Month September 2009

Month September 2009

Dominant United hits top spot

Ed September 27, 2009 Tags: Opinion 2 comments

Manchester United’s dominant display at the Britannia Stadium helped Sir Alex Ferguson’s side claim top spot in the Premier League for the first time this season. Goals from Dimitar Berbatov and John O’Shea were enough to see off the Potteries team, whose fans provided plenty of atmosphere on a day when the home side was as ineffective as United was good. But once again United was heavily indebted to the 35-year-old Ryan Giggs for providing the creativity to win the match in the closing stages.

United began brightly, creating a flurry of chances in the first ten minutes of the match. The pattern set in early, with the home side ready to ‘park the bus’, while allowing United’s players time and space. In particular the returning Paul Scholes was given room to spray passes long and short in search of an opening.

But while United dominated possession and territory, Ferguson’s outfit was unable to create enough clear openings in the opening forty-five. The clearest of which fell to Antonio Valencia, restored to the side after sitting out the Manchester derby. Beating former United trainee Ryan Shawcross, Valencia was able to draw Sorensen in the Stoke goal, before chipping tamely wide. The weaknesses in Valencia’s finishing, underscored here, is behind just seven goals in two years at Wigan Athletic.

Wayne Rooney then almost fashioned a goal with an acrobatic effort following Nani’s cross. The infuriating Portuguese winger also went close with a curling long range effort after cutting in from the right. Ronaldo’s heir-apparent saw plenty of the ball but continuously chose the wrong option. Shooting when better placed team-mates were available; trying to beat a man when a first time cross would have sufficed.

By the end of the half United had Stoke’s goal under siege, a pattern
which was to repeat for the rest of the match. On 55 minutes came the pivotal moment of the match, with Luis Nani being replaced by the effervescent Giggs. It took just five minutes for the Welshman to underline his quality, with a sublime run and pass across the six-yard area, allowing Berbatov to score with a tap-in.

Scholes, who could have seen red for the second time in as many matches after a handball on the edge of the United area, continued to dictate the tempo of the match. United dominated possession, robbing the home side of much of their usual bluster and reducing Tony Pullis’ men to hopeful long balls. Meat and drink to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, who had one of their most comfortable afternoons of the season.

O’Shea and Giggs then combined to complete the win. The Welshman’s in-swinging free-kick met by the Irishman’s forehead on his 350th appearance for United. O’Shea’s delight at scoring unsurprising as he hadn’t hit the net in over two years.

Ferguson was again effusive in his praise of Giggs. After the Welshman’s three-assist performance against City last weekend, the winger was the vital creative difference for United.

“Ryan is important. He made the goals. I felt his intelligence would give them a bit of bother on that side of the pitch,” he said after the match.

“Nani did pretty well but Ryan gives you something else. He has the intelligence to take up good positions. For the first goal he went on a lovely run behind their defence and the second was an excellent free-kick.”

If Ferguson was being generous to the Portuguese winger, then it was also a thinly veiled condemnation of Nani’s total inability to harness his considerable talent into an all-round package. More than two years into the former Sporting player’s stint at Old Trafford and Nani has hardly progressed.

“Giggsy’s experience of taking up different positions and taking advantage of any gaps proved crucial,” goalscorer O’Shea told the United official website.

“The great run he made for the first goal was him all over. The way he used his experience to get on the blind side of the defender was brilliant.

“I was really pleased to score especially against a team who are so strong on set pieces.

“It was a great ball in from Giggsy – I said to him I’d try and get across the ‘keeper – and thankfully I was able to knock it in.”

The authoritative win put United top of the table, following Chelsea’s surprise loss at Wigan Athletic. The reds have now won seven in a row after the defeat to Burnley at Turf Moor. And with three home games to come before the trip to Anfield in October, United has hit championship winning form far earlier in the season than is normal for Ferguson’s side.

“I wish we were saying this at the beginning of May. There’s a long way to go but it’s been a good day,” he said.

It certainly was.

