Sunday, December 30, 2012

Kagawa return gives Fergie selection headache...

Shinji Kagawa made a welcome return to action following a lengthy spell on the sidelines to face West Brom at Old Trafford on Saturday. United maintained their seven point lead at the top of the table and kept the pressure on rivals Manchester City, with a two-nil win over the Baggies, thanks to a first-half own goal following Ashley Young's shot from close range and a second-half trademark Van Persie pile-driver.

As expected Wayne Rooney made way for the returning Kagawa. According to Ferguson, Rooney picked up a training ground injury last week and so he could be out for up two to three weeks. There is a suspicion that following his below par performance at Swansea and the immiment return of Kagawa, Ferguson had in fact decided to rest Rooney. Ferguson has to keep his players fresh and on their toes and prior to Saturday's clash with West Brom he confirmed squad rotation would be a feature of United's festive programme. Whether Rooney is genuinely injured or not doesn't really matter - his name wasn't included in the United squad that faced Steve Clarke's, West Brom.

The fact Rooney was left out serves to highlight Fergie' selection dilemma: How will the United manager fit Kagawa into this Manchester United team? Many see it as a straightforward case of "it is either Rooney or Kagawa - but not both" .

United fans like what they have seen so far of the Japanese star, many view the former Dortmund attacking midfielder as a possible successor to Paul Scholes - the early signs look promising. Kagawa has an excellent range of passing and like Scholes he is comfortable on the ball.

It's fair to state that it's generally accepted Fergie looks to have finally settled on Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley as his first-choice central midfield pairing, this partnership has started to blossom over recent weeks. Bryan Robson heaped praise on Cleverley's performance in the derby, the United legend thought that YaYa Toure had been kept "reasonably quiet". High praise indeed. Given that Carrick and Cleverley are developing what looks to be a useful partnership, there wouldn't be a lot of sense breaking that up.

The win over City served to once again highlight one of United's big strengths - that is the ability to attack down the flanks. Having tinkered with a wingerless formation several times this season and with limited success, Fergie went back to his favoured 4-4-2 formation - it was a decision that paid dividends. City lack width and have to rely on their fullbacks to provide ammunition from the flanks - but when a  move breaks down they are often left exposed to the counter attack and this is where United capitalised in the derby.

So if we accept that Fergie is likely to continue with 4-4-2 and if Carrick and Cleverley are Fergie's first choice central midfield pairing, where does that leave Kagawa?

As he showed in the derby, Rooney is still a very important player for Manchester United. Fergie has to find a way of accommodating his best players and at the same time, get the best out of them. Leaving out Rooney will surely only be a short-term option. So Fergie has limited options, let's run through some of them:

Rooney on the left: This ploy doesn't really suit Rooney at all, far better to have your most potent threats in central areas where they can go left or right. The is also a danger that Rooney could become isolated on the flank where he cannot affect the game. However, the reality is Rooney wouldn't stick to the left, he would keep on coming inside - but this leaves United open the counter attack with Evra getting exposed - at least that is the big danger. While he's been scoring goals of late, Patrice Evra has come in for some heavy criticism in relation to the defensive side of his game, with one pundit on Sky's Gillette Soccer Saturday going as far as saying United were playing with just two at the back at times with Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans. Clearly, whoever plays in front of Evra has a duty to help defend that left flank when the need arises.

Kagawa on the left: You can pretty much read the above ref Rooney on the left. Except it's arguably an even worse case scenario as Kagawa doesn't look as though he's as good as Rooney at dropping back to help the defence. What's more, Kagawa would be better suited to the David Silva roaming role.

Fergie's only other option would be to change formation to 4-3-3 or a variant of, but for the reasons already outlined, we think that isn't going to happen and if it does happen, it will be a compromise.

With the danger of stating the obvious, the trick is to get the best out of the players at your disposal - we can talk about a hypothetical 3-5-2 formation, but one suspects that would be too radical. If Fergie adopted a 3-5-2 system the benefits are obvious - you get that extra man in central midfield plus you retain two strikers. The key to 3-5-2 success lies with wingbacks and your three central defenders knowing their roles and it relies on them having a solid understanding. Wigan deployed such a system last season at the DW Stadium and went on to beat United who never came to terms with that formation.

While mulling over the Kagawa, selection headache, we shouldn't forget Anderson, because the Brazilian has proven his worth several times this season, but here again, how does the manager square the circle?

Injuries will undoubtedly continue to play a part in Fergie's decision making - sometimes those tough decisions are made for you. But for now let us hope the likes of RVP, Rooney and Kagawa stay fit in so doing making Fergie's job an even tougher one where selection issues are concerned, but it's a nice problem to have.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Tinkering Fergie continues to gamble and get away with it, as United open up seven point lead at the top...

After 'throwing away' two valuable points and after 'battering Swansea' (was Fergie watching a different game?) at the Liberty Stadium, Manchester United faced Newcastle at Old Trafford on Boxing Day. What followed was typical of United's season so far - plenty of goals, excitement and controversy at both ends of the pitch. A proverbial festive seven goal feast was decided by a last minute winner by Javier Hernandez - a result which leaves United with a yawning looking seven point lead over neighbours Manchester City, who lost at the Stadium of Light.

Following what could be described as an indifferent performance at the Liberty Stadium last weekend, Wayne Rooney was left out of the United squad that faced Newcastle. According to Ferguson, Rooney sustained a 'slight knee ligament injury' in training - while this might be deemed as entirely plausible, this blogger has serious doubts (see below).

United's defending has been questionable over the past couple of seasons, but especially at Old Trafford where the Premier League goals conceded column currently stands at just over 2.1 per game. Clearly, Old Trafford is no longer the fortress it once used to be.

Remarkably, according to our reckoning, Manchester United have gone behind and fought back to win in 11 (we are losing count) encounters to date, but nonetheless the Boxing Day win over Newcastle was a bit special. In what has been a season of dramatic comebacks, United had to once again fightback from a goal down, but this time on three occasions. To summarise the win over Newcastle: Hernandez was the goal hero, but Michael Carrick was the driving force, his passing was sublime - especially in the second-half.

Ahead of the Boxing Day fixtures, many fans and pundits alike, will have fully expected United to comfortably beat 'struggling Newcastle' (Mike Ashley must be asking himself why the Magpies offered Alan Pardew that lengthy new contract), and the same pundits will have fully expected Man City to win away at Sunderland. For their part, City threw the 'kitchen sink' at Sunderland, but somehow, Martin O'Neill's players held on after City old boy Adam Johnson added another blemish to Joe Hart's copybook.

With United and Newcastle trading shots for fun and with City laying siege to the Sunderland goal, the prospect of United opening up a seven point lead at the top of the table looked improbable for much of Boxing Day afternoon, more likely, the gap would be cut to just one point - at least that *was* the big fear.

Against the odds, United have won away at Anfield, Stamford Bridge and most pleasingly of all, at the Etihad, but to the collective frustration of millions of fans, the same team has come unstuck at Norwich, Everton and Swansea.

While it has been an action packed season, it has also been one of frustration, one that has often seen Ferguson's players having to dig themselves out of self-made holes - the fact they are able to do is testament to their collective strength of character, skill and resilience.
Following his touchline ranting on Boxing Day, we fully expect Fergie will be fined and or banished to the stands. Being a United blog, we fully support Ferguson's point of view regarding Newcastle's controversial second goal, but the FA are likely to see things differently....

How they performed against Newcastle:

De Gea 6/10
For the second game on the spin - parried the ball back into the danger area, which led directly to a goal. A worrying trait - if not checked. Ferguson will not be pleased. Other than that, a near faultless performance. Handling on crosses has improved a lot.

Smalling 7/10
Standing in for Rafael, didn't cover himself in glory on Newcastle's third goal, should have done better. Allowed Obertan to cross too easily.

Ferdinand 7/10
Once again at the heart of a leaking defence. Like the rest of United's defenders, needs to raise his game and must lead by example.

Evans 7/10
A bitter sweet game having scored at either end. Some sympathy on OG. Like Rio et al, needs to cut out mistakes.

Evra 8/10
Superb going forward. Arrival of Buttner has given him something to think about. Defending needs to improve. Scored a great goal - one that was out of character, but most welcome.

Carrick 9/10
Apart from his part in Newcastle's opening goal, this was arguably his finest game in a United shirt. Passing sublime.

Scholes 7 /10
Didn't get booked which is a relief. Did ok on the whole. Fergie's gamble paid off, but only just,

Giggs & Valencia 7/10
Confounded their many critics with a solid performances on the flanks

Van Persie 8/10
Scored another well taken goal. Always a threat. Superb again. A masterstroke of a signing.

Hernandez 8/10
Never stopped trying, always looked dangerous. Scored a well deserved winner. A great example to all strikers.

Cleverley: Made a significant impact after replacing a tired looking Paul Scholes.
Fletcher, no time to impress after replacing Hernandez on 90s mins


Earlier this week we learnt that Ferguson only reveals his team two hours before kick-off - he then reportedly spends the remaining time prior to kick-off explaining his decision to those left out. This story came to mind when the Boxing Day TV cameras panned to Rooney in his executive box - he looked less than happy - the phrase 'face of a bulldog chewing a wasp springs to mind'. Ergo, if you believe Fergie's latest Rooney injury story, chances are you still believe in father Christmas.

For very good reason, Ferguson became known as 'Tinkerbell' during the 90s, thanks to his constant tinkering with his team. When Tinkerbell delivered bad news to his players, it often came in twos or threes. It was no different against Newcastle as out went Young and Cleverley, along with Rooney.

