Archive for the 'Must-win games' Category


Five things we learned from United v Arsenal

Park scores yet another goal against Arsenal

Park scores yet another goal against Arsenal

It’s all becoming a bit predictable whenever United have faced Arsenal in recent years. Ji Sung Park will get a goal, Arsenal will lose the midfield battle, in fact it’s become such a walkover in that department for United that the term ‘battle’ is somewhat misleading.

United’s defence will cope admirably with whatever’s thrown their way and Wayne Rooney will successfully lead the line all by his lonesome. Oh and United will win. Arsene Wenger entered the post match press conference with a weariness to him that must come from the frustration of having to explain why his team cannot make the step up and beat the ‘top two.’ In fact when one journalist asked him that very question – even going as far as to say “thrashed by Chelsea” Wenger looked ready to jump over the microphones and batter him. Instead the Arsenal manager simply retorted- after a long pause and the sort of stare that would make many men apologise for such an incredulous question and ask him one about his glorious ‘Invincibles’ side instead- “you know about football, I don’t need to tell you, you know it all.”

However despite Wenger blaming the football pitch for the latest loss to his old rival, there can be no denying that Arsenal’s record of one win in ten against United, tells you that there’s a reason the Gunners haven’t won the title in six years.

 So what did we learn from last night’s game other than some people are willing to be told what to chant while others aren’t? Here’s five things I picked up:

 1.  Anderson is finally looking like the player United bought from Porto. As soon as Mr Luis de Abreu Oliveira stormed up, chest puffed out in Moscow and blasted the ball past Petr Cech, nearly every United knew what there’d been signs of during that season- Anderson was made for Manchester United. Yet during the last two seasons question marks have been raised as to whether Anderson would ever make the grade. There’d been stories of falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson and rumours that the Brazilian would actually be heading for the Old Trafford exit door.  Anderson, picked up from where he’d left off against Blackburn last night with a commanding performance that seemed to dominate the game.

 Anderson was simply awesome last night- creating chances, breaking down Arsenal and moving the ball forward with the confidence you’d expect from a Brazilian footballer. Before the game all the talk was of Samir Nasri and whether Cesc Fabregas would start, but after the game all the talk was of the brilliance of the Brazilian.

 2. Rio Ferdinand is the difference between 1st and 2nd. Last season the England skipper managed just 12 league games as United missed out on the title by a point- remember that John Terry. This season he’s already managed almost as many and its no coincidence United are top of the league and looking odds on to win back “their trophy”. All the United defence were immense last night and any one of them could have staked a claim for man of the match.

 For me though Ferdinand was worth his accolade, Nemanja Vidic may wear the armband but the true leader on the pitch was Ferdinand who on his day is still the best defender in the business.

 3. The press don’t know anything. According to reports that I’ve read over the past few weeks, then the likes of Anderson, Ji Sung Park and Michael Carrick are all going to be sold to an alien space monkey from the planet Dairy Lea- okay so I made that last bit up. It seems that Fergie was set for a clear out and the aforementioned trio were top of the ebay list. The only problem is no one bothered to tell Fergie of his imminent sale and it now looks about as likely as Carlos Tevez still being at Manchester City next season. Anderson, Carrick and Park have played important roles in these past few weeks and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue.

 4. Rafael is the right right back. I’ve said it so many times its becoming tedious but I’ll say it again, it’s time to let Rafael Da Silva have the right back slot full time. I’m a big fan of Wes Brown and would love to see Gary Neville make his 400th league appearance this season, but there’s no reason not to play the young Brazilian week in week out. He’s used in the big games so why not the smaller ones? Rafael has been a real breath of fresh air this season, fitting into the defence with ease, marking the greatest player in the history of world football out of the game and bombing forward and supporting the attack like a man possessed. There’s always been the feeling that if United could find an equal equivalent to Patrice Evra on the right side then the defence would be perfect. He may not quite be up to Evra’s standards yet, but there’s no denying Rafael is gradually getting there.

5. Wayne Rooney is back to his best. What? He missed a penalty, he hasn’t scored from open play since 1997, he’s scouse. There can be many reasons why not everyone would agree that ‘r Wazza is back to his optimum performance level but I actually believe he’s practically there. The penalty miss aside Rooney was superb last night and if you cast your mind back to the same fixture last year, when everyone was drooling over him, he played just as well last night as he did then. It doesn’t matter who’s scoring for United as long as someone is and no one knows that better than Rooney. The goals will come, it’s inevitable, but in the mean time the performances have been sublime. Last night saw Rooney picking out some wonderful passes, leading the line well and generally looking like one of the world’s best strikers.

The ball from his penalty kick may still be circling the earth’s orbit but Rooney’s contribution last night was everything you could want from him.


Does FIFPRO shortlist highlight United’s flaw?

Carrick and Scholes could be the key to United's season

Carrick and Scholes could be the key to United's season

The shortlist for the worldwide football players union Fifpro team of the year were announced yesterday and despite what every British news outlet has been stating, it Gareth Bale wasn’t the only nominee from the Premiership.

With no less than 16 players from the English Premier League making the 55 man list, Manchester United and Chelsea are the best represented with six apiece. For United, Edwin  Van Der Sar, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov all make the list.

There can be no denying that having six players shortlisted for such a prestigious award, voted for by fellow professionals is pleasing and indicates the quality that Sir Alex Ferguson has at his disposal. However without wishing to sound like a miserable b*stard- although I probably will, the fact that not one United midfielder made the shortlist seems to highlight a problem that’s been niggling at the back of my mind for some time now.

Having no midfielders represented on the shortlist is by no means a disaster and doesn’t even mean that there aren’t any players that don’t truly deserve to be their – after all these types of lists and teams are all fairly subjective. You could argue that Paul Scholes or Darren Fletcher deserve to be on the list, but at who’s expense? Maybe Javier Mascherano didn’t have the best season at Liverpool, but he did Captain Argentina to the world cup and also secured a move to the Nou Camp so it was hardly a disaster. Kaka took a little while to get going at Real Madrid but 8 La Liga goals in 21 starts last season, followed by a decent world cup means his place is more than justified.

Of the midfielders who ply their trade in England, Frank Lampard and  Cesc Fabregas had superb season’s and truly deserve their places.  Michael Essien despite his injury problems was still an important part of Chelsea’s title win and has done well so far this season- regardless of his needless sending off against Fulham.

As for Steven Gerrard, last season was hardly a success for his team and this season hasn’t been much better- I really enjoyed writing that- but there can be no denying that if it wasn’t for him Liverpool would be in a far worse position and his performances have often been excellent- I didn’t enjoy writing that.

The point is, there’s not really any midfielders who don’t deserve to be there, which worries me slightly from a United point of view. If United are to challenge for the top honours in Europe- then they’re going to have to face the names on this list and beat them. The likes of Xavi, Esteban Cambiasso, Thomas Muller and Xabi Alonso will need to be dealt with if the Champion’s League trophy is to make its way to Old Trafford.

Then there’s the Premier League battles ahead, Sir Alex Ferguson has already stated he believes the title could be decided by United’s games against Chelsea and the midfield tussles often hold the key.

While I’d always fancy United to put up a strong showing against the title holders, the double loss to them last season cannot be ignored- despite the poor decisions by certain officials.

