Monday, February 28, 2011

Hartson on Rooney incident: Spare us the sanctimonious c*ap...

Fergie was right: The media did try to get Rooney electrocuted - they wanted him hung up by his genitals. Predictably, the BBC Match of the Day pundits did their level best to get Rooney suspended following the events at Wigan on Saturday. Rooney definitely caught McCarthy with his arm and even die-hard Reds fans will find it difficult to defend the United striker.

But listening to John Hartson doing his Mother Teresa bit was hard to take: this was the bloke who booted team-mate Eyal Berkovic in the mouth in a training ground spat.

The FA have announced Rooney will not be suspended following the incident involving James McCarthy in the opening minutes of a game that was by no means a dirty affair; football's equivalent of the 'double jeopardy' rule has come into play. United players have been shafted by the FA on many occasions down the years - but it looks like Rooney has got away with this one. Hopefully, Fergie will be having a few strong words with the stupid boy.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Thoughts on Tuesday's game.

Manchester United have a three forwards who can score goals. They also have a forward that is finding it extremely difficult to score this season for whatever reason that may be.

But, come Tuesday, I would not be surprised if the manager changes the team and drops Hernandez to the bench. Why?

John Terry is not as mobile as he once was. A fast player like Hernandez will get past him or be fouled. With Hernandez playing I do believe that we would run rings around that defence. Terry knows Rooney’s game now and Rooney, in my opinion, is a troubled man still. Perhaps he is missing some night life, perhaps he just wants away, I do not know but he most certainly is not the player he can be. That elbow yesterday was a red card and the manager’s statement was quite ridiculous. ‘Electrocution’?

It could be that the FA will charge Rooney this week. But there were a couple of incidents yesterday which suggested that Rooney is a liability. If he plays I expect Chelsea players to target him and we could be down to ten men, mark my words.

One player who should not play at Chelsea is Carrick. He is most definitely the weak link in the midfield. Nani, Scholes, Giggs, Fletcher and Obertan would be my midfield. I would play Obertan on the left as he works well with Evra. He can be so tricky and could neutralise their right back.

Our defence is solid. I would keep the Twins on the bench and play O'Shea at right back. Smalling may drop to the bench if Rio is fit, but I have every confidence in him should he play.

Whilst I expect a win I do think Chelsea will throw everything but the kitchen sink at us . It could be a thriller.

Finally congratulations to Birmingham. I bet Ferguson is wondering why he let Foster go. But good luck to Leyton Orient next Wednesday.I hope they beat Arsenal and then meet up with United at Old Trafford. They have a midfield captain who would do a far far better job than Carrick!

Van der Sar ensures United stay on track at Wigan....

United were in action on Saturday at Wigan, it was one of those rare occasions when the game kicked-off at 3pm. In last season's corresponding fixture United ran out 5-0 winners - the scoreline that day did not truly reflect what had gone before it - the Reds scored three times in the last eight minutes which made it look like a real hammering, which it was based on the scoreline. Ironically, it was a similar story against Wigan yesterday, but this time it finished up 4-0 with the visitors scoring three goals in the last 16 minutes.

However, it could have been a very different story if Wigan had taken their chances - the fact that they didn't was down to the excellent Edwin van der Sar whose goalkeeping hasn't always been brilliant this season, but against Wigan he made three crucial saves.

Whenever United take on Wigan, more often that not, it is usually a very open game with lots of goalmouth action and from pretty much the first kick that is exactly how the game was played on Saturday.

Nani had one of those days when he was brilliant at times, he hit the woodwork twice - how the second thundering effort didn't go in was hard to figure out because his shot rebounded off the inside of the post and bounced to safety.

Vidic and Scholes were careless at times during the opening exchanges and this led directly to Wigan bearing down on Edwin van der Sar who had to be at his very best to ensure Athletic didn't not open the scoring.

United eventually broke the deadlock on 17 minutes and it was Hernandez who was preferred to Berbatov who did the damage following good work by Nani on the left. The way Hernandez peeled off his marker and found space inside the Wigan penalty area was reminiscent of Michael Owen at his very best - it was another quality goal.

It was by no means an uneven contest with both teams taking turns to attack, but at times Wigan had the league leaders penned back for sustained spells and United had to thank their Dutch goalkeeper for denying the Wigan strikers on too many occasions.

United's midfield was once again quite poor; the combination of Scholes, Fletcher and Carrick were guilty of allowing Wigan too much time and space outside the United penalty area - though it's true to state the home team were playing extremely well.

We had to wait until the 74th minute for the vital second goal but it was worth the wait, because it was another qaulity finish from United's young Mexican striker; on this occasion he played a clever 'one-two' just outside the box with Rooney before slotting beyond the helpless Al Habsi in the Wigan goal.

