Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Old heads let United down: Have United gone as far as they can in the Champions League?

It was a night that started with ecstasy, but ended in potential tragedy; that was the story of United's first leg Champions League quarter final tie with Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena.

United got off to a flying start when Rooney gave the visitors a shock lead in the opening minutes. The opening goal had more than a slice of good fortune about it; the ball was floated into the Bayern penalty area from United's right flank, it was flicked on by Mark van Bommel, and then Rooney's marker Martin Demichelis slipped, leaving the United striker unmarked and he made no mistake from Nani's free-kick, from close-range.

Bayern were visibly rocked by the shock of going behind so early in the contest; United had further opportunities to extend their lead, but instead of taking control it was Bayern who went on to take a grip of this quarter final.

Ferguson's decision to start with Gary Neville looked like a poor one because Ribery had the beating of him all night long; so much so that at times it was slightly embarrassing. Neville has had some good moments of late, but his performance against one of the best winger's in the world was one he will want to forget. Nani was tasked with helping his fullback and at times he did well in this respect.

In midfield Ferguson had elected to start with Paul Scholes and here again it looked like the wrong decision by the manager; Scholes has done extremely well in some games this season, he played well against Bolton at the weekend, but expecting him to play again so quickly after Saturday's Premier League clash and in such an important away game was a gamble; one that ultimately backfired.

United were facing an under-strength Bayern Munich side that was without Robben and Bastian Schweinsteiger - knowing Bayern were likely to be less than at full strength may well have played a part in Ferguson's pre-match thinking; worryingly, whatever the United manager's tactical plan, his team were quite awful for long periods, even so it was an absorbing and open contest.

The midfield trio of Scholes, Carrick and Fletcher was far too open on too many occasions. Mark van Bommel set the alarm bells ringing with one first-half solo run; the Dutchman was given far too much room with Scholes looking on, seemingly powerless to do anything about it, what's more there was no sign of Fletcher or Carrick. Van Bommel's run at the United defence was a warning; one that wasn't heeded or checked and United eventually went on to pay the price for failing to control midfield; that and failing to retain possession which Bayern dominated throughout.

United had led something of a charmed life and as the game went on it seemed like just a matter of time before Bayern equalised. In a bid do something to change the pattern of the second-half - which the home team had more or less completely dominated - Ferguson sent on Berbatov and Giggs for Park (ineffective) and Nani (one of our better player's on the night); the changes had zero impact.

United eventually paid the price for sloppiness and it came as no great surprise that Gary Neville was at the heart of it, when he took leave of his senses and handled the ball outside the United penalty area. Ribery scored from the resulting free-kick via a deflection off Rooney; questions will be asked about the United defensive wall which collapsed too easily.

At that point in the contest and after Vidic had seen a thundering header rebound off the Bayern crossbar, United would have been quite happy to take a draw; but it wasn't to be, as once again the midfield parted like the Red-Sea when Tymoschuk brushed aside the half-hearted challenges of Giggs, Vidic and Fletcher, before the ball fell to the feet of Evra, who dithered and was robbed by Olic who had scored to seal the victory.

TO make matters much worse, Rooney limped off the pitch with what looked very much like a dreaded metatarsal injury; though reports are claiming it was an injury to Rooney's right ankle. It remains to be seen what the full extent of the injury is, but United's chances of retaining the title and progressing in the Champions League will have been severely damaged if Rooney is ruled out of the next two games.

Bayern should be back to full strength for next week's second-leg and if that is so then even with Rooney, progression looks like a tall order based on last night's hapless performance.

We have to remember this was the same Bayern side who were systematically taken apart by Barcelona last season and of course it was the Catalans' who destroyed United in the final; United's midfield let them down badly in last year's Rome final; 12 months on, it seems we have learnt nothing from that chastening experience given the lack of organisation and cover for the back four, the problems in the engine room have not been fixed. If United somehow progress into the final and it's beginning to look like a big IF, then you do wonder how this team would deal with Barcelona's midfield.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Coyle on wrong end of United masterclass, but Van Gaal will be tougher nut to crack...

Manchester United travelled to the Reebok on Saturday evening where they faced struggling Bolton. Earlier in the day Chelsea thumped Aston Villa 7-1 at Stamford Bridge and went back to the top of the Barclays Premier League. It was therefore vital Ferguson's team didn't slip-up against what turned out to be a dogged Bolton side who have improved since Owen Coyle took charge in January.

