Month September 2011

Month September 2011

Old rivals and new faces for Leeds tie

September 20, 2011 Tags: , Matches 107 comments

Manchester United visit Elland Road for the first time in eight years on Tuesday night, with Sir Alex Ferguson set to ring the changes for the Carling Cup third round tie with Leeds United. Yet, with so many young faces in the Scot’s first team it is Ferguson’s older hands that be asked to impress. And as well as local rivalry, the Reds have a minor right to wrong, with Leeds having emerged victorious from an FA Cup fixture at Old Trafford 18 months ago. A similar result is unthinkable for the 5,000 Reds expected at Elland Road.

In addition to familiar faces, such as Dimitar Berbatov, Park Ji-Sung and Michael Owen, Ferguson is expected to hand young Frenchman Paul Pogba a first start for United. The impressive midfielder led United’s Academy side to FA Youth Cup glory last season and the Scot expects to fast-track the talented teen into the first team picture this season.

Pogba missed United’s reserve win over Rochdale last week, and the Premier League fixture with Chelsea, but Ferguson expects to start the 18-year-old in the hostile Elland Road atmosphere. The début will vindicate Ferguson’s decision to retain Pogba at Old Trafford this season despite widespread interest from Championship clubs in a loan deal.

“He’s got a slight injury, it’s not too bad, though. So he wasn’t available for Sunday but he should be able to play on Tuesday and I intend to play him against Leeds United,” said Ferguson.

“It’s more difficult to loan a boy of 18 who’s come from France. We prefer to keep him with us until we find he’s mature enough to possibly go on loan. Maybe next year that could be an option but we’re definitely expecting him this season to stay with Manchester United.”

Leeds United versus Manchester United, Carling Cup, Ellend Road, 7.45pm, 20 September 2011.Ferguson has also included Tom Thorpe, Larnell Cole and Reese Brown from United’s reserve team in the squad to face Leeds but established first team player Michael Carrick believes the deep squad resources now at the Scot’s disposal mean that a more experienced side than many expected may turn out.

“The squad is so strong it has tended to be the younger lads that have played in recent weeks and they’ve done really well,” Carrick told MUTV.

“The team changed for Benfica but the experience that came in was something we have not seen for a while. We are well aware of what Leeds means. [It’s a big game] because of the fans and the rivalry over the years. I am sure the manager will pick a strong team. I’m guessing it will be a full house. It will be a nice hot atmosphere. It‘s not like there is a team for this or a team for that: whoever comes in isn’t going to weaken the team in any way. They just offer something different. It is a great option for the manager to have.

“Paul [Pogba] is a huge talent. He has trained with us a number of times, so we have seen quite a lot of him and he looks very promising. If he goes about things in the right way and gets a little bit of luck at the right time, he is going to have a bright future.”

Of those younger players who feature tonight veteran Ryan Giggs says it is not the talent but the attitude that will dictate whether the kids become United legends or a footnote in history. Indeed, under Ferguson’s stewardship players with, arguably, limited natural talent but huge desire have played hundreds of games for the club. For Thorpe, Brown, Pogba and Keane tonight is perhaps the first test of many to come.

“There are young players coming through at United but this is an important part of their career,” says the Welsh legend, now in his 21st season as a pro with United.

“When you look at the lads who came through in my age group, then those who followed – Wes Brown and John O’Shea, for instance – when they got their chance, they took it. Once you hit 17, 18 and 19, that is what you have to do. It doesn’t matter whether it is if you get a chance to train with the first team, or in a match as a substitute, you need to make an impact. You need to force the manager not leave you out of the next game. The majority have the quality. That is not really in doubt. The question is, do they have the desire and appetite to take it up a step more?”

There is little more incentive than an away fixture at Leeds, with whom the rivalry burns strong despite the Whites’ seven-year exile from the Premier League. For those youngsters blooded at Elland Road an intense atmosphere awaits, with Leeds supporters still celebrating the club’s FA Cup victory over United in January 2010. It is a rivalry as intense as any in the country.

Meanwhile, Leeds manager Simon Grayson is without defender Patrick Kisnorbo, who serves a one-match ban following his sending off against Bristol City. Grayson faces a major dilemma over his team selection, with a top-of-the-table clash against Brighton and Hove Albion in the Championship on Friday.

However, United’s outstanding recent record in the Carling Cup – winners in 2006, 2009 and 2010 – and strong starting line-up ensures the Reds start strong favourites to win. Yet, there is also a lesson in history: Coventry City became the last club from outside the top flight to knock United out of the Carling Cup in November 2007. Few anticipate a similar result Tuesday night.

Match Facts
Leeds United versus Manchester United, Carling Cup, Ellend Road, 7.45pm, 20 September 2011.

Likely Line-ups
Leeds (4-4-2): Lonergan; Connolly, White, O’Dea, Lees; Howson, Clayton, Nunez, Snodgrass; Keogh, McCormack. Subs from:
Rachubka, Bromby, Brown, Becchio, Forssell, Sam, Taylor, Bruce, O’Brien.