Prior to that Van der Sar had been busy at the other end, as Wigan fought hard to make the breakthrough.

On 75 minutes, Ferguson replaced Hernandez and Scholes with Berbatov and Gibson respectively and in the 83rd minute the decision paid off when United's Bulgarian striker found Wayne Rooney who had the simple task of tapping-in from close range the goal effectively cemented the points.

Fabio da Silva replaced Nani late on, and he scored with his first touch after good work by Darren Fletcher.

The after match talking point centred on Wayne Rooney who was caught on camera cuffing McCarthy - no boubting this will lead to a media witch-hunt with the aim of getting the United striker suspended.

Men of the match: Van der Sar and Hernandez
United entertainment value: 7/10

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It's another midfield horror show as Smalling and Vidic star in Marseille stalemate..

United were in action last night in the Stade de Velodrome, where they faced Marseille in the first leg of the Champions League group of 16. It was a very dull game with few chances created by either team as a result it finished up 0-0.

Even the most ardent fans would find it difficult to convince you that either of the two teams who were in action last night will progress much further in this competition.

Marseille were every bit as poor as United when it came to creativity. As far as United are concerned, midfield is the problem area and against Marseille, Carrick, Fletcher and Gibson were simply not good enough.

On too many occasions Carrick gave the ball away and cheaply; at times his passing was dreadful. Gibson wasn't quite as wasteful, but he simply wasn't in the game. Fletcher was marginally the better of the three, but his touch often let's him down when it really matters - though to be fair, at least he had a shot on target.

Paul Scholes entered the action on 72 minutes when he predictably replaced Gibson, and within 10 minutes of entering the action he'd had more touches of the ball than the player he'd just replaced. Scholes is still head and shoulders above Fletcher, Carrick, Gibson and Anderson; United are to put it bluntly, rank bad in midfield and have been when the team has been playing away from Old Trafford pretty much all season.

Ferguson recently stated that Berbatov and Rooney needed to improve when playing away from Old Trafford - that might be true - but the fact is United are not creating enough goal scoring opportunities when playing away and for that we have to blame the midfield and wide players; Berbatov, Rooney and Hernandez are only as good as the service provided and against Marseille the United strikers were given scraps to feed on. Everyone in football knows that United have big problems in the engine room and so the manager's comments about his strikers didn't really get to the heart of the real issue.

The fact that United have remained unbeaten for so long this season raises questions about the quality of the Premier League, but it's true to state that the league leaders have performed well at Old Trafford and the defence has been mostly very good both home and away.

Against Marseille, Nani was guilty of taking the wrong option on several occasions in the final third - which can be infuriating for all concerned - but at least the Portguese winger has improved his game over the last 18 months.

As United have found to their cost down the years a goalless away draw in the Champions League isn't a great result and Marseille will definitely fancy their chances in the return leg at Old Trafford.

If there was a positive to come out of last night it was the performance of the United back-four and in particular, that of Chris Smalling who was superb alongside Vidic.

Smalling has been so good, that the injury to Ferdinand could now be looked upon as something of a blessing because it has given the former none-league defender time to settle in. However, United cannot hope to go much further in the Champions League when relying on the defence alone; clearly, there are major problems in central midfield and Ferguson will only be able to address them in the next transfer window when hopefully he will sign Luka Modric from Spurs.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Arsenal lucky to beat Barca: but credit to them, they might have done us all a favour...

Anyone who saw Arsenal beat Barcelona in their recent Champions League game at the Emirates cannot help but have been impressed; it was a definite case of triumph over adversity. But as good as the result undoubtedly was, some of the facts have been overlooked in the aftermath.

The Barcelona players completed over 600 passes, to Arsenal's 300. Lionel Messi had what looked to be a perfectly good goal chalked off for offside, but TV replays confirmed it should have been a goal...

Yet, Arsenal hung on in there, denied Barcelona and then hit them with a sucker punch and won, arguably deservedly so on the night.

One important aspect of that game has escaped the attention of our so called experts and that was Arsenal's first-half kamikaze defending. The Arsenal defenders were caught out when trying to play offside high up the pitch - this actually led to Messi's goal - the one which eventually was ruled out for offside; however, initially the offside trap failed - only for a Barca forward to be judged offside in the next phase of play.

Conventional football logic dictates than anyone who tries to play the offside game against Barca when defending a high-line is asking for trouble: Why? Because your defenders are leaving a huge space for the Barca attacking players to exploit. This was a big mistake by Wenger and his players but he got away with it...

Arsenal got away with their first-half defending - quite how they did that is still hard to fathom out, but they did and they won.

It is to be hoped Wenger and Co knock-out Barca, because if that happens they will have done United and the remaining teams in the competition a huge favour.

Analysis: Importance of width to United cannot be overstated...

