Sunday, January 30, 2011

FA Cup: Another dodgy display, another win as United just about see off 'third division' Southampton.

United travelled to St Marys' to taken on Southampton on Saturday in the FA Cup. The Saints are currently just outside the automatic promotion places in League One; in case anyone needs reminding, that is the third division of top flight English football - but anyone who didn't know which one of these two clubs was the current Premier League leaders would have struggled to tell you. Southampton played well in the first-half, but it was an altogether different story where United were concerned.

United's first-half performance was little short of shocking where quality is concerned. Ferguson had once again elected to start with a 4-3-3 formation, as he did in midweek against Blackpool.

The Saints deservedly took the lead just before the break, thanks to a combination of good fortune and poor defending. United were so bad in that opening period that the Southampton goalkeeper didn't have a shot worthy of the name to save.

So what went wrong in that awful first-half? The simple answer is that too many United players couldn't pass the ball accurately; Anderson and Gibson were the worst offenders, but they were by no means on their own.

At half-time and for the second game in succession, Ferguson had the task of putting right his initial starting selection; a better team than Southampton would surely have put United to bed in that opening spell, but thankfully, the Saints only registered once. However, instead of using the opportunity to reshuffle, what we ended up with was a simple and ineffective change with a straightforward Brown for Fabio swap.

Ferguson didn't actually make the necessary changes until the 58th minute when he replaced the once again totally out of sorts Gibson and the uninterested looking Anderson for Giggs and Nani; Gibson and Anderson had, to put it mildly, stinking games.

As was the case against Blackpool, it was Giggs who inspired United's football - there is no substitute for genuine quality. Giggs went on to lay on the winner for Hernandez with a peach of a pass and once again the Mexican did not disappoint in the opposition penalty area. The cries for the young South American striker to replace Rooney in the United starting eleven are getting louder and more credible by the week.

Prior to what turned out to be the winning goal, Obertan - who could have considered himself fortunate not to have been hauled off - supplied a wicked dipping low cross from the right wing for Michael Owen to head United level.

United go into the next round on the back of yet another dodgy away performance, both the team and the manager will have to do better if we are to win any of the big prizes this season.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Transfer analysis: Fergie's deals since Glazer takeover, 'lack of value' was rarely a factor in the past...

Much has been said and written about Ferguson's transfer dealings following the Glazer family takeover, here we present you with the names, reported transfer fees, and dates of the deals which have taken place since 2005.

The contents of this post cannot be viewed as definitive, because we can only go off the information which is in the public domain. There has been occasions for a variety of reasons, when the buying and or selling club do not want to publish the actual transfer fees; take the case of Nani and Anderson, as far as we know and according to Reuters, United have agreed to pay their respective club's up to £17.3m each, but the figures have never been confirmed in part no doubt due to certain conditions in the players contract being met.

Irrespective of 100% accurate hard facts, especially concerning deals at the lower end of the scale, our information can used as a broad outline of what has actually happened in the last six seasons since the Glazer family takeover.

In an earlier post we outlined Ferguson dealings for the whole of his 24 year period in charge of United, but at the time of writing, we haven't yet added the date column to that post. However, what we do know is that from the late 90s to 2005 the United manager spent heavily and often.

Fergie routinely broke transfer records prior to 1998; the transfer fees for players like Keane (£3.75) and Ince (£1m) look modest at today's prices. Ferguson, really started spending heavily when he acquired Stam in 1998. What followed was yet another golden period of success in which United won that historic treble; but while money will always be a major factor when it comes to success and winning trophies at at club like United it is only one weapon in the manager's armoury.

Events have proven that some of Fergie's biggest transfers have proven to be gambles; the case of Juan Veron is the most obvious, by common consensus, his time in English football was a low point in his otherwise brilliant career. You could also question the value of Berbatov up and until the current season, but thankfully he is now coming good.

Even though transfer fees have rocketed since the late 90s, Fergie has always been prepared to break records in pursuit of glory, but this situation appears to have changed markedly in the last two seasons when Ferguson has often bemoaned 'lack of value' in the transfer market. One can only come to the conclusion that Ferguson has been told he can no longer compete at the higher end of the market.

When you look at the two sets of figures below, they also highlight the high turnover of players - which in itself is startling - the failure rate will be the same at many leading clubs, but it highlights just how difficult it is to make it at United.

IF you look at our figures, Fergie has spent just over £6m per season (net), which is quite remarkable given the success the club has enjoyed since 2005. Hopefully, this perceived lack of value will not hinder the manager when the search for new blood starts again next summer when a major clear-out is anticipated.

Incoming transfers since the takeover in 2005...

IN 2010-2011 Transfer FeeDate
Javier Hernandez£10,000,00015/07/2010
Anders Lindegaard£3,500,00001/01/2011
Antonio Valencia£16,000,00030/06/2009
Michael OwenFree03/07/2009
Gabriel Obertan£3,000,00008/07/2009
Chris Smalling£10,000,00001/07/2010
Mame Biram DioufUndisclosed17/07/2009
Dimitar Berbatov£30,750,00001/09/2008
Zoran TosicUndisclosed01/01/2009
Ritchie de LaetUndisclosed08/01/2009
Rafael da SilvaUndisclosed01/07/2008
Fabio da SilvaUndisclosed02/07/2008
*Carlos TevezFREE04/08/2007
Manucho PetroUndisclosed01/01/2008
Michael Carrick£18,600,00031/07/2006
Owen Hargreaves£17,000,00001/07/2007
Tomasz KuszczakUndisclosed02/07/2007
Ji-Sung Park£4,000,00005/07/2005
Ben Foster£1,000,00019/07/2005
Nemanja Vidic£7,000,00004/01/2006
Patrice Evra£5,500,00010/01/2006

*United reportedly had to pay the Carlos Tevez camp £10m for his two year loan spell, however, this figure has not been included in our figures.

