Friday, April 30, 2010

Neville extends contract, but does he really need a testimonial?

Fergie wanted Gary Neville to extend his contract and some of his recent performances have suggested there's life in the old dog yet. Neville had a great game against City in the recent Manchester derby, but it has been a very up and down season, one that has been blighted by injuries.

If Fergie was coming into the job as the new United manager the first thing he'd probably do would be to pension off Neville, Scholes and probably Giggs too. However, Fergie isn't the new United manager and earlier this week he threatened to see off the journalists who'd dared to ask when he was retiring following yet more speculation about his future. Nonetheless, you wonder if Fergie will retire when the veteran star trio call time on their respective careers, possibly in twelve months time?

United's veteran trio have been great servants to the club and so they deserve another 12 months. Only time will tell if the decision to stay on turns out to be a good one.

Apparently, Gary Neville will also have a testimonial. It's obviously up to him what he does with the proceeds but he surely doesn't need the cash; it would be really great if he gave most of it to worthy causes around Greater Manchester.

Forlan the "Scouse buster" strikes again, but could the result work against United?...

There's nothing funnier than seeing your biggest rival being knocked out of Europe, especially when it's a former United player who scores the vital goal.

Unfortunately, I didn't bother tuning in to watch Liverpool vs Athletico Madrid at Anfield last night, however, during the first-half I had to nip out to the shops; I put the key into the ignition, the car radio flickered on just as the Radio Five Live commentator was screaming "...and Liverpool have scored...", but in that spit second between the engine firing the radio went off and then on again just as the presenter said "...but it has been disallowed!!!". The wonder of live sport on radio - it doesn't get much better than that, but of course it did as Diego Forlan went on to score (again) against Liverpool. Oh, how the scousers must really hate Forlan.

For anyone who missed the goal, here it is:

On a slightly more worrying note, you do wonder how last night's result will affect Liverpool, because we really want them to play well against Chelsea this weekend. You also wonder if this weekend's clash with Chelsea will be Rafa's last home game in charge and if it is, then surely the home fans and players alike won't want to lose it, even if it means effectively handing the title to United....Dream on!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

IF Liverpool roll over Fergie and United cannot complain too much...

The stage is set: Will it be United or Chelsea who goes on to win the Premier League title? Fact of the matter is, neither have been brilliant this season, having lost so many games between both clubs. But of course there has to be a winner. The outcome will more than likely be decided this coming weekend when Chelsea travel to Anfield and later on Sunday United face Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

The pressure should be on Liverpool to produce a performance; in purely sporting terms that is what should happen, no matter what is at stake. The problem is, there's no real incentive for the Liverpool players; if they win or even draw, it will in all probability mean they've handed the title to United - what sane Scouser would want that to happen?

United face Sunderland and of course that is by no means an easy looking fixture, especially without Rooney.

Whatever happens this weekend Fergie cannot complain because in May 2007 he fielded a weakend side against West Ham United at the end of the season. Tevez scored the winning goal for the Hammers at Old Trafford in the last home game of the season, one that relegated Sheffield United. It was a shameful act on Fergie's part.

It goes without saying, for once I shall be hoping Liverpool take at least a point from the Chelsea game. No matter what the Liverpool players feel about his fixture, once the game kicks-off and the crowd start screaming it is to be hoped players' like Kuyt and Benayoun get caught up in the occasion.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Scholes ensures City got what they deserved on perfect day for United....

Francis Lee had the nerve to claim City should have won the Manchester derby; was he watching a different game? Or had his wig slipped over his eyes? Of course Lee's views had nothing to do with his City connections - not much it didn't. It's a bit like expecting unbiased objectivity from Paddy Crerand, it simply isn't going to happen, is it?

The fact is, United were the better side for pretty much all of the first-half; Rooney and Giggs could have put United two nil up, but they didn't.

City improved second-half, but throughout the game they collectively passed the ball badly. It was also one of those rare occasions when both Tevez and Bellamy failed to make any impression; the Argentine and the Welshman are vying for City's player of the year award, both have been excellent this season. Gary Neville must take most of the credit for keeping Bellamy in-check - but it has to be said, the former Liverpool striker looked jaded too.

Tevez wasn't his usual all-action self. Vidic ensured he kept on top of Tevez and Adebayor was largely anonymous. United's Serbian defender was the man of the match; he didn't put a foot wrong all afternoon and made several telling interceptions and clearances.

Thankfully, the derby was spared the services of Steve Bennett, who would have surely ruined it; it wasn't a dirty game by any stretch and Martin Atkinson just about got all of the big decisions right and without any controversy, which is the mark of a good performance.