The thing is this, unlike Rooney, Ashley Young was one of United's better performers at the Liberty Stadium - but if we believe Fergie, like Rooney, Young is injured. Having dropped two priceless points against Swansea, as far as many fans will be concerned there appeared to be absolutely no logic behind the decision to bring in Paul Scholes and leave Cleverley on the bench - yet that is precisely what happened. We can say the same regarding the decision to leave out Young in preference for Giggs. This was classic Tinkerbell at work.

 Being charitable, for some reason, Rooney was very out of sorts against Swansea and so the manager axed him (this blog's view), but according to Fergie - the player is injured. In truth, the manager was rotating his squad and of course he has every right to do so.

Fergie will often select a team that he believes is good enough to beat the opposition which is perfectly logical - until it goes wrong...To further illustrate this point, the last time Paul Scholes started a league game was against then bottom of the table QPR. United struggled badly at times against QPR, but eventually won 3-1, but once again after going behind.

 Fergie is a gambler, one who knows his players better than anyone - results are testimony that we can't really argue with his logic or his decision-making, nonetheless, when the fans want to win back the title and having dropped valuable points, the decision to gamble can be perplexing, to put it mildly...

It is well documented that from time to time, Fergie has invented an injury story to protect the player concerned, former United stars including winger Lee Sharpe have publicly spoken about this. There is method behind Fergie's logic: the player's pride is left in tact and should a result go against his team following such tinkering, the manager has his own ready made injury excuses.

Despite his tinkering the fans love Fergie & United, but our nerves are in shreds, is it any wonder?

Happy Christmas let us hope it is a Happy New Year,

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Old Trafford alarm bells ringing as Galatasaray expose United's soft under it time for Ferguson to ditch 4-4-2?

Manchester United won their opening group H Champions League game against Galatasaray thanks to an excellent Michael Carrick goal on 7 minutes. The only goal of the game, was a thing of real beauty, but what followed left a lot to be desired. Carrick's name hasn't featured enough in the goal tally column in recent seasons, but his effort last night was one to remember - the former Spurs player started the move and ended it with a sweet finish after exchanging passes with Van Persie and Kagawa, before rounding the 'keeper.

In seasons gone by United might have gone on to win convincingly, but that didn't happen on a night when Ferguson's team looked anything but convincing.

Ferguson's blood pressure problems (bound to have them at his age) won't have been helped by Nani, who added his name to this season's growing list of shamed United penalty takers. In truth, if Nani and substitute Hernandez had scored, as they should have done,  the scoreline wouldn't have truly reflected the balance of play, because Galatasaray could easily have come away with at least a point. It was a night when there was numerous and very good penalty appeals in both boxes.

Former Man City striker, and now Sky co-commentator, Niall Quinn (annoying as he surely is) eventually pin-pointed the problem, after tip-toeing around the issue for the best part of 70 minutes when pointing out that the visitors had "two strikers up front and that *must* leave spaces elsewhere", and that United's "defence was holding up ok", the Irishman finally told us what many of us already knew all too well: "Galatasaray  bossed midfield".

Quinn was also right to point out that the sight of Van Persie getting booked following a desperate cross-field run and lunge, sort of summed it all up. That booking was sadly all too reminiscent of what we've seen from Wayne Rooney in the past, when it's going wrong for United. There's no finer sight in football than Van Persie at his beautiful best, but in the short space of a few games (his first Champions Lame game for United), and after demonstrating his many skills,  this hugely talented star had been reduced to hacker status. You had to feel for Van Persie, to state he was starved of service is a gross understatement.

Ferguson had started with Valencia and Nani on the flanks - both had games to forget. It was one of Valencia's most unproductive games in the famous red-shirt - it was a night when barely a cross found its intedded target - but maybe we should give credit to the visitors' for that.

On the opposite flank, Nani was even worse. Quite how they both remained on the pitch for the full game beggared belief. Granted, Ferguson had just cause to be concerned about his midfield and every United fan with a heart wishes him well following his battles with a chronic bowel condition, but bringing on Darren Fletcher in such circumstances was questionable at best. Ferguson elected to leave Cleverley and Anderson on the bench, a decision which somewhat contradicts his promise that he wouldn't take any chances in the Champions League - this was a definite case of picking a team ahead of the trip to Anfield at the weekend, though it's doubtful that Anderson will start against Liverpool; are we to concur that Fergie thinks more of a less than 100% match-fit Fletcher?

What we saw against Galatasary was worrying, from a number of perspectives: RVP barely featured and as the game progressed, United really struggled to get Kagawa on the ball in those important areas around the opposition box, but there was a whole lot more to be concerned about...In the end, United hung on and just about got away with it, but United's collective performance level was a long way from  satisfactory .

United conceded too many goals in last season's Champions League campaign and went on to pay a high price; given the paucity of group H, it is to be hoped they will at least qualify for this year's knockout phase, but on the evidence of what we saw against the Turks, this team isn't going to come close to lifting the big cup.

Having made a few excellent signings this summer, some fans are asking, so what is the problem? Despite valid concerns about his central defenders, midfield is Ferguson's biggest area of concern. Scholes' has proven that he can still do it in the Premier League, but one has to question the manager's often preferred formation of 4-4-2, because even with two up top, Galastasaray dominated  midfield for long periods of the second-half. Ferguon's response was lamentable in truth, but he got away it. It's doubtful United will continue to get away it when the really big games come around - especially if Cleverley should end up on the treatment table again for any length of time.

United were quite poor collectively when it came to defending last season in the Champions League - a competition which is the true barometer and the pinnacle of European club football. In the eyes of many United fans, Ferguson should have signed another midfield player this summer and he should have done, but as we saw last night, like last season in the Champions League, his team are still wide open to the counter attack.

It is quite obvious, that United need more bodies in midfield and ideally, two strikers up top; to achieve that, one option would be a switch to playing with wing-backs and three at the back - but such radical changes need to be worked on, ideally in pre-season but sadly, that hasn't can get away with 4-4-2 if you have a colossus like Roy Keane in midfield, but Fergie doesn't have such a player.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

RVP arrival confirms there's no substitute for class...

Robin Van Persie was a hat-trick hero on Sunday at St Mary's where United just about did enough to secure their first league away win of the season against newly promoted Southampton. And for the second game in a row, United had to score three to be sure of victory. Just like the previous weekend against Fulham, it finished up 3-2 and like many previous encounters with Southampton, it was a tense affair.

Despite scoring a quite magnificent hat-trick, Van Persie didn't have what could be described as a perfect game: he missed at least one very good opportunity to score from open play and he suffered the ignominy of fluffing his lines with a floated penalty effort which failed miserably: when they come off you look like a king, but when they go wrong you look like a **** and as Ferguson later said: "He won't do that again".

So Van Persie might have scored five on another day, but we aren't going to dwell too much on what might have been - instead let us concentrate on a few positives.

United fans will surely agree it is the first time in a long time that Ferguson has gone out and bought a player who can be genuinely considered to be at the top of his game - world class if you like (Kagawa looks good too).

His three goals against Southampton were all a bit different and special in their own right. The first was a lesson in finishing technique: He controlled the ball with his first touch and powered it home with his second. The next effort was a real poachers' goal and the third, a clever flicked header - one that was made to look easy, it was anything but.

While we can surely look forward to many more goals from RVP, his arrival is a stark reminder to us all and one suspects Ferguson too, that there really is no substitute for class. A great pity then, that Ferguson didn't go out and sign that midfield general that his team so badly lacks.

United fans were left dumbfounded when Berbatov was sold to Fulham and pretty much at the same time Dembele who'd been linked with a move to Old Trafford, was sold to Spurs. It looks as though Spurs and Daniel Levy have signed another top-class midfield player; like Modric, Dembele would have been a good United signing - but where was Ferguson when it mattered? That was the question on the lips of many a United fan just a week or so ago.

Manchester United's midfield simply isn't good enough - that fact was exposed in a wretched Champions League campaign last season. According to Ferguson, it won't happen this season - we won't make the same mistakes again. Time will tell if the United manager is right, but this blog has serious doubts about that assertion.

Monday, August 27, 2012

RVP, Kagawa and Dembele shine as de Gea invites further trouble....

Robin Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa started against Fulham on Saturday and both scored on their Old Trafford debuts - a feat that has left United geeks scouring the record books - and according to some, this was indeed a first (if you know different let us know).

So far, so good then, as United ran out 3-2 winners in what was a very entertaining game, but one which ended with plenty of shredded nerves following what has been described as a 'mix up' between goalkeeper and defender.

The final score was tighter than perhaps it should have been, thanks to what in truth was a howler by David de Gea on 64 minutes; not for the first time, the Spaniard came and failed to effectively deal with a cross when the score was 3-1 - the mistake led to a deflected Vidic own goal. Words were exchanged between the two, as they both tried to apportion blame, but when a goalkeeper decides to go for a cross his actions have to be decisive - that didn't happen. Repercussions usually follow in such circumstances and it was no different against Fulham.  Other than that mistake, de Gea had a fine game - he saved United on a couple of occasions - he got lucky with his legs with one save, but no matter he dealt with it. Hopefully, de Gea's confidence won't have been knocked too much, but surely we can expect the opposition to continue to 'lump it into the box' in a bid test the Spaniard - and weren't we all hoping those days were behind us?

