Month November 2011

Month November 2011

Sir Fergie promises kids Palace outing

November 29, 2011 Tags: , Matches 253 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will offer Manchester United’s youngsters another opportunity to impress as his side takes on Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Wednesday. Kids Ravel Morrison, Paul Pogba and Ezekiel Fryers could all feature against the mid-table Championship club, as the Reds seek a place in the Carling Cup semi-final for the sixth time in 10 years.

Indeed, Ferguson, who has won the tournament four times during his reign at Old Trafford, is likely to name a side with 11 changes from that which drew with Newcastle United at the weekend. But the question on many fans lips is whether Morrison, Pogba et al will start against Palace at Old Trafford, with Ferguson having used his younger players sparingly in previous rounds of the tournament this season.

Yet with injuries biting into the Scot’s squad, and Palace set to field several changes, there is unlikely to be a better opportunity for United’s youngsters to star in the first team this season.

“There will be complete change, just the same as we had at Leeds and Aldershot,” said Ferguson.

“Ravel Morrison was in the squad for Wednesday’s game [against Benfica]. He’s a very, very talented boy, of course, and he’ll possibly be on the bench, at least, in midweek. But I’ve got other players needing a game like Mame Biram Diouf and Federico Macheda.

“All the younger players [will come in] – Zeki Fryers, the two Da Silvas [Rafael and Fabio] are possibles. Chris Smalling has come back and I may be able to play him on Wednesday. He’s still young and it’ll be a young squad against Palace. The only area where I’ve got problems is centre midfield. It’s possible I could play Pogba in there but we’ll wait and see. I’ve got enough players to choose from, that’s for sure.”

The prospect of Morrison and Pogba, in particular, featuring against Palace is an attractive one. However, neither started ties against Aldershot Town or Leeds United, with Ferguson preferring to offer game time to fringe squad players. The pair may well start on the bench, even counting injuries to Tom Cleverley and Anderson, with Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick certain to be rested. In to the side is likely to come Darron Gibson and Park Ji-Sung.

Manchester United v Crystal Palace, Carling Cup, Old Trafford, 30 November 2011, 7.45pmElsewhere, Rafael da Silva could make a long-awaited return to first team action after recovering from a shoulder injury, while Chris Smalling should start his first game in a month. Striker Federico Macheda will make his first start of the season.

“I think the League Cup has turned into quite a good tournament,” added Ferguson.

“Clubs like United are able to introduce young players and ones who have not been playing regularly in the first team and it’s been good to us over the years. We’ve won two finals at Wembley with young players, which is good going, and I think it’s become an important tournament for us in terms of getting the youngsters an introduction into winning.

“The reserves’ league is more of an extended youth league but we rectify that by putting players on loan. We’ve got quite a lot of players on loan this year, as we have every year, most of the 19 and 20-year-olds. The nucleus of the youth team last year have all had first-team experience this season. They’ve all been involved in the League Cup and travelled to European games with us. It’s valuable experience for the younger ones.”

Meanwhile, 10th placed Palace heads north with one eye on a key Championship game with Derby County on Friday night. Star winger Darren Ambrose is expected to be in the starting line-up, but Jonathan Williams is absent following a broken leg. Lee Hills and Alex Marrow are also out with injury.

Injuries and changes are unlikely to aid a Palace side that has managed just one win in the last five matches. Moreover, Dougie Freedman’s outfit has not scored a goal for 485 minutes. If that record isn’t foreboding enough for the south London team, then Palace’s record against United will bring little comfort – the club has not won at Old Trafford since 1989.

“I’ve told my players to go there and come away better players,” said 37-year-old Palace manager Freedman.

“This is an experience that you have got to soak up, you’ve got to enjoy it, you’ve got to work hard and be proud of your performance and what will be will be. That is exactly what I’ve told my players and that is exactly what I am going to do myself. You’ve got to make yourself and your family proud of your performance if you’re representing this club and that is what I ask of my players – to make themselves and their families proud of them playing there and coming away from it as a better player.”

The fixture recalls memories of the epic FA Cup final ties with Palace in 1990, not least the replay victory that ended Ferguson’s search for a first trophy with the club. The two matches were dramatic and, at times, stomach churning to watch for United supporters. Indeed, with United coming very close to blowing the first game, the past 20 years could have been very different if Palace had won the tie and Ferguson not secured silverware. Without victory, the pressure to dismiss the Scot that summer may have been unbearable.

No such pressure exists on Wednesday of course. Victory over Palace will simply increase United’s fixture calendar by two games in February – possibly against Manchester City or Liverpool, who won quarter final ties at Arsenal and Chelsea on Tuesday.

Match Facts
Manchester United versus Crystal Palace, Carling Cup, Old Trafford, Wednesday 30 November 2011, 7.45pm

Likely Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): Lindegaard; Rafael, Fryers, Smalling, Fabio; Valencia, Gibson, Park, Diouf; Berbatov, Macheda. Subs from: De Gea, Amos, Jones, Fletcher, Carrick, Young, Hernandez, Evans, Keane, Rooney, Pogba, Morrison.

Palace (4-5-1): Price; Clyne, McCarthy, Ramage, Parr; O’Keefe, Wright
Zaha, Ambrose, Scannell; Easter. Subs from: Speroni, Moxey, Gardner, Jedinak, Zaha, Murray, C Martin, Garvan, Price, Dikgacoi, Iversen, Marrow, Cadogan, , Pedroza, Sekajja.

