Month March 2011

Month March 2011

Competition: win United books

Ed March 18, 2011 Tags: , Shorts 53 comments

“People get nothing out of books but what they bring to them,” Nobel prize-winning Irish playwrite George Bernard Shaw once wrote. And to thee, Rant readers, we bring you two fine Manchester United books from the past year, each in glorious hardcover. By this time next week one lucky reader will win this fine pair!

First, a book Rant described as a “prescient tale of modern football” – Rooney’s Gold – by BBC Panorama journalist John Sweeney. Published by Bite Back, Rooney’s Gold looks into the murky underworld occupied by those on the make and take; a legion of agents and criminals seeking to profit from the United striker.

The other prize in this competition is Football – Bloody Hell! by Times columnist Patrick Barclay, published by Yellow Jersey. Barclay’s recap of Sir Alex Ferguson’s managerial career is particularly strong on the Scot’s early days, offering new insight into the world’s greatest coach as he approaches retirement.

To win this pair of books simply complete the following sentence in 140 characters or less and post below, on twitter (tagging @unitedrant) or better still – do both! Our favourite answer will win!

“Rooney told Ferguson to read United Rant because….. ”

Competition closes 11.59pm, Friday 25 March 2011. Winners will be notified by email/twitter.

Rant Cast 65 – is not fit to govern

Ed March 18, 2011 Tags: Rant Cast No comments

When Tory Minister for Sport Jeremy Hunt recently described football as the “worst governed sport in the country” he surely hit the nail on the head. And in the week that the incompetent, self-serving, Football Association banned Sir Alex Ferguson for five matches Rant Cast regulars Ed & Paul lead the fightback!

Also in this week’s packed show, Rant Cast covers United’s FA Cup win over Arsenal, progression in the Champions League – the quarter-final draw against Chelsea – and looks ahead to Bolton at the weekend. We talk injury crisis, Tony V’s return, Robbo’s illness and a crazy FA Youth Cup win. Finally, we ponder Old Trafford’s lack of atmosphere and Wayne Rooney’s ‘loyalty’.

Stream this episode of the podcast using the player below or click here to download the podcast (right click & “save as”).

We welcome your input – send all feedback to cast@unitedrant.co.uk or comment below.

Follow Rant Cast on Twitter @UtdRantCast.

Subscribe on iTunes now.

Injuries bite into United’s chances

Ed March 17, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 22 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will need every one of his 25-man squad in the coming weeks, with up to a dozen players missing for this weekend’s fixture with Bolton Wanderers. Indeed, the 69-year-old Scot will dig deep into Manchester United’s resources after John O’Shea and Rafael da Silva were forced out of the Reds’ victory over Marseille at Old Trafford on Tuesday night. Worse news came Thursday morning, with confirmation that influential defender Rio Ferdinand could miss the rest of United’s season.

The defensive problems mean that Ferguson has just four fit defenders for Wanderers’ visit to Old Trafford on Saturday, with Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans also struggling to make the Lancashire derby. The injuries threaten to seriously derail United’s progress at home and abroad in the coming week.

Indeed, United’s victory over Marseille in the Champions League round of 16 on Tuesday night came despite a rash of defensive changes. The back-four of Patrice Evra, Chris Smalling, Wes Brown and Fabio da Silva that completed the tie will almost certainly start at the weekend.

“It was nervy because so many players came off with injuries,” said Ferguson of Tuesday’s tie.

“It shifted the balance of the team. I would have rather brought on Darron Gibson because the problem was always going to be [Marseille’s] height and it caused us problems.

“In defence it was maybe a lack of understanding between the players. We have changed the back four many times and without the experience of Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand you are going to be under pressure at times with the young players we have.”

Injured United XIIt’s a challenge United will now face with trepidation. While Smalling’s progress has been remarkable this season, his form has noticeably dipped when the reassuring presence of Ferdinand or Vidic is absent. Understandable, of course, given the 20-year-old’s lack of top-flight experience.

