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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.

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Time for United fans to show Rooney what he’ll be missing

Rooney - on his knees, no doubt a position a few United fans would like to see him in

Rooney - on his knees, no doubt a position a few United fans would like to see him in

October 20th 2010 mid afternoon, just after dinner time- or lunch if you’re a bit southern will go down in history as a JFK-type ‘where were you when you heard the news’ type moment for all United fans.

It was a real ‘say it ain’t so’ event, when Sir Alex Ferguson told the world what some had expected, many had doubted and nearly all could not believe: Wayne Rooney didn’t want to be Manchester United player anymore.

I myself was working for a Manchester radio station busy stood in the rain asking members of the public what they thought of the imminent budget cuts. I got the news from a delighted scouse mate who phoned me with the news.

Not wanting to play into my -only- scouse mate’s hands I responded with the following series of lies:
“He’s overrated anyway, he’s been sh*t for months, I think it’s actually a good thing ‘cos we could use the money to buy 3 or 4 much needed players.” I was that convincing, I almost believed myself.

As I stood in the Mancunian rain, like thousands of other United fans, a whole host of thoughts were running through my head.
“Will he really leave? Will he go to the bitters? Will he be gone by January? When will it ever stop raining?!”

A call from the office ordered me to Old Trafford to ask fans around the ground for their opinions. A piece of cake I thought, until I was given one final stipulation- “try and get Mancunians, we need some Manc voices.”

Now despite the myth that’s often perpetrated by nearly all City fans, the one that seems to have become law to anyone from outside Manchester. All Mancunians do not support City, there are plenty of United fans in Manchester, in fact there’s hundreds of thousands. Finding a Mancunian at the United Megastore at 3pm on a Tuesday afternoon is fairly difficult, a bit like finding a scouser in full time employment- not unheard of, just extremely rare.

I arrived at the ground and was struck by the fact that the number of reporters actually outnumbered the amount of fans or passers-by. Sky Sports, were there along with an assortment of national and local journalists.

I asked one reporter how it was going? Had he managed to speak to many people?
“Mainly Irish and foreigners.” He said, with a look of disappointment.
“Any Mancunians?” I asked hopefully.
“Not one.” He replied inevitably.

I decided to interview whatever fans I could get my hands on feeling that at least some voices were better than none. There were one or two people going from interview to interview, as though they were on the red carpet at the oscars, basking in their fifteen minutes.

I grabbed the nearest person who didn’t have a camera stuck in his face. My question was simple “What reaction do you think Rooney will get the next time he plays for United?”

Over the next two hours I spoke to about twenty fans, some were even Mancunian, and the responses varied from “we’ll get behind him as always” to “He’ll get booed as soon as his name’s mentioned.”

Part of the problem was everyone still seemed unsure of Wazza’s motives and more importantly his destination.

One bloke stuck his head out of the car as I was interveiwing someone and shouted “f*ck City!” Although I was annoyed I had to start again, I couldn’t help but agree.
If Wayne Rooney did the unthinkable and went to the noisy neighbours, then it would be a disaster for both United and the striker himself.

The reason it would be a disaster for United is that despite his poor run of from Rooney is still one of the world’s top players. He’s in that exclusive club that includes the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Didier Drogba.
A player who on his day can carry an entire team and crucify any defence in the world. If United lost him to City then I think its safe to assume the balance of power in Manchester would shift.

Losing Carlos Tevez to them was one thing as despite his blistering from since he arrived at Eastlands, Tevez was only in and out of the United line-up, as much a substitute as he was a starter. Tevez was a good player for United of that there can be little doubt, but he wasn’t a Rooney. The scouse striker almost single-handedly carried United to the title last season and if it wasn’t for his injury against Bayern Munich- that now seems to have somehow altered the whole course of his career- who knows what could have been acheived.

Put Rooney in City’s team and not only will United lose arguably their most gifted player but City will finally get that true member of the elite that they’ve been missing.

The reasons it would be a disaster for Rooney, are that not only will he never be able to walk through the streets of Manchester without receiving some form of verbal abuse, his reputation will be one of the ultimate Judas, but more importantly, he will be leaving a team that was built around him, a club that loved him and fans who adored him.

Other players have left United in the past and lived to regret it, as one fan ironically stood next to the United Trinity statue said to me yesterday: “In a few years time, Rooney should sit down with the likes of Scholes and Giggs and compare medals, and I bet he wont have as many.” Rooney leaving United is his right but the least he could do for the fans is not throw it all back in their face by leaving for a few quid more to one of their arch-rivals.

