Month October 2011

Month October 2011

Rant Cast 85 – inappropriate badge kissers

Ed October 22, 2011 Tags: Rant Cast 4 comments

On this week’s Rant Cast regulars Ed and Paul discuss Manchester United’s draw with Liverpool at Anfield, including all the fall out from another tense game. We talk Aldershot Town and the upcoming Carling Cup game next Tuesday night, and we preview the derby with Manchester City at the weekend. Is this derby the biggest yet; who will Sir Alex Ferguson pick at right back; and will Paul actually put money on City winning?

This week’s exit theme tune is ‘Flame On’ – Awate Suleiman.

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 listen on iTunes and leave us a review!

Focused Evans right to rue complacency

Ed October 22, 2011 Tags: Opinion 2 comments

There is something to admire in Jonny Evans, the 23-year-old defender who has, while not proving doubters wrong, come back from the brink of Old Trafford irrelevancy to claim a place in Sir Alex Ferguson’s side this season. The Manchester United defender admitted this week that he allowed an element of complacency to invade his game last season. It is a claim that will draw raised eyebrows, but only for the brutal honesty and not its factual accuracy. Indeed, so poor was the Northern Irishman’s 2010/11 campaign that the defender should count himself lucky to still be at the club.

The concern with Evans’ performances last season was not simply the markedly lower level of performance but the repeated occasions in which the Belfast-born defender was physically and mentally outwitted by opponents. Evans had, it seemed, moved forward after a two successful loan periods with Sunderland, only to take two steps back last season.

Yet, the defender’s problems were not, it seems, a lack of talent but a failure of application if the player himself is to be believed.

“Maybe I took my eye off the ball a little bit,” admitted the defender, who has started seven matches this season.

“Maybe I relaxed a bit too much and thought it was going to come as easily as the previous two seasons. If you looked over the years, a lot of youngsters have come into the team and had a good season or two, then take a little dip.

“Sometimes you do think you are immune from it. All of a sudden it hits you. You have to regroup and have a word with yourself. I have enough people around me who are happy to bring me down to earth. My family and friends do that. I have friends who would say: ‘You didn’t play too well today’. I might have thought they were being cheeky at the time but they are right. They will tell you. Sometimes you have to take on board what the people closest to you say. You have to be honest with yourself as well.”

If the penny has dropped then it has come not a moment too soon for the player, with the competition for places in United’s central defence stronger than ever.

Evans has not proven bullet-proof this season, with the player’s performance in United’s 3-1 victory over Chelsea, for example, worryingly lax. But the defender’s level has risen sharply enough that the Northern Irishman is now seemingly first alternate should either – or both – of Rio Ferdinand and captain Nemanja Vidic not be available to Sir Alex.

Not unsurprisingly, the patience shown by his manager and frequent berth in Ferguson’s starting team this season has increased Evans’ confidence, despite the two-from-five competition for places in central defence.

“I feel more assured now,” Evans told the Manchester Evening News this week.

“When you go through a stage of not playing well, there is a bit of pressure on you and you can feel sometimes the crowd are maybe getting on your back – you think: ‘Stuff it, what have I got to lose?’ You go out there, relax, play your football and go home. A lot of players coming to United can struggle. I have never been one to shirk a challenge. Whenever things are tough, I always feel as though I can respond and not hide away.”

Not that Evans place is assured. If anything the central defender’s poor form last season simply rubber stamped Ferguson’s early decision to invest heavily in Blackburn Rovers’ defender Phil Jones in the summer. In fact, Chris Smalling’s continued progression and Jones’ headline-grabbing talent continues to remind fans, and one hopes Evans, of the intense competition.

Should Evans, who turns 24 in January, fail to progress this season others surely will in his stead. Indeed, that Evans is yet to complete a 20-game Premier League season says much for the player’s bit-part status at Old Trafford. It will take more than half-a-dozen solid performances to transform the Irishman from squad to automatic pick.

Yet, while competition remains hot, Evans will continue to compete with Smalling and Jones to deputise for the increasingly infirm Ferdinand and Vidic. The latter pair may remain of the very highest quality but neither has spent enough time on the pitch this season. Ferdinand, in particular, is now vulnerable to the challenge from his younger colleagues.

Yet, for all Evans growing confidence and better performances his apparent lack of flexibility may count against him. Note than both Jones and Smalling have each been deployed in more than one position this season.

With that in mind Evans must learn a tough lesson from the past year. Any evidence of further complacency will surely be rigorously punished by Sir Alex. It is a lesson that Evans cannot afford to learn twice.

Ashley Young: a tactical profile

Jay Shon October 19, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 16 comments

Ashley Young is a curious character. Not as innately talented as Ryan Giggs or Cristiano Ronaldo, yet the Englishman has managed to establish himself on the left-flank at Manchester United following a £16 million move from Aston Villa in the summer. Plenty of fans were surprised by the move, questioning Young’s value to the club. But it was Young’s flexibility as much as his raw talent that attracted Sir Alex Ferguson.

