Sunday, October 23, 2011

Will City mauling bring about changes at United? Fans will want to see a reaction and an apology ...

Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson finally ran out of luck today at Old Trafford in the worst possible manner and as far as the fans are concerned against the worst possible opponents, neighbours Manchester City. United lost 6-1, yes, that's right, six bloody one. It is the biggest home defeat since 1926 when the blues repeated that scoring feat.

The final scoreline and especially the manner of the second-half 'performance' has rocked Old Trafford to its foundations. City took United apart in the second-half, with ruthless professionalism and efficiency. City took an early lead against the run of play with a Mario Balotelli goal, Jonny Evans could have and perhaps should have been closer to the City striker, but the Italian's cool finish was that of a player bang in form.

United tried to hit back, but could find no way through City's well organised defence. Time and time again, United's attacking moves broke down on the edge of the City penalty area - that was the story of the champions first-half performance. United simply didn't have the guile or know-how to unlock City's packed defence.

United have been blowing hot cold this season, but over the last few weeks the defence that has been the bedrock of so much success has looked anything but solid. Even before today we've seen visiting teams exploiting the wide open spaces in front of United's back-four. Basel did it in the Champions League when coming back from two-nil down to lead 3-2. Norwich were unfortunate to lose 2-0 recently and prior to that, and as totally ridiculous as they may sound (to those with short memories) Arsenal missed a catalogue of chances in that 8-2 mauling and who would have predicted today's outcome after that result? Not many.

Given the manner of United's defending in recent weeks, it came as no great surprise to see Mancini's team come to Old Trafford today with a simple game plan, one that involved not conceding and hitting United on the break. It's a tactic that United themselves have used many times away from home, under Ferguson down the years, but today the champions were on the receiving end and the final score did not in any way flatter the visitors who were good value.

The turning point of today's derby came in the 46th minute, when Aguero and Balotelli combined with a smart inter-change of passing outside the United penalty box, which left Evans isolated and up against City's Italian striker. Fearing Balotelli was going to out-pace him, the Northern Ireland international grabbed the Italian's arm and referee Mark Clattenburg had no option but to brandish his red card.

From that point on, City made good use of the extra man, but without really forcing the pace of the game; the visitors simply carried on waiting for their chances on the break, and sadly for the home supporters, all too often United were guilty of gifting possession back to the league leaders. It was all a bit too easy for City and that in part made it even harder to stomach.

City eventually made their dominance pay with a very well worked goal and once again it was Balotelli who did the damage, but as on so many other occasions this season it was David Silva who was the architect. Silva was outstanding again for City and any honest United fan would tell you that they'd love to see the mercurial Spaniard in the famous red shirt. But United simply don't have a David Silva and how Ferguson must regret never making a move for him when he had opportunities in the past.

City sealed the win on 69 minutes thanks to Aguero with another well worked goal. Darren Fletcher scored what turned out to be nothing more than a consolation goal, albeit a very good one, but the joy of scoring was short-lived as City really took United apart as they went on to hammer three more nails in the champions coffin with a brace by substitute Dzeko and goal by the man of the match David Silva.

Until this week, Fergie hadn't really given City and Mancini that much credit, and when he has given credit it has been through gritted teeth. Going into today's derby, one had the sense that many United fans feared losing this game, but no one will have anticipated such a heavy defeat.

The worry perhaps for United fans is that such defeats can have far reaching consequences. On the face of it, United have been doing well with good wins against Arsenal, Chelsea and a creditable draw away at Anfield, but following a run of indifferent performances the early season optimism has worn off.

Going into the season many fans and pundits voiced concerns about a perceived lack of genuine star quality in the United engine room. Granted, Tom Cleverley was doing very well, so good in fact that he confounded many of those critics, but that was prior to the clumsy intervention of Bolton's Kevin Davies whose rash tackle at the Reebok left the rapidly rising midfield star on the sidelines. No doubting many United fans will have been left wondering if Cleverley might have made a difference today, if he'd been 100% fit to play. We will never know.