It would be wrong to focus too much on one mistake as there was positives aplenty to take from this game. Van Persie equalised with a stunning goal after Duff had given the visitors a shock early lead, which once again came about thanks to some questionable defending at the heart of a United defence that included makeshift centre-back Michael Carrick. The manner of Van Persie's first-half goal will have left United fans drooling for more - this was technique right out of the Marco van Basten archives - it really was reminiscent of the Dutch master himself. We cannot be sure that Evra's cross into the box was really meant for RVP, but the way he despatched it with his first touch will live long in the memory.

Shinji Kagawa then went on to light up Old Trafford with an intelligent passing display, one that suggests there's much to look forward to from a player who has quickly become a firm favourite with the  fans'. Without wanting to burden United's fast rising Japanese star, he looks to be every inch Scholes heir apparent - a huge compliment if ever there was one. To cap what must have been a memorable day, Kagawa gave United the lead from close range - in truth he couldn't miss.

Ferguson had elected to leave out Rooney and Welbeck following their poor performances in the defeat at Goodison Park earlier in the week, both were left to fester on the bench. Ferguson, started with Antonio Valencia and Rafael da Silva on the right, in their customary positions - both went on to have fine games.

Da Silva is an exciting young player, one who's ideally suited to the Red Devils attacking traditions  - he had a goal disallowed for offside, but moments later the referee couldn't save Fulham on 40 minutes when the Brazilian stole in to head United into a deserved 3-1 lead.

Rooney came on with Welbeck when replacing Young and Kagawa respectively on 68 minutes, and not long after left on a stretcher with a nasty gash on his lower inner thigh, it remains to be seen how long he will be out for; Ferguson claims four weeks. Like Rooney, Welbeck's contribution was minimal, but in fairness,  United weren't anywhere close to as good as they had been in that electrifying first-half.

Cleverley and Anderson were paired together at the heart of United's engine room. United's often criticized Brazilian worked hard, but faded badly after 50 minutes. It took Ferguson until the 80th minute before he sent on Giggs as replacement.

United held on to win and were just about good value, but Fulham  played a huge part in what was an entertaining contest - one that was dominated by the visitors for most of the second-half.

In Dembele, Fulham have a very talented player, one who would grace any top flight team, and no wonder reports have been linking him with moves to United and Real Madrid. In short Dembele could well be the midfield player that Ferguson is looking for. If the United manager wasn't convinced prior to Saturday, the Belgian star left him in no doubt about his abilities. Surely, if Ferguson doesn't make his move, he well live to regret it, much in the same way that he failed to make moves for Wesley Sneijder and David Silva.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

RVP and Kagawa add a touch of class but has Fergie done enough to win back the title?

The 2012-13 Premier League season is one week old and sadly, United are among those clubs with no points after deservedly losing on Monday night at Goodison Park. Marouane Fellaini was the man who did the damage with a well taken second-half header. The goal came from a set-piece and for some reason makeshift centre-half, Michael Carrick, was detailed to mark Fellaini - but the taller man got to the ball first and he gave De Gea no chance.

Fergie angered Evertonian's in his post-match interview when saying that "they lump the ball forward" - the blunt fact is, United couldn't deal with the tall Belgian midfielder, who was at the heart of most of Everton's attacks. United may well have dominated the possession stats, but it was the opposite story when it came to shots on goal. In contrast to United, Everton looked dangerous and the most likely to score throughout. In the end, Everton were good value for the victory and Ferguson's post-match comments sounded like sour grapes. Just like that disastrous and dramatic 4-4 draw at Old Trafford back in April - a result which indirectly led to City's league title triumph, United were found wanting when it came to defending.

Worryingly for United fans, the team looked short of ideas and lacked punch up front - despite the fact that Japanese star, Shinji Kagawa, started alongside Tom Cleverley and Paul Scholes in the engine room.

Aginst Everton, United were flat footed, short of ideas and lacked pace up front, the tempo was too slow. With new signing Robin Van Persie on then bench, Wayne Rooney started against his former club, but he looked as though he'd just walked off the beach following a long summer holiday and didn't look anywhere near match-fit. On too many ocassions, Rooney's first touch was that of a baby elephant. In fairness to Rooney - Danny Welbeck was no better. RVP, eventually came off the bench, but he had zero impact on the game - largely because the service to the Dutch striker was pretty much non existent.

It's also worth noting that Ferguson started with three players out of position: Carrick's deployment was enforced, but the decision to play Welbeck on the left and Valencia at right-back were of the manger's choice. Welbeck was totally ineffective on the left and his link-up play was a long way from even close to his best. Valencia isn't a right-back but Ferguson went for height instead of starting with Silva - but this decision meant United's most potent crossing threat was negated to defensive duties.
Ferguson and United fans can rightly point to injuries in defence, with Smalling, Jones and now Ferdinand all likely to be missing for several weeks, if not month's. In the wake of that hugely disappointing 'no show' at Everton, reports claim Evans might return soon to ease those defensive concerns, but having known about his many injury problems for a while - shouldn't the manager go out and sign another central defender while the transfer window is still open? The focus of concern among the fans this summer has been on central midfield - but now questions are being asked about defence and whether or not Ferguson will do anything to address them...

United have been strongly linked to Everton's, Leighton Baines - but the chances of that move coming off look remote following the Toffees decision to sell Jack Rodwell to Man City. Having sold Rodwell and having City's money in the bank, Moyes & Co can hang Fergie out to dry over any transfer fee for Baines...which surely makes the move less likely. It's worth asking, why Ferguson doesn't switch his attention to 'out of contract' Royston Drenthe? The former Feyenoord and Real Madrid defender can play anywhere on the left; but while there appears to be genunine concerns about his personality, there's no doubting Drenthe's ability.

Despite the addition of a play-maker in Kagawa - who looks very good - concerns about United's midfield persist. Scholes and Giggs are another year older and Cleverley's, albeit short career, has been seriously blighted by injuries - can Fergie really rely on him? Michael Carrick, isn't universally popular among the rank and file, but he's generally acknowledged to be the main cog in United's engine room. Having been at the club for five miserable years - Anderson is viewed as a player who has failed to live up to his hefty price tag and billing - it was widely reported the Brazilian would be sold this summer, but like Berbatov he remains at the club, at least for now. One is left to assume there has been no serious bidders for Anderson, but the exit door still beckons for Berbatov. To the surprise of some, Nani could yet be sold this summer after failing to agree personal terms on a new deal.

Many United supporters are still crying out for Ferguson to strengthen his squad with the addition of a world-class all round central midfield general, but it hasn't happened and Fergie says his transfer dealing is done for the summer.

United fans will be hoping Ferguson is bluffing, because if he isn't, and with Roberto Mancini looking set to strengthen what was already by far the strongest squad in the Premier League then surely, United will be looking to finish runner-up at best this season.

It is the considered view of this blogger that Ferguson hasn't done anywhere near enough to wrest control of the Premier League title from Man City. Unless, Fergie signs at least two quality players, United will do well to win a trophy, a cup is the best bet as things stand.

United take on Fulham on Saturday hoping to make up for the disappointment of Monday night. Surely, United cannot play as badly as they did against Everton?

Sunday, August 05, 2012

£50m swoop talk erupts as IPO rumpus rumbles on...

Say NO to the Glazers IPO - click here to help MUST

The nation may well basking in a golden glow from "Team GB's" stunning success in the  London Olympic games - it is turning into a very special year - but for followers of Manchester United, we still don't know if Ferguson's summer signings will live up to the fans expectations.

According to Bob Cass of the Mail on Sunday, United are about to sign Lucas Moura and Robin van Persie in a £50m double swoop - one that will send out a strong message to United's rivals. It bloody well will, if it actually happens.

Ferguson recently broke with convention when confirming that the club were indeed trying to sign the Brazilian and Arsenal's dutch talisman. Quite why Fergie felt it necessary to publicly confirm his interest in the strike duo has been the subject of much debate; was it a curved ball to put United's rivals off the scent of the 'real targets'?; or was it a cynical attempt to win the fans over following the much talked about IPO? ; or is it the case that Ferguson's interest is genuine, despite this somewhat radical departure from the norm in which transfer deals are done without the full glare of public scrutiny?

So what of this £50m double swoop? Bob Cass is said to be a 'pal' of the United manager - despite the fact that 12 month's ago Ferguson told him where to go in no uncertain terms, nonetheless, the MOS reporter was granted a controversial no-punches-pulled interview during United's recent Summer tour of South Africa.

Ignoring that Ferguson and Cass had a bit of a set to - which happens to most reporters from time to time with Fergie, Cass has stuck to his story over the last few weeks and the fact that he's now claiming Moura is set for a medical is of some interest. If nothing else, Cass has has been consistent and he's not hiding behind the often used "Staff Reporter" byline. All we know for sure is if this transfer coup fails to materialise, we are unlikely to ever know the real truth, not least, until the Laird of Old Trafford publishes another book...

In other news, Manchester United's latest attempts to launch an IPO (Initial Public Offering) on the New York Stock Exchange gets under way this week. This blog fully supports MUST and we urge all right thinking United fans to Say NO to the IPO. Please click on the link to register your displeasure: Say NO to the Glazers IPO - click here to help MUST

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fergie deflects attention from real issues with withering attack on fans. It's a PR disaster and one that won't help United's latest IPO...

Things aren't going too well for Manchester United both on and off the pitch. Ferguson's shadow squad have just completed the first-leg of the 2012 summer tour in South Africa, with two unconvincing performances.