Looking at the midfield of United there are two players who stand out as being world-class and arguably contenders for the Fifpro list. Paul Scholes has shown at the back end of this season and the beginning of this one that he’s still one of the best midfielders in the world, the only problem being his age and ability to play twice a week. Darren Fletcher has at times shown why he was so sorely missed that night in Rome and if he can find consistency against the smaller teams I wouldn’t bet against him making the Fifpro 2011 team.

Of the other players that make up United’s midfield, there’s only Michael Carrick who could be considered potentially world class. Carrick is United marmite, with his supporters insisting he’s one of the finest midfielders in Europe, with a passing range comparable to anyone and the ability to dictate the pace of games.  His detractors however, point to his errors against Bayern Munich last season and his somewhat erratic appearance record since as proof that he’s not really good enough to dominate the middle of the park.  Whatever your view on  Carrick, personally I’m a fan, there’s a doubt whether he’s even truly won his place in Fergie’s strongest XI back yet, so the argument as to just how good is he is remains somewhat moot. Anderson just hasn’t progressed since his first season and while he still may have a future at Old Trafford, he’s not at the level of world-class yet. In fact it still remains to be seen whether Mr Luis De Abreu Oliveira will actually make the grade at United.

Then there’s also Owen Hargreaves, who if he was fit would be there or there abouts when it comes to the top midfielders in Europe, the only problem with that is he hasn’t been fit for over two seasons now.

United have had a somewhat mixed start to the season, I say mixed because despite the fact they’re still unbeaten there’s been one or two games where the performances have been a little lacklustre. However, being joint top of the League, through to the knockout phase of the Champion’s League and yet to taste defeat is ostensibly a superb start to any clubs season. My concern lies with whether United have the midfield to face a truly big team and beat them.

The three toughest fixtures United have faced so far this season- at least on paper, are arguably, City and Valencia away and Spurs at home. All three games were against top quality players, yet for me the real test for United is yet to come.

My concern is do the Reds have the midfield personnel to beat the Chelseas, Real Madrids and Barcelonas of this world? When Rafael Van Der Vaart signed for Spurs, more than a few United fans felt he may be the answer to the creative force in midfield the team is crying out for, especially when Scholes isn’t playing. Ditto Mesut Ozil.

While there’s no point crying over absent Germans- in fact its usually a time for rejoicing- the question marks surrounding United’s midfield department still remain. Tom Cleverly could well find himself thrown into first team action once his loan spell at Wigan ends, but even the most optimistic United fan will have doubts as to whether the youngsters ready to push United towards Champion’s League or even League glory.

The January transfer window is pretty useless to United in terms of drafting someone in for the Champion’s League as most of the top players will already be cup-tied, however Fergie may decide that buying someone who can do a job in the League and allowing Scholes more time to focus on Europe could be a worthwhile idea.

Although it’s obvious United still have a strong squad and some of the world’s best players, the lack of a real midfield superstar may prove to be the difference between a good season and  a great one.

Here’s the Fifpro10 list in full:

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Italy/Juventus), Iker Casillas (Spain/Real Madrid), Petr Cech (Czech Republic/Chelsea), Julio César (Brazil/Inter), Edwin van der Sar (The Netherlands/Manchester United)

Defenders: Daniel Alves (Brazil/Barcelona), Gareth Bale (Wales/Tottenham Hotspur), Michel Bastos (Brazil/Olympique Lyon), Ashley Cole (England/Chelsea), Patrice Evra (France/Manchester United), Rio Ferdinand (England/Manchester United), Philipp Lahm (Germany/Bayern Munchen), Lúcio (Brazil/Inter), Maicon (Brazil/Inter), Marcelo (Brazil/Real Madrid), Alessandro Nesta (Italy/AC Milan), Pepe (Portugal/Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Spain/Barcelona), Carles Puyol (Spain/Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Spain/Real Madrid), Walter Samuel (Argentina/Inter), John Terry (England/Chelsea), Thiago Silva (Brazil/AC Milan), Nemanja Vidic (Serbia/Manchester United), Javier Zanetti (Argentina/Inter)

Midfielders: Esteban Cambiasso (Argentina/Inter), Michael Essien (Ghana/Chelsea), Cesc Fàbregas (Spain/Arsenal), Steven Gerrard (England/Liverpool), Andrès Iniesta (Spain/Barcelona), Kaká (Brazil/Real Madrid), Frank Lampard (England/Chelsea), Javier Mascherano (Argentina/Barcelona), Thomas Müller (Germany/Bayern München), Mesut Özil (Germany/Real Madrid), Andrea Pirlo (Italy/AC Milan), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany/Bayern München), Wesley Sneijder (The Netherlands/Inter), Xabi Alonso (Spain/Real Madrid), Xavi (Spain/Barcelona).

Forwards: Dimitar Berbatov (Bulgaria/Manchester United), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast/Chelsea), Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon/Inter), Diego Forlán (Uruguay/Atletico Madrid), Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina/Real Madrid), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden/AC Milan), Lionel Messi (Argentina/Barcelona), Diego Milito (Argentina/Inter), Arjen Robben (The Netherlands/Bayern München), Ronaldinho (Brazil/AC Milan), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal/Real Madrid), Wayne Rooney (England/Manchester United), Carlos Tévez (Argentina/Manchester City), Fernando Torres (Spain/Liverpool), David Villa (Spain/Barcelona).


Can United’s injury-hit squad silence the ‘noisy neighbours’?

Is Park now vital to United's chances?

Is Park now vital to United's chances?

With the usual verbal shenanigans already in full swing as the Manchester derby approaches, you’d be forgiven for thinking this game is an actual title decider.

With the normally reticent Patrice Evra even getting involved and claiming that United are not that *rsed about their less successful neighbours- or words to that effect- it’s not just rent-a-gob Gary Neville stirring it up.

That money grabbing.. sorry I mean Carlos Tevez has had is say by coming up with the novel idea of mentioning Wayne Rooney, seeing as we’ve not heard much about him lately. Tevez has stated that he’d liked to have seen Wayne Rooney at City, well you can’t blame him, after all partnering Emmanuel Adebayor is probably enough to make you wish Colleen signed for City. While any comment from Tevez is likely to incur the ire of all United fans, the Argentine’s statement was not all that surprising and actually something of a compliment to Rooney. With a good 24 hours until the game kicks off, I fully expect something a lot more incendiary and possibly even slightly hysterical from the Blue camp.

Regardless of the vocal sparring that has been, or will be committed by both camps, from a purely football point of view, the game is more of a ‘must-win’ for City than it is United. That may sound like a bit of pre-match excuse making just to cover my own back should City win, but allow me to explain.

United are unbeaten and only two points off the top of the table. If United were to draw it wouldn’t be too bad, after all it would be a point more than Chelsea took from Eastlands this season, and still keep the unbeaten run intact. If United were to lose, they’d stay ahead of City on goal difference and be level on points with Arsenal if the Gunners beat Wolves at Molineux.

It would be a bitter blow to lose to the noisy neighbours and could give City the real lift they need to kick start a proper title challenge but in terms of how it would leave the table it wouldn’t be a disaster for United, just a nightmare for the fans for a few weeks. City’s situation is more tenuous, if they were to lose, or even just fail to win, it would mean only on win in the last four league games, relegation form if we’re brutally honest. With Roberto Mancini seemingly under pressure every time his team concede a throw-in, a loss to United wouldn’t exactly help the scarf wearing Italian’s cause.

