Archive for the 'Bulgarians' Category

25
Nov
10

Is Berbatov becoming a cause for concern?

Berbatov- desperately wanted for past crimes

Berbatov- desperately wanted for past crimes

” Dimitar Berbatov, one look at City and he said…..” well, you know the rest. Manchester United’s number nine has enjoyed the sort of Old Trafford career you’d associate with Andy Cole- before the treble.

Almost every United fan was pleased with his signing, especially after City tried to hijack the deal at the 11th hour, but some have since doubted the wisdom of it. The Bulgarian’s first season was a success- at least for the team- as United lifted an 18th League title and reached the final of the Champion’s League.

However even from early on in his United career, Berbatov had his detractors, his first season may have been successful in terms of what the team achieved but there were question marks raised as to whether he did enough personally. Part of the reason behind these doubts was his goalscoring record, Berbatov managed 14 goals in all competitions for United, which was seen a something of a disappointment especially as it was less than he’d managed the previous season with Spurs.

Another issue some United fans had with the new number 9 was his languid playing style, which in comparison to Wayne Rooney and a certain Argentinean gentleman, looked rather lazy.

These voices were in the minority though, as most United fans appreciated the different qualities Berbatov brought to the United side, his number of assists- nine in that first season- and the fact that the team achieved success which was the most important thing. There were also the flashes of brilliance the Bulgarian showed that only underlined what a special talent he was. A piece of skill against West Ham at Old Trafford was spoken about for months and I remember watching the game at Old Trafford against Hull, where Berbatov absolutely dominated the game, laying on chance after chance for his strike partners.

The real critics of Berbatov found their voices last season as with the departure of Carlos Tevez- go on then I’ll say his name, but only once- not to mention Cristiano Ronaldo, many hoped Berbatov would step it up a gear and form a successful partnership with Rooney. While Rooney went from strength to strength, Berbatov at times struggled, so much so that he was left out of the majority of big games as Sir Alex Ferguson preferred to use Rooney as a lone striker.

Part of the problem for Berbatov came from four main points:

1. A certain Argentinean couldn’t stop scoring at City and many saw the arrival of Berbatov as having led to his departure.

2. Rooney was a lot more energetic in every game, sometimes even running past Berbatov to chase balls the Bulgarian had lost.

3. Berbatov was seen by some as having not stepped up to the plate, to use an Americanism I promise never to use again, when Rooney was out injured at the end of the season.

4. United failed to win the League or emulate the previous two seasons successes in Europe.

For each of these points though, there’s a case to be made in defence of Berbatov.

1. Berbatov’s arrival had nothing to do with anyone leaving, if you don’t want to fight for your place then you shouldn’t be playing for United anyway. It was nonsense created to try and gain a modicum of sympathy from United fans, who were more than a tad disappointed someone would leave the club to got to ‘bitter’ rivals, for more money.

2. Wayne Rooney is a lot more energetic than almost any other striker on the planet and Berbatov has never been that sort of player anyway, you can’t expect a 28 year-old to suddenly change the entire way he plays football.

3. Berbatov did score twelve goals last season- a ratio of one in every two starts not a bad return and for some of them games Rooney was absent.

4. There were many reasons you could pin point on why United failed to win the League last season- seven defenders being out for Fulham away, poor decision by the linesman for the Chelsea home game, Burnley’s goalkeeper having the game of his life. To blame Berbatov would be shortsighted and unfair, it also doesn’t help  a striker when he’s in and out of the side and expected to single-handedly win League titles at the end of the season.

In the Summer it was widely expected that Berbatov would leave, but Fergie stuck with him and not only did he retire from International football to concentrate on his United career but he also looked good in pre-season, giving fans a bit of hope that he may finally have the sort if season no one can really criticise.

Following the 3-2 home win against Liverpool it seemed that Fergie’s faith had been more than well rewarded, in fact you’d be amazed that how many boys born the next few days in Manchester were called Dimitar. Berbtov’s hat-trick meant that he could join the likes of Diego Forlan of being guaranteed a place in the hearts of all of the Old Trafford faithful- no matter what he did from then on.

The problem is that since that game Berbatov hasn’t done much at all, in fact he’s put in, on one or two occasions, performances that have been almost shockingly bad. Again though, it must be noted that for every bad thing the Bulgarian does, there’s usually something good that follows it. Take the Spurs game for example, for me that was his worst performance in a United shirt arguably ever, yet only a few days later against City I thought he was excellent and didn’t get the credit he deserved.

People will always use Berbatov’s goalscoring record as proof of how he’s not been good enough at United, however he often brings more to the team than just scoring goals. His link up play with Nani this season has at times been mesmerising and he can keep hold of the ball and bring other players into the game as well as anyone at Old Trafford.

Although a striker’s job should always be primarily to score goals, the fact that no less than 17 United players have scored this season, should indicate just how much the goals are being spread around the team and Berbatov is part of the reason for this. One of the reason’s United failed to win the main honours last season was an over-reliance on Wayne Rooney and this seems to have more than been addressed.

However despite the obvious positives Berbatov has of late, there are certain things which can not be ignored. No goals in ten games is not good enough despite the fact others are scoring. The main problem seems to be Berbatov’s attitude and demeanour, for the game against Rangers he at times looked frustrated and at other times almost disinterested.

