Month April 2012

Month April 2012

Ferguson takes aim at Blues in title shootout

April 28, 2012 Tags: , Matches 356 comments

How did it come to this? Barely three weeks ago Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City side was “cracking up” and Manchester United had opened up an eight point Premier League lead. United’s superb form in 2012 had brought 12 wins and a draw since defeat to Newcastle United at St. James’, and the title was the Reds’ in all but name.

Yet football, at least the format practiced by Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, is rarely that simple. Defeat to Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium and a draw with Everton at home, together with City’s improved form, means that Monday’s clash between the two Manchester clubs at Eastlands is now pivotal to this season’s title. Ferguson, ever mindful of the key moments in any campaign, believes the victor will go on to take this year’s honours. Who could disagree?

United, three points to the good in the title race, can afford to draw of course, enabling the Reds to claim a 20th domestic title with four points from games against Swansea City and Sunderland over the next fortnight. Yet, with recent form as it is, there is little presumption to be made about United’s ability to achieve even that goal.

So to the “shootout” with City, as Ferguson put, where both Blues and Reds know that a win is likely to bring with it the main prize. Mancini’s men must win, but if they do so then matches against a recently humbled Newcastle and relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers should hold little fear. Three points for United and City can kiss all hope goodbye.

Indeed, says Ferguson, whatever happens in Monday’s fixture, Reds must now get used to City challenging United’s hegemony at every turn. It is a fixture that will come to match United’s enmity with Liverpool, concludes the Scot.

“We have to get used to playing City in important games, they are not going away,” admitted the 70-year-old United manager.

“The financial support they have means we will be playing them, in a lot of big games. Cup finals maybe, semi-finals – we have already done that last season and had an important cup tie this season.

“It’s there, if we are going to be contesting for league titles regularly, and we will be doing, it will become just as important as the Liverpool game. Maybe not in terms of the emotional part because the Liverpool-United games are emotional, but certainly in importance – probably at this moment in time it supersedes the Liverpool games in the sense that they are our direct opponents now.

“Manchester City are without question up against us to win titles and that is what I focus on, I only focus on the team that can actually affect our progress in terms of winning.”

Manchester City v Manchester United, Premier League, Eastlands, 30 April, 8pmFerguson’s men must quickly overcome disappointment against Everton last weekend if the team is to get a result at Eastlands. There can certainly be no repeat of the slapdash defending that saw United concede four against the Toffees, with Ferguson’s side making errors in the build up to each of the visitors’ goals.

Whether it was nerves or arrogance, United’s ability to casually throw away a winning position against Everton could yet see the title slip away. But this is not a position Ferguson is prepared to countenance in the build-up to Monday’s clash, with the Scot preferring to laugh off United’s slip as ‘doing it the hard way’. It is a cliché, of course, but better than admitting the side is one calamitous reverse from a trophyless season.

“I am a confirmed masochist, I joined about 26 years ago,” joked Ferguson.

“I do not know if you thrive on it, I can’t even say I can look forward to it, but I am up for it, I am prepared for it and I think my players will be prepared for it so hopefully we will be OK.

“I suppose when the fixtures came out at the beginning of the season all roads pointed to this game. It was inevitable maybe. But we are where we are and it doesn’t matter what has happened before – the buildup to the game, who has dropped points and who hasn’t dropped points, it really is all down to this game. It will be a fantastic atmosphere and I hope it lives up to the billing.

“We are also smarting from throwing that game away last week, but in the context of our history we almost expected it, we make it hard for ourselves, our poor supporters have been subjected to that drama for years and years. God knows what they are like just now but hopefully we will make amends on Monday. It’s not a cup final, there are three games still, it is an important game. I think it could decide the title.”

However, United could be without two key players for the tie, with both defender Jonny Evans and winger Nani struggling for fitness. Evans trained on Friday as Ferguson took his players to Wales for a short break, but the Northern Irishman’s sore ankle has been a concern all week. Meanwhile, Nani is also suffering from an ankle problem, and Ferguson will leave a fitness assessment until the last moment.

United’s manager is unlikely to make significant changes despite the second-half horror show against Everton. Ferguson may bring Chris Smalling in at right-back, with Rafael as culpable as any for United’s poor defensive display against Everton. The Brazilian has performed admirably during the run-in, but Smalling’s defensive nous may win the 21-year-old a place.

There are unlikely to be many further changes, although Ferguson must decide whether to deploy both top goalscorer Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, or leave the Scouser to plough a lone furrow up-front.

Meanwhile, across town Mancini has spent the week playing down his side’s chances despite an uptick in recent form. United’s experience, says the Italian, is likely to win the day. Little more than mind games 101, cynics might add. Moreover, Mancini will be able to field a full strength side at Eastlands, including fit again Mario Balotelli and former Red Carlos Tevez.