What we do know is this, thrashings of the like we saw today, can have short to medium term affects on the team, the players and even the manager. Take the recent 8-2 hammering of Arsenal, the Gunners haven't really recovered from that stuffing, the growing calls for WengerUnited's confidence could be badly affected following such a heavy derby defeat.

Nonetheless, what happened today at Old Trafford could potentially have implications. In his post-match interview, Fergie says that he was 'shattered' and he also pointed the finger squarely at senior defenders Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra for allowing United to continue to attack City at a time when the champions were a man down. United have a reputation for pulling off sensational comebacks, and on countless occasions Fergie has stated that his team only knows one way of playing and that is THE UNITED WAY, which is to "attack, attack, attack, attack, attack". United tried to attack City today, but once Evans went off City really took control and made the champions look second best in every department and that was another very worrying aspect of what we saw today.

So what if anything, can Fergie do about the current situation? The manager quite evidently needs to add some genuine star quality in central midfield. As we saw today, United quite evidently do not have quality strength in depth in central midfield, but those who believe in Michael Carrick, Anderson and Darren Fletcher might argue otherwise.

Whatever anyone says, United do not have a player of the quality of David Sivla. One might also ask questions about the strikers. Danny Welbeck has done really well so far this season, but would he get into City's first-team, or even Chelsea's?

While it's obvious that City can out-spend their rivals and we have to acknowledge there is no easy answers for the manager, perhaps after this soul-searching defeat, Fergie and his backroom team will have to think about a change in formation and tactics. United have looked far too open this season and this isn't just a knee-jerk reaction to today's embarrassing defeat, it has been blindingly obvious over recent weeks. Perhaps worryingly, one suspects Fergie himself has been saying the same things to his team...

If what happened today does not bring about some changes both in terms of personnel and possibly changes in tactics, then this blog will be very surprised indeed.

Fergie and his backroom team may well conclude that we need to get back that continuity in the key central defensive positions, that is likely to be a starting point in the post-mortem and the resulting action plan that is sure to follow.

Fergie and the fans might also wonder what might have happened if Evans had stayed on the pitch, but we are only kidding ourselves if we believe that we can continue to keep pace with City if we don't add more quality. Whatever else happens in the weeks and months ahead, United fans will be looking for a reaction from the team and an apology from the players for what happened today, it is the least we should expect.

Even if United go on to win the title, what happened in today's derby will not be forgotten for a very long time. Fergie, Fergie, sort it out.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The derby: Everyone talking about City, but United can come out on top, but only if the team defends properly...

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Sunday's Manchester derby has added significance as City are playing really well and they are the current league leaders. Fergie has finally acknowledged that Manchester City along with Chelsea, are a major threat to United's domestic dominance.

United are of course at home where they have a superb record at Old Trafford, but over the last month the champions have been less than impressive both at home and away.

United squandered a two-nil lead against Basel in the Champions League and in the end could only manage a 3-3 draw, thanks to a late equaliser from Ashley Young. Norwich City were the last visitors to Old Trafford, but the champions 2-0 victory was anything but comfortable.

There has been much chopping and changing in the United team over recent weeks, largely due to a catalogue of injuries and this in part has led to a lack of continuity, especially in the heart of the defence.

Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have both been out of action having endured lengthy spells on the sidelines. United's Serbian defender made a welcome return to action against Galati in Bucharest on Tuesday night in the Champions League, but he was sent-off in the second-half as United ran out deserved 2-0 winners on the night, albeit thanks to yet another disjointed performance. Vidic didn't look 100% match sharp, he somewhat uncharacteristically gave the ball away on a couple of occasions and his performance will have given Ferguson something to think about ahead of the derby. The same applies to Rio Ferdinand who has been singled out for criticism unfairly by sections of the media following a run of relatively poor performances by the Champions.

There's no doubting that United will need to be at their defence best against City, anything less will lead to probable defeat, however, while fingers have been pointed at one or two individuals, we have to remember that defending is a collective responsibility and so whoever plays in midfield must ensure they too fulfil their defensive obligations. From an attacking perspective, it is vital that Rooney and Co. convert any goal scoring chances that come their way.