Outgoing transfers 2010-2011Transfer FeeDate
David GrayFree16/07/2010
Craig CathcartUndisclosed11/08/2010
Rodrigo PossebonUndisclosed19/08/2010
James ChesterUndisclosed07/01/2011
Cristiano Ronaldo£80,000,00001/07/2009
Daniel GalbraithFree01/07/2009
Lee MartinIpswich06/07/2009
Fraizer Campbell£3,500,00011/07/2009
Carlos TevezNo fee14/07/2009
Richard EckersleyBurnley15/07/2009
Danny SimpsonUndisclosed20/01/2010
Ben Foster£6,000,00018/05/2010
Zoran TosicUndisclosed15/06/2010
Tom HeatonFree16/06/2010
Robert ZielerFree01/07/2010
Michael LeaFree04/07/2008
Ritchie JonesFree04/07/2008
Chris EaglesUndisclosed29/07/2008
Mikael SilvestreFree20/08/2008
Louis SahaFREE01/09/2008
Kieran Richardson£5,500,00016/07/2007
Giuseppe RossiUndisclosed31/07/2007
Daniel RoseUndisclosed01/08/2007
Alan Smith£6,000,00003/08/2007
Gabriel HeinzeUndisclosed23/08/2007
Phil MarshFree05/09/2007
Adam EckersleyFree01/01/2008
Ryan Shawcross£1,000,00017/01/2008
Phil Bardsley£2,000,00022/01/2008
Kieran LeeFree22/05/2008
Gerard Pique£5,000,00027/05/2008
Quinton FortuneFree26/07/2006
Van Nistelrooy£11,000,00028/07/2006
Luke SteeleUndisclosed11/08/2006
Paul McShaneFREE23/08/2006
Liam MillerFree31/08/2006
David Jones£1,000,00004/01/2007
Tim Howard£3,000,00014/02/2007
Daniel NardielloFree25/06/2005
Paul TierneySigned29/06/2005
Michael StewartSigned30/06/2005
Phil Neville£3,500,00004/08/2005
Jose Kleberson£2,500,00008/08/2005
Roy KeaneFree15/12/2005
David FoxFree20/01/2006
Colin HeathSigned31/01/2006
Neil WoodFree31/01/2006
Phil PickenFree25/05/2006
Tommy LeeFree04/06/2006
Jonathan Spector£500,00015/06/2006
Eddie JohnsonFree23/06/2006

FA Cup: Southampton v United, we still haven't forgotten 1976...

Later today United take on Southampton in the FA Cup, it isn't the first time these two clubs have met in this competition. If you're of a certain age and you're a United supporter, the bitter memories of Wembley 1976 are still etched in your memory. This was the season immediately after our short but eventful spell in the old second division.

Manchester City - for once - had enjoyed a brief period as the most successful club in the city. The result of 1976 Wembley cup final against Southampton was, according to the experts, likely going to be a foregone conclusion; following a spell in the doldrums, it was our chance to finally win a piece of genuine silverware. What followed, was nothing short of a disaster as Bobby Stokes went on to score the only goal of a disappointing final.

The season after United were back at Wembley, Tommy Docherty and the players made up for the previous year's disappointment when beating Liverpool 2-1 in the same competition.

Those were the days when the BBC used to lavish the whole of Saturday's Grandstand show on the FA Cup Final; there was even a competition (of sorts) for the best banner in the crowd, but they soon put a stop to that one following the build up to the Liverpool with final. The slow pan of the camera fell upon a banner in the United end which read "No one shits on our Lou"... a reference to Lou Macari. A personal favourite of mine was "Jesus saves, but Pearson nets rebound"...the memories linger on...

Roll on to 2011 and this FA Cup tie has all the makings of another upset. United are blowing hot and cold. Southampton are on home turf and they will fancy their chances of dumping United out of the FA Cup.

If you fancy a punt check out the latest United betting odds.

Transfers: 'No value'? Why United have to start spending and soon...

With just a few days to go before the January transfer window closes, Ferguson has said that there will be no new signings. The news didn't come as a great surprise, but nonetheless it was disappointing all the same.

A couple of weeks ago Fergie hinted that United were indeed hoping to sign someone in the January window, but the identity of the player concerned remains a mystery; there was talk of a possible loan move for Kaka, but it was nothing more than a rumour.

However, despite his repeated assertion that there's 'no value' in the transfer market, the clock is ticking and the danger is that Fergie's inaction will cost United dearly one way or the other; if you do not continually improve the squad, the danger is performances on the pitch will be affected and no one, especially Ferguson needs reminding on that score.

Critics will tell you that Ferguson is something of a hypocrite with his 'no value' comments, given how many times United have broken British and world transfer records, both on the buying and selling front. The real problem is that Ferguson's hands have to a great degree been tied by the club's owners, who themselves are cash-strapped.

Despite currently being top of the Barclay's Premier League, everyone knows that United need to bring in long-term replacements for Scholes, Giggs and Edwin van der Sar. Scholes has just this week hinted that he might not be hanging around for another season, Van der Sar is quitting; Giggs is the only one of the veteran trio who will definitely, subject to all being well, still be a United player next season.

United recently signed Anders Lindegaard, the Danish goalkeeper has been labelled as the "new Peter Schmeichel", which brought a withering response from the 'Great Dane' who laughed off the suggestion and worse still hinted that his fellow countryman is nowhere near good enough for the Premier League and especially Manchester United.

We've also been hearing rumours that Wes Brown, Gary Neville, Michael Carrick and Michael Owen will all be leaving in the summer. Factor in the speculation surrounding Patrice Evra AND Wayne Rooney then you really do start to wonder, what if anything, Ferguson has up his sleeve...

According to reports, Real Madrid could be the destination for Evra and Rooney and if that is the case, it may well, in part explain, why the England striker hasn't yet reached the heights of last season; Rooney has been very, very good in some recent games, but the spark isn't quite there and at times this season he has played with the look of a man who is playing with a burden on his shoulders - which is quite understandable, given his contract wranglings and the furore that followed - but is there more to it than that? We will only find out this summer...

For now though, Ferguson will soon have to stop trotting out this tired "no value" line and instead he will have NO option but to get busy in the transfer market or else United will stagnate and be overtaken by the likes of Manchester City.

It hasn't all been bad in the transfer market over the last few seasons, Berbatov, has so far this season lived up to his hefty price tag. Valencia had done well prior to breaking his leg, Javier Hernandez looks like very good business along with Rafael da Silva.