One of my main criticisms of Berbatov since he arrived at Old Trafford is the way he can snap at some of the younger players. I remember him berating Kiko Macheda last season for an errant pass and feeling a  bit disappointed. After all shouting at 19 year-old’s is hardly going to help them. Last night against Rangers Berbatov was at it again waving his arms about and shouting at others, when maybe he should have been looking a little closer to home at why he was getting no real joy.

I’m still a big fan of the Bulgarian and think United do need him if they are to achieve success, but he needs to regain his form sooner rather than later if he doesn’t want to be forced into a supporting role. With Rooney back from injury and Chicharito already proving he’s not going to take time to find his feet, Berbatov may struggle to find a regular place in the first team.

With Michael Carrick seemingly back in Fergie’s good graces, then it wouldn’t be too surprising if the United manager reverted back to the 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation he preferred for the big games last season, and that could leave Berbatov warming the bench.

If Berbatov really is to be considered a success at United, now’s the time for the number 9 to truly prove his worth.

13
Nov
10

Five things we learnt from the game against Villa

Vidic- was he pushed or did he jump?

Vidic- was he pushed or did he jump?

In the words of Morrissey ‘stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before,’ United draw away from home, dropping valuable points and leaving Chelsea rubbing their hands in glee-that’s happiness not the annoying American singing show.

United’s away form has gone from causing concern, to being a real worry, to now almost being accepted as inevitable. Saturday’s early kick-off, after all a three o’clock start for the Reds is even rarer than an away victory, was yet another disappointing example of mediocrity.

A sixth away draw from seven is quite frankly abysmal and while the glass half full types will point to a 25 match unbeaten run, and the longest start to  a premier league campaign without defeat for United in eleven years- there is no denying that 12 dropped points at this stage isn’t good enough.

The game against Aston Villa, may have been a case of a point won for United as they were two goals down with less than ten minutes to play, but the Reds’ comeback was only necessary after what was 80 odd minutes of the worst performance by a United team in recent memory.

So what did we learn from the Villa game other than the difference between jumping into the crowd and being pushed, oh and Darren Fletcher is no so well known he no longer needs a name and number on his shirt?

Here’s five things I fathomed from United’s trip to the Midlands.

1. It’s time for the midfield to step out of Scholes’ shadow.
I wrote before the Villa game that I felt that Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher needed to show that they could offer some creativity in the absence of Paul Scholes. To say I couldn’t have been more disappointed would be an understatement. I know neither player is renowned for their attacking prowess but the fact remains both are capable of doing more than tackling -Fletcher- or passing it sideways -Carrick- yet that was all either offered for most of the game.
I’m a big fan of both players but when Scholes is unavailable one of them needs to take a bit responsibility, Saturday just wasn’t good enough and if things don’t improve then Fergie has to get his cheque book out or recall Tom Cleverley.

2. Nani is a livewire that United need. Against City Nani was poor and for much of the game against Villa he wasn’t much better but still managed to come up with a superb cross for Nemanja Vidic’s equaliser. It may not have made up for 85 minutes of rubbishness but he’s one of the few match winners United have at their disposal. He may at times be one of the most frustrating players ever to wear a United shirt but as he’s proven time and again this season, the ridiculous is often followed by the sublime. With Antonio Valencia out of the next few months, United will just have to suffer the torment of the Nani show.

3. Time to throw caution to the wind in these away games. Had United lost three and won three of the six drawn games then they’d obviously have been three points better off. Although by the end of the Villa game United were the far more attacking side, it was obvious after an hour in that it just wasn’t working.

Against City Sir Alex Ferguson decided to bring off Berbatov for Chicharito, against Villa he brought off both for the pair of Gabriel Obertan and Kiko Macheda. It’s time to start going for these games earlier. Leaving at least two strikers and two out and out wingers would have been a start. Chicharito hadn’t been  getting much joy but may have benefited from having Obertan trying to whip some crosses in for him and Macheda alongside him. Fergie could have left Berbatov on and taken off Park who was obviously struggling. Whatever the scenario, seeing Chris Smalling playing upfront was as bemusing as it was embarrassing and should simply not be happening in a United side.

4. Berbatov is not to blame for all United’s woes but his form is worrying. I’m a big believer that Berbatov was a good signing for United, that he does exactly what it says on the tin and that he should not have been sold in the Summer. As long as I live and breathe I defend any man who scores a hat-trick against the dippers. Even without those three goals I’ve long admired Berbatov and think that any suggestion  United should not have signed him and instead tried to keep Carlos Tevez, is flawed on many levels.
That said, the Bulgarian’s form cannot be ignored, no goals in eight games for a United striker is a worry and even though I know he brings more to the team than just goals- and was bought for such- it cannot be ignored. Berbatov seems to suffer from fluctuating confidence and against Villa he seemed, as did many of the United team, well off the pace. The problem for Berbatov, is that while nearly all the United team underperformed his poor showing is often highlighted by some fans and certain sections of the media who cannot wait to chastise him.