Off the pitch, the Glazer family are in the process of making their third attempt to launch an IPO (Initial Public Offering), this time on the New York Stock Exchange. The previous two attempts to sell shares in the club in South East Asia failed miserably and if we are to believe reports from across the pond, the proposed NYSE IPO could also suffer the same fate due to lack of interest.

This latest IPO will not be helped by Ferguson's stinging attack on large sections of United's supporter base who oppose the Glazer family. For the record, United didn't have a penny of debt prior to the 2005 Glazer family takeover - since then over £500m has been drained out of club coffers to pay swinging interest payments. The Glazer family borrowed over £500m to fund their heavily leveraged acquisition of United - this debt has been transferred onto Manchester United. Despite paying out over £500m in interest payments and charges, after seven years, those debts are still in the region of £430m. 

With concerns that Ferguson needed to add quality to his squad this summer in order to compete with Manchester City and that the manager is being hampered by the club's financial position, no wonder supporters have genuine concerns about the long-term well being of Manchester United.

It's also worth noting that even the Glazer family have now tacitly admitted that they want to reduce these mountainous debts - that is the stated intention behind this latest IPO. The NYSE IPO prospectus  highlighted that debt could hinder the club if left unchecked. Let us also not forget what United CEO David Gill, famously said in 2004 - "Debt is the road to ruin".   

Ferguson was ill advised to deliver what will be interpreted as an attack on many of the club's supporters; as far as market analysts are concerned, this verbal volley may well be viewed as yet another "red flag" and it could well be another reason not to buy into this latest IPO.

It's worth asking why Ferguson chose to deliver this stiff rebuke to the anti-Glazer movement: was it to deflect attention away from the fact that his squad needs strengthening, and because the manager doesn't have the funds at his disposal? Yet if we believe Ferguson, the Glazer family are "great owners" and they have always supported him in the transfer market. 

No matter what Fergie says about the Glazer family - talk is cheap. It is now seven years since Roy Keane was sent on his way, despite continuing to win silverware, United haven't come close to finding a suitable long-term replacement. 

Earlier this week, Ferguson suggested that Michael Carrick will be the key man for United this coming season. This blog takes no pleasure in putting down our own players, but Carrick isn't even an England regular. He has failed to cement a regular starting place in the England team. In the eyes of many observers, Carrick is a 'poor-man's' Pirlo. It wasn't that long ago that Carrick fell out of favour with Ferguson;  he was in and out of the team amidst talk of a possible departure. Admittedly, Carrick played very well for United last season - but as we all too painfully saw against Barcelona in those one-sided Champions League Finals he desperately needs help in the engine room.

Ferguson may well have signed Japanese star Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell, but both lack Premier League experience and it remains to be seen how well they will fit into the United squad and what part they will play, but neither are seasoned box-to-box midfield generals.

Over the weekend, Ferguson gave us a lamentable excuse for United's awful Champions League failings last season. According to the manager, he 'made too many changes'. Ferguson used to be known as "Tinkerbell" due to his continual tinkering with his team, but over the years his squad rotation system has paid dividends, most famously with the all conquering 1999 treble winning side. Ferguson' assertion that United's failings last season were down to too many changes will only fool the deluded and the blinkered.

United are in serious danger of being left behind by big spending Manchester City. Ferguson continues to paper over of the cracks by asking veterans Scholes and Giggs to carry the team. By his own admission, City are signing players who are in the right age bracket, the ones with experience aged between 25 and 27. Fergie says that City don't have any over 30 year-old's in their squad, he also questions their youth policy. In contrast, Fergie says that 31 year-old Michael Carrick will be United's 'key man' this season...

The United manager can point fingers at City when questioning their policy on signings, but it's beginning to sound like sour grapes. As Fergie well knows, and as Arsenal fans have found out to their cost, principles don't always win prizes...

This blog fully supports Ferguson the manager and his team - we don't support the man and there is a difference. We applaud the manager's stance on signing young players and turning them into superstars. We don't not support the Glazers' and like many fans' we want to see that huge debt mountain wiped out.

Ferguson has worked near miracles with a limited budget at his disposal and despite doing the job magnificently, albeit with one hand tied behind his back, you have to wonder how much longer United will continue to get away with it.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pogba and Fryers gone: Who is to blame, agents or could United have done more?

Manchester United are smarting following the recent defections of Paul Pogba and Zeki Fryers. After making just seven appearances for the first-team last season, in so doing showing signs of real class, to the consternation of United supporters and surely Ferguson too, Pogba snubbed the club's overtures and instead opted to join Juventus - a move which has understandably upset United. As if that wasn't bad enough, talented defender Zeki Fryers then decided to quit United and join Spurs.

Young players come and go on an all too frequent basis at a club like United and so there's nothing particularly new about that, but this time it was different, because in the case of Pogba,  he has the potential to be a huge star. Pogba could have saved United tens of millions in the transfer market - a fact that makes United's failure to agree a deal all the more baffling and frustrating. The former Le Havre youngster looks to be every inch the central midfield player Fergie's squad so badly needs. United's engine room is short on genuine quality and in Pogba the Scot knew he had someone who could well go on to be a very special player. Pogba's decision to leave is a bitter blow for everyone connected with United - especially in the current financial climate, in which Ferguson finds himself slugging it out with 'moneybags' Manchester City with one hand tied behind his back.

Until the last few weeks of last season, Ferguson had worked wonders and against all odds looked like securing another league title - only for his team to do a Devon Loch and falter in the final stages of the title race, as United gifted the Premier League trophy to Roberto Mancini and his players. The lapses which led to what was an alarming collapse were and still are unforgivable.

So as we headed into the summer to lick our collective wounds it was with the hope that Ferguson would bolster his squad with quality additions and come back ready for next season with the players who are capable of bringing the title back to Old Trafford. Pogba, could and SHOULD have been part of that squad.

The fact that both Pogba and Fryers chose to leave raises many questions.  In the case of Pogba, should United have been willing to meet his demands? Perhaps they were, but we haven't been told the full story, save for a few barbed comments from Fergie about 'lack of respect' - but there's two sides to every story. In the final analysis the club failed to agree a deal and that's a fact, one of the few we the fans' can be sure of.

But did it have to end this way? Manchester United have always been willing to make 'exceptions' for 'special players'. Surely United's decision-makers could see what many observers could plainly see, that is Pogba is going to be twice the player the likes of Anderson will ever be.

In the aftermath of the departures, there has been much debate - the argument that the club had to keep within its pay structure for all of its youngsters has been touted. In the light of what happened, should United now be prepared to make exceptions for special cases like Pogba? The alternative is to risk losing the next really talented youngster - after all there's no shortage of suitors.

Pogba has been labelled as 'greedy' by some fans, but we could say that about many top-flight players, including Rio Ferdinand who it is claimed is worth £40m and yet according to reports, he's balking about signing that new deal.

If we accept the notion that most players are sadly more concerned about money than anything else, it's not that difficult to see why it was easy for Juventus to prize Pogba away from United.

If United needed a reality check, they've had one - if they don't meet the financial demands of the most talented players, as we found to our cost with Pogba, someone else will.

Monday, July 16, 2012

United 'fraud squad' set for summer tour as concerns grow over Fergie's transfer activity...

The dust may well have settled on the season that's just gone, but the disappointment and manner of the its conclusion will linger on for quite some time. In the intervening weeks, since United unforgivably handed back what just a few weeks earlier had looked to be league title number 20 to Manchester City, not an awful lot has happened to suggest Ferguson and his players will be capable of wrestling control of the Premier League trophy out of the grubby clutches of our 'noisy neighbours'.

To date, Ferguson has left many supporters' underwhelmed with his summer signings. The addition of Nick Powell from Crewe and Shinji Kagawa from Dortmund may well go on to prove to be excellent value, but neither has experienced the hurly burly  Premier League.

Perhaps worryingly for United fans, Ferguson says, although Powell was used as a forward at his former club, it is his stated intention to use him as a central midfield player. Quite what Powell thinks about this would be good to know, but more importantly many observers will be left wondering if this is a sign of desperation on the part of the manager.

Manchester United's problems in central midfield are well documented, this area of the squad is widely accepted as its weakest - the one that needed the most attention this summer. Yet, Ferguson has signed a striker who we are told will eventually be transformed into a central midfield player and in Kagawa we have a potential long-term replacement for Paul Scholes.

There's likely to be a period of adjustment for Powell and Kagawa - who doesn't speak English, but hopefully, they will both settle quickly in the coming weeks and go on to prove their worth.

But, who else will Ferguson sign and who should he be targeting, those questions are a constant source of debate among the Red Army.

According to reports, (don't you just hate that phrase?) Ferguson is trying to sign Brazilian Lucas Moura; now here's the thing, Moura is yet another forward - and so it's worth asking if there's any truth in this rumour?  Not only that, but the same reports claim Moura is wanted by (among others) Real Madrid. Question: so when was the last time United won a transfer battle with Madrid?

Seasoned followers of the club will no doubt concur that we've been down this road before; the pursuit of the unattainable is a well trodden and all too often fruitless path. Back in 2003, the media led us to believe that United had come close to signing Ronaldinho - only for the brilliant samba star to sign for Barcelona and to add insult, he made his debut against United on the Reds US summer tour (yours truly was there).

So, is it fair to ask if this story is just another piece of creative writing - or is it the case that United's spin doctors' have sent the media on another wild goose chase?  Nothing can be ruled out. To those who say that is too far fetched, whoever would have thought Ferguson would have sanctioned the £7.5m transfer of Bebe and then to our consternation admit he'd never seen him kick a ball?