Given the Blues have scored 10 in the past three fixtures, form is certainly on the Italian’s side.

“He probably wants to take pressure off his own players, that’s possible but it will not affect our approach or attitude, we know exactly the situation we are in here,” adds Ferguson.

“We are in a better position than Manchester City. We can get two results they can only get one, they have to win we can draw, we can win. But my attitude and the club’s attitude will be trying to win.”

Amen to that, Reds will concur, although Ferguson’s side is likely to adopt the ‘European approach’ at Eastlands, with five strung across midfield, and the visitors prepared to wait patiently for a chance. United supporters making the short trip across town will forgive any negative approach, if that is to be it, in exchange for three points and a 20th domestic league title.

Match Facts
Manchester City versus Manchester United, Premier League, Eastlands, 30 April 2012, 8pm.

Potential Line-ups
City (4-4-2): Hart; Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy; Silva, Touré Y, Barry, Nasri; Tevez, Aguero. Subs from: Pantilimon, Taylor, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Savic, K Touré, De Jong, Milner, Pizarro, Johnson, Balotelli, Dzeko.

United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Smalling, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Carrick, Scholes; Valencia, Rooney, Young; Welbeck. Subs from: Amos, Jones, Fabio, Rafael, Jones, Young, Cleverley, Giggs, Nani, Hernández, Berbatov, Owen.

Match Stats

  • Nani was given the nod over Ashley Young in last weekend’s 4-4 draw, and made the most of his opportunity with a goal and an assist against the Merseysiders;
  • The Portuguese winger has scored eight goals in 27 Premier League appearances this season, and has struck 51 per cent of his shots on target this season;
  • Wayne Rooney scored twice last weekend and has now overtaken George Best as United’s fourth highest goalscorer. Rooney remains a goal behind Robin van Persie as this season’s top goal scorer;
  • United had conceded just once in seven league fixtures until the calamity against Everton last weekend. David De Gea was an ever-present during that run, making 32 saves at an average of 3.5 per game. The most saves the United ‘keeper has made in any single game was 13 against Liverpool in October 2011;
  • Sergio Aguero slotted home City’s first last weekend – his 22nd of the season, putting the Argentinian third behind Rooney and van Persie in the leading goalscorers chart this season;
  • David Silva picked up another assist last weekend and remains at the top of the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for assists this season. Silva has also been one of City’s hardest workers this season, covering 190.2 miles to date;
  • Joe Hart pulled off two key saves to prevent Wolverhampton wanderers getting back into last weekend’s clash at Molineux. Hart is now ranked 15th in the Index, and is the leading ‘keeper;
  • United’s captain Patrice Evra is the highest ranking player in the Index to have not scored this season.
  • Rooney tops the rankings, scoring 30.9 percent of the Reds goals this season.

United: WWWLWD

Referee: Andre Marriner (Birmingham)
Assistants: A Watts, M McDonough
Fourth Official: M Jones

City v United: modern classics

April 27, 2012 Tags: , Media 1 comment

To whet your appetite ahead of Monday night’s pivotal 163rd Manchester derby here are some modern classics matches between the sides. Forget Dennis Law’s back-heal, or the five goals scored by Manchester City at Maine Road in 1989; consign them to history – this is no time for negativity! Think instead about Manchester United’s five in 1994, comeback from two down in 1993, Michael Owen’s winner in September 2010, or Wayne Rooney’s last-minute overhead. Enjoy!

Manchester City 2 – 3 Manchester United, Maine Road, 1993
One of United’s greatest ever comebacks – this time in City’s backyard. Trailing by two Nial Quinn goals, United returned with strikes from Eric Cantona and Roy Keane, winning it in the final minute of the match thanks to Denis Irwin’s cross and Keane’s finish. It doesn’t get any sweeter than this.


Manchester United 5 – 0 Manchester City, Old Trafford, 1994
With that 1989 match at Maine Road still all too fresh in supporters’ minds, United’s flying Ukrainian winger Andrei Kanchelskis went on the rampage, scoring an Old Trafford hat-trick to banish all talk of ‘5-1’. It was the match that finally shut the Blues up and allowed United fans to lift their heads once again!


Manchester United 1 – 1 Manchester City, Old Trafford, 2001
Roy Keane’s long-running feud with the Norwegian Alfe-Inge Haarland led to this horror tackle by the midfielder. Keane saw red and was banned for three matches. Keane’s biography, in which he suggested that he wanted to hurt the City player, cost the Irishman a further five match ban and £150,000 fine. Such a pity that Keane won’t get the chance to meet Carlos Tevez on the pitch Monday night, some of a crueller disposition might add.