It was by no means a great performance by the champions. Wayne Rooney looked less than 100% fit, all too often he was static instead moving towards the ball when it was played to his feet, which made it easy for City's central defenders to shackle him. Clearly, Rooney had a mobility problem and it came as no great surprise when Fergie eventually replaced him with Berbatov with just sixteen minutes remaining. Sadly, once again the Bulgarain failed to make any meaningful impact from the bench; Berbatov's demeanor and body language is currently that of man who knows he's heading for the Old Trafford exit door and with the summer transfer window just around the corner you wonder where his immediate future lies.

The Manchester derby wasn't like recent encounters with our near neighbours; there wasn't a glut of goal-scoring opportunities. With so much at stake and with the season end in sight, perhaps tiredness was a factor, that and the pressure of expectations at both clubs.

Fergie sent on Obertan and Nani for Valencia and Gibson, but the changes made little difference. For all the world, the contest looked like ending in a draw as we headed into the final few minutes and if it had done neither side would have complained too much.

As the clock ticked over the ninety minute mark, someone from the United backroom could be heard bellowing to Scholes to stay up front. Yet another United attack broke down, this time thanks to Berbatov as City regained possession, but then the champions regained it and the ball was quickly played wide left to Evra and his cross was headed beyond the despairing clutches of Shay Given and into the rigging. The scenes of unbridled joy have not been matched, in what has been a very up and down season. The travelling United fans went predictably crazy, as did Fergie and his backroom team. City had been beaten for the third time by United in added time this season, it really doesn't get much better than that.

If you support Manchester United, it was a truly great afternoon, but the evening just got better when Spurs thrashed Chelsea at White Lane. The final score was 2-1, but it could have been 6-1 to Spurs, and of course John Terry was sent-off. Terry (Chelsea's third goalkeeper) was finally penalised for handling the ball inside the box. The former England skipper has got away with handling the ball inside the box on many occasions, there's been so many incidents it is hard to catalogue them all.

On a slightly different tack, on-looking United fans will have been hugely impressed with Gareth Bale who has destroyed both Arsenal and Chelsea this week. Fergie, Fergie sign Bale on...

Chelsea still have to play Liverpool away. Importantly, if United win all of their remaining fixtures, it means that Chelsea will have to WIN at Anfield. With Everton chasing down Liverpool in the league and with Chelsea now possibly on the verge of fading, it is going to be very interesting.

Friday, April 16, 2010

United must be wary of Steve Bennett and Tevez....

United head into Saturday's derby with lingering hopes of retaining the title. Those hopes will be dashed if the champions do not take all three points from what is likely to be one of the games of the season, not least because City are fighting tooth and nail with Spurs in a bid to hang on to fourth place.

The last time the two sides met was in the Carling Cup semi-finals. City sat back in the first-leg at Eastlands and United went on to dominate; the tactic should have ended in disaster for the home side as the champions went ahead through Ryan Giggs, however, Mike Dean then intervened and wrongly awarded City a penalty which they converted. Dean was also guilty of wrongly giving City a corner, from which Tevez scored. While Dean undoubtedly cost United a first-leg win, the central defensive partnership of Brown and Evans let themselves down on the night.

Tomorrow, it's the turn of 'card happy' Stephen Bennett to take charge. Bennett is one of those referees who is too easily swayed by the home crowd. Bennett also has a history of sending off big name United stars: he sent Ronaldo and Keane off twice. Clearly, Ferguson has every reason to be concerned about the appointment of Steve Bennett for such an important fixture.

The problem with many of our so called 'first-class' referees is they don't know when to produce cards; all too often we see the men in the middle getting it wrong and they end up sending off players for two yellow cards. If Bennett gets the big decisions wrong tomorrow the referee won't pay much of a price, but it could cost United dearly.

Bennett needs to understand the passion of the occasion and he needs to let the game flow without constant intervention. At the end of 90 minutes we don't want to be talking about another poor refereeing performance that has resulted in yet more controversy. The sign of a truly great refereeing performance is when you barely notice them, sadly, all too often it is the reverse. Referees like Bennett need to understand they are NOT the stars of the show - it is the players' who should be grabbing the headlines.

From a tactical perspective, it will be interesting to see how City's Italian manager approaches this game: will Mancini tell his players to sit back and hit United on the break? If he does, he could well be courting disaster, because you do not invite good players to attack you - sooner or later you will pay the price.

For our part, United need to get back to winning ways and obviously a lot is likely to depend on the fitness of Wayne Rooney. Fergie says Rooney has a chance, but he was less optimistic about Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs who are both struggling to be fit for the derby.

Importantly, United's midfield needs to make better use of the ball and the champions must win the battle for control of the engine room. Players like Carrick and Berbatov will be playing for their Old Trafford futures, that's assuming they are selected to play some part in the game.

Failure to put pressure on Chelsea who take on Spurs later in the afternoon will be an unacceptable outcome: United simply have to win the Manchester derby to keep any hopes of retaining the title alive.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

United left relying on the likes of Spurs and the fitness of Torres: How did it come to this?