United (4-4-2): Lindegaard; Brown, Evans, Jones, Fabio; Valencia, Fletcher, Pogba, Park; Owen, Berbatov. Subs from: de Gea, Amos, Smalling, Ferdinand, Jones, Giggs, Evans, Diouf, Nani, Carrick, Anderson, Young, Rooney, Hernandez, Macheda, Thorpe, Fryers, Cole, Keane.

Leeds: DWLWW
United: WWWDW

Referee: Mike Jones (Chester)

Twice embarrassed, Cole turns to the dark side

September 19, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 37 comments

It is reliably said that off the field Chelsea defender Ashley Cole is mild mannered and pleasant company. Engaging even. His on-off-on again wife may not always agree with the 30-year-old’s sexual proclivities but that, of course, is an aside. On the field the left-back’s rapidly waning ability has now twice been exposed in successive outings against Manchester United. The player’s reaction: violence of the crudest kind.

First, Antonio Valencia so humiliated Cole during United’s victory over the Londoners at Old Trafford last April that the former Arsenal player must have been relieved the Reds winger did not start Sunday’s Premier League game. Cole’s moment of deliverance was short-lived though, with Nani again showing the progress the Portuguese has made over the past 18 months with a man-of-the-match performance on Sunday.

By the end of the fixture, so frustrated was Cole with Nani’s mesmerising skills that the former Arsenal left-back lunged, two-footed and high, into Javier Hernández’ shins. The sickening replay showed the Mexican striker’s leg buckle, with a break only a miracle and industrial-strength shin pads away.

Cole’s tackle was crude, aggressive, deliberate and all the more sickening for the arrogant and dismissive reaction delivered by both the defender and his captain John Terry. The pair surround referee Phil Down, arguing fiercely that no foul had been committed. Cole’s attitude was no fake, of course. The player genuinely believes that he did no wrong, despite the studs-up challenge that will leave Hernández out of action for weeks. Plus ça change from Chelsea’s clique of big egos, as Roy Keane call them this week, whomever the manager of the moment.

Understandably, Sir Alex Ferguson was furious,both with the lack of penalty awarded. Technically the ball was about a yard out of play, with Hernandez’ lashing the shot into the side netting but the yellow card issued to Cole is indefensible. Adding insult to the Mexican’s injury, Cole will face no further sanction after referee Dowd refused to dismiss the former Arsenal player.

“It was a shocking challenge,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.

“The referee has booked him for it so I don’t know why it wasn’t a penalty. I must ask him. He is very reckless at times, Ashley Cole. He is committed, of course, but being committed you can sometimes go over the edge a bit. That was an example of that. It was a shocking tackle, an absolutely shocking tackle.

“We don’t know what Chicharito has done. We will have to wait. At the moment his leg is very numb. He doesn’t have any feeling in it. He could be out for a couple of week’s maybe.”

The Football Association confirmed, Monday, that Cole will face no further action. FA rules, for the little that they are worth, do not allow for a yellow card to be upgraded retrospectively. Had Dowd taken no action in an incident he clearly did not see then the FA would have been able to charge Cole with violent conduct, resulting in a well deserved three-match ban.

Yet, more embarrassing than Coles’s reaction or the FA’s inadequacy is the excuse made by 33-year-old Chelsea manager André Villas-Boas. Quite unbelievably, José Mourinho’s protegé blamed the incident on the officials for ruling United’s way on two highly marginal offside decisions. The emotion of going behind, claimed Villas-Boas, was too much for Cole to handle; lashing out was all that could be expected of the defender.

“Maybe he wouldn’t get sent off if the linesman does his work,” Villas-Boas told the Telegraph.

“He would have been less emotionally drained. I work the other way round. You are trying to say the referee did something wrong. I cannot forget the previous two. If it was 0-0 maybe Ashley is a little bit more mentally in control of the situation and doesn’t do the red card foul that you mention.”

It is, of course, a feeble excuse made all the worst by Cole’s decade-long history of two-footed lunges and aggressive claims of innocence. Cole is a man whose level of entitlement has always been far off the scale, even for a pampered footballer. It’s not even the first time the defender has gotten away with a similar tackle against United.

The FA for its part is happy to hide behind the organisation’s self-imposed rules, designed to protect referees, but in fact achieving the exact opposite. There is little doubt that had Dowd or his Assistant seen the incident more clearly then Cole wold have seen red. The FA could correct the human error and right an injustice.

Yet the organisation was desperate to jump on the media bandwagon after Wayne Rooney’s ‘sweargate’ at Upton Park last season. It all goes to show, to paraphrase a popular cartoon, that horrific deplorable violence is OK, as long as no one says any naughty words!

Reds to capitalise on Chelsea blues

September 18, 2011 Tags: , Matches 138 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson reports no fresh injury concerns ahead of Manchester United’s fixture with Chelsea to Old Trafford this Sunday, in a match billed both as a clash of generations and a marker for the new season. Now in his 26th year at Old Trafford, 69-year-old Ferguson stands in marked contrast to his callow opposite number, André Villas-Boas, the 33-year-old Portuguese who won the treble with Porto last season. Yet, each is desperate to gain early ground in the Premier League title race.