Manchester United 4 – 3 Manchester City, Old Trafford, 2009
Michael Owen scores a wonderful 96th minute winner from Ryan Giggs’ pass to beat City at Old Trafford. City boss Mark Hughes’ complaints over the amount of injury time added on dominated the headlines, but United’s excellence and Owen’s dramatic winner secured the points.


Manchester United 2 – 1 Manchester City, Old Trafford, 2011
Could there be a more dramatic way to win the derby than an overhead struck into the top corner in the final minutes of the game? Rooney’s spectacular strike was voted the second best in the world during 2011, but Reds will remember it with affection for more than the goal itself. Truly the stuff of schoolboy dreams!

Rant Cast 111 – come on you Reds!

April 27, 2012 Tags: Rant Cast 7 comments

On this week’s goalgasmic Rant Cast regular presenters Ed and Paul look back at Manchester United’s disastrous 4-4 draw with Everton at Old Trafford last weekend – was this the weekend the title race turned?

We talk Player of the Year Awards, Paul Scholes, Jonny Evans, Michael Owen and the Champions League semi-finals. We also chat with Shaun Birch, founder of the fine United blog

But the big focus this week is, of course, Monday’s tie with Manchester City at Eastlands. In a game that will surely decide the Premier League title, how will the Reds come back from disapointment to ensure a result at Eastlands?

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

And if you really love the show, you can always help cover our bandwidth and equipment costs by making a small donation!

Stream this episode using the player below or listen on iTunes and leave us a review! The podcast RSS feed is available here.

City v United: the player’s perspective

April 26, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 15 comments

Monday’s title deciding Manchester derby is not the first time Reds and Blues have faced off for England’s top honour. Indeed, 43 years on many still remember the 1967-68 race between the two clubs – won by City on the last day of the season after United lost to Sunderland at Old Trafford.

Watching closely that day was 15-year-old schoolboy Brian Greenhoff, remembered fondly today as a versatile young midfielder, who went on to form a fine partnership with Martin Buchan in the heart of Manchester United’s defence. Decades later and Greenhoff remains a United fan, committed to seeing the Reds overcome the Blues this time round.

“I was offered a contract and it was up to me to decide where I went,” Greenhoff told United Rant this week.

“I went on holiday – it was my first time abroad – and then when I got back my dad asked ‘where are you going?’ It was always going to be United. Leeds wanted me too, but my dad would never have let me join them.”

It turned out to be a fine choice. Over six seasons in the United first team, and more than a decade with the club overall, the younger of the two Greenhoff brothers started 268 games and scored 17 goals for the Reds. Born in Barnsley, Greenhoff joined United’s youth team in August 1968 – just months after the team’s European Cup Final victory – having chosen the Reds ahead of a raft of suitors, including the aforementioned Leeds United.

The year is remembered by Reds for United’s emotional European Cup final win, coming a decade after the tragedy at Munich. Blues, meanwhile, recall City’s last domestic title triumph – soured when two weeks later at Wembley United trumped City’s achievement.

There will be no European Cup consolation for whichever team loses Monday’s game of course, although the emotions and rivalries remain intense.  And there are few who better understand the changing nature of both football and fandom between ’68 and the present title race than Greenhoff.

Local rivalries still ring true, but the media hype surrounding the build up to next Monday’s game has grown beyond recognition, says the 58-year-old.

“It wasn’t so much the media and TV, more local press in them days. Media was local then, but the hype with the game coming up is huge. It’s better not to watch it all. It’s going to be incredible,” says Greenhoff, who played in 10 derbies and holds supporters close to his heart.

“You are doing it for the fans; you want them to have the bragging rights and the big smile on their faces. I used to love playing in derby games, but don’t like watching them. I get too wound up, I want to kick somebody. I play the derby game more than any other.

“This is the biggest derby game since 1968. It went to the last game then and it’ll go to last game now, whatever happens.”

There was no title-deciding match-up in ‘68 – City beat United 3-1 at Old Trafford with 10 games still remaining – but the local edge to the clash was unmistakable. After all, while players from Shay Brennan to Nobby Stiles, John Fitzpatrick, George Best and Bobby Charlton may have hailed from all corners of the British Isles, many ‘grew up’ in United’s youth team.

“Danny Welbeck will probably be the only one,” adds Greenhoff, of the current crop of players.

“You want lads who’ve come through the ranks. When I’d played there were quite a few that came through. Even playing in the B team or the reserves we wanted to win the derby. It was always about putting one over your neighbour.

“I would knock around with [Manchester City’s] Dennis Tueart. We were all friends off the pitch, nobody hated each other. Fans seem to hate each other these days. It’s scary. The rules and intensity in football have changed.”

Loyalty is a theme Greenhoff returns to frequently. He was, after all, a player who “never had an agent” and would receive each contract offer via letter from the club.  Today’s players, Greenhoff says, are too often in it for the money. It gives the derby a different edge.

