Month September 2012

Month September 2012

Media Digest: Ando, Hillsborough and Munich

Denys Koval September 30, 2012 Tags: Opinion 11 comments

For many, Sunday is a day spent in the company of the family and friends, reading that unfinished book, or watching a new episode of a favourite show. Over at United Rant it’s a day spent catching up on the beautiful game. Join us, in Rant’s weekly round-up of United-related news and blogs – Media Digest.

BLOGS

A fine lung –  “Finding their own level”

The findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, albeit in some way expected, shocked not only England, but also fans all over the world. A Fine Lung draws a vivid picture of what it meant to be a match-going fan in 1980s and why every fan can relate to the horror of Hillsborough.

Anyone who travelled to Hillsborough in the 1980s as an away fan and stood on the Leppings Lane end would have recognised the potential for serious injuries or something far worse. But there was a sense that this was all part of the match day experience. As a young Red still cutting my teeth at away games I didn’t know any better… more

Red Flag Flying High – “The Truth About Today’s Anfield Chants”

“I felt like the whole world was watching us as United fans, and waiting for us to do something wrong, ” writes Melanie Hill . “And we didn’t ” The usual tension of English football’s biggest rivalry  was heightened by a media pack eager for front-page news about United fans’ disrespect towards Hillsborough’s victims. As we’ve learned, if the press wants something really bad, we’re going to read about it the very next day – whether it’s true or not.

Obviously the usual songs were sang by both sets of fans, “banter” if you will, about life on opposite sides of the Mersey, but that was inevitable. This is arguably the biggest rivalry in all of football, after all. Then came the end of the game. Between 15-20 Liverpool fans stayed behind to taunt the United fans, by doing airplane gestures with their arms, and singing Munich songs. Although they were a small minority, it provoked some United fans to react by chanting “Murderers”… more

Reds Away – “Firm offered £300 away-end Liverpool tickets”

Reds Away reports on the outrageous behaviour of American Express, a major credit-card firm, which offered United away-end tickets for £300 each to premium consumer and corporate card members.

Towards the end of last week, some American Express customers received an email from a senior concierge executive which read: “Please see below for availability for the Liverpool vs Man United Game on 23rd Sept 13.30: Seats in the away section £300.00 per ticket.” Going ahead with such a deal would be suspect on three grounds… more

Red Rants – “United ‘100% committed’ to rip fans off”

Meanwhile, Daniele from Red Rants focuses on the enemy within: namely, Capital One Cup ticket prices dictated by Glazeronomics.

We can safely say that the club is “100% committed”. Committed to rip us off. Considering the prices and the occasion, a crowd of 46,358 isn’t perhaps as disappointing as it would have normally been considered, but it was the perfect opportunity to bring back some of the many fans that have felt alienated from the club for a few years and it was sadly and regrettably missed. For a club so focused on delivering a strong brand image and who targets the market so aggressively, last night’s effort was really, really poor in terms of PR… more

7Cantonas – “Now or never, Ando”

Matthew Galea is inclined to give Anderson a last chance after the Brazilian’s brilliant performance against Newcastle United in the Capital One Cup. But Galea’s also afraid that the player isn’t going to pass the test. And whom could Anderson possibly blame for that except himself?

At his best, the Brazilian midfielder offers United something truly unique… Anderson…could of been, and perhaps still could be if you’re a bit of an optimist, a powerhouse. He has demonstrated, on far too infrequent occasion, an ability to grab a game by the scruff of it’s neck and kick it in the proverbial bollocks. Take his performance against Newcastle. He scored the opener after picking up the ball just within the United half, and deciding he was over this whole, trying to unlock the defence thing, drove straight at the heart of the Newcastle defence and firing a fantastic strike beyond the keeper… more

Red Flag Flying High, “Phil Jones Destined to Be Another John O’Shea?”

Nathon Woodhead of Red Flag Flying High is concerned with Phil Jones’ position in the United line-up. Or, to be precise, the abundance of roles, as  the youngster often shifts from one position to another. Will it do him any good? Nathon argues in the negative.

The current Manchester United squad is one in transition – with squad household names retiring or being moved on and replaced with youth. As recently as last week, Sir Alex was quoted saying new boy, Nick Powell was good enough to replace United legend, Paul Scholes. So does this mean it is only a matter of time before Phil Jones replaces one of Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand? Ferdinand in particular, although still a Rolls-Royce of a defender, is certainly past his best… For me, the answer to this is no… more

The Peoples Person -“Shinji Kagawa has changed everything at Manchester United”

Shaun Thompson argues that Kagawa is a already crucial signing, who has brought class and the need to change the formation United plays.