Aside from from the clash of personalities the fixture will serve as a barometer for Chelsea’s challenge this season. In contrast to swashbuckling United performances in the Premier League, Chelsea’s pedestrian start – despite four wins in five – has brought both media and internal criticism, with striker Fernando Torres complaining of his team-mates’ sedentary pace. Hardly surprising given the ageing nature of Chelsea’s squad and the frustration that the 27-year-old Torres must feel. One goal in 22 for his new club gives the Spaniard little ammunition for criticism though.

But, says Ferguson, despite the ageing legs and in-fighting at the west London outfit, Chelsea will pose a significant threat to The Reds’ title ambitions this season. Indeed, Chelsea is the only side to boast a positive head-to-head record against United in the Premier League era.

“It will be a fantastic game,” Ferguson told reporters on Friday.

“The games with Chelsea over the last seven years have been very close affairs. There’s usually only one goal in it and I think it will be tight again on Sunday. They’re a team with great experience and they’ll pose a challenge to us. Chelsea will be there at the end of the season. There’s no doubt about that.”

With United having beaten Chelsea three times last season the Reds start as favourites at Old Trafford but it is the contrast with the Premier League’s youngest manager that fascinates. Indeed, Ferguson drew parallels with his own start at United, having been successful at a young age in Scotland. The difference, of course, being that the young Ferguson had more than a decade in management before signing on at Old Trafford.

“It’s similar to when I came from Aberdeen, I’d achieved something,” added Ferguson, who won the European Cup Winners’ Cup with The Scottish club and broke the Auld Firm duopoly.

“André Villas-Boas won the Double last year so that’s a help. That stands him in good stead in terms of the start of his tenure at Chelsea. After that, the impression that the players get from him in terms of his knowledge of the game and man-management skills, that’s all in the future. The new coach has started very well. It’s a hard challenge at his age but he’s acquitted himself very well and his team have responded, which is what you hope for as a new manager at a club.”

Manchester United v Chelsea, Premier League, Old Trafford, 4pm 18 September 2011Ferguson will be able to call on an almost fully fit squad for the tie, save for injured quartet Rafael da Silva, Nemanja Vidic, Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley. The latter pair is a significant loss, with the youngsters having started the season in such exhilarating fashion. Cleverley is likely to miss the next three weeks but Welbeck is well ahead of schedule and has begun training with the first team once again. The injuries should mean both Javer Hernández and Michael Carrick start at Old Trafford on Sunday.

“We came through the Benfica game without any injuries,” added Sir Alex.

“We have a full squad for Sunday. They’re all giving me headaches. Darren Fletcher, Ji-sung Park, Antonio Valencia, they’ve not been involved because the team have been playing so well. I’ve decided not to tinker with that. But now we come to the time of the season where we need our squad – we’ve got European games, Carling Cup etc. Danny Welbeck’s back training now. He could maybe be ready for the following week [at Stoke].”

In Cleverley’s stead the oft-criticised Carrick will start his first Premier League game of the season. The 30-year-old Geordie is likely to be paired with a rejuvenated Anderson, who is enjoying his best start to a campaign after four years at Old Trafford.

The creative burden, from central areas at least, is again likely to fall on Rooney, who will resume his partnership with Hernández at Old Trafford after the Mexican sat out United’s bore draw with Benfica on Wednesday night. Rooney’s stunning early season form has brought 10 goals in six games for club and country, including successive hat-tricks. Should the England forward score twice against Chelsea he will become the first player to reach double figures after five games of a Premier League season.

Rooney bills the tie with Chelsea as United’s biggest test of the season to date, after the Reds conjured up comfortable wins against Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford.

“Obviously Arsenal are always difficult but with the injuries they had when they came to Old Trafford we were the favourites to win that one,” the striker told

“The Chelsea game’s going to be difficult and we need to be at our best. They’ve got a few new players – I saw Daniel Sturridge started the last game and Juan Mata played as well. I’m sure they’ll have a few new ideas to go along with the new signings they have, but I’ sure we’ll be able to cope with that. This is going to be another big game and if we can win we’ll go five points clear of Chelsea and keep our winning run going at the start of the season.”

Meanwhile, Villas-Boas will be without striker Didier Drogba, who is still on the sidelines following an early season concussion. It is unlikely to save Torres’ place in the side with Nicolas Anelka set to start. Influential midfielder Michael Essien is unlikely to return before February with another serious knee injury.

Yet, Villas-Boas has attempted to play down the fixture’s importance in the season, despite the five point advantage that victory for United will bring.

“Our importance in the game is minimal. It’s for the players to exploit their talents and enjoy their game,” said the 33-year-old.

“We face Man United perhaps in their most tremendous moment of motivation and flair and style and a team that has made its impact at the beginning of the Premiership, different from last year. It provokes a good challenge and I think motivation will be the key factor in the game and hopefully (we can) come back from Old Trafford with a win.”

Chelsea has won five times at Old Trafford in the Premier League era, more often than any other team. Few expect the Londoners to repeat the feat on Sunday.

