Month November 2009

Month November 2009

United miss creative beat as kids lose

November 26, 2009 Tags: , Matches No comments

The promise of youth will have to wait for another day after Manchester United’s fringe team lost at home to Beşiktaş last night. While the home side enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, Sir Alex Ferguson’s outfit lacked a vital cutting edge as the Turkish visitors held out for a famous Old Trafford win in Champions League group B.

Opting to make eight changes from the side that defeated Everton on Saturday, Ferguson trusted in the vigour of Federico Macheda and Danny Welbeck to deliver the goals that would seal United’s group win. It didn’t happen, as the 17-year-old Italian and his reserve team partner-in-crime drew a frustrating blank.

Defeat was United’s first in 23 home Champions League matches.

The home side started the match brightly with Irishman Darron Gibson a stand-out figure in central midfield for the opening quarter. But United’s inexperienced selection paid the price for not taking an early advantage as the away side took the lead on 20 minutes. Rodrigo Tello’s speculative 25-yard shot beat Ben Foster, recalled in the United goal, at the far post. 

The oft-criticised ‘keeper should have done more to keep out the effort, despite a heavy deflection off Rafael da Silva wrong-footed the England international.

Gabriel Obertan, by far United’s best player on the night, then broke free only for veteran ‘keeper Rustu Receber to stop the Frenchman’s effort at the near post. It would have been some full-debut at Old Trafford.

It could have been worse for United’s kids though as Beşiktaş’ Michael Fink almost doubled the visitor’s advantage before the interval with a shot that hit the outside of Foster’s post.

But the youngsters continued to monopolise possession after the break without overly extending Rustu until the closing moments. With Anderson lying deep and Gibson increasingly delivering obvious balls towards the forwards, it was left to Obertan to offer United’s cutting edge on the right-wing. Ferguson’s summer acquisition from Bordeaux has shown more in a handful of outings than Nani – omitted once again – has in two years at Old Trafford. Adeus, Luís Carlos.

An increasingly desperate United threw players forward, including substitute Michael Owen who made little impression on the match. Another from the bench, Patrice Evra, was then felled in the box as a Turkish defender cut across the Frenchman. Evra and Ferguson stood in disbelief as referee Lannoy waved away the protests. After Darren Fletcher’s erroneous booking for diving in United’s last Champions League match, Ferguson was rightly annoyed.

“I was right to be agitated, ” Ferguson said afterwards.

“If you can’t give one like this and the one against CSKA Moscow then you are in trouble.

“It’s a penalty kick – that’s two games in a row they have denied us stonewall penalties but what can you do about it?”

It nearly mattered little as Rustu saved magnificently first from Macheda, after neat work by Owen and Evra, and then from Wes Brown who brought the best out of the former-Barcelona stopper with a powerful header.

But for all United’s possession, Ferguson’s youthful side missed a creative heart in Wayne Rooney’s absence. How the Scot could have done with the former-Evertonian’s ability to fashion a chance out of nothing, or – perhaps more tellingly – Paul Scholes of a decade ago.

Talented as many of Ferguson’s protégés are, the United side badly missed a ‘number 10’ pulling the strings as the youngsters froze in the face of defeat. It’s a fault that Ferguson recognised.

“I thought we needed a bit of composure. The young players were a bit anxious and that is understandable in a way,” Ferguson said.

“It was an experimental line-up in a way. We have to be fair in the way we assess the players in these games.

“The value is the trust we have got in playing these young players. They are potentially top players.

“We know about Macheda and Welbeck while Obertan has only arrived at the club after having a long spell out through injury.

“The important thing is, though, they showed a good level. In the first half we had good opportunities but got caught on the counter-attack, which can happen of course.”

While defeat is a lesson learned, the consequences could be far more serious. United will now travel to Wolfsburg in December for matchday six needing a result to top the group and ensure a – potentially – easier draw in the knockout stages. The Scot’s yougsters, likely to feature again in Germany, will need to perform better if the side is to avoid a group winner in the next round.

Players of the season … so far

November 25, 2009 Tags: Opinion 23 comments

With Christmas just around the corner, Manchester United must hit a rich vein of form over the next few weeks. Five points adrift, Sir Alex Ferguson has urged his team to leapfrog Chelsea and seize pole position in the Premier League title race. But a third of the way into the campaign, which players have shone for United and which have failed?