But the former Fulham defender, alongside Brown, who has been ostracised for long stretches of the current season, will be required for the Bolton game at a minimum. The international break will provide some relief but there is no guarantee United’s problems will ease over the next fortnight. Ferguson can only hope that the packed international fixture list does not bring further bad news.

“Rio has been out for a few weeks now,” added Ferguson today.

“We are not looking at this as a short-term situation. He has not started training yet. We will be lucky to get him back for some part of the season.

“Vidic won’t make it. He is showing good recovery for this week and should be OK after the international break but not enough for Saturday.

“It has been a bad spell for us. Only a few weeks ago we had every defender fit and things were looking great. It has all just fallen apart in the last week or so. Hopefully Jonny Evans may be fit for Saturday, even if it is a bit of a risk. He has trained all week but he has been out for such a long time.”

But risks are what Ferguson must now take, whether including Evans or not. And the problems, while highlighted in the back-four, are all over the pitch with a dozen players probably missing for Saturday. Paul Scholes will miss the next two matches through suspension, while Park Ji-Sung, Anderson, Owen Hargreaves, Darren Fletcher and Michael Owen will not feature until April at the earliest.

Reports today that Ferguson has finally lost patience with Owen will come as no surprise. The former Liverpool striker will almost certainly be allowed to leave the club this summer when he is out of contract.

Even reserve goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard could miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, which was operated on this week.

Then, if only to add to Ferguson’s problems, neither Nani nor Antonio Valencia are fully fit, while Ryan Giggs has only recently returned from a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

Injuries of course are simply part of the game and United’s resources, although thinner than at many times over the past decade, are still ample. Indeed, Ferguson can draft in youngsters from the reserves and academy at almost any time. Joshua King, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Ravel Morrison have each made brief appearances in the United first team – or bench – this season.

Not that Ferguson will be overseeing any of United’s next five domestic fixtures, having accepted – reportedly with great reluctance – the FA’s draconian five match touchline ban for criticising referee Martin Atkinson. The Yorkshire-born official sent off United’s captain Vidic, handed Chelsea a penalty, and failed to dismiss David Luiz – effectively winning the Londoners a key fixture. As he normally does, some might add, especially given that it was the second time in as many seasons that Atkinson has materially affected United’s result at Stamford Bridge.

That, Ferguson says, is now “in the past”. Unfortunately, United’s injury concerns are not.

 

Hernández wins plaudits and trust

Ed March 16, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 52 comments

Javier Hernández’ emergence from unknown, to Sir Alex Ferguson’s leading striker could take a limited Manchester United side to ever great heights and – perhaps crucially – bring out the best in Wayne Rooney too. The Mexican’s transformation from impact substitute to first choice in recent games says much for the 22-year-old’s rapid development. It’s progress that could win United the Premier League title and take the Reds to the Champions League latter stages.

Hernández’ brace against Marseille on Tuesday night won United a game that could easily have slipped away. Indeed, had the former Chivas striker been on the French side’s books, the Reds could well now be out of the Champions League. Crucial misses from André-Pierre Gignac and Loïc Rémy spared Ferguson’s blushes on a night when injuries and inconsistency almost proved calamitous.

Hernández’ well taken double proved the difference though. The Mexican’s first after five minutes calmed United’s nerves; the second with a quarter-hour remaining effectively won Ferguson’s side a match in which the hosts were never in complete control. Neither goals taxed the forward’s skill-set perhaps – both close-range strikes – but Hernández’ movement proved crucial, offering a static United midfield consistent options.

The performance drew praise from Ferguson, who resisted the temptation to recall this season’s top-scorer Dimitar Berabtov. Indeed, the Scot expressed delight at the Mexican’s rapid development in the nine months since his arrival in England, and confidence in the growing partnership with Rooney.

“We are surprised,” said Ferguson.

“When we bought him we thought it’d take him time to adjust. He has adjusted to the physical part very well and is lasting 90 minutes.”

