...

However, United fans might well reflect upon that fact the League Cup is the ONLY competition in which the Citizens' have won more Manchester Derbies, granted the margin is only narrow, but it was in this very competition that City enjoyed one of their biggest wins over United, that was in season 1975-76. The champions had just returned to the old First Division following a short but very painful spell in the old Second Division. After drawing 2-2 at Maine Road in September in the first League fixture between the two since United's return to the top flight the Red Devils were taken apart by City who ran out 4-0 winners in the 4th Round of the League Cup with Dennis Tueart (2), Joe Royle and Asa Harford scoring the goals. But it was United who had the last laugh when winning the final League game of the season 2-0 at Old Trafford, when Gordon Hill and Sammy Mac scored the vital goals.

For those Reds' who were around at that time, no doubt some of you still have memories of encounters with City from the 70s - dare I say some of them bitter. One that still rankles to this day was in 1977-1978 when the Reds’ took on City at Old Trafford.

City had won the first derby that season 3-1 at Maine Road thanks to goals by Brian Kidd (2) and Mick Channon. Reds’ fans and players' alike were keen to avenge that reverse; the return was played at Old Trafford on Wednesday March 15th, it finished up 2-2 on the night, City were two one down and thanks two goals by Gordon Hill; it looked like United would indeed take the points, but then late on referee Clive Thomas waved play on when Brian Kidd was standing fully five-yards offside when he received the ball. Kiddo scored the equaliser but only after Thomas had made one of the biggest refereeing mistakes of all time. Thomas 'the book' (as he was known) was a controversial official, not long after in the 1978 World Cup Finals he blew the final whistle and denied Brazil's Zico what would have been the winning goal against Sweden - that was a decision that has never been forgotten, and neither has his howler at Old Trafford just a few months earlier...

Roll the clock forward to 2009 and Fergie has been talking about sticking with the team that beat Spurs in the quarter final; there is no disputing the manager's reasoning, well there wasn't until the draw was made.

At no other time since the 70s have City looked so collectively strong, added to which Fergie recently went on the attack when calling our near neighbours a small club following City's provocative use of Carlos Tevez and that infamous "Welcome to Manchester" poster campaign.

Message to Fergie: IF you want to ensure that 33 year trophyless run continues and with Chelsea biting the dust then you'd better revise those plans and play your strongest team in both legs of the semi-final. Fergie should let his players do the talking on the pitch. If United lose the semi-final then in all probability City will bring to an end that 33 year hoodoo - if that happens the United manager could well stand charged with allowing it to happen, at least he will as far as many a seasoned Red is concerned. You have been warned.