Archive for the 'Premier League' Category

27
Dec
10

Birmingham City match preview- by LiamPM

Can United get a crucial 2nd away win of the season at St Andrews?

Can United get a crucial 2nd away win of the season at St Andrews?

United face a tricky trip to St. Andrew’s on Tuesday to play a Birmingham side that surprisingly lie in 17th place, just two points off the relegation zone. Surprising because in  their last six games they have taken points from City, Spurs and also  beaten a stuttering Chelsea, whilst only conceding three goals in this  time. Considering Birmingham have conceded just four more than United  all season, it hardly bodes well for a high-scoring encounter,  particularly given United’s lack of success on the road this season.

Sir  Alex faces another one of his former players this week in the shape of  Alex McLeish, who seems to be one of the few Premier League managers who  avoid constant speculation regarding their future. He has built a team  that first and foremost is hard to break down, and so it is no surprise  that Birmingham’s most influential players this season are mainly in  defence.

A  lack of victories against teams who are considered Birmingham’s  mid-table rivals has been their main downfall so far this season,  with  draws against Wigan, Villa and the Scousers-how funny is it referring  to the Scousers as ‘mid-table’ -to name a few. But it is the big games  where Birmingham have stepped up, losing only once to a top 7 team this  season,  so it would be no surprise if Tuesday’s  game was one that will be decided by a moment of genius, a mistake or  maybe even plain luck.

The  fact Birmingham have only two points more than West Ham- albeit having  played two games less is quite a staggering statistic as the Irons have  seemed like a club in disarray for much of the season while Mcleish’s  men are still thought of as a fairly well oiled machine.

United  meanwhile remain unbeaten this season, but have taken only nine points  from a possible twenty one on the road. United haven’t lost to  Birmingham in their last 23 meetings, and seem to be nearing their best  as the New Year approaches. Obviously as soon as the clock strikes 12 on  New Year’s Eve United transform into a juggernaut of free flowing, free  scoring football that lasts until May and it seems this could be the  toughest game they will face prior to this marvellous occurrence.

Ones to watch

Birmingham  are one of the few Premier League teams that are genuinely a team unit  with very few standout ‘stars.’ Alex McLeish has moulded a squad that’s  strength often lies in its ability to support one another and work as a  real team. Unlike some teams near the bottom, where it’s a case of  relying on Rodellaga or Carlton Cole or Dempsey to have a good day to  provide the points, Birmingham seem to have a lack of ‘stars’ but an  abundance of quality, hardworking players.

So  which players should United be wary of or need to keep quiet/ overcome  to turn what looks like a certain draw into a definite win?

Liam  Ridgewell has performed well at both ends of the pitch for Birmingham,  scoring three goals and helping to keep six clean sheets. He has  constructed a solid partnership with fellow centre back Scott Dann and  so whoever plays up front or indeed at the back for United will have to  work hard to get the better of this man.

Former  United stopper/blunderer Ben Foster has produced a number of excellent  displays that United fans always knew he was capable of, and has shown  that he still loves United by keeping out City and Chelsea in the same  week. The major errors he became famous for at Old Trafford seem to  occur far less frequently and on current form you could argue that he is  pushing Joe Hart very hard for the England no. 1 jersey.

Another  player who has stood out is former Aston Villa midfielder Craig  Gardner, who is also the club’s top scorer with four goals. This makes  him the man to watch from United’s point of view as Birmingham’s  inconsistent strike force shouldn’t represent much of a problem to the  defence, even if Fergie decides to rest Rio or Vidic. Birmingham’s most  distinguished player, Alexander Hleb could return after a month out with  a hamstring injury, otherwise they are at full strength and fully  rested after their match with Everton was postponed.

Naming  a possible starting 11 for Tuesday’s game is anyone’s guess, as Fergie  will surely rest one or two from the Boxing Day win over Sunderland.  Darren Fletcher and Nani will most likely come into the team having  missed this game, while the only definite absentee will be Park Ji Sung  who has left us for several weeks to captain his country in the Aldi  Cup. Over-30’s Rio and Giggs may struggle to play two games in the space  of three days, and Fergie may use this match as another chance to give  The Little Pea more football after mostly watching from the bench as  Berba hit 7 in 3 games and Rooney continued his ‘comeback.’