“It [partnership with Rooney] has been developing well. Where Wayne has been playing in the past couple of games he is a real threat. He has such power and speed and Hernández is unbelievable with his movement. The boy has goals in him.”

The Mexican’s goals – 15 in all competition, to Berbatov’s 20 – have also relieved the burden on Rooney. If United relied too heavily on the Scouser last season, then the former Evertonian’s troubles in recent months have also demonstrated the wealth of Ferguson’s options in attack. Hernández has taken his chance in spectacular style.

Moreover, the Mexican’s emergence has freed Rooney to take up a deeper position in which the 25-year-old can affect the game in a more creative way. After all, with Paul Scholes’ ageing legs no longer able to carry the 36-year-old through games, United has lacked a certain ‘stardust’ in midfield, to paraphrase beaten coach Didier Deschamps.

While 34 goals in all competitions last season was an immense return for United’s £27 million striker, the change in position arguable hamstrung Rooney’s creative side. No longer so, with Rooney dropping deep and Hernández providing the focul point to United’s attack Ferguson can play a traditional 4-4-2, knowing the Scouser can drop into midfield when required. The change also enables United to take advantage of the Mexican’s blistering pace.

Rooney can also see the benefits of the growing partnership, which has helped United’s star player return to some semblance of form in recent weeks.

“He’s a fantastic player,” Rooney told BBC Radio 5 live after Tuesday’s victory.

“He’s in good form, it’s nice to see him scoring and nice to play with him. He always tries to stay on the shoulder, looks in behind and he’s a quick player. By making those runs in behind defenders it creates a bit more space for you in front of them.

“So it’s working well at the minute. He’s been fantastic and works so hard as well. He wants to improve and it’s good to see.”

Hernández’ gain is Berbatov’s loss of course. The Bulgarian’s patchy form – streaks of goalscoring, followed by long barren periods – has hardly helped the former Tottenham Hotspur striker. Neither has Ferguson’s consistent tinkering with his role though. Now 30, Berbatov joined United having lead the line at each of his former clubs only to be deployed in a deeper role at Old Trafford. Then, finally consistently chosen as a ‘number nine’ this season, the Bulgarian has struggled to maintain a regular place in United’s side.

It places the Bulgarian in an interesting position, with his four-year contract due to run out in June 2012. Other United players in a similar position – Patrice Evra, Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Nemanja Vidic – have each signed new deals with the club. While speculation was widespread in February that an announcement could be imminent, there is no ink on a new deal.

That is no concern to Hernández of course, for whom United paid just £8 million up front with staggered performance payments to come. Whatever the final total, Hernández has proven a bargain and is likely to be rewarded with a bumper new contract well ahead of schedule. Few could deny the Mexican the reward for his significant impact at United.

In the meantime Hernández’ goals, if they continue to flow, could take a less-than-stellar United side to both the Premier League title and further in Europe than some predicted.

Reds wont blow Euro tie says Fergie

Ed March 14, 2011 Tags: , Matches 191 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson says that his squad’s experience will serve the club well as Manchester United challenges on three fronts this season. Leading the Premier League, into the FA Cup semi-final and with a second leg tie against Olympique de Marseille on Tuesday night, United will need all its resources in the coming weeks.

With Antonio Valencia, Nani, Michael Carrick and Michael Owen all available for the Champions League fixture at Old Trafford, Ferguson’s resources are reinforced for the tie. The Scot also told reporters on Tuesday that long-term injury victim Owen Hargreaves and winger Park Ji-Sung are each back in training and could return to the United squad within the month.

“It’s an important time, with us being involved in three tournaments,” said Ferguson, whose side must beat the French champions on Tuesday night to progress in the competition.

“But we are experienced enough to do what we’re doing at the moment – taking each game as it comes. We have faced that situation a million times. You have to get on with it. The team needs to step up and perform though, we know that.