That leads us nicely on to United's latest summer tour. Hard to believe, but some fans are actually claiming to be 'excited' about the prospects of the squad which has been described as a 'mixture of youth and experience' - that's one way of describing them. The more cynical among us might describe the tourists as a mixture of 'hopefuls, experience, imposters and expensive failures' or even the 'fraud squad' as a time-served Red, jokingly put it.

There's little point in slamming Bebe (again), suffice to say, I wish I had a tenner for every Red who voiced their misguided belief and trust in a player who pretty much from his first kick was plainly never going to make it in a United shirt. 

While, it was obvious from the start that Bebe hadn't any hope in hell, United fans, who to their generally great credit are extremely patient with new signings are now pretty much resigned to the view that Anderson isn't going to make it either.

Anderson was brought in as a potential goal-scoring replacement for Scholes. It's true to state that his progress has been hindered by injuries, but it's also true that he hasn't lived up to his transfer fee - an eye watering £25m. Having made 145 appearances in five seasons and having scored just seven goals, Anderson has proved to be poor value and worse still, he hasn't eased Ferguson's midfield woes. No surprise then that reports are linking Anderson with moves back to Portugal.

Having been up for sale for a lengthy period, and without securing a move, the supremely talented yet all too often frustrating Dimitar Berbatov will also be boarding the flight to South Africa along with the rest of the United squad.

The sad thing is, Berbatov could have gone on to be a United legend, but he has no stomach for the fight and lacks heart; the fans' love his skills, but despair at his lack of application. The Bulgarian made the big mistake of publicly stating "I'm not changing" and that was the final straw for the former steelworker from Govan - aka Ferguson.

So the message to Fergie is this: we are not expecting rave reviews from South Africa and Scandinavia, but we bloody well are expecting you to pull your finger out and bolster midfield, before the season starts.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

United on target to retain title, but doubts persist ....

Manchester United went back to the top of the Barclays Premier League on Monday night thanks to a late first-half goal by Wayne Rooney. This very important league fixture ended in controversy, when Fulham were denied what looked like a certain penalty in the dying moments, after referee Michael Oliver gave Michael Carrick the benefit of doubt following his clumsy challenge on Danny Murphy inside the box.

Understandably, and all too predictably, there has been plenty of media focus on "yet another penalty that wasn't given to a visiting team at Old Trafford".
Tommy Docherty added his twopenneth on Radio 5-live this week when claiming, "visiting teams do not get many penalties and it has pretty much always been like that". The former Manchester United manager isn't slow at coming forward with controversial views and so the Doc's comments will have surprised few, but at the same time no doubt agitated neutrals and City fans alike. In the hullabaloo that followed, the fact that United were denied what looked like a definite penalty in the first-half for handball has been quickly forgotten. It was ever thus. You win some, you lose some. As Ferguson rightly said "these things tend to even themselves out over a season". Quite.

While the win over Fulham meant that United leapfrogged Man City to open up a slender three point lead at the top of the table, there wasn't really much else to shout about following what was another dire Old Trafford performance by the champions.

Despite dominating possession for long spells, United were simply dreadful and couldn't open up a well organised Fulham defence. Those United fans hoping for a goal avalanche - one that could have wiped out City's goal difference advantage - will have been left disappointed at the fayre served by a United team, that not for the first time at home this season, lacked guile, know-how and any real sense of urgency in the final third.

Increasingly, one finds one-self questioning the quality of the Premier League, because over the last two seasons, United, Chelsea, Arsenal and yes, even Liverpool too, have all seen their performance levels drop and alarmingly so, especially where genuine quality is concerned. In contrast when we look at Barcelona, it's almost as if they are playing a different game - such is their superiority on pretty much every level. Athletic Bilboa gave United a torrid time in the Europa League, in so doing, giving many observers cause to review the generally accepted - but not entirely fair - assertion that there are only two quality teams in La Liga.

United have been rank bad awful in Europe this season, we cannot deny that fact, but so were Arsenal; Manchester City were in a much tougher looking Champions League group and so their elimination was not so difficult to accept for their followers; but like the champions, much less acceptable was the manner in which City were also knocked out of the Europa League - a competition that badly needs to be revamped if it is ever going to be taken *seriously* by Europe's leading clubs.

While we can ask questions, with real justification, about the quality of the Premier League, it's fair to state that Man City and Spurs have improved immensely this season and they've really shaken up the 'top four'.  Spurs are currently in a real slump, but City are still fighting tooth and nail to wrest the title from United.

Hopefully, United will go on to retain the title, but there's no real signs that this latest Ferguson team will go on to seriously compete with Europe's elite clubs. If Ferguson is going to make United great again, he must address the glaring issues in midfield. Yes, it was the right decision to bring back Scholes, the United manager has far used his midfield general sparingly and sensibly; in total Scholes has so far played in 14 games, but six of those were from the bench.

There is hope in the form of Paul Pogba. The young French midfield star looks like a prodigious talent. Ferguson must use all of his powers of persuasion to convince Pogba to sign that new contract. Less convincing, is the hope that is Tom Cleverley who increasingly looks like a player whose career could be blighted by injuries, but time will tell. Even if Pogba signs that new deal, Ferguson MUST go out and sign another top quality midfield general.

The United manager also needs to sign another striker, because Welbeck, while being a good link man in certain situations, lacks that vital killer instinct inside the box. Hernandez is the complete opposite of Welbeck - deadly in the box, not so good in open play. United need to sign 'the next Didier Drogba', as much as we hate those comparisons - but that is the type of all round striker Ferguson must strive to find.

Finally, if United do go on the secure their 20th league title, contrary to the views of one well known journalist, the achievement most definitely will NOT surpass that historic, 1999 treble victory.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

United turn tables on City as Pogba set to give champs massive boost...

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There are just ten league games to go, the champions have somehow clawed their way back to the top of the Premier League, and with reports claiming Paul Pogba is set to give Ferguson a massive boost by committing himself to the club by signing a new contract, we cast a critical eye over United's recent performances and ask will the manager and his players make this a season to remember.

It was only a few weeks ago that the prospect of Manchester United knocking Manchester City's off top spot in the Barclays Premier League seemed, even in the eyes of many a die-hard red, improbable at best.

There's no disputing City have been *the team* of the season so far: they have scored the most goals, conceded the least and until the events of last weekend they were top of the table. But City's away form has been letting them down of late and on Sunday they deservedly lost to Swansea, at the Liberty Stadium. With the champions winning at home to West Brom, it meant that for the first time since October, Manchester United were back at the summit of the Premier League. Yet, just 48 hours earlier everyone connected with Manchester United was coming to terms with another deflating home defeat in the Europa League, following Athletic Bilbao's stunning 2-3 win.

Bilbao pretty much out-played United for 90 minutes on Thursday, and Ferguson's less than convincing post-match assertion that United would put matters right this week in the second-leg will not be shared by many supporters; there is an argument for NOT progressing any further in the deservedly maligned competition - the problem is not the quality of the participating teams, no, not a bit of it, it's the bloody ridiculous match schedule and early kick-off's. UEFA need to revisit the scheduling of Europa League fixtures; if they don't, the competition will continue to be a very poor second best to the Champions League.

United's participation and questionable performances in the Europa League will hopefully prove to be a wake-up call for Ferguson, his players, and most importantly, the Glazers', because while the current squad has done okay on the domestic front, the same squad has been lousy in Europe this season. Ferguson desperately needs to add a world-class central midfield playmaker - it is as clear as Fergie's big red nose. The manager's wish-list should also include a striker and another left-back.

As if it should be needed, the recent defeats at home to Ajax and Bilbao will hopefully have given Ferguson even more impetus to sign that world-class playmaker.

Bringing Scholes out of retirement was only a good idea because of the totally ridiculous situation the club finds itself in. Good damn it, Manchester United should NOT be relying on veteran stars like Giggs and Scholes. Scholes has without question fully justified his return and Giggs continues to amaze, but Ferguson is kidding no one: he has been and continues to, paper over the cracks.

The home defeats against Ajax and Bilbao (as good as the Basques undoubtedly were) will hopefully have given Ferguson and his backroom team, good reason to reflect on the current state of the squad. In order to do that, they must look at how the team has performed in Europe this season. United threw it away at home against Basel in the Champions League, and only managed a draw thanks to a dramatic late equaliser by Ashley Young. It was the same story against Benfica at Old Trafford, United were simply not good enough to beat opponents who in years gone by would have been considered as fodder.

Given how poorly England's top clubs have performed in Europe and especially United, many pundits (and this blog included) have concluded that the Premier League isn't currently worthy of its widely accepted status as one of Europe's top leagues: the fact that United, City and Arsenal are already out of the Champions League is testament to that.

We must never fall into the trap of confusing excitement with technical quality / genuine class. From a United perspective, despite the glaring weaknesses in the squad, no doubting to the collective annoyance of our noisy neighbours, Fergie's team somehow continues to grind out improbable results.

In a season littered with mistakes and too many setbacks, two recent results standout: United's away wins at Carrow Road and White Hart Lane. Who among us wouldn't have liked a Fiver for every City fan that found themselves cursing United and Giggsy after the Welshman slotted that winner 75 seconds into added time against Norwich? And then came that very tough looking away assignment at White Hart Lane.

