Month December 2009

Month December 2009

Latics hammered in United rout

December 31, 2009 Tags: , Matches 1 comment

Happy Birthday Sir Alex Ferguson was the message as his Manchester United players humbled Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford. Goals from Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, Rafael da Silva, Dimitar Berbatov and the inspirational Antonio Valencia were enough to bring United to within two points of Chelsea at the Premier League summit.

Wigan, so meek in defeat to United by a replica scoreline in August, barely offered a threat as United ripped apart Roberto Martinez’ relegation threatened side. Tottenham Hotspur scored nine past Martinez’ side in November and bar some good fortune United could have run up double figures at Old Trafford last night.

Former Latic Antonio Valencia was the tormentor-in-chief, offering power, pace and constant penetration from the right-wing. And it was the Ecuadorian who came closest to opening to scoring within minutes of the start only to shoot tamely at Chris Kirkland in the visitors’ goal.

Nemanja Vidic, joining Wes Brown, Rafael and Patrice Evra in Ferguson’s strongest back-four in weeks, then had an attempt blocked on the line before Berbatov has a good shout for a penalty turned down by referee Lee Mason.

Rooney, sublime again last night, then hit the post from an impossible angle as United completely overran the visitors in the opening minutes. That Martinez’ side barely put in a tackle hardly helped the Spaniard’s cause – a failing that will surely drag the Latics into a relegation scrap.

That the inevitable opening goal took nearly half an hour to come was the only surprise. Valencia, full of menace all night, worked an opening with Rafael for the Brazilian to feed Rooney at the near post. The Scouser need only touch the ball to score his fifteenth goal of the season.

Goals two and three came before the half-time break to end the match as a contest. In truth it was barely ever one to start with. Berbatov’s beautifully weighted pass from left-to-right found Valencia, who cut back a low pass for Carrick to sweep home. Then Rafael showed brilliant footwork to create an opening on the edge of the area, which the teenager finished with his left foot. The Brazilian’s joy marked only his second goal in a United shirt.

United, hungrier and more determined than in recent weeks, was in no mood to take a breather in the second period. Valencia was again instrumental, skinning Manuel Figueroa on the right flank before finding Berbatov in space inside the box. The Bulgarian, afforded plenty of time, toe-poked home United’s fourth.

By now United’s team was enjoying itself, and some lovely one-touch football from Berbatov, Park Ji-Sung and Rooney resulted in the Scouser crashing a shot against the underside of the bar.

But it was fitting that man-of-the-match Valencia should wrap up proceedings against his former club by latching onto Rooney’s slide-rule pass and chipping home to cap a five-star performance from the home side. It was Valencia’s sixth Premier League goal of the season.

“I think the players realised there were goals there to be scored tonight and they took their chance. That was good because, who knows, goal difference could be important at the end of the season.”

“The really important thing for us is that Antonio scored another goal. That was key for him. He’ll get a lot more.”

“The whole team played well. They all need to play their part, and at the moment they are certainly doing that. It was marvellous stuff tonight.

“Defeats against Aston Villa and Fulham gave us an uncomfortable Christmas, and five defeats in the first half of the season is already one more than we had in the whole of last season. That’s a concern, but the way the league is going it’s not fatal. I just hope that we haven’t damaged ourselves too much.

“There have been a few shock results this season that hopefully might mean the title is taken with fewer points than usual.”

Ferguson, who had confessed to not sleeping over Christmas following those defeats, will find New Year far more comfortable. Matches against Leeds United in the FA Cup and Manchester City in the Carling Cup are exciting for the fans but the Scot will use them to rotate heavily as the Premier League enters its closing months.

Becks: I nearly cried over Champions League draw

December 31, 2009 Tags: Shorts No comments

David Beckam almost cried at the prospect of facing Manchester United following the draw for the last 16 of the Champions League earlier this month. Beckham, who left United in 2003, will return to Old Trafford for the first time when AC Milan play United in February. Backham is on-loan at Milan from LA Galaxy for the rest of the season.

“When I first heard about the tie I think I almost cried because it is such a special place for me,” Beckham said.

“I would like to progress further in the competition and, of course, when you come up against a club that you support and a club you have spent so many great years at and where you have still got so many friends at the club, those things are always difficult, but it’s a nice problem to have.

“I’ve not returned to Old Trafford as a player in seven years. I miss it every day; I miss being a Manchester United player, I miss the club, I miss the fans and friends at the club. So it is always going to have a special place in my heart.