Tomorrow night United take on Marseille in the Champions League. It is the first leg of the Group of 16 and ahead of the game, the news isn't too good on the injury front: United will be without Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, Anderson (no great loss), Jonny Evans and Michael Owen.

Ji-Sung Park is also missing through injury as is Atonio Valencia and it means Ferguson may well have to call upon either Obertan of Bebe - but hopefully it will not come to that as both were dreadful against Crawley Town last weekend in the FA Cup.

Of the absentees, Giggs and Ferdinand will be missed because both of them have performed consistently well this season, especially where the United defender is concerned.

As a result of the injuries it means United are light on dedicated left sided wide men. The importance of width and more pertinently the danger areas from where United create so many of their goal scoring opportunities from cannot be understated.

Anyone who has studied United over a number of games when they've played well will tell you that the league leaders create most of their goal scoring opportunities from deep crossing positions which are in and around the opponents penalty area.

For the benefit of anyone who doesn't follow the action as avidly as some of us, we have produced a graphic which outlines the danger areas. The red areas of the graphic are the most productive source of goals - when the ball is played into the penalty area from these deep positions, two things usually happen; central defenders have to turn side on to face the ball and secondly United's attacking players can find space on the blind side of the defenders.

The orange areas of the graphic can sometimes lead to goals when the ball is played into the box from these deeper positions - however, more often than not, it leads to a defender heading the ball to safety. So the orange area and further back is the WRONG area.

Next time you're watching United and especially when they are playing really well and scoring goals, take note of the build-up and especially the areas from where the final ball is played into the box.

Why Luka Modric would be the real deal for United....

As ever, there's no shortage of gossip concerning Manchester United and who they might be interested in signing this summer. According to the rumour mill, Ferguson will have a major clear-out at the end of the season; if we are to believe the speculation, up to ten players could be leaving. Ten seems like a high figure and only time will tell how many players will be leaving.

What we know for sure is there's a distinct lack of genuine quality replacements. One player who continues to be linked with a move to United is Luka Modric. The Croatian is one of the few players in the Premier League who would definitely be capable of taking over from Paul Scholes. Modric rarely loses possession and his use of the ball is very good.

You rarely see Modric tackled and he always seems to make time for himself on the ball and at 25 he's in the right age bracket. The only downside will be the price, but that has always been a problem where United are concerned. Whether or not, the Glazers will back Ferguson remains to be seen and if they don't will the United manager finally come out and publicly tell supporters that he's not being backed by the owners? Don't hold your breath on that one.

United fans can dismiss the stories linking Gareth Bale with a summer move to Old Trafford, because for one thing, there's no way Spurs will sell both of their crown jewels to the league leaders in the space of one transfer window and anyway, Modric is the most important as far as United are concerned.

Fergie needs to sign at least two top-class central midfield players this summer - if he lands Modric that would be a good start.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

FA Cup: Brown delivers on return, but Bebe and Obertan give cause for concern as United edge out Crawley Town...

Ferguson paid none-league Crawley Town the complement of fielding a strong United team in yesterday's fifth round FA Cup tie at Old Trafford, one that included, Rafael, Wes Brown, John O'Shea, Anderson, Carrick and Hernandez. Despite the obvious gulf which separates the two clubs, it was Crawley Town who took the game to United - there was no chasm in class and for long periods it wasn't obvious which of the two was the Premier League club.

The tie was settled by a solitary first-half Wes Brown headed goal. According to the gossip columns Brown will be sold this summer following the blossoming of the da Silva twins and the emergence of Chris Smalling who looks destined for a big future at Old Trafford. Brown was clearly delighted to score his goal - it was great to see him back in the first-team, but you have to wonder how many more opportunities there will be for the player who showed so much early promise at the outset of his United career?

No doubt in a bid to stamp some authority on the game but also in part to rest the Brazilian for the trip to Marseille in midweek, Ferguson replaced the largely anonymous Anderson at half-time when sending on last weekend's derby hero Wayne Rooney; in truth the United striker failed to make any real impact on this cup tie - his only notable contribution was a booking.

Smalling came on early in the second-half when replacing Rafael who once again didn't look 100% following his recent head injury. The Brazilian left the field shaking his head and didn't look happy; Rafael was checked out for suspected concussion after the Blackpool game and you wonder if there will be further cause for concern with a big Champions League game this week. For his part, Smalling once again did very well, so much so that he was United's star man on the day.

Darron Gibson was United's other star performer, especially in the first-half, but his influence faded in the second period. Republic of Ireland boss Trapattoni has told Gibson to quit Old Trafford and that advice could well prove to be the correct course of action, because the Irishman has been given ample opportunities to prove his worth but he has failed to convince on too many occasions. However, against Crawley Town some of his passing was excellent.

The other da Silva twin, Fabio, did reasonably well, but he too was also replaced following a knock. Darren Fletcher came on and slotted in at right-back.

