Archive Page 2

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.

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01
Dec
10

A Tale of Two United’s –Unbeaten run ends with a whimper in E13

"You can stick your fooking England..." not what the 2018 committee would want to hear

"You can stick your fooking England..." not what the 2018 committee would want to hear

When Dickens wrote “It was the best of times it was the worst of times” it’s blindingly obvious he must have been a Manchester United fan.

The last five days have been the strangest of times in recent memory for many United fans, myself included.

From dancing out of Old Trafford having seen Blackburn well and truly put to the sword, to trudging through the snow in East London having been demolished by relegation certainties West Ham, the life of a United fan is anything but predictable.

While I refrained from getting carried away with the emphatic win over Big Sam’s Blackburn, at least in print, there can be no denying that the thought of United sweeping all before them from now until the end of the season did briefly enter my mind.

Thank god then for those footballing colossuses Jonathon Spector and Carlton Cole for reminding me not to get carried away with the fickle mistress that is football.

While the win over Blackburn highlighted just how good some of United’s best players can be on their day, the Carling Cup loss to West Ham merely underlined the faults some of the supporting act need to work on if they’re going to be of any use in a title challenge or big Champions League game.,

It wasn’t the fact that United failed to mount any real shots on of note on Robert Green’s more than fragile goal for much of the game, or that 36 year-old Ryan Giggs was the most determined and enthusiastic player on the pitch that was the real disappointment of last night’s game.

No the real disappointment was the same old questions rearing their ugly head that have already been asked and not really answered for some time now.

John O’Shea. Need I really say any more? Just what does the man have to do for Sir Alex Ferguson to realise he’s nowhere near United-class and has gradually got worse over the past few seasons. The fact that O’Shea’s been recently rewarded with an 80k a week long-term contract is the biggest example of rewarding ineptitude since the Americans voted in Dubya Bush for a second term.

Speaking of Americans, when a player of the calbre of Jonathon Spector more than doubles his tally for the past 12 seasons-probably- in a game against you, then something is desperately wrong with your choice of personnel.

While there’s no need to suddenly start screaming and panicking at what is almost a reserve side getting beaten by a Premier League team away from home .there are certain factors that cannot or should not be ignored.

The form of Jonny Evans is now so worrying, I can’t believe there isn’t something deeper behind it. I’m not talking evil spirits or a secret drinking problem- although if it makes him play like Paul McGrath it might be an idea. No, what I mean is how can the player that you could rely on to boss and stamp on Didier Drogba, who once made me actually write the words: “If Rio Ferdinand cannot be relied upon regularly maybe its time to make Evans first choice”, how can he be so consistently worrying?

Even against Blackburn I felt he could have made it a bit harder for Christopher Samba to score, but against West Ham he was quite frankly awful. Evans looks as though he’s totally out of his depth against players that a year or so ago would have been lucky to get a touch of the ball let alone grab a brace.

Carlton Cole was shockingly bad for much of the game and showed why he’s not even always managed to hold down a first team place at West Ham this season. At times, watching Cole lose the ball or fluff a shot was laughable and actually made me forget the fact that I could no longer feel my feet.

it all seemed to start so well for United with Gabriel Obertan very nearly opening the scoring after only a few minutes. Yet it proved to be a false dawn. Even with Mark Clattenburg doing his party piece of consulting with the linesman to rule in United’s favour- thereby disallowing a West Ham goal that had already been announced over the Upton Park tannoy, United couldn’t seize the initiative.

Too many players just didn’t perform, with Darren Fletcher being one of the main culprits. The reason I single out Fletcher -who to be fair was by no means the worst player on the pitch, is that his performance seemed to sum United’s night up. If the man who dealt with the likes of Rafael Van Der Vaart and Luka Modric only a few games earlier cannot cope with a player of the calibre of Victor Obinna then there’s something seriously wrong. I only hope that Fletcher does his usual job of playing not so well against poor opposition and gets back to his best for his other usual job of keeping Cesc Fabregas firmly in his pocket for the upcoming visit of Arsenal.