Berbatov’s performance against Spurs was one of his worst in a United shirt but I felt he was much better against City, however against Villa, the fact that he missed what was really a golden opportunity in the first half, will only add fuel to his detractors fire. He may benefit from having Rooney alongside him but he needs to realise his positives and try and get his mojo back before the fans he has won over, desert him again.

5. The missing player excuses have got to stop. Rooney, Valencia, Giggs, Scholes, Hargreaves or whoever may be missing but so what?! Villa were playing with a bunch of names I’d never pretend to have heard of, Hogg-wonder if he‘s related to Graeme, Bannan, Albrighton- okay I knew the last one. The point it is, Villa were well under strength and that shouldn’t matter anyway. Any players in the United squad should be good enough to do a job against the likes of Villa and on Saturday too many players just weren’t good enough. Had Villa’s second goal been indicative of the afternoon- United pressing and getting caught on the counter- I could have understood it, but it wasn’t.

United were poor throughout the team, admittedly certain players looked below fitness, Patrice Evra seemed to be struggling and Ji Sung Park look absolutely knackered, but if that’s the case then others should be stepping up. United have won the League over the years because they always gone at teams no matter who’s playing, there’s always been that United belief and pride, and I hate to say it but on Saturday for 80 minutes or more only one team really wanted it.

16
Sep
10

Always look on the bright side of life

Anderson found scouse humour somewhat strange

Anderson found scouse humour somewhat strange

It’s been a somewhat disappointing start to the season for Manchester United, with last-minute goals conceded, a season-ending injury to a star player and former big issue sellers –rather than German superstars -joining the club.  

However while missing out on Mesut Ozil, and being a few minutes away from a perfect league start is annoying it is far from the end of the season- unfortunately the same can’t be said for Antonio Valencia.  No amount of optimism or sugar-coating will hide the fact that the Ecuadorian’s injury is a massive blow to United as he was one of the shining stars in last-season’s campaign.

I’ve still not been able to bring myself to watch it on television- I was sat near enough when it happened to see all I want to of that horrific injury and the reaction of the Ranger’s players said it all.

My main concern with Valencia is not whether we see him this season but that he’s able to re-capture the form he showed last season and this isn’t a Neil Webb –ask your dad- type injury that robs him of a lot of talent.

The feeling around United following the non-event that was a goalless draw against far inferior opposition is that the start to the season has been something of a letdown with needless points dropped, Wayne Rooney making the news for all the wrong reasons, not to mention the –still- ongoing saga of United’s number four.  Some fans –including me- are beginning to resemble the cast of Eastenders, looking ready to burst into fits of rage or just sink into a mood of melancholy at the drop of any more points.

While Owen  Hargreaves is looking about as likely to play for United again as Carlos Tevez, the squad at Old Trafford still has enough quality to challenge for major honours- at least in theory.

The names Rafael Van Der Vaart, Tom Cleverley and Ozil have been spoken about more in the past few days by many United fans and while any of those three would be useful to the squad there’s still a wealth of talent available.

Anderson and  Michael Carrick have yet to really figure this season and both players know that this could be their last season at Old Trafford if they don’t step up their game. While I’ve been critical of both players in the past, I still think they’ve got enough talent to play a big part and hopefully they will.

When it comes to the points United have dropped- and believe me I was as frustrated as anyone at the final whistle of both away games- it’s still not as bad as it may seem.

Chelsea of course have gotten off to a flier but considering their form at the back end of last season and the fixtures they faced can anyone have expected anything less?  

The likes of Wigan, WBA, Stoke and West Ham are the sort of games Carlo Ancelotti would probably have chosen as his first four of the season if he had the choice. Now I’m not getting into any conspiracy theory here that Chelsea have deliberately been given an easy ride but let’s face facts no one can really have expected the Champions to drop points against those teams.

United’s two away fixtures have been  more difficult than any games Chelsea have had so far this season and while the manner of the draws is frustrating there’s still a chance that Ancelotti’s men may return from both grounds with less than maximum points.

It must also be remembered that from the corresponding fixtures last season, United took no points whatsoever, so it’s not all doom and gloom just yet.

While the draw with Rangers was without a doubt one of the most boring 90 minutes I’ve witnessed since England took on the titans from Algeria it’s still need to be put into perspective. Yes, Sir  Alex Ferguson should not have changed ten of his players from the previous game and yes that is the sort of match where the term ‘banker’ could not be more apt- unless applied to someone who works in a bank of course- but you’d still expect United to top their group.

Going to places like Valencia, Glasgow and anywhere in Turkey is never easy for teams but they’re hardly the cream of Europe and quite frankly if Fergie’s men can’t get a result from those games then the Champion’s League is beyond them anyway.  I fully expect Fergie to realise the limits of which players he can and cannot leave out- he’s already admitted as much about Dimitar Berbatov – and play a much stronger side in the remaining games.

When it comes to Rooney- although his performance against Rangers was subdued- he’s shown enough in the game against West Ham and for England that he’s putting his World Cup and subsequent  ladies of the night debacle behind him and getting back –slowly- to being the striker we all know he is.

Fortunately for Wazza unlike last season, this time round he actually has a world-class partner who’s playing like he is actually world –class so it’s not all up to him to provide United’s goals.  Berbatov’s start to the season- while far from perfect has been a massive improvement on last term and he’s looking sharp.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, United lost the title last season not due to defensive frailties but simply because of an over-reliance on Rooney- Chelsea had Frank Lampard to lighten Didier Drogba’s goal load- who did United have?- other than possibly ‘own goals.’