If City did lose, then the fallout of from the fans may just be enough to start making Sheikh Mansour reconsider his managerial options. Let’s face facts, when you’ve got Gary Cook as your Chief Executive then you’re never going to be the most secure manager in the country. City need a win to show that their team of argumentative, spoilt, playboys can actually justify their wages, while a United win would be a massive boost for the club, fans and players and make the rest of the league take note of who the real title contenders are.

So now that we’ve established that a win would be a rather pleasant experience for either club, who looks more likely to get one? Well the form guide would seem to favour United, after all unbeaten all season, coming off the back of six straight victories, it seems the Reds are flying. However, that’s not entirely true, as due to a virus and a series of injuries, the starting XI for United’s game against Wolves resembled the sort of side Sir Alex Ferguson would send out for a Carling Cup game.

Apart from a strong back five, United had a makeshift midfield, with only arguably Darren Fletcher a true first teamer, with Chicharito deployed as a lone striker. Oh and Owen Hargreaves got a start such was United’s lack of options. With Rooney, Antonio Valencia Michael Owen and Ryan Giggs all definitely out, United are already four attacking players light. Add to that the possibility that player of the season contenders: Nani, Dimitar Berbatov and Paul Scholes are all doubtful and the omens don’t look to clever for Fergie’s men, or should that be Fergie’s flu victims?

If all of those players weren’t available then United would be missing six potential match winners and would be up against it from the start. Losing Rooney is disappointing, losing Rooney, Giggs, Valencia, Berbatov, Scholes and Nani could be disastrous. Of course we’ve seen a bit of Fergie kiddology when it comes to injuries before, let’s not forget how many times Wayne Rooney ‘miraculously’ appeared on the team sheet was he was a certain ‘non-starter’ last season. Mind you, judging from the fact he’s currently in the US if Wazza does make an appearance at Eastlands tomorrow then it really would be a miracle.

The extent of United’s absentees will not be known until the team sheets are submitted tomorrow evening, but the absence of a Nani or a Scholes could be a deciding factor. When it comes to the City squad, they’re in a much rosier position than United, with the suspended Mario Balotelli their only real loss. The main boost for City is having Tevez back, after all it’s no coincidence that his return from absence brought the team’s first win in four games. Tevez has been City’s talisman ever since he signed for them and bagged three goals against United in the Carling Cup last season. If United can find a way to cope with the former Old Trafford hero, then City’s options suddenly don’t seem as positive. Adam Johnson is always a threat and David Silva has already bagged one of the goals of the season, but let’s not pretend any different, City are the Carlos Tevez show and he could be the key to the game. Part of Mancini’s problem may not be which players are fit but which ones he picks. Yaya Toure, Nigel De Jong and Gareth Barry may all start against United, the question is will Mancini go for 4-4-2 with Tevez and Adebayor up front, or will he go with a five man midfield at the expense of Adebayor?

If Mancini starts Yaya Toure, Barry and De Jong, this may work to United’s favour as Darren Fletcher is capable of mixing it with anyone, while if Paul Scholes starts, he could teach his blue counterparts how to control a game from midfield. Without Scholes, United may need to turn to Michael Carrick, if he’s fit of course, although he was another notable absentee from the Wolves game. It’s a shame for United that Anderson is also out as this may have just the type of game his physicality flourished in, I’d have relished seeing him and Fletcher getting stuck into De Jong and Toure. It’s also a shame Hargreaves didn’t come through the Wolves game as he’s now needed more than ever.

Whatever the injury crisis United have at the moment, or how Mancini deploys his troops, one things for certain, a mid week Manchester derby with so much at stake is going to be explosive, let’s just hope from a United point of view it’s not the missing players we’re talking about come Thursday morning.


Will United’s True Rivals Please Stand Up

Which fans will get the warmest welcome at OT this season?

Which fans will get the warmest welcome at OT this season?

Have United’s rivals changed? It seems an obvious answer at first doesn’t it? No it’s still Chelsea of course. Well if this were purely about the title race then that would no doubt be the case. However it’s a little bit deeper than that. The question is about true rivalry- not the ‘who’s stopping United winning a trophy’ type contempt fans have for their opponents but the historical rivalry that makes you refuse to say a certain team by name or disown your daughter for marrying one of their fans.

Traditionally the most hated visitors to the Theatre of Dreams have been fans of Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester City, or to give them their appropriate monikers- The ‘sheep sh*ggers’, ‘bin dippers’ and ‘bitters’.

The problem with all three of these teams is that other than the occasional blip -2009 for example- all three haven’t given United much competition in the trophy stakes. United haven’t faced Leeds in the Premier League for over six seasons now- has it really been that long? Time flies eh?

As for City and Liverpool, they may be in the same division as United but in terms of challenging for the title it’s been a rarity. Of course this could all change, not for the Scousers who’ll be lucky if they’re still in contention for a Channel 5 place come May but let’s be brutally honest, with all the ‘kamikaze spending’ going on down at Eastlands, everyone’s least favourite graffiti artists could soon be challenging for the title

Whether or not a team is challenging for the title shouldn’t really matter in terms of rivalry, after all, since I became old enough to form hatred of certain clubs, United have had many title rivals who’ve dropped off my radar. Blackburn, Newcastle, Arsenal and Chelsea have been the four teams where the term ‘six-pointer’ would apply to since the Premier League began. Now while having no real fondness for any of them, are they really true rivals in the traditional sense? I’d argue not. For starters Blackburn and Newcastle were not always in United’s division when true conflicts were being started and battle lines being drawn. There may have been fights between the red army and fans of either team in the seventies and eighties but there were fights against any team United played- so my dad tells me- so it’s hardly enough to consider them as traditional enemies. Blackburn and Newcastle may have challenged United at the top of the table back in the mid nineties but it would be a stretch to class them as real rivals.

Then there are the new contenders to the title challenging adversary status, Chelsea and Arsenal. Now while there’s certainly no love lost between either set of fans it’s not quite the same rivalry that United have with Leeds or Liverpool. For starters just when the Gooners were looking like becoming a dominant force in the English game and possibly usurping United, they faded slightly which meant the rivalry was not quite as intense as it had been. Then came Chelsea, sorry the ‘rent boys’, who’ve been United’s main title contenders for the past five years. Now while it’s easy to despise Chelsea, after all some of their fans are fat, racist d*ckheads- although there’s nothing wrong with being fat- and their players are the sort of men you’d happily use the last bullet in your Luger on, it’s difficult to class them as true rivals.

For starters, they’re newcomers to the top table of title winners, until the late nineties they’d been a lower to mid-table team if not worse for the previous two decades, then there’s the distance between the two clubs. Having rivals that live hundreds of miles away and that you only ever see on a match day means the level of disdain for each other is fairly limited. In the case of Liverpool fans for example, you can bump into one- hopefully fist first- on any night out or at work or wherever, whereas you’re hardly likely to see a Chelsea fan on a trip to the Trafford Centre.

Part of the problem when it comes to United is that everyone hates us so we tend to just hate them back, but that doesn’t make them true rivals.

A survey taken by footballfancensus in 2003 to ascertain which club fans considered their main rivals showed that United topped the charts with no less than 5 clubs seeing the reds as their nemesis. These clubs were Arsenal- really? Leeds- no surprises, Liverpool- ditto, City- shock and Bolton- wtf?!