However, going back to my original point, as many fans said to me yesterday, they’re already willing to give Rooney abuse. This though could be music to Manchester City’s ears, if Rooney wants the ultimate reason to join City, then United fans making his time at Old Trafford a living hell, could just be enough to make him head to Eastlands.

If there’s any glimmer of hope of convincing him to stay then the fans need to show him why the likes of Giggs and Scholes have stuck around for their entire careers. Getting behind Rooney and proving that the fans still love him could well make the young striker change his mind, after all a few months ago he seemed set to stay at United for life, there’s always the chance he could change it back.

Even if it doesn’t change his mind back, it will still show Rooney and the rest of the world that the one thing you can never accuse United fans of is not having a bit of class.

It may be difficult for some fans to chant his name, knowing that he could be wearing bitter blue one day, but I for one will be giving him the same support I give any United player. It may stick in my throat a little but the ‘White Pele’ hasn’t lost all the Old Trafford faithful just yet.


Premier League most hated XI

Drogba -everyone's favourite post match commentator

Drogba -everyone's favourite post match commentator

Over the years there have been many great players who’ve graced the Premier League, making it the most enjoyable entertaining and exciting domestic competition in the world. Players such as Cantona, Shearer, Henry, Ronaldo, Fabregas and Franny Jeffers have given even the non-football lovers a reason to tune in to Match of the Day on a Saturday night as they show us how the beautiful game can be truly just that. There have also been another set of players though, throughout the years, men who may have footballing ability but also have the knack of causing most of us to scream in anger whenever they touch the ball. I’m talking about the sort of players who if your daughter brought them home, you’d wish she was a lesbian. Players we love to hate.

Now, not many of us actually know Premier League players on a personal level, but we can pretty much garner all we need to know about someone from their attitude on the pitch. Some players such as Paul Scholes for example, will never be truly hated, which is somewhat surprising considering he’s fouled every single Premier League player at least twice, because they just get on with the game in a quiet manner. However for every Paul Scholes, there’s a Robbie Savage, the sort of player that even some of his own fans struggle to find a fondness for. Here’s my own personal Premier League XI made up of players you’d rather glass, than have a pint with.

Goalkeeper- Jens Lehman- Where do we start with Mr. Lehmann? Who can forget his chuckle-brothers esque shoving match with that other loveable chap Didier Drogba, or perhaps chasing a hapless linesman for 30 yards to berate him for a disputable decision. Lehmann also had a penchant for running out of his area often when not really required and for shoving, pushing, and generally antagonising anyone who came near him at a corner. He left Arsenal in 2008 after 199 appearances , during which he picked up a Premier League and FA cup winner’s medal- and got himself sent of in the Champions League final. He was soon up to his old tricks in Germany, racing out of his area allowing Cologne’s Wilfried Sanou to fire into an empty net from 45 yards, he then got in trouble for attending Oktoberfest immediately after, despite being told not to. No doubt he found a few Colonge fans to buy him drinks.

Left back There was only ever going to be one wasn’t there, in fact its so obvious I’m not even going to put his name. The Chelsea left-back is actually one of the best in the world and has won every domestic honour there is several times, but he’s also one of the most hated men ever to put on a pair of football boots. When he’s not refusing to be booked by referees, he’s busy lamenting the fact that Thierry Henry got more chants than he did, or complaining that £3 million plus a year, is enough to make you crash your car- more than a few people were probably wishing it did.

Right back- Gary Neville- I’m sorry but let’s be honest, while there are United fans that love Neville, they both live in Stretford apparently, for many, he’s become something of an embarassment. He may be one of the best right backs Old Trafford has ever seen, but more often than not his behaviour leaves a lot to be desired. Constantly saying anything to wind up the opposition, Neville is hated by anyone outside Old Trafford and even a few inside. As his appearances have become fewer his comments have increased, as have his actions. When he’s not giving players the bird, refusing to shake former collegues hands, or hiding behind Roy Keane in the tunnel, he’s making statements on anything from -deep breath now- Liverpool’s European exit, Carlos Tevez’s worth, Fabio Capello’s management ability, or how Premier League players are worth their wages. If Fred the Red ever retires, United have a ready made mascot.

Centre back- William Gallas- Who can forget the sight of the happy-go-lucky Frenchman sitting in the St.Andrews centre circle sulking, as Birmingham’s James McFadden tucked away penalty. The fact that Gallas was captain only made it more ridiculous. He took a leaf out of the Roy Keane school of youngster morale boosting by claiming in an interview that Arsenal’s younger players needed to “show more courage” if they were to succeed, perhaps sulking in the centre circle is a good way for them to start. Gallas was subsequently dropped from the squad for the next match before being stripped of the captaincy. A must for every dressing room in need of a sense of camaraderie or wishing to give a good example to the younger players.