United are currently the team with the most goals for at home in the division, and City are the team with the most goals for from away games. It could be a real cracker and Mancini has hinted his team will attack United.

United have no new injury worries and many fans are hoping that Tom Cleverley will return to the team after recovering from a foot injury, but he's been out for several weeks, so a place on the bench is probably the best we can hope for.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Neville reveals Fergie's secrets as unconvincing champions prepare for City...

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United were in action on Tuesday night in Bucharest in a vital Champions League Group C fixture against Otelul Galati, Wayne Rooney grabbed the headlines with a brace from the penalty spot as the Reds ran out 2-0 winners. Rooney has of course been at the centre of media attention for the wrong reasons over the last two weeks following his sending off against Montenegro, which has potentially dire implications for England at the Euro2012 finals next summer. UEFA subsequently banned Rooney for three games when many media pundits were only expecting a maximum of a two game suspension, the FA have yet to decide if they will appeal. From a Manchester United perspective, the club and many of its supporters will not be too concerned about Rooney's England commitments - especially if any ban cuts down the potential to miss games for United due to injuries.

With Manchester City set to visit Old Trafford on Sunday in the first derby of the season, it was great to see Rooney confidently converting those penalties against Galati, but it wasn't a great night for the champions who laboured for long periods against the Romanian champions.

Nemanja Vidic made a welcome return to action following a lengthy spell on the sidelines, but the Serbian defender looked rusty and was worse still was sent-off in the second-half for a rash looking challenge on Giurgiu, but in truth, it was a poor decision by German referee Brych. Vidic deserved to be booked for what was a high challenge, but it wasn't dangerous - it was one of those that looked much worse than it actually was.

United's defence has been uncharacteristically shaky over the last few weeks, and perhaps for more than any other reason, this has been down to too many changes in the heart of the back four. Vidic and Ferdinand have been the bedrock of United's defence in recent seasons, but in their absence due to injuries Ferguson has been chopping and changing.

Last night was no different, there was nine changes to the team that started and went on to draw with Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday. United were collectively poor in what is always a very important fixture in any season. In the build up to Saturday's visit to Anfield some pundits had even gone as far as describing the fixture as the biggest in club football. There is no doubting the depth of bad feeling which extends beyond the confines of the stands and into the dressing room as recently confirmed by Paul Scholes who said that the two sets of players didn't mix well.

While the stage was set for what many hoped would be a blood curdling contest, as happens all too often, the fixture failed to live up to expectations and a large part of that was down to the team that Fergie had selected.

There was no starting place in the team for Rooney, Hernandez, Valencia or Nani; it was Manchester United light. With just Danny Welbeck up front, United really struggled to make any real impact in and around the Liverpool penalty area. Liverpool eventually took the lead thanks to Steven Gerrard, from what was a poor free-kick - one that is likely to haunt Ryan Giggs for many years to come, because the Welshman was guilty of jumping out of the way of the ball, rather than taking one for the team.

Thankfully, United went on to equalise and once against it was Hernandez who scored with more or less his first touch of the ball from a corner kick after coming on to replace Phil Jones. While the movement of Hernandez inside the Liverpool penalty area has rightly been praised highly, we shouldn't forget the part Danny Welbeck played in that equaliser as he fended off Jamie Caragher in the manner of a wily old Premier League fox - it was yet another sign of his growing maturity.

While there's no doubting Fergie's selection for the Liverpool game will have been greeted with several million collective curses from the massed ranks of the red army, many of us also knew that the great leader had a plan, one that had been drawn up with the trip to Bucharest and the Manchester derby in mind.

In the build-up to the trip to Anfield, Fergie even suggested that Rooney was down in the dumps following news of UEFA's three match international ban - this was of course complete and utter nonsense; it was the sort of rubbish reason that Fergie gives to the media from time to time when a big name player has unexpectedly been omitted from the United team, but nonetheless it was rubbish all the same. We knows this because Fergie has told us all on countless occasions that Rooney wants to play in EVERY game and there's none bigger than a trip to Anfield. Alas, it wasn't to be and United just about deserved that point, but the performance was collectively lacking and totally uninspiring, but a point at Anfield is rarely looked upon as a bad result. The Anfield part of Fergie's plan, may well have been imperfect, but it was effective as was the second part of the plan in Bucharest as United came away with the points, albeit thanks to another disjointed performance.