I first clapped eyes on Shinji when Dortmund were playing Werder Bremen in December 2010. He went on to score and lead the club to a 2-0 victory. It was an elegant performance, and it tipped me to say that he’d become one of the best and join an English or Spanish giant in the future. Seven games into the season and Kagawa has played a part in five. Even more pleasingly, he has played in his favoured position, behind the front man… more

More…

Stretford End Flags features a photo of the new Paul Scholes banner in the Stretford End.  Red Mancunian reminds us of the day eight years ago when Wayne Rooney’s United career began in style, and features a photo of the ‘Ken Barlow’ flag made by United’s fans ahead of the trip to Cluj, while Reds Away presents a Cluj travel guide.

PRESS

Like may blogs, the mainstream press couldn’t resist the dream-come-true story of Ryan Tunnicliffe’s dad pocketing £10,000 after his son’s début for United against Newcastle. Elsewhere …

TalkSport – “Liverpool fan Charlie on the Munich Air Disaster”

Liverpool fan Charlie called Kick Off to talk about modern fans and footballing disasters (audio) … more

The National – “Ugliest side of the beautiful game”

Richard Jolly opens with the controversial suggestion that some fans are  the game’s biggest problem. Jolly claims that tributes to the victims of the Hillsborough disaster were tarnished by the actions of some fans.

In one sense, Liverpool and United are simply paying for their popularity. The bigger the club, by the law of averages, the more morons in their support. But this is not simply about Liverpool and United. Football’s tribalism compounds its problem; from misplaced attempts to claim the moral high ground to the playground argument of “they started it”, people are keener to find fault with others than themselves… more

Daily Mail – “Ban them for life! Hillsborough campaigner Aspinall suggests punishment for vile chants”

The Chairwoman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group Margaret Aspinall has called for lifetime bans for fans ‘mocking those who died in football tragedies’.

I hope it never creeps back in again. Any form of chanting about any disaster is appalling and it makes you ashamed. If they get caught on CCTV they should not get a second chance – ban them for life so they can never go to a match again. The Manchester United fans were very good yesterday. Obviously there were a few morons but you can’t blame the majority… more

ESPN – “Halsey Twitter abuser cautioned by police”

Following the  game between Liverpool and Manchester United referee Mark Halsey was singled out for blame by Liverpool fans. One of them went as far as to tweet “I hope Mark Halsey gets cancer again and dies.” Halsey won a personal battle against cancer in 2009.

Commenting on the incident, DS Tony Lunt of Greater Manchester police said: “Clearly the victim and his family were very distressed by the extremely offensive comments posted on Twitter… As a result of our investigation, we have cautioned a man who has admitted responsibility for some of the messages. This individual was very apologetic and realises that in a moment of stupidity he posted deeply derogatory remarks about the victim and completely regrets his actions.”  more

The Guardian – “Liverpool’s Luis Suárez accepts Manchester United penalty decisions”

The “victim of witch-hunt”, as he was recently called by some team-mates, Suárez offers his opinion on refereeing in The Guardian. The interview may be part of a wider strategy employed by Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers, who also spoke to referees earlier this week.

There are times when the referee gets it right and others when he doesn’t but that’s all part and parcel of the game. It’s happened in the last few games, like against Manchester United when the penalty shout on me wasn’t given and then the one on [Antonio] Valencia was. But talking about it doesn’t solve anything – the referee has a split second to see an incident. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t happen again in the future… more

 The Guardian – “Arsenal’s preposterous ‘cheapest’ ticket epitomises immoral imperative”

Daniel Harris, author of the brilliant On the Road: A journey through a season, isn’t fooled by big clubs pretending to do good in the name of fans.

This weekend Arsenal, originators of the Premier League’s first £100 matchday ticket will bring in a new pricing plan, under which the cheapest seat for big matches is £62… Arsenal argue that their new pricing structure is what fans want – and no doubt there are tens of thousands with the relevant bank statement already framed on their walls – and mitigated by reduced prices for games deemed less attractive, starting at £35. Perhaps a slap round the face is better than a boot to the solar plexus, but still – that’s a lot of money to watch a game of football… more

Manchester Evening News – “Tom Cleverley and Anderson can add fuel to Manchester United’s midfield fires”

MEN  looks at United’s midfield ahead of the Tottenham Hotspur test.

The sight of Tom Cleverley and Anderson on the rampage against Newcastle will have been enough to strike fear into the heart of every Tottenham player… Both players were outstanding the last time their North London rivals travelled to Old Trafford – overwhelming Harry Redknapp’s side in a 3-0 win in August last year. Anderson was on the score sheet that night as United’s young side produced a display of such fluidity and movement to which the visitors had simply no answer… more

The Guardian – “Roy Hodgson’s duty is to pick the best – so bring back Rio Ferdinand”

Daniel Taylor argues that Roy Hodgson needs  bring back Rio – because, well, the defender has been the best choice all along.