In the case of Arsenal fans seemed more concerned with the fact that United were their chief opponents in the Premier League title race, rather than any true tradition.
Leeds and City are to be expected with Leeds there has always been a mutual contempt between their fans and United’s which is exacerbated by other factors such as, violence, and the fairly close proximity the clubs are to one another, there’s also the fact that United faded in the seventies when Leeds were successful only for the roles to be reversed in the eighties, reversed once more in the early nineties before United became dominant and Elland road went on to play host to League One football.

City fans of course pretty much check United’s team news before they’re own and consider it a successful season if they win f*ck all and United don’t win the league.

As for Bolton, I’ve never really understood this one, it’s not as though we’ve even been in the same division for that long and we’ve certainly not been chasing the same trophies. I can only imagine its down to sheer jealousy of seeing your better looking, more intelligent neighbours, winning everything in sight while your own team considers 16th place a glorious triumph.

United fans themselves chose Liverpool as their primary foe, which is no surprise as they tick nearly every box when it comes to creating a rivalry. They took over from United as the dominant force in English football in the seventies and eighties only to have the favour returned in the nineties and noughties. Both sets of fans have engaged in physical contests over the years and there is of course the cultural divide. Despite being only thirty-odd minutes away from each other, in terms of accent, fashions and tastes Mancunians and Scousers are often miles apart.

The strange thing is, more often than not when I’ve been travelling or living in London, I’ve tended to get along well with the Scousers I’ve met. Whether it’s because we’re Northerners down south or wherever, or just the fact that we still share a similar p*ss taking sense of humour, but put me in a bar with a Scouser anywhere other than Manchester and it’s usually a good laugh.

In a different survey conducted by footballfancensus in 2008 to work out which English football rivalries were the fiercest United and Liverpool’s was ranked third in the country. The census ranked the top twenty rivalries, with nine out of Liverpool fans considering United their fiercest rivals and over two thirds of the United fans feeling the same towards their opponents from down the M62. The census also took into account the respective league and cup records of both teams, impact on attendances and other things such as reaction to players who’ve played for both clubs, or been linked with them and media coverage.

United made the list again, this time at number twenty for their rivalry with Leeds.

If the survey were to be taken again would it be any different? Probably not, although for many younger United fans unless Leeds achieve promotion soon, it’s unlikely they’re going to be considered true rivals.

Although Chelsea remain United’s main rivals in the League and it already looks this season as though that will remain the case, it’s doubtful that they’ll become the sort of arch-enemies the Scousers have been over the years- although by no means certain.

One thing is obvious, if City were to become football rivals with United in terms of success and title challenges and Liverpool were to continue to experience a barren spell then it would only be a matter of time before the ‘bitters’ overtook the ‘dippers’ in the rivalry stakes.


Will Fergie call time on his bbc feud this sunday?

Fergie pondering whether he can handle Jonathan Pearce's questions

Fergie pondering whether he can handle Jonathan Pearce's questions

There are some interesting clashes in the Premier League this weekend, a rampant Chelsea side is to visit a shell-shocked Wigan and the surprise package Blackpool visit the Gunners looking to ‘do a Hull’ and pull of another major upset, this time at the Emirates.

Yet one contest shines out from the others as being a true battle of wills, a David v Goliath type encounter, except they’re both Goliath, a real clash of the Titans. In one corner is a true footballing colossus, winning everything and anything over a glorious period unsurpassed in the modern era, in the other a giant, an integral part of the British game that has touched every fan at least once over the years. I’m not talking about West Brom versus Sunderland- although the similarities are obvious, no this match is even greater -it is of course, the big showdown between Sir Alex Ferguson and the BBC.

The past few years on Match of the Day have been noticeable for two things, Gary Lineker has slowly but surely gotten a little bit less inoffensive -okay I know that means more offensive but it just didn’t seem the right way to describe his grating smugness- and the post match interview of either Carlos Quieroz and now Mickey Phelan have rivalled only Alan Shearer’s analysis in terms of inducing boredom.

Ever since the BBC’s Panorama programme dared to suggest that Fergie’s son Jason may be involved in underhand dealings as a football agent, the United manager has refused to even entertain the idea of speaking to them. Not even Henry Kissinger and Kofi Annan combined could muster enough diplomacy to tempt Fergie to end his feud.
Fergie has said of his ongoing quarrel with ‘Aunty’ :

“The BBC is the kind of company that never apologise, and they never will apologise.

“They did a story about my son that was a whole lot of nonsense. It was all made-up stuff, brown paper bags and that kind of carry-on. It was a horrible attack on my son’s honour and he should never have been accused of that.

“But it is such a huge organisation that they will never apologise. They don’t even care if you sue them or whatever, because they are so huge and have insurance. They carry on regardless and it’s breathtaking.”

Now unless the entire BBC boardroom get down on their knees and beg Fergie for forgiveness while simultaneously singing ‘sorry seems to be the hardest word’ by Elton John, then is seems unlikely the somewhat stubborn Scot will back down. After all, Fergie’s a staunch socialist from Govan who in the past has taken on every one from almost every single opposition manager to even the owner of United – not the Glazers unfortunately but previous one John Magnier – apparently over the matter of horse semen. The fact is Fergie is famous for not backing down, he runs Manchester United like no other manager in a top European side, almost without having to answer to anyone, his success and the longevity of it have afforded him an unparalleled status within the club not seen since the days of Sir Matt Busby over forty years ago.

The BBC seemed to be gaining the upper hand in one of the longest feuds the corporation has ever had with any leading football manager, by way of the Premier League introducing a new rule whereby each manager will have to attend a post match press conference and speak to all members of the press, including the BBC. Fortunately that idea is not going to be implemented until next season, the reason I say fortunately is because I believe it would be a recipe for disaster forcing Fergie into anything. Can you imagine the monosyllabic answers he’d grudgingly give if he was forced to.

MOTD Interviewer: “Sir Alex you’ve just seen your side beat Liverpool at Anfield with six goals from Gary Neville, how does it feel?”

SAF: Long pause………..“good.“ Forcing Fergie to give interviews would not be conducive to gaining interesting responses or an insight into what he’s thinking, it would basically make cr*p telly which defies the entire point. The best solution to the entire stalemate would of course be for Fergie to put his anger aside and try and forgive the BBC and move on, but that is easier said than done as the manager obviously feels very passionate about what he saw as an erroneous and damaging accusation regarding his son’s integrity.

There has been a few suggestions though that Fergie is actually thawing slightly towards the BBC, call it getting soft in his old age, or just fed up of only speaking to MUTV and Sky after the more successful matches but there have been whispers that he may agree to an interview with MOTD very soon.

David Gill has, again only allegedly, been in secret talks with the Beeb to try and see if some sort of reconciliation can be reached. Quite what these talks involve is anyone’s guess, perhaps its an offer for Fergie to appear as a host on Have I got News for You in exchange for his compliance.

I do understand Fergie’s grievance, after all it can’t be nice seeing your son accused of illegal activity by the same corporation your expected to do interviews with every week, but isn’t it now time to finally put it all behind him?

Fergie’s proved his point, since 2004 when he first stopped giving them interviews he’s won three titles and the BBC has not been able to speak to him about any of them, nor the games that were involved. Listening to Mickey Phelan almost repeat the question put to him as an answer is as pointless as it is tedious. No disrespect to Phelan who’s done a great job as both coach and assistant manager at United, but do we really want to hear from Joe Biden when Barack Obama is in the next room?