Darren Fletcher is an obvious candidate, with a string of exceptional performances this season. For years the Scot, labelled as inadequate by many critics and supporters alike, struggled to make the grade. But Fletcher has proven the doubters wrong with his inspiring and at times jaw dropping performances. One of the most improved players in world football.

While Fletcher is not prolific in front of goal, the 24-year-old midfielder has chipped in with crucial strikes against Manchester City and Everton. The Dalkeith-born player’s recent goal against the Merseysiders was reminiscent of Cristiano Ronaldo at his very best, such was the technique involved. And despite the player’s disappointment on the international front, Fletcher has been one of the key performers for United this season. Perhaps most of all, Fletcher has made the supporters believe in him again.

The old stalwart Ryan Giggs has once again surpassed all expectations of what a 37-year-old player can do. The Welshman recovered from an un-characteristically poor performance against Arsenal at Old Trafford to become the catalyst for United’s turnaround against Spurs. At Stoke, Giggs was superb in United’s win.

It has been a productive season for Giggs as well. The Cardiff-born winger is United’s chief contributor with nine assists. Although Giggs’ best role is less certain than in the past, there will always be a place in the team for the maestro.

Ronaldo’s departure to Real Madrid required a goalscoring replacement. Although Wayne Rooney has not quite hit the net at the Portuguese’s rate, the Scouser has certainly risen to the challenge. With just 13 league games played, Rooney is on course to beat his previous season’s best of 16 Premier League goals.

Rooney is, of course, heavily involved in United’s creative play too. This duality is what makes the former-Evertonian ‘the complete all-round player’, according to Harry Redknapp. With better players around him, United might be able to get even more out of England’s most consistent performer.

An early shout for Edwin van der Sar is by no means out of the question. The Dutchman’s influence is clear, especially while Ben Foster is yet to prove whether he will live up to his early promise. United’s number one has been superb in recent fixtures – the player’s experience, not to be underestimated, means that his role in the team remains essential.

Despite the positives there have been a number of disappointments within Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad. Fergie will certainly demand bigger and better things from Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov, Anderson and of course Nani as the season edges towards its second half. If Nani is still at Old Trafford in February, it’ll only be if the ex-Sporting winger finally steps up to the plate. The £17 million player owes it not only to himself but every single United fan too.

And while last season United based the team’s success on defensive stability,  with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand un-breakable, this has not been the case so far this campaign. Few if any of Ferguson’s defenders have done themselves justice.

Let’s all laugh at the Scousers

November 24, 2009 Tags: , Just for fun 4 comments

It’s Liverpool’s year, it’s always their year. Touted as just about every pundit’s tip for the Premier League title, the Dippers have blown their domestic chances and crashed out of the Champions League in the matter of weeks. Benitez’ side managed a 1-0 win away to tiny Debrecen but crashed and burned as Fiorentina beat Lyon in Italy.

With Liverpool’s domestic ambitions shot, most boards would fire Benitez’ arse without delay. But the hapless Spaniard will keep his job because the club’s owners can’t talk for long enough to make a decision, let alone afford the massive pay off.

On the day Ryan Babel demanded out of the club – a rat jumping a sinking ship – prey gentlemen, a minute’s silence please!

Tarra la, eh?

Tarra la, eh?

Oh dear Fiorentina win!

Oh dear Fiorentina win!

P45? That'll be £20 million please!

P45? That'll be £20 million please!

Poor liddle Scouser

Poor liddle Scouser

Close your eyes Stevie, there there

Close your eyes Stevie, there there

And this pearl….

Rant Cast 12 – United’s most important midfielder

November 24, 2009 Tags: Rant Cast 2 comments

In this episode of Rant Cast regulars Ed & Paul talk about:

  • World Cup qualifiers
  • The win over Everton
  • Darren Fletcher’s superb form
  • Besiktas in the Champions League
  • Portsmouth away
  • …and lots of other stuff!

Stream the episode below or click here to download the podcast (right click > save as).

Email all feedback to or comment below.

Subscribe on iTunes now.

Fergie rings changes as reserves get chance

November 24, 2009 Tags: , Matches No comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will offer Manchester United’s fringe, young and reserve players a chance to impress the Old Trafford faithful as the Scot’s team takes on Besiktas in the Champions League Wednesday night. Ferguson, who is without injured Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, John O’Shea, Jonny Evans for group B matchday five game, will bring in youngsters to take the baton.