If Berbatov can hit 20 goals this season then United stand a good chance of seeing the title return to the ‘Theatre of Dreams.’

The main worry defensively is the recent penchant for conceding late goals, what united need is a world-class defender with bags of experience who can help steady the ship, oh erm hang on. The return of Rio Ferdinand is exactly what’s needed and if he can stay fit then the one really worrying factor of United’s play this season could be resolved.

Even the Valencia injury may not be season-ending with recent reports indicating he could play a part at the back end of the season.  There’s also Gabriel Obertan to return who may well rise to the challenge of filling one of last season’s members of the PFA team of the year’s boots. Obertan has show signs in the reserves that he’s the real deal- now’s his chance to prove it.  

The point I’m making is that while it’s not been the start many United fans were hoping for, it’s far from the disaster certain people- including those in the press who love to see United fail- would have us believe.

What United could really do with is a home game against an arch-rival who are really struggling, to get the mood and confidence buzzing around Old Trafford again. If only we had a game like that coming up……………

13
Sep
10

five things we learnt from United’s draw with Everton

"your exit points are here and here"

"your exit points are here and here"

Manchester United’s defeat, sorry draw against Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday was tagged as a shining example of the drama of the Premiership by some in the media. For many United fans however it merely underlined certain frailties that haven’t been addressed since the Fulham game and left a bad taste in the mouth.

While following that disappointing result at Craven Cottage- from a United point of view, there were still some positives to be taken, it’s a little harder to keep your chin up when your side gives away a two-goal lead in stoppage time. It was so painful that I couldn’t put myself through it again on MOTD , me and a mate actually debating whether to watch a sky + recording of X-factor his missus had taped when we got home from the pub. Eventually though it was time for some honest reflection and while it still makes me feel slightly sick, it’s not time to buy a City shirt and sell my soul to the devil just yet.

There are several lessons to be learned from Saturdays game and none of them involve Wayne Rooney- that’ll be the last time he gets mentioned in this article I assure you. Evra’s human and men approaching middle age get tired are among two of the things we learned from Saturdays game at Goodison.

1. Kill or be killed. While three goals is usually enough to see United beat even the strongest of attacking sides, there can be no denying that there was ample chance to put the game well and truly to bed before the final two minutes. Both Dimitar Berbatov and Nani- it’s him again- could have, well should have, done better with chances they had when the game was at 3-1.

What’s particularly frustrating about it was that both players are capable of doing much better than they did with their final opportunities and it was a case of being far too lackadaisical and treating the game as though it was won. There’s no real excuse for not making sure. Berbatov has been on fine form of late and its seems harsh to apportion any of the blame for United’s failure to win at his door. It still grates though that what should have been a simple goal for Ryan Giggs or Nani had the Bulgarian squared the ball, ended with a rather timid shot that went wide. Nani’s decision making also again was called into question, as he also wasted a good chance at the end when he had better options.

2. Patrice Evra is human. It’s been a long, long time -in a galaxy far far away- that I can recall saying the words ‘Evra had a ‘mare’ but unfortunately on Saturday he did. Not since his debut against City can I remember my favourite United player looking so out of sorts. It was a strange sight to witness and not one I want to see again, but United’s left back gave the sort of performance that you’d associate with John O’Shea on a very bad day. It was totally out of character and hopefully not something we’ll see again soon. Why was Evra so bad? Well he’s had his fair share of bad press since the World Cup plus his appeal against his five match French ban was recently turned down so that may have affected him. Perhaps Fergie should have rested him for an extra week following the World Cup and he is actually suffering from a bit of fatigue. Either way United need all their top players performing to the best of their ability with some more tough games coming up. On Saturday Evra showed that he’s not infallible, let’s just hope it was a minor blip rather than any real problem the Frenchman is suffering from.

3. Rio’s return can‘t come quick enough. The name on almost every United fans lips at full time, was not Wayne..sorry I almost forgot, was not any missing striker, it was that of Mr Ferdinand, who’s return now seems to be more vital than ever.

 The freedom with which Cahill managed to score Everton’s second was slightly worrying, the fact that Mikel Arteta had enough time to make a brew before he banged in the equaliser was shocking. A few people pointed the finger at Jonny Evans for either -or both- goals and while I think it was a team -lack of- effort that contributed to them rather than one individual there’s no doubt that Rio’s return would help sort the defence out no end. The question is will Ferdinand be-in true Take That style- back for good? After all a man who last season was behind Ledley King in Premier League appearances can hardly be counted on to play the majority of games.

 In the past I’ve actually advocated giving Evans a chance even if Rio’s fit just because the Irish defender stays fit and would benefit from a stable run in the side. However, even I have to admit that it would be foolish not to put a fit Ferdinand back in the side. His organisational skills or ‘silks’ as he calls them on twitter, were sorely missed at Goodison. While were on the subject of changing the defence, is it not time to forget about playing Gary Neville in difficult games?