“With Antonio back it’s a fantastic bonus for us. It’s a great step forward considering he’s been out for such a long time. It’s a great selection poser for me to have. We missed him in the run-in last season so it’s a great boost.

“Hopefully it will help us, having everyone available but we are getting players back. Ji-Sung Park is making good progress and Owen Hargreaves has started training. It doesn’t matter how many players you have injured in the past, the important thing is to have them available for the run in. If we have that, then it will increase our chances.”

Indeed, with United fighting on three fronts – and Arsenal now free to concentrate on the Premier League – Ferguson will need to carefully rotate his resources. And after fielding seven defenders against Arsenal on Saturday the Scot is expected to field a more attacking line-up against L’OM.

Ferguson could recall top goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov, alongside leading creator Nani in a much changed United line-up. With Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes certain to start, it is likely Valencia will start on the bench after seven months on the sidelines. United will be without defenders Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans for the tie, meaning another game for the ever more impressive Chris Smalling.

However, United will surely offer more adventure than in France, when both sides opted for a cautious approach. The scoreless draw in Stade Velodrome three weeks ago was marked by few chances that leaves United vulnerable to the away goal. Should Didier Deschamps side score, the Reds must respond twice to progress.

Moreover, with L’OM recovering in League 1 – the champions lie fourth four points behind Lille but recently beat Nancy and former leaders Rennes – United faces a resurgent opponent.

“I thought Marseille went for a 0-0, I must admit,” added Ferguson of the match in southern France three weeks ago.

“These games are always that way. It’s nice to have a bit of apprehension about big ties. We’ve had that many times and it won’t be any different on Tuesday. We’re playing a very experienced, powerful Marseille team and we will have to play well. I’ve watched them twice away from home, against Monaco and Rennes, and they’ve showed the qualities that we will be up against.

“Saturday’s performance was a recovery. Tuesday is a different type of match, but we need to get to a good level to win. We are experienced enough to take each game as it comes. The focus is on Marseille because they are a good team. It’s a European match, a night game, and it’s at Old Trafford – all these things work in our favour. Hopefully we get the result that we want.”

Indeed, United has a phenomenal record at Old Trafford this season despite the side’s recent travails on the road. Ferguson’s record against French opponents at Old Trafford is also very healthy, with eight wins and no defeats in 11 previous encounters against Ligue 1 sides. United beat Lille Métropole 1-0 to complete a 2-0 aggregate victory at the same stage four years again and then beat Olympique Lyonnais by the same margin a year later.

Victory would bring United’s fifth successive quarter-final appearance while L’OM is seeking a spot in the last eight
of the competition for the first time since lifting the trophy in 1993.

Manchester United v Marseille, Champions League, Old TraffordMeanwhile, Marseille welcomes back key playmaker Mathieu Valbuena, who damaged his left knee ligaments on 22 January, making a substitute appearance against United before suffering a relapse in training. André-Pierre Gignac played against Lille last weekend after recovering from the groin injury that ruled him out of the first leg. Lucho González is also available after suffering with a muscular problem in the past fortnight.

The match is also a first return to Old Trafford for former United left-back Gabriel Heinze, who played xxx for the Reds before leaving for Real Madrid in xxxx.

“My first big moment at Old Trafford was when the fans and my team voted me as best player,” said the Argentinian.

“To hear the fans singing ‘Argentina, Argentina’ was very emotional; my family was there as well. It’s something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. To go on to win the domestic league title with Manchester United – my first – was unforgettable. I have so many great memories that I can’t pick one out above the rest.”

His former manager Ferguson will hope that it is a disappointing night for the 32-year-old defender.

Opposition
Marseille – 433 – Mandanda; Taiwo, Fanni, Diawara, Heinze; González, Cheyrou, Valbuena; Rémy, Gignac, André Ayew. Subs from: Jordan Ayew, Cheyrou, Andrade, Mango, N’Diaye, Sabo, Lowinsky, Kaboré, Abriel, Moulet Abbes, Kaboré, Cissé, Brandão, Mbia,

United
United – 442 – van der Sar; O’Shea, Vidic, Smalling, Evra; Nani, Scholes, Carrick, Giggs; Rooney, Berbatov. Subs from: Kuzszazk, Brown, Gibson, Bébé, Lindegaard, Fabio da Silva, Rafael da Silva, Obertan, Hernández, Tunnicliffe, King, Owen, Valencia.