United's Brazilian defender, could in fact be part of the solution concerning the big issues facing the manager in central midfield. Rafael, can run all day long, he can tackle, pass, shoot, dribble and he's quick. In short, Rafael might not have the guile of a Scholes or the cunning of someone like Mezut Ozil, but he's more technically equipped than either Carrick or Fletcher and sooner or later Ferguson will have to bite the bullet and give the Brazilian a chance in central midfield. Why? Because Ferguson might not have any other option.

Even if Rafael is eventually pushed into a more advanced attacking position, where he's quite obviously best suited, Ferguson will still have to bring in at least three top-class performers.

United may well lose Evra this summer and the player earmarked as his replacement, Fabio, still has a lot to learn, so United might well need a new left-back.

If Peter Schmeichel is right about Anders Lindegaard (is he a good judge?) then a new keeper should be on the manager's shopping list.

If Rooney leaves, United will obviously need another world-class striker.

United also need to bolster midfield with some genuine proven quality.

To put it mildly, Fergie's "no value" comment is wearing thin, but by the time next summer comes around it is to be hoped this line has been consigned to history, but do not hold your breath.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Who is your Player of the Season so far?

There have been a number of contributions to Manchester United's currently unbeaten Premier League campaign but who has been your player of the season so far?

Perhaps its Dimitar Berbatov who has started to justify the £30m paid for him by becoming the league's leading goalscorer or maybe its Ryan Giggs who, despite turning 37 years of age in November, is still as crucial a player now as he ever has been.

Nemanja Vidic, the captain, continues to produce the level of consistency needed to keep strikers at bay and to win titles - does he get your vote?

Who is your Player of the Season so far?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Is ADAM for Manchester United.?

Anyone watching last evening's game between Man Utd and Blackpool would have been extremely impressed by Charlie Adam. His passing was simply superlative.

The first-half became the Adam show as he was spraying the ball about and, in my opinion, made Scholes look second best.

I wonder if Sir Alex, watching had his head turned by Adam? I wonder if he saw that this player possessed many of the qualities that have made Scholes such a great player. For twelve million, as it is reported, that Blackpool have put on Adams that would be good business. Adams could play alongside Scholes and/or Anderson. But he would provide another very useful corner and free kick opportunities.

For one, I would not be adverse to seeing Sir Alex splash the cash for this player.

The game was truly a 'game of two halves' but I do not think any player came out of the first half well at all. Our right back has certainly got to learn to stay on the post if he is placed there (The Blackpool second goal). Will it be Gibson's last game? He was hopeless.

Up front I do believe our Little Pea gives so much more alongside Berbatov than Rooney, at the moment, and should be given a longer run out. Rooney is certainly going through some internal strife and, possibly, needs guidance and help. He certainly is not firing on all cylinders.

But, let us face it, Giggs was magnificent, when he came on in the second half. What a player. Who is going to step into his boots?

Fergie got it all wrong in the first-half at Blackpool says James Ryddel

Fergie gets it all wrong, but makes amends as United's trip to the seaside ends on a happy note...

Not for the first time this season, Ferguson got his tactics all wrong on Tuesday night when United travelled for that rearranged game with Blackpool. The United manager started with a narrow 4-3-3 formation which included Rooney, Berbatov and Nani; the Bulgarian led the line. Blackpool are not uber defensive, not a bit of it, they play cavalier football and so it should have been a case of going toe-to-toe with the Seasiders, but instead it was almost as if United were on a tough European away assignment.

From the first kick, United's passing was collectively nothing short of diabolical. A succession of short passes from the visitors in the white shirts either went out of play and or to no one in particular. It looked as though the United players were struggling on the playing surface - at times, it was reminiscent of those trips to the Stade Louis II in Monaco (without the glamour) and its car park underneath the pitch.

In stark contrast, Charlie Adam and the rest of the Blackpool players didn't appear to have any problem with the playing surface, but they are of course used to it.

United were very out of sorts during what was a dreadful first-half. Blackpool deservedly went two up; the first scored by former United youngster Cathcart. When Ferguson and his backroom team review the replays of that opening goal, there will without doubt be a searching inquest, because the marking was none existent. To make matters worse, two minutes before half-time, DJ Campbell doubled Blackpool's advantage and once again it came about from a corner, this time thanks to an assist from Nani via a poor defensive header.

The onlooking United fans and one suspects Ferguson himself, were hoping to go into the break just one down, but when Campbell scored the second goal there was a mountain to climb. In truth, Blackpool could easily have gone into the break four -nil up and if they had done, United couldn't have complained.

Vidic has been one of United's top performers this season, but he didn't have a great game and was extremely fortunate not to score an own goal following a poor header which bounced back off the turf and into the arms of Van der Sar. United were on the rack at times in what was an error ridden opening period. Blackpool squandered a couple of good chances to extend their advantage and Rafael got away with a shoulder charge which could easily have been given as a penalty, but thankfully, referee Peter Walton waved away the appeals of the Blackpool players.

Fergie had elected to start with Paul Scholes, Darron Gibson and Darren Fletcher in midfield, but the engine room, to put it mildly, did not function in that opening spell; Scholes couldn't get into the game - Gibson will never be a United player - he simply isn't good enough and quite why Ferguson persists in playing him is a good question to ask. Gibson is a one trick pony, he has a kick on him like a mule, but all too often his attempts on goal are wayward - take away his long-range shooting 'ability' and there's nothing else to talk about. Gibson cannot tackle, his passing isn't great and his work-rate is nowhere near good enough. Fletcher isn't technically gifted, but he works extremely hard for the team, but of late his passing has been worse than normal and against Blackpool, Adams gave him the run around at times; the Scotland captain was embarrassingly nutmegged at one low-point by his fellow countryman.

Clearly, Ferguson had to do some something at half-time in a bid to change United's fortunes; the United manager was in fact largely to blame for getting the starting formation and the choice of personnel wrong. Predictably, Gibson was replaced by Giggs and balance was restored to the United attack with genuine wingers on the flanks.

What was a simple change made all the difference and as a result United started to play like a team again and the goal scoring opportunities soon followed. Instead of being on the back foot, it was Blackpool who were having to defend. With just under half an hour remaining, and in a bid to make the vital breakthrough, Ferguson made the right call when sending on Hernandez for Rooney who didn't have a good game.

United pulled a goal back on 72 minutes and what a goal it was; a passage of good passing ended with Nani picking out the excellent run of Fletcher and he found Berbatov who had the relatively simple task of converting from close range.