That may sound harsh but I for the life of me can’t work out why Wes Brown has become a reserve team regular recently and also why he no longer seems a viable option at right back? People will say Rafael is too inexperienced but how is he going to gain big game experience if he doesn’t play in the big games. Like Evans It wasn’t Neville’s fault for the goals but is he really the best man for the job at right back? I think not.

4. We‘ve got a squad so we need to use it. Having three outfield players over 34 playing a full 90 minutes was a bit of a strange decision by Sir Alex Ferguson to say the least. Both Neville and Scholes looked a bit dead on their feet towards the end of the match, and had either or both been replaced then things may have been different. Neville gave the ball away for their third while Scholes failed to pick up Arteta, yet can we be surprised? Neville’s hardly had any match practice while Scholes has been ever-present this season. I can understand why Fergie took off Evra for Park, but I don’t see what harm it would have done to introduce Rafael or Darron Gibson- or both -for Scholes and Neville. Then there was Nani who seemed to disappear towards the end, leaving poor old Gary Neville totally exposed down the right hand side. Why Fergie was reluctant to change it, when there were obviously tired legs out there baffles me slightly.

5. Teams aren’t giving up anymore. In the past even away from home it’s not been unusual for certain teams to simply accept that they’ve lost the game when United are leading with only a couple of minutes left. I’m not claiming that teams cannot be bothered, just that some opposing players allow their heads to drop slightly in the closing minutes as they succumb to the idea that the game is now lost.

 However, this is no longer the case. As Fulham showed two weeks ago and now Everton have proven, teams are not going to roll over and die against United anymore. If United are to wrestle the title from Chelsea’s grasp- and for the record I’m not buying into the idea that it’s practically impossible after only four games and no defeats- then they’re going to have to prepare for battle. A result against United is still the premier scalp for many players, and the air of invincibility that Fergie’s men had a couple of seasons ago has long gone.

Teams are willing to fight to the death- not literally , unless its Wolves if the press is to be believed- so it’s time for United to roll up their sleeves and get ready for 94-minute slogs. Last season many a United fan -myself included-laughed at the ‘noisy neighbours’ penchant for conceding late goals- well if their not careful that particular affliction could become one associated with the Red half of Manchester.

31
Aug
10

5 things we learnt from the victory against west ham

Rooney - 57 minutes without a goal!

Rooney - 57 minutes without a goal!

Five things we learnt from Manchester United’s game against West Ham.

Watching Manchester comfortably put West Ham to the sword at a rain soaked Old Trafford this weekend arguably told us very little about which way the title will be heading. United’s 3-0 victory did have some lessons to teach us though, a few we were expecting – Wayne Rooney needs time but is on his way back to his best- and one or two that were a bit of a surprise- Nemanja Vidic has leapfrogged Ryan Giggs on the captaincy stakes. Here’s five things we were able to ascertain from United’s fairly routine victory other than the fact that Louis Boa Morte and Keiron Dyer still exist.

  1. 1. He comes from Serbia he’ll f*cking skipper ya. Nemanja Vidic wore the Captain’s armband and certainly did the role justice. With some fine tackles, one on Carlton Cole was particularly impressive not to mention a range of passing I’d almost forgot he had, the Serbian was on top form. While Vidic’s ability may be no real revelation the fact that he was handed the Captain’s armband over Giggs, may just mean that Fergie wants a skipper who’s going to start practically every game. The only question remaining now is will Rio Ferdinand be relieving him of his leadership duties when he returns from injury- judging by Saturdays display Vidic certainly doesn’t deserve to lose them.
  2. Get ready for the Nani rollercoaster. Last week following his penalty miss, many United fans were left feeling a little annoyed with Mr Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha, however the winger banished that miss to the distant memory banks with a performance against West Ham that was at times mesmerising.  Nani’s link up lay with Dimitar Berbatov was mouth-watering and gave us the impression that Nani may have just gate crashed Rooney and Berbatov’s strike partnership and turned it into a three pronged attack. While Nani is still occasionally guilty of giving the ball away and should have done better when put through by Giggs, a player of his ability is allowed a modicum of inconsistency as long as he can be relied upon to be a threat. It’s looking like the ‘next Ronaldo’ tag could finally be rightfully forgotten as the Portuguese winger carves his own name into the list of Old Trafford favourites.
  3. Defenders beware Rooney is returning. With all the talk of how many minutes, games, hours, seconds, episodes of Coronation Street Wazza had gone without a goal it was a relief to finally see that bit of statistical annoyance squashed. While Saturday’s performance was by no means vintage  Rooney it was arguably his best one since Sunderland last season. His goal from the penalty spot was well taken and may just relieve some of the pressure that seems to have been heaped upon one of the best strikers on the planet since before the World Cup. All strikers have barren spells but not many carry their team almost single handed to a title challenge as Rooney did last season. Hopefully the media can now concentrate on how long it’s been since Darren Fletcher took a throw-in or something equally as frivolous and let Rooney get back to the business of giving defenders-well in fact whole teams -nightmares.
  4. Spreading the love. Nani and Rooney’s goals mean that six United players have now got on the score sheet since the season started- not counting last season’s third highest scorer- own goals. That’s quite impressive considering were only three games in and highlights the fact that the over-reliance on Rooney may become a thing of the past. United’s most successful teams have always had goals spread throughout the team and other than last season and maybe the Ruud Van Nistelrooy era, there hasn’t been one sole United striker everyone’s relied upon. Even when Cristiano Ronaldo was breaking records, Rooney, and a certain Argentinean along with the supporting cast all weighed in with goals. A return to the sort of Total Football ‘everyone doing his bit’ type of scoring we’ve seen in previous seasons at Old Trafford may be the best way to stop opposing teams finding a way to try and snuff United out.
  5. Michael’s face a real fight. Michael Carrick and Michael Owen’s fifteen minute cameos hardly cemented their place in the starting line up against Everton next week, it did however show that both men are still inSir Alex Ferguson’s thoughts, the question is are they likely to be given a chance soon? With Chicharito being the new buzz word around Old Trafford Owen may have been pleased to even come off the bench , while Carrick has been out of favour for some time now. With Berbatov and Rooney looking like a solid partnership Owen may well have to settle for sub appearances and the occasional start against the ‘lesser teams.’  Carrick may well get a chance when Fergie decides to rest Paul Scholes but when will that be? Scholes gave another master class performance on Saturday- I’m sorry to add to the hundreds of people who’ve used that term to describe the ginger one’s displays but it really is the most apt. With Everton away next Saturday, Fergie is unlikely to rest his midfield maestro for that one, then there’s the first CL game against Rangers- which will no doubt be seen as a ‘must win’ in order to get off to the right start. After the Champions League game comes the visit of every United fan’s favourites Liverpool, so Carrick may have to wait a little while before he’s given a start. With Anderson back from injury and Darron Gibson, plus Tom Cleverly- if he isn’t loaned out – also waiting in the wings, then Carrick has got a real fight on his hands to regain his place. His cause isn’t helped by the fact it’s now becoming apparent there’s only two central midfield places up for grabs rather than the three of last season.
12
Aug
10