Match Facts
Manchester United versus Chelsea, Premier League, Old Trafford, 4pm, 18 September 2011.

Likely Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): de Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand, Jones, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Anderson, Young; Rooney; Hernandez. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Evans, Giggs, Evans, Fletcher, Pogba, Park, Diouf, Owen, Berbatov.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ivanovic, Bosingwa, Luiz, Alex, Cole; Ramires, Meireles, Lampard; Mata, Anelka, Sturridge. Subs from: Hilario, Ferreira, Malouda, McEachran, Mikel, Kalou, Torres, Romeu

United: WWWWD
Chelsea: DWWWW

Referee: Phil Dowd (Slovenia)

Glazers’ dual track IPO gets green light

September 16, 2011 Tags: , , , Opinion 30 comments

The Glazer family will list Manchester United on the Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX) this autumn after local authorities gave the American family a green light for the partial IPO. The family will sell off around a third of United’s shares in a much-discussed dual track listing that will raise money but ensure the Glazers remain in Old Trafford control. Amid speculation over pricing, with the family seeking around £600 million for a 25 – 35 per cent listing, United could float by mid-October if the Glazers drum up enough local interest.

Yet, with controversy surrounding the dual track nature of the shares being offered – investors will be required to purchase non-voting preference shares in addition to ordinary stock – many questions remain about the IPO’s potential success. Not least just how attractive the Glazer family will make preference share dividends for investors who will have little influence on the club’s future strategic direction.

“They have received approval but the timetable is not fixed,” a ‘source’ close to the IPO told newswire AFP on Friday.

“The company is not in need of funds so they are not in a hurry to list. Basically, they are keeping a watching brief on market conditions. Now that there is approval, they can roll out any time.”

The SGX go ahead will allow United to open formal talks with potential anchor investors, while a prospectus and tour are likely in the coming weeks. The club is believed to have already held informal discussions with investment company Temasek Holdings, which is owned by the Government of Singapore.

SGX’s go-ahead comes amid fresh speculation in the Mirror that the Qatari Royal family is prepared to offer £1.6 billion for total acquisition of the club. In reality United may approach the Qatari’s to take a significant, if minority, shareholding on flotation, with the Glazers now convinced IPO will maximise the family’s profits. Full sale is surely likely only if the IPO gravy-train fails in the coming weeks. After all, with the eurozone debt crisis showing no signs of abating, markets globally have become twitchy about new listings.

However, Qatar is making significant noises in the football market, having won the right to host the 2022 World Cup finals, while members of the Royal family has invested in Malaga and French Paris St Germain. The Qatari Foundation struck a record-breaking shirt sponsorship with Barcelona last season.

“The Mirror understands that a delegation from the Qatari royal family, headed by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, will be in Manchester on Monday in a bid to conclude the deal,” said the paper on Friday.

“Top Middle East sources revealed last night that an official approach to the Glazer family is being made and a deal could even be clinched by next week. The super-rich Qataris think United is a good deal – even at the profit it would make for the current rulers.”

Doubts remain about the IPO’s potential for success, with the family seeking to retain around 90 per cent control on flotation. The dual track listing means each ordinary share will be sold with a preference share. While preference shares hold no voting rights they will attract higher dividends and first option of repayment in the unlikely event that United is made insolvent. In practice this means that post-IPO United is likely to pay out higher annual dividends than if the Glazer family went for a standard listing.

“Football clubs around the world are mostly quite closely held and not very transparent,” Pearlyn Wong at Bank Julius Baer & Co., told Bloomberg on Friday.

“They don’t like to give up voting rights so they can make faster decisions over things like players and management. Usually preference shares come as a follow-up offering, rather than at the IPO stage. Whether people will receive the share structure well depends on how much dividends they can get and whether the company has the cashflows to support it.”

United recently reported annual pre-tax and interest (EBITDA) earnings of £110.9 million for the year to the end of June 2011, with a pre-tax headline profit of £29.7 million. However, the club currently pays around £45 million per season in interest on bond debt, although it spent more than £60 million in the past financial year buying back some of the notes. United has spent more than £470 million on interest, debt repayment and related fees during the course of the Glazer family’s six-year tenure at Old Trafford.

Another senior analyst told Bloomberg that “institutional investors are unlikely to be interested [because] the lack of voting rights is just a kick in the teeth,” raising the spectre that the Glazers will sell United’s brand to retail investors. It is not a community that traditionally has a strong voice in the Singapore market.

The doubts place into question the IPO timescale, which could now happen at any point but is likely to go ahead – if at all – when the Glazer family believes the market is most receptive. Moreover, the family’s oft-reported $4 billion asking price – a significant premium by any measure – will be tested by a genuine market valuation for the first time.

Then there is the question about just how much debt the IPO will enable United to repay. After all, the dual listing has a significant impact on this process, with ordinary share sales diluting the family’s holding and raising money for the Glazers directly, and preference shares raising money for the club.