United: WWWDWD
Palace: WDDLLD

Referee: Chris Foy (St. Helens)
Assistants: Richard West, Bobby Pollock
Fourth Official: Neil Swarbrick

Time to take a chance

November 28, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 22 comments

In the past few weeks, despite Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s assertions to the contrary, it has become obvious that the club simply does not posses a central midfield pairing worth talking about. Despite the early pace set by youngsters Tom Cleverley and Anderson, United has few central midfield options that can challenge domestic rivals, let alone those of Barcelona. This is especially true since the pair’s lengthy injury absence took hold.

In contrast to Cleverley’s performances during the late summer, the growing dissatisfaction with Michael Carrick continues around Old Trafford. Although the Geordie’s performance against Swansea City 10 days ago was an improvement, it was a ‘needle in a hay-stack’ full of dismal showings. Carrick’s lack of pace and dynamism, and his predictability, remains a source of frustration for many followers of the club.

Indeed, even the once revered ‘Scottish player’, Darren Fletcher, has begun to bear the brunt of some criticism for his lack of guile and, at times, poor passing. Despite the Scot’s enduring endeavour, Fletcher has never been the most proficient player technically. Too often this has been apparent over the last two years. One can attribute Fletcher’s muted displays to a prolonged period on the sidelines, but what is now clear is that there is little more to come from the player that fans have not already seen. Fletcher’s game is no longer improving rapidly, and worse, his form has begun to stagnate.

Anderson and Cleverley started brightly this season; the pair was simply magnificent during August and early September. Cleverley was a breath of fresh air, while Anderson had seemingly found a partner who could bring out the best in the Brazilian. Since then both players have picked up long-term injuries. To many, Cleverley’s absence until Christmas could be the downfall of United’s trophy ambitions this season.

It is rare that a player is missed so much at United. Rarer still that this is true of Cleverley while he remains a rookie. After all, when Cristiano Ronaldo left the club, United survived. Ditto Cantona and a host of other stars. Yet, without the young Englishman’s presence, the Reds have seemingly very few options of quality.

Some say that Ryan Giggs return from injury could be the team’s saviour, but for many that sentiment is a sad reality for a club of United’s stature. Reliance on a 37-year-old veteran, who can barely manage two games in a week, to be the creative driving force says much.

Then there is youth, perhaps the only stone left unturned by Ferguson in the search for the right midfield balance. The Scot has forever championed the use of youngsters, yet Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison remain reserve team players at best. To many supporters the situation is increasingly frustrating, with Morrison displaying more creativity against Aldershot Town in the Carling Cup last month than many of United’s regular central midfielders have done in years.

The much-troubled midfielder has been hailed by pundits as the best in a generation, yet is still waiting in the wings for an opportunity. Granted it is still early for Morrison to be thrust into action against the very best, but it is less obvious why the 18-year-old has not yet been utilised in games against ‘lesser’ sides this season.

Likewise, the highly rated Frenchman Pogba is under-used. Indeed, the teenager is reportedly considering his options due to a lack of first-team football after three years at the club. And where the French under-19 international might see the stadium lights at Arsenal once in a while, his chances remain few and far between at Old Trafford.

What chance, then, that the pair might start against Crystal Palace in the Carling Cup this week? While Ferguson name-checked both midfielders on Monday, the Scot has tended to use the tournament to offer fringe players some game time. After all, many predicted that Morrison and Pogba would start against both Leeds United and Aldershot in earlier rounds. They did not.

“Ravel Morrison was in the squad for Wednesday’s game [against Benfica]. He’s a very, very talented boy, of course, and he’ll possibly be on the bench, at least, in midweek,” said Ferguson.

“But I’ve got other players needing a game like Mame Biram Diouf and Federico Macheda. Chris Smalling has come back and I may be able to play him on Wednesday. He’s still young and it’ll be a young squad against Palace. The only area where I’ve got problems is centre midfield. It’s possible I could play Pogba in there but we’ll wait and see. I’ve got enough players to choose from, that’s for sure.”

“I think the League Cup has turned into quite a good tournament. Clubs like United are able to introduce young players and ones who have not been playing regularly in the first team and it’s been good to us over the years. We’ve won two finals at Wembley with young players, which is good going, and I think it’s become an important tournament for us in terms of getting the youngsters an introduction into winning and having an understanding of the progress they’re making.”

The issue is hot topic for many critics. The failure to sign Wesley Sneijder, or another leading midfield name, was always going to be Ferguson’s shortcoming this season. And while this may be true, if there are no players available at a price the club is willing to spend, then somebody else must be offered the chance. Yet, for many fans the sight, for example, of Ji-sung Park chasing shadows in the centre of midfield, or Wayne Rooney’s immense talent wasted as a defensive midfielder, is beyond frustrating.

It is clear that Cleverley has the potential to be one of the world’s best players in the years to come. The player’s handful of games for the club has already demonstrated all the qualities that Ferguson needs, even if the youngster has too often been injured in his short career. But as Cleverley’s rise illustrates, sometimes Ferguson simply must take a chance on the players at his disposal. Certain youngsters will hope the Scot heeds the advice this week.

Anderson crocked but Rooney returns for Geordie clash

November 26, 2011 Tags: , Matches 94 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson has ruled out strengthening Manchester United’s midfield this winter, despite a growing list of long-term injuries. Brazilian midfielder Anderson will not return until February after suffering a recurring knee injury, while Tom Cleverley is out until Christmas. The injuries leave Ferguson with just two senior central midfielders – Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick – in an area of the squad that many pundits believe is the club’s weakest.