Ten Things United Must Do To Win Back ‘Our Trophy’

Will we be seeing scenes like this at OT come May?

Will we be seeing scenes like this at OT come May?

With last season’s title race going right down to the wire with Chelsea edging it over Manchester United by a single point every game counted towards the title. This summer has seen a distinct lack of major transfer activity from either club with Chelsea having something if a mini-exodus and bringing in only Yossi Banayoun, while United have made two additions, in Chris Smalling and a certain diminutive Mexican who’s already grabbed a few headlines with the most bizarre Wembley goal since Emile Heskey’s last one. The question is are the new signings enough to bring the trophy back to Old Trafford, just what do United need to do to wrestle the title back from West London and is Dimitar Berbatov ever going to revert back to his headband? Here’s a list of ten things which need to happen for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men to overtake Liverpool in the title winning stakes.

1. More goals from midfield. While many a United fan is quick to point out the deficiencies of Berbatov and even Ferguson has lamented the injury to Michael Owen that robbed United of his services for the business end of the season, the fact remains the midfield did not score nearly enough goals last season. Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Antonio Valencia, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Nani managed 24 league goals between them, the same amount that Frank Lampard scored. While certain players –Fletcher for example- are not in the side to score goals, while Giggs and Scholes can hardly be expected to hit double figures at their age- it is still obvious United need more goals coming from the midfield department. If Rooney continues to operate as a lone striker –as he did for much of last season- then someone behind him needs to step up. Personally I’d like to see Nani and Valencia weighing in with a few more this time round.

2. A bit more stability in the starting XI. I fully understand that with United chasing honours on four fronts, the need for a large squad and a bit of rotation but surely it’s time for a little moderation. It seems every week there’s a new right back, its 4-5-1 then it’s 4-4-2, Berbatov starts, grabs a goal, then is dropped for the next game, Anderson’s in, then he’s out again, ditto Ji Sung Park. Admittedly injuries and the ages of certain players have to dictate Fergie’s thinking and the days of the man on the street naming the Saturday’s starting XI are long gone. However it could be time to give some players more than just one game in every three, and try and get a bit more cohesion going between certain ones. I’ve said it before and it may sound crazy but unless Rio Ferdinand can get back to proper full fitness, I’d make Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic my starting centre backs for every game. Stability has often been the key to United’s success and maybe a bit more is needed.

3. Give youth a chance. With Tom Cleverly not going out on loan, and the Da Silva twins and Macheda getting a chance both at the end of last season and in this pre-season then could we now see a few youngsters starting more than just the Carling Cup games? Hopefully yes. If United are not going to buy Mesut Ozil- to be honest I don’t think they will- then why not give either Darron Gibson or Cleverly the chance to have a run in the side. After all despite what a certain Scottish pundit may have claimed you can win things with kids. United have bags of experience in every department so throwing one or two youngsters into the mix shouldn’t lead to disaster and what better way for a developing player to learn than to play alongside the likes of Scholes, Giggs or Rooney.