Any honest United supporter will tell you we don't really deserve to win the title this season; but just a couple of weeks ago, Chelsea fans would probably have told you the same thing about their club (that's on the assumption you can find an honest Chelsea fan). But as we head into the final few games of what has been a very strange season and with Chelsea beating Bolton last night, it looks like the West London club will win back the title they lost to United four seasons ago.

Despite the title race now looking like a foregone conclusion, there's still a lot to play for. The battle for 4th place is intriguing to say the least. This coming weekend United will take on City in the Manchester derby. City are the in-form team in the division and the champions look anything but. City could inflict a heavy defeat on United in a worst case scenario. However, Manchester's second club are the favourites to win that coveted fourth place spot and they just need a win, any win, no matter what the final score, to ensure they stay ahead of Liverpool and Spurs.

For their part, Spurs take on Arsenal in the North London derby tonight (Question: does the fixture calendar need looking at? Because, surely we shouldn't be playing games of this magnitude so close to the Champions League finals). United fans will no doubt be rooting for Tottenham tonight, but it will be in hope rather than expectation.

By the time Tottenham's weekend fixture with Chelsea comes around, Spurs hopes of winning the battle for fourth could be effectively over if they go on to lose tonight and City win the Manchester derby earlier on Saturday. Chelsea travel to White Hart Lane, for what yet could prove to be one of the most important games of the season in a game that kicks off at 5.15pm on Saturday.

Looking forward to the Manchester derby, we have to hope the boys in red win it and Spurs win their next two games, because then the title race could be very much back on.

The perfect end of season scenario goes like this; Spurs win their next two games, United win the derby, in which Tevez receives his marching orders and the winning goal is deflected off the back of Craig Bellamy's head in the last few minutes. The events at Eastlands sends the Red Army into raptures while City's hopes of Champions League qualification are dented. Liverpool then go on to beat Chelsea, in so doing they hand the title to United and what a delicious irony that would be. We can but dream...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Mourinho is unlikely to take United job even if it's offered...

If we can read anything into Jose Mourinho's recent media game playing antics, then his love affair with Italy looks set to end soon. If you believe the English press, then Jose could be heading back to England to takeover a Premier League club. The question is, which one? Ferguson cannot carry on forever, he could conceivably retire at any time in the not too distant future, possibly as early as this summer. With Mourinho seemingly ready to move on (again) then it could be argued now is the right time to make a move to bring Jose to Old Trafford as Fergie's replacement.

But taking over from Ferguson is going to be the most difficult job in world football. The current United squad is on the road to nowhere, bluntly, there's much rebuilding work to do, and that will be the case even if the champions retain the title.

United do not have an exciting bunch of emerging young players, not apart from the Da Silva brothers. Fergie recently agreed to buy Chris Smalling from Fulham, but he was plucked from non-league football and to say eyebrows were raised when news broke of United's interest would be a huge understatement. Frankly, few can understand what the manager and his backroom team have seen in him given some of his performances for Fulham. United also announced the arrival of Javier Hernandez, the club's first Mexican. The jury will be very much out on Hernandez and Smalling, because both are unproven.

United's central midfield needs to be rebuilt, there are also huge doubts about the futures of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Wherever you look there's problems to address in the current squad: United will probably sell Dimitar Berbatov this summer and so they will need at least two new proven strikers, then there's the goalkeeping options. Van der Sar shouldn't still be the number one, but he is, due to his understudies failing to dislodge the Dutchman. It's the same story with Neville, Scholes and to a lesser extent Giggs. Ferguson has been relying on these veterans for too long.

The biggest potential stumbling block for any incoming manager will be the lack of transfer funds. Mourinho is a chequebook manager and United don't currently have a pot to piss in thanks to the Glazer family. The former Chelsea manager is nothing like Wenger at Arsenal. The Frenchman spends club money as if it were his own. Mourinho is more like Ferguson, both spend big when the needs arises.

Mourinho is hot property and as such he has the pick of the top jobs. Real Madrid and Manchester City can both offer Mourinho the perfect bolt-hole should he decide to quit Inter Milan. Mourinho might well be the best coach in the world, but he is also something of a football gypsy: once he's had his fun, he hitches up his caravan and moves on to the next pitch, never lingering anywhere for too long.

Real Madrid and Manchester City both tick the transfer funds box: both clubs are synonymous with the ever turning managerial exit door.

If you get fired at Real Madrid, as so often happens, it isn't the end of the world - just ask Carlos Queiros who was dismissed but went on to manage Portugal. Manchester City are well used to failure; they are not a big club, not in the sense of tradition, but they have more money than anyone else which makes the job look attractive.

The Real Madrid and Manchester City jobs have more going for them, when compared to the United job, purely because Mourinho's hands would be tied in relation to transfer dealings and so there's more chance of failure and that's something Mourinho isn't used to. In taking the United job, Mourinho would have everything to lose and not much to gain, because the odds of success would be stacked against him.