Two minutes later, Hernandez brought United level with a superb finish. Giggs played the Mexican in on the edge of the Blackpool box 'Chicarito' controlled what was a quite brilliant pass with his first touch and dispatched the ball with the second touch giving Kingson no chance. With the clock running down, it looked as though there'd only be one winner and it wasn't going to be those in Orange shirts.

Two minutes before the end of normal time, Berbatov smashed home what was in the end a well deserved winner following an arrow like Scholes pass.

In the end, it was a thoroughly entertaining night and one that has been so typical of United down the years - we rarely make it easy and against Blackpool that was very much the case. Apart from the mistakes of the first-half, the only worry was what looked like a serious neck injury sustained by Rafael. The young Brazilian was sent to hospital with suspected concusion.

No doubting the on-looking, Manchester City fans will have been spewing and cursing into their beers as United went five points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League.

Man of the match: Berbatov.
Final score: Blackpool 2-3 United.
Entertainment value: 4/5

Sunday, January 23, 2011

'Unconvincing' United banjo Brum: Berbatov takes plaudits, as Giggs and Rooney star in supporting roles......

United put on the style on Saturday when Birmingham City were the visitors to Old Tafford; the performance and the 5-0 scoreline ensured that long before the ninety minutes were up there was few furrowed brows on the faces of those on the Stretford End. Even the most ardent United fan would find it difficult to argue that hasn't been the case for much of what has, so far, been a very strange season.

The Red Devils have been blowing hot and cold all season and yet despite too many indifferent performances and in no small part down to some magnificent defending by Nemanja Vidic & Co, somehow United remain unbeaten and are top of the Premier League.

There are of course other factors, namely that in any other recent season and having drawn nine times, surely Chelsea and or Arsenal would have been well above United, but thankfully that is not the case.

United fans do not care that, among many others, Arsene Wenger and City fans are saying that the league leaders have been 'lucky'; if you defend well you always have a chance and if you remain unbeaten with a bit of luck along the way, confidence can and often will follow.

On Saturday, against Birmingham, United were back to their ruthless best, with chances being created almost at will and it hasn't been like that for much of this season. United supporters have been spoilt down the years by a team who lavish entertainment and on this weekend, hapless Birmingham had no answer.

Over the last few weeks, this blog has been imploring Ferguson to restore balance to the attack; United are often at their collective best at home when the manager starts with a four-four-two formation and against Birmingham we had just that.

Giggs was played in his best position on the left, with Nani on the right. Berbatov led the led with Rooney playing in deeper supporting role. United were ahead after just two minutes from a Giggs corner that was flicked on by John O'Shea who'd replaced the suspended Rafael; unmarked Berbatov had the relatively simple task of heading home the opening goal.

What followed was at times very good from those in the red shirts; Berbatov, predictably grabbed the headlines after scoring his third hat-trick of the season, but Giggs and Rooney were right on top of their games.

If you didn't know otherwise, you'd find it difficult to believe that Giggs is 37 years of age. The Welshman was cropping up on both flanks and Birmingham didn't have anyone who could contain him - you cannot give good players the time and space afforded to a team like United, as City often did.

Rooney isn't scoring the goals and aside from an opportunity to score from a header, the player who plundered 35 goals last season isn't even coming close to scoring.

The good news for United is that it doesn't appear to be bothering Rooney too much at present. Against Birmingham, Rooney's passing was as accurate as it can be when he's really on top of his game. The lack of goals might well be a personal cause for concern, but importantly Rooney made a valuable contribution - he ended the match with two excellent assists.

Berbatov made it two-nil after being put through with another superb Wayne Rooney pass. On this day, Berbatov's finishing was deadly and he could easily have scored more if Nani hadn't been so wasteful.

Giggs scored the third and the best goal of the lot following a sweeping move just before the break; the move started when Berbatov intercepted a Birmingham attempted clearance when he slid in to rob the ball, the Bulgarian then played a delightful one-two with Rooney, who in turn supplied a superb low curling ball from deep inside the Birmingham penalty area and the Welshman calmly smashed it into the rigging giving Ben Foster no chance.

Berbatov, finally grabbed his hat-trick on 52 minutes after being put through by Giggs, this time with a low flashing effort which flew beyond helpless Foster in the Birmingham goal .

After making too many wrong decisions when attempting to shoot instead of picking the right pass, and following what was another indifferent performance, Nani finally scored the goal he'd been craving all afternoon when he cut back inside on to his left-foot on the edge of the Birmingham penalty area and once again Foster was well beaten.

Despite Man City losing away at Aston Villa, it wasn't quite the perfect day though, Michael Carrick had to be replaced by Darron Gibson on just 24 minutes, but the foot injury didn't look too serious.

As predicted on this blog following last weekend's draw with Spurs, Fletcher was dropped following what was yet another poor performance; the Scot wasn't even included in the squad for the Birmingham game, but no doubt he will figure in Ferguson's plans for the midweek trip to Blackpool following the injury to Carrick.

In the post-match reaction that followed, according to Micky Phelan, United are ready to rumble; but it's too early to be making any predictions about what lies ahead, because we have seen the leaders banjo opponents this season only for indifferent performances to follow. In November United thrashed Blackburn 7-1 - three days later we were humbled 4-0 at West Ham in the admittedly, 'Micky Mouse' Carling Cup. But as long as United remain unbeaten and the team keeps on performing well at the back, hopefully, we won't be far away come the end of May.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Once in a lifetime: Cantona and New York Cosmos United....

Well, well, who would have predicted that when Cantona came back to the game that he so loves, it would be to a US club and one which had folded? But that is today's big story: Eric Cantona is linking up with New York Cosmos. What a story in the making.

In many ways it is fitting that Cantona has been installed as Director of Football at this club, the one who back in the late 70s attracted the likes of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens.

Since he retired in 1997 after starring for Manchester United in the famous No.7 shirt, Cantona has taken up acting, which he fits in between playing Beach football. There will be those who question Cantona's decision to make this move, but surely it's a marketing masterstroke by Paul Kemsley, Alan Sugar's former advisor. Only time will tell what the future holds and hopefully this venture will prove to be a success for Eric and The New York Cosmos.

The story of the rise and fall of the New York Cosmos is without doubt one of the most amazing in the history of "soccer", not least because with the help of Henry Kissinger, the then US Secretary of State they attracted the great Pele.