Centre back- John Terry- Sorry Chelsea fans, well actually I’m not, but it’s yet another Chelsea defender who falls into the most hated category. His Guinness record breaking crying marathon following the Champion’s League final, apparently it lasted 34 days, still makes me wonder how anyone on earth could call him the ‘new Bobby Moore,’ I don’t recall England’s World Cup winning captain, sobbing his eyes out as he’s pictured with Pele in 1970. A player that often finds himself booed at away grounds- except at Old Trafford where, following Moscow,  he always gets and ironic cheer.

Left midfield- El Hadji Diouf- Although he can play in a number of positions for the purposes of this team he’s out on the left wing. What can you say about Diouf, honest, genuine, decent, clean, none of these words coud be used to describe a player who is almost as famous for spitting at people as he is for any footballing acheivements. Celtic fans, Arjan De Zeeuw and fans from Middlesboro have all been treated to a ‘gobby’ from the lovely lad from Senegal. Diouf isn’t a one-trick pony however, no no, he’s got more to his game than just spittting. How about a bit of abuse to those horrible nasty ball-boys at Goodison Park, that’s what’s missing in the modern game. 

Right midfield- Cristiano Ronaldo- okay, I still love Ronnie, but as someone said to me when he was still at United: “He might be a tw*t, but he’s our tw*t.” I had to agree.

Centre midfield- Steven Gerrard- arguably the most difficult time I’ve ever had as a football fan was supporting England with Gerrard wearing the captain’s armband. His camera -kissing celebration at Old Trafford as Liverpool stormed to another trophyless season was bad enough but it was his ‘accidental’ assist to Drogba to gift Chelsea the title cemented my dislike of him. He should have been banned for a year, mind you making him England Captain was probably punishment enough.

Centre midfield- Lee Bowyer – The former Charlton,

Leeds, West Ham  and Newcastle man has found an army of haters wherever he’s gone. It’s not just the fact that he holds the record for the most bookings in Premier League history or that he’s even been sent off for fighting with his own team-mates, its also that, well he’s just got one of those faces, hasn’t he?

Striker- Craig Bellamy- It takes a special player to get a list of enemies as long as Bellamy’s but the diminutive Welsh striker has managed to leave a trail of p*ssed off people behind him, wherever he’s gone. A career that took in Norwich, Coventry, Liverpool, Celtic, Newcastle and West Ham saw arguments with managers, and team-mates, ‘putt’ the striker on the most hated list of many. When Bellamy joined newly rich Manchester City  life at Eastlands was fairly quiet for the little Welsh one, although he did find time to assault a United fan- who was being held by stewards- in the Manchester derby, United fans don’t hold grudges though, even giving Bellamy a bit of money on his next trip to Old Trafford. There was also his public support of John Terry which no doubt endeared him to Chelsea fans. He’s a player that can often be seen winding up the opposition and he usually succeeds in that endeavour. Bellamy’s loan move to Cardiff left Pentonville rather disheartened as they were looking for a new forward.

Striker- Didier Drogba- For me one of the  funniest sights in recent Premier League history was Drogba having a ‘fit’ after being flying kicked by Jonny Evans, only to be booked by the referee. The Chelsea forward has become so known for falling over at the drop of a hat, that he’s even admitted it in interviews. Talking of interviews his post-match analysis following Chelsea’s Champion’s League exit to Barcelona was legendary. When he’s not diving, sulking and swearing he does score a lot of goals, but he’s done enough over the past few years to edge his way on to here.

Subs bench– Mark Bosnich, Emmanuel Adebayor, Kevin Davies, Duncan Ferguson, Robbie Savage, Michael Brown, Stephen Hunt.


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.


Five things we learnt from United’s draw at Fulham

Fulham v United - don't tell anyone but this is from last season

Fulham v United - don't tell anyone but this is from last season

United’s draw against Fulham came in such a manner that for many it actually seemed like a loss. However as the ever-chatty Mickey Phelan stated: “It was points dropped not a match lost.” So what did United’s draw at Craven Cottage tells us this weekend? The obvious one would be that Paul Scholes is like a fine wine/ the best midfielder in PL history/the only cool ginger man on the planet- but I already covered that following the Newcastle game so I won’t bother repeating it. However there was much to ascertain from Sunday’s game-4-4-2 could be the new 4-5-1 and Fergie still loves the BBC are just a couple of points that became evident, here’s five things we learnt.