Re-United with Robins

Ed September 26, 2009 Tags: , Shorts No comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will come face-to-face with Old Trafford alumni Mark Robins in the fourth round of the Carling Cup, after today’s draw pitched Manchester United against Barnsley. The tie, played on either Tuesday 27th or Wednesday 28th of October, will see United travel to Oakwell for a place in the quarter-finals. Robins, appointed manager of Barnsley this summer, spent six years at Manchester United.

Robins is best remember at Old Trafford for his goal against Nottingham Forrest in the Third Round of the 1990 FA Cup. Dubbed  the ‘goal that saved Fergie’s job’, Robin’s header from Mark Hughes cross was the first step on the way to victory in the final that season.

The Ashton-under-Lyne born striker burst on the United scene as a callow 18-year-old, scoring 17 goals in 69 appearances for United, although the majority of those games were from the bench. Sold to Norwich City in 1992 for £800,000, Robins also went on to play for Leicester, Copenhagen, Reading, Ourense, Panionios, Manchester City, Walsall, Rotherham United, Bristol City, Sheffield Wednesday and Burton Albion in a journeyman career.

In addition to the 1990 FA Cup Robins was also victorious with United in the 1991 Cup Winners’ Cup, the 1991 European Super Cup and 1990 Charity Shield.

Robins joined Rotherham in 2000 first as a player, then coach and finally becoming manager in March 2007. He replaced the popular Simon Davey as manager of Barnsley this summer.

Full Carling Cup Draw

Blackburn Rovers v Peterborough United

Manchester City v Scunthorpe United

Tottenham Hotspur v Everton

Barnsley v MANCHESTER UNITED

Chelsea v Bolton Wanderers

Sunderland v Aston Villa

Arsenal v Liverpool

Portsmouth v Stoke City

Remarkable Giggs as good as ever

Ed September 26, 2009 Tags: Shorts 1 comment

Ryan Giggs’ form is “remarkable”, according to his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. Speaking ahead of today’s Premier League game at Stoke, Ferguson praised Giggs’ performances, work ethic and hunger to continue playing at the top level. Giggs, named PFA Footballer of the Year last season, turns 36 in November but has put in a series of eye-catching performances this term.

“The horrible part of being a footballer is that at some stage you are finished with the game — age catches us all,” said Ferguson in his weekly press conference.

“When someone like Ryan is playing at the level he is at, he realises to stay there, he has to prepare himself in the right way. He has to look after himself and do the right things.

“It’s a lot to do with how he lives his life and prepares for games, and he’s helped by the fact he’s got a good physique. He has never carried any weight and has always been a slim athlete.

“It is not a matter of him defying his age. It is more a case that there is no discernible deterioration in his game at all. It is remarkable. I don’t know what else there is to say about him. His form is just the same as it was last season.”

Giggs, rested for the midweek Carling Cup victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers, is likely to start today’s game in the potteries.

Poll: which United kids will make it?

Ed September 25, 2009 Tags: , Polls 10 comments

With the Carling Cup underway a new generation of young players will be on view to those fans that can’t make it down to Carrington or Gigg Lane. Fabio da Silva, Ritchie de Laet, Danny Welbeck, Joshua King and Federico Macheda played in Wednesday night’s match against Wolves. More are likely to feature but who will make it?

Which United kids will make it?

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The kids are… not playing

Ed September 25, 2009 Tags: Opinion 7 comments

The Carling Cup has become Sir Alex Ferguson’s preferred route to blooding younger players. Despite opposition when Ferguson first employed the tactic nearly 15 years ago, it is a pattern now followed by most of the leading Premier League clubs. Understandable too – as the club’s lowest priority competition there is value in offering younger players vital competitive action they are unlikely to see in the Premier or Champions Leagues.

Why then did Wednesday’s starting team to face Wolverhampton Wanderers contain just four such players? Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck, Fabio da Silva and Darron Gibson, joined another seven senior players to face the newly promoted midlands club. Ritchie de Laet, who came on to replace Macheda following Fabio’s red card, and then the Norwegian Joshua King made it on the pitch as substitutes.

But this was one of the stronger – most experienced – Carling Cup sides that Ferguson has fielded this early in the competition. King aside, all the younger players had started a Premier League match before. Indeed, Macheda, Welbeck and Gibson have been in the first team squad for some time; the Irishman mentioned in dispatches by Ferguson last week.