Indeed, when the 26-year-old signed on at Old Trafford, Ferguson compared the former Watford player to a former utility man, now departed for Sunderland. “… John O’Shea, for instance, wasn’t in a starting position all the time but, because of his versatility, he made nearly 400 appearances for us in his career here,” claimed the United manager.

Young is similar to the Irishman in that he is an adaptable player who can be deployed in a variety of positions – a real jack of all trades. One must then ask whether the Englishman is a master of anything?

One of the English international’s strengths is his athleticism. Young is fast, blazing past markers on the flanks and quickly roaming across the field as a central attacking midfielder. With the player’s great agility and balance, Young makes a formidable opponent. Judging by his frequent forays into defensive positions, the Englishman also possesses great stamina as well.

Young is also an excellent deliverer of crosses and set pieces, which has been missing from United’s armory for some time. For that alone, Young must be considered an integral part of United’s first team because there is nobody – bar, perhaps, Ryan Giggs – who can offer good free kicks and corners. But Young is no Rory Delap – the winger is not solely in the side to provide good dead ball delivery.

Ashley Young Heatmap

Figure 1. Source: Guardian. Click for larger image.

The problem with Young lies in his other assets, which by no means poor, are not exceptional. Consider Young’s passing. While proficient, the midfielder’s passing lacks imagination and creativity. Perhaps Young is simply still acclimatising but too often his passes, especially those of a more adventurous nature, have been weighted and executed poorly. For this reason alone Young should only be considered for the attacking midfield/second striker role as the last resort – especially when Wayne Rooney, Giggs, and even Anderson can play the role.

Another concern is Young’s movement.  As an “inverted” winger, Young should look to cut in more, allowing Patrice Evra to overlap. Figure 1, left, demonstrates that Young has remained predominantly on the flank, hitting the byline and getting chalk on his heels one.

Comparing Young’s movement to Luis Nani, Figure 2 below, demonstrates just how glued to the touchline Young really is. As a right footer, Young needs to check back before crossing. While these inswinging crosses can be extremely dangerous they are harder to pull off once the winger approaches the byline. In addition, given that Young can shoot from distance, it is curious why he doesn’t exercise that option more frequently by drifting infield.

Perhaps the reason is Young’s dribbling, which is not at Nani’s level. Young prefers to beat a man with blistering pace and not clever trickery on the floor. Given this predisposition, Young’s obsession with hitting the byline makes sense as he need only beat the full-back with pace. It is not so easy to cut in to the middle where there are midfielders and central defenders to worry about.

Nani Heatmap

Figure 2. Source: Guardian. Click for a larger image.

If it wasn’t for Ferguson’s other options Young would probably be better deployed as a classic wide man on the right. One disturbing thing about all of this is the fact that Young is ill-suited to modern formations such as 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. In 4-4-2, Young has a bit of space to accelerate before facing the full-back. In 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, as a winger, Young directly faces his marker and no space to gain momentum.

Young’s limitation, in essence, boils down to one issue – predictability. There is no doubting that Young is a good player but, to truly cement his place in United’s first team, he must learn to play with a more flair. Against the very best sides, such as Barcelona, Young will be more easily countered, just as he has been against Chelsea and Liverpool in recent matches. He must rely less on pace and develop his game to yet another level.

Rooney in for Reds Romanian return

Ed October 18, 2011 Tags: , Matches 131 comments

Manchester United hasn’t face Romanian opposition in seven years, with the Eastern European nation failing to produce a side of note since Steaua Bucharest made the European Cup final in 1986. But following Saturday’s timid draw with Liverpool, Sir Alex Ferguson has promised a full-strength side will face Romanian champions Oțelul Galați on Tuesday night.

With just two points from the side’s opening games, United is under surprising pressure to deliver victory in one of the Champions League’s easier groups. Indeed, anything bar victory could leave the Reds vulnerable to the unthinkable: elimination at the group stage.

Ferguson’s quest to end that line of thinking is boosted captain Nemanja Vidic’s return to the side, with the Serbian recovering from a longstanding calf problem. The defender’s return will compensate for the loss of Rio Ferdinand, who has been left in Manchester as a precautionary measure ahead of the derby next weekend. Jonny Evans is likely to start alongside captain Vidic, with Phil Jones reprising his recent role at right-back.

“I think we have to win tomorrow and I’ll play a strong team,” said Ferguson.

“I could play several teams and I’d consider them strong enough to win. This isn’t a tournament you can afford to be complacent in. Tomorrow’s game is very important for us. I guess it depends on what happens in the other tie [Basel v Benfica]. The important thing is for us to win. That solves all the problems.

“We have to progress in the Champions League and then we have four or five days to recover for the Sunday game against City. The timescale for recovery is perfect for us and it’s the same for City as well.”