Crawley pushed United all the way and their effort and organisation was rightly praised after the game. Crawley had enjoyed much of the possession and out-passed a number of visiting Premier League clubs at Old Trafford this season.

United just about deserved the win, but it was a mistake ridden performance especially where Bebe and Obertan were concerned. Bebe consistently tried and failed to beat his man and when he did manage to produce a cross, all too often it didn't find his man. Sooner or later one suspects Ferguson will have to admit he's made a gross error of judgement when he will surely cut his loses and release the Portuguese winger.

After what was a promising start, Obertan wasn't much better on the left flank; the problem? The Frenchman started to push the push the ball too far in front of himself and that led to him losing the ball. Like, Bebe, you wonder how much longer the French winger will be a United player.

United's Man of the Match: Smalling.
United entertainment value: 2/10

Thursday, February 17, 2011

No Qatar deal in prospect: What next for the Glazers and importantly cash strapped Ferguson?

United fans will be disappointed, but one suspects not in the least bit surprised, to learn that there's seemingly no truth in the persistent rumours linking Qatar Holdings with a takeover of Manchester United. Although the group have not made an official announcement, a mandated spokesman has made it clear there is no deal and there's no likely prospect of one either.

The news will come as a bitter blow to anyone with the club's long-interest at heart, because it's questionable how much longer United can carry on paying the Glazers crippling interest payments.

What is beyond question is the need for Ferguson to seriously strengthen his squad, because if the United manager does not sign at least three top class players soon the squad which has gone backwards following the loss of Ronaldo and Tevez will no longer be capable of challenging for silverware.

The United squad needs serious investment in just about every department and recent speculation suggests that up to ten players will be leaving the club this summer.

Gary Neville has already retired, Edwin Van Der Sar is definitely going too. Paul Scholes could also quit at the season end. Michael Owen might well have played his last game following this morning's news that he's injured again. Reports claim Wes Brown, Michael Carrick and Patrice Evra could all be heading for the exit door.

United fans should dismiss Fergie's nonsense about lack of value in the market. Ferguson had no qualms about breaking transfer records in the not too distant past; the truth of the matter is that Ferguson is not being backed in the transfer market.

IF and it's a big If, United go on to win the title, do not rule out Fergie retiring, because quite clearly the club is in a serious financial mess.
Qatar deal denied

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

'Gattuso picks on the wrong one': Big Joe Jordan...

Spurs were in action last night in the Champions League in the San Siro, where they pulled off a fine win against AC Milan thanks to a second-half goal from Peter Crouch. It was a well deserved victory.

No one likes losing but at times against Spurs the behaviour of the AC Milan players was outrageous, particularly when Corluka had fallen victim to a wild two footed lunge by former Arsenal star Flamini; the AC Milan players were only interested in getting the injured player off the pitch, when clearly the Spurs fullback was needed medical attention.

However, the main talking point centred on Gattuso and '70s United cult hero - big Joe Jordan - or "Jaws" at the Italian media used to refer to him.

Gattuso is one of those snidey players who appears to be brave and aggressive when there's a crowd who will step in to prevent it really 'kicking-off'. Jordan showed remarkable restraint when the Italian pushed him when the pair clashed on the touchline during the game.

Gattusso's behaviour was that of a spoilt child at times - the one who is used to getting his own way, and when he doesn't he starts throwing himself around on the deck which exactly what the AC Milan captain was doing last night. All very amusing.

Those of us who were around when Joe Jordan played for United in the 70s knew the matter would not end there and sure enough we were not wrong. At the final whistle the AC Milan captain shamefully went through the motions of headbutting the Scot without actually doing anything...

Harry Redknapp later opined that Gattuso has picked on the wrong one. In his playing days, Jordan was a fearsome looking striker largely because of his toothless grin - he had four of his front teeth knocked out while playing for Leeds.

United signed Jordan from Leeds United for £350,000 in January 1978.
Jordan scored 41 goals for the Red Devils, before moving on to AC Milan and then Verona before signing for Southampton in 1984.

United stats in brief:
United career: Signed January 1978-1981
Appearances: 125/1
Goals: 41

United Song: "Joe!!", "Joe!!", "Joe Jordan!!!"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

United bond price rises as Qatar takeover rumours won't go away...

More news to report on the speculation surrounding the future ownership of MUFC. Bloomberg today reported that bonds of Manchester United rose to a record high amid speculation that the Premier League leaders could soon be sold to the Qatari royal family.

This latest news follows similar press reports in the Daily Mail and Daily Express over recent weeks. Manchester United supporters live in hope that this deal will eventually go through.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Nani at heart of derby victory, as Rooney wonder goal ensures United's title challenge remains on track...