“When I made my debut I was only on £35 a week,” he adds.

“Tommy Docherty said ‘we’ll give you a rise every year as long as you’re in the side’. He kept his word, although it was never a lot because United were poor payers in those days.

“I do think modern players are mercenaries, but they’ll never admit it. Look at somebody like Nasri – it looked like he was signing for United, but then he was offered 75 grand more a week and went to City.

“Sir Alex had it right when he was talking about Pogba – when you play at Manchester United the money will come. Look at Welbeck, he’s in the papers today, and is going to earn 45 grand a week. That’s not bad for a 20-year-old is it? As a young lad you can see the rewards will be there if you dedicate yourself.”

Money remains a theme in Manchester though, with United seemingly burdened by debt, and City able to spend lavishly in the transfer market since the 2008 takeover by the Abu Dhabi royal family. The contrasting financial fortunes threaten United’s hegemony not only in Manchester, but the Premier League too – it’s a crown United will be fighting to retain on Monday night.

“City will be successful for the next 10 years, but will old Sheikh big pockets keep on subsidising the club or will he pull out?” asks Greenhoff.

“They’ve got to get the infrastructure correct – if they don’t do that it could fall apart quickly. It all depends on the Sheikh and if he keeps pumping money in. But if he makes them stand on their own two feet then they’ll have to look to the academy. And who would send their kid to that academy when they’re never going to get a game?”

Even if City’s strategy is based on trumping all in the market, Abu Dhabi’s investment looks likely to be long-term, with the Royal Family having ploughed more than £400 million into the club already.  It makes Ferguson’s ability to shape a side from youth, while coping with injuries this season, all the more impressive says Greenhoff.

“City have got a bottomless pit of money. They’ll spend until they win the prize. When you look at what they’ve spent already, for United to stay with them could be the greatest achievement, and with the amount of injuries it’s incredible.

“I’m sure the fans will blame the Glazers if United don’t succeed, but Sir Alex is always building for the future. He knows if players can still offer something to the game, and he buys players at a good age.

“United try to get players through from the academy all the time. Not just into the first team, but also think of all players they’ve sold from the academy.”

Greenhoff was eventually sold on to Leeds for £350,000  in 1979, but his affection for the club he calls “the greatest in the world” is undiminished more than 30 years on. After three years in Leeds he played in South Africa and then Finland before winding up a fine career alongside his older brother at Rochdale.

In retirement Greenhoff worked for a local sports wholesaler before spending several years living in Spain. Now back in the north-west, his focus is again on football, and the big derby match next Monday. And while some Reds may be nervous of City’s vast wealth and new-found power, Greenhoff isn’t.

“United won’t go away. This is what I say to the City fans. Whatever happens, United are still going to be there.”

It’s a message with which fans can concur, whatever Monday’s result.

City v United: the referee

April 25, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 2 comments

Few, bar BSkyB one suspects, hope that the officials play a key role in next Monday’s crunch derby at Eastlands when the 2011/12 Premier League title will surely be decided in favour of either Manchester City or Manchester United. So it is with some suspicion, and no little surprise, that Andre Marriner has been appointed by the Premier League to referee the biggest game of the domestic season to date. The Birmingham-born official is, after all, no stranger to controversy involving Sir Alex Ferguson’s team , as well as others.

Indeed, many supporters will be surprised that Premier League has not entrusted the most highly anticipated game of the season to Howard Webb, given that the 2010 World Cup final official is widely considered a safest pair of hands by the game’s governing bodies. The widespread, yet erroneous, belief that Webb has previously favoured United surely did for the former Policeman’s chances.

Yet, even away from the Yorkshireman, Marriner was not the obvious choice. After all Mike Dean, Martin Atkinson, Mark Halsey and even Phil Dowd have officiated more Premier League games this season than Marriner.

But Marriner it is, and while the Brummie may now be one of the country’s top officials, his introduction to refereeing came quite by chance. While attending a grass root match as spectator in 1992 Marriner was asked to officiate when the appointed referee failed to show. He was paid £10 for the privilege, so the story goes, and has rarely looked back since.

Marriner rose through the ranks of the football pyramid, achieving Football League referee status in 2000, and being appointed to the select group officiating in the Premier League by 2005 – his first match pitted Wigan Athletic against Fulham at the DW Stadium. By 2009 Marriner was appointed to panel of international referees, taking charge of the under-21 fixture between Norway and Romania in May of that year.

Yet, like many officials Marriner has fallen foul of Ferguson’s ire. The legendary United manager laid into the official after his team’s 2-0 defeat at Anfield in 2009, when Marrier failed to dismiss Jamie Carragher after the Liverpool captain brought down Michael Owen. Carragher was Liverpool’s last defender and few observers believed the foul did anything bar deny a goal scoring opportunity.