Predictably, with the three points looking like a good bet, Ferguson elected to shuffle his pack by omitting Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand from the squad. We have been told both players were carrying 'slight knocks'. However, when Ferguson decides to gamble, it isn't unusual to axe a brace of big name stars. With United set to travel to Germany to face Bayern Munich on Tuesday and Chelsea the following weekend for the biggest games of the season so far, both decisions looked sensible. Ferguson also took the opportunity to rest last weekend's goal hero Park Ji-Sung, as Ryan Giggs was brought back into starting the line-up.

As things turned out, Bolton were a good match for the champions for most of the first half; Jonny Evans spurned United's best chance of the opening half hour when blasting over from close range following a lay-off by Darren Fletcher. At the other end, Edwin van der Sar had to be at his very best to deny Elmander and Muamba. The save from Muamba was world-class; United's Dutch stopper flew through the air at full stretch as he pushed the ball to safety with his fingertips.

Jack Wiltshire looked more than useful in central midfield; the on-loan Arsenal youngster looks to have the potential to go far in the top flight, but it was United who dominated the possession with Scholes pulling the strings.

The crucial breakthrough came about on 38 minutes - as on so many other occasions this season, it did so from a wide position - but this time from the boot of Ryan Giggs whose cross was expertly steered into his own net by Samuel.

Dimitar Berbatov made it two-nil on 69 minutes; the Bulgarian striker took advantage of Jaaskelainen who initially saved Darren Fletcher's effort on goal, only to deflect into the path of the United striker who made no mistake from close-range. From that point on it was pretty much game over as the champions broke Bolton's resistance.

Berbatov added his second goal of the game and his 12th of the season and once again it came from the left, but this time it was Nani who supplied the killer pass. Just a few minutes later it was Nani who was tormenting the visitors when out-smarting two defenders before supplying Darron Gibson with an inviting cross from the left; the Ulsterman made no mistake when lashing home the final goal of the game from just inside the Bolton penalty area.

In his post-match interview, Owen Coyle went on the offensive when bleating about what he perceived to be a deliberate elbow by Vidic on Elmander, who had to be substituted as a result, but TV replays of the incident were inconclusive.

United should be a full strength when they take on Bayern Munich on Tuesday. Amazingly, Ferguson and Louis Van Gaal have only met each other twice in their long managerial careers; that was back in 1998 in the Champions League in what were two of the most entertaining games in the competition's history.

In the build-up to this season's quarter finals, many pundits are talking about the Arsenal vs Barcelona tie, but United vs Bayern could prove to be the tie of the round. Bayern have already made up for the events of the 1999 final, when dumping United out of the competition just a couple of seasons later. IF anything, it is United who owe the Germans one.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Media ABUs take note: Fergie has every right to play Rooney until he drops..

In the wake of the thoroughly deserved victory over Liverpool last weekend, the media has been focusing on Wayne Rooney's inflamed knee. We are told the swelling flares up after every game. It's a worry for Ferguson and United fans, it's a worry for England too, but the United manager won't lose any sleep over Capello's problems.

According to his manager, Rooney doesn't know when to say no. A prime example was the recent and totally pointless friendly with Egypt; neither Capello or the player had the gumption to cut short Rooney's playing time on what turned out to be a thorough examination of England's credentials. The match was played on a pitch that just a few days earlier had contributed to Michael Owen's latest hamstring injury - an injury that has ruled the United striker out for the remainder of the season.

No one likes to see players missing action through injury and Rooney's desire to play in every game should be applauded. But, and it's big but, with United fighting to retain the title and to reach another Champions League final, club interests come first, second, third and last... we pay his wages, he belongs to United.

If Rooney ends up missing out on this summer's World Cup due to his knee problem, it could actually turn out to be a blessing for United, because hopefully he will then be fresh for the beginning of next season.

The limited transfer activity at Old Trafford last summer saw the arrival of Atonio Valencia, who has admittedly done extremely well in his first season. Nonetheless, Valencia is a winger, so it is to be hoped the manager will be more successful in his efforts to bolster his forward line in the weeks ahead when the transfer window opens.

With so few genuine obvious quality targets, Ferguson's chances of success are difficult to forecast at this juncture, but as things stand and with so few options at his disposal then the manager has every right to ask Rooney to play in most games between now and the season end.