4. Darren Fletcher to raise his game. At first this may seem blasphemous, after all ‘super Daz’ was one of United’s best performers last season, putting in the sort of barnstorming displays you’d associate with Roy Keane. However the reason I think he should raise his game is simple- because he can. While there’s no denying against the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, Fletcher bosses the midfield so much he even had Arsene Wenger complaining of his ‘anti-football’- so basically tackling people then- but against lesser opposition Fletcher can occasionally be a little less influential. I know it seems harsh to criticise such a dedicated player but let’s be brutally honest, there are times when his passing can go awry a little too often, and despite what I said earlier about him not being in the side to score goals that doesn’t mean he can’t. His brace against City and his superb volley – or should that be superlative strike- in the home game against Everton show that Fletcher knows where the goal is. I know he’s quality I just feel that if he were to perform against the likes of Sunderland as he does against the top teams, he could well be the difference between second and first.

5. Michael Carrick. This one doesn’t need a Fletcher-type apology or explanation, it’s shockingly simple. He’s got to start performing consistently. Carrick’s been at Old Trafford for four seasons now yet amazingly the jury still seems to be out on him. Three title winning campaigns would be enough to put most players in the pantheon of club legends but Carrick has a knack for going missing when he’s needed most and sometimes making costly errors. The games against Wolves away and Liverpool and Bayern Munich at home were cases in point. While Carrick’s mistakes in the first two may have been academic his failure to deal with the danger in the Champion’s League, then getting caught dilly-dallying on the ball, cost United two goals, and to some critics the tie. While I think there was more to it than just Carrick, the fact that he was dropped from the United side after his similar blunder gifted Liverpool an early Old Trafford lead, may mean that Fergie is running out of patience with a player who should now be hitting his peak not going backwards. If he doesn’t perform well at the beginning of the campaign, I feel it’s time to give someone else a chance.

6. Beat their title rivals. Ok this may sound like the sort of obvious statement you would associate with David Pleat but it’s true. The past two seasons have seen United lose home and away to their nearest rivals. In 2008-09 they got away with it mainly due the fact that by the time Liverpool came to Old Trafford and won 4-1, the title race was all but over. Last season however, even a draw in either game against Chelsea would have been enough to see United win the title for a record breaking nineteenth time but it wasn’t to be. United have usually performed well against their title rivals and there’s no doubt that a man has proud as Ferguson will be looking to regain that tradition this season. Winning against your rivals doesn’t just give you a points advantage it can often help psychologically convince you that you’re the better team and it’s time United took the edge on both counts.

7. Believe the hype and give Chicharito a proper run. I’ve tried not to get over excited about Javier Hernandez, but it’s been about as difficult as liking Ashley Cole as the ‘Little Pea’ shone in both the World Cup and United’s pre-season. Whether he’s banging in screamers against Argentina or using his teeth in the Community Shield, it’s obvious that he’s class and rather than wrapping him up in cotton wool or saving him for special occasions like the nice china, Fergie should unleash him and let him stake a claim for a regular starting place. He’s been compared to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, which is a bit unfair, but if he is going to be another ‘baby-faced assassin’ then he should at the very least be an obligatory substitute coming on after 60 minutes in every game.

8. Improve the atmosphere at Old Trafford. Whether United have money or not chanting and singing is still free- mind you give it time and they’ll probably charge us- so there’s no excuses for having a lack of noise at Old Trafford. United still have the highest attendance in the League, yet at times away fans of a mere few thousand are out-singing 70-odd thousand Reds. ‘We want Glazers out’ is one chant that seems to be heard without any problems but it’s hardly likely to motivate the team. While I’m not saying that shouldn’t be sung, I’m merely stating that the fact remains personally I’ve been a bit embarrassed by the lack of atmosphere at OT at times and think a bit more noise wouldn’t go amiss. United may have only dropped eight home points last season, but if they can get the sort of atmosphere you hear against City going every week, then there’s every reason to feel they won’t drop any. This isn’t something the club should be culpable for, it’s up to the fans and don’t worry I’ve brought plenty of vuvuzelas back from South Africa so message me and I’ll send you one.

9. Take the burden off Wayne Rooney. Sounds simple doesn’t it? It’s a bit like saying score more goals than the opposition or win more games than your nearest rivals, but the fact is, United cannot win the title with Rooney alone. When Cristiano Ronaldo was scoring goals like they were going out of fashion, a large part of that was down to Rooney. Last season Didier Drogba had Lampard to help him out, Arsenal will no doubt have Robin Van Persie and Cesc Fabregas this time round. Rooney needs someone to weigh in with not just their fair share of goals but also assists and being another option that players look for when United are attacking. Berbatov, Hernandez or one of the midfield, it doesn’t matter but when Rooney’s fit and playing it shouldn’t mean that if he has a quiet game so do United. When Rooney’s out, it’s time for someone else to perform; no doubt all eyes will be on Berbatov who came up short against Chelsea and Blackburn last season. Whether or not this will be the Bulgarian’s season remains to be seen, but someone needs to give ‘r Wazza a hand.

10. Play Edwin Van Der Sar in every league game. VDS performance in the Community Shield was yet another in a long list of exemplary shifts between the sticks at Old Trafford. The Dutchman was injured for the beginning of last season and Ben Foster was preferred to Tomas Kuszczak and all but ended both his United and England career with a series of inept displays. A loss away to Burnley and a disappointing home draw to Sunderland came on Foster’s watch, while Kuszczak oversaw the home loss to Aston Villa and the away loss to Fulham- although to be fair the entire defence was injured for that one. Van Der Sar may be 40 but if he can manage the league games and Fergie rests him for the cup ones, he may just be the difference between another near-miss or making United the most successful ever team-at least domestically- in England.