Nobody expected the FA to put John Terry in stocks, find a busy spot on Oxford Street and start chucking rotten tomatoes at him, but what a dysfunctional system we have when calling an opponent a “fucking black c*nt” is worth one more game out than, say, Lee Cattermole’s red card at MK Dons on Tuesday… more

Manchester Evening News, “Manchester United taking twin track approach to goalkeepers”

MEN covers Anders Lindegaard’s MUTV interview.

Football is a dynamic process. People have been used to teams having a goalkeeper who plays in every game. But I don’t think that is possible in modern football any more. You have 50 or 60 games a season. That is a big workload physically but it is also very stressful mentally. At big clubs, you will have two very good goalkeepers sharing it. There will always be some kind of difference but in the future you will see this kind of situation more often… more

Mancunian Matters, “Phil Neville and wife team up with Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital to kick-off charity football event”

Mancunian Matters reports on a charity football competition hosted by Phil Neville and his wife. The charity helps youngsters who suffer with illnesses from an early age.

Dad-of-two Neville, whose daughter Isabella has cerebral palsy, said: “We hope lots of teams from across the North West will register to take part and that the local community will get behind us and join us for the family fun day.”  His wife Julie added: “We are really grateful to Tesco for getting behind this event in support of a cause very close to our hearts. Philip and I are committed patrons of Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Charity and will do all that we can to help them make a difference to patients like our daughter Isabella, so hopefully we will raise lots of money” … more

Bonus…

Bleacher Report looks back at United’s best penalty takers under Sir Alex Ferguson. Photos of the touching moments that preceded Anfield clash can be found on Daily MailManchester Evening News reports that one of David Beckham’s sons supports ArsenalThe Telegraph quotes Sir Alex on Terry’s ban and Rio’s England future. 

Smoke and blank mirrors

Ed September 30, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 55 comments

After seven games where Manchester United has deceived more than flattered this season there was perhaps no surprise that the Reds came unstuck at Old Trafford on Saturday. After all Tottenham Hotpsur has enjoyed something of a renaissance in the past week, while Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have picked up points and not plaudits in the campaign to date. No surprise either that Ferguson’s side began Saturday’s match in much the same fashion it had spent much of last weekend’s fortuitous victory over Liverpool: disjointed and lacking in urgency.

It is tempting to ponder whether something is not right at the Theatre of Dreams; Sir Alex certainly has much to ponder. Not least his role in failing to provide a midfield platform on which the Reds’ plethora of attacking players can effectively perform, nor addressing the worryingly complacency that has creeped into the Reds’ game.

Instead, the 70-year-old Scot offered an old-time diversionary tactic following United’s first defeat to Spurs at Old Trafford since 1989: blame the officials for the lack of injury time awarded. Was the excuse not quite so risible, supporters might find humour in Ferguson’s classic smokescreen.

Yet, it took barely two minutes for Ferguson’s bizarre midfield plan, such as it was, to come unstuck against Andre Villas-Boas’ side on Saturday, with Jan Vertongen waltzing through United’s defence to score at the Stretford End.

By the time Clint Dempsey prodded home Tottenham’s third early into the second period the game was very much afoot, despite a valiant attacking effort by the hosts in the final half-hour.

Shinji Kagawa scored a fine goal in the moments following Dempsey’s strike – and United struck both bar and post in a breathless final third – but the real damage had already been inflicted. Much of it self-flagellatory.

It was certainly not the first time this season that United’s open formation, in which the Reds’ midfield offers minimal defensive cover, has contributed to a costly performance. Nor, one suspects, will Saturday’s misshapen defensive unit be the last seen in the campaign ahead.

Yet, for all of Ferguson’s many gifts self-scrutiny is seldom one of them. In 25 years at Old Trafford’s helm the 70-year-old has rarely, if ever, admitted an error in judgement. Saturday tea-time, Ferguson’s decision to select Ryan Giggs and Nani – two of the squad’s least productive players at Anfield – wide of ball-playing Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick, looked every inch a glaring error come the game’s end.

No surprise, then, that Ferguson railed not at self-inflicted wounds, but the officials who “insulted” the game by providing ‘just’ four minute’s of injury time at the end of a pulsating match.

“They gave us four minutes, that’s an insult to the game,” claimed Ferguson after United’s first home defeat of the season.

“It denies you a proper chance to win a football match. There were six substitutions, the trainer came on, so that’s four minutes right away and the goalkeeper must have wasted about two or three minutes and they took their time at every goal kick.