Worse for United, Marriner also sent off Nemanja Vidic for two cautionable offences, with Ferguson accusing Marriner of bowing to a hostile Anfield crowd.

“It is very difficult atmosphere here,” mooted Ferguson in the game’s wake.

“There was a wounded animal aspect to the game and it was something we did not overcome. I think it affected our players and it affected the referee.

“There were so many controversial things that happened we have to feel aggrieved at some of them. The Vidic booking was the worst decision. It is a foul, fine. But the player has played on, he won the second ball and knocked it for a throw in and got booked.

“The most controversial decision was Carragher bringing down Michael Owen. He was clear through. The laws of the game were altered to prevent professional fouls of that nature and if Carragher goes off, he is their best player and their captain. It would have been a different game. They would have been under pressure. Michael was clean through.”

More controversial still was Marriner’s pivotal involvement in the Luis Suarez – Patrice Evra affair at Anfield last October, when the official took no action despite the Frenchman pointing the finger at his Uruguayan abuser. Indeed, far from taking charge, Marriner simply told Evra to “calm down” after the defender accused Suarez of calling him a “negro.”

Further evidence of Marriner’s inconsistency came a year later in the Brummie’s career, when the official took no action against Steven Gerrard’s two fingered salute. The teflon-coated Liverpool captain not only unfurled the obscene gesture in the referee’s direction, but uttered a series of expletives. Gerard had been booked for scything down a Wigan player in the 2010 Anfield encounter at the DW, but received no punishment for the verbals.

This season Marriner was dropped by the Premier League after allowing a controversial Blackburn Rovers goal to stand in the November 2011 fixture with Wigan. Latics’ manager Roberto Martinez was incensed after Blackburn winger Morten Gamst Pederson dribbled a corner into the box and set up Junior Hoilet to score, even though no player bar the Norwegian had actually touched the ball before the goalscoring strike.

Martinez received an official apology from referees’ chief Mike Riley, and Marriner was dropped for one round of Premier League matches.

“Obviously, it is a very difficult action to explain. It is not something that you are going to see on a football pitch too often and I saw it as very careless at that moment. It is probably one of the few aspects where refereeing in a game is black and white, with no grey areas. You have to deal with it with a little bit more care,” said a dignified Martinez afterwards.

Yet the incident, alongside others, paints a picture of an official who has made mistakes like any other, but can also be impressionable and weak; an official who is not always in control. It is with hope, rather than expectation, that fans are not discussing the official after next Monday’s game.

Monday’s Officials
Referee: A Marriner (Birmingham)
Assistants: A Watts, M McDonough
Fourth Official: M Jones
Match Delegate: T Dolan
PGMO: J Worrall

Andre Marriner’s Career

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Referees 2011/12

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Poll: Will United win, lose or draw at City?

April 23, 2012 Tags: , , Polls 65 comments

Following Manchester United’s draw with Everton on Sunday – and Manchester City’s victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers – the Reds’ Premier League lead is now just three points. With just a trio of games to go in the Premier League season the title race could well come down to next Monday’s derby at Eastlands.

Indeed, victory for City will leave Roberto Mancini’s outfit top of the Premier League on goal difference. By contrast, should United triumph at Eastlands Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will require just a single point from matches against Swansea City and Sunderland to secure a 20th domestic league title.

Form and location may favour Mancini’s side, but Ferguson and his experienced lieutenants certainly know how to convert tight situations into victories. Despite City’s infamous 6-1 victory at Old Trafford in the Premier League this season, it was United that took the FA Cup third round fixture at Eastlands in January.

Sir Alex has already labelled next Monday’s match the biggest derby during his 25 year reign in charge of United, claiming that United’s draw with Everton has handed City the initiative. Meanwhile, Mancini has sought to play down expectations at Eastlands by stating that United has already won the Premier League.

But what do you think will be the result in Monday’s derby?

Will United win, lose or draw at City?

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Slack United sacrifice title advantage on the altar of conceit

April 22, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 47 comments

“A man’s work is in danger of deteriorating,” said the eminent American playwright Eugene O’Neill, “when he thinks he has found the one best formula for doing it.”

There are, perhaps, no more apt words for a Manchester United side that believed it had set upon the canon of victory at Old Trafford on Sunday. For what could explain the stupefying casualness with which Sir Alex Ferguson’s med approached the tie with Everton, but for the assumption that the game was already afoot.

Indeed, it took barely two minutes for the restless Old Trafford crowd to conclude that something was amiss in Ferguson’s men. Call it complacency – that most clichéd of football phrases – or over confidence, but not for the first time this season United’s performance lacked all sense of intensity and concentration when those were patently the abiding virtues required.

