Posts Tagged ‘Berbatov

27
Dec
10

Five things we learned from the Sunderland game.

United players huddle together in an effort to keep warm

United players huddle together in an effort to keep warm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

13
Sep
10

five things we learnt from United’s draw with Everton

"your exit points are here and here"

"your exit points are here and here"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31
Aug
10

5 things we learnt from the victory against west ham

Rooney - 57 minutes without a goal!

Rooney - 57 minutes without a goal!

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

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

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