“That’s obvious to everyone today and it’s a flaw in the game that the referee is responsible for time keeping. It’s ridiculous that it’s 2012 and the referee still has control of that.”

In that Ferguson’s argument has some technical merit, although William Gallas and Steven Caulker defended with such determination that there is no guarantee that 40 and not four minutes of added time would have brought United an equaliser.

Indeed, for all United’s possession – 75 per cent on average and rising fast by the game’s conclusion – it was Spurs that offered the greatest cutting edge. At least on the break.

While Vertongen drifted  into United’s box without challenge for the visitor’s first, the second was a lesson in incisive attacking play. Moussa Dembélé’s pass cut through the Reds’ midfield, and Gareth Bale’s pace swept the Welshman past Rio Ferdinand, before the winger proffered an expert right-footed finish.

“The most important thing was the first half,” Ferguson admitted.

“We didn’t start, we were lackadaisical and lost a goal after two minutes, and you give yourself an uphill fight with that situation. In the second half we were terrific, it was a great performance by them, and we were unlucky not to win it. If we had held the scoreline at 2-1 for a few minutes I think we would have won the match.”

By the end Ferguson had thrown on four strikers as United chased an equaliser. Wayne Rooney’s introduction for the highly ineffective Giggs at half-time changed the balance of United’s attacking play, if not the fundamental shape.

With Kagawa now operating from a narrow left-sided position, Rooney was at his creative best 10 yards deeper than Robin van Persie. But it was 36-year-old Paul Scholes that caught the eye, commanding United’s tempo and pattern of play as Tottenham regressed into defensive entrenchment following Kagawa’s 52nd minute goal.

There were a more than a few United supporters pondering the stark change in the game’s pattern, although this had more to do with Spurs’ changing ambitions than United’s tactics.

Defeat – United’s second of the Premier League season – inevitably brings with it questions, not least the Reds’ inability to retain a clean sheet. More worrying still, this was the third occasion this season in which United has conceded at least twice. This time there were no injury excuses to fall back on, with Ferdinand and Jonny Evans starting for the second week in succession.

Nor too has Ferguson addressed the fundamental, and potentially season-defining hole in a central midfield that is now packed with ball-players, but appears ill-equipped to deal with opponents that attack at pace.

After all, this was a game that United thoroughly dominated except in the most telling aspect. The hosts hogged three times the visitors’ possession, making three-fold more passes, taking 60 per cent more shots, and forcing Tottenham to make almost four times as many clearances.

The key statistic, however, has always been goals. On Saturday, Spurs’ triple was aided on each occasion by United’s lack of defensive nous.

“This is what happens when you only play for 45 minutes,” said Patrice Evra on MUTV with telling introspection.

“The game is 90 minutes long and we deserved to lose because we only played for 45. To concede three goals at Old Trafford is not good enough when you want to win the game.”

Nor, some might add, is failing to address a very long-term weakness.

Preview: United v Tottenham Hotspur

Ed September 28, 2012 Tags: , Matches 137 comments

Old Trafford welcomes Andre Villas-Boas’ Tottenham Hotspur this weekend, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men chasing a seventh win on the bounce. Victory over Liverpool at Anfield last weekend lifted Manchester United into the top four, although the Reds are far from hitting form this season despite a series of wins since the opening day. And with Villas-Boas promising that his side will attack, Spurs will again provide a stiff test to United’s early season title credentials.

While Spurs will offer a genuine challenge, Ferguson faces another week of mounting defensive injuries, with Nemanja Vidić set to miss two months of the season with a knee injury. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling remain on the sidelines. It leaves the 70-year-old Scot with only two fully fit first team defenders in Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans for Spurs’ visit.

Indeed, such are the paucity of options in defence that 21-year-old Scott Wootton will make United’s bench after impressing in the 2-1 victory over Newcastle United in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday night.

It is the third time in as many seasons that United has faced a serious defensive injury crisis, with questions now being asked not only of the Reds’ luck, but medical facilities and squad planning.

“We had bad news earlier in the week about Nemanja – it’s a blow,” admitted Ferguson at the Scot’s Friday press conference.

“We’re having a terrible time with defenders at the moment. Hopefully, we get through the next three games and the international break comes along. By that time, we should have Chris Smalling back.

“On Wednesday, we played two young boys and they did very well. Scott Wootton reads the game well, passes the ball well and, having seen him in a situation against very experienced players, he did very well. That’s a bonus for us and he’ll be involved in the game tomorrow.”

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Old Trafford, 29 September 2012, 5.30pmBut it is not solely United’s defence that will concern Ferguson after Liverpool thoroughly dominated in midfield last weekend. The Reds’ manager is likely to recall Paul Scholes to the starting line-up as United seek to gain more control, especially with Spurs now sporting Moussa Dembele – the Belgian impressed for Fulham at Old Trafford earlier this season.