With just three games remaining in the Premier League season, including the now season-defining visit to Eastlands on Monday week, the sense of antipathy with which United defended in the 4-4 draw against Everton sent the Old Trafford crowd home questioning whether the Reds’ destiny is in their own hands this season.

After all, defeat to City on 30 April will leave Roberto Mancini’s Blues ahead of United on goal difference, with the Reds still to face high-flying Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on the final day of the season.

Given the sides relative form United supporters can no longer count on the Reds securing a result in eight days time; the two points lost against Everton may yet prove to be every bit as calamitous as many fans fear.

“Throwaway,” Ferguson called his team’s performance, after the Scot witnessed some of the most slipshod defending seen this season – and that includes the Derby-day defeat to City last September.

“It was a throwaway, an absolute giveaway,” said a stunned Ferguson.

“We just needed to see the game out and it was a travesty because some of our football was fantastic. The goals we scored were great goals. To give away four goals at Old Trafford in a home game like that which was so important to us is unbelievable. I can’t believe it.

“We’ve created our goals with really good football but I think they got their goals easily. Rooney and Welbeck were a real threat to Everton today, their combination play and understanding of each other was terrific. They should have got more out of the game than they did.

“Defensive lapses have cost us. In previous matches recently we’ve actually defended very well. But this was a bad performance defensively. It was a real blip for us today to get a performance like that. I think the goals we conceded were soft goals.”

Not for the first time the 70-year-old Scot called for a response from his men. Nor for the first time will Ferguson be given pause for thought about his players hunger and quality.

Yet, shockingly, it was some of the manager’s most trusted lieutenants who let him down on Sunday. In midfield it was Michael Carrick, outstanding all season, and veteran Paul Scholes, who repeatedly gifted Everton possession and with it impetus.

Everton’s tactic of hustling the 37-year-old, and his passive midfield team-mate, was a decision both obvious to the observer, and superbly executed.

But it was in defence where United’s outrecuidance shone through. Northern Irishman Jonny Evans, who has been truly superb in a career defining campaign, was at least partially culpable in three Everton goals.

Praised by Ferguson as the “best central defender in the country” this week, Evans lost Marouane Fellaini for Everton’s second, criminally moved away from his defensive zone for the third, and then was all too easily out-maneuvered, once again, by the Belgian for the Toffees’ final equaliser.

Evans was certainly not alone though, with both United full-backs – Patrice Evra and Rafael da Silva – guilty of too easily allowing crosses to come in from the flanks, while the Brazilian made the naïve mistake of following his defensive colleague Evans for Everton’s fourth.

While there is no alternative to Evra at Eastlands next week, Rafael – who has been in fine form during the run in – may be sacrificed for the more defense-minded Chris Smalling for the crunch match with City.

After all, City need the win, while United must simply fight the fight as if it is the final of their careers; a response of unprecedented proportions.

“We’ve given City the initiative, there’s no question about that,” added Ferguson, who is seeking his 13th Premier League title.

“It makes the game at the Etihad Stadium a really important game now. It makes it the title decider really. We’ve given ourselves a real task at the Etihad. We’ll go there only three points ahead.

“We make it hard for ourselves but we have to go there knowing we’re capable of getting a result. We need to get a result now at the Etihad, there’s no question about that. There’s no reason why we can’t do that. There’s been an expectancy from City that this could be their decider. But it’s our decider too.

“There’ll be a reaction from us obviously. There’s no question about that. A derby game next Monday against City would always have been a derby game of the highest proportions.”

United cannot guarantee results against Swansea City at Old Trafford and Sunderland – not with the Reds having taken just four points from games with Wigan Athletic, Aston Villa, and Everton – but defeat to City would surely be momentous.

But at least there will be recognition from Ferguson’s players that they have one final chance this season; an opportunity on Monday week to wrest the initiative away from a City side that has hit form just in time this season.

In that there should be both anger and genuine fire from United’s stars – youthful and veteran – in whom Ferguson has placed so much faith during an époque of comparative parsimony from the boardroom. If the Scot’s men cannot respond to this latest self-inflicted wound then even the most partizan United supporter will concede that a 20th domestic title has not been earned.

“There is anger from the players, of course, because we wanted to win. We’re disappointed to lose four goals. But that’s football. It can happen sometimes,” Portuguese winger Nani told MUTV.

“The concentration was not the best in the last few minutes – that’s why they were able to create chances and score goals. We had a lot of possession and played some fantastic football in attack. But we conceded too many goals and we’re not happy about that.

“We have to keep believing in our qualities because we still have a great opportunity to win the title. It’s a huge game [at City] – there will be a fantastic atmosphere there. It will be a difficult game, but if you want to win the league you cannot think about the atmosphere or the opponents, we must just think about the way we play and try to win the game.”

