Posts Tagged ‘vidic


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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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.


can United really afford to lose Vidic?

Will Vidic be joing Ronnie at the Bernabeu ?

Will Vidic be joing Ronnie at the Bernabeu ?

Sir Alex Ferguson’s insistence on not signing any players this summer will have been met with a collective groan from many Manchester United fans. However the United manager’s refusal to clarify that Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic will be at staying at Old Trafford will be met with more than just a groan, maybe even a scream or two.

With both Real Madrid and Barcelona reported to be interested in Vidic, Ferguson when asked about the transfer speculation gave the rather inconclusive answer: “I can’t clarify it at all.” Hardly the emphatic denial United fans want to hear.

Vidic had been a rock for United since signing for the club in 2006 from Spartak Moscow for the bargain fee of £7 million, striking up one of the best defensive partnerships in Europe with Rio Ferdinand.

Over the past two seasons with Ferdinand experiencing various injury problems, Vidic has managed to strike up a partnership with Jonny Evans, particularly last season, which saw United concede less goals than any other team in the Premiership.

There are two major worrying factors when it comes to Vidic leaving Old Trafford- at least from a United point of view. Firstly with Rio Ferdinand’s injury problems- he started a mere 12 league games last season- United now face the prospect of Jonny Evans and either Wes Brown or the untried Chris Smalling as the new defensive partnership. While I’m a big admirer of Brown, the fact is he has also had his fair share of injuries and his most successful season for United was at right-back.

As for Smalling, asking a player who’s only made a handful of Premier league appearances to come straight into the United team, is a bit much and may well lead to disaster.

The second worrying element is this recent trend of United losing the crux of their 2008 double winning team. This was a side which looked as though it could go on to challenge for major honours for at least the next three or four years, without needing much changing. However since that wonderful night in Moscow, United have seen, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez leave, Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves, suffer injury crisis’s and now it looks as though Vidic may be departing. Not to mention the fact that elder statesmen Edwin Van Der Sar, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, can’t be expected to carry on for much more than another season or that the jury is still out for Anderson and Michael Carrick seems to have regressed.

Fergie is well known for rebuilding United sides, but at the age of 68 can he really build a fifth great team, following the classes of ’93, ’96, ’99 & ’08?

There is another element to this saga as well which is the attitude of the immensely popular Vidic. The words “He comes from Serbia, he’ll f*cking murder ya!” are sung regularly at Old Trafford and with good reason- not because they’re true of course I’m quite sure Vidic has never committed a homicide- probably. No, Vidic is popular because he’s a real get-stuck-in type defender reminiscent of Steve Bruce back in his heyday, he might not be the quickest but what he lacks in pace he makes up for in his reading of the game and his fearlessness in the tackle.

Vidic has grown as a player at Old Trafford and it hasn’t always been a smooth progression. Against Liverpool and Barcelona two seasons ago he made costly errors in the two most important games.

While the loss to Liverpool turned out to be academic- although as someone who attended that game it is still my worst memory of a visit to Old Trafford, allowing Samuel Eto’o in to score in the Champions League final all but ended the game as a contest. While there’s little doubt in my mind United were never going to win that game, as Ryan Giggs rightly stated they just: “simply didn’t turn up” Vidic’s mistake no doubt opened the door for the Catalonians.

United and Fergie though stuck by Vidic, there was no real criticism for him coming from old Trafford, although many a so-called expert on Sky Sports or Match of the Day were quick to question his big-game temperament. Three successive sending offs against Liverpool only helped to pour petrol on that particular fire.

The point is though United and Ferguson have stuck by Vidic when others were questioning him, yet it seems the player has no such qualms about throwing the loyalty shown to him back in Fergie’s face. Every player of course has the right to move on, especially when they have helped their club to a host of major honours, but what is so disappointing about the whole Vidic saga is some of the reasons being bandied about for him wanting to leave. The most ubiquitous one is the idea that Vidic’s wife is unhappy in Manchester. Well call me a narrow-minded Mancunian but surely Manchester is at least as good as Serbia if not a tiny bit better. This reminds me of the time Paul Ince departed Old Trafford supposedly because his wife wanted to move to Milan- it amazes me how tough players can be so hen-pecked. Surely if Vidic was happy at Old Trafford he could convince the Mrs there’ll be plenty of time to live in Spain once his contract finishes. Speaking of his contract another rumour is that Vidic is unhappy that United have stalled with making him a new offer. If this is the case then I for one hope Fergie rectifies the situation and offers the Serbian a new deal, as losing him may be the straw that broke the camel’s back when it comes to United trying to regain ‘our trophy.’

Of course Vidic is under contract until 2012 and United could always take a leaf out of Arsenal’s book and simply refuse to sell him, although as Fergie has shown in the past, once a player wants to leave Old Trafford, it doesn’t take long before they’re gone.