However, Ferguson is without Antonio Valencia who took a knock to his ankle in winning United a penalty at Anfield, although Wayne Rooney could make the starting line-up for the first time in a month. Nani, whose display at Anfield was described by one pundit as the ‘worst he had ever seen’, is likely to be retained if only because Ferguson has so few other options.

“Antonio Valencia is doubtful,” Ferguson added.

“He got a knock, first of all, when he went into the tackle with Agger and Johnson before he broke clear and got brought down. He got an ankle injury there. But, if he’s not okay for tomorrow, he should be okay for Tuesday.”

Lack of options in wide areas means that one of Shinji Kagawa, or more likely Rooney, will play wide against Spurs, with Robin van Persie again leading the line. The Dutchman has scored five goals in as many Premier League games this season since at £24 million transfer from Arsenal.

Better news surrounds Darren Fletcher who came through United’s cup tie with the Magpies on Wednesday. The Scot is unlikely to start against Spurs, although he could make the bench before appearing in United’s Champions League with with CFR Cluf in Romania next week.

Fletcher hadn’t started a first team match in 10 months before the outing against Newcastle, but impressed in a deep-lying role in front of the back-four.

“Darren’s in the squad for tomorrow,” confirmed Sir Alex.

“Obviously, having played on Wednesday night and contributed so well – also it was his first game of that magnitude for 10 months – I wouldn’t start him. But he may get a place on the bench and he could possibly go to Romania and play against Cluj. That could be an ideal opportunity for him. His enthusiasm on Wednesday night was fantastic. Darren sat in front of the two centre-backs and did a really good job.

“The great thing about Fletcher the other night was that his enthusiasm was fantastic. He played a great part in the victory and in a role different from how we’ve used him in the past. Darren was always the type to get about the midfield players but on Wednesday he sat in front of the two young centre-backs and did a really good job.”

Fletcher’s return will add further options in an area where United has struggled in recent seasons. Tom Cleverley and Anderson each scored in the Capital One Cup, although the Brazilian has started just two matches since January and has rarely retained fitness for any length of time. Cleverley has struggled to hold on to a first team place this season despite Scholes’ advancing years.

Meanwhile, the visitors arrive in rude health for the trip north. Villas-Boas rested most of his first team stars for the midweek League Cup victory over Carlisle.

Yet, mounting injury list aside – one that also includes Ashley Young – history is on United’s side, with Ferguson’s side having beaten Spurs on eight of the last 10 meetings between the teams. Few expect anything different on Saturday tea-time, despite the Londoners’ improved form of late.

Match Details
Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur – Premier League, Old Trafford – Saturday 29 September 2012, 5.30pm

Possible Teams
United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Scholes, Carrick; Nani, Kagawa, Rooney; Van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Büttner, Powell, Giggs, Anderson, Cleverley, Fletcher, Macheda, Young, Hernández, Welbeck.

Spurs (4-5-1): Friedel; Walker, Dawson, Gallas, Vertonghen; Lennon, Sigurdsson, Dembele, Sandro, Bale; Defoe. Subs from: Lloris, Dempsey, Caulker, Huddlestone, Falque, Townsend, Mason

Officials
Referee: C Foy
Assistants: A Garratt, H Lennard
Fourth Official: M Clattenburg

Form
United: WWWWW
Spurs: DDWDWW

Head-to-Head
Last 10: United 8, Spurs 2, Draw 0
Overall: United 84, Spurs 46, Draw 46

Stats

  • Goals from Rafael and Robin van Persie were enough to help United beat Liverpool last weekend – the Dutchman’s goal places the striker at the top of the goalscoring charts with five goals in as many Premier League games;
  • The former Arsenal striker has has scored five from just six shots on target – 50 per cent of the 12 attempts at goal so far this season;
  • Michael Carrick’s 6.53 miles against Liverpool was the best individual distance covered by a United player so far this season, and the 62.05 miles covered as a team is also a season high for United;
  • Meanwhile, Saturday’s visitors provided Villas-Boas with his first home win of the season when the north Londoners beat QPR 2-1 at White Hart Lane last weekend – a QPR own-goal and a Jermaine Defoe strike were enough to secure the points;
  • Defoe is the Premier League’s most prolific shooter with 28 shots at goal already this season, with 16 on target, both of which are the highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
  • Dembele has also enjoyed a good start to his career at Spurs, having won more tackles than any other attacking player in the Index with 13 won;
  • Gareth Bale continues to rediscover his form and confidence – the Welshman’s 11 shots on target makes him the highest ranked midfielder in that category on the Index.

