Posts Tagged ‘carrick

24
Dec
10

Sunderland match preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ones to watch /key battles

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

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

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

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

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

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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).

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.

16
Sep
10

Always look on the bright side of life

Anderson found scouse humour somewhat strange

Anderson found scouse humour somewhat strange

It’s been a somewhat disappointing start to the season for Manchester United, with last-minute goals conceded, a season-ending injury to a star player and former big issue sellers –rather than German superstars -joining the club.  

However while missing out on Mesut Ozil, and being a few minutes away from a perfect league start is annoying it is far from the end of the season- unfortunately the same can’t be said for Antonio Valencia.  No amount of optimism or sugar-coating will hide the fact that the Ecuadorian’s injury is a massive blow to United as he was one of the shining stars in last-season’s campaign.

I’ve still not been able to bring myself to watch it on television- I was sat near enough when it happened to see all I want to of that horrific injury and the reaction of the Ranger’s players said it all.

My main concern with Valencia is not whether we see him this season but that he’s able to re-capture the form he showed last season and this isn’t a Neil Webb –ask your dad- type injury that robs him of a lot of talent.

The feeling around United following the non-event that was a goalless draw against far inferior opposition is that the start to the season has been something of a letdown with needless points dropped, Wayne Rooney making the news for all the wrong reasons, not to mention the –still- ongoing saga of United’s number four.  Some fans –including me- are beginning to resemble the cast of Eastenders, looking ready to burst into fits of rage or just sink into a mood of melancholy at the drop of any more points.

While Owen  Hargreaves is looking about as likely to play for United again as Carlos Tevez, the squad at Old Trafford still has enough quality to challenge for major honours- at least in theory.

The names Rafael Van Der Vaart, Tom Cleverley and Ozil have been spoken about more in the past few days by many United fans and while any of those three would be useful to the squad there’s still a wealth of talent available.

Anderson and  Michael Carrick have yet to really figure this season and both players know that this could be their last season at Old Trafford if they don’t step up their game. While I’ve been critical of both players in the past, I still think they’ve got enough talent to play a big part and hopefully they will.

When it comes to the points United have dropped- and believe me I was as frustrated as anyone at the final whistle of both away games- it’s still not as bad as it may seem.

Chelsea of course have gotten off to a flier but considering their form at the back end of last season and the fixtures they faced can anyone have expected anything less?  

The likes of Wigan, WBA, Stoke and West Ham are the sort of games Carlo Ancelotti would probably have chosen as his first four of the season if he had the choice. Now I’m not getting into any conspiracy theory here that Chelsea have deliberately been given an easy ride but let’s face facts no one can really have expected the Champions to drop points against those teams.

United’s two away fixtures have been  more difficult than any games Chelsea have had so far this season and while the manner of the draws is frustrating there’s still a chance that Ancelotti’s men may return from both grounds with less than maximum points.

It must also be remembered that from the corresponding fixtures last season, United took no points whatsoever, so it’s not all doom and gloom just yet.

While the draw with Rangers was without a doubt one of the most boring 90 minutes I’ve witnessed since England took on the titans from Algeria it’s still need to be put into perspective. Yes, Sir  Alex Ferguson should not have changed ten of his players from the previous game and yes that is the sort of match where the term ‘banker’ could not be more apt- unless applied to someone who works in a bank of course- but you’d still expect United to top their group.

Going to places like Valencia, Glasgow and anywhere in Turkey is never easy for teams but they’re hardly the cream of Europe and quite frankly if Fergie’s men can’t get a result from those games then the Champion’s League is beyond them anyway.  I fully expect Fergie to realise the limits of which players he can and cannot leave out- he’s already admitted as much about Dimitar Berbatov – and play a much stronger side in the remaining games.

When it comes to Rooney- although his performance against Rangers was subdued- he’s shown enough in the game against West Ham and for England that he’s putting his World Cup and subsequent  ladies of the night debacle behind him and getting back –slowly- to being the striker we all know he is.

Fortunately for Wazza unlike last season, this time round he actually has a world-class partner who’s playing like he is actually world –class so it’s not all up to him to provide United’s goals.  Berbatov’s start to the season- while far from perfect has been a massive improvement on last term and he’s looking sharp.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, United lost the title last season not due to defensive frailties but simply because of an over-reliance on Rooney- Chelsea had Frank Lampard to lighten Didier Drogba’s goal load- who did United have?- other than possibly ‘own goals.’

If Berbatov can hit 20 goals this season then United stand a good chance of seeing the title return to the ‘Theatre of Dreams.’

The main worry defensively is the recent penchant for conceding late goals, what united need is a world-class defender with bags of experience who can help steady the ship, oh erm hang on. The return of Rio Ferdinand is exactly what’s needed and if he can stay fit then the one really worrying factor of United’s play this season could be resolved.

Even the Valencia injury may not be season-ending with recent reports indicating he could play a part at the back end of the season.  There’s also Gabriel Obertan to return who may well rise to the challenge of filling one of last season’s members of the PFA team of the year’s boots. Obertan has show signs in the reserves that he’s the real deal- now’s his chance to prove it.  

The point I’m making is that while it’s not been the start many United fans were hoping for, it’s far from the disaster certain people- including those in the press who love to see United fail- would have us believe.

What United could really do with is a home game against an arch-rival who are really struggling, to get the mood and confidence buzzing around Old Trafford again. If only we had a game like that coming up……………