At the beginning of the season Ferguson told Rooney and the rest of the squad they needed to improve their goal-scoring; Rooney has responded quite magnificently as have the rest of the squad. Ferguson has also changed his formation for the biggest of games, which has seen United playing with a lone striker in Rooney. Against the expectations of many, the ploy of playing just one up top has worked too.

Nonetheless, an injury to Rooney between now and the end of the season would scupper United's hopes of winning yet more silverware; if it happens it will be a tragedy for the player and the rest of the squad who have worked so collectively hard.

In many ways this season has been one of surprises, Park Ji Sung's performance against Liverpool added another twist to what is turning to be another dramatic unfolding drama; who among us fans would have selected the South Korean to be the player who was expected to support Rooney by getting into the opposition penalty area from midfield with a view to getting on the end of things? Not me. Yet it was Park who managed to get on the end of three crosses, the first two were spurned, but the third was bravely taken quite brilliantly and with no thought to personal preservation as he dived full length to head home the winner from Darren Fletcher's raking cross from the right.

With Chelsea surprisingly slipping up at the weekend against Blackburn, the champions are in the driving season. United cannot afford any slip-ups, it looks like being another bumpy, but very exciting ride and that's how we like it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

It's time for United to raise their game as business end of the season approaches...

United take on Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday for what is being billed as a "must win" game for both clubs. Liverpool haven't really been serious contenders for the title all season, they will do well to finish in the top four, such has been their fall from grace in the hitherto accepted top four.

It's going to be a three-way fight for the title between the Red Devils, Chelsea and the dark horses that are Arsenal. The champions cannot really afford to drop any points between now and the season end and they will be keen to avenge last season's 1-4 humiliation when Liverpool murdered United.

As ever, the form book pretty much goes out of the window on these occasions; it was the same last season when most were punting a United win, but Fernando Torres ensured a thumping unexpected victory for the Merseyside club.

Amazingly, Vidic has been sent-off in the last three fixtures with Liverpool - no wonder Ferguson has been carping to the press about Steven Gerrard getting away with several high-profile indiscretions of late. The Liverpool skipper was caught cuffing Portsmouth's Mick Brown in Monday night's Premier League clash at Anfield; the referee saw the incident (bottled it) and did nothing...

In the pre-match build up to the clash with Liverpool, Fergie went on the attack when claiming the FA's disciplinary panel needs sacking and he went on to compare the treatment they dished out to Rio Ferdinand who recently received a four game ban for raising his arms and catching an opponent. On this occasion, many in the media are in agreement with the United manager, there is NO consistency.

Poor officialdom aside, it is to hoped United don't need the help of the referee to win today's Premier League encounter.

United are in good form, last weekend they avenged Fulham's three nil win at Craven Cottage, by inflicting the same result on the West London club when they visited Old Trafford. Wayne Rooney was once again on target and he'll be looking to add to his tally against Liverpool, but for some reason he doesn't usually do well against them in front of goal.

It remains be seen if Rooney can keep his blistering goal scoring form going until the end of the season, but with United relying on Rooney and Berbatov it's a tall order, especially with the club still involved in the Champions League in which they've been drawn against Bayern Munich.

Despite winning that never to be forgotten 1999 epic final, the Bavarian club are one of United's bogey sides. The Bayern quarter final is going to be much tougher than some are predicting, but having avoided the really big guns in the other half of the draw, United have a decent shout of making the final again.

Looking beyond to the World Cup, it is simply inconceivable that Rooney will be capable of carrying both club and country to their ultimate goals.

Whatever happens in the next few weeks and months, United are going to need a bit of luck along with the way; we need to keep everyone fit and suspension free and then we can give ourselves a decent chance. There's no better place to start than against Liverpool today at Old Trafford; no slip-ups please and we need everyone to raise their game.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Size doesn't matter: Wayne Rooney the 5ft 10in heading machine...

What a fantastic few weeks it's been for everyone connected with Manchester United; off the pitch the anti Glazer bandwagon is rolling along nicely, MUST's membership is growing by the day, it currently stands at nearly 138,000 - how long will it be before we have 250,000 members? The Red Knights' have promised supporters they can join the season ticket boycott and at some point in the future those fans will be given their old seats back and for less money.

On the field of play United are breathing down Chelsea's neck (The Rent Boys doesn't sound quite right in this particular context does it?  ) in the League. AC Milan visited Old Trafford on Wednesday for the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 tie and were sent packing after getting deservedly whacked 4-0. As a result United are through to the quarter final and Fergie is so confident he doesn't care who we meet in the next round.