Meanwhile, Ferguson says Wayne Rooney will start in Romania, after overcoming the apparent mental anguish that the striker suffered in the wake of UEFA’s Euro 2012 ban. Rooney will sit out all of England’s group matches in the tournament, with Fabio Capello reportedly undecided whether to take the striker to Poland and Ukraine at all.

Ferguson left Rooney out of United’s starting line-up at Anfield, ostensibly under the banner of Rooney’s mental health, although a string of poor performances in the past against Liverpool will presumably have made the decision easier.

“I think he’s OK,” the United manager said on Monday.

“Actually when he came on he was quite bubbly. He was full of energy and enthusiasm. He was desperate to get on actually ,which is good because when he sat watching the game he probably said: ‘Christ I could be out there.’ He’ll be playing tomorrow.

“The initial news was a definite blow for him. He didn’t expect that. I don’t think any of us did. To me it was a silly action but it wasn’t seriously dangerous. It was a slight reaction but to get a three-match ban. When he realised getting three-match ban meant missing all the games for England and that he might not be involved at all, as England know how difficult it is to get out of a group, that resonated in Wayne’s mind.”

Oţelul Galaţi versus Manchester United, Champions League, National Stadium Bucharest, Tuesday 18 October 2011, 7.45pmFerguson should start the Scouser alongside Mexican striker Javier Hernandez for the match, which will be played at the National Stadium in Bucarest, and not at Galați’s 13,000-capacity local ground. Winger Nani is also in line for a recall in what promises to be a far more attacking line-up than the one which began against Liverpool on Saturday. Indeed, with Galați having lost its opening games against Benfica and Basel many regard the Romanians as the Champions League’s weakest team.

“We’ve watched Galați a few times and I watched the video of them against Benfica,” added Ferguson.

“Their system is like a lot of systems in Europe – they play with two wide men and one through the middle, one midfielder in the hole… a lot of European teams are playing this way now. We’ve got a good idea about how the game should be played tomorrow and we hope we can get the result we want.”

To do that United must defend better than Ferguson’s team has in the tournament to date. Last season’s runners-up did not concede a single goal in 540 minutes of away action en route to the final.

Yet history bodes well, with United having beaten Dinamo Bucharest on the only previous occasion on which the club has met Romanian opposition. Goals from Alan Smith, David Bellion and Ryan Giggs contributed to a 5-1 aggregate win in the 2004 third qualification round, which included a 2-1 win in the Romanian capital.

Moreover, the last time United failed to win either of its first two games in the Champions League group phase was in 1998/99 when Ferguson’s ended up lifting the trophy at Camp Nou. Mind you, those opening draws included a 3-3 with Barcelona at Old Trafford.

Meanwhile, Oţelul may have never previously met at English club but the club’s coach, Dorinel Munteanu, has enjoyed two high-profile victories over the national team. He scored in a 3-2 win against England at Euro 2000 – a result that knocked England out – while Munteanu also played in Roamnia’s 2-1 defeat of the English at the 1998 World Cup.

Galați will begin the game in rude health too, with Cornel Râpă and Gabriel Paraschiv returned to action last Friday.

Yet all eyes will be on Rooney and yet another dramatic return to the United side in the striker’s ever turbulent story.

Match Facts
Oţelul Galaţi versus Manchester United, Champions League, National Stadium Bucharest, Tuesday 18 October 2011, 7.45pm

Likely Line-ups
Oţelul Galaţi (4-2-3-1): Grahovac; Skubič, Filip, Ljubinković, Antal; Ibeh , Buş; Costin, Pena , Giurgiu; Perendija. Subs from: Viglianti, Frunză, Punoševac, Sălăgeanu, Paraschiv, Râpă, Benga, Iorga, Frunză, Ilie, Cojoc, Chavez, Buchta, Novac.

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

Officials
Referee: Felix Brych (GER)
Assistant referees: Thorsten Schiffner, Mark Borsch
Additional assistant referees: Christian Dingert, Tobias Welz
Fourth official: Peter Gagelmann

Refs and racism in focus amid muddle of tactics

Ed October 17, 2011 Tags: , , , Opinion 40 comments

It was never going to be a quiet affair. Manchester United at Anfield rarely is and Liverpool’s rejuvenation in recent times ensured a feisty contest from the outset on Saturday lunchtime. Controversial refereeing and post-match accusations of racism simply add to the drama of the occasion, which remains Britain’s biggest and most intensely fought match.

Yet, whatever wrongs United will feel at Charlie Adams’ tumble or Patrice Evra at Luis Suarez’ alleged racist language, Ferguson’s bewildering tactics and team selection also deserve attention. In truth it was not one of the Scot’s finest days, an observation he will only briefly reflect on as fixtures come thick and fast in the coming weeks.

United’s team and formation felt wrong from the start, with far too much negativity, and too many players out of position. That Ferguson’s side went to Anfield in search of a point says much for the Scousers’ progress in recent months, however inconsistent, but for also for United’s attitude after three defeats in-a-row at Anfield. Ferguson sought and was happy with a point from the trip 30 miles west.