Anderson has  recently shown that his pie-eating days are behind him, and given he  was taken off after an hour on Boxing Day could indicate that Fergie is  prepared to unleash him again on Birmingham.  However  given the fact that United will play 4 games in the space of 8 days,  changes are certain and so Fergie may choose to fully utilise his large  squad and give games to the likes of Obertan, Smalling or even Jonny  Evans.

New United fansite Redflagflyinghigh.com coming soon if you’re interested in contributing send us an email on redflagflyinghigh@snack-media.com or follow us on twitter

27
Dec
10

Five things we learned from the Sunderland game.

United players huddle together in an effort to keep warm

United players huddle together in an effort to keep warm

With the weather cold enough to make even fat Newcastle fans keep their tops on it was scarf and hat time- although definitely not snood- at Old Trafford as United took on Sunderland.

Boxing Day fixtures are usually happy affairs for United with the Sir Alex Ferguson’s men taking all three points in the last seven games they’ve played on December 26th.

In fact if we’re going to go all stat-crazy then it’s worth mentioning United have won a staggering 15 of their last 16 boxing day games, so Christmas hangovers are a thing of the past at Old Trafford.

With the in-form Danny Welbeck and midfield driving force Lee Cattermole both unavailable for the Mackems it was a game, if we’re honest you’d always fancy United to win.

United have been inspired at Old Trafford this season, and went into the game on the back of five straight home wins in the EPL, while Sunderland had only won one game on the road- the awesome 3-0 demolition of Chelsea.

With Nani and Scholes out, Fergie went with a midfield of Giggs, Anderson, Carrick and Park with Rooney and Berbatov up front. The back five of VDS, Rafael, Vidic, Rio and Evra is without doubt United’s strongest and Sunderland were always going to struggle to penetrate it.

So what did we learn from United’s comfortable 2-0 victory over Sunderland, other than it’s now so cold even Mickey Phelan has stopped wearing shorts and Anton Ferdinand must have nightmares about trips to Old Trafford?

1. Anderson is the greatest player in the history of world football. Okay so I may be doing a bit of Gareth Bale type over-exaggerating but the stocky Brazilian is fast becoming the name on every United fans lips.
The term ‘barnstorming performance’ was in danger of becoming the exclusive property of Darren Fletcher but such has been Anderson’s displays of late, that he’s now overtaken Fletcher as the one midfielder who has to start.  Against Sunderland he picked up where he left off against Arsenal and Blackburn- dominating the midfield with tough tackles, sublime passes and driving runs. If a shot that hit the bar had of gone in then it would have been a 10/10 performance rather than a 9/10 one.

The looking the one way and passing another which he first treated Old Trafford to in the 4-0 demolition of Arsenal a few years ago, was used with aplomb to set up United’s second goal and is now number one in the list of tricks being tried in the playgrounds of Manchester. Probably.

If Anderson carries on like this we’ll have to change the dog’s name from Wazza to Ando, as like Chicharito at the beginning of the season, Anderson is getting everyone at Old Trafford buzzing and could well hold the key to a 19th title.

2. Rafael. Do I need to say more? It seems every time I write one of these articles, Rafael’s greatness is mentioned and it’s happened again. The other Brazilian in United’s line-up is having the season we all knew he could do as unlike some United youngsters, nearly every fan I spoke to at the start of the season believed he was good enough to make it. Going forward Rafael is Evra-esque and his defensive game, while not perfect has come on in spades.

When Patrice Evra is in danger of being the second best full back on the pitch then it’s quite possible I’ve died and gone to heaven.
Rafael is now United’s right back, no matter how much I love Wes Brown, the time for change is over. Rafael Da Silva is the one.
Poor Phillip Bardsley must’ve felt like he’d entered the seventh circle of hell as both Park and Rafael gave the poor Salfordian no respite down United’s right side.

When he went down and signalled for the physio, 70 odd thousand  fans held their breath as he’s one player United need not just in the busy Christmas period but for the rest of the season.

3. Park is going to be missed. Remember the energy of the 2007/08 side when the likes of Rooney, a certain Argentinean and Owen Hargreaves covered so much of the pitch it was often as though United had an extra man? Watching Ji Sung Park giving his all over the last few weeks has reminded me of that time- especially when he’s backed up by Rafael. Park has recovered from his World Cup hangover to become one of United’s most impressive players. It’s not just energy the South Korean brings but also important goals, and an underrated high level of skill. Park has the ability to get himself out of trouble with quick feet when needed and is always an option for someone looking for a red shirt to pass to.

