Posts Tagged ‘ferdinand


United in pole position for a very merry Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Time for Fergie to get tough with injury-prone trio?

Can Hargreaves really be relied upon anymore?

Can Hargreaves really be relied upon anymore?

Owen Hargreaves’ latest injury set-back will have come as little surprise to many of the Old Trafford faithful. While there’s no denying the midfielder’s abitilty and the fact that when he’s fit, United look a much stronger team, after two seasons of inactivity, questions about his capacity to return to action only increase. Hargreaves has endured the sort of injury problems that must be every footballers worst nightmare. With severe tendonitis in both knees, Hargreaves underwent an operation which supposedly meant he’d miss pretty much all of the 2008/09 campaign. Yet more than one season on there still seems to be no real end in sight for his injury lay-off with him now expected to miss the start of the upcoming season.

Sir Alex Ferguson has at times seemed to lose a little patience with Hargreaves, claiming in the latter part of last season that the reason the midfielder wasn’t ready for first-team action was due to lack of confidence rather than physical ailments. Then there were reports at the end of the season that Hargreaves had stormed out of training after Ferguson had told him he would not be figuring in the final game against Stoke City- thereby scuppering any slight chance he had of making the England World Cup squad.

Hargreaves wasn’t the only English- sort of- United player who wouldn’t need to worry about the deafening noise of vuvuzelas this summer. Perennial injury victim Michael Owen, lost any slight chance he had of making the plane, when he limped out of the Carling Cup final. I for one was against the signing of Owen as I felt he wouldn’t last the season and his signing would prevent United pursuing a much needed striker. I have to confess following his derby day last-minute winner, I did change my mind slightly, but the doubts remained. Owen, like Hargreaves, when fully fit is world-class, of that there can be little doubt. His hat-trick away at Wolfsburg showed that he can still perform at the top level, however it wasn’t long before the injury demons reared their ugly head and he was back on the treatment table.

Owen’s injury problems have been well documented for years now and no doubt helped contribute to the lack of interest in him when he was a free agent- causing the brochure debacle. Fergie obviously thought the striker still had a lot to offer and at one point looked like being proven right. Now though it seems Owen may find it even harder to get back in to the United side with Rooney, Berbatov not to mention Javier Hernandez plus Kiko Macheda, Mame Diuof and Danny Welbeck all fighting for positions. The question is will Fergie give Owen another chance- a real chance not just Carling Cup and seemingly easy Champion’s League games- to get into the starting XI?

One player who’s place in the starting side is pretty much guaranteed- as long as he’s fit of course- is the part-time England Captain, Merker, Film Producer, Website Entrepeneur, Rio Ferdinand. I’m a big fan of Rio’s, but the startling reality is the former Leeds man hasn’t looked fully fit for almost two years now. Coming back from numerous injuries United’s sometime captain often looks a little out of sorts, whether its pace or concentration wise. Ferdinand like Owen and Hargreaves, is a truly world-class player when he’s fit, but like his two occasional England- and United for that matter- colleagues, he’s rarely fully fit. Last season he started less games than Ledley King and then there was the whole coming back from injury only to get banned in his first game back for elbowing Craig Fagan episode.

The problem with Ferdinand is whenever he’s fit he comes back into the side more often than not for one or two games then is out again. This leaves Jonny Evans in and out of the team struggling to get the consistent run he both needs and deserves.

The point I’m making about all three players is when is it time to admit defeat and move on? All three are around the 30 year mark, Ferdinand and Owen being the wrong side of it. With youngsters coming through or available in each of their positions, is it time for Fergie to give other players a chance and call time on the trio’s Old Trafford careers?

This may sound harsh on all three, after all Hargreaves and Ferdinand were instrumental in helping United win the double in 2008, while Owen has only been given one season to prove himself.

However, keeping changing the defence does nothing for stablility and isn’t going to help Evans develop a relationship with Vidic or gain the consistent run he needs. Players like Hernandez and Macheda are the future and should surely be given a crack of the whip sooner rather than later as it will probably only be as Rooney’s understudy anyway, so pushing them further down the pecking order to accomodate Owen seems slightly short-sighted.

As for Hargreaves, while theres no denying the jury is still out on Anderson and Michael Carrick has actually gone backwards recently, can United afford to consider the Canadian-born midfielder a viable option? Is it not time to admit that he may never regain full fitness, or be the player he was two seasons ago and start looking at other options?

While many United fans may disagree, after all who can forget what all three players have done for the team at certain times, with Chelsea looking strong, Arsenal keeping hold of Cesc Fabregas and Manchester City buying most of Europe, is it now time for United to start looking forwards, however hard that may seem.