Injuries leave Ferguson short of cover in midfield ahead of the club’s fixture with high-flying Newcastle United this Saturday, although the Scot is boosted by Wayne Rooney’s return to fitness. Although Rooney is unlikely to play in midfield at the weekend, the Scouser has been frequently used in the engine room this season. However, Ferguson, who has often stated that there “is no value in the market”, now says there are no midfielders available that are good enough for United.

“It is easy to say you are going to buy players but it is not easy to buy them for Manchester United, especially in January,” he said.

“I do not see anyone who could make us a better team. There are two or three players but they are not available, so there is no point even going there. Criticism is fine as long as it’s balanced. Anderson and Tom Cleverley have been injured and those two, in particular, have tremendous potential – they’re fantastic young players. So we’re missing two very important cogs in the machine.

“Darren Fletcher has had his issues and Michael Carrick has been injured a few times, so we’re trying to achieve a consistent midfield operation. And it’s not just the midfield – you’ve also got to look at the back four, which we’ve been changing all the time. We’ve done exceptionally well in spite of that.

“Everyone’s saying ‘go out and buy a central midfield player’. If we’d seen a young Bryan Robson or Roy Keane, we’d have been the first there. The possibilities of improving our team are not lost on us. I don’t see anyone really who that can make us a better team from the players who are possibly available.”

Manchester United v Newcastle United, Premier League, 27 November 2011The Scot will, however, welcome back captain Nemanja Vidic, who missed the midweek draw with Benfica through suspension. The Serbian is likely to be partnered by Rio Ferdinand, who will play his fifth game in a row. The former England captain has not achieved that feat in more than two years.

Elsewhere, Ferguson is unlikely to make major changes against a side that suffered its first defeat of the Premier League season last weekend. Indeed, Newcastle’s 3-1 loss to Manchester City is a blip on the Geordies’ record in an otherwise successful campaign built on solid defence, which is the joint meanest in the Premier League. Newcastle’s progress this season is all the more surprising given the loss of Andy Carroll, Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan in recent months.

Meanwhile, Pardew expects both Chieck Tiote and Leon Best to return, while former United winger Gabriel Obertan should face his former club having overcome an injury that ruled the Frenchman out of the defeat to City. And the former West Ham United coach believes that Newcastle’s chances of a first victory at Old Trafford in 39 years is boosted by the Reds’ ‘transitional’ phase this season.

“United have tweaked their game, probably because of what happened in the Champions League final against Barça,” said the Newcastle manager.

“United are looking to improve and have a little bit more movement going on and a little bit more thought as to what they are doing. They are in a little bit of a transition but remain a fantastic and highly motivated team really wanting to close that gap on Manchester City.”

“Rooney’s a big part of United’s change in terms of having a bit more movement and making it a bit more problematic to pin them down. The midfield role does not diminish him. You don’t know where he’s going to go. He’s popping up everywhere.”

“Although they remain a major force, I think to play Manchester United now is probably a slight advantage because they’re in a bit of a transition. They’re getting better but the second half of the season is when they’ll really come into their own.”

However, Newcastle arrive at Old Trafford with Ferguson’s team still smarting from the disappointing draw with Benfica. The Geordies’ visit is made all the harder in the knowledge that the team has not returned from the fixture with three points in the past 27 visits. And while United is currently five points behind City in the Premier League, Ferguson’s side is actually four points better off than at the same stage last season.

Match Facts
Manchester United versus Newcastle United, Premier League, Old Trafford, Saturday 26 November 2011, 3pm

Likely Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Fletcher, Carrick, Young; Rooney; Hernandez. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Rafael, Pogba, Evans, Fryers, Carrick, Berbatov, Park, Valencia, Diouf.

Newcastle (4-5-1): Krul; Simpson, Coloccini, S Taylor, R Taylor; Obertan, Guthrie, Cabaye, Gutierrez; Ben Arfa; Ba. Subs from: Sa Ameobi, Elliot, Santon, Perch, Gosling, Smith, Lovenkrands, Sh Ameobi

United: WWWWDW
Newcastle: DWLWWL

Performance stats

  • Javier Hernández was on target again for United’s third successive 1-0 win since the 6-1 loss to City in September. The Mexican has now got five goals this season from just 16 attempts at goal. The goal lifted him 33 places to 35th in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
  • Michael Carrick covered more ground than any other United player against Swansea with 9,020 metres;
  • Wayne Rooney (40) and Carrick (39) were the two players to complete the most passes in their opponent’s half in the game against Swansea, as Rooney maintained his position as the top ranked player in the Index;
  • Another clean sheet also enabled David de Gea to become the third ranked goalkeeper in the Index behind Joe Hart and Brad Friedel;
  • Newcastle’s remarkable unbeaten run came to an end against City, in a game in which Steve Taylor made four blocks. Only Vincent Kompany has made more in a single game this season with five against Wigan Athletic.

Referee: Mike Jones (Chester)
Assistants: D Bond, J Flynn
Fourth Official: C Foy

Rant Cast 89 – Eurovision football contest

November 25, 2011 Tags: Rant Cast No comments

On this week’s Rant Cast regulars Ed and Paul discuss Manchester United’s victory over Swansea in the Premier League, and the consequences of Wayne Rooney’s hip injury. We talk about the potential for Euro failure: United’s draw with Benfica at Old Trafford puts the Reds’ participation in the Champions League at risk, and what happens if Sir Alex Ferguson’s side draws Barcelona in round two. And we preview the games ahead in the coming week – Newcastle United visit Old Trafford in the Premier League, and Crystal Palace in the Carling Cup.

This week’s exit theme tune is ‘Song For The Champions’.

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!