Fergie says he wants the BBC to apologise, he said:

“The thing with the BBC is they never say they are sorry. … just say sorry, they were wrong. That’s all they have to do and I told them that. Sometimes even the BBC has to be big enough to do that. I forgive easily. I don’t hold grudges at all.

“What I’m doing with the BBC isn’t a grudge, it’s a stance. There’s nothing wrong with saying you are wrong about something – it’s a quality.”

The problem is for the BBC to say sorry may mean some from of admission of wrong doing which could undermine the whole reputation of the Panorama programme not to mention its validity. Panorama is regarded as one of the leading lights in investigative journalism and to say sorry for a story it ran would be against much of what it stands for. Fergie could take a leaf out of his mate Sam Allardyce’s book, who also refused interivews with the BBC after the same programme accused him of wrongdoing but eventually relented after having proved his point.

The game against Fulham on Sunday may well be the first MOTD interview from Fergie in over five years, although if United lose, it may well be time for Mickey Phelan to face the BBC once more, I just hope that regardless of the result we once again see the United manager on a programme that is still essential viewing for many fans.


Forlan- far from a United a ‘flop.’

forlan with a body very similar to mine

forlan with a body very similar to mine

During the World Cup only one thing became even more irritating than the sound of thousands of vuvuzela’s constantly blaring out. No it wasn’t the sight of Emile Heskey making another England appearance nor was it the shots of random celebrities in the crowd, including Dutch politicians, which the camera seemed to cut to every few minutes. No the thing that really irked, riled, and annoyed me was every commentators insistence that Diego Forlan had been a flop at Old Trafford.

Whenever the golden ball winner scored a great goal or did something majestic, which was quite frequently, we would be treated to some pundit exclaiming how remarkable it was that such a good player had failed so miserably in the Premiership.

Now while even the most die-hard Forlan fan would struggle to argue the case that the Uruguayan’s time at Old Trafford was a rip-roaring success, I feel certain things should be put into perspective.
For starters, Forlan hardly got a decent run in the United side making the vast majority of his appearances as a substitute. Arriving in January 2002, Forlan started just seven games, making a further eleven appearances from the bench. While he may have failed to find the net in any of those games, he was only 22 years old and had never played for a club in Europe let alone one the size of United, so it was only to be expected that it may take him time to adjust. However the media were not so charitable quickly labelling him Diego ‘Forlorn’ –absolutely hilarious, no wonder it was re-used in the World Cup to the title ‘Diego leaves Bafana Forlorn’ in a leading South African paper.
The following season the now under-pressure striker found himself making more appearances- mainly from the bench. One particularly frustrating time for Forlan came against Zalaegerszeg in the Champion’s League when the striker came on in the 70th minute as a substitute for David Beckham with United three goals up- two on aggregate. Only a few minutes later United won a penalty which Forlan volunteered to take, only to be waved away by Roy Keane who insisted that Ruud Van Nistelrooy take it ,who duly scored.
Such an embarrassing incident may have caused lesser players to shy away from volunteering again for penalty taking duties but only three weeks later Forlan put his name forward for another Champion’s League penalty, fortunately it being the last minute of a game United were winning 4-2 and Roy Keane being absent, the Uruguayan was able to break his duck coolly sending the keeper the wrong way.
Despite finally finding the net for United, rather than receiving praise or even a grudging acknowledgement from the Chelsea and Arsenal fans at Fleet Street, he merely received more scorn. With the next day’s headlines highlighting how long it had taken him to score, some even being as petty as to actually count the minutes.

It was in this season-2002/03 that Forlan endeared himself to practically all the Old Trafford faithful with some extremely important goals, an equaliser at home against Villa and a last-minute stunning winner against Chelsea, went a long way to convincing United fans he was good enough to don the red shirt. One of my fondest memories of Forlan was watching him run around chasing the ball with his shirt in his hand after he’d removed it celebrating a winning goal against Southampton, only for the Saints to restart the game before he could get it back on.

Let’s not pretend that these goals are behind many United fans holding a torch for Forlan, the reason the striker still gets his name sung has nothing to do with any shirt removing antics or equalisers against teams from the midlands. No, Forlan’s name is still sung occasionally at Old Trafford, for one reason and one reason alone- his two goals in United’s win against Liverpool at Anfield in the 2002/03 title winning season. With those two strikes, one a gift from Jerzy Dudek, the other a well taken angled shot, Forlan more or less wrote himself into the United legends, history book- almost. Arisotle once said‘one swallow does not make spring’ to which he could have added two goals at Anfield do not make a United career. The reason many fans may look back at Forlan with fondness is that as well as that brace at United’s arch-rivals, his other goals in that 2002/03 season were instrumental in bringing the title back to Old Trafford. While Van Nistelrooy may have scored a lot more, without Forlan’s winners against the likes, of Southampton, Chelsea, and of course Liverpool, not to mention his equaliser against Villa, it’s highly likely the Gunners would have retained the title they won the previous season. He may have only scored six Premier League goals that season, but they were mightily important ones.

Unfortunately for Forlan, and United the following season was a fairly disappointing affair as the ‘Invincibles’ of Arsenal swept all before them. For Forlan it was even more of a letdown as he scored fewer goals than the previous season and failed to make the squad for the FA cup final against Millwall. Again though, Forlan did not get a decent run in the side, starting the same amount of games as he was substitute for -15. His return of eight goals was hardly awe-inspiring but considering his lack of a steady run in the team it was far from disastrous.

The 2004/05 season began with a trip to Stamford Bridge, against Chelsea for a certain ‘Special One’s’ first game in charge. For Forlan it would be the end of his Premier League career as coming on as a substitute he had, what can only be described as a ‘shocker’ shooting wildly and at one point even appearing to trip over the ball, to the delight of the Chelsea fans. He was soon shown the exit at old Trafford with his performance at Stamford Bridge seemingly being the final straw for Fergie. However Forlan himself has another explanation as to why his poor showing may have signalled his departure. He told the Champion’s League Magazine:

“(Manager Sir Alex) Ferguson wanted me to play with high studs, the interchangeable ones that suit wet pitches,”
“But I feel more comfortable in low ones. I agreed to change boots, but I didn’t. Against Chelsea, I slipped in front of goal and wasted a chance.
“Afterwards, I rushed to the dressing room to change boots. Ferguson caught me. He grabbed the boots and threw them. That was my last game for United.”

It was a shame, that boots would see Forlan booted out of Old Trafford- sorry, there’s no excuse for that one, as with the arrival of Wayne Rooney, as the Uruguayan himself has stated they could have forged a good partnership- certainly one with Van Nistelrooy never quite happened for Wazza.
The rest as they say is history, Forlan would go on to score a ridiculous amount of goals at Villareal then Atletico Madrid, twice winning the european golden boot, before grabbing his national team by the scruff of the neck and almost single-handedly dragging them to a World Cup semi-final.

Along the way Forlan would endear himself to United fans even more by knocking Liverpool out of the Europa League. Regardless of whether he returns to the Premier League- it’s looking increasingly doubtful, there will always be a place in the hearts of many at Old Trafford for the man who ‘came from Uruguay and made the scousers cry!’


Would an injury-free season have ended differently?

Dirty German title costing b..........

As the dust settles on what some commentators have labelled ‘the most exciting premier league season in recent memory’ but what turned out to have an all too familiar feel to it, the time for excuses, explanations and blaming can begin.