Against Sunderland Park was his usual energetic self whose link up play with Rooney and Berbatov was excellent. He may not have the skill of a Nani or the pace of a Valencia but that shouldn’t detract from the fact he’s still a world class player.

The seven games without Park, United potentially face when he goes to the Aldi Cup will be a lot more difficult without him in the side.

4. Giggs will -still- tear you apart. Someone needs to check Ryan Giggs’s birth certificate- and no I’m not talking about the drivel City fans used to sing. The reason I think it’s time to check the Welshman’s date of birth is that there’s simply no way he can be 37 years old. Giggs has been one of United’s best players this season and was at his awe-inspiring best against Sunderland.
Running at defenders, using his wide range of skills and picking out sumptuous passes, Giggs was at his very best and gave everyone a reminder of just how much he’s going to be missed when he finally retires.
If Giggs carries on in this vein though, he’ll probably be hitting his best form in 2019 when he’s 45 so there’s no need to panic just yet.

5. Berbatov and Rooney are becoming unstoppable. Although Rooney may only have one league goal this season, there’s no denying that he’s hitting top form performance wise. Wazza looks like the player that helped Ronaldo bag over 40 goals in a season, dropping deep when needs be, leading the line when called upon and showing the sort of selflessness you’d associate with Santa Claus. Had a chip that went just wide of Craig Gordon’s goal ended up in the back of the net then Rooney would have been grabbing all the headlines after the Sunderland game.

As it is an assist for Berbatov’s first goal and an all round excellent performance had many fans and pundits alike noting that Rooney’s back to his best and it’s only a matter of time before he starts scoring.
If I was either Ben Foster or Scott Carson, I’d be very, very worried.  As for his strike partner despite being dropped for the Arsenal game, top scorer Berbatov isn’t prone to sulking or tantrum throwing like some of his counterparts across the city. The Bulgarian showed that given the right service and encouragement he’s as deadly as any in the game. Rooney may still be United’s talisman but with 13 league goals, Berbatov is the man most defences are struggling to cope with.

New United fansite Redflagflyinghigh.com coming soon if you’re interested in contributing send us an email on redflagflyinghigh@snack-media.com or follow us on twitter

25
Dec
10

United in pole position for a very merry Christmas

Robbing the Megastore in a Santa costume was a stroke of genius

Robbing the Megastore in a Santa costume was a stroke of genius

With a heavy Christmas schedule on the horizon for all Premier League teams although it’s nowhere near ‘squeaky bum’ time, the next week or so could well decide the title race.

Although titles aren’t, at least historically, decided in December, with four games in nine days, there’s no denying that it’s a crucial part of the season which could potentially see United obtain a commanding lead.

Sir Alex Ferguson has set his team a target of being top by the end of the Christmas fixtures on January 4th.

Sir Alex stated: “My  aim is to try and be top by January 4.

“By that time, the top of the league will have taken shape.

“Maybe, because of the weather, it is difficult to think everyone will have four games. But if we do, and we are top, we will have done well.”

With home games against Sunderland and Stoke and away fixtures to WBA and Birmingham, all United’s festive matches fall under the ‘tricky’ category but there’s no reason why we can’t win all of them.

While a trip to St. Andrews has draw written all over it for practically any club, except Chelsea who lost of course, if United were to take ten points from a possible 12 then it would still be a good return and could well see United stay on top of the EPL.

There’s no doubt though if United are to enjoy a productive New Year, then some of the fringe members of the squad are going to have to prove their worth and this is where United could hold an advantage over their rivals.

The United squad is one of the strongest  in the league, with each position having at least two internationals vying for it. Take the strikers for example, with Rooney, Berbatov, Chicharito, the recently returned Michael Owen not to mention Kiko Macheda all available for selection.

Having five strikers is no use to anyone if they’re not of a high standard but all of United’s front men could arguably walk into nearly any Premier League side. Only Macheda who’s still a long way from the finished article and Owen who’s fitness still remains doubtful have question marks over whether they could start for the Reds.

The midfield is one area many United fans were hoping Sir Alex would strengthen in the Summer, with Rafael Van Der Vaart and Mesut Ozil being mentioned so much by many Reds, I actually thought we’d signed them both at one point.