Officials
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (ESP)
Assistant referees: Roberto Alonso Fernández (ESP) & Jesús Calvo Guadamuro (ESP)
Additional assistant referees: Carlos Clos Gómez (ESP) & Antonio Rubinos Pérez (ESP)
Fourth official David Fernández Borbalán (ESP)

Form
United – WDWLLW
Marseille – WWWDWLW

Poll: Should United sell Wayne Rooney?

Ed March 13, 2011 Tags: Polls 10 comments

Sunday’s News of the World claims that Sir Alex Ferguson is now considering a summer exit for the player, who signed a lucrative new contract last autumn. In an echo of Roy Keane’s Old Trafford exit the paper, quoting an unnamed source, says that Rooney has fallen out with his manager over the 25-year-old striker’s apparent criticism of his team-mates.

“Rooney has been moaning about the squad again,” says the paper. “But Sir Alex has told him he should look at himself first before criticising others. Sir Alex is not pleased with the way Rooney has been playing. Relations between Rooney and Ferguson are so strained that it is affecting other players.”

The question is – with Rooney’s form still in the doldrums and locker-room unrest on the cards – should United countenance a summer sale?

Should United sell Wayne Rooney?

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Rooney could follow Becks’ path out of Old Trafford

Ed March 13, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 50 comments

The long game heading inextricably towards Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United exit began in October when the 25-year-old striker publicly questioned the club’s ambition and with it Sir Alex Ferguson’s reputation. Stories that the player is doing the same in private is merely window dressing on the many strategic forces that will drive the player out of Old Trafford this summer. That, at least, is one analysis of the highest profile potential departure in a summer of change at United.

Sunday’s News of the World ‘exclusive’ that Sir Alex Ferguson is now considering a summer exit for the player, who signed a lucrative new contract last autumn, should come as little surprise. While fans will inevitably dismiss the red-top story as a fabrication, it is almost certainly contains some truth, albeit a more nuanced story. Indeed, the line that Rooney’s exit lies in the breakdown of the player’s relationship with his manager is probably just a simple interpretation of an underlying truth.

“Rooney has been moaning about the squad again,” says the Rupert Murdoch-owned paper, quoting an unnamed source.

“But Sir Alex has told him he should look at himself first before criticising others. Sir Alex is not pleased with the way Rooney has been playing. Relations between Rooney and Ferguson are so strained that it is affecting other players.”

In that there may well be some truth, although the jocular touchline banter during United’s 2-0 victory over Arsenal on Saturday hardly supports the assertion. Still, the Scot is unlikely to countenance any player – no matter how good – who threatens the harmony of the squad. Roy Keane, whose criticism of his team-mates in November 2005 occurred in an explosive MUTV interview, barely last a week before he was shown the Old Trafford door.

When it comes to the player’s form, however, Rooney can offer little support for the reported criticism of his own team-mates. After all, the player’s output in the past year is barely a fraction of that between November 2009 and March 2010, when the striker scored at around a goal-a-game. And despite six goals in the past eight games, the former Evertonian’s heavy touch belies a player whose confidence is not what it once was.

Indeed, while Rooney’s fall from grace is not yet terminal, it has been profound. Since suffering an ankle injury against Bayern Munich last March the striker ended the 2009/10 campaign without a goal, was a key ingredient in England’s tormented World Cup campaign, and has endured months of poor form this season. Add the hookers, strained marriage, public drinking and bitter contract negotiations to the story and it is far from a pretty picture.