The United manager will start attacking youngsters Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda against the Turkish outfit, with doubts surrounding Dimitar Berbatov’s fitness and Wayne Rooney rested.

“I will be making changes (against Besiktas). Not a lot, but enough just to freshen it up,” Ferguson said.

“It’s a problem keeping players happy, but everyone has that when you have a squad of players. We use the League Cup for that and, if we can qualify early enough in the (Champions League) group, we can then use the likes of Welbeck.

“He will definitely play (against Besiktas) and Macheda too probably. They are the ones that need to be challenged. They’ve reached a point, and it happens in football, when a footballer has the ability to be a top player and you recognise that.”

“You have to give them the challenge. If you don’t, they lose the scent. But this club has been good at recognising that over the years.

“That’s the nature of football. A young player turns the corner and takes someone’s job.”

United’s place in the knockout stages of the competition is assured, although the prize for topping the group is a potentially easier tie in the next phase. Despite this, Ferguson intends to use Darron Gibson in the centre of midfield and Gabriel Obertan on the left-wing as the Scot aims to cope with the loss of so many injured players.

Obertan, who has impressed supporters with his pace and trickery since a £3 million move from Bordeaux in the summer, has another opportunity to displace the consistently disappointing Nani in United’s attacking quartet.

In addition, Rafael Da Silva will feature at right-back, while Ji-Sung Park will play some part in the match after recovering from an injury that has kept the South Korean out for several weeks.

Ferguson though still expects United to win the match and top group B, with a fixture against a group runner-up in round two the reward for victory on Wednesday night.

“We want to win the group,” added Ferguson.

“Their (Besiktas) form has been transformed in the last six matches. They have won them all and they are in very good form.

“It’s a good fixture in that we are already through. It means I can try one or two things. We could easily have an absolute non-event game, but we will try and challenge the younger players at the back.”

Ferguson is as hungry as ever to win the Champions League – which would take a third final in-a-row – with the pain of last season’s final defeat to Barcelona vivid in the memory. It’s an achievement that the Scot feels was overlooked in the aftermath of the comprehensive loss to Los Cules .Indeed, last season’s opponents face an uphill task to qualify for the knockout stages after losing to Rubin Kazan in matchday four.

“Barcelona could be out tonight and that shows how tough it is to retain the European Cup, as we nearly did last season,” said Ferguson.

“Maybe our achievement has been underestimated because you see how difficult Barcelona are finding it. But if Rubin Kazan with the game, you would not be happy facing Barcelona or Inter in second place.

“But Barcelona are such a good team. They were my favourites to win it at the start of the competition.

“I think there are one or two more difficult groups than we anticipated. The one with Rubin Kazan, Barca, Dynamo Kiev, Barcelona and Inter Milan is a real group of death.

“If Rubin Kazan win against Kiev and Inter and Barca draw, they could both be under the cosh.

“Real Madrid and AC Milan in the same group is difficult, Bayern Munich are struggling, and if Fiorentina beat Lyon, then that’s another big team out in Liverpool.”

With Liverpool’s form as it is, that’s unfair on Debrecen!


Owen settling into United life

November 24, 2009 Tags: Opinion 4 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson has proved an astute player in the transfer market during his time at Old Trafford. Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel and even Cristiano Ronaldo signed for relatively small fees. But this summer’s acquisition of Michael Owen on a free transfer from Newcastle United could prove  his most outrageous signing yet.

When supporters appealed for Sir Alex to “sign up” Carlos Tevez on a permanent basis few could have predicted that Owen would walk through Old Trafford’s doors in his stead. But the £25 million fee demanded by Tevez’ owners towards the tail end of last season, together with Owen’s non-contract status at Newcastle, made the deal a no-brainer.

A simple review of the statistics said as much. Tevez scored just 15 goals last season. Owen already has four this, the same number as Manchester City’s new recruit. Owen’s current strike-rate of a goal every game and a half on the pitch mean the forward will hit 15 by the season’s end. Aside from the Argentinian’s tenacity, United has missed little about the former West Ham United striker this campaign.

Many supporters were rightly concerned about Owen’s record of injuries. The former-Liverpool striker has lost a couple of yards of pace but has improved in other areas. Like Ryan Giggs before him, Owen has adapted to his advancing years and concentrated on the aspects of his game that don’t rely on the sheer pace of his youth.