The weekend prior to United's visit to North London, Arsenal had panned Spurs 5-2 at the Emirates. If that wasn't bad enough, Spurs had somehow managed to throw away a two-goal lead and then they lost Gareth Bale due to injury.

So going into the Spurs game and following the win at Carrow Road, United had every reason to be confident, but what followed once again left us breathless. Spurs pretty much played United off the park in the first-half, but remarkably, after 69 minutes the champions were 3-0 up. Defoe pulled a late goal back for Spurs but United ran out 1-3 winners.

Those two Premier League away wins could well turn out to be season defining, not least because many pundits and fans alike fully expected United to drop points. It didn't happen and what's more the wins at Carrow Road and White Hart Lane came in between the two home defeats in the Europa League - which again raises questions about the quality of the League as well as United's title credentials...

But with just 10 league games to go, no one can confidently predict the outcome. We can be sure the battle for the title will continue to provide us with excitement and many talking points.

While it is fair to ask questions about the squad, we cannot deny United have suffered more than most with injuries this season, but on that score, things are starting to look up. Tom Cleverley is fit again - for how long remains to be seen - but if he can win back his starting place, we could see him linking up with Rooney and Young to stunning effect.

Then there's Paul Pogba, who was reportedly set to spurn United in preference for Juventus. Putting it bluntly: Manchester United cannot afford to lose a player like Pogba who has bags of potential. If Pogba joined Juventus, it would have sent out an awful message about the current state of United and yes, it would have reflected badly on the player, but also on Ferguson too. Hopefully, Pogba will soon sign that new contract and he will go on cement a place in the heart of United's engine room over the next 12 months.

If United are going to continue to keep pace with City and go on to retain the title, every player in the squad will have to play close to their best when called upon.

Wayne Rooney is currently in a hot run of scoring form (five from the last three games), but in the eyes of many, he isn't playing even close to his best.

The spotlight has been firmly on David de Gea, and rightly so following some of his performances this season. The young Spanish goalkeeper was under the spotlight because he'd made some awful errors, but following a lengthy spell on the bench, to his eternal credit he has comeback all the stronger and he has started re-pay that huge transfer fee and as well as the manager's faith in him.

United have managed to turn the tables on City (for now), but there will be many more twists and turns before the end of what is turning into a fascinating season. Will the title be decided when United travel to Eastlands for the derby at the end of April, as Roberto Mancini claims? Don't be surprised if it goes to the last game of the season, is our verdict. Fasten your seat-belts, it is going to be a bumpy ride.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

City piling on pressure on United: Can the champions keep pace with the league leaders?

Many United fans won't like to acknowledge it, but it is beginning to look like a case of WHEN and not IF Manchester City will be crowned champions. Truth be told, our 'noisy neighbours' have been playing like champions elect all season, and whisper this quietly, some of their football has been sublime at times. David Silva will justifiably win the Players' Player of the Year and the Football Writers' Player of the Year. Why, oh why didn't Manchester United ever make a bid to sign Silva? Only Ferguson can answer that question. We could ask the same question about Aguero too.

While giving our time-honoured bitter rivals credit, we know that City have become nothing more than a 'rich-man's play thing' and should their Arabian owners ever grow tired of throwing endless amounts of money at what was hitherto a hopeless lost cause, they will return to their previous 'also-ran' status in short order.

It's a totally different scenario where United and the Glazer family are concerned. United were a cash rich club before being taken over in 2005 by the loathsome Floridian family. It is one of the greatest ironies, that it was precisely because United were so strong financially, which in turn allowed the Glazers' to leverage a debt mountain onto the club.

In sharp contrast to the ownership regime at City, if the Glazers' ever sold out to someone who could actually afford the asking price without borrowing on a sickening scale, the said owner would make a fortune, because United, despite their debt concerns, are still a prodigious money making machine. In other words, in contrast to City, United would prosper should the Glazers' ever sell out: We will never say that about the prospect of City's owners walking away.

For now, even the most die-hard red cannot argue that Mancini has spent wisely and he's built a formidable squad. As far as the title race is concerned, with 13 games still to play, quite obviously, it isn't yet over - the Fat Lady hasn't sung, but for sure, she's been heard clearing her throat in anticipation.

Should Manchester United fail to win away at Norwich and Spurs the battle for the Premier League trophy will more than likely be all but lost; from that point onwards Ferguson and everyone connected with United will almost certainly start to mentally prepare to finish as runner-up (if indeed that isn't the case already - we have to believe that is NOT the case, nor should it be).

Realistically, City don't look like a team who are going to drop many points between now and the end of the season - that is the blunt truth of the matter.

United have put up a pretty good fight thus far: that is the champions have apart from a few notable exceptions; the shameful 6-1 derby reverse and losing at home to Blackburn.

The absolute doomsday scenario for United fans, is that City will be effectively crowned champions when the two teams meet in the derby at Eastlands at the end of April.

As ever, there is of course another more hopeful scenario: United could go on to win at Norwich and at Spurs, the champions then edge out City in a tightly fought derby and go on to retain the title. If that happens it will be among Ferguson's finest achievements and it will likely bring down the curtain on his glittering career, but will it happen?

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Pressure on De Gea and Ferguson as United look to keep pace with leaders City at Chelsea...

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Manchester United are set to take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in what has become a very important Premier League fixture in recent seasons, largely thanks to the self-indulgence of Roman Abramovich. The champions are currently three points behind  Manchester City, and Ferguson will want to keep the pressure on the league leaders.

Ahead of the game, the United team news is both good and bad; good because Tom Cleverley is reportedly fit again, as is Ashley Young, Wayne Rooney and Nani, but it's not so good where goalkeepers are concerned, because Anders Lindegaard, the club's new number one is out injured for up to six weeks.

Lindegaard had managed to dislodge David de Gea, following a string of high-profile errors by the former Athletico Madrid youngster. However, Lindegaard sustained a training ground injury which led to a recall for De Gea for last weekend's FA Cup tie at Anfield, but once again the young Spanish stopper was badly at fault for one of Liverpool's goals.  United were eventually knocked out of the FA Cup. Not for the first time this season, United were dumped out of a cup competition, partly because of a goalkeeping error.

At one point during Sunday's FA Cup tie, it looked as though De Gea had a touch of 'Anfield flu'; it looked as though he wanted to be replaced...and for no obvious reason. Daniel Taylor of the Guardian later wrote that it was akin to Basil Fawlty complaining about his old shrapnel wound playing up...

But whatever we are to make of De Gea's Anfield antics, United's season has been blighted by injuries.

Both De Gea and Lindegaard subsequently missed the midweek win over Stoke City, in which United ran out 2-0 winners, thanks to two converted penalty kicks by  Berbatov and Hernandez. Ben Amos was in goal for United against Stoke, but he will likely be on the bench at Stamford Bridge. Nonetheless, the no.1 goalkeeper position is a matter of serious concern for Ferguson, despite what he might say publicly...

Ferguson splashed out £18m on De Gea last summer and so it comes as no great surprise that he has been defending the Spaniard this week, he would, wouldn't he? The fact is,  no amount of spin will deflect attention away from De Gea - the spotlight is very much on him today and it will be for the remainder of the campaign, but this is entirely a self-made situation.

Ferguson's judgement has to be questioned too, because, frankly, de Gea looks ill-equipped to succeed in the Premier League. It wouldn't matter if De Gea was playing for any other Premier League club - if rivals' see a perceived weakness they will make every attempt to exploit that weakness.

When he arrived at United, it was reported that De Gea had conceded the most goals from distance in La Liga last season. As if that wasn't bad enough, to put it bluntly, the former Athletico Madrid 'keeper has been found badly wanting when it comes to dealing with crosses into the United penalty area. Many supporters and pundits are now asking themselves what exactly did United see in De Gea? Sure, he makes the occasional eye-catching save, but that's no use if you continue to make basic errors.

Top-class goalkeepers' pride themselves on keeping clean sheets and not making too many mistakes. So far in his short United career,  de Gea has spectacularly failed to live up to expectations.

De Gea's presence in between the sticks will not inspire confidence in the United back-four, quite the reverse, at least that is the big danger. Mutual trust and effective communication are vital elements in any strong defensive unit, and it is safe to assume that United's central defenders are less than 100% sure what de Gea will do when that ball is pumped into those danger areas.

No one, including Ferguson, needs to be reminded that all successful teams are built on solid foundations. It is hard to believe that it was presumably the same scouting network that identified a world-class  goalkeeper to be like Peter Schmeichel. Signing Edwin van der Sar was an easy to decision to make; but those two apart, they have to a large degree been fabulous exceptions to the rule.

When we look back down the years, despite all of his wonderful success, Ferguson has really struggled at times to find reliable goalkeepers; Massimo Taibi aka the "Venetian Blind" and hapless Ben Foster are just two names from the list of many failures.

With the benefit of hindsight, clearly, Manchester United made a big mistake when allowing Tim Howard to leave the club to join Everton. Howard is a safer bet than any of Ferguson's current options, barring possibly Lindegaard, but the jury is very out on him too.

If de Gea is going to justify his hefty price tag and earn the right to be selected in the United first team and into the bargain silence his many critics, then today at Stamford Bridge would be a good place to start to prove his worth.

As if more spice were needed ahead of this important West London fixture, we have the prospect of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand facing-off following the unsavoury racism storm involving the now deposed England skipper and Rio's younger brother, Anton. Let us hope Monday's headlines focus on football (and no more mistakes) instead of alleged acts of racism.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Mourinho unlikely to choose cash-strapped Manchester United...