“To return as an AC Milan player makes it extra special, that’s the big thing for me – to return with a team like this and a club like this that has got so much history, which is the same as Manchester United, it’s such a special occasion. To be there in front of the fans and the manager and friends is going to be incredible.”

Beckham played 394 times for United between 1992 and 2003 scoring 85 goals in all competitions before being sold to Real Madrid for around £25 million. The England international joined LA Galaxy on a free transfer in 2007 but has now taken up two loan spells at AC Milan.

United’s Team of the Decade

December 31, 2009 Tags: Opinion 4 comments

With the decade coming to a close, Rant has selected Manchester United’s definitive team of the noughties. It’s no easy task with the club winning six Premier League titles and Champions League trophy during the decade. We chose a team in a 4-4-2 formation, using only one rule: players must have appeared for the club in the 2000s.

Goalkeeper – Edwin van der Sar: the great Dutchman finally solved Sir Alex Ferguson’s post-Peter Schmeichel goalkeeping malaise. With Fabien Barthez, Tim Howard and Roy Carrol all dispatched to the Old Trafford exit door, van der Sar signed from Fulham in 2005 for around £2 million. It proved a wonderfully astute purchase by Ferguson – if only the manager had done it six years earlier.

Right-back – Gary Neville: Neville stands unchallenged as not only United’s finest right-back of the decade but the nation’s as well. Injury has ruined the latter years of Neville’s career but between 2000 and 2008 Neville was among the very finest defenders on the planet and integral to the club’s success.

Centre-back – Rio Ferdinand: Ferdinand signed for United in summer 2002 for more than £30 million and has been proven the ‘world class’ defender Ferguson hoped he would be. Wobbly Gob has his critics of course and in recent months injury has hampered his form. The player’s refusal to sign a new contract while banned for missing a mandatory drugs test is a major blot on Ferdinand’s record.

Centre-back- Jaap Stam: The former-PSV Eindhoven player was a wonderfully talented defender whose power, pace and stamina contributed much to United over the three seasons he spent at the club. Sold to Lazio in 2001, Ferguson latterly admitted that he sold the Dutchman far too soon.

Left-back – Patrice Evra: signed by Sir Alex in January 2006 for a little over £5 million and what a buy it has proven. Evra is now the finest full-back on the planet bar-none, having been voted into the FIFPro World XI for 2009 by his fellow professionals. At just 28 Evra should enjoy many more years at Old Trafford.

Right-wing – Cristiano Ronaldo: Words fail to adequately express just how good Ronaldo was in his six seasons at Old Trafford. The Portuguese winger’s 42 goals in the 2007-8 season is one of the finest season-long performances by any United player. Ever. Credit is due to Sir Alex for transforming Ronaldo from raw teenager to the World’s best player.

Centre-midfielder – Roy Keane (captain): At his best the Irishman was two great players in one for United – a superb defender and a wonderful attacker. United’s captain of the decade, Keane eventually left the club under a cloud having revealed dressing room secrets on a candid interview with MUTV in 2005.

Centre-midfielder – Paul Scholes: How the current side misses Scholes at his very best. The Ginger Prince’s passing has been the heart-beat of Ferguson’s side for more than a decade and the midfielder’s goals – 20 in 2002/3 – essential to the club’s success.

Left-wing – Ryan Giggs: The Welshman is Rant’s player of the decade, let alone a member of this selection. In fact Giggs has been so good, for so long, that he was probably United’s player of the 1990s too! Giggs, unchallenged as the best left-winger on the planet over the past 10 years, continues to perform to an outstanding level into his 37th year.

Centre-forward – Ruud van Nistelrooy: 150 goals in 219 games for United in the early part of the decade was only blighted by injury in the Dutchman’s last two seasons at the club. van Nistelrooy’s contribution was immense, although it often coincided with Ferguson deploying a lone-striker during a period of inconspicuous success between 2002 and 2005.

Centre-forward – Wayne Rooney: The Scouser’s best days in a United shirt are ahead as he matures and takes on the mantle as the club’s talisman. Marking his debut against Fenerbache with a hat-trick, Rooney is now on course to have his best season in the final campaign of the decade. Still, 111 goals in 260 appearances isn’t bad for a player so often deployed out of position.

Substitutes bench: Using Premier League rules, Rant has selected seven substitutes for the bench. Some very good United players don’t even make this!