While I still have my worries as to whether the current central midfield has enough truly world class players in it to take on the likes of Barcelona, there’s still enough quality to overcome most teams. Fletcher, Carrick and Anderson are on their day, capable of dominating any game. There’s also Ryan Giggs who can be deployed in a more central area if needs be. With Park, who’s available for the Sunderland game before he departs for the Aldi cup, Nani, Obertan and Bebe not to mention Giggs, then there’s enough players to cover the wide positions certainly against the likes of WBA and Stoke.

Another concern surrounding  United’s starting XI is in the central defensive positions, mainly the absence of either  Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic. While Chris Smalling has exceeded many expectations, Jonny Evans has had something of a torrid time of late and can no longer be trusted on current form. Admittedly the best way to help the youngster get over it may be to throw him back in the mix- but he’s looked so out of sorts lately I’d actually prefer to see either Smalling or Brown replace Rio or Vidic if one of them is rested.

United look much frailer at the back when Ferdinand isn’t there, I’d even go as far as saying he’s more important to the defence than Vidic- although only just. Despite Vidic wearing the captain’s armband, Rio is the true organiser at the back and he does a job that’s second to none in marshalling his defensive troops.

As for the full back positions, well with Evra the Da Silva twins, not to mention Brown and O’Shea, there’s enough there to cope with the fixture congestion- who knows Fergie may even give Gary Neville his 500th League game, although I’m not to sure now is the time for nostalgic generosity.

Things aren’t looking quite as rosy at United’s rivals; Chelsea skipper- the lovable -John Terry recently questioned whether his side have the strength in depth to cope with the busy Christmas period.

Terry said: “In the past we had a big squad and could rotate and put other players in, we don’t have that now, we have quite a young squad and it’s time for everyone to stay together like we always will.”

Carlo Ancelotti has been quick to play down Terry’s statement- shades of Capello in South Africa- claiming the Chelsea squad is in fine shape. The results speak for themselves and no wins in the last five games, gives credence to Terry’s observations.

Arsenal- Chelsea’s opponents on Monday- have their own problems to contend with- none of which have been helped by the more vociferous among United ranks. Arsene Wenger was quick to rubbish Nani’s recent claim that it was only Chelsea and United involved in the title race. Only a week earlier it was Evra upsetting everyone at the Emirates by claiming Arsenal were a “training centre” with few title credentials. Wenger would do well to worry about the comments of his own players before worrying about those coming from Old Trafford.

Future Arsenal star Cesc Fabregas claimed his team were ‘scared’ following their recent defeat at Old Trafford and with Chelsea winning the last five contests against the Gunners, scared is the last thing Arsenal can afford to be.

The only other real title contenders are our friends from M11, who have tricky trips away to both St James’s Park and the Emirates over the next 11 days. City seem like a club in disarray despite being in third place. With the on/off Carlos Tevez saga, Balotelli doing his best to endear himself to everyone in world football and the recent home defeat against Everton, all is not well in the house that Sheikh Mansour’s money  built.

The fact that Arsenal play both Chelsea and City means that at least one of them are guaranteed to drop points over Christmas and with a bit of luck it might even be all of them.

The notion that there are no easy games in the Premier League anymore may well be true, but there are ‘easier’ games and the four United have over Christmas would certainly fall into that category.

With the United squad in fairly decent shape- bar long-term victims Valencia, Hargreaves and a short-term problem to Paul Scholes, a set of winnable fixtures and good recent form, there’s every reason to hope this could be a very merry Christmas at Old Trafford.

New United fansite Redflagflyinghigh.com coming soon if you’re interested in contributing send us an email on redflagflyinghigh@snack-media.com or follow us on twitter

24
Dec
10

Sunderland match preview

Berbatov gives the 'spot the ball' editor a dream photo

Berbatov gives the 'spot the ball' editor a dream photo

United face Sunderland on boxing day in a game that can no longer be taken for granted as an easy fixture. Sunderland currently lying in sixth place in the Premier League have already taken two points off United at the Stadium of Light being one of only two teams in the EPL to prevent the Reds from scoring- the other being the bitters of course.

Steve Bruce has made some inspired signings -both permanent and on loan and must be commended for getting the best out of players some may have even doubted were Premier League quality.

Take Titus Bramble for example, many scoffed when the former United skipper signed the defender for a mere one million pounds- some harsh critics labelling it one million too much, but Bramble has been in good form playing his part in helping the Black Cats into the top six.
Bruce has also helped get the best out of Anton Ferdinand who’s career seemed to be heading on downward trajectory this time last year.