No matter what happens at the Cosmos, the roller-coaster ride will never match the events of the late seventies. Check out these clips from what is arguably the finest ever Soccer documentary. Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos.

Eric Cantona is back - with New York Cosmos

Monday, January 17, 2011


I must first make a confession. Although I am a Manchester United fan I have a soft spot for Tottenham Hotspur.

You see, I worked in London and lived in Tottenham High Road about half a mile away from the Spurs ground.

For many years I would be found at White Hart Lane watching the stars of the day. I saw Manchester United with Sir Matt Busby arrive, with Bobby Charlton, George Best, Dennis Law (My favourite player) etc beat the Spurs. Dave Mackay ensured games were hard with muddy pitches. Players, spectators and more importantly referees accepted that football was a contact sport.

That said yesterday’s game at White Hart Lane disappointed me greatly. Whilst Manchester United played well, especially the defence who were magnificent, Spurs players were all determined to get the United players booked or worse. Gareth Bale, who was not allowed to play his normal game, became a wimp, screaming every time he was tackled. He sounded worse than either of the Williams Sisters playing tennis! Van Der Vaart showed us all what he had picked up from playing in Spain, that rolling around feigning injury gets free kicks.

It is all so frustrating. I wonder what such players would have done facing the Tommy Smiths, Nobby Stiles, Jack Charlton or Dave Mackay! But my main criticism is towards referee’s. When will they learn that if someone is really injured they will never roll over and over. They will fall down and stay down. When will they give cards to the disgraceful, yet growing, habit of players waving their hand with an imaginary card towards the referee, in an attempt to get an opponent sent off? But wasn’t it wonderful to see Rio Ferdinand give Da Silva a ticking off for doing just that! That was responsible and the more players that do that to team mates the better the game will be for them!

The Liverpool man on duty, as the referee, Dean, was, as usual in my humble opinion, poor and should be relegated immediately to the second division. Four yellow cards and one red card for Manchester United and two yellow cards for Tottenham was quite ridiculous.

I do hope Manchester United appeal against the red card for Da Silva, it was the worst decision and a wrong decision. Even Redknapp accepts it was not a foul! One would have hoped that Dean, the referee, would rescind the Red card on seeing the video of the incident. But I will not hold my breath.

Am I the only one who, when watching Carrick, is reminded of Ray Wilkins? Wilkins would continually pass across the pitch or backwards to the defence. Carrick hardly ever passes forward these days!. Nani didn’t turn up! Leaving Fletcher alone in midfield in effect.However, if it was not for Gomes Manchester United could have won.

I did expect Tottenham to beat United. But on the day they were not up to it, especially when we were reduced to ten men. It was a good game ,but it was not a dirty game, spoilt by the acting and poor sportsmanship by Spurs! and, not the first game, sadly, by the referee.

The referee’s acquiescence of the Spurs players tactics does raise the question IS football a contact sport or not?

Strapworld. 19:27. 17th January 2010.

Unconvincing United continue to perplex, but the point won at Spurs was a good one....

United were in action on Sunday afternoon when they travelled to Tottenham for what was always going to be a difficult game. Along with Manchester City, Spurs are among the most improved teams in the Premier League. It finished 0-0 and both managers will have been reasonably happy with a point each. As a result United are back at the top of the division, but in many ways it was yet another very unsatisfactory performance.

The downside from a red perspective was the sending off of Rafael; hapless Mike Dean brandished his yellow card twice at the young Brazilian, one in either half. Frankly, neither one of the incidents merited a caution; but the home fans didn't help - every time anything which resembled a challenge by a player in red was greeted with mass appeals for a free-kick by the home crowd, who it has to be said played their part when putting pressure on Mr Dean who caved in. At times, it was akin to playing a game on Merseyside, where the scousers have perfected the art of the mass appeals from the stands.

Spurs fans might well argue that their team hasn't had the rub of the green where big decisions are concerned against United over the last few seasons, but if that is the case we should be asking why referees get it so wrong and so often. The problem is our referees are just very average and until we see a big improvement where judgement and consistency is concerned we will have to collectively put up with second-raters like Dean.

As for United's performance, like on so many occasions when playing away from Old Trafford this sesaon, overall it was very poor, but once again the defence ensured that that the team came away with a share of the spoils. Vidic was at his commanding best as was Ferdinand, despite an early injury scare.

Rafael would have ran Vidic close for United's man-of-the-match award, but for his sending off. The Brazilian had a fine game and at times he looked like the one who might unlock the Spurs defence with his surging runs from deep. Sooner or later, Ferguson will surely give Rafael a game in central midfield, where his energy and skills could be more effective.

The Bale v Rafael contest was a pretty good one; both players will have felt that they did well at times, but by and large the United fullback had the better of things, because Spurs never really troubled Van der Sar.

Sadly, once again United's passing was collectively rank bad for much of Sunday's game. Wayne Rooney and Darren Fletcher had games to forget. If it hadn't been for the Rafael sending off, it's a fair bet that Fletcher would once again have been substituted, but he got lucky and ended up slotting in at right-back.

Berbatov was little more than a highly paid passenger on his return to his former club, so it came as no great surprise when Ferguson replaced him with Hernandez in the second-half. United's Mexican striker struggled to make any sort of meaningful contribution, but at least he tracked back and did well when asked to defend.

Nani did precious little of note and so he too was replaced in the second-half by Anderson. United's Brazilian midfield star did okay and ran at the Spurs defence on several occasions, but it was one of those days when not very much went right from an attacking perspective. Giggs didn't have a great game on the opposite flank, but he at least worked hard for the team.

To use boxing parlance, United have been performing like a punch-drunk boxer, one who is on the ropes appearing to invite trouble and the killer punch. We the fans have been expecting it, as was the case at White Hart Lane, but the killer blow never landed. In point of fact, so good was United's defence, Spurs barely landed a telling blow all afternoon; but if you keep on giving your opponent time and space and you keep on gifting away possession sooner or later you will pay the price. United are not so much playing "Rope a dope" - it's more a case of "Dopes on the ropes". It simply has to get better or else City will soon be taking the high ground in the title race.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

City poised to go top of the table, but for how long?