Euro failure possible but this is nothing like 2005

November 23, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 76 comments

The last time Sir Alex Ferguson’s side failed to make it out of the Champions League group stages all hell broke loose at Old Trafford. Defeated by Benfica at Estádio da Luz, Manchester United finished bottom of Group D on 7 December 2005, avoiding ignominious relegation to the UEFA Cup. Then, as now, the Reds faced, on paper at least, an eminently winnable qualification group. Yet, dropped points against Lille, Villarreal and the Portuguese left Ferguson red faced, and United out of Europe’s premier competition.

The dark clouds of defeat hung not only over United’s European campaign but domestically too. Defeat to Benfica in Lisbon had followed an equally tedious display against Lille in Paris, after which Ferguson had sought – erroneously – to blame the Stade de France pitch for the Reds’ 1-0 loss. Four days earlier, in what many still regard as one of the most humiliating losses in Ferguson’s reign, Middlesbrough hammered United 4-1 at the Riverside.

The manager appeared, on the surface at least, to hold no answers to United’s struggles.

In between Euro defeats the tension between captain Roy Keane and manager Ferguson reached its zenith, with the Irishman effectively sacked on 18 November. Keane, having already voiced his willingness to play elsewhere with a contract due to expire the following summer, went on to name and shame his failing United team-mates in a now infamous MUTV interview. That the Keane and Ferguson had already clashed in pre-season over preparations at a Portuguese training camp only made the midfielder’s express departure all the more inevitable.

The fall out was equally certain, with doom-laden headlines and very public questions about Ferguson’s ability, energy and willingness to turn around United’s apparent decline. After all, failure in Europe during the 2005/6 season capped a relatively barren period for the club. Chelsea captured that season’s title by eight points, and the previous race too, some 12 points ahead of the Reds. Moreover, Arsenal had taken the Premier League in 2003/4, 15 points ahead of Ferguson’s limited side.

Supporter anger, brewing since the Glazer takeover the previous summer, was only exacerbated by United’s football in winter 2005 that was all too often turgid in nature, with Ruud van Nistelrooy often ploughing a lone furrow up front, and Wayne Rooney frequently consigned to a wide role.

No wonder some fans began to express their anger in writing.

“It is an increasingly inescapable conclusion that, unwittingly or otherwise, Ferguson is winding down, a prizefighter who no longer has the stomach or the wit for an admittedly enormous challenge which, once upon a time, he would have fervently inhaled,” wrote United supporting journalist Rob Smyth in the Guardian.

“Like he did with Liverpool. Ferguson’s almost maniacal yearning to “knock Liverpool off their f***ing perch” was arguably the single most important factor in United’s 1990s renaissance. It makes it all the more vicious an irony that, 10 years later, he should knock United off the perch he had made for them through increasingly rank mismanagement.”

Six years on, four Premier League titles and a European trophy later, and Smyth’s expression of frustration has proven embarrassingly wrong. Yet, in the gloom of Euro exit and domestic supersedence, it was not obvious that the groundwork had been done for future success. Smyth’s was not the only voice of concern.

The inevitable question now is whether United, being heavily outspent by Chelsea and Manchester City domestically, and on the verge of European failure, will repeat the trick of 2005/6? Certainly qualification from Group C is not guaranteed. After all, FC Basel gave the Reds a genuine game at Old Trafford, scoring three times in a well-earned draw. In the hot-house atmosphere of St. Jakob-Park in two week’s time the Reds could conceivably fail.

United’s defensive nous on the road ought to earn the draw needed, but few will bet heavily on it. More to the point, the chances of United securing a second round tie against a European heavyweight is high, with Internazionale, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona all likely to top Champions League groups. Unless whipping boys Otelul Galati secure at least a draw at Benfica United cannot top Group C, and the nation’s bookies will weigh the odds in favour of a new year Euro exit.

Yet, if this is to be a season of transition, with the Class of ’92 – save for Ryan Giggs – all now departed, the groundwork for future success is surely more advanced than in winter 2005. True, United then had a young Cristino Ronaldo, whose partnership with Rooney would blossom into a Champions League winning force. But the squad also contained a plethora of dead wood, including Mikael Silvestre, Kieran Richardson, Alan Smith, and Liam Miller.

Ferguson’s concern today is to mould Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, the da Silva brothers and David de Gea into a consistent, long-term, defensive unit, while finding the right blend from his variety of attacking options. However, by far the 69-year-old’s greatest challenge is to find – or buy – a central midfield formula that can compete at the highest level. As it is, mediocrity in the centre of the park is forcing Ferguson to compromise either United’s attacking or defensive cohesion. Too often both.

This concern is not new of course. Ferguson’s failure to adequately replace Keane and then Owen Hargreaves is utterly dumbfounding. Belief that injury-prone rookie Tom Cleverley could carry United’s central midfield alone this season was a glaring strategic error.

In the short-term the Scot will hope, beyond hope, that captain Nemanja Vidic’s return in Switzerland will be accompanied by a fit Rooney. Without the pair, the Reds face a genuine threat of exit. With them, that fear can be postponed to the New Year at least.

Robbie Brady – the great Irish hope

November 23, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 7 comments

Two of Ireland’s favourites, for Reds growing up in Dublin in the 1990’s, were unsurprisingly Denis Irwin and Roy Keane. Not only was the pair two of the best in the Republic of Ireland team, they were two of the finest for one of Ireland’s favourite clubs, Manchester United. For many, Irwin was the best left-back ever seen in a United shirt. His sharp tackling, marauding runs, and cannon of a right-foot made the Cork-born player a complete defender. Meanwhile, Keane’s sheer bloody-mindedness, leadership, and talent made the player one of the best midfielders of his generation.