The safety-first formation, without Wayne Rooney and Nani until 20 minutes from the end, also included Phil Jones and Darren Fletcher as central midfield holding midfielders. The formation left Ferguson shorn of this campaign’s two best players, while Danny Welbeck was isolated in attack. Meanwhile, Park Ji-Sung, the coward’s winger, focused on retaining United’s shape and not providing attacking impetus. No wonder United appeared so disjointed against a Liverpool outfit that has improved only marginally under Kenny Dalglish from a very low base.

Rooney, said Ferguson, was left out of the fixture after learning of UEFA’s three-match Euro 2012 ban. It was, and remains, a limp excuse, smacking of a manager’s distrust of the player’s recent performances at Anfield. Or his maturity. Or, perhaps, both. “He’s devastated by the suspension,” said Ferguson disingenuously. “I felt with these circumstances that he’s better off starting from the bench.”

Nani’s omission was simply tactical, with Park’s defensive discipline preferred over the Premier League’s leading dribbler and, according the statistics, second best crosser this season. Security over creativity and end-product. It was the same story in central midfield, with Anderson – so often lauded as a potential fantisista (albeit rarely delivering) – dropped in favour of Jones, for the youngster’s first game in midfield for his new club. At Anfield of all places. The experiment failed.

And the muddle so nearly ended in defeat, with Liverpool bossing possession and creating more chances than United, until the final quarter-hour, when Ferguson’s side finally found its attacking feet.

“It only became a good game after Liverpool scored,” Ferguson added. In truth the match only came to life when the Scot introduced Rooney and Nani, and then, with 15 minutes remaining, the match-saver Hernández. Each should have been on from the start demonstrating the bold, creative, attacking play for which United grabbed so many plaudits early in the season. All that now feels a long time gone.

“We looked upon it as a two-team situation as we wanted to make sure there were no silly mistakes,” Sir Alex explained.

“They had no real chances apart from Suarez when there was a lucky break but, other than that, they were never a threat to us. That job had been done, that’s why we were bringing Wayne and Nani on when they scored the goal.

“It was probably a typical United-Liverpool game. It was very intense, of course, and I don’t think the game really got started until Liverpool scored. It was a good game after that. When you’re one-nothing down with 15 minutes to go you can’t be confident, but we’ve got the players who can do that.”

But this tactical muddle has been vastly overshadowed by subsequent events.

First, there is the controversy surrounding Adams’ 67th minute dive to earn Liverpool the goalscoring free-kick. Adam’s was a tumble so blatant that MUTV was today forced to censor United defender Jones’ angry interview on the matter. Midfielder Adams tacitly admitted the dive – albeit under the guise of a denial – claiming that “it’s just the way it goes” when there is minimal contact. Of course it is Charlie, when you live in Steven Gerrard-land!

Then Evra accused Suarez on French TV station Canal Plus of calling the 30-year-old Frenchman a “n****r” at “least 10 times.” It is an accusation that United will take to the Football Association after Evra reiterated his grievance in a meeting with Ferguson on Monday. Uruguayan Suarez “vigorously” denies the allegation, although player and club are hardly likely to do anything else.

“We spoke to Patrice today and he’s adamant that he wants to follow it on,” added the United manager.

“It’s not an easy one because everyone knows that Manchester United and Liverpool have great responsibilities in terms of what happens on the field. I thought Saturday’s game was a terrific game and both sets of fans were good; there was none of the silly chanting we’ve heard in previous years and both sets of supporters deserve praise for that.

“It’s not something that we want to level at Liverpool, and it’s not against Liverpool. Obviously Patrice feels very aggrieved at what was said to him and it rests in the hands of the FA now.”

More concerning though is Liverpool’s reported demand that Evra face sanction should the accusation against Suarez not be proven. In a case that is likely to come down to one man’s word against another, with no conclusive evidence yet forthcoming, the Anfield club’s call is tantamount to denying Evra his moral right to freedom of speech.

Few expect the FA to act on Adam’s dive nor Suarez’ alleged racism, even if the latter is proven.

Highly important though issues of racism and diving are, neither should obscure analysis of United’s sixth average performance in the past seven matches. The other was the reserves’ victory over Leeds United at Elland Road in the Carling Cup. And each has come without Tom Cleverley, in whose absence the heart has grown significantly fonder.

Yet all this adds to a ‘Lancashire’ derby that although no spectacle on the pitch has become one of the more dramatic in recent times. Indeed, the fall out is set to roll on while the FA conducts an investigation of Evra’s allegations. United, meanwhile, may have cause to warn Jones of the negative headlines inflammatory remarks always bring, no matter how in-the-right United’s 19-year-old defender may be.

Meanwhile, Ferguson may well reintroduce the aforementioned Nani, Rooney and Hernández at Romanian no-hopers Otelul Galati in the Champions League on Tuesday night. Figure that one out.