Moneybags Manchester City were the visitors to Old Trafford today, for what had been billed by the media as one of the most important derby's for many a year; supporters of either club will tell you they are all important. Having lost against bottom of the table Wolves last weekend, it was absolutely vital that United were victorious.

But from the first kick, it was City who looked the more threatening. City passed the ball well and Silva was at the heart of everything that was good about the visitors play. Ironically, it was Silva who spurned a golden opportunity to score following a passage of slick first time passing around the United penalty area; the Spaniard had been set free inside the box and a goal looked certain, but somehow he pulled his shot wide of the far post. At that early point in the contest City had United on the rack - we will never know what might have happened if Silva had taken his chance.

While the City players looked confident on the ball, it was the complete opposite where the United players were concerned. Ryan Giggs was having one of those days when nothing would go right; pretty much every time the Welshman had the ball at his feet, he either pushed it too far in front of himself which predictably led to him losing possession or else he simply played balls that were gobbled up by City's towering defenders.

Giggs was by no means the only guilty party; Anderson, who was supposed to be supporting Wayne Rooney - United's solitary target man - was totally anonymous and looked completely devoid of any idea how to do what was expected of him. At that point in the game, a betting man would have lumped on Giggs, but more likely Anderson to be replaced - if indeed you can place such a bet.

City were all over United like a rash - but it was largely down to losing possession cheaply; time and time again those in red were inviting trouble; the United defence showed signs of being overworked. Uncharacteristically, in one first-half low point, instead playing a simple pass to a team-mate, Vidic inexplicably booted the ball straight into to touch - just minutes earlier, Fletcher had done exactly same when appearing to pass the ball to the invisible man on the opposite flank.

United were being outplayed and the prospect of victory seemed unlikely - it was not looking good. But as the game headed towards half-time, the league leaders slowly started to claw their way back into the contest, largely thanks to Nani who was the only United player who looked capable of unlocking the City back-four.

Four minutes before the break, Van der Sarr booted a regulation route-one long ball down field - against the odds - Rooney who had been up against two giant defenders in Kompany and Lescott somehow managed to do enough to ensure the ball ran free to Giggs wide on the left flank. For once, Giggs played a good ball to Nani who was steaming through the middle; the Portuguese winger controlled the ball with his first touch, pushed it into his path with his second and with his third steered it quite beautifully beyond the despairing dive of Joe Hart.

Somehow, United were in front, but on the balance of play could consider themselves to be quite fortunate; down the years City have done this to United on many occasions - it happens when a team fails to take advantage of a period of domination.

United had the better of it for the remainder of the first-half, and City were glad to go into break just one down. Anderson had been brought down inside the City penalty area and it looked like a clear penalty but referee Andre Marriner waved away the United protests.

Mancini sent on Wright-Phillips for Kolarov at half-time in a shuffle that led Silva moving to the left. The pattern of the second-half was just like the first, City were on top and United couldn't do much right. Clearly, Rooney needed help up front, but instead of making what was an obvious change the United manager left his subs sat on the bench.

In a bid to make the breakthrough, Mancini sent on Dzeko for the totally ineffective Milner. Five minutes later, City were on level terms after Dzeko's effort on goal went in off the back of Silva. Despite the carping about it being a scruffy/unusual goal - truth be told - it had been coming and Ferguson was every bit as much to blame as his players because he should have sent on Berbatov much earlier.

Two minutes later, in the 67 minute, the Bulgarian finally entered the action at the expense of Anderson - a change which should have happened at half-time, the fact that it did not happen until City had equalised illustrated poor in-game tactical thinking by the United manager.

United gradually came back into the game and from that point it was an even contest. With just 12 minutes remaining the clock, United put together a good attacking move but when the ball came to Rooney who was lurking just outside the City penalty area his touch let him down - it was by no means the first time it had happened in the derby, but the ball came back to Scholes, he in turn found Nani on the right and his cross was met by Rooney who scored what will be the goal of the season.

No matter how badly they might have played, the very best strikers take their chances when they are presented, today, Wayne Rooney did just that and then some...

Nani's cross had been played behind Rooney, and because of this, the only way to get anything on the ball was an attempted overhead-kick. As Rooney later said in his post-match interview: 'Nine times out of ten in training they go over the bar' - well today - it did not go over the bar, no, it thundered into the top corner in so doing nearly bursting the rigging. It was a goal worthy of winning the World-Cup Final. It was one of those sporting moments that will live with those who saw it forever. It was fantastic. No words can truly describe that quite brilliant Rooney overhead-kick.

United ran down the clock and in the end just about deserved the win.

Man of the match: Nani for scoring one very important goal at a time when United were seriously under the cosh and for supplying the cross for the winner.

Chris Smalling ran Nani close for United's man of the match.

Smalling barely put a foot wrong alongside Vidic, his defending was superb as was his distribution. If Smalling carries on playing like he did today, Ferguson will be a very happy man.