So why have United been all over the place in the last month or so? The answer is that there's been too many changes; the early season continuity coupled with that superb free flowing attacking football isn't happening on a consistent basis and the defending has become collectively sloppy too.

In total fairness to Fergie, injuries have been been the key driver - that has been the main reason for so much chopping and changing. While this seemingly constant shuffling might not be ideal, Ferguson has the managerial skills to steer the ship back on course

Ferguson has great faith in his players and to a man we have to believe they trust the manager. Following last night's Champions League win in Bucharest, Gary Neville revealed one of the bosses great strengths, that is his communication skills.

Neville is currently working as a match summariser on SKY and he says that Ferguson will take a player on one side and will always explain his reasoning when it comes to selection issues; sometimes a player might be told as much as two weeks in advance of an important fixture. While these pep talks might not sound that ground breaking, or indeed revolutionary, which they are not, you can bet that not many of his managerial counterparts show the same commitment when it comes to those oh so important communication skills.

Next up United take on City for what definitely is the most important derby for quite some time. City have a two point lead over United plus a superior goal difference. Game on.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rooney's red card for England: Every cloud has a silver lining....

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Wayne Rooney has been grabbing the headlines for the wrong reasons since he was sent-off in Podgorica on Friday night. Referee Wolfgang Stark had no alternative but to wave a red card in the direction of Rooney in the 74th minute, for what was a reckless challenge on Miodrag Dzudovic.

As a result of the dismissal, UEFA are likely to give Rooney a two-match ban on Thursday, one that will take effect at the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and the Ukraine. In a worst case scenario that ban could be stretched to three games and if that happens the Premier League's top goal-scorer could be miss all of England's group games.

The media have predictably been hammering Rooney and on this occasion even die-hard Reds will find it difficult to defend United's talisman. For his part, Fabio Capello has if, anything, just added to that familiar feeling of despair which seems to surround the England team whenever a big tournament comes around, because the Italian has decreed that Rooney will take no further playing part in preparation for the finals. This news is a massive boon for Manchester United and its supporters; we know that our most important player will not suffer a needless injury while playing for his country.

To the annoyance of the media, Capello's decision to axe Rooney has just added to their collective anger. Many in the media fell out of love with Capello long before England's dismal showing at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Without question, Capello should have been sacked after that tournament, but that did not happen thanks to the totally and utterly incompetent FA. England are stuck with the Italian and his colossal salary, but the clocking is ticking to his retirement date which cannot come soon enough.

Capello says he wants to try something different - that is his rationale for axing Rooney - frankly, United fans do not care, but the England's manager's decision has not been greeted with universal joy.

Next up, United face Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday for what always is one of the most important league games of the season. Liverpool have disgracefully slashed United's ticket allocation to just 1,900. Perhaps Manchester United should reciprocate and slash Liverpool's allocation for the corresponding fixture at Old Trafford?

There is better news to report regarding Tom Cleverley, who has signed a contract extension and quite right too. Cleverley has been a breath of fresh air in United's engine room this season and after recovering from ligament damage he is fit to face Liverpool, but chances are he will only be on the bench.

There will be more news on the injury front later in the week following the conclusion of this latest round of international fixtures.

"LFC single out United"

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Saturday, October 08, 2011

Wayne Rooney: You cannot defend the undefendable...

Wayne Rooney has been absolutely superb this season for Manchester United, he is the Premier League's top goalscorer with nine goals. However, he was sent-off while playing for England last night in a Euro 2012 qualifier. It is the second time Rooney has been sent-off while playing for his country. In the wake of that early bath and in time honoured tradition, predictably, the press have savaged the United striker.

As a result of last night's red card, Rooney will miss up to three games in next summer's finals in Poland and the Ukraine. It is a bitter blow to any hope England may have had of winning the competition - as unlikely as that hope surely is.