Galati, aside from being the weakest side in this season’s Champions League, is a club also under scrutiny for racism, with the Romanian FA having fined the Romanian champions for racist supporter chanting against Rapid Bucharest earlier this year.

All we need now is an outrageous dive and a controversial goal to complete the full circle this week.

United primed for Anfield trip

Ed October 15, 2011 Tags: , Matches 88 comments

Manchester United versus Liverpool is, says Sir Alex Ferguson, the biggest fixture of the season. Few fans will disagree. Despite Liverpool’s failures over the past 20 years there is still something highly evocative about the fixture, from the historical rivalry between these old Lancashire towns, to the genuine animosity between managers Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish. There will be little love lost as United visits Anfield Saturday lunchtime.

It is a game all about intensity of the encounter and history of the event, even if the gulf between the clubs has grown significantly. Now a cliché, of course, but on the pitch Liverpool has been well and truly “knocked off their perch,” with United claiming a 19th domestic championship last season. That Liverpool has only rarely challenged for the title over the past two decades says much for the huge gap that has developed between the clubs.

United’s larger support, better team and greater success on the pitch has eroded the rivalry for trophies perhaps but not that between supporters, with the usual hostile Anfield atmosphere expected.

“I think the fans play a part, there is no doubt about that,” said Ferguson of the fixture between England’s two giants of the game.

“In my time we’ve had nine players sent off there which is unusual for Manchester United so that is all down to the atmosphere that can be created there. Although things may change in the next few years with Manchester City, whether the derby game can be equal to Manchester United-Liverpool game, because I’ve always considered it to be the game of the season in English football and at the moment I think it remains that.

“I think they’re the two most successful clubs in England historically and also from an initial point of view when industry changed and they opened the ship canal. It had a lot to do with the history of both cities and both clubs. It’s an inherent situation. It’s been here since I came.

“I think both clubs need each other. The history both clubs have should be appreciated by both sets of fans and that’s sometimes annoying when I hear silly chants about Munich and Hillsborough, I don’t think it does either club any good at all because without each other it wouldn’t be the English league.

“The history of both clubs should be respected and hopefully we can see that because it’s fantastic for fans to see these games – the rivalry, great footballers, the intensity… to me it’s the game of the season.”

United heads into the fixture welcoming back key players from injury, including influential captain Nemanja Vidic, who completed 90 minutes of Serbia’s Euro 2012 qualification defeat in midweek. However, midfielder Tom Cleverley isn’t ready to make the bench, although Chris Smalling may be fit for the 236th tie between the sides.

“The big question mark is whether Vidic is ready for the game tomorrow,” Ferguson added.

“He’s certainly had his first game for Serbia on Tuesday, played a full game, so it’s certainly a consideration because he’s such a good competitor. He came in yesterday and felt OK. But the Liverpool game is such an intense, draining game that you want everybody to be 100 percent so it maybe more down to how he feels himself really.

“Jonny Evans’s form has been absolutely brilliant so I don’t have any real concerns about who I play because they’re all playing well.”

Liverpool v Manchester United, Premier League, Anfield, 12.45pm, 14 October 2011.Elsewhere Ferguson has a choice to make in central midfield, even without Cleverley’s return. Darren Fletcher completed 90 minutes for Scotland against Spain in the week despite overcoming flu, while Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Anderson will all compete for a spot in central areas. Certainly Anderson, the Brazilian who started the season so well but has failed to impress in recent matches, is due a decent performance.

Meanwhile, Ferguson must choose whether to rush Javier Hernández back from international duty in South American to partner the embattled Wayne Rooney in attack.

Ferguson will also boast a plethora of choices at right-back, even if Smalling fails to make the fixture. Phil Jones came through England’s fixture in Montenegro, while Fabio da Silva is fit after appearing for Brazil. Ferguson confirmed that the youngster’s brother Rafael is back in training, while there are no fresh injuries resulting from the past week’s international fixtures.

Dalglish, meanwhile, can boast a fully fit squad including, in Luis Suarez, a striker who has impressed with moments of brilliance this season. That said, much like his team, the Uruguayan suffers from inconsistency. Behind the Scouse-friendly headlines the statistics bear witness to a striker that has some way to go before the Liverpool-driven comparisons with Lionel Messi are realistic.

Whether the fixture survives without controversy is another matter altogether. Indeed, the United manager may have genuine concerns about referee Andre Marriner, who sent off Nemanja Vidic in 2009. This is the same official who failed to dismiss Gerrard despite the Liverpool captain audibly swearing at the West Midlands-based referee and raising a double-fingered salute. Ferguson will hope that Marriner is far stronger in the face of a hostile atmosphere than in the past.

In the end, however, United’s result at Anfield will depend far more on Ferguson’s outfit performing better than in the last three visits. Those three Liverpool victories is the Anfield club’s best run at home against United since nine in a row between 1972 and 1979.