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard. Defender: Nemanja Vidic. Defender: Wes Brown. Midfielder: David Beckham. Midfielder: Michael Carrick. Midfielder: Darren Fletcher. Striker: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Reds look to close in on Chelsea

December 30, 2009 Tags: , Matches 1 comment

Sir Alex Ferguson will rotate his squad for the visit of Wigan Athletic tonight as Manchester United aims to end the year just two points adrift of Premier League leaders Chelsea. With club captain Gary Neville again fit, Ferguson will be without just Rio Ferdinand and Edwin van der Sar as United’s defensive injury crisis finally abates.

On the eve of Sir Alex’ birthday the Scot will deploy a rotated side for the 100th match in succession. Not since the closing stages of the 2007/8 season has the Scot picked an unchanged team. But ever wary of the load placed on his players – especially at Christmas – Ferguson is likely to bring Michael Owen, Anderson, Paul Scholes and Gabriel Obertan into tonight’s team.

But the United manager, 68 tomorrow, must do without Edwin van der Sar who has been given an extended leave of absence to visit his sick wife in Holland. In the Dutchman’s absence Ferguson will deploy Tomasz Kuszazck for the eight successive game, with Neville, want away Nemanja Vidic, Wes Brown and Patrice Evra making up an experienced back-line.

One of Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher could make way for Anderson or Paul Scholes in central midfield, while Frenchman Obertan is due a start with Nani out-of-favour and injured. Michael Owen may begin the match ahead of Dimitar Berbatov for the home fixture against a side United defeated 5-0 in August.

“It’s a tough league, you can see that. There’s nobody having a consistent run and it’s maybe one of those seasons,” Ferguson said.

“History tells you that two teams always break away at the end. That’s what normally happens, but it’s not looking like that at the moment.

“It’s always hard to win the league, and teams have improved in the Premier League this season, but it’s still a hard league no matter what season you do it. We’ve got the experience to do it, though, and the players to do it.”

Indeed, Ferguson is not expected to dip into the transfer market this winter, with the injury burden easing and Owen Hargreaves still to make his first appearance of the season. Although Ferguson would like to bring another striker to the club – David Villa, Edin Dzeko and Karim Benzema is each on a list of potential targets – it may well have to wait until the summer.

The Scot also insists that United is well placed to mount an assault on the Premier League title, with the club just one point worse off than at a similar stage last season.

“I think we’re better placed than most teams in that respect and they’ll know that. They will have to look at Manchester United, there’s no getting away from that,” Ferguson said.

“I know we have a good record against Wigan, but we have to respect the victories they have had against Aston Villa and Chelsea this season. They play football and that is the way Roberto Martinez wants them to play. He has a good philosophy, so it should be an entertaining match.

“But we’re coming to that time of the season when the challenge is there. We’ve got a league that is so tight now.

“Teams are taking points off each other that you don’t expect and it is tightening up the whole league. It means a consistent run from any team will give them a great chance.

“Obviously our experience of run-ins is good, we can handle that part, but the important thing is to win this game which will put us in the position I hoped we would get to – just a couple of points behind the leaders going into the New Year.”

Report: Vidic certain to leave

December 30, 2009 Tags: Shorts 5 comments

Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic is almost certain to leave in the summer of 2010, according to a report in The Times today. The Serbian defender, who cost Untied £7 million from Spartak Moscow three years ago, will move to Real Madrid for £20 million, according to the report. The Serbian’s contract ends in 2012.

“Nemanja Vidic’s days at Manchester United look increasingly numbered, with Real Madrid confident of signing the Serbia defender in the summer,” the report claims.

“Having lured Cristiano Ronaldo from Old Trafford in a world-record £80 million deal in June, Real are planning another raid on the Barclays Premier League champions after identifying Vidic as their first-choice defensive target. Real will face competition from Barcelona and AC Milan, but expect to see off both as they prepare to embark on another frenzied shopping spree after their £220 million outlay last summer.”

Rumours about Vidic’s long-term commitment to the club have surfaced for more than a year, with the defender’s wife apparently unhappy in Manchester. It is a rumour often denied by the former-Spartak player but a new contract that would increase the defender’s wages to more than £100,000 per week is as yet unsigned.

United has already been linked with Bolton Wanderer’s Gary Cahill, Everton’s Jack Rodwell, Simon Kjaer of Palermo and Porto’s Bruno Alves as a replacement.

Secret diary of A. Ferguson, aged 67 3/4

December 30, 2009 Tags: Just for fun No comments

30 December 2009 – It’s been a funny week in fitba, no doubt aboot it. Ma auld pal Hughsie – or Linda as the wife indoors calls him – wiz fired this week by the windae lickin’ bassa’s at Citeh. Jesusjonny!! Two defeats all season and they’ve already fired the mincy heid! What is the world commin tae? That’s 14 Citeh managers I’ve outlasted.