You can understand Ferguson's confidence, especially after another bogey side Real Madrid were knocked out by Lyon after being held to a draw in their own midden. Anyone who saw AC Milan beat Real Madrid in the Bernabeu earlier this season will have found it quite hard to believe it was the same Milan team who visited Old Trafford this week.

David Beckham made an emotional return to his former stomping ground and the home fans gave him a welcome that he'll never forget. Beckham capped off a solid performance after coming on as second half substitute and ended the night with a Green and Gold scarf around his neck - it really doesn't get much better than that....

Like many a recent season, the path to the Champions League final looks wide open, but Barcelona remain the clear favourites again. Providing United avoid the Catalan giants we must stand a good chance of going to the Santiago Bernabeu in May, but unlike Ronaldo & Co we won't be going to watch the party...

Wayne Rooney has justifiably been grabbing the headlines; his worth to United is quite simply immeasurable; he has gone well beyond all expectations. No one, not even the player, or come to that even Ferguson, could have honestly have foreseen what has been a goal scoring transformation.

The fact that Rooney has scored so many goals with his head makes it all the more remarkable; not only that, but United now look comfortable playing with just one striker. Rooney has grown into this new role; prior to this season the thought of playing with just one up front filled most fans filled with dread, well not any more.
It goes without saying Rooney isn't the tallest at just 5ft 10in, but neither was United legend Denis Law who was just 5ft 9in. In midweek, former Chelsea defender Marcel Desailly suggested Rooney's movement off the ball makes it almost impossible to mark him.

Movement, or lack of it, when it comes to Berbatov, is only one factor; service is all important when you're a top striker and it's here where United have really excelled of late. The right flank has proven to be a highly productive source of many United goals. Against Milan it was the turn of veteran Gary Neville to find the head of Rooney with a Beckham like cross.

In the first leg of the AC Milan tie in the San Siro, it was Valencia who was Rooney's provider. Valencia and Nani have been done extremely well on that right flank. United will hopefully continue to score freely from all areas of the pitch, and while service is all important next time you watch the Reds in action make note of how many times Van der Sar just boots the ball back to the opposition without a United player getting anywhere near it - that is one of the few major gripes I've had this season.

Ferguson wasn't too happy with Rooney following his recent performance for England against Egypt; it was perfectly understandable given he pretty much played the whole game - after all it was just another ridiculous and totally pointless friendly.

It's not as if Rooney is playing for his place on the flight to South Africa is it? The clowns in our clueless and all too often jingoistic press, are full of concern for Rooney's wellbeing right now - buy you do wonder how long it will last, because it will only be a matter of time before they are pulling him to pieces just like they did to Beckham and countless others before him. For some reason, in this country we like to build up sportsmen before knocking them down again, it seems to be a national trait and a bad one at that.

Personally, I couldn’t really give a flying **** about England and the World Cup, I don’t expect them to do well and I couldn’t care less if they are sent back on the first plane home. Rooney staying fit for United is another thing entirely. Rooney is heading United towards another title and he’s heading towards legend status too.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Rise of the Red Knights: Glazer and Gill the hypocrite on borrowed time? Let us hope so....


If the early indications are anything to go by, the Rise of the Red Knights could turn out to be more than just mooted takeover talk. After much media speculation it was confirmed that the Red Knights have held a meeting with a view to putting together a proposal that could lead to an offer to take control of Manchester United.

The Knights are working alongside MUST, Manchester United Supporter Trust, who in turn are orchestrating the hugely successful 'Green and Gold' campaign, the brainchild of Red Issues Chatmaster. MUST set an initial target of 100,000 members and they are well on their way to achieving that figure; earlier today the total stood at around 78,000, at the time of posting it is well over 93,000.

If the Glazers and David Gill think the fans will be silenced, the numbers and the explosive rate at which new members are joining will surely make them think again. The time looks right for MUST and the Knights; together they have harnessed the power of the internet and the social networks to spread the word. There's much work to be done and everyone who has joined the campaign has to be prepared to back MUST and the Red Knights with their support and importantly cash when called upon, the latter is absolutely vital if the fans hopes of bringing about an end to the financially crippling Glazer regime are to be realised.