If United have a weakness when Rio Ferdinand is missing it is when they are defending set pieces (as we saw last week against Wolves). United need to work on better communication and organisation when defending set pieces; this weakness was exposed in the first-half when somehow, United had left Evra trying to mark Yaya Toure at the far post.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Daily Express Arab takeover claims: Just another crap "exclusive" or will United soon be rid of parasite owners?

This blogger had an early morning call today from a long-time red asking if I'd heard the news about an Arab consortium who were going to buy-out the Glazer family. According to Bill Bradshaw, this weekend's Manchester derby could be the last under ownership of the Glazer regime. However, my hopes were soon dashed when I learnt that the source of the story was the quite dreadful Daily Express - arguably Britain's worst 'newspaper'.

It was Harry Harris of the Daily Express who not that long ago told United fans that David Beckham would not be leaving - to be fair - the equally lamentable Manchester Evening News confidently told us exactly the same - only for Beckham to be sold to Real Madrid just a few days later.

As for this latest "exclusive", every right thinking United fan will be hoping that, for once, the Daily Express has actually got something right. According to the Express, Qatar holdings are set to buy out the Glazers in a £1.6bn deal.

United's title hopes could well hinge on derby result...

United suffered their first league defeat of the season last weekend against bottom of the table Wolves; it was an inept performance and yet after the game Ferguson praised his team for remaining unbeaten. In point of fact, it was something of a mystery how United had remained unbeaten for so long given there's been too many poor performances on the road.

Tomorrow, Manchester City are the visitors to Old Trafford for what will be a lunchtime derby showdown. The pressure is well and truly on United who we are told will be without Ferdinand, Evans (no great loss on current form) and importantly Hernandez.

The loss of Ferdinand and Hernandez means that Ferguson's options on the bench will be limited. You have to wonder if Ferguson now regrets allowing Macheda and Welbeck to go out on loan because, realistically, it means he can only call on Michael Owen - but of course in last season's corresponding fixture, the former Liverpool striker scored the winner in a 4-3 thriller; United fans will be desperately hoping that lightning strikes twice if Owen is called upon.

United have by far the best home record in the division, as for City, only Arsenal have a superior away record - so something will have to give. City are in third place behind the Gunners, but a win tomorrow could give Mancini's team the momentum they need if they are to be serious contenders.

A loss for either club could well have a knock-on and of course it would mean that United will have lost two games on the spin. Despite the fact that United are at home, City will fancy their chances of coming away with all three points, especially given the likely absence of Rio Ferdinand. Chris Smalling will play alongside Vidic, but whenever United have been without one of the first choice central defenders, the defence has been shaky.

Despite having a four point lead at the top, United know full well that they cannot afford to drop many points between now and the season end especially given the number of difficult looking away games on the horizon. United simply cannot afford to lose the derby.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Gary and Jamie Football Show.

Much talk in the newspapers, since Gary Neville's retirement, that he may well be the new face of SKY.

I do hope that Sky take this opportunity to create a new style and not attempt to re-create the Gray and Keys show. I feel that would be a de-sas-terr, as that Craig Revel Horwood would say!

A football 'pundit' show that did enjoy great support on ITV was the Ian St. John and
Jimmy Greaves half hour. Two articulate men who spoke as they felt.

Having seen both Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher as pundits, I reckon these two would create a great team. Both extremely knowledgeable about the game, both have obtained or about to obtain their coaching badges, both without a doubt articulate and not afraid to speak their minds.

What a combination, a lad from the home of black puddings and a scouser. It would erase immediately Gray and Keys from memory and Jamie Redknapp can go back to advertising holidays. Certainly fireworks a plenty.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Wheels fall off at Wolves: As United blow big chance to extend lead at the top...

What a strange game football can be at times because at 5pm on Saturday night, Arsene Wenger and his players must have been cursing the Gunners second-half performance having thrown away a four-nil lead only to end up with a point at Newcastle. Arsenal must have thought at juncture that they might well have blown their chances of winning the title, especially as United were set to take on bottom of the table Wolves - how wrong they were.

It was United who really blew it on Saturday, when missing out on the opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League to a potentially unassailable seven point lead when losing 2-1 to relegation threatened Wolves.

Nani gave United the lead after just three minutes with a well taken goal after beating his fullback and the 'keeper at his near post, but that was the only real highlight of what was a substandard United performance - especially at the back.

United's defending was nothing short of abysmal. Wolves scored with two bread and butter headers. Vidic and Jonny Evans didn't marshall the defence and the marking was dire on the Wolves equaliser.

United went into the Wolves game without Rio Ferdinand - who we are told - somehow managed to sustain an injury in the pre-match warm-up. According to ESPN, Ferguson would not elaborate on the injury. In the wake of United's first league defeat of the season, the United manager says Rio will miss England's friendly in midweek and importantly what could well turn out to be a crucial Manchester derby...