Prediction
3-1

Young guns push for place with history no longer on side

Ed September 28, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 9 comments

It could hardly be rosier at Manchester United’s academy. Despite the extensive building work taking place at Carrington, academy players enjoy some of the finest facilities in England, a large coaching staff, education and medical programmes second to few, and a manager whom professes dedication to youth. Indeed, United – culturally, historically, and financially – is set up to deliver high quality from the academy and under-21 sides into Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team.

On Wednesday four more youngsters made first team débuts for the club, this time against Newcastle United in the Capital One Cup – long a route from youth to Ferguson’s principal side. This brings to 206 the number of players brought from youth and academy sides into the first team in the club’s history – 94 having also played for their respective international sides. It is, by any measure, a remarkable statistic.

Yet, the road for Wednesday’s début four – Marnick Vermijl, Robbie Brady, Scott Wootton and Ryan Tunnicliffe – is long and comes with no guarantees of success. After all, not since the famous class of ’92 has the club consistently brought players through age-group sides to regular places in the first team. At least not in batches.

On Wednesday, in addition to the four youngsters, former youth team player Darren Fletcher started for the club, while Ryan Giggs played his 912th game for United at Anfield last Sunday. Paul Scholes, still going at 36, has 702 appearances for the club. Into his sixth season with the club, Jonny Evans, at 24, is no longer a ‘youth’.

Elsewhere Danny Welbeck could yet enjoy a fine career with United, although at this stage there are few guarantees quite how fine, while Tom Cleverley holds the hopes and hearts of millions. Cleverley’s game number 19 brought a first goal for the club against Newcastle United on Wednesday, but the player’s ‘brand value’ to date eclipses performances from the Basingstoke-born 23-year-old.

Indeed, over the past two decades there has been mixed success in the path from youth to Sir Alex’ side. For every Scholes, a John O’Shea; for every O’Shea, a Ravel Morrison. Failure is far more common than success at all clubs, and none bar modern Barcelona has matched ’92’s transition from youth to the international stage.

Yet, there are signs that a new wave of high quality youngsters is on the cusp of a breakthrough at Old Trafford, although only time will tell how many make it at United, let alone on the international front. Talent, as ever with youth, is only part of a far greater picture.

On Wednesday each of the quartet can be proud of bows taken in front of a lively if sparse Old Trafford crowd. Performances were understandably mixed. At right back Vermijl, who has impressed at reserve level with tireless running and attacking intent, suffered from début nerves, although the Belgian’s quality in the attacking third was reminiscent of positive displays for the reserve side over the past year. Aged just 20, time is still on the former Standard Liège player’s side.

Meanwhile, Wootton, 21, will take no embarrassment from a display that kept Shola Ameobi quiet for large portions of the game, while far more experienced defenders will also struggle with Papiss Cisse’s quality.

Yet, it is key season for Wootton who has spent time away from the club at Tranmere Rovers, Peterborough United and Nottingham Forrest in recent seasons. With five central defenders ahead of the youngster in the pecking order it is hard to envision a breakthrough for the Birkenhead-born defender.

Wootton’s defensive partner, Michael Keane, was the stand out youngster on Wednesday in only his second start for the club, demonstrating the poise that has become so evident in recent times. The Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year was thought by many little more than an average right-back 18 months ago, but has made more progress than almost any other young player at Old Trafford.

In this Ferguson has reason to be satisfied – not least victory over a more experienced Newcastle outfit that should have exploited United’s fledgling back-four with more purpose.

“I’m very pleased,” claimed Ferguson after United’s 2-1 victory.

“First of all, given the tie was an all-Premier League one and Newcastle are probably a stronger team than us physically, we played some fantastic football. We kept on playing our football and persevered with that and had good composure in our game. I was really pleased with that and I think we deserved to win. Newcastle are a very powerful team so it’s good to get through that one.”

United’s next Capital One fixture, away at Chelsea on Halloween, is unlikely to be as forgiving, with Roberto di Matteo having deployed an experienced side against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Tuesday. Tempted though Ferguson may find the opportunity to further blood his youngsters, it is unthinkable that the Scot will once again deploy a back-five, including David de Gea, whose average age was just 20.8 years.

Yet, there are others still waiting for an opportunity. Late substitute Tunnicliffe, deployed out of position at right-back, will surely get more chances this season – and the Heywood-born youngster at least earned his old man a nice bonus for the night’s work.

Besides Tunnicliffe, Brady is also seeking more playing time this season, appearing for a few short minutes on his début against the Magpies. Brady scored one and made one when making his Republic of Ireland bow against Oman earlier this month. There is much more to come from the left-sided midfielder.