Linda wiz ma main striker when United were aboot to knock Liverpool off their fecking perch. But Linda was naer any good with his boots. He wiz always complaining that his boots had a lace missing. ‘No,’ I said, ‘look at the label – it says Taiwan.’

Linda had that terrible hair as a player too. I said to him then, ‘Ye’ll naer make a manager boy, nae with that perm’. So I called him today, he wiz greetin’ like ma fancy wumman and I said ‘Nae offence doll, but yev got a face like a leper licking a thistle, pull yersel together.’

I’ll miss Linda. I once sat in his office sharing a wee tonic after a match at Eastlands. ‘Comfy?’ he asked. ‘Govan,’ I replied. As if Linda disnae know.

Citeh have hired a Tally. What is the world commin tae?! I disnae trust the Tally – if he says it’s pasta, I check under the sauce. I have adjusted United’s tactics over the years. More Italian than the Italians, they say! That’ll teach the wee bassa.

I’ll welcome Roberto tae Manchester in the traditional way – a Glesca Kiss.

It's ma birthday!It’s ma birthday on Thursday. 68, bloody hell! But I’ll naer be retiring to let Jose have ma job. No way pal. I tell youse, they’ll have tae drag me oot in a box.

Jose, the Special One. I always thought he looked a bit like Tony Ferrino and you know where he came from – the Valley of Our Souls.

We were friends, shared a fine bottle of Chateau Lafite 1787 in ma office. But the trouble started with Jose’s dog, which he loves. I said to him, ‘Jose, is that your dog ootside? Well, I think my dog may’a killed ‘im.’

‘What kind’a dog you got that can kill a great dane?’ Jose said.

Ma dog’s a chihuahua, ye see. I think the wee bassa may’a gotten stuck in his throat.

Talking of pals, ma best pal is What a Friend – ma hoarse that won the Lexus Chase. I told youse ma hoarse is better than Mickey Owen’s hoarse any day. Now that’s a birthday gift!

Better than ma boy Darren. The lil runt who wasnae any good at fitba is now on the dole … so I called him up, I said ‘Darren ye wee bassa, fancy filling in at the back for a wee spell?’

‘Nae problem da,’ he said ‘But da, I’m a manager now da.’

Sure you are boy. Well it is the season of father Christmas, is it nae?

Wayne the man but others must step up – Fergie

December 29, 2009 Tags: Shorts 2 comments

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson says that Wayne Rooney is the man who can fire his team to Premier League glory but other players must also step up and take responsibility. Rooney, who scored and provided two assists in United’s victory over Hull City on Sunday, has become the team’s principal goalscorer after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.

“Wayne can step forward and be the main man but there are a few who have to step forward in that respect. We are coming to the time now. The challenge is there,” Ferguson said ahead of United’s Old Trafford fixture with Wigan Athletic on Wednesday.

“The league is so tight and teams are taking points off each other that you don’t expect. It means a consistent run from someone will give them a great chance.

“Our experience of run-ins is good. We know we can handle that part. The important thing is to beat Wigan tomorrow which would put us into the position I hoped we could get to, a couple of points off the leaders coming into New Year.

“Wayne was fantastic on Sunday [against Hull}. That was the Wayne Rooney we know. He had a quiet spell for two or three matches but he was explosive at Hull. He was a constant threat.

“That is the kind of form we are hoping for because when he is playing like that, he is hard to handle.”

Rooney has 14 goals in all competitions, Michael Owen seven and Dimitar Berbatov five. Youngster Danny Welbeck has two goals in the Carling Cup this season, while new signing Antonio Valencia has scored six in all competitions – the Ecuadorian’s best ever return. But Ferguson is concerned that United has become over-reliant on the former Evertonian this season.

We’re in a great position – Berbatov

December 29, 2009 Tags: Shorts No comments

Dimitar Berbatov insists that Manchester United is in a strong position to take a fourth Premier League title in a row. The Bulgarian, who scored his fifth goal of the season in United’s 3-1 victory over Hull City on Sunday, says that the end of the team’s injury crisis marks the start of a winning run that leads to title glory in May.

“I think that we are in a great position,” said Berbatov, who was recently named Bulgarian Player of the Year.

“There are still a lot of games to go and it will be difficult. I think it will be decided between us and Chelsea but in the end I think we’ll end up on top.