With just one win on their travels this season in the league so far and having lost eight games it is surely too much to hope for that Wolves will come away with anything at all from their trip to Eastlands today. So Manchester City, will barring some sort of minor miracle be lording it over the rest of the division come five o'clock tonight.

United are in action tomorrow, and providing the current league leaders do not lose, then the Red Devils will back at the top come Sunday night, but this game is oh so important. To state that United have been indifferent on the road this season would be an understatement; in too many games the team has failed to either kill off opponents or else they have failed to dominate.

Ask any honest United fan and they will tell you that the current squad has many problem areas and that is largely why we've seen so many games end in draws. Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick have had very difficult seasons so far. Fletcher was taken off after 62 minutes against Liverpool last weekend - he was lucky not to be substituted at half-time, because his passing was nothing short of awful. If we are to believe the rumours, Carrick fell out with Ferguson earlier on in the season and that led to a lengthy spell in the naughty corner.

Anderson, has in some games shown signs of improvement, but still he's nowhere near the finished article. Gibson is nothing more than a one trick pony, and his party piece rarely comes off, his long-range shooting is wayward and off target too often.

United have missed Valencia on the right and as a result in too many games the attack has been unbalanced; you can also factor in the loss of Park who has been away on international duty, but like Fletcher and Carrick the South Korean is inconsistent when selected.

In a bid to solve United's indifferent form, Ferguson has been tweaking his formation, but the ploy of playing Giggs on the right, as he did recently, was to put it mildly ridiculous. Against Liverpool last weekend, we saw Giggs back where he belongs, wide on the left and the Welshman did not disappoint.

If United are to come away with at least a point at Spurs on Sunday, we will need 100% concentration in all departments, better passing from front to back and we will need balance on the flanks. Expect Berbatov to be left on the bench again. Rooney will start with Giggs on the left and Nani on the right.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Gerrard gets his comeuppance and not before time as Liverpool crash out of FA Cup...

As great as he can be when he's at his best, Steven Gerrard finally got what has been coming to him for quite some time; the Liverpool captain was given a straight red at Old Trafford in today's FA Cup tie for what could be described as a typical over the top two-footed Gerrard tackle.

No doubt, in part due to who he is, "Stevie G" has got away with it down the years, with too many referee's appearing to be lenient towards the Liverpool captain but today Webb wasn't about to duck his responsibility.

Thankfully, the recipient of Gerrard's lunge, Michael Carrick was not seriously injured, but when you launch yourself into an airborne two-footed challenge there is a danger of carnage - TV replays confirmed it was the right decision - he had to go. At that point in the contest, Liverpool were already a goal behind after Ryan Giggs had given table-topping United the lead in the first minute.

Referee Howard Webb was in charge of what always is a difficult game for the officials and from the first kick there was controversy, when United were awarded a very soft penalty when Berbatov went down inside the Liverpool penalty area. Giggs converted the resulting spot-kick with a fine low drive to Reinna's left; Liverpool's Spanish stopper appeared to get his fingertips on the ball, but he was powerless to stop it.

From that point onwards, it was always going to be difficult and it was, but with Kenny Dalglish restored as the new manager of Liverpool after a 20 year absence, the visitors ensured that United didn't have it all their own way.

Even with ten men, Liverpool matched United all over the park, especially in midfield where Fletcher and Carrick failed to capitalise on the extra man advantage. Fletcher had a poor game and once again he was guilty of giving the ball away cheaply on too many occasions - though to be fair, he supplied the ball to Berbatov which led to the penalty.

Fletcher got himself needlessly booked early in the first-half after he'd given away the ball; it was a schoolboy error, the Scot should have known he was in close proximity to his marker, but he received the ball, turned and promptly passed it to Dirk Kuyt. Fletcher then fouled Kuyt and Howard Webb booked him. From that point onwards, Fletcher's influence was affected and his passing let him down on numerous occasions, he was eventually replaced by Anderson in the second-half but he did no better and he too got himself needlessly booked after losing the ball just minutes after his introduction.

Johnny Evans hit the woodword with a powerful header just before the break, but apart from that, there wasn't many clear-cut goal scoring opportunities.

United improved after the break and boy did they need to. Liverpool were on the rack briefly but United were unable to break down the visitors.

Berbatov, contrary to the view of the match sponsors, did not have a great game, the Bulgarian's touch deserted him today. Giggs was United's best performer and by some distance - he made one mazey run down the left early in the second-half, one that was reminiscent of days of yore. Giggs is a left winger and Fergie should play him in his best position because once again he showed that he is still capable of performing at the highest level and in his favoured position.

With no Nemanja Vidic due to injury, Rio Ferdinand marshalled United's back four alongside Evans, on the whole they handled Fernando Torres quite well, but it's fair to say the Spanish striker was starved of service after the Gerrard sending off.

Wayne Rooney was left out of the United squad due to an ankle injury, his replacement Hernandez did okay, but he was replaced by Michael Owen late on in the second-half. Owen looked quite sharp on his return to the first-team, but the goal the United fans were hoping for didn't materialise.

Ferguson will be delighted with the result, if not entirely satisfied with the level of what was at times another unconvincing performance against a team who have been struggling. Liverpool fans will also be happy, not least because Dalglish is back in harness.

Should Howson and Henderson be on Fergie's transfer radar?

Fergie recently stated there would be no new additions to the United squad during the transfer window; whether or not that assertion proves to be true only time will tell. There is however, no doubt that United are lacking genuine star quality in central midfield. Sooner or later Ferguson will have to make a move in the transfer market in a bid to do something about the paucity in the United engine room, because clearly Paul Scholes despite his age, is still the main creative force - putting it bluntly, this is a ridiculous state of affairs.

The question is, who should Ferguson buy? With the exception of Wesley Sneijder and Kaka, there aren't that many obvious exceptional targets.

English players usually command a premium if they are proven at the highest level, but with the possible exception of the unattainable Steven Gerrard, there are no qualifying British players. But, that most definitely is not the case when it comes to rising young stars of the English game.

Two young players spring to mind: Sunderland's Jordan Henderson and Leeds United's Jonny Howson, both players have been receiving rave reviews and both are being tipped as future senior England players.

The United manager has been linked with Sunderland's Jordan Henderson over the last few weeks and there has been renewed speculation over the weekend.