1. 4-4-2 is back in fashion. Okay, so United didn’t win, sorry for stating the bleeding obvious, but one thing was as clear as the penalty not given against Nemanja Vidic- Dimitar Berbatov should not be dropped. Despite not being a clinical as he perhaps should be, the Bulgarian has started the season well and deserves to be playing regularly- or at the very least given a decent run. With Wayne Rooney hopefully off his toilet very soon then we should see him linking up with Berbatov to form the sort of strike partnership that United fans have been hoping for since the former Spurs striker shook hands with Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford- as Sky Sports went into hysterics at the ‘exclusive pictures.’ It’s not just Berbatov that makes sticking with the more traditionally United formation of 4-4-2 seem logical – Michael Carrick and Anderson would arguably not bring more to the team if they were brought in at the number 9’s expense. There’s a case to be made that even if Berbatov is not fit then Chicharito should be given a chance as part of a front two. If Scholes does need a rest, which although unfortunate is inevitable, then one of the aforementioned midfield men could come in and do the job, but switching to 4-5-1 for the big games, which was the norm last season, is looking like becoming a thing of the past.

If Scholes does need a rest, which although unfortunate is inevitable, then one of the aforementioned midfield men could come in and do the job, but switching to 4-5-1 for the big games, which was the norm last season, is looking like becoming a thing of the past.

2. There is a Plan B after Wazza. Okay so United didn’t win- and I assure you that’s the last time I’m going to say that, but they did score goals- sort of-and do enough at least attacking wise to win the game. Usually two goals would see United beat nearly any team. It’s easy to look at the Reds failure to take all three points and turn it into a simple equation United minus Rooney equals no win. However it wasn’t the bug riddled scousers absence that cost United all three points it was defensive lapses -and the penalty miss, which I’ll get to later. Hopefully United players can take solace from the fact that despite missing out on what would have been a cracking win, they still performed better, scored more goals and took more from the game than they have in the previous two seasons.

3. West Ham need to suffer. With Chelsea destroying teams with aplomb and with the struggling Hammers visiting United at OT in United’s next fixture it’s an ideal opportunity to show the Champions that they’re not the only ones who can take apart teams. The United chant “we often score six but we seldom score ten” is in danger of becoming synonymous with the Chelsea side. However while I don’t expect to see United put six past West Ham- although a hat-trick apiece for Rooney and Berbatov would be splendid, I still think a convincing victory is required. Not only will it all but erase the memory of the points dropped at Fulham but it was also let the rest of the Premier League know that United are still capable of giving teams a good hiding.

The recent hysterical drooling from certain sections of the press regarding Chelsea’s two wins over p*ss poor opposition does at least underline one fact- last season the West Londoners goal difference was tantamount to an extra point. Although after only two games it’s far too soon to start worrying about goal difference, United do not want to let it become an for advantage for Chelsea early on in the season. Teams that come to Old Trafford cautious and fearful always end up being comfortably beaten and if United can instil that fear into visiting teams early on this season in it should make the quest for a nineteenth title that little bit easier. It’s just a shame Mick McCarthy doesn’t manage all the visitors.

4. Nani you are okay (you are okay, you are okay, Nani). The penalty miss by Mr Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha no doubt cost United two points and many thought Ryan Giggs should have taken it. Fergie himself said that Giggs who scored two penalties in the game against Spurs last season was no doubt the man for the job. However while I at first was fuming with the Portuguese winger’s profligacy, once the smoke had cleared it was time for a bit of rational perspective. Nani is nothing if not supremely confident and it’s that confidence that United are going to need this season as he’s one of the real match winners the Reds have got. While missing a penalty is always disappointing, United should still have been able to hold out for a win and let’s not forget this isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened.

A few seasons ago Cristiano Ronaldo missed a late penalty against West Ham who promptly scored a last-minute equaliser shortly afterwards. Penalty misses happen- even Eric Cantona did it –very rarely though- and my point is Nani shouldn’t blame himself, it was a decent enough strike- although admittedly a ‘nice height for the goalkeeper’- which produced a good save. Let’s just hope that come the end of the season United fans aren’t looking at is as one of those title costing incidents.

5. The BBC is still off Fergie’s Christmas card list. One of the biggest questions before the match was whether Ferguson would finally end his six-year feud with the BBC and give a post match interview to Match of the Day. Obviously time has not healed the wound the Beeb caused on the United manager by ‘dissing’ his son so he’s still ‘not having it.’ While it all seems a little inconsequential following such an exciting and drama ridden game, it does mean the saga is set to continue with newer facets. The Premier League has declared it is going to order a review regarding the situation- no doubt Fergie’s on a plane to Venezuela as we speak.