Gianfranco Zola has already fallen victim to the season’s post-mortem and few would be surprised if there wasn’t a few more managers joining him in the dole queue very soon- or at least at the airport, eh Rafa?

One of the first things many fans –unless they support Chelsea- will point to when explaining why the season hasn’t been an unmitigated success is the old favourite ‘injuries’. If it wasn’t for injuries England would have won the world cup a record-breaking 12 times by now, injuries also stopped United completing a hat-trick of trebles during the noughties, prevented David Beckham becoming Sir David this summer and cost David Cameron the majority he needed. Probably.

There’s an old saying in football about bad decisions even-ing themselves out over the course of a season and while anyone outside the top four will probably agree that’s a load of old tosh, can the same be said for injuries? Obviously not.

The real question is if the top 3 teams in the premier league had been injury-free all season, would the title have ended up anywhere other than Stamford Bridge?

Well let’s look at them one by one.

First up must surely be Arsenal- simply because I’ve decided to do this alphabetically. The loss of Robin Van Persie for five months was a huge blow to the Gunners and one which in a perverse way, may have actually relieved some of the pressure on Arsene Wenger. Many Gooners will cite RVP’s injury as one of the main reasons Arsenal never quite mounted the title challenge they threatened to do at certain stages this season. Losses to Chelsea –twice- Man U- twice- Wigan, Man City, Blackburn, Sunderland and Tottenham meant that Arsenal finished 11 points behind the champions. Yet how many of those losses, can be attributed to the injury to RVP? Well Manchester’s City and United both beat Arsenal with the Dutch forward in the team, earlier on, as did Blackburn and Wigan at the back end of the season. Was Van Persie the difference between the title going from West London to North?

I’d argue not, after all Arsenal’s problem has been more than just scoring goals, in fact that’s arguably been the least of their worries. A lightweight midfield far too often out-muscled or ‘anti-footballed’ as certain Frenchmen may say seems to be a much more prominent reason for the Gunner’s shortcomings.

Of course, Arsenal have had more than just the loss of RVP to contend with, Theo Walcott, Cesc Fabregas and Aaron Ramsey have all missed key parts of the season.

While Ramsey’s loss was particularly bad, more for the manner of his injury than for the void he left in the team, Walcott when he has played has been inconsistent to put it mildly. As for Fabregas, by the time his injury came about, you could argue Arsenal were already practically out of the title race anyway.

The next on the list is Chelsea, even though they won the league, in the purposes of fairness the question must still be applied to them, after all winning it by a point against one of the most beatable United side’s in recent years is hardly totally convincing.

The most prominent loss for Chelsea was Michael Essien who has been missing for much of the season. While Jon Obi Mikkel has come in and done a fine job, there can be little argument that he’s not a patch on Ghana’s finest. Then there’s also the loss of Ashley Cole for most of the business end of the season, which would affect any team in all honestly.

Cole is one of the best left-backs in the country and his importance in the Chelsea team cannot be underestimated. There’s also the loss of Jose Boswinga of course, but the form of Branislav Ivanovic has not only negated that argument but in all probability made Boswinga’s loss actually Chelsea’s gain. Had Essien and Cole been fit then maybe Chelsea would not have been beaten by Tottenham, but as last season proved and the season before in the Carling Cup, Spurs are capable of giving any Chelsea side a run for their money.

There’s also the losses against Everton and Man City but they were more down to defensive lapses by John Terry coupled with some ‘hilarious’ goalkeeping thrown in the game against City. Let’s not forget as well that Aston Villa were able to defeat a full-strength Chelsea team early on in the season. The loss of Essien probably did cost Chelsea points somewhere along the line as he’s that good a player.

All this of course is moot as Chelsea didn’t need any more points the other teams did, so the real question is could Manchester United have caught them without the loss of certain personnel?

Well United have at times this season, been awful regardless of whoever’s been playing. The main defeat that many United fans will look to as an example of where injuries took their toll was the loss to Fulham. United were missing seven, yes seven, defenders which even Roy Hodgson admitted was a major factor for Fulham’s emphatic win.

However while a three-man defensive unit consisting of Ritchie De Laet, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher is hardly awe-inspiring, let’s not forget that last season Fulham were able to beat a full strength United side- albeit after Paul Scholes was dismissed and it’s not inconceivable that it could have been achieved this time round.

Losses to Burnley, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Liverpool came when United had practically full strength teams, the only missing men were Edwin Van Der Sar and every physio’s favourite Owen Hargreaves.

The loss of VDS early in the season may well have contributed to some lost points, particularly in the home draw against Sunderland, but to blame any losses on his absence is probably unfair.

As for Hargreaves, while Darren Fletcher and to a lesser extent Michael Carrick have made his loss, less felt there’s no denying that a fully fit Hargreaves is better than either player, just look at a 2007-08 DVD if you need any proof. The question is would his fitness have given United the extra 2 points they needed to lift the title? Most definitely. But then again a fully fit Michael Essien would have no doubt elevated Chelsea’s points tally above 86. On a final United note, the most important injury of the season was surely Wayne Rooney’s prior to the home game against Chelsea, had Wazza been fit would the outcome have been different? Who knows, you would think so but to be fair United have been that inconsistent this season it’s not as certain as many would believe.

You could analyse games one-by-one all day long there’s not just the losses to contend with but also the draws, not just the injuries but also the decisions.

The fact is even Spurs could claim that without the lengthy injuries to Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon, not to mention Ledley King’s erratic appearances, they would have been able to mount a title challenge. While we can debate the ‘what ifs’ all day long nothing’s going to change the fact that Chelsea are the title holders……unfortunately.


United’s near-miss shouldn’t hide the truth.

Hopefully those ribbons won't be on for too long.

Finishing runners-up in the league, getting knocked-out in the early stages of the FA Cup and a quarter-final Champion’s League exit hardly a good season makes at the ‘Theatre of Dreams.’ A Carling Cup win, while pleasing, is not really the sort of accomplishment United fans will be shouting at Liverpool fans come next season- although City fans now that’s another story.

It’s safe to that a season which saw seven league defeats, everyone’s least favourite Yorkshire men coming to Old Trafford and dumping United out of the FA Cup, plus losing twice to Chelsea, will not be a DVD release-type of year looked back upon decades from now with the same reverence as 1998-9 or 2007-08.
The loss of Ronaldo and a certain Argentinean got the season off to a somewhat sombre start which wasn’t helped by an early loss away to relegation certainties Burnley.

United’s season never really got going- at least not in the league, in the past the most successful team in Premier League history have remained just that by stringing together awe-inspiring winning runs- usually when other teams have faltered. It’s not been uncommon for United to put together an 8 or 9 match-winning run or maybe a record-breaking run of clean sheets.

This season United’s best winning run in the league was five matches, which while hardly pathetic is not the sort of dominant cavalier charge that has put would-be title challengers in their place in seasons past.

It isn’t really United’s lack of a long winning run which prevented the Premier League title remaining at Old Trafford for a record-breaking fourth consecutive season- and more importantly to many fans 19th title win in total. Losing twice to your nearest title rivals is not necessarily a recipe for disaster, after all last season Rafa Benitez’s men did the double over United yet still failed to prise the trophy from Sir Alex Ferguson’s grasp, but the two losses to Chelsea this season more or less sealed the titles fate.

While it is deeply disappointing to come so close to the title- and making history to boot- there is a need for some sober reflection on how the defending champions never quite put forward true title winning credentials.