Howson was in action at the Emirates yesterday in the FA Cup, he was recently rewarded with a new contract, no doubt to ward off interest from Premier League predators.

As ever, the problem for Ferguson is that he needs to be sure that both players will live up to expectations as the asking price for either player is likely to be high. United failed to make a decisive move for Gareth Bale and Spurs won that particular transfer battle; it was by no means the first time that Spurs have beaten United to the punch when searching for new blood. The North London club also snapped up Michael Carrick and Berbatov, both for the right money - the former for proverbial peanuts.

Daniel Comolli, the former Spurs "director of football strategy" was responsible for signing Bale and Berbatov, and now the Frenchman is working at Liverpool in a similar role. If United do not make their move for Howson and or Henderson, it's a fair bet that the likes of Spurs and Liverpool will and if that happens the current league leaders could live to regret not being more decisive as was the case with Gareth Bale.

As we saw with Gareth Bale, the likelihood is that Ferguson will not make his move because he is not prepared to gamble, but failure to do so could prove to be costly; if United wanted to buy Bale now the asking price would be prohibitive.

FA Cup: Despite the turmoil at Anfield, Liverpool should not be under estimated...

United are in FA Cup action later today, when Liverpool are the visitors to Old Trafford. The Anfield club have just parted company with manager Roy Hodgson. Kop hero, Kenny Dalglish has been given the manager's job until the end of the season. Dalglish is a respected former player and manager, his appointment was widely predicted. Liverpool needed to do something in a bid to kick-start what has been a very disappointing season so far and it doesn't get much tougher than a trip to Old Tafford.

Despite the turmoil, Liverpool will believe there's every reason to be confident about facing United who have been very unconvincing at times this season. Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard are the obvious danger men and Vidic & Co. will need no reminders from Ferguson.

United lead the Premier League by two points while Liverpool are languishing in the wrong half of the table - the need for Dalglish's team to improve is obvious - but the supporters and managers of both clubs will be looking for signs of better things to come. A win for either side will be a big confidence booster ahead of the battles that lie ahead.

It remains to be seen if Wayne Rooney will start having missed the midweek win against Stoke due to an ankle injury. Ferguson hinted that Hernandez could get the nod, but that's unlikely if Rooney is 100% fit. Rooney is hungry for goals having scored just one from open play since last March; a brace against Liverpool would help heal the love following his recent troubles.

Irrespective of who starts up front for United today, the league leaders must improve the service from the flanks. On too many recent occasions, United haven't been creating enough goal-scoring opportunities; this is largely down to the lack of quality from the flanks, coupled with the recurring problem of giving the ball away cheaply in central midfield.

Friday, January 07, 2011

United must improve, or else City could secure title...

United might well have a two point lead at the summit of the Barclays Premier League, but followers of the club must have doubts about the team's ability to stay at the top, given our away record.

Just a week ago Nemanja Vidic said "Our away record is not something we're proud of, yet here we are top and still unbeaten. But we want to improve and we must play better." The United captain is right, because the leaders still have to travel to Stamford Bridge, The Emirates, White Hart Lane, Anfield and neighbours City have to come to Old Trafford. The problem is so far this season United have struggled against the clubs outside of the top four and so the biggest tests are yet to come.

At the beginning of the season, it looked as though Chelsea would once again be the team to beat, but following the sacking of Ray Wilkins the West London club have fallen away in the title race. While it would be foolish to write off Chelsea, it now looks as though it will be United, City and Arsenal who will be the main challengers. If United were playing well away from home and winning, then there'd be good reason to be optimistic about travelling to Aresenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs.

The worry is United have been unconvincing, especially away from home where the leaders have drawn an incredible seven games - that's twice as many as City. United have only won twice on the road; at Stoke and at West Brom. In contrast City have won six games on their travels.

So what exactly has the problem been this season? There is no simple answer, there are in fact many reasons. United have been lacking width in some recent games and there's no doubt that Valencia has been missed on the right.

Ferguson, somewhat bizarrely, started the away game Birmingham with Giggs on the right; Ryan has been a great professional, but he's one of the most one-footed player's in the division - sometimes these switches can work when the player in question cuts inside on to his stronger foot - but in this instance the ploy failed miserably - but that was just one game. Despite being top of the division currently, there has been too many un-United-like peformances this season.

Matters have not been helped by the constant changes in midfield. Players like Fletcher has been in and out of the starting eleven over the last few weeks and you wonder if it that has been entirely down to injuries, or has it been the case that Ferguson has been unhappy with his inconsistent form? Anderson has blown hot and cold, but he like Fletcher he has been inconsistent.

We have also seen United starting 'bread and butter' away games with a European like 4-3-3 formation; clearly Ferguson does not trust any two midfield players to start with 4-4-2 against the likes of Birmingham, who admittedly are enjoying a good season, but you'd normally expect the Red Devils to approach such away games with a more attacking line-up.

Then there's the question of who should lead the line when Fergie starts with 4-3-3; last season, that man would have been Rooney because he's deemed most suitable to play the lone striker role, but of course the former Everton star has been mired in controversey and his form has been patchy since he returned to the team.

When Fergie starts with a 4-3-3 formation, the balance hasn't been quite right, because while Rooney can and will drift out on to the left wing, he's not a specialist winger. United need Rooney in the box like last season when he plundered all those goals.

For those looking for positivity, the defence has played very well since Rio Ferdinand recovered from his early season injury problems alongside the defensive rock that is Vidic. Wayne Rooney has been showing some recent signs that the hunger and desire is coming back to something like what we have come to expect. Valencia will hopefully come back at some point in February in time for the title run-in, that's assuming United are still in contention. And finally (but don't bet on this actually happening)Brazilian ace, Kaka has been linked with a loan move to United..

Ferguson is confident that United's form will improve over the course of the second half of the season, but the manager is basing that prediction on previous years - the worry is United have been playing nothing like their best in the first half of the season. Hopefully, Ferguson will be proven right, again...

Of the other title contenders Manchester City are a very real threat, they have the best away record in the division and their defence has been solid. As we saw against Arsenal this week, City's brand of football isn't pretty, more functional, but they have demonstrated that they can grind out results when the need arises, much like United have done down the years.

Hopefully, Arsenal will keep up the presssure on United and City, because for obvious reasons we Reds fans want the title race won by the current leaders or else one of the London clubs...