Photo credit: Flickr/NickD58

Rant Cast 81 – here’s lookin’ at Cristiano

September 16, 2011 Tags: Rant Cast 13 comments

In this week’s packed Rant Cast, regulars Ed and Paul talk of their jealousy for Cristiano Ronaldo; the man, the myth, the ledgend. How can one footballer be so undeniably handsome. And talented. And rich. Did we mention handsome?

In less important football news we discuss United’s fine victory over Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok last weekend. Are Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney now unstopable? Finally, we talk Champions League following United’s dull draw in Lisbon with Benfica, and preview upcoming matches with Chelsea and Leeds United.

Like Rant Cast? Why not nominate us for a Podcast Award.

This week’s exit theme tune is ‘One Day’ – Elbow.

Hit us up with any feedback below or follow the pod on Twitter: Paul – @UtdRantCast, Ed – @UnitedRant.

Stream this episode using the player below, click here to download the MP3 or subscribe on iTunes, where you can also leave a review!

Europe the goal as Reds open with Benfica

September 14, 2011 Tags: , Matches 129 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will use the full weight of his squad in coming weeks, starting with Manchester United’s tie with Portugal’s Benfica on Wednesday night. Tom Cleverley, Rafael da Silva and Nemanja Vidic miss the game through injury, while Rio Ferdinand is protected with Chelsea to come on Sunday. Yet Ferguson is likely to make further changes, aware that United’s busy schedule over the next two months will wring the freshness out of his squad.

Indeed, Ferguson could restore some of his more experienced players, having started so many youngster stars in the opening weeks of United’s campaign, with the effervescent energy that it has brought to his team. Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs and Park Ji-Sung are each in contention for a place in Ferguson’s team for Wednesday’s match at Estádio da Luz , northern Lisbon.

“I have not picked my team yet,” said the 69-year-old, now in his 26th season with the club.

“We are coming into a period where we have the game tomorrow, then Chelsea on Sunday, Leeds United on Tuesday, then Stoke away on the following Saturday. Obviously the squad will be used but first of all we are giving a lot of consideration to Benfica. I have a few things to think about. But it wouldn’t worry me at all to play the [same] team that is doing well.”

Once again, the romance of European competition has captured Ferguson’s heart, with the United boss hoping to improve on last season’s run to the final. Indeed, while three finals in the past four years presents a huge achievement for the Scot, two crushing defeats to Barcelona still weigh heavily. It’s a challenge that Ferguson believes United is now closer to meeting, having seen his side begin the new campaign in such positive fashion.

“It’s always the challenge for us,” added Ferguson, who was in a jovial mood ahead of United’s eighth European Cup meeting with the Portuguese giants.

“We’re coming closer all the time to getting another trophy. The consistency has been very, very good over last few years. That’s a good guide to the standard we are in Europe and also the progress we’re making. I think the last three years we haven’t lost an away game, apart from the finals. Of course we want to improve, that’s the drive of every coach and player, to improve. We hope we can improve. The most important thing is to win it – that’s the improvement that we really do want.

“It is different winning the Champions League in the present day than it was 30 years ago. All the best teams are in Europe; Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Villarreal from Spain, Benfica and Porto from Portugal. Ourselves, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City. It is a very difficult tournament to win now. That is why I am pleased with the progress my team has made because you can see the consistency has been the hallmark of our game in the last few years.”

Benfica v Manchester United, Estádio da Luz, Champions League, 14 September 2011With Ferdinand rested as a precaution, Ferguson may restore Chris Smalling to United’s starting line-up, with Phil Jones moving inside despite the highly successful showing at right-back against Bolton Wanderers at the weekend. Meanwhile, the Scot may bring both Carrick and Fletcher into central midfield, despite Anderson’s positive start to the season.

Unbeaten away from Old Trafford for three seasons, Ferguson’s team has found a highly successful, if sometimes negative way of playing on the road in European competition. This may colour Ferguson’s selection should the Scot choose to implement a three-man midfield for United’s first European game of the season. Indeed, although Benfica finished some way behind Porto at the head of the Primera Liga last season, Ferguson is aware of the talent still available to Jorge Jesus.

“We know all about Pablo Aimar,” added Sir Alex.

“Aimar played against us for Valencia a few years ago, he is a very talented player. [Ezequiel] Garay and Luisao at the back are also very experienced, good players. It won’t be easy for us; it will be a difficult game. But it will be difficult for Benfica too.”

Once again United will rely on Wayne Rooney as both creator and goalscorer. The 25-year-old Scouser has scored 10 goals in six competitive games for club and country this season, including two successive hat-tricks in the Premier League. The triple brought warm praise from Benfica coach Jesus, who compared the England striker to often more lauded Brazilians and Argentinians.

It’s a comparison Ferguson welcomes, although the Scot is unlikely to add a ‘ninho’ to the £30 million former Evertonian just yet.

”Wayne is a typical British player,” Ferguson added.

“But there have been British players who have great qualities that made them great players – [Paul] Gascoigne, George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law.

”Look at Pele. ‘He was a very aggressive attacker as well who could look after himself. So can Rooney. There are similarities that way in strength, speed and determination. But he is white, completely white. The similarities are that the boy has great courage. He wants to play all the time. He has incredible stamina. These are added extras to the talent he has.”