Yet, since the pair left Old Trafford there hasn’t been a great Irish player in the United team. True, John O’Shea, a very competent player for whom many were sad to see go, spent a decade in Manchester. But O’Shea never reached the level of his predecessors; a great player for Ireland, but not for United. There were other Irishmen who passed through, but never quite made it, such as Paul McShane, Liam Miller, and Darron Gibson.

But now there’s a player tipped for huge things at Old Trafford – a new Irish hope – 19-year-old Dubliner Robbie Brady. Described by Kevin Keegan as a player who “has everything,” and currently turning heads on loan at Hull City in the Championship, Brady joined the United Academy in 2008, having already representing Ireland at U-17 level. Up to 15 Premier League clubs were after the 16-year-old Brady at the time.

Brady, a left sided midfielder, was inevitably hailed as the “new Ryan Giggs” when United signed him. At this club, there is no higher praise for a young player. And it didn’t take long for the youngster to make a mark in the youth set-up, impressing in the 2009 Milk Cup in Northern Ireland as United won the Premier section. Brady has also shone for United’s academy side with bursting runs down the flank, high quality crossing, and a deft finish or two, which even earned the player a stint as Academy captain.

Like many younger players learning their trade at Old Trafford, Brady was sent out on loan for seasoning. In the Championship, Brady has been seen by a wider audience, and has stepped his game up accordingly, impressing many. ESPN’s Keegan and Robbie Savage are two pundits who have been lauding the young Irishman’s efforts, tipping him as one of the brightest stars at Championship level.

Brady made a bright start to his Hull career, scoring a fine goal against Liverpool in the Tigers’ 3-0 win in a pre-season friendly. The Dubliner has continued to impress in his early Championship games for Hull, even netting a winning goal against Reading in his fifth competitve game. Making 16 appearances to date, starting 15 of them, Brady has featured in all of Hull’s games so far this season. He has also registered a staggering 34 shots so far, although just the one has beat the ‘keeper to date.

However, Brady has suffered a slight dip in form recently, with then manager Nigel Pearson citing fatigue as the reason, reminding us that Brady is still only 19, and this is his first full season of football. Brady’s stamina and fitness will need to improve, and have been a slight concern going back to the reserves under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who said “we’ve just got to work on his fitness and, if we can get him super fit, then he’ll be a very, very good player.” Encouraging words, and at a club such as United, there are the facilities to fix the problem.

The rigors of top flight football are much more demanding than the reserves of course, but these are standard growing pains for a young ‘up-and-comer’. Fitness is unlikely to hamstring Brady less as he acclimates to the Championship. Indeed, after a short rest the player’s performance for the Irish under-21s recently showed that he’s still just as talented as hoped.

Should Brady continue his rapid progress there is no limit to where the youngster could go – a place in Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team squad is not out of the question next season. If not, a loan to a Premier League club is inevitable as the player looks to step up a level.

Brady has also risen through the Irish youth ranks, scoring plenty of goals along the way. Now at under-21 level, Brady has scored five goals in as many games, two of which came in the recent 2-1 friendly win over Lichtenstein. As a stand-out player at age-group level, Brady is being widely tipped to become one of the finest Irish players of his generation. He’ll soon get a chance to shine with the full national side too.

Moreover, Brady has the raw talent to make it as a United player: a swift, attack-minded, confident, skilful winger, with clever feet and a footballing brain fits into the United mould. And while many United supporters are justifyably excited about Ravel Morrison, Paul Pogba and Ryan Tunnicliffe, many over the Irish sea will be keeping a special eye on Brady’s progress.

For Dublin-based Reds, he is the great Irish hope.

Robbie Brady factfile
Born 14 January 1992, Dublin, Republic of Ireland

1998–2008, St Kevin’s Boys
2008-2011, Manchester United (academy)
2011-, Hull City, 16 appearances, 1 goal

2005–2008, Republic of Ireland U17, 5 appearances
2008–2010, Republic of Ireland U19, 5 appearances, 2 goals
2010–, Republic of Ireland U21, 5 appearances, 5 goals

Fergie seeks rhythm for Benfica clash

November 21, 2011 Tags: , Matches 169 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson has blamed injuries for disrupting Manchester United’s rhythm this season. His side began the campaign in fine form, but inconsistent performances in recent weeks, including heavy defeat to Manchester City, have taken the gloss off the Reds’ season. The Scot’s side, which is five points behind City in the Premier League, has achieved five clean sheets in a row since derby defeat, but has sacrificed attacking fluidity in the process. But, says Ferguson, United will hit top gear as the winter sets in and players return to the first team.

Injury to Tom Cleverley, in particular, has unsettled United’s balance, with Wayne Rooney moved from attack to midfield to compensate for the 22-year-old’s loss. Indeed, United has failed to score more than once in any Premier League game since City hit six at Old Trafford in October, with Rooney deployed deeper as Ferguson has sought greater midfield protection for his back four.

The lack of penetration in recent weeks is surely worrying the Scot, whose side faces a crucial tie with Benfica at Old Trafford on Tuesday night. Defeat to the Portuguese giants is unthinkable, but could place United’s progress from the group stages of the Champions League in doubt for the first time since 2005.

“I think we’ve made some changes to the team at the start of the season,” explained 69-year-old Ferguson.

“Tom Cleverley and Chris Smalling got injured and Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were injured in the first game. So there were quite a few changes you don’t envisage. You see everyone fit and fresh in pre-season and, going through the tour of the States, there was not one injury and then you’re hit with a whole host [of them]. It doesn’t disrupt us to a great degree but it does unsettle the balance of the team at times.