None of that is new of course and supporters can point to the five-year contract signed by Rooney in October, raising the striker’s salary to more than £180,000 a week. In a financial and legal sense the contract ties player and club together, yet it does nothing to preclude a future transfer. After all, Cristiano Ronaldo signed a new contract with the club barely 12 months before an £80 million move to Real Madrid. On a smaller scale so did Phillip Neville.

There are other reasons to believe Rooney’s medium-term future lies outside the club. Not least that talk of major rebuilding work at Old Trafford this summer will come, inevitably, at a high price. In addition to a new goalkeeper, United’s shopping should include a top quality replacement for Owen Hargreaves, a creative midfielder and potentially a left-winger. Additionally, Michael Owen is out of contract and Federico Macheda’s situation remains unclear and talk of Wes Brown and Park Ji-Sung moving on has some merit.

Indeed, there is repeated paper talk of the club spending more than £100 million this summer. It seems off-the-mark – after all the Glazer family has shown no proclivity towards ignoring the apparent lack of value in the market over the past five years. Unless, of course, there is also a major sale to balance the books.

Quite how much United might get for the player, whose star is no longer in the ascendency, is another matter altogether. The mooted fee last autumn was more than £60 million. At that price there is only three clubs on the planet with the financial clout to buy Rooney – Manchester City, Chelsea and Real Madrid. With Ferguson unlikely to countenance strengthening a domestic rival – and the player on a long-term contract – there could be a buying party of one. It’s not always conducive the securing the best fee.

The fee is a mere incidental of course in a longer path that seems, inevitably, to separate player from club. After the Rooney’s behaviour in recent times, once wonders how many tears would really be shed.

Should United sell Wayne Rooney?

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Rampant Reds head to cup semis

Ed March 13, 2011 Tags: , Matches 24 comments

In the books this will go down as an unremarkable 2-0 victory over Arsenal at Old Trafford. Unremarkable because Manchester United has now scored four victories in a row over the Londoners. In truth, with Sir Alex Ferguson selecting a line-up few could have predicted – including seven defenders – United’s victory was anything but ordinary.

The Scot had sprung a major pre-match surprise, naming both da Silva brothers in the United side but in unfamiliar wide midfield positions. With John O’Shea and Darron Gibson completing a highly unfamiliar midfield Ferguson sent out a strong signal that next week’s Champions League fixture with Marseille takes precedent.

It mattered little as goals from Fabio da Silva and Wayne Rooney fired Ferguson’s side into a semi-final date at Wembley and potentially a first final since 2005. It’s also a win that will surely have a crushing effect on the visitors – direct rivals for the Premier League title – who have now lost in the Carling Cup final, been dumped out of the Champions League and removed from the FA Cup within a devastating two-week period.

For Untied the spoils. For both sides it could well be a season defining result.

“Having a lot of injuries in midfield, I had to come up with a plan or an idea where I could utilise energies,” Ferguson told MUTV of the seemingly bizarre starting line-up.

“The two Da Silvas are such keen and enthusiastic boys, I thought they could do that. I couldn’t risk Scholes and Giggs because of Tuesday’s game against Marseille, such a vital game for the club, so Darron Gibson had to play as the only natural midfielder. John O’Shea has played there before but he’s obviously a centre-back or a full-back.

“Considering we made these major changes with a host of injuries in the club, I think we can be well pleased with the result.”

Indeed, the United side should have filled Arsène Wenger’s outfit with confidence despite the morale-sapping defeat in Barcelona last week. But if anything United began the more positive though, with the da Silva brothers, Rooney and Javier Hernández forming a dynamic, if surprising, front quartet. And Rafael – the younger brother by just 10 minutes – should have put the hosts in front, contriving to head Fabio’s cross over when a goal should have come.

Arsenal though shared the majority of possession, as has been the pattern in recent meetings, without providing the finishing touch. Indeed, when the Londoners fashioned an opening veteran Edwin van der Sar provided the hosts with yet another example of why he will be so missed at Old Trafford. The Dutchman saved well from Robin van Persie, before pulling off a string of second-half stops to earn a deserved man-on-the-match award.