“We have not played as well as we should have [at Anfield],” Rio Ferdinand told ManUtd.com

“We have given away some soft goals here and there. Over the first seven years I was at this club, we had a really good record against Liverpool, home and away. A lot of those victories were based around defending well as a team – playing collectively, not as individuals. If we do that at the weekend, I am confident we can get a good result.”

The few United supporters allocated a ticket for the fixture expect nothing less.

Match Facts
Liverpool v Manchester United, Premier League, Anfield, 12.45pm, 14 October 2011.

Likely Line-ups
Liverpool (4-4-2): Kelly, Reina; Carragher, Škrtel, Enrique; Kuyt, Lucas, Gerrard, Downing; Suarez, Carroll. Subs from: Doni, Johnson, Agger, Aurélio, Coates, Wilson, Flanagan, Robinson, Henderson, Rodríguez, Spearing, Adam, Bellamy, Coady, Sterling.

United (4-4-1-1): de Gea; Jones, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Anderson, Fletcher, Young; Rooney; Hernández. Subs from: Lindegaard, Amos, Fabio, Pogba, Valencia, Carrick, Diouf, Giggs, Park, Welbeck, Berbatov, Owen.

Performance Stats

  • United retains four players in the top 10 in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. Rooney is in top spot, with midfielders Anderson and Ashley Young in third and fourth respectively
  • Rooney is the Premier League’s top goal scorer with nine goals this season from 32 attempts at goal, with 59 per cent on target
  • Nani is United’s top passer with 185 passes this season and is also the Premier League’s top dribbler having completed 32 dribbles, and 29 crosses this season
  • Young, meanwhile,  has completed 30 dribbles and delivered 25 crosses.

Form
Liverpool: WLWWW
United: WWDDW

Officials
Referee: Andre Marriner
Assistants: S Ledger, M McDonough
Fourth Official: P Dowd

Rant Cast 84 – show uz da money la

Ed October 14, 2011 Tags: Rant Cast 4 comments

On this week’s Rant Cast regulars Ed and Paul discuss Manchester United’s narrow win over Norwich City at Old Trafford prior to the international break and look ahead to the weekend’s fixture with Liverpool. In between we cover the international scene: Wayne Rooney’s red card and Nemanja Vidic’s potential retirement.

We discuss the government’s sit-on-the-fence report on football governance. And we talk money: why Liverpool wants more, and why Javier Hernandez and Tom Cleverley have earned it.

This week’s exit theme tune is ’19’ – Paul Hardcastle.

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 listen on iTunesand leave us a review! Like Rant Cast? Why not nominate us for a Podcast Award.

Chicho earns contract reward, now the hard bit

Ed October 13, 2011 Tags: Opinion 7 comments

Javier Hernández will sign a generous new contract that will make the 23-year-old a multimillionaire according to the player’s agent. The deal is reward for an outstanding first season at the club and protection from overseas predators. Indeed, with Real Madrid reportedly sniffing around the player, Manchester United has moved to quickly bring Hernandez’ pay in line with more senior earners at the club. The Mexican becomes the 13th squad member to sign a contract extension in the past year as Sir Alex Ferguson continues to evolve his resources.

But with Hernández suffering a difficult start to the new campaign after a curtailed pre-season, injury against Chelsea and international commitments, the really hard work starts now. No longer the new kid on the block, Hernández’ strengths and weaknesses are well known. Now, with an £80,000-per-week contract freshly inked, Hernández faces an all new kind of pressure: one to justify the faith, and another to exceed ever inflated expectations.

“We have renegotiated Javier’s contract and he is now committed for five years with Manchester United,” said agent Eduardo Hernández.

“The initial contract was good for Manchester and for Javier because it enabled them both to see if they could fit together and if he could achieve what was expected of him. Both sides have met their expectations and United were happy to reward Javier after his very good performances last season.

“I will not talk about numbers, but it is a five-year contract. It is a fixed salary with incentives based on the team’s success in each of the different tournaments. Javier was not badly paid with his initial contract, but it was his first contract and, with respect, not comparable with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Nani. But today, I can say that the contract has just been signed and everyone is satisfied.”

Hernández scored 20 goals in 45 games last season following a £7 million transfer from Chivas Guadalajara last summer, a stunning performance all the more remarkable for a player brand new to European football. But that performance, and the positive words of Sir Alex Ferguson have raised expectations of an even more dynamic second season at Old Trafford. Indeed, the media and supporter criticism of the player is likely to be felt should the youngster suffer anything close to the clichéd ‘second season syndrome’.

Yet, there is something in the player’s personality – both charming and determined – that suggests United’s marksman will not be long the relative doldrums. After all, any challenges to date this season have not been of the Mexicans own making. Hernández suffered concussion on United’s pre-season tour of the United States, which he began late after the Gold Cup in any case. Then a shin injury, dead-leg and two bouts of international fixtures have helped little in the Mexican’s search for rhythm. The latest trip, a 12,000 mile round trip to Brazil, with the international playing the full 90 minutes on Wednesday night.