Meanwhile, Ferguson is likely to string five across midfield at Eastlands, with star striker Wayne Rooney – who’s brace against his old employers were the 32nd and 33rd strikes of a productive season – either dropping deep to augment midfield, or ploughing a lone furrow up front.

And there will be little surprise if the Scot deploys his favoured ‘European’ tactics of containment first, and entertainment second. If nobel prize-winning playwright O’Neill, ever the arch realist, was alive he might well concur.

United supporters will welcome a point in lieu of free-flowing football, of course. What nobody will countenance is another bout of conceit.

Former Reds return for crunch Everton clash

April 21, 2012 Tags: , Matches 224 comments

Three former Reds will grace Old Trafford on Sunday, with Manchester United desperate to send them home disappointed. Phil Neville, Tim Howard and Darron Gibson should all start at their former home, but with United chasing an eight point Premier League lead Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are unlikely to be in charitable mood. United play first this weekend, with victory ensuring at least a five point gap to Manchester City by the time Ferguson’s team visits Eastlands on Monday week. It’s a scenario that would allow the Reds to claim the Premier League title at City’s home.

First though United faces and Everton side in good form, but smarting from having lost an FA Cup semi-final to crosstown rivals Liverpool last weekend. With it concluded the Toffees’ season. Yet, with Everton having won four times in the past six matches there’s little doubt David Moyes team can provide a significant dent to United’s hopes this season.

It means that Ferguson is unlikely to make significant changes to the side that beat Aston Villa so comfortably last weekend. Whatever the selection the 70-year old United manager says that his team’s experience should win through with just four games remaining in the Premier League season.

“There’s good performers out on that field and they are playing with great determination, which you need to do at this time of the season,” said the United manager on Friday.

“And they’ve got great experience of handling big game situations which we are going to face in the next few weeks. So I trust them, I let them get on with it. I think it’s the right time to do that. They are a good bunch of lads, they want to win the league. Hopefully we can achieve what we want to do.”

Manchester United versus Everton, Premier League, Old Trafford, 21 April 2012, 2pm.Positive news, then, that Ferguson reports no fresh injuries for the 12.30pm Sunday clash, with only long-term absentees Anderson, Darren Fletcher and Nemanja Vidić absent from the first team squad. Nani could come into the side for the heavily criticised Ashley Young, with the former Villain having picked up a minor knock against his old club, although the winger will be fit to play some part.

Meanwhile, Michael Owen could make the bench, although teenage contract rebel Paul Pogba is unlikely to play again this season after picking up a hamstring strain in a midweek reserve match.

“Anderson is not going to play again this season and Paul [Pogba] got injured in Monday and he is out for the season,” Ferguson added.

“I have said time and time again that Michael [Owen] is a player who can score important goals if you are struggling in a match. He has had a hard time with injuries. When he gets them it is usually months. If there is a players that can score an important goal at any stage of a match it is Michael. We welcome him back.”

Cynics might add that after a career beset by injuries Ferguson can hold no surprise with Owen’s latest setback. The former Liverpool striker has started just 18 games for United over the past three seasons, and none since picking up a thigh strain in the Champions League last November.

Meanwhile, a player who has benefited from a largely injury-free season – Rio Ferdinand – should make his 450th career league start on Sunday. Ferdinand is approaching 400 games in all competitions for United after nearly a decade with the club.

But is it to former Evertonian Wayne Rooney that United will look to secure the points on Sunday. Rooney, once a blue, now a Red approaching another Old Trafford milestone – the 26-year-old needs just one goal to equal the total scored by club legends George Best and Dennis Viollet of 179.

“It’s fantastic. It will happen of course, hopefully it happens Sunday,” said Ferguson on Rooney’s record. “But it will eventually happen and it’s a marvellous achievement.”

Rooney, who has scored 31 goals in all competitions this season, could well go on to beat Bobby Charlton’s United record of 249 too. “He has every chance of beating that – I am sure he will do it,” adds the United manager.

Yet, Rooney has just two goals in 12 games against his former club, with many believing the Liverpudlian simply tries too hard against Everton – a pressure that adversely affects Rooney’s game. This is the time of season when pressure either becomes an incentive or a burden. Across town City appeared to crumble on it, before cracking in 10 goals in the past two matches. Meanwhile, United has suffered just the single league defeat in the past 14 matches.

“We put pressure on ourselves to win games; the pressure comes from within and from the fans,” says defender Ferdinand.

“They demand that and so does the boss. We have to go out there and produce our own result first – outside pressure doesn’t come into it. We want to win every game until the end of the season. That has not changed and it won’t change until the last day of the season.”