If Rafael had missed earlier than Fabio made no mistake on the half-hour to give United a crucial lead. The Brazilian youngster fired into the roof of the visitors’ net after smart work by Rooney to find Hernández whose header was pushed into Fabio’s path for the goal.

The goal provided a huge boost to United, whose endeavor was not always matched by quality use of the ball. No surprise perhaps given the line-up. However, Antonio Valencia’s return at half-time provided another tonic, with the Ecuadorian returning to the United side after breaking his ankle in September.

But it was to van der Sar that United owed much as Arsenal threatened to break United’s control of the game. First the 40-year-old, who has promised to retire in the summer, twice saved from Laurent Koscielny after the defender had been played in by Van Persie. Later the United legend saved from Marouanne Chamakh and substitute Tomas Rosicky to draw chants of “Fergie sign him up” and “one more year” from the Old Trafford crowd.

In the meantime United doubled the advantage on 50 minutes, with Rooney heading home after Hernández’ shot was blocked by Manuel Almunia in the Arsenal net. It was a sixth goal in eight games for the former Evertonian, who played in a markedly deeper role against Arsenal to no little effect. Indeed, with the Mexican playing on the shoulders of the visitors’ defence there was yet more evidence that Rooney and Hernández – not Berbatov – may become the most productive pairing for Ferguson’s outfit.

Yet, Arsenal continued to press and gained both territorial advantage and possession as the match drew to a close. Here, United’s defence proved its worth once again, with Chris Smalling amply demonstrating his potential. And the Reds could have added to the lead, with Arsenal increasingly leaving gaps at the back. Almunia pushed out one shot from Hernández, before Rooney and substitute Ryan Giggs also tested the Arsenal stopper.

“It was an intense game as we expected it to be and both teams played their part in different stages of the game,” added the United boss.

“The first goal opened up the game and there could have been a lot of goals for both sides in the second half. Arsenal had a lot of chances in the second half and Edwin van der Sar made four or five fantastic saves. On the other side, their goalkeeper made three saves from Chicharito while Rooney went through with a good chance. There was nothing much between the two teams but we could have won by a few more goals.”

It’s a result that will provide United with a huge lift ahead of Tuesday’s match with Marseille. As so often this season, whatever is in the water at Old Trafford – it works.

Match Facts
United – 4231 – Van der Sar; Brown, Smalling, Vidic, Evra (Scholes 80); O’Shea, Gibson; Rafael (Giggs 64), Rooney, Fabio Da Silva (Valencia 46); Hernandez.

Arsenal – 433 – Almunia; Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Gibbs; Diaby (Ramsey 72), Nasri, Denilson (Chamakh 59), Wilshere, Arshavin (Rosicky 72); Van Persie.

Attendance – 74,693
Man of the Match – van der Sar

Possession: United 46% – 54% Arsenal
Attempts: 11 – 18
On Target: 6 – 11
Corners: 4- 4
Fouls: 6- 4

Fergie spins positives ahead of cup clash

Ed March 12, 2011 Tags: , Matches 138 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson has warned his Manchester United side against turning a blip into a slump after defeats to Chelsea and Liverpool in the past 10 days. But the 69-year-old manager was in positive mood on finally breaking a week-long silence ahead of United’s FA Cup fifth round tie with Arsenal at Old Trafford.

However, Ferguson could be without 10 first team players for the Londoners’ visit, including winger Nani who suffered a serious gash to his left leg following Jamie Carragher’s high tackle last weekend. United will once against be without key defender Rio Ferdinand, whose calf injury now appears more serious than first thought. Meanwhile Jonny Evans, midfielders Park Ji-Sung, Anderson, and Antonio Valencia will all miss out.

Despite recent setbacks and the lengthy injury list, which may mean a recall for forgotten Frenchman Gabriel Obertan, Ferguson says he is looking forward to the challenge of competing on three fronts as the season draws to a close.