Jesus’ team, meanwhile, is refreshed, with the coach having rested key players Aimar and Nolito for the 2-1 win over Vitória de Guimarães at the weekend. Nolito, a summer signing from Barcelona, has scored five in as many games this season and has formed a potent partnership with Óscar Cardozo. The strike pair is complimented in the starting line-up by summer signings Ezequiel Garay and Axel Witsel, who joined after Benfica pocketed around €30 million for Real Madrid bound defender Fábio Coentrão.

“The Champions League is the maximum for any player,” Jesus said told

“My experience is that whether you are playing Manchester United or Basel, the players’ motivation is the same. When you start the match and hear the Champions League anthem, the player is already so charged with adrenaline because he feels he is playing with the very best. Every player is super-concentrated, super-motivated, and will do everything to be at the highest possible level.”

History points to the sternest of tests for Jesus’ men, with United having won six of the clubs’ seven fixtures in this competition, including the 1968 final. However, few Reds will forget Benfica’s 2-1 Lisbon victory in 2005 that eliminated Ferguson’s team at the group stage. Five United players – Ferdinand, Park, Giggs, Rooney and Fletcher – remain from that game, one of the most dismal of Ferguson’s tenure.

Benfica is also seeking a seventh successive home victory in Europe, having already beaten Trabzonspor AŞ and FC Twente in the play-offs; a record of which Ferguson is understandably respectful.

Match Facts
Benfica versus Manchester United, Champions League, Estádio da Luz, Wednesday 12 September 2011, 7.45pm.

Likely Line-ups
Benfica (4-2-3-1): Guilherme Moraes Artur; Emerson, Luisao, Garay, Pereira; Garcia, Witsel; Aimar, Gaitan, Nolito; Cardozo. Subs from: Eduardo, Jardel, Amorim, Matic, Cesar, Saviola, Jara.

United (4-4-1-1): de Gea; Smalling, Evans, Jones, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Fletcher, Young; Rooney; hernandez. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Giggs, Anderson, Park, Diouf, Owen, Berbatov, Pogba.

Benfica: DWWWW
United: WWWWW

Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)

Anderson and on and on

September 13, 2011 Tags: Opinion 99 comments

Much criticised, yet often lauded, Brazilian midfielder Anderson has truly become Manchester United’s Marmite in four years at Old Trafford. The talent to fulfil every hope; the failure of sustained application to dash every aspiration. Anderson has reached his potential on so few occasions that many have come to believe, with some justification, that United overspent when lavishing €30 million on the teenager in 2007.

Anderson’s positive start to the current campaign has not rid the player of his doubters but it certainly points to a more positive future for the 22-year-old. Indeed, with Tom Cleverley now missing for the next month his Brazilian colleague becomes United’s premier central midfielder. It is a true test of Anderson’s new value.

Both creator and destroyer, Anderson’s dynamic start to the season arguably reached a peak in United’s 5-0 destruction of Bolton Wanderers last weekend. Effervescent, creative and energetic, Anderson was almost everything hoped for from the player who dominated in games against both Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard and Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas in his opening season for the club. That the player completed 85 per cent of his passes at the Reebok – a far superior performance away from home than last season – is one statistic underlining the player’s improvement.

“He’s been tremendous, the boy,” manager Sir Alex Ferguson told Inside United ahead of the Reds’ clash with Bolton.

“He’s had a couple of long-term injuries which haven’t helped him, but in the last year or so, he’s steered clear of injury. That means he’s training every day so his fitness levels are much better. And he’s maturing so you can see the consistency in his game.”

Evidence of that new maturity came in the impressive way Anderson dictated the tempo of United’s play against Owen Coyle’s near-neighbours. The Brazilian’s ability to pass, move and pass again demonstrated all the qualities that so excited four years ago. Agility, physicality and penetration have always been part of the player’s game; now, perhaps, Anderson has added consistency to a potent mix. The player’s change of pace and energy was far too much for Bolton.

Yet, the midfielder is far from perfect. As in earlier games this season, Anderson’s passing broke down at the crucial moment on Saturday. The pass completion ratio of just 60 per cent in the final third against Bolton and two chances created for his team-mates evidence of the failing. This is a key weakness in Anderson’s armoury, especially in Cleverley’s absence. Paired with Michael Carrick or Darren Fletcher, for example, the Brazilian will be asked to take on more of United’s creative burden. History says the Brazilian will fail.

Little wonder that Ferguson warned on Tuesday against over-expectation of his young squad, including Anderson, who may well step aside in favour of both Carrick and Fletcher against Benfica in the Champions League.

“We’ve only played four games,” said Ferguson.

“The quality of our play has been superb, but it’s a young squad. Obviously there’ll be a time when their form tapers off, so I hope the experienced players will then step in and add to the great start to the season we have had. You can’t judge a team after four games. But hopefully they’ll become one our best teams.