Cynics might well wonder if Rio had unwisely put country before club thinking it would be walk-over on the day - let's face it - we were all thinking the same if we are being honest...

However, when United went two-one down, a very worried looking England captain went pitch-side; one couldn't help but wonder if the United defender was thinking "oh my god, what have I done?"..the thing is this, players have never been better prepared - they have a small army of medical staff tending to their every ailment. So this whole business of 'player gets injured in the pre-match warm-up' is very hard to buy into. When it happens, you cannot but help think there's more to it - there's another reason...

We all know Rio suffers with injury problems, so maybe the cynical view is stretching the imagination somewhat. But, if Ferdinand somehow ends up in that England squad in Denmark on Wednesday then the 'country before club' theory will have added weight. If that actually happens, it wouldn't be the first time that an 'injured' United player has ended up in the England squad this season. We were told that Carrick was injured earlier this season only for him to link up with Capello's squad just a few days later - however, that situation was slightly different, because the United midfielder was reportedly out of favour with Ferguson at the time.

If Ferdinand thought he'd get away with feining injury - then to put it mildly - he was stupid, because there's no way the United manager would allow anyone to get away with that, so hopefully Rio wasn't attempting to pull the wool of Fergie's red eyes.

It is to be hoped that on this occasion, Ferguson has 100% ruled Rio out of the England squad, but the player will then make a Lazarus like recovery ahead of the derby...

One thing is for sure, United need Rio and badly. When United have been without Rio or Vidic over the last two seasons, the defence has not coped well.

SO what else went wrong on Saturday night at Molineux? Ferguson, started the match with the right formation and a team that is close to his strongest, yet it didn't work beyond an all too brief bright opening spell.

Too many United players didn't perform. Rafael had his worst game to date for the club, he was guilty of giving away the corner which led to the Wolves equaliser. On the corner itself, which was a short one, Fletcher and Berbatov didn't pick up anyone inside the United penalty area - they were stood watching and as a result Wolves had two players unmarked. But a combination of Carrick and Evans didn't make a decisive challenge on George Elokobi who was allowed pretty much a free header.

Rooney didn't play well - nor did Berbatov- but they were starved of quality service. In particular, the crossing from United's right flank was very poor. Rafael and Nani were the guilty culprits.

Rooney was partly at fault for the second Wolves goal - he lost possession deep in the Wolves half, to his credit, he tracked back but United then gave away a free-kick which led to Doyle's disputed winning goal.

Fergie tried in vain to make things happen, but the introduction of Scholes and Hernandez at the expense of Berbatov and Carrick didn't really work either. Some observers believe that the Hernandez Berbatov pairing is the manager's best option, but it's doubtful that combination would have changed the outcome on what was a very bad day for United.

Man of the match: Darren Fletcher. This blog has slaughtered Fletcher at times this season but against Wolves he was very good and he didn't deserve to be on the losing side - not withstanding his slack marking on the equalising goal.

It remains to be seen what will happen following what was yet another very unsatisfactory away peformance. The unbeaten run has ended and United simply must improve on the road if they are to hold off the challenge of Arsenal, City and Chelsea. Only time will tell how costly the loss of three points at Wolves will prove to be. Despite having that lead at the top of the table and with so many difficult looking away games, United really could not afford to lose three points Wolves, but it happened. Fasten your seat-belts, it is going to be another very bumpy ride - as it usually is where United are concerned.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Premier League deal set to unravel? Potentially good news for the fans'?

The greedy Premier League might well yet live to regret pursuing Karen Murphy, through the law courts following the news that Juliane Kokott, the EUs advocate general, has advised that the Premier League's exclusivity agreement – an arrangement which is supposed to prevent broadcasters from screening Premier League matches beyond their country borders – goes against EU law.

Five years on from Murphy's first appearance in a magistrates court, she has taken her appeal all the way to the Grand Chamber of European Courts of Justice - a court reserved only for the most complex cases of European law.

If Murphy wins her case it will have profound implications for the Premier League and its clubs. TV money from the Premier League deal accounts for the biggest slice of income for English clubs. Whatever the ruling, it is likely that there will be an appeal, but if Murphy eventually wins her case then club's like United and Chelsea will find it difficult to keep on paying current levels of player wages.

In the not too distant future, we the fans might well have more choice when it comes watching football on TV and importantly for less money.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Goodbye Gary Neville, you have nothing more to prove...

The sight of Gary Neville making mistakes and being held accountable hasn't been a pretty one, as has sadly been the case following his limited appearances this season. It had been widely predicted that Neville would retire at the end of the curent season, but that decision has been taken early with the news that the former England defender has hung up his boots today.