For their part, some United fans have been trying to rally round their talisman, but on this occasion, it is difficult to defend Rooney, because in lashing out, he was wild and uncontrolled. He had to go and there was no question about that.

You have to wonder what on earth makes Rooney tick, because you cannot imagine him lashing out in a similar manner while playing for United - at least we Reds would like to believe that is the case. Maybe Rooney simply doesn't respect England and Capello in particular? Some people are asking if the player should have been rested following the news that the Rooney family have become embroiled in an alleged betting scandal, one that involves his father and an uncle. Being wise after the event serves no purpose, the damage is done as far as Capello and England are concerned.

The final score in Podgorica finished up 2-2 thanks to a spirited fight-back by Montenegro. Ashley Young gave England the lead just eleven minutes into the game. England were by far the better team in the first-half and it came as no surprise when Fabio Capello's team doubled their advantage after Rooney and Young combined well in the build up to Darren Bent's goal on 31 minutes.

From that point on victory should have been assured, but Montenegro hit back just before half-time through Elsad Zverotić and they went on to deservedly equalise in the 91st minute thanks to substitute Andrija Delibašić.

In the end, and despite Rooney's sending off in the 74th minute, Montenegro were good value for the draw because they were by far the better team in the second period, even when both teams had eleven players on the pitch.

Despite a couple of worrying moments, Phil Jones had a solid game at right-back and Danny Welbeck came on as a late but confident looking substitute when replacing Theo Walcott on 76 minutes in a Capello tactical reshuffle following Rooney's red card. Ashley Young was also subbed with what looked like a swollen knee, Ferguson will be hoping all of his stars' return unscathed from international duty with United set to visit Anfield next weekend.

As a result of that 2-2 draw, England have qualified for the Euro 2012 Finals and Montenegro are through to the play-offs.

Tottenham's Scott Parker was England's man of the match.

Referee, Wolfgang Stark had a very good game in the middle.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The continual character assassination of Carlos Tevez is pointless: Time to move on for United fans.

Why is it that many football fans become all bitter and twisted when a star play leaves your club? For the uninitiated casual observer sitting on the sidelines, it might be a fair question to ask,  because in just about every other walk of life, we tend to remember the good times and we try not to dwell on events that we'd rather forget. Part of the problem is that accepted normal behaviour goes completely out of the window when it comes to football - the game that was famously described by Desmond Morris as 'tribal' - which it is surely is.

A case in point is Carlos Tevez, who left Manchester United to join neighbours City, in what was a very controversial transfer. It goes without saying that joining a local rival like City would upset many a die-hard Red, for every obvious reasons. When a player joins one of your biggest rivals as Tevez did when joining City - you are crossing the big city divide and in so doing, you can expect the flak that comes with it.

But, it was by no means the first time a player has left United to join City. The list of former Reds' who've pulled on the blue shirt includes: Denis Law, Brian Kidd and Sammy McIlroy; of those three only Law joined directly after leaving United and that was after he'd made 309 appearances and scored 171 goals.

As far as Tevez is concerned, it was an entirely different scenario because unlike the aforementioned legendary trio, the Argentine was still at the very top of his game when he quit to join bitter rivals City, and what's more there was an offer on the table to stay at United, which Tevez and his camp turned down.

Even though United made it clear that there was an offer stay, Fergie then went out of his way to very publicly state that Tevez was little more than a trier and that he wasn't worth his reported valuation.  In fairness, United had their collective noses well and truly rubbed in it by City who upped the ante when ill advisedly stoking the raging fire unnecessarily with that now infamous giant "Welcome to Manchester" billboard - a cheap publicity stunt that has subsequently backfired spectacularly following Tevez's refusal to play against Bayern Munich.

Nonetheless, in making those comments about Tevez, Ferguson had made himself look a bit foolish - because in essence he was admitting he was willing to pay top money to retain a player who he later deemed not worth it.. Then United manager also made the big mistake of stooping to the same sorry levels as City.