But there is also work to be done. The player’s over-eagerness to be involved in all aspects of play has waned a little, with a greater focus on movement in and around the last third playing to Hernández’ genuine strengths. Yet, the 23-year-old remains a poacher above all, offering movement, pace, and outstanding finishing but requiring support. After all, the Mexican is hardly likely to work the channels, hold up the ball or lead the line alone. None of which Ferguson’s scouts recommended the player for, of course.

Moreover, Hernández now faces a genuine battle with Danny Welbeck for a place in Ferguson’s team. Certainly for the weekend fixture with Liverpool the Mexican’s jet lag may well count against a starting berth. Then there is Welbeck’s progression in a year at Sunderland, which has brought five goals in as many games. The Longsight-born youngster has also forced his way into the England reckoning, coming on as a substitute against Montenegro for England last week.

Neither Hernández’ new deal, nor Welbeck’s progression, is good news for Dimitar Berbatov of course, with the 30-year-old Bulgarian starting just two of United’s nine matches in all competitions this season. Berbatov remains the only senior United player to not hold a long-term contract, with the player’s dealing running out in June 2012. Although the club holds an option to extend the striker’s contract beyond next summer it must be taken up, according to reports, before January when the Bulgarian becomes free to negotiate with interested parties.

Should Welbeck continue his upwardly mobile performances, Hernández’ hit the ground running after the international break and Rooney keep his powder dry, Berbatov’s chances of making Ferguson’s first team will diminish further. It may precipitate a sad end to one striker’s United career, while another’s is just beginning to ignite.

Vidić retirement perfect for player and United

Ed October 12, 2011 Tags: , Opinion No comments

Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidić may have suffered disappointment this week, with his Serbian team knocked out of the European Championships by Slovenia on Tuesday night, but the loss could be the player’s gain after the 29-year-old hinted at retirement from the international game. Just as Ryan Giggs and Park Ji-Sung quit international football well before their club careers concluded – and Paul Scholes’ famously left England behind aged just 29 – Vidić could extend his Old Trafford tenure by formally ending his time with Serbia.

Serbia’s 1-0 defeat in Maribor ensured that Estonia finished second behind Italy in Group C to reach the Euro 2012 play-offs. Dare Vršič scored the only goal late in the opening period of a game that Serbia had to win. Vidić’s pain in defeat was exacerbated when the United defender missed a second-half penalty that could have swung the game in Serbia’s favour.

“I took responsibility and I am aware of the consequences of a poorly executed penalty,” Vidic told local paper Blic.

“It was agreed that I take the kick. I wanted to take responsibility. I will bear the consequences of course. If I had scored the game would flowed on an entirely different course.

“I’m sorry that I will never play at the European Championships because the next qualification [tournament]  will be in years. It’s time for a change of generations and for some older players to say goodbye to the Serbian jersey.”

Vidić has appeared 56 times for the White Eagles since making his début in October 2002. The former Spartak Moscow player formed a part of  the “Famous Four” defence, which conceded just one goal during ten 2006 FIFA World Cup qualification matches. But along with Mladen Krstajić, Ivica Dragutinović and Goran Gavrančić, it was a team that failed to sparkle in Germany, losing all three group matches.

Indeed, Vidić’s pride at representing his country, where nationhood is still in its relative infancy, has often ended in disappointment. Qualification for the 2010 World Cup in also ended in group stage failure, while the Eagles failed to reach either the 2004 or 2008 Euro tournaments. The latest disappointment, it seems, is simply too much for a player who, fitness permitting, still has years at the very top of European football.

Disappointment may be palpable in Belgrade but confirmation of Vidić’s Serbian retirement will, without doubt, be music to Sir Alex Ferguson’s ears, who has never enjoyed the burden placed on his players by the international game. While there is no evidence of the Scot’s intervention in the aforementioned retirements, the decisions made by Scholes, Giggs and Park have helped each player and the club immeasurably.

Meanwhile, Giggs famously played just 64 international games in 16 years as an international, with the winger repeatedly missing friendly matches early in his career. Retirement from the Welsh team more than four years ago has ensured Giggs is still turning out for the Reds well into his late 30s.

Vidić will benefit too, at an age when injuries may become an increasing concern for a player dependent on his physicality. After all, the defender turns 30 in late-October and is only now returning from the latest in a growing number of injuries over the past three seasons. The latest injury – to the player’s calf – has restricted the defender to just one Premier League start this season. Repeated thigh injuries during the 2009/10 campaign ensured that the giant defender appeared in just 33 matches in all competitions.

Indeed, removal of the international game from Vidić’s roster will free the player of around 30 games over the final three years of the player’s current contract. Additional breaks during the season and a full summer rest will do nothing but ensure Vidić spends more time on the Old Trafford pitch, captaining United to ever more domestic and European glory.

Vidić’s decision, if formally confirmed, lies is in stark contrast to that made by Rio Ferdinand, who is willing to fight on for a place in the England squad. The 32-year-old Londoner was left out of Fabio Capello’s squad for the recent game against Montenegro, with the Italian warning Ferdinand must play more regularly if the former Leeds United man is to regain his place.