“The season really starts when the Champions League comes around. You have games on Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday all the time. We’re coming to a period where we have a game tomorrow and then Chelsea on Sunday, then Leeds on the Tuesday and then Stoke away on the Saturday. The squad will obviously be used.”

The true test of Anderson’s new maturity will come in matches to come, not least United’s fixture with Chelsea at the weekend, which the home side is favourite to win. Anderson’s form against much criticised Chelsea stalwart Frank Lampard, along side new recruit Raul Meireles will come under severe test nonetheless.

And with hope that Anderson will become the €30 million player that Ferguson paid for there is also a warning; the player’s total failure in the 2009 Champions League final against Barcelona. That the Brazilian was overlooked in favour of 37-year-old part-time central midfielder for the 2011 final said much for the lack of influence Anderson has so often brought to bear during his 134 game Old Trafford tenure.

Ferguson must hope, as Anderson takes on a more attacking mantle over the next month, that the player can add both goals and creativity to his bow. One goal has come in five appearances this season, which admittedly is a far superior strike-rate compared to the to the six in 134 overall. Neither is the 15 assists in more than a century of games impressive either.

Yet there is also genuine hope that Ferguson’s almost limitless patience is finally paying dividends. History dictates that judgement is reserved but the player’s ability to continue improving is central to United’s success without Cleverley. In that there is a greater belief that just weeks ago.

United’s golden future

September 10, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 22 comments

There is an infectious air of belief sweeping around Old Trafford this season that has been created by a new generation of young players. Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley and Chris Smalling, among many others, have shown nothing but promise in a positive start to the new campaign. The pair will be followed up by an even younger generation, featuring elegant Frenchman Paul Pogba and the unruly, yet talented Ravel Morrison. The future, it seems, is bright.

The big question, however, remains whether this side will ever be good enough to challenge Barcelona, a club that possesses some of the best players in a generation, and seems able to create more at will. There is, for the moment, no answer to this question. Not until Manchester United’s new crop enjoys success in the face of Barça’s sustained excellence.

On the face of it Sir Alex Ferguson is trying to emulate Barcelona in his approach by bringing young players through, together, and allowing them to develop as a unit. Only a team that has been reared in this way, it seems, can have the shared understanding required for the phenomenal teamwork displayed by the Catalan giants, which can boast ten home-grown players in the first team squad.

Barcelona’s youth system has produced not only outstanding attacking players, such as Lionel Messi and Pedro Rodríguez, but also many creative midfielders in the mould of Andrés Iniesta and commanding defenders, including Gerard Piqué. Even the goalkeeper, Víctor Valdés, is Barcelona born and bred. This success in youth production is largely attributed to La Masia, the centre of excellence that imbues its graduates with such a strong foundation.

Happily for United, however, new developments in the Premier League – the Elite Player Performance Plan, which was agreed last February and will come into force from next season – should allow the club to create just such an establishment in Salford: a private footballing boarding school for children. This will provide the kind of close contact that is needed to develop the attitude and ability that so many of Barcelona’s youngsters possess.

More crucially still, the current restrictions on training hours are to be scrapped. Under Premier League rules young English players between the ages of 9 and 16 can only be trained for less than five hours a week by their clubs. Dutch, French and Spanish youngsters can hope for ten to twelve hours a week. The perrenial failure of the English national team means that five hours is patently nowhere near enough a player’s formative years.

Under the new system, English players will receive three times more training before the age of 16, which will go a long way to redressing the balance between English youngsters and their European counterparts. United’s outstanding facilities and top coaching team, together with the new rules, means that the club will produce ever more gems from the academy, just as Barcelona does.

Another boost comes in the form of a new academy grading system that is sure to place United in the top band. This system will allow United to enlist any top youngster in the country from a young age, and not just those who live locally. Numerous youngsters from all over the country will, inevitably, join United due to the club’s reputation. The academy will, once again, have access to some of the top talent in the country.

These changes are sure to benefit United in the long-term and fans can hold genuine hope that a new wave of home-grown talent will lift the club perhaps beyond the Catalans and to European domination. There will, of course, be a long wait for the changes to deliver genuine results. In the meantime fans will have to make do with imports such as Jones and Smalling, who are beating the academy youngsters to Ferguson’s first team.

Reds seek Premier milestone in Bolton trip

September 10, 2011 Tags: , Matches 80 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson welcomed his squad back to Carrington after the international break reporting no fresh injuries. Amid the dross that international football so often serves up, this is no small mercy. Ferguson is seeking the 200th Premier League away win during his reign, which recognises both the joy in useless statistics and that football did not exist before Sky invented it in 1992. Still, with United having beaten Bolton Wanderers in 11 of the last 13 meetings, Ferguson will take his charges the short trip to Bolton full of confidence.

Yet with many of the Scot’s players involved in more than one match over the past week, Ferguson may take the opportunity to make changes to his first team for the first time this season. He will do so with a largely fully fit squad to choose from, with Darren Fletcher having completed 180 minutes for Scotland in the past week, Antonio Valencia back in full training and Javier Hernández a fortnight sharper.