Critics will point to the chances that Owen still misses, including two against Everton last weekend. But this does not detract from those that the England international has put away. The forward’s strike against City in United’s 4-3 derby victory was nothing short of World class. And of the strikers at Ferguson’s disposal, only Rooney is more reliable in front of goal when the big chance arrives.

Owen also recognises the opportunity he has been given by Sir Alex, despite spending much of the campaign warming the bench.

“I’ve played in a team that was struggling and I much prefer a winning club, even if it means I don’t play every minute of every game,” Owen said recently.

“I’ve had my fair share of starts and minutes on the pitch this season so I’m not about to complain.”

Although Owen is unlikely to make the England squad that travels to South Africa for the World Cup, his chances are still best served at United. While Jermaine Defoe and Darren Bent have scored more goals this season – and each has a fighting chance of being on Fabio Capello’s list – Owen’s confidence and fitness will increase throughout the season. If Owen hadn’t moved to United this summer, England would be a long forgotten dream.

United fans care little for England of course. But as soon as the Chester-born forward netted against City, Old Trafford’s faithful accept him. Forget the shirts of the past, the here and now is what matters for supporters and Owen alike.

“Scoring the derby winner was really special,” Owen said.

“When I retire and I’m thinking about my top five or six thrills I got out of football, I’ll think about my goal against Argentina and scoring two in an FA Cup final (against Arsenal in 2001).

“But scoring that goal against City is right up there.”

It was a moment that will define Owen’s time at United. The instant in which Owen – former Liverpool striker – became part of the club for the first time.

While Liverpool fans have offered Owen some abuse it has been no more so than in the player’s five years away from Anfield. Almost any fan would agree, Owen’s move to United was the right one for the player. A transfer that just a few years ago would have been unthinkable.

How would Owen’s career have progressed if the youngster had taken up Sir Alex’ contract offer at 14? There’s a good argument to say he would not only have been close to being England’s record goalscorer, but perhaps United’s too.

Michael Owen is a red, he hates Scousers

November 24, 2009 Tags: , Shorts 2 comments

Gary Neville is far from happy that Manchester United’s Michael Owen™ has stolen his terraces song, Republik of Mancunia reports today. United supporters have, predictably adopted Neville’s “he hates Scousers” song in tribute to the former-Liverpool striker, who joined United in a free transfer deal this summer.

“I’m not sure Gary Neville’s too pleased with me nicking his song!” said Owen, who has scored four goals in 16 first team appearances this season.

“To be honest, 10 years ago I wouldn’t have dared dream I would one day play for United, so it’s a nice surprise. I’ve been very fortunate to end up here and there’s no better feeling than playing, scoring, winning a match and hearing the fans sing your name.

“I never doubted I’d score goals if I stayed fit and was given time on the pitch. How can you fail to score goals in a team like this? You’re playing with such good players that it’s impossible not to get chances.”

Poll: Could Darren Fletcher be United’s next captain?

November 23, 2009 Tags: , Polls No comments

Manchester United’s Darren Fletcher has transformed himself from club joke to one of the team’s most influential players. The metamorphosis is such that the Scotland captain is talked about as United’s next skipper, with Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs not far from retirement, and Rio Ferdinand often suffering with injury.

Could Darren Fletcher captain United?

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Neville: players can’t even open a bank account

November 23, 2009 Tags: Shorts No comments

Gary Neville has blasted fellow professionals who are so cocooned and mollycoddled by an entourage of agents and advisers that they are unable to open a bank account or buy their own fridge. Neville, United’s club captain and PFA , says that pampered players cannot make their own decisions and waste money on agents who perform simple tasks.

“It is one of my pet hates,” Neville told The Times.

“They don’t know how to set up their own bank account, they don’t know what they’re spending their money on and they can’t make their own decisions. Not every player is like that, but some are now totally dependent on agents and advisers.

“For me, life is an education and you learn things as you go through it. I think a footballer should sit down and negotiate with a club, even if his agent is sitting with him. It is in the player’s best interests to be there and see what is going on.

“There are some agents who do a good job looking after players, but there are others who stifle and mollycoddle players. Some agents will come into a player’s life when he is 20, leave his life at 34 and never want to know that player again. Every footballer needs an adviser at some point, but a player doesn’t need to pay between 5 and 15 per cent of his wages to a guy to set up a bank account, buy him a new fridge or ask his club’s chief executive for a pay rise.”