United fans need to remember that the club had broken several promises to make the Tevez transfer permanent, and when that opportunity came along again in the summer of 2008, instead the money was used to sign Berbatov. Twelve months later, Tevez left to join City - had the player's patience finally run out with United? The answer to that question is open to debate, but it's a fair question to ask.

Everyone knows that City made Tevez and his camp a better offer, that is a given and no one will question that point. We also know that Tevez knew exactly what he would be letting himself in for, after all, the rivalry and bitterness that exists between City and United is by no means unique.  In the eyes of many Reds' - Tevez was and still is FAIR GAME.

Back in the 70s Manchester United legend George Best was uniquely adored both women and men, but following his reported refusal to turn-out for City against Bayern in the Champions League, in what was a tragic and self-inflicted fall from grace, the Argentine is now seemingly uniquely despised by followers of both Manchester clubs and that takes some doing, it has to be said.

While many United fans will concur that getting rid has turned out to be good business and we can all laugh at the events at City, we should not forget that until this latest sorry episode, Tevez has been nothing but a consummate professional while on the field of play. Whether he was playing for West Ham, United or City, Tevez has always given 100% and his goals last season made Fergie's comments look foolish.

City have given us United fans plenty to laugh at down the years, their crass behaviour continues to amuse, but let's just forget about Tevez and move on.

Monday, October 03, 2011

United must heed Canaries warning signs and improve or else....

Manchester United were in action on Saturday when newly promoted Norwich City were the visitors to Old Trafford, both teams have enjoyed good starts to the new season, but after only managing a draw with Stoke City the weekend before and after surrendering a two-nil lead against Basel in the Champions League in midweek, the champions went into the clash with the Canaries with more than a degree of apprehension.

United fans, Ferguson and no doubting his players too, expected a tough game, but they will have also anticipated nothing less than three points. As things turned out that is exactly what happened but the 2-0 final score didn't tell the whole story.

The champions dominated possession - as so often happens at Old Trafford - but Paul Lambert had done his homework and United found it difficult to break down the defensive wall in front of the Norwich defence.

Norwich were always a threat on the counter-attack and if Anthony Pilkington had taken his chances then the visitors could have taken at least a point, but thankfully, from a United perspective it wasn't his day in front of goal.

In a bid to change the pattern of the game, Ferguson sent on Giggs for Nani and Welbeck for Hernandez in the 64th and 65 minutes respectively.

It was a game that cried out for a goal and when it finally arrived in the 68th minute, it came from the unlikey source of Anderson's head following an assist by Wayne Rooney.

The goal led to more chances for both teams and Pilkington had further opportunities to test Anders Lindegaard, who had been selected in the United goal in preference to David De Gea, however, it was the champions who doubled their advantage thanks Danny Welbeck on 87 minutes, after Ji-Sung Park unlocked the door with an assist.

While the result was a good one, the performance left a lot to be desired from a red perspective because once again a visiting team found it too easy to create goal scoring opportunities. The other major issue was the lack of creativity in and around the visitors penalty area. With Liverpool and Manchester City on the horizon, United really needed a thumping confidence boosting win against Norwich, who to their credit didn't really deserve to lose on Saturday.

To a large degree Ferguson's hands have been tied due to a catalogue of early season injury problems and this has led to too many changes in key central defensive positions.

Rio Ferdinand was only a substitute on Saturday, which led to sections of the media speculating that the player might have paid the price for some indifferent defensive performances.

Truth be told, Ferdinand has been no worse, or come to it, no better, than any of those around him of late, but maybe the manager expects more from his senior central defender and that could be why he didn't start against the Canaries.

Ferdinand was belatedly given a run out against Norwich when he replaced Anderson in the 76th minute and he was also named in the England squad who take on Montenegro on Friday, along with Ashley Young, Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney.

The international break, has for once, come at the right time for United who need to regroup ahead of two very important league games against two bitter rivals.

It is to be hoped United will continue to fend off the challenge of Manchester City, but for that to happen, we will need to see a big improvement, especially in midfield and in defence where the champions have become uncharacteristically careless over the last few games.