23
Apr
10

Is Fergie wrecking England’s world cup hopes?

Rooney- every reason to be looking knackered.

Wayne Rooney ‘s season, has been one of personal triumphs, regardless of how the League campaign ends, his goals, performances and all- round heroics, mean that he will be able to look back over 2009-10 with a degree of satisfaction.

It’s not just that Wazza has stepped out of Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow, carried the United team so often that he’s in danger of resembling Peter Beardsley, or finally ended his fondness for rushes of blood to the head. It’s that in a season when United have been by their own standards, quite often p*ss poor, Rooney’s been able to maintain a title challenge that by rights should have been dead and buried at Christmas.

Sir Alex Ferguson, knows a thing or two about football. Yes I know that’s something of a controversial statement- right up there with Emile Heskey could do with a few more goals, or Adrian Chiles is getting annoying- but oblige me. Fergie realised quite a while ago that Rooney isn’t just important to United’s title challenge, he’s essential. In fact I’d argue that United would have a greater chance beating one of the better teams in the league by playing without a goalkeeper than they would without WR10 – well it worked for Ronaldo so I thought I’d give it a go, but it just sounds like a post code in Worcester or somewhere, so I won’t do it again.

With some of the results United have achieved – or should I say the teams playing United have achieved- when Rooney’s been missing, it’s obvious no match can be taken for granted. This isn’t like the good old days of Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer- backed up by a free-scoring midfield. Then Fergie could rest any combination of two of those and the other two would step in and do a job. This isn’t 1999-2001. If United are to win even the supposed ‘bankers’ this time round, more often than not every Stretford Ender’s favourite scouser has to be on the team sheet.

Don’t get me wrong footballing colossus’s such as Bolton and Wolves have been put to the sword without Rooney- well Bolton were, Wolves were unlucky. But as Blackburn proved, without Rooney United are not so much a ‘force to be reckoned with’ as a team bereft of a leader, goalscorer, threat or idea. They need Rooney, like Frank Ribery and Carlos Tevez need to be good at football to attract beautiful women- although in Ribery’s case even that isn’t enough- allegedly.

Lately we’ve seen Rooney being picked when he could obviously do with being rested, and the results have been mixed. Against Bayern Munich at Old Trafford, he seemed okay to begin with but then following a dirty, clever, know-exactly-what-his-weak-spot-is-so-hit-him-there-type of challenge, by Mark Van Bommel – he was effectively a passenger for the rest of the game- until he was subbed far too late for my liking.

Then after being rested against Blackburn, which surely meant he was in absolutely no condition to play whatsoever, he was back for the Manchester derby.

It’s here that the real depth of the problem facing, Rooney, Fergie and in-turn England, comes to light. Before the game it was rumoured that England’s brightest star, had needed fluid draining from his ankle to be able to play. Now I’m no doctor but surely if someone requires fluid draining from any part of their body then their certainly not fit enough to be running round a football pitch in one of the most hyped-up games of the season. Even if ankle-fluid-draining-gate is untrue, the fact is Rooney looked far from his normal self at Eastlands, so much so that he didn’t even look all that surprised when the bench decided to bring him off.

The point I’m trying to make, is that against Bayern and City, he arguably should not have even been in the squad. He obviously needs rest and is not getting it at the moment and highly unlikely to get it until the season ends.

You could argue that even a below-par Rooney is better than a fully fit somebody else- Dimitar Berbatov for example, but then if you can’t trust your £30million plus striker to step up when he’s needed then whats the point of him being there?

Against Bayern Munich, for every man that says Rooney being on the pitch, at least following his injury was a mistake, there’s someone who thinks he was right to play, as it brought space to others, because Bayern were so wary of him. There’s also the point that Fergie did ask Rooney of he was fit to carry on and got the ‘thumbs-up’ signal which is universally accepted in almost every country as meaning ‘happy days’ or something to that effect- except in Bangladesh, Iran and Iraq where it’s obscene- in case you were wondering.

Then there’s the derby, yes Rooney was subdued slightly but United won and surely the ends justify the means, even if he wasn’t on the pitch when the winner was scored.

So what should Fergie do, rest Rooney and see United lose? No. Of course not, but there must be a real danger that the way things are going Rooney may end the season being wheeled out-literally- against Stoke on the final day.

As long as United are in the title race- which could well go all the way to the last day and Rooney says he’s fit, which barring an amputation he’s always going to claim- in fact even then I think he’d argue a case for playing- a bit like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail “it’s only a flesh wound.” Sorry , I digress, yes, Rooney will always want to play and Fergie will always play him, at least for the next two weeks.

All this leaves the question, will there be anything left of Wayne Rooney for South Africa? As the last World Cup proved an unfit Wayne Rooney is no good to anyone. Alternatively, is Fabio Capello faced with the same dilemma as Fergie? Leave Rooney out or play an unfit Wayne Rooney? Either option is fraught with problems.

One thing’s for sure, Alex Ferguson won’t be losing any sleep over England’s worries when it comes to WR10- okay so that really doesn’t work and I definitely won’t do it again. Many England fans however, may just have a little cause for concern.