There’s also the two Mancunian loan signings of Nedum Onohua and Danny Welbeck who’ve somehow catapulted themselves into the England reckoning in a matter of weeks. Welbeck in particular has looked like one of the best strikers in the Premier League, while new signing Asomoah Gyan has slotted into the Sunderland side almost as easily.

The problem for Sunderland has been consistency- just take a look at their away record for proof -one win on the road- coming rather bizarrely at Stamford Bridge, while Wolves and West Brom have beaten them, as for Newcastle, well for the sake of decency lets not even mention it. Okay why not -they got trounced 5-1!

Sunderland may have only one win  away from home but they’ve also grabbed useful points at White Hart Lane, Anfield, Craven Cottage and Ewood Park. It’s safe to say if you’re a betting man Sunderland away is not the first game you’d be looking to put on your accumulator.

Last season’s game saw the sides draw 2-2 as Darren Bent stunned United with a long range finish early on, while Berbatov equalised with a sublime overhead kick. Then  Ben Foster did his best to put the final nail in his Old Trafford career by allowing Kenwyne Jones to beat him to what should have been a fairly routine punch-out.

United however rallied, aided by a  Kieron Richardson sending off,  and a wayward Evra shot found its way into the back of the Sunderland net via a wicked deflection off Anton Ferdinand- cue lots of camera shots of the on looking Rio trying to look sympathetic yet pleased.

So what can United expect from such an unpredictable team? The key to victory could well be decided by three head-to-head battles, although with a tricky away trip to Birmingham only two days after Sunderland’s visit, it’s difficult to predict just what team Sir Alex will go with.

Ones to watch /key battles

Darren Bent – With five goals in the last six games Danny Welbeck has been Sunderland’s most prolific player, however due to his status as a Manchester United player he won’t be lining up against the Reds so it will no doubt be left to Bent to spearhead the Mackem’s attack. Bent shouldn’t be too worried though as with 24 League goals last season and seven this season the occasional England striker is one of the Premier League;s most consistent scorers.
With Asomoah Gyan also banging in goals this season Rio and Vidic can expect a busy afternoon. Despite it being unlikely that Rio can play two games in four days, I’d be highly surprised if Sir Alex doesn’t pick his two best central defenders to cope with such a lethal Sunderland attack.

Jordan Henderson- With Lee Cattermole suspended- again- the pressure will be on Henderson to try and put his mark on the middle of the park. It’s been a stratospheric rise for the youngster going from almost unheard of, to England International and proposed United target in a matter of months. While he wont be winning any beauty contests, there’s no doubt that the 21 year-old may well be heading for greener pastures if he keeps up his impressive displays.
Henderson reminds me a little of Michael Carrick and while I don’t expect them to go head-to-head as such- I imagine either Fletcher or Anderson will be given the task of keeping Henderson quiet- I expect Carrick to give the young upstart a lesson in passing.

Craig Gordon- Unless you’re Amish – in which case how the hell are you reading this?- you can’t fail to have seen the greatest save in the history of Association Football which took place in the recent Sunderland game against Bolton. Gordon endured a difficult time when he first arrived in the North East not helped by a over-inflated £9 million price tag and a shoddy defence in front of him. Now though the £9 million Roy Keane spent on the Scottish stopper looks like a bargain. With Wayne Rooney searching for his first goal from open play since 1987, if Wazza is going to get on the score sheet he’s going to have to have his finishing boots on to beat Gordon. If Berbatov starts then he’s going to need a Blackburn-type performance to add to his eleven goals this season.

With two wins, two draws and a loss in their last five games, Sunderland are hardly in top form but as they shown at Stamford Bridge and in this fixture last season a below par performance by United could well be exploited.

United enter this fixture in good form having won three and drawn two of their last five EPL games, with all three wins coming at Old Trafford. With the in-form Ji Sung Park due to depart for the Aldi cup after the game, there’s no doubt he’ll not only start but will be eager to remind Sir Alex not to forget him while he’s away. Although Sunderland are looking good, this is a game that United should win- especially in the absence of Welbeck and Cattermole.

New United fansite Redflagflyinghigh.com coming soon if you’re interested in contributing send us an email on redflagflyinghigh@snack-media.com or follow us on twitter

14
Dec
10

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.