Losing to Everton, Fulham, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Burnley not to mention twice to Chelsea is the sort of statistic unheard of at United and while many excuses can be found for each loss- injuries, poor decisions, missed penalties etc, there’s no denying it’s not good enough.

Which brings me on to my point, had United won the league, it would only have papered over some of the cracks which need addressing.
A few weeks ago I wrote an article on these very pages urging Fergie not to panic and try and replace half the first-team as some more over-exuberant observers had been advocating.

While I still stick by the idea that United are only one or two players away from being the best team in the land there are certain factors which cannot be ignored.
First on the agenda and this may go down like a BNP joke at a Bar Mitzvah but I’m going to state it anyway, the atmosphere at Old Trafford at times this season has been shocking. Getting out-sung by around one-fifteenth of the supporters in the ground is a bit of a joke and no matter how much I’d like to pretend the Old Trafford faithful are the loudest in the land, it simply doesn’t ring true. Too many times this season opposition fans have been the far too audible while many United supporters have been far too quiet. I’m not going to get into the whole prawn-sandwich debate but from the times I’ve visited Old Trafford this season, I’ve often left disappointed with the atmosphere rather than the result.

Secondly there’s Rio Ferdinand. I honestly feel I don’t need to explain this but for anyone visiting from another planet or Chadderton, allow me to elucidate. 24 league starts in 2008-09 was something of a disappointment softened only by the emergence of Jonny Evans as a true first-class defender. This season half that number of starts is practically useless, as soon as Rio comes back into the team, he’s out again, which does nothing for stability not to mention confidence. United need Rio fit and playing regularly and if that’s not possible then they need to sign a top defender who can play week in week out. Chris Smalling is not the answer, at least not in the near-future. If United do not sign a top defender- after all they’re hardly easy to come by then maybe Fergie should give Evans a real chance and make him a regular starter- regardless of whether Rio’s fit or not. This may sound crazy after all Ferdinand is still one of the best defenders in the world, but it may give the defence much-needed stability. It could also see Evans grow in confidence and become the player he’s shown signs of over the past two seasons.

Thirdly Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen- for the purposes of brevity I’ve lumbered them both together. Neither can be truly relied upon to perform for United at the highest level, Owen is far too injury prone while Berbatov is far too p*ss poor prone. If United are to have any form of striking plan-b then, a new striker must be top of the agenda. Kiko Macheda has the potential to become a world-beater but next season may be a bit to soon for every United fan’s favourite Italian.

Finally there’s the attacking central midfielder that’s been missing at Old Trafford ever since Paul Scholes stopped being the force he once was. To be fair to Scholes in the past few games he’s been United’s best player but he cannot be relied upon to do it week in week out and has not been the goal-scorer he was for about 4 seasons now.
Antonio Valencia and Nani look more than up to the task on the wings, and there’s the prospect of Gabriel Obertan carrying some of the form he’s shown for the reserves for the first-team next season. Let’s not forget Ryan Giggs and Ji-Sung Park of course, who can still do a job albeit not regularly- at least not in Giggs’s case.

These factors may have been brushed under the carpet had Steven Gerrard not bet half his wages on a Chelsea title win- I’m joking of course, although mainly to avoid libel. United really didn’t deserve to win the title, as I told my very few scouse friends last season ‘the table doesn’t lie.’ For United to regain the premier league crown it’s going to take more than Chris Smalling and Javier Hernandez.


What has happened to Michael Carrick?

Carrick showing off his superb long finger

A few months ago, on this very site I wrote an article proclaiming Michael Carrick the unsung hero of Manchester United’s quest for more trophies.

At the time United had just seen off Manchester City n the semi-final of the League Cup, were still in the Champion’s League and well in the hunt for the Premier League title. While players such as Wayne Rooney, Darren Fletcher and ‘own goals’ were all given credit for United’s accomplishments, Carrick seemed to be short of any real praise.

I argued that Carrick was one of the best passers in the league, had won numerous trophies since his arrival at Old Trafford and could often dictate the pace of games. While all of those statements may still be true, there can be no denying that lately Carrick has been something of a liability to say the least.

Following the Champions League exit many fans, experts, pundits and Jim Beglin were quick to point out that Carrick was at fault for both Bayern Munich’s first two goals at Old Trafford. While the sending off of Rafael Da Silva was seen as the major reason for United’s failure, Carrick was arguably more to blame than the young Brazilian. The midfielder’s failure to deal with the danger for the first ball and get out-muscled far too easily, then lose possession dilly-dallying which led to the second, was almost inexcusable as unlike his poorly disciplined colleague, he wasn’t young and inexperienced.

Going into the Bayern game Carrick was coming off the back of a rather poor display against Liverpool in the league. It was his lack of composure, some may even call it dilly-dallying- I do like that word- that had led to Fernando Torres’s opener. That would have turned almost every United fan who’s at times questioned Carrick’s real value, totally against the Geordie if it weren’t for the fact that Ji-Sung Park and Wayne Rooney turned the game on its head.

Carrick hasn’t just underperformed in those games, going back a few weeks further to Wolves away, in the final few moments of the match a poor clearance by him had almost led to an equalizer for the midlands team. If it was not for Sam Vokes’s woefulness in front of goal then United would have dropped two valuable points and now be out of the title race.

It seems at a time when United need a man who has won the title every season he’s been at Old Trafford to step up, he’s suddenly started to fall to pieces. Saturday’s game against Spurs was a case in point. When Carrick replaced Antonio Valencia on the hour mark, the bloke in the seat next to me turned and said: “I hope he’s not gonna throw this away,” two minutes later Ledley King rose above him, without much difficulty and headed in an equaliser.

For whatever reason, Carrick has gone from a composed, midfield conductor to a panicky, weak, lightweight with a liking for dilly-dallying- I’ll stop using that word now, I think we’ve heard it enough- in the space of a few weeks.

The fact that Sir Alex Ferguson dropped Carrick for both the recent derby and the Spurs game tells us that the midfielder’s lack of form has not gone unnoticed by the United boss. It’s almost as if with the World Cup only weeks from now and United a Chelsea slip-up away from the title, Carrick has decided he neither wants a trip to South Africa or any more medals cluttering up his mantelpiece.

It may be that a long season has finally begun to take its toll on Carrick, that despite being 28 years-old his mind or body or both, have started to become fatigued which is causing him to make sloppy mistakes. It could be the pressure of having less match winners in the side and therefore more expectation placed on his shoulders has made him nervous. It could be that he’s simply lost the hunger and desire that he had two or three seasons ago due to the amount of success he’s achieved since his United career began. Or perhaps it just that with Newcastle’s recent promotion he’s realised that a consistent run of p*ss poor performances will result in a transfer to St James’ Park where he can re-join his family in the North East. Whatever the reason for his demise it could already have cost him his place in Fabio Capello’s squad.

Carrick is a player that it took me a long time to warm to. At first I thought he had a tendency to go missing in big games- a charge that still sticks- plus he didn’t get stuck in the way Darren Fletcher, Owen Hargreaves or Anderson did so I was never a big fan . However over the last three years he’s grown on me, I’ve learned to appreciate his good points– ability to pass etc, and if not ignore his faults- lack of goals etc, at least understand them, in the context of what it is he does bring to the team. This recent dip though, at a time when he’s arguably more needed than ever in his United career is becoming more and more difficult to excuse.