United fans wonder why we ever let Jonathon Spector leave

United fans wonder why we ever let Jonathon Spector leave

Even Tomasz Kuszczak who’s required to play a maximum of eight games a season, seemed a little out of sorts and other than one good save in the first half looked a little indecisive and dare I say less than bothered.

While you can hardly judge players on one game in the snow it’s obvious that Bebe and even Obertan cannot be called upon in big games just yet. I just hope Nani and Giggs stay fit and Antonio Valencia can make a full recovery because I can’t imagine the top teams having too much difficulty in dealing with either.

The full back merry-go-round only underlined the problems United had in dealing with a West Ham side playing for their only chance of success this season. O’Shea swapped flanks with Fabio who replaced the Irishman in performance as well as position and neither of them looked anything other than dodgy. Poor Rafael was subsequently thrown on for his brother only to suffer the indignity of getting the p*ss took out of him by the now rampant Obinna.

The biggest shame for me came in the fact that Carlton Cole who’s touch reminded me of Emile Heskey on an off day, managed to turn Jonny Evans with such ease. Cole’s second which came from a cross by the now Ronaldo-esque Obinna was the final insult. My biggest sympathies lay with Ryan Giggs, who battled for every ball and seemed to remember what shirt he was wearing  and my fellow travelling fans. As I’m working in London for the week, I only had a trip to Tooting to contend with but I can only imagine how sh*t the drive back up the M6 must’ve been for many.

My only real comfort from such a dire evening is the memory of how a League Cup quarter final loss at White Hart Lane over ten seasons ago led to not too bad a season……



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).

25
Nov
10

Is Berbatov becoming a cause for concern?

Berbatov- desperately wanted for past crimes

Berbatov- desperately wanted for past crimes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13
Nov
10

Five things we learnt from the game against Villa

Vidic- was he pushed or did he jump?

Vidic- was he pushed or did he jump?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

01
Nov
10

Five things we learnt from Manchester United v Spurs.

Even from this view it was obvious the ref had not signalled a free kick

Even from this view it was obvious the ref had not signalled a free kick

Prior to Saturday’s game a Spurs fan I know called his team’s visit to Old Trafford, a ‘trip to the theatre of refs.’ While Mark Clattenburg may have helped cement that moniker in the minds of the Spurs faithful, there was a lot more to grasp from Saturday’s game than just Nani’s bizarre goal.

Before the game there was a lot of speculation surrounding which United right back would be given the unenviable task of marking Gareth Bale, who is now universally accepted as the greatest left winger in the history of world football.

Sir Alex Ferguson, who seems to love throwing Rafael Da Silva in at the deep end, chose the young Brazilian, and also gave former Spurs midfielder Michael Carrick a rare Premier League start.

With Chicharito starting alongside every Spurs fans favourite Bulgarian up front, the omens looked good for  an exciting and attacking game. With the likes of Rafael Van Der Vaart, who many United fans feel should have been wearing a Red shirt on Saturday and Luka Modric lining up for Spurs, then this game definitely did not have nil nil written anywhere near it.

So what did we learn from Saturday’s late kick off other than Rio Ferdinand is already suffering from the preferential treatment which seems obligatory for all England captains?

1. Ji-Sung Park is going nowhere. There’s been a lot of rumours that the South Korean Captain would be heading out of the Old Trafford door come the summer, or even January depending on who you believe. Park’s not had the best start to a season and with all this talk of a summer spending spree to placate Wayne Rooney’s need for bigger names at his next birthday party, many believed Park may sold.

However on Saturday Park showed what many United fans have known for a long time- that he’s one of the best squad players you could wish to have. He may not have the skill of a Nani or the pace of an Antonio Valencia, but he has the determination and energy of a fully fit Owen Hargreaves and was simply awesome on Saturday. Always willing to track back and get in a tackle, and carrying the ball forward and attacking the space with gusto, Park played like a man possessed. With Darren Fletcher- who I’ll get to later and Chicharito also seeming to think any loose ball was property of Manchester United, the Spurs players had their work cut out all afternoon.