Could youth replace the class of ’92 at Old Trafford?

Could Macheda become the type of legend Scholes is?

Could Macheda become the type of legend Scholes is?

With Sir Alex Ferguson’s insistence that Manchester United won’t be signing any players this summer due to ‘over-inflated’ prices, the question surrounding the clubs massive debt still lingers.

After all, following a season which yielded just the Carling Cup- hardly what is deemed successful at Old Trafford- there was an expectation that the coffers would be thrown open and at least one marquee signing would arrive at the Theatre of Dreams.

Many have already turned to the most hated men at Old Trafford- unless you count Gary Neville by away fans- the Glazers as the reason for lack of transfer activity.
Fergie though, had insisted that he does have the money but feels that the players available are over-priced or not really needed, as may have been the case with Liverpool’s new saviour Joe Cole.

All this reminded me of the summer of 1995 when three of the club’s biggest names left to be replaced by members of the youth team. Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and the Russian Locomotive that was Andrei Kanchelskis, all left for new clubs following United’s first trophy-less season in five years.

Fergie replaced his trio of departed stars, with unknown quantities Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and some kid named David Beckham. Add to that the fact that Gary Neville was now a regular and was joined by his younger brother Phil and many thought the United manager had gone mad, little realising it was all a massive ploy to embarrass Alan Hansen on Match of the Day.
Hansen’s: “You’ll never win anything win kids” comment following United’s opening day defeat at Aston Villa was the biggest gaffe since Romeo told Juliet getting together would be a good idea.

Hansen was made to eat his words on an almost daily basis as United’s young side, led by Sky’s new advertising genie Eric Cantona swept all before them, to win the double.
The young English backbone of that United side, would become the backbone of the England side for a decade to come, with Scholes, Butt, Beckham and the Nevilles gaining over 350 caps between them and featuring in every major tournament since then until this year’s World Cup- although technically Beckham featured as the teams chief eye-brow raiser and frowner.

West Ham have of course contributed massively to the England team, with the likes of Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Jermaine Defoe and Michael Carrick all coming through the Academy of Football. Unlike the United youth team of 1992, most of West Ham’s England players came through at different times. Ferdinand and Lampard were part of the youth team which reached the FA youth cup final of 1996, losing to a Liverpool side which included Jamie Carragher and Michael Owen. Carrick and Cole went one better in 1999 defeating a Coventry side that had Chris Kirkland between the sticks, by a 9 goal aggregate- no doubt this was good preparation for what was to happen to him at Spurs a decade down the line.

Although, technically it wasn’t until 1993 that all the aforementioned United players were in the same youth team- Phil Neville joining the team then, the fact is for a single team to contain a crop of youngsters that would go on to be so successful is not so much a rarity as an absolute phenomenon .

What makes the class of ’92 even more exceptional is that while it may not have contained the younger Neville sibling, it did have a young lad named Ryan Giggs, who would go on to make the odd appearance for the first team.

The point I’m making is can Fergie do it again with a crop of youngsters? Is there enough talent coming through the youth ranks for him to surprise everyone with another crop of ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’ –sorry I’ve always hated that term but felt obliged to use it- who can carry the team to glory?

Lately United have been giving more and more youngsters a chance as the likes of the Da Silva twins, Darron Gibson, Danny Welbeck, Kiko Macheda, and Jonny Evans have figured in many games.
Will Fergie be prepared to turn to youth fully, in the way he did back in 1995 to replace some of the players who’ve either left the club or are nearing retirement.

With the last remnants of the class of 92, in Scholes, Giggs and Neville, surely entering their final season, this may be the time for the United manager to confound the critics and turn to his youngsters.
While Jonny Evans is practically a first team member now, most of the young players are only used sparingly, could we now see Fergie give them a chance and make them starting members of his squad.
A starting line up of say VDS, Rafael, Evans, Vidic, Evra, Valencia, Fletcher, Gibson, Nani, Macheda and Rooney is still a very strong side which could give any team a run for its money.

Maybe the reason the United manager is acting like Ebeneezer Scrooge before the ghosts paid him a visit, is due to the knowledge that some of his younger players are actually up to the task.
With a further host of younger players in the likes of Cameron Stewart, Corry Evans, Tom Cleverley, Paul Pogba and Will Keane coming through the ranks the future may not quite be as bleak at Manchester United as many, myself included, have thought lately.

As the great Sir Matt Busby showed over 50 years ago, youth can be good enough to win league titles and challenge the cream of Europe, a lesson Fergie remembered in 1995, maybe it’s one he’s realised again.