The sight of Owen Hargreaves on the bench on Saturday- along with Darron Gibson- may mean that Carrick finds himself playing no further part in this season’s final two games. If that happens, then while it may sound melodramatic, there could be the possibility that Carrick’s days as a first-team regular are all but over.

If he is given the chance against either Sunderland or Stoke to prove he’s merely experiencing a blip and get back to his best, then maybe he can not only salvage his world cup place but possibly even his United one.


Top Ten Greatest Manchester United Last-gasp goals.

Scholes doing what United do best. (Getty Images)

As the euphoria finally settled down for the red half of Manchester following Paul Scholes’s injury-time winner at Eastlands almost the entire commentating community were quick to remind anyone who would listen that this wasn’t the first time United had grabbed a late winner.

Over the years the sight of Fergie pointing at his watch subsequently followed by the naffest celebration in football history has become a common sight for football fans. For reasons I can’t be bothered to get into right now, United have made the last-minute goal something of an art form, consistently producing ‘back from the dead’ type goals when most teams would have given up.

It’s often said that United don’t do things the easy way and while opposition fans may look rather enviously at a club who’s fans main gripe is the fact that they have to go-through the mill on the way to countless trophies , there’s something to be said for that argument.
There’s no denying that being a United fan can often lead to a frustrating time- undeniably more than made up for by the end product. Just look at United’s three greatest triumphs and you’ll realise what I mean.

The European cup win in 1968 came in extra-time, the 1999 win came in injury-time and the 2008 win was courtesy of sudden-death penalties. Not exactly a walk in the park by any means.
Here’s a top ten list of united’s greatest last-gasp winners in my own personal order of merit.

10. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – Vs Liverpool , FA Cup 4TH Round, 1999. Before he was ‘putting the ball in the German’s net’ Solskjaer was busy doing the same thing to every United fan’s favourite giro hunters from up the M62. Future United injury-time winner Michael Owen- we’ll get to him later- put the visitors ahead after only 3 minutes. With only a few minutes left, United equalized through the King of Pornography and occasional baby-sitter Dwight Yorke. The game seemed to be heading for a replay until Solskjaer decided he didn’t fancy a trip to Liverpool –and who can blame him? Almost as good as the goal was the sight of Liverpool assistant boss Phil Thompson rushing onto the pitch at full-time to remonstrate with the referee as a chorus of ‘sit down Pinocchio’ rang out amongst the Old Trafford faithful.

9. John O’Shea Vs Liverpool Premier League 2007. With United and Chelsea neck-and-neck at the top of the table and with Paul Scholes sent off, it looked as though Liverpool may take all three points and help keep the title at Stamford Bridge. With Rooney going off injured for O’Shea the omens did not look good. However despite it looking as though United may just get a draw they went one better thanks to the most unlikely hero. O’Shea explains:

“The winner in the 90th minute at Anfield in front of the Kop, Gary Neville has told me that it’s his dream and I have just gone and done it.”

Many a United fan would agree.

8. Mark Hughes Vs Oldham Athletic FA Cup semi-final, 1994. Before doubles were almost expected at Old Trafford, United seemed to be heading towards their first in the 1993-4 season. A defeat to Aston Villa in the League Cup final had scuppered the chance of a domestic treble- but surely a double would be more than enough recompense. A draw against relegation battlers Oldham- who would subsequently lose that particular skirmish- seemed a formality for a team that was on its way to a second successive title. Even the suspension of Eric Cantona didn’t seem enough to stop United from steamrolling over their poor –sort of- neighbours from Lancashire. Footballing colossus Neil Pointon gave Oldham the lead and they seemed to be on their way to a fairytale victory until a certain tree-trunk thighed Welshman did what he does best –volleyed an unstoppable shot past a hapless ‘Keeper to save the day for United. Incidentally I was a young teenager behind the goal who ended up with a bloody nose following some over-exuberant hugging from the stranger sat next to me. Brilliant.

7,6 & 5. The Manchester Derby’s 2009-10. Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney & Paul Scholes.
The 2009-10 season may end up being one of disappointment for United but to soften the blow came a hat-trick of victories against the ‘noisy neighbours’ all courtesy of last-minute winners. In the first league encounter Ben Foster and Rio Ferdinand – obviously having put money on a draw did their best to ensure it happened. Unfortunately the most exciting interviewee since Muhammed Ali stopped giving them, stepped up and grabbed a late, late, winner- cue lots of moaning by City fans and another boring interview by Owen. In the League Cup second leg the game seemed to be heading into extta time before Wayne Rooney made up for what has been a miserable season for him by finally actually grabbing a goal. Although getting to the final of the League Cup is hardly the reason Old Trafford’s nicknamed the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ – keeping the Manchester City trophy clock flag going made this goal all the more sweeter for United fans. As for Scholes’s late winner only time will tell how important it was, regardless of its worth in terms of the title, when it comes to bragging rights in Manchester it was essential.

4. Andy Cole Vs Juventus Champion’s League Semi-Final 1999. After a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in the first leg the odds seemed against United to say the least. After two early Juventus goals in Turin a United victory seemed about as likely as Luke Chadwick winning a modeling competition. However somebody forgot to tell Roy Keane the script as he went about producing arguably the finest performance by a United player in the past 2 decades. A vital headed ‘captain’s goal’ helped United on their way back, but what was most impressive was the way after being booked for a challenge on Zinedine Zidane and knowing he would miss the final Keano decided he didn’t give a f*ck- he wasn’t going to the Nou Camp, but United were. After Dwight Yorke had equalized to possibly send united through on away goals Cole made sure with this last-minute winner. “Full speed ahead Barcelona!”

3. Frederico Macheda Vs Aston Villa premier League 2009. After two successive losses including a home-thumping from the purse snatchers United needed a win to realistically retain the title and equal Liverpool’s record. Things seemed to be going according to plan when Ronaldo gave the Reds the lead. However, displaying appallingly bad manners Villa upset the applecart with two goals before Ronnie grabbed an equaliser. Everyone knew that only a win would do though. Cue a 17-year old substitute making his debut who scored not just a stunning strike but the one that kept the title at Old Trafford – and that’s a fact.

2. Steve Bruce Vs Sheffield Wednesday Premier League 1993. Before United made winning the title almost a premier league rule, there had been an unthinkable 26-year wait for it to come to Old Trafford. A John Sheridan penalty seemed destined to make it at least a 27-year wait. However, the man with the finest nose in football had other ideas. An equalizing header in the last-minute kept the title race alive, ahead of Ron Atkinson’s Aston Villa. However 4 hours into injury-time Bruce popped up again to score the winner and make Brian Kidd perform a celebration that often makes me wonder how he’s at Man City. Oh and ‘Fergie Time’ entered the dictionary.

1. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Vs Bayern Munich Champion’s League final 1999-In the words of Radiohead- ‘No surprises’ this is top. Any United fan on the planet would have difficulty not picking this as their favourite last-minute goal. Picture the scene, you’re Sepp Blatter, you hate English football and Manchester United even more, you’re glad to see that the superb example of German excellence Bayern Munich have beaten them. You prepare to go down from your royal seat to pitch level to hand over the trophy to the lovely Lothar Matthaus. You enter the lift, reliably informed that the Munich ribbons have already been added to the trophy, you go down, the lift doors open……………………AND SOLSKJAER HAS WON IT!!!
“Football- bloody hell.”