Throw in a great run and shot that hit the post early on in the game and you can call it one of Park’s best performances for some time.

2.  Michael Carrick, where have you been? A few days ago on this very site, I labelled Carrick, along with Park, one of the most underrated United players of all-time. At the time of writing I had to acknowledge it may have seemed an unpopular choice as Carrick had been going through arguably his worst spell at Old Trafford and still hadn’t seemed to recover from the Bayern Munich game. Saturday’s performance however was exactly what Carrick is capable of and should be doing week in week out. Carrick seemed to grow in confidence as the game wore on and benefited from having a Scottish terrier alongside him who was willing to do a lot of the running. Carrick’s never been the sort of high octane player like a Fletcher, Hargreaves or a Roy Keane and sometimes he gets unfairly judged because of that.

It was his sloppiness that had been the reason for most of his criticism at the back end of last season and probably cost him his chance of replacing Gareth Barry in the England side for the Word Cup.

Saturday’s game was an example of what Carrick can do, quietly going about his job, passing the ball about nicely and always giving his team mates an option. Carrick remained fairly disciplined as well knowing when to venture forward and when to sit back knowing the dangers that the Spurs midfield possessed. It may not have been the sort of performance that has you drooling and screaming his name- hopefully not at the same time, but if Carrick can do it consistently then like Park, talk of a summer transfer may be premature.

3. Dimitar Berbatov is entitled to an off day. The same fixture last season saw many in the crowd at Old Trafford on Berbatov’s back almost before he touched the ball. This time round Berbatov had arguably his worst performance of the season but everyone seemed to accept this is going to happen. While his touch may have let him down and he seemed to spend more time arguing with Nani than linking up with him, Berbatov is not considered the lazy waste of money and space, he was at times last season and there’s no doubt that he’ll put this off day behind him and be back on song soon.

The fact the supporters are now forever in love with him thanks to a hat trick against the relegation battlers from down the M62 means that unlike last season, one or two mistakes, or even one or two off days won’t have everyone calling for his head.

4. Darren Fletcher could be the difference. If United are to win the title then they’re going to need more performances like this from the Scottish skipper. Fletcher was awesome, with the sort of energised display that Bryan Robson or Roy Keane would have been proud of. Fletcher played as though it was a cup final, battling for every ball, chasing seemingly lost causes and never shying away from tackles. Everyone knows that Fletcher is capable of this type of performance- just ask Cesc Fabregas- but he seems to only save it for the special occasions.

If Fletcher can emulate this showing week in week, then United would have a far better chance of regaining the title. Too many times this season Fletcher’s seemed subdued slightly and not always managed to get to grips with certain games. As he showed on Saturday  Fletcher’s one of the best midfielders in Europe on his day and if he pulls out the ‘barnstorming displays’ more regularly then United could be going one better than last season.

5. ‘Running down the pitch don’t know which one’s which viva Da Silva’. Rafael could have been forgiven if he’d have struggled to get to grips with Bale, after all he’s not exactly been United’s first choice right back this season. However no one bothered to tell Rafael how amazing, awe-inspiringly wonderful Bale was, as the young defender did an admirable job of marking the ‘Welsh wonder’, Ryan Giggs should have trademarked that name when he had the chance, out of the game. Although Bale did have one good run and shot, which was more down the middle than down the left wing, he was nowhere near as dangerous as he has been at times this season.

Rafael even had the audacity to get forward now and again causing Bale to have to track back and help deal with him- the cheek. Rafael is far from the finished article and was subbed after an hour for Wes Brown- who got a massive cheer when he went through Peter Crouch. But as Saturday showed, he’s got a bright future ahead of him and is not afraid of taking on the world’s best wingers.