The visitors, meanwhile, will be missing defender Leighton Baines who sustained a hamstring injury in last weekend’s FA Cup semi-final defeat by Liverpool. Jack Rodwell is still out, but Steven Pienaar is available, having been cup-tied last weekend. Old Trafford supporters will be also able to welcome the trio of former Reds ‘home’, with Gibson, Neville and Howard all fit to play.

“It is nice to know you’re in with a more-than-likely chance of playing every week, rather than not,” adds Gibson, who joined Everton for around £2 million in January.

“I am just enjoying it [at Everton] and I’m in a better mood now, I know that. It’s surprised me how well it’s gone because I wasn’t sure. This was the first club I have moved to — I was at United since I was 15. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I’m really enjoying my football. It is a great club.”

Few United fans will begrudge Gibson a successful spell at Everton, although he will ingratiate only the visiting supporters by scoring on Sunday. History is against Everton though – the Merseyside club has not beaten United in Manchester for nearly 20 years, losing 15 and drawing just three in the past 18 fixtures.

Meanwhile, United remains in a purple patch of form despite the loss to Wigan Atheltic a fortnight ago. Indeed, the Reds’ tally of 82 points after 34 games is the best in any Premier League season by Ferguson’s team. United has also scored in a record 47 consecutive home matches since a 1-0 defeat by Aston Villa in 2009.

Few would have predicted that record at the start of the campaign.

Match Facts
Manchester United versus Everton, Premier League, Old Trafford, 21 April 2012, 12.30pm.

Potential Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Scholes, Nani; Rooney; Welbeck. Subs from: Amos, Jones, Fabio, Smalling, Jones, Young, Cleverley, Giggs, Hernández, Berbatov.

Everton (4-5-1): Howard; Neville, Heitinga, Distin, Hibbert; Osman, Gibson, Cahill, Fellaini, Pienaar; Jelavic. Subs from: Hahnemann, Jagielka, Gueye, Drenthe, Stracqualursi, McFadden, Barkley, Coleman, Vellios, Anichebe.

Match Stats

  • United ensured City remains five points behind in the title race with a comprehensive 4-0 win over Aston Villa last weekend – Rooney’s 23rd and 24th Premier League goals of the season, and strikes from Welbeck and Nani gave United the vital win;
  • Rooney has taken 124 shots at goal in the Premier League this season with 66 per cent on target, and 19 per cent of his efforts resulting in goals;
  • Welbeck has eight goals from 69 attempts, with an impressive 72 per cent on target, although his conversion rate for goals is just 12 per cent;
  • Nani has been both scorer and provider for United this season, scoring seven goals and adding ten assists – the winger has also put in more crosses than any other player in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index with 120 so far;
  • Everton suffered FA Cup heartbreak at the weekend, but Moyes will be seeking a return to the league form that saw the Toffees win 4-0 against Sunderland a fortnight ago;
  • Everton had four different goal scorers that day in Magaye Gueye, Victor Anichebe, Steveb Pienaar and Leon Osman;
  • Anichebe has five Premier League goals this season, despite playing just 463 minutes of football – it’s the fifth best minutes-per-goal ratio in the Index, with a goal every 92 minutes 40 seconds. The only players with a better minutes-per-goal rate this season are Thierry Henry, Papiss Cisse, Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez;
  • Steven Pienaar has been a revitalising force for Everton since returning, covering 35.26 miles for the Toffees, at an average of 5.87 miles per game, and completing 265 passes in his opponent’s half, one every three minutes and 14 seconds;
  • Osman has made more shots on target than any other Everton player this season with 27 on target – 63 per cent of all shots he has attempted;

United: WWWWLW
Everton: WWWDWL

Referee: Mike Jones (Chester)
Assistants: A Garratt, A Halliday
Fourth Official: K Friend

Rant Cast 110 – Rio’s hurt

April 20, 2012 Tags: Rant Cast 12 comments

On this week’s packed Rant Cast regular presenters Ed and Paul look back at Manchester United’s comfortable victory over Aston Villa at Old Trafford and the controversy surrounding another Ashley Young dive.

We talk youth – a victory for the stiffs in the Premier Reserve League North, but FA Youth Cup defeat for the Academy at Chelsea. But if defeat was a blow to Paul McGuiness’ youngsters, then there was a bonus this week with news that reserve player Davide Petrucci is set to sign a new contract.

We ponder Wayne Rooney’s form, Rio Ferdinand’s music taste and discuss, at length, the Premier League 20 Year Awards. Our team, oddly enough, is dominated by United players!

Also this week – our Champions League round-up, all the transfer gossip, your Twitter questions and we preview this weekend’s game against Everton in the Premier League.

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

And if you really love the show, you can always help cover our bandwidth and equipment costs by making a small donation!

Stream this episode using the player below or listen on iTunes and leave us a review! The podcast RSS feed is available here.