Even though it was invetiable that Neville was going to retire sooner rather than later, it is nonetheless sad. It may yet prove to be a slightly premature end; no doubting Fergie wanted Neville to carry on, not least because there might well be the odd game when the team needs his valuable experience in the battles which lie ahead.

This blog will be posting more in another update on Gary Neville's glittering United career.

Villa's schoolboy defending gifts United points...

United took on Aston Villa on Tuesday on what was a busy night of Premier League action. United ran out deserved 3-1 winners, thanks to a brace from Rooney and a brilliant effort from the player of the season, Nemanja Vidic. Darren Bent ensured his new club made a real game of it when scoring what turned out to be a consolation goal, at that point in the contest it was 2-0. However, it was a mistaken riddled performance by Gerrard Houllier's team, especially where the Villa defence was concerned.

The warning signs were there from the first kick when Berbatov nearly broke through but the Bulgarian was ruled offside; it didn't matter because within that opening minute Rooney had scored the opening goal following a route-one long punt up field by Van der Sar.

The United strikers were taking full advantage of an Aston Villa defence who were caught cold when attempting to hold a high-line and it was this which led directly to Rooney scoring what was spectacular opening goal. Van der Sar's well directed ball beat the whole of the Villa defence as Rooney brushed off the challenge of Richard Dunne, before unleashing a half-volley beyond the grasp of Brad Friedel from fully 20 yards out.

United's second goal came about just before half-time, when Nani out-foxed his marker on the right flank and then supplied a superb low curling cross which evaded the whole Villa defence and Friedel; Rooney wasn't going to miss from the edge of the six-yard box and he did not disappoint. Rooney has been under pressure to score following the emergence of Javier Hernandez this season and so the two goals he scored against Villa will do his confidence the world of good.

While Rooney made a very welcome return to scoring, his strike partner Berbatov was having one of those nights when nothing would go right in front of goal. Berbatov had a game to forget having missed a catalogue of decent goal scoring opportunities.

United have made something of a habit of heavily watering the Old Trafford playing surface ahead of kick-off; it isn't uncommon for the league leaders to water just the half the opposition is likely to be defending, which is usually the East Stand half of the Old Trafford pitch as was the case in the first-half last night. Against Villa, it was noticeable that several players, but especially the visitors, were having difficulty on what looked like a very slippery surface. Excuses aside - from a Villa perspective - United had the better of it in general where the chances were concerned.

United played well on the whole and losing Fletcher due to a head wound after just 34 minutes didn't affect the flow of what was a very open game, one in which both teams contributed to the goal-mouth action.

Ashley Young gave United a scare when he hit the woodwork with Edwin van der Sar beaten all ends up. Darren Bent pulled a goal back with just over half an hour to play, but Vidic ensured United maintained their title challenge when he sealed the points with a goal that any striker would have been proud of.

The Serbian defender won a header at the far post from deep within the Villa box, with a well directed ball to Rooney who in turned cushioned it back invitingly into the path of the United captain, who then picked his spot with a powerful low curling right footed drive which gave Friedel no chance. It was game over from that point.

Man of the match: Vidic.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Transfer Window was never open for Manchester United. Where are we heading?

The transfer window came and went and Manchester United only registered one new player, Anders Lindegaard. whose handling left much to be desired against that third division team, Southampton. In fact I think that Amos is far better.

Chester, Amos, De Laet, Corry Evans, Macheda, Dudgeon, Drinkwater and Stewart went out, mainly on loan.

Much has been written about the amount of money Sir Alex Ferguson has in his transfer kitty. David Gill has often stated that should the manager want a player, he can have him. Well he certainly cannot be happy with the midfield this season, nor his overpaid and under performing ‘star’ Rooney.

Whilst I was impressed by Owen playing with Little Pea at Southampton. Our attack did look ‘active’ unlike Rooney who, apart from one or two touches, appears to be a passenger when he plays. Perhaps the new contract was in the forlorn hope that Rooney would pull his socks up and deliver, producing a large transfer fee sometime in the future. He does appear to be playing the Torres game at the moment- just doing the minimum.

So the question I keep asking myself is why some of this large transfer kitty was not spent on a midfielder, attacker or both this January.

Whatever one thinks of the money spent for Torres or Carroll the truth is that both will revitalise Liverpool and Chelsea and do not forget we have to face Chelsea twice and Liverpool again. Should we lose nine points from those games the season could well be over for us.

Ferdinand is quoted as saying he believes Ferguson will lead the team to a treble this season. That would be wonderful. But I cannot see the team Ferguson prefers, with Rooney and relying on Berbatov who could quite easily slip back into his moods again achieving that success,

Frankly I am now of the view that the transfer kitty is a fairy tale and we, supporters, are being treated like the sacred mushroom. Kept in the dark and fed on manure.

Strapworld. 1st February 2011.