Ever the realist Ferguson chose to give minutes to Gary Neville, Wes Brown, Michael Owen and Michael Carrick. None has seen significant competitive action this season. But each may now be wondering what demotion to the Carling Cup side means. Nani, who had a difficult night, had already started six games this season.

But the decision to include established players seeking match time also meant that some of the better reserve players, not out on loan, missed out. Febian Brandy, Zoran Tosic, Corey Evans, Magnus Eikrem and Robert Brady will be disappointed. The Serbian left-winger Tosic should probably pack his bags now if he can’t make the Carling Cup third round side.

On the pitch Fabio’s red card not only cut short his own game but Macheda’s too. The Italian sacrificed for the greater cause, with de Laet benefiting from an hour’s action. Macheda will have been hugely disappointed after failing to make the bench for any of United’s Premier League matches this season.

But it was Welbeck who was the star attraction. The striker took his goal superbly – underlining the technical qualities that prompted Sir Alex to nominate the Manchester-born player for England’s World Cup 2010 squad. He was also a tireless worker after being consigned to the left-wing for the last hour of the night.

“It was great playing alongside Michael Owen. It’s Michael Owen at the end of the day,” said Welbeck after the match.

“You can always learn from his movement, it’s unbelievable. I just knew he was round the corner and I knew where he was going next.

“We went one up front after the sending-off, so I was kind of playing as a left winger. I just had to get used to it but then the goal came, so I was pleased with that.”

The striker’s composure on the pitch matched his level-headedness off it. A character trait that will impress his manager – and the fans.

“I didn’t know Sir Alex had said that about England but it doesn’t drive me on,” he said.

“It’s a great plus to hear it but I’m really just concentrating on Manchester United at the moment. I suppose I’m just like any other normal Manc boy, really. To be given the chance to play for United is a dream.”

As we all know United > England.

Foster starts against Stoke

Ed September 25, 2009 Tags: Shorts No comments

Sir Alex Ferguson has confirmed that Ben Foster will start in goal against Stoke City at the weekend, despite the ‘keepers gaffe in the Manchester derby. Ferguson, speaking at his weekly press conference, told reporters that Foster will regain his place in the United side after missing out on the midweek Carling Cup clash with Wolverhampton Wanderers.

“It was a good opportunity for Tomasz, but Ben will play. Ben has not had a lot of game experience but he will be OK,” said Ferguson.

Foster has looked nervous in the opening weeks of the season. The Lemmington-born stopper allowed former United player Carlos Tevez to rob him of the ball for Manchester City’s equaliser last weekend, and also failed to keep out Andrei Arshavin’s drive in United’s victory over Arsenal.

Polish ‘keeper Tomasz Kuszczak played without error in the victory over Wolves, although few believe that the former West Bromiwich Albion player is the long term replacement for Edwin van der Sar.

van der Sar, out with a broken bone in his hand, will be fit within a month, Ferguson said.

Ronaldo: Nani is my heir

Ed September 25, 2009 Tags: , Shorts 4 comments

Cristiano Ronaldo believes that compatriot Nani is the heir to his Old Trafford throne and has backed the United winger to become one of the world’s best in the coming years. Nani, who signed for United from Ronaldo’s old club Sporting Lisbon in an £17 million deal two years ago, started the games against Chelsea, Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic, Arsenal, Besiktas and Wolverhampton Wanderers this season.

“I’ve seen that Nani is playing much more than he was last season when I was there. That’s good for him and he will benefit from that,” said Ronaldo, who has scored in each of Real Madrid’s games this season.

“Now he has more opportunities to play, he will be able to show the fans just how a great player he is.

“We still speak regularly on the phone. And it’s good to see United’s fans are starting to appreciate him more and have been happy with his form up until now.

“Nani is an excellent player. There’s a lot more to come from him and I’m sure that in a few years he will be amongst the best players in the world,” he told The Mirror.

The former United winger has also admitted to being an armchair red, despite his £80 million move to Spanish giants Real Madrid this summer.