“We’ve got to look forward now. There are big opportunities at this club and we have a lot of challenges ahead of us for the rest of the season,” Ferguson said on Friday.

“We have the experience to recover. It’s happened a few times here and, at any club, you never go through a season where everything is rosy. When you get the bad moments you have to recover from it.

“It’s another day in the history of Manchester United and you take that history into games. The ability to do that over the years is a tremendous credit to every team we’ve had here.”

Indeed, the match takes on increasing significance for both teams after the events of the past fortnight, in which United’s defeats have been matched by the Londoners. Just 13 days ago Arsène Wenger’s outfit was challenging on four fronts. Defeat on Saturday evening will leave Arsenal chasing United’s tails in the Premier League as the club’s sole focus.

Although Ferguson said he will play his strongest side – words echoed by his opposite number – the Scot must also take Tuesday’s tie with Marseille into account. Still, with United having failed to win the FA Cup in nearly seven years, few of his squad have cup final experience.

“It’s interesting, for example, to see that Rio has never won an FA Cup medal, which I’m surprised about,” adds Ferguson.

“So it is an opportunity for these players. The incentive for both teams is a semi-final and you always like to take your team to Wembley. I don’t entirely agree with semi-finals being played at Wembley. Nonetheless, it is Wembley, so it’s a smashing incentive for everyone.”

Manchester United v Arsenal, FA Cup Fifth RoundHowever, the Scot is likely to rotate his resources mindful of the Champions League tie in three days. Veterans Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Edwin van der Sar may sit out the cup tie, with Darron Gibson, Béné and Obertan all in contention for a place against the Gunners.

Ferguson will also choose between strikers Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernández; the Scot normally deploys a lone forward against Arsenal with three supporting from central midfield. It suggests that Rooney will be deployed in a wide role, with Ferguson short of wingers for the match. Nani will miss at least a fortnight, while Antonio Valencia is not yet ready for first team action despite the Ecuadorian’s return to training.

“Obviously it was a disgraceful tackle, we know that, but you just move on,” added Ferguson of Carragher’s studs-up challenge.

“There’s nothing we can do about it now. The wound was too wide. We sent him to the hospital to see what they could do and our own doctor and the surgeon there managed to get it stitched up, which was fantastic, the best news we could have. The alternative would have been to wait and just let it heal but the problem with that is infection.”

Meanwhile, Wenger must do without inspirational captain Cesc Fabregas, after the Spaniard came off in the Gunners’ defeat to Barcelona last week. Wojciech Szczesny, Theo Walcott, Alex Song and Thomas Vermaelen will also miss the trip north.

It’s a match in which United is looking for a seventh consecutive unbeaten league and cup match against the Londoners, including a fourth consecutive victory. United beat Arsenal 4-0 on the last FA Cup meeting between the sides three years ago. And despite two defeats on the road against Chelsea and Liverpool in the past 10 days, United has won the last eight at Old Trafford.

More important still – Saturday’s victor will enter the final phase of the season with a distinct psychological advantage over its direct Premier League title rivals.

Opposition
Arsenal – 433 – Almunia; Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Clichy; Diaby, Wilshere, Denilson; Nasri, Van Persie, Arshavin. Subs from: Bendtner, Rosicky, Squillaci, Chamakh, Eboue, Ramsey, Gibbs, Miquel, Henderson.

United
United – 433 – Lindegaard; O’Shea, Vidic, Smalling, Evra; Gibson, Fletcher, Carrick; Rooney, Berbatov, Obertan. Subs from: Kuzszazk, Gibson, Bébé, , Fabio da Silva, Hernández, Tunnicliffe, King, Carrick, Rafael da Silva, Owen, Brown, Scholes, van der Sar, Giggs.

Officials
Referee: Chris Foy
Assistant referees: Adam Watts and John Flynn
Fourth official: Mark Halsey

Form
United – WWDWLL
Arsenal – WDWLDL