Monday, April 12, 2010

United set to finish third in a 'two horse race'?....

United were in action on Sunday when they travelled to Ewood Park to face Blackburn Rovers. This fixture is almost always a tricky one for the Champions, and Sunday proved to be no different. In a game of few chances for either side, it ended in a nil-nil draw - a result which might well hand the title to leaders Chelsea.

If Chelsea go on to win the title, as expected, Fergie can have no complaints; it will take a minor miracle for United to win it now, having lost seven league games.

Sunday's performance was that of a very tired team. It was one of those rare occasions when not a single United player was truly worthy of praise. Blackburn stuck to their script; they make themselves hard to beat, defend well and hope to hit opponents with a sucker punch.

United didn't exactly put on a performance; sadly, it was more a case of going through the motions. The disappointment is, this was supposed to be a team fighting for the one big prize left on offer, but frankly, it didn't look like that. To make matters worse, there was much arm waving; Van der Sar had a couple of spats Rio Ferdinand and Berbatov. You don't often see professional players' rowing openly which each other on the pitch, but there was plenty of that going on at Ewood Park. It was a sign of the pressure coming to the surface, that and the frustration of recent poor performances.

Going into the game, Fergie made six changes to the team that started against Bayern midweek. Out went Fletcher, Carrick, Evra, Rafael, Gibson and Rooney who was injured; in came Neville, Scholes, Giggs, O'Shea, Berbatov and Macheda.

You never know what the logic is when the manager makes so many changes. Rooney was injured and so bringing in Macheda and Berbatov made perfect sense. Gibson is a bit-part player, so no surprises there. United are set to take on City this coming weekend in what could prove to be the game that really does end any hopes of retaining the title; with that fixture in mind, the manager might well have rested Fletcher, Carrick and Rafael.

Whatever, the reasoning behind the changes, the team that faced Blackburn should have been good enough to have won that fixture; but they weren't.

I'm sure I'm not the only red who sat through Sunday's turgid performance expecting a draw; but even so, you hope the ball will bounce kindly and we'll pinch it at some point. But, there was something about Sunday's lacklustre showing which gave you that nagging deja vu feeling - it just felt like it wasn't going to be our day, and that is precisely how it turned out.

There's been a lot of talk about United's midfield in the wake of the defeat to Bayern Munich, with questions being asked about Carrick and Fletcher. Personally, I sat through Sunday's game and not once did I say to myself "..we are really missing Darren Fletcher today", which speaks volumes about my own expectations of the player. I wasn't at Ewood Park as I watched the game on TV; Fletcher's name wasn't mentioned once in commentary. At no point did the commentary team say "United are missing the class and quality of Fletcher and Carrick".

Personally, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Fergie sells Carrick and Berbatov this summer, because neither is good enough for United. Irrespective of who wins the title, Fergie should also call time on the careers of Scholes, Neville and Giggs. The three veterans have been fantastic for United, it's a fact that barely worthy of mention, but they aren't taking the club anywhere, apart from the road to nowhere.

The current squad has stagnated; the manager didn't do enough to strengthen last summer when Ronaldo was sold and Tevez slipped beyond our grasp. It isn't true that there wasn't any top quality players available, because there was.

Perhaps the real reason Fergie hasn't spent is because there's no money to spend; if so, that could also explain the logic in retaining and relying too much on the veteran trio. Whatever, the truth of it all, the clock is ticking for Fergie and the Glazers because if there isn't major changes, then next season the current squad will do even worse and there's absolutely no doubt about that.

For the present, we can look forward to a very difficult looking fixture at Eastlands next weekend. City will be very much up for it, but will United? The fans' will not accept anything less than 100% from every single player in a red shirt.

If United finish third, in what has been described as a 'two horse race', then we only have ourselves to blame.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Brave United undone by mistakes as Bayern heap more misery on Fergie...

United atoned for recent poor performances in a pulsating first half-last night when Bayern Munich were the visitors to Old Trafford. It was an action-packed Champions League second leg quarter final tie. One that didn't disappoint and the home crowd were very much up for it. The champions were dominant from the off and they deservedly raced into a two-nil lead inside the first six minutes as they turned the tie around.

Ferguson gambled on the fitness of Wayne Rooney, who started against the odds; in the pre-match press conference, the United manager was adamant that Rooney would not start, but he said his talisman might play some part from the bench. As things turned out, Rooney was in from the start and you wonder if the player had selected himself.

There was no doubts about the decision to play Darron Gibson; the manager used Park Ji-Sung in a similar role at the weekend against Chelsea. It didn't work as Chelsea went on to win. But against Bayern it was the Ulsterman who was tasked with supporting Rooney from an attacking central midfield position; the ploy worked quite magnificently in the opening minute. Rafael started the move that led to the opening goal when he robbed Ribery just over the half-way line, before advancing quickly and then playing a good ball to the feet of Rooney, who in turn played it to Gibson who blasted home to give United the perfect start.