“Every time I can I try to watch United’s games on television. I still like to know what’s happening at Old Trafford. And despite now being at Real, I’m always happy when I know when United have won.”

Ferdinand’s fitness failures

Ed September 24, 2009 Tags: Shorts No comments

United’s management is increasingly concerned about the long-term fitness of Rio Ferdinand, according to a report in today’s Times. The central defender, who sat on the substitutes bench for last night’s Carling Cup victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers, has missed 30 of United’s last 52 United and England matches says the paper.

Connected to the player’s long-term back complaint, Ferdinand suffered thigh, calf and groin problems over the past year. The defender, 31 on 7 November, has regular osteopathic treatment on the back complaint. However, the problem is now one that requires ongoing management, and not a quick-fix.

Sir Alex Ferguson has chopped-and-change his central defensive partnership over the past year, with both Nemanja Vidic and Johnny Evans suffering injuries. Evans played against Wolves, despite an ongoing ankle problem that may need surgery.

Ferdinand, who cost the club £30 million in 2002, signed a five-year, £130,000 a week, contract last summer. The Old Trafford bean-counters as well as the manager will be hoping Ferdinand is able to halt the tide of injuries.

Fergie facing up to ‘keeper dilemma

Ed September 24, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion 3 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson is faced with a huge goalkeeping dilemma, which he must solve  come the end of the season. Edwin van der Sar, unsure whether to sign a new one-year contract that would take him into his 40th year, may leave the club, while serious doubts remain over the long-term viability of both Ben Foster and Tomasz Kuszczak. Indeed, such is the looming problem that Ferguson may choose to dip into the transfer market next summer.

van der Sar, who signed from Fulham for around £2 million in 2005, has been on a rolling contract for the past three seasons. Last campaign the legendary Dutchman, who has 130 international caps, signed a new one-year deal in December.

“I’ve said for a few years that it may be my last season,” said van der Sar, whom UEFA named  Club Goalkeeper of the Year last season.

“Six months before my contract with Manchester United ended in December 2006, we extended for one year and so far it has been the same every time.

“I wait each season to see how or where I stand, if everyone is happy and if I can get motivated.

“But I know, because I always get older, it is increasingly likely that this will be my last season. In December, it will be clear how it goes. By then, I’ll have clarity. It is a horrible dilemma.”

van der Sar,  out injured with a broken hand,  will return within a month. With Foster’s form this season unconvincing, many believe that the Dutchman will be straight back in the United side. Indeed, while the Englishman has made some crucial saves – such as those to halt Robin van Persie of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur’s Tom Huddlestone – he has also made mistakes in the same game against Arsenal and Manchester City at the weekend.

Former United legend Peter Schmeichel should know goalkeepers and the giant Dane thinks van der Sar will end up staying at Old Trafford for at least another season. It would be a move that will end Foster’s United career.

“Ben Foster has done well this season and he certainly looks to be a very good goalkeeper. He’s getting a run of games now, but I’m sure Edwin will be back in when he’s fit because the manager knows he’s the right guy for the team at the moment,” said Schmeichel, whose last campaign at United was the 1999 treble season.

“I think Edwin can keep playing for a few more years yet. He’s fit, he’s strong and he’s motivated. Physically, it shouldn’t be a problem for Edwin to carry on and if he wants to, then I’m sure he’ll take that opportunity.”

Schmeichel quit Old Trafford for the warmer climate of Portugal aged just 35 and eventually played on for another four seasons with Sporting, Aston Villa and then Manchester City before retiring.

If van der Sar stays on there will remain serious question marks over the Dutchman’s ability to indefinitely keep up the form of last season, when he kept a clean sheet for record 1,311 minutes in the league. Indeed, the ‘keepers mistake in the Champions League final – beaten at the near post by Samuel Eto’o – was symptomatic of an indifferent end to the campaign.

Meanwhile almost nobody believes that Pole Kuszczak, picked for last night’s Carling Cup win over Wolverhampton Wanderers, will ever be good enough to claim the number one shirt permanently. The question is, after Foster’s gaffe against City, will he be in possession until van der Sar returns?