News that Jose Mourinho could be about to de-camp to yet another club will no doubt result in managers at some of Europe's top clubs looking over their shoulders. It was ever thus.

Mourinho is of course hugely successful; his wins to games ratio at 69% is astonishing, that's an incredible ll% higher than Ferguson's - though, it's true the United manager has been around for a lot longer.

Mourinho, may not be everyone's cup of tea, but in the eyes of many he is the finest club coach in the world. If we are to assume he could move on this summer, will he come to Manchester United and take over from Ferguson? The odds of Jose becoming to Old Trafford will be short, not because it is likely to happen, but because many United fans will back the current Real Manager. The bookies favourite doesn't always win...

When and if Jose moves on, he will have the pick of the top jobs - including the United job...but why would Mourinho take over a debt ridden, cash-strapped club when there's more attractive offers on the table? Mourinho is a winner, but wherever he's been since he left Porto, he has been backed to the hilt in the transfer market and that simply would NOT happen at Old Trafford.

Chelsea and Manchester City will be able to meet Mourinho's financial demands. In contrast, sadly, United have lost much of their clout in the transfer market since the Glazer family takeover in 2005. Ferguson can no longer compete effectively because of the financial constraints placed upon him.

Whoever takes over from Ferguson is on a hiding to nothing - after all his success who, apart from Mourinho could follow that? But, it's extremely doubtful that Jose would accept the United job, because it represents too much of a challenge.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

No excuses for De Gea and United as Liverpool deliver FA Cup KO....

Manchester United were knocked out of the FA Cup at Anfield on Saturday by a less than impressive Liverpool team. United enjoyed the lions share of possession for long periods of a game that they by and large controlled, but the champions were once again guilty of making costly defensive errors and at the other end they were toothless up front.

Ferguson elected to start with Carrick, Giggs and Scholes in the engine room - a decision that can only be described as a gamble. United's central midfield trio had a combined grand old age of 107. As if that wasn't enough of a concern, United were also without the services of Wayne Rooney, thanks to yet another injury.

The fact that United went on to control the game for long periods of this FA Cup tie, probably says more about Liverpool than the champions - though the Merseyside club may well counter that they'd had a tough game in midweek against Man City....

Despite his years and his lay-off, it was Paul Scholes who pulled the strings in midfield. Strangely, Liverpool seemed to be content to sit back and wait to hit United on the break - much to the annoyance of those on the Kop - who let their feelings known throughout...

Valencia was very unlucky not to open the scoring on 16 minutes, but his superb drive hit the base of Reina's far post. As things turned out, that was one of the few efforts on goal by the visitors, much to the collective disappointment of the 5,000 or so United fans who'd travelled to Anfield for what is always a grudge match, but on this occasion even more so than normal following the Evra and Suarez spat and subsequent lengthy suspension for the Uruguayan.

Liverpool went on to win the tie by the odd goal in three, but annoyingly for United fans, they were handed victory on a plate by David De Gea and Patrice Evra - both were guilty of making basic errors.

Liverpool were poor - but  they didn't have to be *that good* to beat United and that is the real sickener for Ferguson, the supporters and players. Liverpool didn't have to work for their victory - it was handed to them on a plate.

Following a spell on the sidelines, under-fire 'keeper David De Gea was somewhat surprisingly brought back into the white-hot atmosphere of Anfield. The young Spanish goalkeeper appears to have lost his spot as the number one goalkeeper at Old Trafford, but with United playing in the FA Cup this was an opportunity to give the former Athletico Madrid goalkeeper a chance to redeem himself.

Sadly, it all went badly wrong again for De Gea, as he was largely responsible for Liverpool taking the lead on 21 minutes. Gerrard's corner into a crowded penalty area was headed home by Agger.

In the build up to that Liveroopl goal, De Gea made what can only be described as a 'schoolboy error' when he managed to get caught in no-mans-land - he was nowhere near the ball; knowing he couldn't get to the ball he should have dropped back onto his line, in so doing, giving himself half a chance of making a save from that slightly withdrawn position. The ball ended up in the United net and Ferguson later appeared to blame his defenders for getting in De Gea's way. Frankly, Ferguson's defence is laughable and ridiculous. A commanding goalkeeper like Schmeichel would have knocked his own players and the ball out of harms way, but clearly, De Gea is no match for the Great Dane - or come to that even a Tim Howard.

Liverpool knew that De Gea has a weakness on crosses and the only real question was, why after taking the lead didn't they keep on pressurising De Gea? At least that one was one of the questions asked by ITV's pundits after the game - the answer to that was simple: Liverpool didn't have the ball...

Despite going behind against the run of play, United kept their passing game together, but without penetrating the Liverpool penalty area or testing Reina.

But then, in what seemed like a blink of the eye, United equalised thanks to a very well worked goal on 38 minutes. Rafael combined quite brilliantly with Valencia on the right flank as they carved open the Liverpool defence. The Brazilian's cross found Park lurking deep inside the box, the South Korean finished in impressive style with his first touch - but that was to be the high point of his game, because on too many other occasions he was guilty of giving the ball straight back to Liverpool.

Half-time came and went, many of those in the crowd at Anfield and the millions watching on TV must have wondered if Ferguson would pull De Gea out of the firing line, but he didn't.

The story of the second-half was much like the first; United dominated for long spells but couldn't find a way through. Danny Welbeck looked totally lost up front on his own - he cannot lead the line without help.

Scholes predictably began to fade and he made way for Hernandez on 76 minutes, but to no great affect. It was Dalglish who made the more telling substitutions when sending on Kuyt, Bellamy and Adam for Carragher, Gerrard and Maxi.

Despite chasing the game for long spells without the ball, it was Liverpool who made the vital breakthrough on 88 minutes and a more simple goal you will not see this season. It came from a regulation long punt down field by Reina. Carroll nodded the ball on to unmarked Kuyt who drilled the ball home from deep inside the United box. In the TV replays that followed, it was clear that Evra's positioning was all wrong. United's captain was caught on the wrong side of Kuyt and De Gea could have done much better too.

Roy Keane summed up today: United made too many mistakes at the back and they didn't trouble Reina enough. That summed up United at Anfield in this FA Cup tie. There was very few positives from a United perspective. Rafael and Valencia were two of United's better  performers. Scholes and Smalling had decent games, but  collectively it wasn't good enough.

In the wake of what has been a disappointing day, Ferguson has many problems to address:

United's midfield continues to creak like an old gate.

How much longer can United continue to expect to rely on Scholes and Giggs?

Would a great club like Barcelona ever find themselves in this ridiculous situation?

It looks as though Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison will be sold and soon - a worrying situation given the hype surrounding two promising young players.

Berbatov's future continues to be the subject of intense speculation; will he be sold before the transfer window closes next week?

It looks as though the money invested in De Gea has been wasted. Anders Lindegaard was signed to be a backup 'keeper and no more than that, but it looks as though the Dane will continue to be the no.1 until Ferguson finds a suitable long-term replacement for Edwin Van der Sar.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

United set to lose £30m: Berbatov to move on a free transfer next summer?

The future of Dimitar Berbatov continues to be the subject of intense media speculation. The £30m striker is out of contract next summer and is therefore free to talk to would be suitors.

The former Spurs striker has been linked to CSKA Moscow, Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen.

Last month, Ferguson hinted that he was ready to activate a clause in the Bulgarian's contract; one that would extend his current deal by 12 months.

However, the 30-year-old’s future must be in serious doubt after he was photographed by the media boarding a flight to Frankfurt.

Manchester United could lose £30m if they are unable to persuade Berbatov to sign that contract extension.

To add to the United manager's woes, he could also lose Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison due to contract issues.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Scholes vindicates return. De Gea left out again, but all is not well at Manchester United....

United went level with Manchester City at the top of the Barclays Premier League thanks to Saturday's three-nil win over struggling Bolton. In truth, for the second home league game in a row, despite the winning margin, United made hard work of it. While the win over Bolton keeps the pressure on leaders City, it was not the performance of champions.

Jonny Evans and Rafael were restored to the United starting eleven, at the expense of Jones and Smalling, both were rested along with Anderson who we are led to believe suffered a knock in training. Interestingly, Paul Pogba was among the United substitutes, but as things turned out, he was left on the bench along with Dimitar Berbatov (more about these two shortly).

But for the poor quality of United's final ball into the Bolton penalty area in the first ten minutes, the champions could have been three-nil up, but that didn't happen.

With Scholes pulling the strings in midfield, United's build up play was good, at least it was until that vital final ball was delivered into the Bolton box.

Rooney failed convert a penalty in the 24th minute, but much credit should go to Adam Bogdan in the Bolton goal who made a fine save. Bogdan, had an excellent first-half, but he could do nothing about Paul Scholes tap-in on the stroke of half-time.

Danny Welbeck very nearly denied Scholes his first comeback goal when he appeared to try to control Rooney's pass, but he failed to do so, luckily for United, the former England midfield general was on-hand to open the scoring.

From that point onwards, United should have gone on to close the goal-difference gap on leaders City, but the crispness of passing, speed of thought and accuracy wasn't there for much of the second-half. At least that was the case as far as too many were concerned in the famous red shirt.

Scholes was the exception - at the grand old age of 37 - he was by far United's most effective midfield player on show. Scholes made the effort to get into the Bolton penalty several times, but the quality of United's final ball wasn't what we have come to expect from Nani and Valencia.