Just a few minutes later and Nani put United two-nil up; as on so many other occasions this season, a move that started on the right flank ended with a goal; this time it was United's in-form Portuguese winger who was on target, scoring with a clever flick off the heel of his right boot, after good work by Valencia who supplied the cross.

A shell-shocked Bayern team were not in the game at this point, so much so they were in danger of being blown away by a rampant United. United had Bayern on the rack, and more goals looked likely.

Thirty three minutes into the contest, Rafael, was guilty of taking the wrong option following a brilliant counter-attacking raid which he'd started; the move should have ended with another goal, but the young Brazilian went for glory, instead of pulling the ball back to Rooney who surely would have added to United's growing tally.

Despite taking the wrong option, the young Brazilian was having a fine game; he had Ribery in check; in the first-leg, the Frenchman had the beating of Gary Neville at will, but it wasn't a bit like that last night as the tables were very much turned. However, Rafael showed his inexperience again when getting booked on 17 minutes for hitting out at Van Bommel - it was a booking that would later lead to United's Champions League exit.

Five minutes before the break, United scored from another counter-attack and once again the move started on the right, and once again it was Nani who smashed home another brilliant goal. Rafael started the move with a quick throw-in to Valencia and his cross was lashed home from the edge to Bayern penalty area. It should have been United's fourth goal of the night, but at that point, three looked like enough. But, just two minutes later, Michael Carrick was guilty of giving Bayern an undeserved life-line when he failed to make a challenge on Olic who went on to score, from a headed knockdown inside the United penalty area.

Earlier, Rooney had been injured when a Bayern defender made a clumsy challenge; from that point onwards the United striker was pretty a much a passenger, but the player insisted he was okay to carry on, when clearly he wasn't.

United went into the break 3-1 up. It was somewhat surprising that Rooney wasn't withdrawn at the interval. Rooney's lack of mobility was a major factor in Bayern's revival - that and Ferguson not having faith in his subs on the bench.

Rooney was eventually replaced fifty five minutes into the game; but John O'Shea was the wrong choice, because it left United with no striker up front, and as a direct consequence the ball just kept on coming back, in so doing putting more pressure on the defence.

As the second-half went on, it was Bayern who took control. The turning point in the game hinged on Rafael picking up his second yellow card of the night, just five minutes after the break; on this occasion for an ill-advised challenge on Ribery. The sight of half the Bayern team surrounding the referee was sickening, but it was another needless caution and United went on to pay a very high price.

United were down to ten men, and as a result played out the remainder of the half on the back foot. It felt as though it was only a matter of time before Bayern got that vital second away goal and on 73 minutes it arrived from a Ribery corner.

Despite United being down to 10 men, they should have been able to pick up the Bayern players inside the United penalty area. However, when the ball was crossed, there was two unmarked Bayern players inside the box; one of them was Robben, once again Carrick tried and failed to make a telling challenge. Robben scored a brilliant goal, one that ended United's hopes of making it into the semi-finals.

Robben has been to Bayern, what Rooney has been to United this season - the fact he was left unmarked on the edge of the box was an act of criminal negligence. Being down to 10 men is no excuse for such shoddy organisation.

In summary; it was a brave effort by United, but once again mistakes played a big part in the Red Devils downfall. Having gone three nil up, United should have been good enough to progress; the fact that United didn't progress should be cause for concern. In all probability, Barca will go on to retain the trophy. Barca, would probably have wiped the floor with the current United team, as Fergie hasn't addressed any of the issues that were so obvious in last year's final.

The spine of the team needs to be significantly strengthened with the addition of at least three new players. The question is, does Fergie still have the where-with-all to find the players, and importantly, the funds to bring them to Old Trafford?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Irrespective of Bayern result, Fergie needs at least three new players this summer..

Ahead of tonight's Champions League second-leg quarter final at Old Trafford with Bayern Munich, Fergie told the media that there's no need for a wholesale buying spree. Irrespective of the outcome of the Bayern tie, many will beg to differ.

United have lost seven league games this season to date; in many a season gone by the club would not still be involved in the title race, but amazingly we are. The champions were knocked out of the FA Cup by a third division side. Last week we faced Bayern Munich and United were devoid of ideas in midfield - the performance has been described as bad as last season's Champions League final, in which we were pretty much out-played following the opening ten minutes.

Aside from winning the Carling Cup - a trophy that none of the 'big clubs' give two hoots about - it has been a disappointing season. Wayne Rooney's goal-scoring transformation has been one of the few highlights.

The problems within the squad are obvious and many. United are short on genuine star quality up front. Berbatov was brought to the club at great expense, but he has failed to consistently live up to expectations. Ferguson needs at least one new striker.