“We have great players so let’s see what happens. There are a lot of games at this time of year but if you win every one we have a great chance.

“It was an important win for us [against Hull]. We’ve had a difficult time with injuries, but we still have a great squad and players are starting to come back and we will go on a winning run now.

“The boss knows what to do in terms of changing things when he needs to and I’m sure we’ll finish on top at the end of the season.”

United start the match against Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford on Tuesday night five points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea, with a game in hand on the Londoners. Chelsea will also lose Didier Drogba, Salamon Kalou and John Obi Mikel to the African Cup of Nations during January and February 2010.

Reds in touch but window could seal the deal

December 28, 2009 Tags: Opinion 8 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson says that he in unlikely to buy in the January transfer window, which opens in just four days time. Although the Scot continues to state that there is no value in the market, most observers believe that Manchester United’s manager is financially hamstrung. But it’s a risky game, with United now overly reliant on the talents of Wayne Rooney.

In truth it has been a season of mediocrity at the head of the Premier League table, with the so-called ‘big four’ already losing 19 games between them. Despite five defeats in the Premier League, United is just a win away from the summit.

Further down the table Aston Villa, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur each has a compelling case for making the top four this campaign but only United’s crosstown rivals spent heavily in the summer. It points to a degradation in quality across the Premier League’s leading sides this season.

Indeed, such was the distorting effect of City’s policy, along with Real Madrid, that the top four made just four major purchases between them: Antonio Valencia at United, Yuri Zhirkov at Chelsea, together with Glen Johnson and Alberto Acquillani at Liverpool. Each cost in excess of £14 million but in a summer of extraordinary spending none were marquee signings.

With injuries clearing up at Old Trafford Sir Alex may feel the temptation to stick with what he has this winter, even if he has money to spend. After all, if there was little value in the summer window, it is rare that leading players become available in January. Moreover, Chelsea is likely to lose key players to the African Cup of Nations while Arsenal’s squad still looks too thin to sustain a title challenge into the Spring.

In this scenario, mediocrity is United’s best friend. The question is – with the title still within reach – and obvious vulnerabilities in the squad, can United afford not to strengthen this winter? Perhaps the only good argument for not dipping into the transfer market is financial.

In central areas the return of Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher to the heart of United’s midfield is a huge boon to the manager. Moreover, Anderson has demonstrated a significant improvement on his early season form. The trio, together with Darron Gibson and Paul Scholes in support, offer plenty of solidity but little creativity in the middle of the park.

United has also suffered badly from consistency on the left side of midfield this season. While Ryan Giggs has been superb, the Welshman’s leggy performance in United’s victory over Hull yesterday is a sign of things to come. At 36 Giggs cannot, to paraphrase, bomb up and down the wing for 90 minutes until May.

Meanwhile, Nani has only succeeded in guaranteeing himself a transfer out of the club, Ji-Sung Park has spent most of the campaign injured and Gabriel Obertan shows – so far – only promise.

Yet, United has also scored freely in both Europe and domestic competitions this season, to many pundits’ surprise. It’s a task to which Wayne Rooney has stepped up after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer. 14 goals in all competitions this season points to the Scouser’s best return come May.

Indeed, United has been generally undone by inconsistency in defence and not attack this campaign. The recent injury crisis accounted for the defeat at Fulham although Ferguson has rarely had the luxury of his first choice back-four this season. Sir Alex will hope that the second half of the season brings better luck and fewer goals conceded. Ferguson is canny enough to know that hope is no kind of strategy however.

But if Ferguson is to spend in just one area this winter fans will hope that it is on creative talent, whether out wide or through the middle of the pitch. United is still desperately short of an attacking central midfield player in addition to a consistent left-winger. Age is no friend of Scholes and the creative burden has passed to Rooney to offer both goals and flair.

Rooney bares not only the weight of that expectation but also the burden of being the team’s unopposed talisman. To illustrate – if the former Evertonian plays well, United plays well. When he doesn’t then United has struggled to score as blanks against Burnley, Liverpool, Chelsea, Aston Villa and Fulham show.

The biggest risk to United’s success in the second half of the season is a breakdown in Rooney’s fitness or form, which would surely end the team’s hopes of domestic and European success.

Ferguson can mitigate that risk by breaking the habit of a lifetime and spending big on a marquee winter signing. The chances are he won’t and United fans can look forward to another five months of praying that Rooney, in all his brilliance, suffers none of the misfortune that has visited his defensive colleagues.