Scholes and Nani were eventually replaced by Giggs and Park in the 68th minute. Scholes didn't look too impressed with the manager's decision - and with some justification too, because he was by some distance United's most effective player on show. At the time of that double substitution, United were only one-nil to the good, no doubt fearing another Old Trafford slip-up, Ferguson took the decision to bring on fresh legs and to rest Scholes.

Former Liverpool striker, David Ngog missed the opportunity to put Bolton on level terms, but instead his shot nearly ended up in the third tier of the East Stand.

United's second-half play was sloppy on too many occasions and this gave the visitors' encouragement to push for an equaliser.

United finally scored a much needed second goal on 73 minutes and once again it was Rooney who was the provider. Despite being the attentions of a Bolton defender, Rooney managed to somehow prod the ball into the path of his strike partner and Welbeck finished with his first touch from just inside the visitors' penalty area.

The joy of scoring looked initially to have come at a high price, as both Rooney and Welbeck were felled just after getting what turned out to be a vital touch on the ball. Welbeck in particular looked to be in real pain as he lay writhing in agony inside the Bolton penalty area. With United travelling to North London next weekend to face Arsenal, the last thing Ferguson needs is more injury concerns.

Michael Carrick eased any prospect of another lapse by the champions when he hammered home a rare goal, one that ensured victory on 83 minutes with a well taken low curling drive into Bogdan's bottom right-hand corner.

In his post-match interview, Ferguson criticised referee Peter Walton for not showing Zat Knight a red card for his trip on Welbeck which led to the penalty. Nothing annoys manager's more than refereeing inconsistencies - fans and pundits alike will concur with the United manager on this aspect of the game.

In summary, Ferguson's decision to bring back Scholes in United's hour of need has been fully vindicated, at least it has for now. Scholes is still by far the most comfortable player on the ball, in any given situation; he is still the best passer of the ball at the club. However, while Scholes is likely to continue to prove his worth for the remainder of the season, his return to the first-team squad has had a knock-on effect where the likes of Anderson and Pogba are concerned.

For the third game in succession, David de Gea was left on the bench and it looks, for now at least, that Anders Lindegaard is the new no.1 goalkeeper at Old Trafford. De Gea will be given at least one more chance but any more mistakes could signal the end of his short United career.

With the January transfer window open, any of hopes of Ferguson adding much needed quality to his squad appear to be hopeful rather than tangible. Not unsurprisingly, Darron Gibson has been sold to Everton for a lowly transfer fee - as little as £500,000 has been reported.

The future of Dimitar Berbatov continues to be the subject of speculation linking the striker to PSG among others including Bayern

The re-emergence of Scholes has had a much talked about knock-on affect where the likes of Anderson and Pogba are concerned.

Anderson has failed to consistently live up to expectations - given his hefty price tag the Brazilian has been a disappointment.

In the case of Paul Pogba, United appear to have hit a stumbling block, because the club have revealed ongoing contract negotiations continue to be problematic. This situation has led to speculation about the youngster's future. According to one report over the weekend Manchester City are about to pass up the opportunity of signing Pogba on a pre-contract agreement for fear of causing upset with the neighbours.

Pogba's three year deal expires this summer - though United are thought to have an option to extend his current deal by 12 months. The notion that City wouldn't sign Pogba for fear of upsetting United is, it to put mildly, ridiculous. Man City signed Tevez and Hargreaves - their motives as far as the latter are concerned were questionable at best.

The future of Ravel Morrison has been the subject of much speculation over the last week, with United announcing the highly rated youngster is up for sale. United claimed the player has refused their contract offer, while Morrison has denied knowledge of any offer via Twitter. Newcastle are said to ready to sign Morrison. Manchester United have rejected at least one offer from the Magpies and so it looks as though it is only a matter of time before a deal will be completed.

The extent of United's contract troubles have been added to with the news that Danny Welbeck has become the subject of speculation about his future. United have reportedly offered the young England striker a bumper pay rise in recognition for his improvement and goals this season, but as yet we understand that deal remains unsigned.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Scant reward for Moral Cup victors as Scholes makes unlikely United return....

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Manchester United went into Sunday's third round FA Cup tie with neighbours City on the back of two league defeats on the spin. It was therefore not surprising that there wasn't a great deal of shared optimism among United fans ahead of the derby. The prospect of a third defeat in the space of a week seemed like a distinct possibility. To state that the champions hadn't played well against Blackburn and Newcastle in the previous two games would be to understate just how poorly United had performed that week.

Ferguson's squad has of course been decimated by injuries this season - a situation which has led to much talk of possible new signings, but then when Sunday's team news filtered through, to the absolute amazement of many, Paul Scholes' name appeared among the United subs.

Rumours of a possible Scholes comeback had been mooted on Saturday, but it at best it seemed unlikely. What did this all mean for Manchester United and would Ferguson be bold enough to throw the veteran into the heat of a derby battle following months of no first-team action? The fact Scholes had returned to help United just added to the sense of anticipation and yes, to a degree, bewilderment, too.

As things turned out, despite being on the receiving end in the opening exchanges it was United who took the lead thanks to a quite brilliant Wayne Rooney header on 10 minutes.

From the moment Rooney opened the scoring it just got better and better from a red perspective - at least it did in that action packed first-half. The joy of taking the lead was quickly followed by another major turning point, that was the red card issued to Vincent Kompany for a two-footed lunge at Nani. United's Portuguese winger saw the challenge coming and smartly skipped out of harms way; Kompany had jumped in, won the ball and without fouling Nani. Wayne Rooney ran to referee Chris Foy and made his feelings known. The referee immediately brandished his red card. Foy's decision to send-off Kompany has subsequently been the subject of much debate.

No one really wants to see players being sent-off, especially in a local derby, because it can spoil the contest. In October United lost Jonny Evans in the Old Trafford derby just after half-time and went on to lose 6-1, but on that occasion there wasn't much argument about the decision to issue a red card, the case was more clear-cut.

In this latest incident, it appeared as though Foy sent Kompany off for what was potentially a very dangerous challenge - when you dive in with both feet off the ground you leave yourself open to the possibility that the referee might issue a card. There's no doubting Kompany's scissor challenge is one that is dangerous and several players have suffered with long-term injuries as a direct result of similar lunges.

City have announced that they are to appeal on behalf of Kompany, but it will be difficult for the FA to rule in favour of the defender because to do so will send out the wrong message, one that will by default give the green light to two footed lunges.

The incident certainly affected the game and United raced into a three-nil by half-time with goals by Danny Welbeck and one from the penalty spot converted by Rooney, albeit at the second attempt following a fine save by Pantilimon.

Danny Welbeck missed a golden opportunity to put the tie to bed just before half-time, but the young striker failed to connect with Atonio Valencia's excellent cross from the right flank.

After the break City really came out fighting and hit back early thanks to an excellent free-kick from Kolarov, following a foul on Richards by Evra - for which the United defender was booked. When Anders Lindegaard reviews a replay of that Kolarov goal, he may concede that he should have been in a more central starting position instead of being too far to the right. United could have put a man on the post - but that didn't happen either and as a result Kolarov's stunning free-kick ended up in the rigging.

The 5,000+ visiting United fans cheered on Paul Scholes who had been warming up on the touch-line, and then on 59 minutes, the red legend made his return to action when replacing Nani who'd picked up a cheap yellow card in the first-half for petulance.

Scholes looked in confident mood, he was always willing to receive the ball - always available for the pass. United were then denied what looked like a certain penalty when Kolarov brought down Valencia, but on this ocassion, Foy favoured City.

Then just six minutes into his comeback, Scholes gifted the ball back to City deep in United territory - and the ball ended up in the United net. Lindegaard initially saved Aguero's shot on the turn, but the United goalkeeper only succeeded it pushing back to the city striker and he made no mistake from close range with his second attempt.

At that point, it felt as though anything could happen. Were United really going to throw away what looked like certain victory at half-time? United had raced into a deserved three-nil lead, but it looked as though City - who were down to ten men - might claw their way back into this dramatic cup tie.

United hung on, but truth be told, City were the better side in the second-half. In his post-match interview, Roberto Mancini praised his players' for their hard work, belief and excellent organisation. Micah Richards said City had come away with a moral victory. In contrast, Ferguson was less than pleased with his team's second-half performance, but it was United who went into Sunday's draw.

In summary, United missed an opportunity to really rub City's collective noses in it following that 6-1 defeat in October. But the result and especially the first-half performance exceeded the expectations of many United fans. Sure, it wasn't by any stretch the perfect United performance and it was one that left us with many talking points.

Scholes made his comeback and Ferguson just about got away with his calculated gamble to throw him in at the deep end. Rio Ferdinand looked very uncomfortable at the back at times; his choice of pass wasn't always the right one and he was quick to wrongly blame the likes of Phil Jones when it went wrong and it did on several occasions, but again United just about got away with it.

While it is easy to focus on the negatives, there was plenty of positives too. Rooney was United's star man, he'd made a point of kissing the United badge when he opened the scoring - and following his spat with Ferguson and the headlines that followed, his joy at scoring was all too obvious.

Danny Welbeck had played well and scored a very good goal - a pity he didn't finish off the tie before the break, but it was good experience to score against City.

Smalling did ok at the back and Jones while not having a good derby will have benefited from 90 minutes football after his recent injury setbacks. Atonio Valencia looked much more at home in his natural position and provided the crosses for the goals and a carried threat whenever he received the ball.

United have been drawn against Liverpool in the next round and the tie will be played at Anfield later this month - scant reward for a hard fought Moral Cup victory.