Fergie is too reliant on Scholes, Neville and Giggs; how much longer can the manager keep on going back to the well, before it is empty? The problem was highlighted last week when the manager started with Neville and Scholes in the last three games; that decision back-fired as Neville was guilty of giving away a free-kick, when he inexplicably handled the ball (a sign of fatigue perhaps?). Neville's mistake led directly to Bayern equalising. In midfield, United were very much second-best and this was against a weakened Bayern side; Scholes, Carrick and Fletcher were totally ineffective.

Fergie might well argue injuries have played their part this season, but that argument is only partly true, because many of the problems have been brewing for a number of seasons.

It's true to say Hargreaves and Anderson have both suffered long-term injuries. But Fergie cannot wait forever as far as Hargreaves in concerned, that much is clear and you do wonder if the end is nigh for the England star. As far as Anderson in concerned, he has been given enough opportunities and like Berbatov he has failed as far as consistency is concerned.

Players like Carrick (axed several times this season) Fletcher and Park lack genuine star quality: all three have weaknesses in their respective games. Fergie can call upon the likes of Darron Gibson and John O'Shea, but they will not provide the answer.

United need a new midfield general - a world-class player - someone who can replace Scholes. Fergie argues that transfer fees are inflated - he's only partly right on that assertion. Fergie has made some big mistakes over the last couple of seasons. The United manager could have tried to sign Sneijder from Real Madrid; United had the perfect opportunity when we were negotiating the Ronaldo deal. In the end, Mourinho snapped up the Dutch star and he has steered Inter Milan to the Champions League semi finals for the first time in seven years. Sneijder was sold for just 15 million Euros - which is hardly an inflated fee.

United also have problems in defence. Rio Ferdinand has been troubled with back problems over the last 12 months. There are doubts about Vidic's future. Without raking over his antics, the Serbian has let himself and the club down over the course of this season. Ferguson needs at least one new central defender.

Fergie had the answer to his central defensive problems in the form of Pique - who now looks to be the finest central defender in the whole of Europe. Allowing Pique to leave and failing to realise his true potential was a criminal act and one that could have saved United £30m. Fergie could have made a bid to sign Lucio who Inter bought for just 5million Euros - again this was not an inflated transfer fee.

Finally, we come to the goalkeeping department; Edwin van der Sar isn't under any pressure for his place in the starting eleven, and here again the manager is relying on another veteran. With no obvious heir apparent, it looks like Fergie will have to spend to replace Edwin sooner or later.

Contrary to the publicly expressed views of the manager, clearly, the current squad needs new blood. When Fergie says he doesn't need wholesale changes, he is kidding no one. The spine of his team needs to be significantly strengthened, and the sooner the better.

IF Ferguson decides to retire at the season's end, it may well yet turn out to be in yet another blaze of glory, because as things stand, United are still in the hunt for the big prizes. However, looking at the current squad, you wonder how many would be retained if someone like Mourinho came in to replace Fergie.

Given what Fergie has achieved and being a near impossible act to follow, it is questionable if someone like Mourinho would take the job; not unless he was given pots of money to spend, because there's much work to be done and you can guarantee his list of player requirements would be based on the issues contained within this post, because they are so obvious.

Ferguson has been a great manager, everyone knows it, but if he did retire tomorrow his legacy for any incoming manager wouldn't be a great one. United do not have a young emerging team; we have a team that needs major rebuilding in every department.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

For once, United will be hoping Arsenal win in the Nou Camp...

Everyone connected with Manchester United will surely be hoping that Arsenal somehow defy the odds and go on to win in the Nou Camp this evening. The Gunners' have a depleted squad and therefore a win looks even more unlikely, but stranger things have happened due to football being the unpredictable game that it is.

Conventional logic suggests a handsome victory for the Catalans'; but if Arsene Wenger and his team do go on to win tonight it will be one of the most notable results in Champions League history to date.

United and the remaining clubs in the competition all have good reason to be rooting for the Arsenal. No one wants to face Barcelona right now.

United's hopes of progressing into the semi final are clinging by a thread, following woeful showing against Bayern Munich last week; it finished up 2-1 to the Germans, but it could have been much worse.

On Saturday, United faced Chelsea and were every bit as poor as we had been against Bayern Munich in the opening period and it remains to be seen if those tasked with turning the tie around have the legs and stomach for the fight; what is beyond question is United need to improve in midfield where we have been found so wanting in the last two fixtures.

IF the Gunners' somehow pull off a shock win in Spain, it will give the champions (and Bayern) further incentive to progress on Wednesday night at Old Trafford when the two sides meet.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Fergie pushes his luck once too often and pays the price, as Chelsea take command in title race...

United were on the wrong end of a 2-1 score-line at Old Trafford today as Chelsea went back to the top of the table thanks to goals by Joe Cole and a highly controversial second half effort by substitute, Didier Drogba. Kiko Macheda scored a late consolation goal when it was 2-0.