“Sometimes we have to rethink which team we need to win a match and sometimes, when the team is in full flow, you don’t need to worry about that. We’ve had a few issues but hopefully we’re gradually getting over them and, once we get the players back in again, we’ll be okay.”

Manchester United versus Benfica, Champions League, Old Trafford, Tuesday 22 November 2011, 7.45pmFerguson’s side will be without long-term injury victims Cleverley, Michael Owen and Chris Smalling, although the latter trained separately from the main group on Monday. Danny Welbeck also returned to training, but the youngster is highly unlikely to make the European fixture. Meanwhile, kids Ravel Morrison, Ezekiel Fryers and Davide Petrucci joined the first team group, with speculation rife that one or more could make Ferguson’s side on Tuesday night.

However, Rooney sat out Monday’s training session following “a couple of knocks” suffered during United’s 1-0 victory over Swansea City at the weekend. The 26-year-old Scouser is likely to make the tie though and, with victory essential, could be pushed into a forward position.

In defence captain Nemanja Vidic sits out the second of a two match ban, while Jonny Evans could come back into the team if the Northern Irishman is declared fit.

Meanwhile, Ferguson offered praise for Nani, the former Sporting Lisbon winger, who has become a key plank of United’s attack. The 25-year-old has taken time to generate a greater level of consistency, and can still frustrate at times, but with a growing goal output and an outstanding assists record, Nani is slowly moving out of Cristiano Ronaldo’s lengthy shadow.

“Nani has always had potential,” added Ferguson.

“Some of those who come to our club from abroad do it quickly, others gradually grow into it. Nani is one of those. Even Cristiano took two or three years to get the maturity in his game. That is what we are seeing with Nani now. The goals have been fine but his assists are very high. He is progressing really well.”

Benfica beat United 2-1 in Lisbon in December 2005, and eliminated Ferguson’s team at the group stage for the first time since 1994. Rio Ferdinand, Park Ji-Sung, Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney and Darren Fletcher remain for United from that fixture. However, a repeat scenario is one that nobody at Old Trafford is contemplating six years later. Victory for United over Jorge Jesus’ side, coupled with defeat for FC Basel, will guarantee the Reds’ progress to the knock-out stages.

“You do want to finish top as it give you little perks like having the second leg at home,” added Fletcher.

“There are a few aspects to topping the group which benefit you in the long run. First and foremost you look to qualify for the knockout stages but we saw Arsenal finish second last season and end up with Barcelona in the first knockout round. Although people say you have to beat these teams if you want to win the competition, it is good to avoid them until later on.”

Meanwhile, Benfica can boast two of the tournament’s leading strikers in Rodrigo and Óscar Cardozo. Rodrigo, 20, spent a year on loan with Bolton Wanderers last season, but has bloomed in the current campaign, scoring in each of Benfica’s last five matches. However, the youngster could be sacrificed if Jesus deploys an extra man in midfield.

Cardozo, Benfica’s goalscorer against United on matchday one, has a knack of finding the net against English clubs having scored six times in four matches against Everton and Liverpool in 2009/10, although the striker only has two in the past 10 matches. Reported United midfield target Nicolás Gaitán has provided four assists to date, the highest total in the competition.

“It`s a big game, a game we recognise as a real European game in the history of Benfica and ourselves,” concluded Ferguson.

“There’ve been loads of great games between the sides that always stick in the memory, such as one we lost 2-1 over there. In the first match over there [this season] we did well and our possession was good. We deserved the result except for maybe the last 15 minutes, when they had a few chances. It should be an open match, both teams want to win.”

That, at least, will make a change from United’s recent negative performances, despite yielding five victories in a row since the loss to City.

Match Facts
Manchester United versus Benfica, Champions League, Old Trafford, Tuesday 22 November 2011, 7.45pm

Likely Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Jones, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Fletcher, Nani; Rooney; Hernandez. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Pogba, Fryers, Park, Morrison, Gibson, Petrucci, Young, Berbatov, Diouf.

Benfica (4-4-1-1): Artur; Pereira, Luisao, Garay, Emerson; Garcia, Witsel, Cesar, Gaitan; Aimar; Cardozo. Subs from: Eduardo, Peixoto, Vítor, Jardel, Amorim, Nolito, Matić, Simão, Peréz, Oliveira, Rodrigo, Saviola

United: LWWWWW
Benfica: WDWWWD

Referee: Cüneyt Çakır (TUR)
Assistant referees: Bahattin Duran, Tarik Ongun
Additional assistant referees: Tolga Özkalfa, Süleyman Abay

One nil to United

November 20, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 10 comments

There have been times in Sir Alex Ferguson’s management of Manchester United over the past 25 years that the Scot’s side has been forced ‘back to basics’; when the necessity to grind out results overcomes the need to entertain. Think back to United’s campaign in 1996, for example, when Ferguson’s side chased down Newcastle United with seven single goal victories in the league post New Year. That the Scot’s outfit had lost 4-1 to Tottenham Hotspur on New Year’s Day underlined the gritty nature of the club’s campaign during the run-in.

Few of those times have come so early in the new season though, with United’s 1-0 victory at Swansea City on Saturday the third such result since Manchester City’s heavy victory at Old Trafford in October. Indeed, five clean sheets in a row since that derby day loss point to a renewed determination to grind out results through defensive security. In truth, Ferguson’s side has rarely, in that period, played the brand of attractive attacking football that is expected by Old Trafford regulars.

Not that any criticism of United’s style will bother Ferguson while his team is maintaining clean sheets and winning games. Keeping in touch with rivals City at the top of the Premier League is the priority, and United are doing that. Just about. Whether fans will accept the change in approach is another matter altogether.