However Nemanja Vidic’s calf and Rafael da Silva’s shoulder continue to keep the defensive pair on the sidelines, while Danny Welbeck is out with a sore hamstring and Darren Gibson, aside from being United’s outcast, has a sore ankle.

Hernández’ return to full fitness is a welcome, with Welbeck likely to miss the next month with a hamstring problem. The Mexican striker scored for his national team in the past week – the 22nd goal in 31 games for the player who is already a national hero. Strike partner Wayne Rooney was fulsome in his praise of the 23-year-old ahead of the player’s return to the first team.

“It’s great to have a lad who has just come into the team, who speaks good English and is always smiling,” Rooney said.

“It’s great for him and for me to have someone like that. I think we can both learn from each other. He’s a lovely lad who is great for us around the dressing room. Me and him do a lot of finishing after sessions to try and keep progressing and getting better. I’m looking forward to him doing the same, if not scoring more goals for us, this season.”

But it is another new boy, Ashley Young, that has thrived in the Mexican’s absence, forming an exciting partnership with Rooney at both club and international level. Both scored for England in the past week in wins over Bulgaria and then Wales, although Young will continue on the left for United.

“He’s done very well,” said Ferguson of his £16 million summer purchase.

“With his versatility and his understanding of the game. Obviously we tried to get him a few years ago from Watford but we were just a bit late. But he’s matured at Aston Villa, his form last season was fantastic considering they had a difficult season and since he’s come to us, he’s taken to the challenge really well.

“Some players come to a club like ours and find it difficult to settle in but, in the case of Ashley, he’s done very well. He’s getting support from Patrice Evra down the left side and that kind of experience Evra brings to the team and that side of the pitch is very important to a new player coming to the club.”

Young’s form, together with Valencia’s probable return, leaves Ferguson with a plethora of attacking options for the tea-time kick-off. Park Ji-Sung is also fit, leaving two from four in wide positions, with Hernández likely to partner Rooney in attack.

One player looking forward to returning from the international break is much-criticised goalkeeper David de Gea. The 20-year-old Spaniard is unfashed by the media spotlight, which has shon so brightly during some nervous moments for the young stopper in the opening week of the season.

“What happened is normal and there is nothing wrong,” de Gea told Spanish sports paper AS.

“Now it is in my power to change those negative reviews and change them into praise. Improving in every practice and every game, but mostly keeping intact the confidence in my abilities and what I can bring to the team. It is hard to arrive in a different country and with a different language, but little by little I’ll be getting it. I do not worry.”

The young Spaniard is likely to face a stiff test against Bolton, with Owen Coyle’s outfit playing some decent football in the past year. Yet, with Kevin Davies at the club, Bolton remains a major threat from set pieces and balls into the box. Indeed, 31-year-old Davies says he is looking forward to roughing up de Gea and inexperienced defender Phil Jones.

“I relish these kind of challenges,” says Davies.

“Jones is coming on as a player but he’s still young, so I’ll be looking to give him a going-over. There will be a few crosses flying in. I played against him last year. He’s a big strong boy, so it’s the kind of game I’ll look forward to.”

Bolton should offer debuts to new signings David Ngog, Gael Kakuta and Dedryck Boyata, while Stuart Holden played for the reserves in midweek but is unlikely to play. Holden was injured by Jonny Evan’s late tackle at Old Trafford last season.

Even with the new acquisitions Bolton faces a daunting task at the Reebok having lost 11 of the past 13 in this fixture. United, meanwhile, has lost only once during trips to Bolton during the Premier League era – in November 2007. With United beginning the campaign in scintillating form few will expect a repeat on Saturday.

Likely Line-ups
Bolton (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Cahill, Knight, Robinson; Eagles, Muamba, Reo-Coker, Petrov; Davies, Klasnic. Subs from: Bogdan, Wheater, Riley, M Davies, Pratley, Tuncay, Blake

United (4-4-1-1): de Gea; Smalling, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Cleverley, Anderson, Young; Rooney; Hernández. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fábio, Evans, Carrick, Giggs, Pogba, Park, Valencia, Gibson, Fletcher, Diouf, Owen, Berbatov, Welbeck, Macheda.

Bolton: WLWL
United: WWWW

Referee: Andre Marriner

Rant Cast 80 – Angleterre nul points

September 9, 2011 Tags: Rant Cast 8 comments

On this week’s show regulars Ed and Paul discuss the international break and just how poor the non-club game has become. We review the Manchester United players in action, with Sir Alex Ferguson thankful for no fresh injuries. And we preview United’s fixture away at Bolton Wanderers this weekend, with the Reds looking for a 200th away win in the Premier League era. Somehow we completely forget to preview United’s 1-0 Champions League win at Benfica on Wednesday night.

We also discuss Garrrrry Cook. Is the hapless Manchester City CEO a buffoon, an idiot, or both?

This week’s exit theme tune is ‘United Road (Take Me Home)’.

Hit us up with any feedback below or follow the pod on Twitter: Paul – @UtdRantCast, Ed – @UnitedRant.

Stream this episode using the player below, click here to download the MP3 or subscribe on iTunes, where you can also leave a review!