Drogba's goal shouldn't have stood, it was clearly a yard off-side, it wasn't even a close decision to call; the fact it wasn't ruled off-side says a lot about the standard of officiating in the England at the highest level.

Carping aside, for the second time in a week, United were simply awful in the opening period. Ferguson elected to start with Berbatov up front; Park-Ji Sung was given the task of supporting the Bulgarian from an advanced central midfield position. While the ploy worked against Liverpool recently, it failed spectacularly today; not least because of the dreadful service given to United's 'front runners'.

United's passing was sloppy throughout the first half; further to which anyone who saw Barcelona's master-class against Arsenal in midweek, will surely have been struck by the obvious chasm in class when you compare what United served up in the opening period. While Barcelona played quick short passes to feet, in sharp contrast today at Old Trafford we had too many United players playing medium to long speculative (Hollywood) balls; Scholes was a prime example, time and time again he was guilty of playing high balls to the chest of Valencia - when they come off and United retain possession it looks great, but today it wasn't coming off in the first-half, frustratingly, the ball repeatedly went out for a Chelsea throw-in.

When United were not losing possession on the right, we had the spectacle of Vidic and Giggs giving the ball away cheaply in our own half - this just after the champions had worked hard to regain possession.

Then we had the spectacle of seeing Park-Ji Sung running around like a proverbial headless chicken and getting nowhere fast chasing lost causes.

Chelsea were pretty much in control for much of the first-half, largely because of poor decision making, both on and off the pitch. The visitors took the lead through Joe Cole, ironically, it was Fletcher who was once again guilty of failing to make a decisive challenge; instead he allowed Malouda to run into the United penalty area and his cross was flicked beyond van der Sar.

Quite why Fergie believed Neville and Scholes could start their third game inside a week is something of a mystery; for much of the season the pair of them have been bit-part players. One could understand the logic behind bringing Giggs back into the starting eleven, even though it meant the veteran trio's age is well over 100. Giggs has been out injured recently, but unlike Gary Neville, he's had a good season.

Neville was guilty of costing United a goal in midweek against Bayern; today he was marginally better, but again expecting him to cope with Malouda was asking a lot and here again questions should be asked, because Ferguson could have opted for the younger legs of Rafael, but he opted for experience. Nonetheless, once again United were opened up down Neville's right flank for the opening goal.

On the whole Neville's defending was better than against Bayern, but at times his distribution and control let him down. Both Scholes and Neville improved in the second-half as United mounted a rival, but we couldn't make it pay and just like in the first-half, it was blindingly obvious that Berbatov needed some support.

Ferguson made the stupid mistake of thinking Giggs could do that job; but he was probably the worst of the three veterans’ on show today. Critically, the United manager failed to act decisively; Macheda should have been brought into the action much sooner. Macheda and Nani were belatedly sent into battle for Park and Scholes, and not long after the Italian's name was on the score-sheet, but Drogba had already sealed the points with that disputed goal.

It was a definite case of too little too late on Ferguson's part. But in perspective, United have done well to still be involved in the title race, having lost so many games - it has been that sort of season.

However, you cannot escape the fact that the current squad has stood still for the last few season's. United have stagnated. The individual brilliance of Ronaldo and Rooney has covered up a lot of the underlying problems, but following the last two techncially woeful performances on the spin, the cracks and weaknesses in the squad look glaringly obvious. In midweek United were out played by a weakened Bayern team. Today in the opening period, United looked jaded and devoid of ideas.

The odds on United retaining the title will have lengthened following the events at Old Trafford this afternoon and rightly so. To make things potentially much worse, the Germans have every reason to be confident of making it a thoroughly miserable week for United fans when they visit Old Trafford on Wednesday.

If United are knocked out of the Champions League the manager can focus his mind on next season. The first big decision might well be to resolve his own future; does Fergie still have what it takes to continue? Assuming Fergie believes he still has the fire raging within, then he needs to get busy in the transfer market because this United team needs major surgery.

United can beat Chelsea without Rooney...

It was always going to happen. It was inevitable that Rooney would get injured before the end of the season. What pissed me off personally was the reaction from the cretins in the mainstream media: "'s good news; Rooney will be out for up to a month...”.

United fans will have been expecting such a reaction and no doubting Ferguson and his backroom team will have been as bemused as the supporters. I'm old and wise enough to know better, but I have to admit it wound me up and it's another reason why my feelings of complete antipathy towards everything connected with the England team are getting stronger. Suffice to say, when and not if, England get knocked out of the World Cup this summer I won't be shedding any tears.

International football is boring. Everyone knows it. There are no surprises any more. That cannot be said of club football. Later today United take on Chelsea in what is the biggest game of the season so far. Neither side can really afford to lose; but whatever the result, it will not be decisive, so even without Rooney and even if we do go on to lose our hopes of retaining the title will still be intact.