“Keeping clean sheets has been an integral part of our success and we have been careless with our defending,” admitted Ferguson after United’s win in Wales.

“A few weeks ago there was genuine criticism about the defending and the chances opponents were getting. Swansea didn’t really make any chances apart from the miss they had in the first half. It was a solid performance and we never looked like losing the game. We were comfortable and had good possession. And when you win these games 1-0 it brings the concentration back to a good level which has been lacking. The concentration we showed today is exactly the concentration we need back in the team.

“We’ve tightened things up and there were some good performances by our defenders. And Michael Carrick was outstanding. I thought he did really well – it was a big performance from him. To get Michael back to that form and have the likes of Ryan [Giggs] available gives us good options. We also brought on Fabio, Fletcher and Valencia which shows you the strength of the squad – they were good changes at important times in the game.

“The squad we’ve got now is strong and I can make changes with confidence and that’s very important at this stage of the season.”

At the other end of the pitch United rarely sparkled in Wales this weekend, with Wayne Rooney again dropping deep as United sought to compete in midfield with a fluid Swansea team. And while Ferguson was fulsome in his praise of Michael Carrick it says much for the Scot’s options that the Geordie was the only natural central midfielder chosen in a team that contained three wingers.

When Ferguson needs discipline he turns to Ryan Giggs and Park Ji-Sung. And while the Korean ostensibly started wide-left, with Giggs partnering Carrick in the middle, United was never going to be outfought in the centre ground. ‘They shall not pass’ has become a mantra these past four weeks, and Park provided an additional defensive shield when required.

Yet, with Javier Hernández in the side, even a far-from-fluid United retains a threat if Ferguson’s side can create enough chances. Indeed, the Scot’s outfit created few chances at the Liberty Stadium, but the Mexican’s goal was taken with the kind of ease that has become familiar, even if it took a momentary lapse of concentration from Swansea right-back Angel Rangel to gift United an 11th minute lead.

“We’ve gone back to basics and defended really well since City,” Giggs told MUTV.

“It wasn’t just the goals against City, it was also the chances that were being created against us in the other games. Our opponents were getting too many chances and our new goalkeeper David De Gea was having far too many shots to save. Solidity is something we have always prided ourselves on, at the back and throughout the team really.

“Swansea played some great football against us and kept the ball well, but they didn’t really hurt us. It was a tough game for our midfielders and forwards but at the back we defended well and they didn’t have many chances. When Chicharito’s on the pitch, you know that if you put a ball in a certain area, you know he’s going to be there and more often than not he’s going to put it away.”

The challenge for United now is to turn results into performances, with City winning not only frequently, but with genuine style this season. Roberto Mancini’s men have now dropped just two points in the Premier League, scoring 42 goals in the process. That’s 13 more than United in the same number of fixtures.

Yet, it has certainly been an easier task for United to tighten up at the back post-derby, with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic both fit and restored the centre of Ferguson’s defence, than achieving a more fluid is could be. After all, while United has the attacking talent to match almost any in Europe, experience has shown that sacrificing central midfield solidity – read numbers – for attacking fluidity results in the opposition creating more chances.

“You always want to score more goals, of course, but I don’t think it’s a concern,” adds Carrick.

“It’s about winning games and it’s a good sign that we can win games like that. We haven’t been at our best but there’ll be a point in the season when everything will come easily. We’ll score some more goals because of the talent in our team. We believe we can do that, but at this time it is about grafting, sticking together and showing a lot of character.

“We are happy, we weren’t at our best but three points is nice. The football wasn’t as fluent or easy on the eye as it could have been but 1-0 is a win and we’ll take that. At this stage of the season it is about picking up points and wins – judge where we are by Christmas and we’ll kick on from there.”

It’s a message that supporters want to believe: that United can combine both the attacking football of the late summer, with the defensive nous of the past month. Yet, with Ferguson still reliant on numbers to compete in central midfield, it is a goal to be achieved in hope, rather than expectation. For the time being United fans must accept winning football that is not necessarily achieved the ‘United way’.

Reds return for United’s visit to Swansea

November 18, 2011 Tags: , Matches 68 comments

The two-week international break may have been dominated by headlines about racism in football, but some measure of relief – in the form of football at least – is shortly at hand, with Manchester United returning to action this weekend. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side travels to Swansea City, for the first time in almost 30 years, to face the newly promoted Welsh side in the Premier League Saturday tea time. It is a fixture that Ferguson hopes will continue United’s renaissance in the post-derby period.

With four clean sheets posted after the 6-1 thrashing by Manchester City, Ferguson has steered the United ship to calmer waters. It was always likely to be the case. And while the Reds have hardly performed with little panache in the recent victories over Everton and Sunderland, Ferguson’s side is still within touching distance of City in the Premier League table. It is a recovery that is likely to be severely tested against the in-from Swans, with Brendan Rogers’ side yet to taste defeat at the Liberty Stadium this season, while delivering some highly attractive football.

The Scot can boast a strong squad for the trip south, although Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling, Danny Welbeck and Michael Owen will sit out the tie through injury. The injury to Cleverley’s ankle, sustained at Everton three weeks ago, is now thought to be far more serious than previously anticipated, with the midfielder out of action until Christmas. However, the United manager should welcome winger Ashley Young back into the first team squad for the trip to Wales.

“No-one’s injured from the internationals, the ones who’ve played anyway, which is good,” said Ferguson.