08
Dec
10

Top five worst footballer rap songs ever

gazza- when he's not defending raoul moat he can't half rap

gazza- when he's not defending raoul moat he can't half rap

Footballers and rap songs are a true match made in hell, going together like Sepp Blatter and the English press. If you’re ever feeling down then putting on Fog on the Tyne by Gazza is sure to have you reaching for the revolver. There’s nothing more cringe worthy than your favourite winger suddenly appearing on MTV “spitting bars” and making songs so bad with rhymes so poor they make N-Dubz look Shakespearean.

It hasn’t just been the ‘rapping’ generation that’s had to endure footballers pretending to be ‘music artists’, any one old enough to remember Manchester City’s last trophy win will tell you that there were some really p*ss poor efforts that the Top of the Pops generation to endure. However as hip hop, r nb and good old fashioned rap have become the musical zeitgeist, footballers have been quick to  jump on the bandwagon. There’s also the advantage that you don’t have to be a good singer or be able to hold a tune to record a ‘rap’ song.

So which footballer rap songs have been the worst? Well there’s certainly enough to choose from and thanks to the joys of youtube all of them are easily accessible just in case you feel like torturing the bloke you’ve got tied up in your garage a little bit more.

Here’s my choice for the worst five  footballer rap performances in the history of the universe.

5. Asomoah Gyan- African Girls. Before he was scoring and missing penalties for Ghana and becoming part of the Premier League’s most feared strike trio, Gyan inflicted this pile of festering waste on the music world.  Its a display of rapping so bad it probably tempted Vanilla Ice to come out of retirement.

4. Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne – Fog on the Tyne. There’s not many men that could rap about sausage rolls- in between munching them no doubt- whilst wearing a multitude of shell suits and performing a dance routine so complex it borders on gymnastics. Gazza delivers his lines like a man in the job center who’s been forced to sing for his giro- which is ironically enough to cover the cost of this video.

3. Liverpool FC – The Anfield Rap. “We’ve got more stars than the cast of Dallas, got more trophies than Buckingham Palace..” Unfortunately the Liverpool players also had less singing talent than Milli Vanilli. Many teams produce rubbish cup final songs but few are as bad this. Only John Barnes would redeem himself musically by rapping on New Order’s World in Motion two years later, thankfully the rest of the squad didn’t bother trying to.

2. Andy Cole – Outstanding. Maybe by putting the word ‘Outstanding’ on the CD cover the music men thought people may think it was a review and buy this. Not only does Cole display the rapping ability of a middle aged pensioner from the cotswolds- recovering from a stroke- his lyrics plumb the sort of depths you’d associate with a drunken nursery rhyme. “United forever whatever the weather”- is a personal favourite. Cole may have been a great goalscorer but this song is the nadir of his professional career- even more than the stint at Wastelands.

1. Ian Wright – Do the Right Thing. This wouldn’t have topped the list if it wasn’t for one reason, while all the footballers on here are either having a laugh or showing a startling indifference to it all, Wright genuinely believes he’s the b*llocks. Technically he sings more than raps- in fact his rapping is merely speaking a few sentences- but technically this should have been banned for offensiveness anyway due to how bad it is. Wright was probably a little bit miffed this failed to reach the top ten, or twenty, or thirty, or forty, while the rest of us were shocked it actually reached 43- if you bought this-shame on you.

03
Dec
10

Why I’d still take Mourinho over Guardiola at Old Trafford

Pep was unimpressed by Jose's Sammy Lee impression

Pep was unimpressed by Jose's Sammy lee impression

The recent 5-0 thrashing of Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team has seen the Nou Camp boss’s stock rise even higher by many in the media.

Before ‘El Clasico’ many expected a tight, close match with both teams perhaps concentrating on nullifying the other’s attack rather than focusing on their own. Some pundits even expected Mourinho to outsmart Guardiola just as he had done in the Champion’s League several months earlier.

Well how wrong some of them- and I say ‘them’ because I went for a Barca win, even if I did predict a 1-0- were as a Messi-inspired Barca simply ran riot over Real. It was dubbed as being a battle of the games two biggest stars in Messi and Ronaldo and that may have been true as the Argentinean dominated a game while his Portuguese counterparts most noticeable moment was a push on Guardiola which nearly sparked a mass player brawl.

While most of the focus was on the two superstars of World football, many people, myself included were intrigued to see which coach would win the tactical battle.