Nonetheless, there's several very good reasons why picking up three points is important: maintaining player morale and confidence going forward, and of course United face Bayern Munich in what really IS a must win game on Wednesday.

There couldn't have been a worse time to lose Rooney. But now is not the time for moping. Ferguson has hinted strongly that Kiko Macheda will come into the reckoning. You do wonder what Fergie will do; the manager is wrestling with who to start with up front. It's not as if there are a lot of choices; it's either the young Italian or Berbatov. Don't be surprised if Macheda starts. But what would that do to the Bulgarian's confidence? Would that even be a consideration as far as Ferguson is concerned?

Whatever team Ferguson sends out to battle today we can win, providing each and every one of the players on duty does their job. If we don't make any mistakes at the back and we pass the ball well and retain possession we can do it.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Ferguson and Wenger can learn a lot from studying Barcelona...

Last night's Arsenal vs Barcelona Champions League tie was billed as a "feast of football"; it was, but Arsenal very nearly ended up being the main course and if it wasn't for some inspired goalkeeping by Almunia, the feast would have been over by half-time. Almunia was of course doing his job, he is expected to pull off top drawer saves; likewise his manager is expected to do his job and the introduction of Theo Walcott saved the Gunners from certain defeat.

It turned out to be another absorbing Champions League encounter in which Barcelona played some fabulous football in the opening period; so much so, the Catalans' first-half performance was a good as any in the history of the competition, all that was lacking was goals.

Arsenal deserve some credit for scraping a draw, in so doing giving themselves a flicker of hope of progressing into the semi-final, however, football is a strange game and so no one should be surprised if the Gunners somehow turnaround this tie and progress, even though the odds are stacked against them.

Since winning the competition last season this Barcelona team appear to have just got better. When fans and pundits talk about Barca, Messi is usually the focus of attention, but against Arsenal by his own standards it was a quiet night. There's no suggestion Barca are a one-man-team. As we saw against Arsenal, this Barca side is full of stars who are all comfortable on the ball.

Barcelona are a joy to watch, you don't often see them booting the ball from front to back; ironically they did last night when Pique played that glorious long ball to Ibrahimovic, who scored after letting the ball bounce once before lobbing the out of position Almunia (his only mistake of the night).

As a fan of attacking football and not for the first time, I sat watching Barcelona and analysed their every move in a bid to understand what makes this team so special.

One of the biggest factors behind Barcelona's success is hard-work, but not in the sense of running around like headless chickens'; when an Arsenal player had the ball in the Gunners half, they were immediately closed down by at least one Barca player. When a Barca player had the ball, there was always at least one good short passing option; and here is the key, they keep their passes short and they don't dither on the ball. Much of Barca's attacking play revolves around one-touch football. I don't have access to stats and I don't know if back-passes are totted up, but I'd wager that Barca play the ball backwards more often than other leading side in Europe; this is another important factor, they pass the ball backwards in order to retain possession and then go forward. The name of the game is keeping the ball and moving it quickly.

Barca's game plan is very effective, but only players of the very highest calibre can make such a system work. No disrespect, but I cannot see the likes of Park, Fletcher, Carrick or Park-Ji-Sung slotting into Barca's team, not without the system breaking down. Barcelona's midfield relies on players' who are ultra comfortable on the ball; they don't want for time to dither. In his pomp, Paul Scholes would have been the perfect player for Barca's midfield.

Personally, I couldn't help reflect on United's shoddy performance against Bayern Munich the night before and last year's final against Barcelona; United's midfield was hopeless in both games and I couldn't help wonder what Ferguson makes of it all.

In the wake of what was a football lesson for Arsenal, you also wonder if Wenger will be reflecting on how comprehensively his team had been out-played; frankly, if the Frenchman isn't thinking about his own methods and the development structure within his club then he isn't doing his job, that is the blunt truth of the matter. The same can be said of Ferguson, who has voiced his concerns about player development at United.

The way United and Arsenal play isn't necessarilly the wrong way, it certainly isn't boring, but it isn't as easy on the eye as the Barca system. The Times recently came up with an interesting stat: Arsenal had conceded more goals from counter-attacks than any other Premier League club, they had also scored the most goals from counter attacking...

United have become more of a counter-attacking team these days; we have become more reliant on slightly more defensive approach. Barca play a purer brand of attacking football; they go for the oppositions throats from the off and by retaining possession they starve their opponents of the ball. To use an analogy: at times last night it was a bit like watching a cat tormenting a mouse before putting it out of its misery - except of course it ended with the mouse surviving, for now at least anyway.

United and Arsenal might not win the Champions League this season, the odds must be stacked in favour of Barcelona retaining the trophy; if it happens they will become the first-club to do it, and at least the fans of both United and Arsenal will have the small consolation of watching another feast of football in the Bernabeu.