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Ferguson, his vendettas and the abuse of power...

As many avid football fans will know The Times recently made the mistake of charging to view their website content - a move which lead to the loss of over 90% of page-views - well that was a pity because today Matthew Syed wrote a great article in which he outlines some of Fergie's failings. Thankfully, you can read the article via the following link:

Ferguson's abuse of power...

Among many other things, Syed highlights the recent sacking of Fergie's son who was the Preston manager and the subsequent recall of the young United trio who'd been on-loan at the Lancashire club.

United fans the world over admire our illustrious leader, because of the great things he's done for our club, but surely even the most ardent Fergie follower will find it difficult to disagree with the calls for something to be done in order to bring the manager into line.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

United get lucky at WBA: Is misplaced loyalty to Neville getting in the way of common sense?

United travelled to the Hawthorns yesterday and came away with three points, it was only the second away of the season. Wayne Rooney scored his first goal from open play since last March, with a well directed low header from an Evra cross in just the third minute. Rooney has endured a self-inflicted difficult couple of months following his much publicised contract spat with the club, but the relief and joy at scoring yesterday was there for all to see.

However, from that point onwards, it was the home team who dominated what was an absorbing contest and it's fair to say United looked very out of sorts again on their travels.

It came as no great surprise when James Morrison equalised with what could be one of the goals of the season. Nemanja Vidic initially won a header on the edge of the United penalty area, but the ball bounced invitingly to Morrison who unleashed a thunderbolt from fully 25 yards out, the ball flew beyond Kuszczak in the United goal.

West Brom were all over the visitors like a rash as they peppered the United goal with long range shots; Paul Scharner narrowly missed the far post with a bullet header after he'd out-foxed Nemja Vidic.

From an attacking perpsective, United were barely creating anything; too many players in the red shirt were wasteful in possession in midfield, which has been a recurring problem this season, especially when playing away from Old Trafford.

Carrick and Anderson were tasked with manning the engine room, with Fletcher on the right, but Thomas and Dorrans were running into wide open spaces down United's all too often exposed right flank, where West Brom always seemed to have an extra man.

Ferguson will no doubt have raised a few eyebrows when electing to give Gary Neville only his second start of the season for what was likely to be a tricky away game.

Ironically, Gary Neville featured in the only other away win to date against Stoke City - a game in which he was fortunate not to be given a red card; and yesterday against West Brom, once again he should have been sent-off, on this occasion for bringing down Graham Dorrans inside the penalty area and no honest United fan will argue with the point.

Neville was substituted against Stoke in the 46th minute and he was replaced at the Hawthorns in the 71st minute; the fact that the 'club captain' remained on the pitch on both occasions was down to the leniency of the referee. Chris Foy was on duty yesterday and after the game, predictably, there was calls for action to be taken against him from fans and pundits alike. As is often the case when a referee makes a glaring error, the referee appeared to try to make up for his earlier mistake by balancing up proceedings; United were denied a what was a clear penalty in the second-half for what was a clear and blatant hand-ball.

Injuries and old father time have caught up with Neville, and so it's fair to ask if Ferguson's loyalty to this great servant of the club is misplaced? Ferguson selected Neville ahead of Fabio and Wes Brown, but in light of yesterday's lucky escape the United manager will surely conclude that he is courting disaster when selecting the veteran defender ahead of the younger legs of the Da Silva twins.

Neville was up against Jerome Thomas who gave him a torrid time; on too many first-half occasions United were found short of numbers when West Brom were attacking at will down their left; when Neville wasn't actually caught out of position, he did okay on the ball and maybe a run of games would see an improvement in his fitness, but the stakes are so high with rivals Man City breathing down United's necks. Surely the manager cannot afford to take such risks, because in truth, his team was extremely fortunate to have gone into the half-time break with ten outfield players on the pitch and level on terms.

Peter Odemwingie let United off the hook early in the second-half when he missed the opportunity of giving West Brom the lead from the penalty spot after Rio Ferdinand had tripped Jerome Thomas. Ferdinand and Neville exchanged words in the inquest which followed; it looked like a case debating whose responsibility it should have been to mark Thomas.

United's did however improve marginally in the second-period, following Ferguson's minor tactical reshuffle, which saw Fletcher moving into a more central position coupled with switching Obertan to the right.

Ferguson then made a double subsitution sending on Gibson and Hernandez for Obertan and Berbatov. Anderson should have been the one who made way in midfield, because he was largely anonymous and frankly, he didn't look interested all afternoon.

Fergie then did what he should have done at half-time, that is he sent on Fabio for Neville; the young Brazilian was given the runaround once, by Thomas and was booked for what was deemed as a rash challenge, but he eventually steadied the ship down the right and looked better as the half went on.

Hernandez, then did what he did in United's only other away win this season - he scored with a header after he'd been left unmarked in the six-yard box. West Brom rallied late on, but United ground-out what was a very welcome, but controversial three points.

On this form, United will not win back the title, but if you're looking for positives, Rooney scored and he returned to the pitch to seal the win, this when he was injured after being hacked down by Brunt.

By his standards, Rooney didn't have a great game, but he showed signs that the hunger is returning. United need Rooney back running on all cylinders and if today's media speculation is true, the on-loan signing of Kaka would be very welcome to say the least; but whatever happens in the transfer window it looks like it is going to be a very bumpy ride until the end of the season.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Should Fergie have moved for Beckham, another missed opportunity?

IF we are to believe Ferguson, then United will not be making any new signings this January transfer window. Time will tell if this turns out to be another missed opportunity. United missed out in the summer when Spurs signed Rafael van der Vaart for a knockdown transfer fee and Saturday's morning sports headlines suggest rival boss Harry Redknapp could be about to sign David Beckham on-loan for three months.

United are not exactly blessed with an array of class midfield players right now and so the addition of Beckham would definitely bolster the manager's attacking options. As we saw against Birmingham on Tuesday night, United currently lack cover on the flanks due to the absence of Park who is away on international duty and Valencia who won't be back until the end of February, at the earliest. Nani also missed the trip to St Andrews, but he should be back today when United travel to the Hawthorns where they will hopefully start the new year with a much needed away win.

Perish the thought of Beckham helping Spurs to three points when United travel to White Hart Lane on January 16th.