There are plenty more who did not make it into Ferguson’s Capital One side – Larnell Cole, Jesse Lindgard, Davide Petrucci, Tyler Blackett, Joshua King and many more. And for many the newly formed Professional Development League simply won’t be test enough this season.

In that there is a warning; competition for the right to get a shot at the first team is equal to the fight for places in Ferguson’s main side itself. History may may spin a positive tale when it comes to United’s dalliance with youth, but the modern game is less forgiving. As the last of ’92’s class heads into the winters of their careers, the new generation unveiled on Wednesday has a tough road ahead.

Rant Cast 124 – Ashley Grimes fan club

Ed September 28, 2012 Tags: Rant Cast No comments

On this week’s packed podcast we look back at Manchester United’s victory over Liverpool at Anfield – a day which began with eyes focused on visiting supporters’ behaviour, and ended with Scouse abuse of referee Mark Halsey. Sadly, however, captain Nemanja Vidić did not play, with the Serbian missing for at least two months.

We take in the Capital One Cup, with a youthful United side beating Newcastle United at Old Trafford. Anderson and Tom Cleverley got the goals that take the Reds through to a fourth round meeting with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Is this a new start for the big-boned Brazilian midfielder, or yet another false dawn?

Given it’s League Cup week we talk youth – the four who debuted on Wednesday night and those who have come through the ranks over the years.

Also on this week’s pod: your Twitter questions and another ‘fabulous’ competition prize to give away to one lucky listener. Finally, we look ahead to the weekend’s fixture with Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford, and United’s visit to Transylvania – as Sir Alex Ferguson’s team takes on CFR Cluj in the Champions League.

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Preview: United v Newcastle United

Ed September 26, 2012 Tags: , Matches 102 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will field an experimental side as Newcastle United visit Old Trafford for the third round of the newly renamed Capital One Cup on Wednesday night. In common League Cup policy over many years, Ferguson will use the tournament to blood youngsters and offer minutes to squad played under-used so far this season. But the Scot’s team is likely to play in a half-empty stadium, with the club having sold just over 40,000 tickets for the match. Years of price rises having finally taken a serious toll on attendances.

News of Nemanja Vidić’s injury is a serious blow to United’s short-term ambitions, with the Serbian defender likely to miss at least two months of the campaign. Although the defender was never likely to feature in Wednesday’s match with Alan Pardew’s visiting Geordies, the match takes on even greater significance for Ferguson’s other defenders who must now get, or stay, fit.

To that end Irishman Jonny Evans is likely to start, with the 24-year-old Irishman needing minutes in his own road towards full fitness, while youngsters Scott Wooten and Michael Keane come into the frame.

Meanwhile, winger Antonio Valencia will definitely miss the match having left Anfield on crutches according to press reports. United is yet to release details about the wingers reported foot injury, although there is an outside chance Wayne Rooney could make United’s bench.

Far better news comes in the shape of Darren Fletcher who will start a first team game after more than 10 months out. The Scot, who suffers from a serious bowl problem, should line-up in central midfield. Anderson, Bébé, Federico Macheda, Nick Powell and Alexander Büttner should all feature as the Reds defend an outstanding record against Newcastle at Old Trafford. Newcastle has not won at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ since February 1972.

Büttner was outstanding on his debut against Wigan Athletic, while Cleverley may get some minutes after sitting out United’s win over Liverpool at the weekend.

Manchester United v Newcastle United, Capital One Cup, Old Trafford, 26 September 2012, 7.45pmBut it is to United’s under-21 side that fans will direct a collective gaze in the hope Ferguson will hand senior caps to a swathe of talented kids. In addition to Wooten and Keane, Tyler Blackett, Angelo Henriquez, Davide Petrucci, Jesse Lingard, and Larnell Cole could all play some part in Wednesday’s fixture.

Powell scored a stunning 25-yard goal on his last outing for the Reds against Wigan a fortnight ago, while many fans have waited in eager anticipation of Chilean striker Henriquez – a £4 million summer capture.

“We have some really talented young players and I’m looking forward to seeing some of them,” Rio Ferdinand told United’s official website on Wednesday.

“I’m looking forward to maybe seeing our new signing from Chile, Angelo Henriquez. I’m sure Nick Powell will play and I’m looking forward to seeing him again too as he’s a very exciting prospect. I’m excited to perhaps see Jesse Lingard play and I think Larnell Cole as well. There is Michael Keane at the back too.

“There are loads of them and I could go on and on and be here all day. Hopefully they can stamp their authority on the cup this year. I just think it’s a natural progression for the senior players and it becomes your duty almost to not force it on the young players but to lead the way and lead by example.