Indeed, repeated injury and the progression of younger defenders Chris Smalling and Phil Jones is placing Ferdinand under increasing pressure both with England and at United. Ferdinand may well suffer if he continues to chase both.

Meanwhile, Vidić’s apparent decision to hand over the international reigns to younger players and concentrate on a club career will only increase the Serbian’s importance to United.

Cleverley returns for Reds’ present and future

Ed October 10, 2011 Tags: Opinion 21 comments

Tom Cleverley will be available for Manchester United’s fixture with Liverpool this weekend after regaining fitness from an ankle injury sustained against Bolton Wanderers a month ago. Cleverley’s return to action is good news both for player and club on the day the 22-year-old central midfielder signed a new four-year contract at Old Trafford. It is a deal that underscores both Cleverley’s long and short-term importance to Sir Alex Ferguson’s planning.

In the short-term Cleverley’s return may help arrest a perceived dip in United’s form since the midfielder’s fifth minute injury at the Reebok Stadium. Ferguson’s side has drawn matches against FC Basel, Stoke City and Benfica in the midfielder’s continued absence, while the 2-0 victory over Norwich City prior to the international break was far from impressive.

Indeed, Cleverley’s period on the sidelines has also co-incided with – or perhaps exacerbated – Anderson’s dip in form over the past four weeks, with the Brazilian’s sub-par performance against Chelsea followed by similarly insipid displays in the aforementioned draws.

No wonder Ferguson was so effusive in his praise of Cleverley today, describing the Basingstoke-born player as having fully taken his opportunity this season. Cleverley’s return, Ferguson will hope, will also reignite Anderson as United attempt to arrest a series of three draws in the past six matches this season when the Scot’s side visits old rivals Liverpool on Saturday.

“Tom is one of the brightest prospects in the English game,” the United manager told ManUtd.com.

“For a young boy, he has a good footballing brain which, when coupled with his energy and ability, makes for a player with a fine future ahead of him. It’s the United way to encourage our young players to make their mark in the first team and Tom has grabbed that chance with both hands.”

But Cleverley’s injury has also raised old questions about the composition of Ferguson’s midfield, or at least the Scot’s options. After all, Anderson’s inconsistency, Darren Fletcher’s very lengthy illness and Michael Carrick’s passivity this season are hardly new. Cleverley’s injury has taught supporters, and presumably Ferguson too, that the youngster will be central to United’s success or failure this season.

Moreover, the player’s humility and patience over the past four years, while on loan with three different clubs, says much for his chances of making early season success more permanent.

“It’s been a fantastic start to the season for me, breaking into the first team and getting an England call-up,” said the midfielder, who is yet to gain his first cap.

“Having grown up at the club, I’d love to be able to make a contribution to United winning more trophies. We have a squad with great ability and I can’t wait to get started again.”

Pithy statements aside, Cleverley’s impact since joining the fray as a second-half substitute against Manchester City during the Community Shield was pivotal in United’s fine start to the season, which included five Premier League victories in a row. Cleverley started the first four.

In the longer-term Ferguson’s faith in rewarding Cleverley with a huge pay rise, and a contract to 2015, should end any lingering speculation that the club will pursue a multi-million deal for a more experienced creative central midfielder either in January or next summer. That being said Cleverley’s deal evidently does little to reduce United’s reliance on the player for central midfield creativity in the coming season.

But if the player’s progress continues on the current hockey-stick curve then by next summer Cleverley will not only be well established in the United set-up but with England too, replacing one or both of the waning Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard in Fabio Capello’s side.

Yet, there is more work to be done. Glimpse the player’s career – and season – statistics and a tale of reliable passing is told – a Xavi-esque 85 per cent pass completion this campaign – yet without the goal output of the aforementioned England midfielders. Or, indeed, Paul Scholes. After all, Cleverley’s record of one-in-three at Watford was not matched last season with Wigan Athletic in the Premier League. Nor is the player’s assists record particularly impressive.

Moreover, injury against Bolton is the latest in an increasingly long line of medium-serious injuries sustained by the midfielder in a fledgling career. There is nothing like the stop-start nature of injury absences to hold a young player back.

For the moment Ferguson will simply be happy to once again have Cleverley in contention for United’s fixture at Anfield. History may suggest that the Scot is likely to pick three from Carrick, Anderson, Fletcher and Ryan Giggs in central midfield against the Scousers. But in keeping with the player’s rise this season, Cleverley’s sharpness in training over the next five days could yet swing the decision in his favour.

Clever facts
Born: 12 August 1989, Basingstoke
2008-2009: 15 games, 2 goals (Leicester City)
2009-10: 33 games, 11 goals (Watford), England under-20 and under-21 début
2010-11: 25 games, 4 goals (Wigan Athletic)
2011-12: United début versus City and called into full England squad