Mourinho’s had a fairly successful time so far since he arrived at the Bernabeu, prior to the defeat at the Nou Camp, his record in La Liga was played 12 won 10 drawn 2, while he’d coasted through his group in the Champion’s League.

As usual for the self-titled ‘Special One’ he’d managed to grab a few headlines for more than just his results. His gamesmanship during the Champion’s League game against Ajax where he ordered Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos to get themselves sent off was arguably the most talked about football incident of the past few weeks.

Mourinho’s antics didn’t go down too well with those lovely chaps at UEFA who hit him with an unsporting conduct charge and according to sources in the Spanish media, the Real board were equally unimpressed.

Mourinho will have to learn that even success on the pitch is sometimes not enough at Real and members of their hierarchy expect the coach to behave in a certain way.

When it comes to ‘behaving’ how the club would like Pep Guardiola could write several books on what’s expected of a Barcelona manager. The Barca boss hasn’t just delivered stunning success since he was elevated to first team coach, he’s also done it dressed like a catwalk model- male one obviously otherwise he’d look daft- and has been adept at keeping the fickle Barca money men and media happy.

It’s been something of a dream tenure for Guardiola with the treble delivered in his first season and the La Liga retained last season. Of course there have been disappointments, such as the loss to Internazionale in last season’s Champion’s League and the relative failure of marquee signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Despite these setbacks Guardiola is still regarded as a star at the Nou Camp, after all his career as both player -where he won six La Liga titles and the Champion’s League- and manager has been a huge success. Knowing the club as he does though, Guardiola will be under no illusions about how long he expects to be in the job.

The Barcelona job is not one you’d apply for if you were thinking about long-term security- only three managers have lasted five years.

There’s been recent rumours that the best dressed coach in the history of world football could be heading to United one day as Fergie’s successor. There’s also been reports that the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City may have their wealthy eyes on him.

Money isn’t a big part of Guardiola’s life though, in fact when he delivered the treble to Barcelona his wages were less then the majority of Premier League managers. While the oil-funded blue parts of Manchester and West London could offer him a lot more than he would get at Old Trafford, the chance of managing one of the other biggest clubs in the world may be too tempting to refuse.

Let’s be honest when you leave Barcelona there’s no places you can go that are truly considered a step up but United is at the very least a step sideways.

While I would welcome Guardiola at Old Trafford -especially if he could convince Messi to come with him- I think Mourinho would be a better choice.

The reasons for this are simple:

Unlike Guardiola, Mourinho has proven himself as a top manager at no less than three clubs in three different countries and could well do it with a fourth at Madrid. Many criticise his arrogance but I think it would actually serve him well at Old Trafford- after all almost everyone hates United anyway and do we really care? NO.

The ‘us’ against the rest of the world mentality that Mourinho instills in his players would be perfect for United as we’ve never pretended to be popular with other clubs, fans or sections of the media.

There’s also Mourinho’s knowledge of the English game, which proved particularly useful to him last season as he outwitted Chelsea.

Like Guardiola, Mourinho would probably be courted by City, but would that represent the challenge he’s looking for? He’s already taken a club with money to the top of English football and it could be argued that by joining another ‘money-powered’ revolution he’d merely be going over old ground.

The biggest challenge anyone could face is replacing Sir Alex Ferguson and that would make normal man baulk at the prospect of coming to Old Trafford. Mourinho isn’t normal though, he’s special.

Guardiola’s work at Barcelona has been amazing but the Ibrahimovic signing may just have underlined why Mourinho is a little bit shrewder than his rival. Getting Samuel Eto’o and a pile of Euros for a player not nearly as good was the best bit of footballing business since Fergie rang Sgt Wilko.

If United were to get either Mourinho or Guardiola it would be a massive coup and they’d arguably be the envy of most of Europe, as either coach is easily in the top three- no prizes for guessing who’d be the third.

With Fergie showing no signs of retiring just yet, then there’s probably nothing to worry about for at least another season or two, but there’s always the question if Guardiola or Mourinho were to become available, would Fergie consider moving upstairs? I doubt it, very much and neither one is likely to be going anywhere very soon.

However there’s no reason why Fergie wouldn’t speak to the circus that is the Manchester United board and point them in the direction of Spanish football”s most successful bosses, when he finally does hang up his hairdryer. Either one would be great but for me Mourinho would be perfect.

26
Nov
10

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).

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.

09
Nov
10

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.