It is very early days and talk of any firm offer from the Knights won't happen as quickly as many would like; for their part the Glazers say "Manchester United is not for sale". But they would say that, it is common practice in business to say that; it was only a couple of weeks back that Cadbury's were rejecting the advances of Kraft - ironically another American company - but the deal eventually went through because ultimately money talks... everyone has their price. What's more, the Glazers will be aware that supporters will be asked not to renew their season tickets when the time comes...

United have become almost desperate to sell tickets for some home games this season, they have reverted to 'cold calling' fans - never in the illustrious history of the club has this happened before. Clearly, United are feeling the pinch already with many corporate suites empty - and it is going to get a LOT worse...

It is to be hoped the Glazers will eventually see sense, because they need to realise they have no future at Manchester United and the fans will eventually drive them out.

United's CEO, David Gill was interviewed on Sky Sports News earlier this afternoon, he was asked about the Red Knights; Gill somewhat contradicted himself when hinting that Knights' supremo Keith Harris is a 'publicity seeker', but he followed up his cheap shot by admitting both he and former United director and city big-shot Jim O'Neill are credible people...

Gill says as far as he is concerned the Glazers are running the club in the 'correct way', but he has a very short memory because prior to the Glazer takeover, it was Gill who coined the phrase 'Debt is the Road to Ruin'. David Gill is a hypocrite and like the Glazers it is to be hoped he is on borrowed time...

Monday, March 01, 2010

Villa deservedly lost final so stop carping about Vidic...

Should Vidic have been sent off? Martin O'Neill says, yes he should have been, he went further when claiming it was "universally accepted", err actually NO, it isn't universally accepted, importantly, Phil Dowd decided not to send off the Serbian.

There's always a danger the contest can be totally ruined when the referee decides to send off a player. In this instance Villa were rightly given a penalty which Milner converted in some style on just five minutes. From that point on, Aston Villa had ample time to go on and build on what was a fantastic start to the Carling Cup final, but it was the champions who went on to deserved victory.

I'm not going to argue the rights and wrongs of Dowd's decision not to send off Vidic. Instead let's look at the rest of the game in which Villa contributed to their own downfall.

Richard Dunne was guilty of losing possession when Berbatov robbed him inside the Villa half; the Irish defender won it back only to play the ball to the feet of Michael Owen who equalised. That was mistake number one.

Mistake number two in many ways is actually much worse. I'm referring to Martin O'Neill's shitty defensive 'see what we can pinch on the break' tactics. It was EXACTLY the same when he was manager of Leicester City, and it's why, god forbid, he will never be given the job of managing Manchester United. Villa deservedly won at Old Trafford in the League this season for the first time in donkeys years when they bored us into submission.

Villa's 'have what we hold' tactics were the same, at Wembley on Sunday, except on this occasion United went on to actually create some good scoring opportunities and won the game.

The big problem for Martin O'Neill and his tactics is that when Villa go behind the tactics have to change and that is what he tried to do yesterday, but importantly only after Rooney had expertly headed the champions into the lead.

Manchester United try to win every game by attacking from start to finish, and yes we too play counter attacking football when we are forced to, but there's a BIG difference. O'Neill pretty much deploys this brand of football in every big game and when his team actually takes the lead they tend to sit back, which is exactly what they did at Old Trafford in the League game and on that rare winning occasion the tactic came off.

Imagine this nightmare future scenario in which MON is the new United manager: United have to travel to play Milan in the San Siro, we are defending a narrow one-nil lead from the first leg, what would MON do? He'd tell his team to sit back.

Admittedly, United v Milan is a fixture in which we have almost always come off second best and that's with Ferguson in charge. Most recently in the Champions League knockout round of 16 first leg, and after a hapless start, we went on to win. United attacked the Italian giants in their own back yard and the winning margin should have been greater. Can anyone envisage MON taking any side to the San Siro and attacking the opposition the way United did? Thought not...

Yesterday's Carling Cup Final score actually flattered Villa, because it should have been a wider margin, only the inside of the woodwork and two huge slices of luck denied certain goals for Park and Rooney.

O'Neill can and will go and on about Vidic, but in all honestly, in so doing, he is simply trying to cover up for his own all too obvious managerial flaws and his somewhat negative philosophy on the game.

Managers need balls of steel as well as the courage of their convictions; these attributes are absolutely vital at a club like Manchester United where the fans demand the team goes forward and attacks the opposition at every opportunity.

They say Ferguson is a lucky manager and he is to a degree, but he's bold and he deserves any luck that comes his way. You don't win 34 trophies through luck alone.