“Danny Welbeck, as you know, came back with an injury from an England training session and he won’t be available for Swansea. Chris Smalling is not far away but I don’t think he’ll be back tomorrow, I think he’ll be ready for Tuesday. Michael Owen and Tom Cleverley are pretty long-term. I think Christmas time for both of them, which is unfortunate for us.

“It’s worse than we thought. When [Cleverley] came off against Everton he reported that it was just a bit of tightness, a bit of pain, but we’ve done further scans and he’s had a recurrence of the injury, so we’re going to have to give him a break until Christmas time, I think. Ashley Young is fit, he’s trained for the last seven or eight days and is available for tomorrow.”

The Scot, mindful of United’s key game against Benfica in the Champions League next week, has a delicate balancing act when it comes to team selection against Rogers’ men.

Swansea City versus Manchester United, Premier League, Liberty Stadium, Saturday 19 November 2011, 5.30pmAnderson is likely to vie with Michael Carrick for a place in central midfield alongside Darren Fletcher. Meanwhile, Young could start on the left, with in-form Nani fresh from scoring a stunning goal against Bosnia in the Euro 2012 qualifiers, on the right.

With Welbeck and Owen out, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernández should reform United’s attack, although Dimitar Berbatov is in contention. The Bulgarian, who is out of contract next summer, remains part of Ferguson’s planning according to the Scot, and United will activate a further year in the Bulgarian’s contract.

“Dimitar is still in my thoughts,” added Ferguson.

“I have read some things but there is absolutely no reason for me to let him go. He is an outstanding footballer and we will give the extra year. It is unfortunate the form of Javier Hernández over the last year has been outstanding but he [Berbatov] plays a great role and he trains well. He has no complaints. The boy is a great professional and we are happy for him to be here. You need a good number of strikers in the modern day. If you look back to 1999, we had four great strikers. They all played their part. That is exactly what will happen today.”

One player likely to be involved at some stage is Ryan Giggs, the 37-year-old Welshman who represented his country 64 times, but has never faced a Welsh club team during his two decade long career. It is a bitter-sweet moment for Giggs, who is proud that a Welsh side has finally made it to the top level of English football.

“It’s fantastic news for Welsh football that Swansea are doing so well,” said Giggs.

“As a Welshman, I’m very much looking forward to Manchester United visiting Wales for the first ever time in the Premier League. Swansea is a great city and the Swans have tremendous support in a terrific stadium. All Premier League games are tough and I’m sure the match against the Swans will be no different.”

United’s last visit to Swansea ended in a goalless draw at the Vetch Field in December 1982. The Swans beat United 2-0 at the same venue the previous season and have never lost to the Reds at home. Manager Rogers believes his side has a chance of repeating the club’s last victory over United, with a mixture of attractive attacking football, and a high tempo pressing game.

“Our approach will not fundamentally change,” said the xx-year-old coach.

“We want to dominate the game with the ball, and the statistics show that we have been able to do that this season. Obviously you have to retain the caution of knowing that players at this level have a higher quality, especially against one of the top European sides with a number of players that can hurt you.

“But Kenny Dalglish said after our draw at Anfield that they couldn’t string five or six passes together, which was good for me to hear because we work hard on getting the ball back quickly. So our idea of the game will be the same, it will be creative and offensive but our five clean sheets also show that we are tactically disciplined.”

Rogers welcomes back left-back Neil Taylor, who returns from a sore ankle. Stephen Dobbie could also return after suffering a similar injury. Meanwhile, former United player Alan Tate is unavailable for the tie with the Premier League champions.

Match Facts
Swansea City versus Manchester United, Premier League, Liberty Stadium, Saturday 19 November 2011, 5.30pm

Likely Line-ups
Swansea (4-3-3): Vorm; Williams, Monk, Rangel, Taylor; Britton, Allen, Gower; Dyer, Graham, Sinclair. Subs from: Tremmel, Moras, Agustien, Richards, Lita, Moore, Routledge, Dobbie.

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

Swansea: LWLDWD
United: WLWWWW

Performance stats

  • Swansea goalkeeper Michel Vorm is now joint top in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for saves with 68, matching United’s David de Gea. 14 of those saves came in Swansea’s last Barclays Premier League game against Liverpool, the second highest number of saves made by a goalkeeper in any Barclays Premier League game this season (top is Brad Friedel v United for Tottenham Hotspur with 16);
  • Ashley Williams has excelled at the back for Swnsea this season, 82 defensive contributions overall (tackles, blocks, interceptions). This is the second highest total in the league;
  • Two of the top three most prolific crossers of the ball play for United. Luis Nani has delivered more than any other player with 49, while Ashley Young is in third place with 37;
  • Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer remain the Premier League’s top dribblers, having completed 58 and 45 respectively
  • After a disapointing run of games, including defeat to Man City, a draw with Liverpool, and narrow wins over Sunderland and Everton, Wayne Rooney is now United’s only player in the Index’ top ten. Rooney remains top.

Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)
Assistants: S Long, W Smallwood
Fourth Official: A D’Urso

Rant Cast 88 – the Sir Alex Ferguson podcast

November 18, 2011 Tags: Rant Cast 5 comments

On this week’s Rant Cast regulars Ed and Paul discuss Manchester United’s victory over Sunderland in the Premier League, and the newly renamed Sir Alex Ferguson stand at Old Trafford. We talk racism: Sepp Blatter, Luis Suarez and John Terry, and why the FIFA boss is so terribly wrong. We talk international football – England, Euro 2012 and other Reds in action. And we look ahead to United’s games with Swansea in the Premier League and FC Basel in Europe (yes, yes we know United actually play Benfica!!).

This week’s exit theme tune is ‘The United Calypso’ – Edric Connor.

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!