“When you need to talk to players or give them a nudge in the right direction, you’re there to do that. That’s what comes with being a Manchester United player after a few years. We want it to be as comfortable and normal as possible for the young players coming into big stadiums, in front of big crowds with big expectations. It’s a new world they are entering and, as experienced players, we want to make that a much smoother ride if we can.”

Meanwhile, Newcastle arrive in mediocre form, having slipped to 10th in the Premier League table, although the Capital One Cup offers Pardew the opportunity to rotate, while easing Fabricio Coloccini and Cheick Tiote back into the side. However, Tim Krul and former Red Danny Simpson are definitely out.

Pardew is expected to make numerous changes to the side that beat Norwich City 1-0 at the weekend.

“In respect to this competition, the Capital One Cup, we’ve got to look to win it,” claimed Pardew on Tuesday.

“We have got a tough game right from the off, going to Old Trafford. But it’s a fantastic place to go and play football, and we are going to hopefully enjoy it and get a positive result.”

Certainly, United will want no repeat of the last fixture between these sides, when Pardew’s team came out 3-0 winners at St. James’ Park last January. It was the Magpies’ first victory over Ferguson’s team in more than a decade.

Yet, United boasts a strong record in the competition despite Ferguson’s patchwork selections. Victory at Wembley in February would represent a third League Cup gong in five years, although the Reds have lost to Southend, Coventry and Crystal Palace in recent years. The 40 thousand plus who shelled out full prices to attended Wednesday’s game expect better, of course.

Match Details
Manchester United v Newcastle United – Capital One Cup, Old Trafford – Wednesday 26 September 2012, 7.45pm

Possible Teams
United (4-3-3): Johnstone; Keane, Wootton, Evans, Büttner; Fletcher, Cleverley, Powell; Bébé, Hernández, Macheda. Subs from: De Gea, Anderson, Welbeck, Lingard, Vermijl, Petrucci, Tunnicliffe, Cole, Blackett, Brady, Henriquez.

Newcastle: (4-3-3): Elliot; Perch, Williamson, S Taylor, Santon; Gosling, Tiote, Bigirimana; Obertan, Sh Ameobi, Amalfitano. Subs from: Harper, Ferguson, Tavernier, Anita, Marveaux, Vuckic, Abeid, Ba, Campbell, Sa Ameobi

Officials
Referee: Anthony Taylor

Form
United: LWWWWW
Newcastle: LWDDDW

Head-to-Head
Last 10: United 5, Newcastle 1, Draw 4
Overall: United 77, Newcastle 40, Draw 37

Prediction
2-2

Crocked Vidić leaves Reds’ squad exposed

Ed September 25, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 20 comments

It could hardly be a more devastating blow; the news that captain Nemanja Vidić will miss two months of the season after undergoing a second operation on his damaged right knee. Vidić missed five months of the previous campaign having suffered a double tear to medial and cruciate ligaments in Manchester United’s match against FC Basel in Switzerland last December.

It is likely to be late December before the giant Serbian defender is fully match-fit once again, with the 30-year-old having looked decidedly rusty in the opening six matches of the campaign. Vidić will miss at least seven Premier League games with the meniscus tear and three Champions League matches.

Vidić’s injury comes at the worst possible time, with Rio Ferdinand visibly hobbling through last Sunday’s victory over Liverpool at Anfield. Meanwhile, Jonny Evans has only recently returned from an ankle operation – an injury that the Irishman admitted earlier this month is still causing pain and stiffness. Adding to a lengthening injury list, Chris Smalling will not return until October after tearing a thigh muscle, while Phil Jones is suffering both with a persistent back problem and a strained right calf.

“Nemanja Vidic has had a meniscus operation on his right knee and will be out for around eight weeks,” read a drab club statement on Tuesday.

“Sir Alex, as a precautionary measure, rested Vidic at the weekend, after he complained of tightness in his knee, however, further medical investigation revealed the underlying problem. The central defender was operated on this week and will be sidelined for about eight weeks.”

Vidić’s operation leaves Sir Alex Ferguson with just two senior central defenders in Ferdinand and Evans: the former struggling through Sunday’s game and Evans short of sharpness. Indeed, it is likely that the Irishman will play against Newcastle United on Wednesday as Ferguson seeks to bring the 24-year-old up to speed. Evans will now play a crucial role in the run up to Christmas – just as the Belfast-born player did following Vidić’s injury at Basel last season.

Yet, whatever the numbers at Ferguson’s disposal, a third defensive injury crisis in as many seasons begs plenty of questions. Not least whether the club’s policy of spending big on attacking players this summer – Shinji Kagawa, Robin van Persie, Nick Powell, Ángelo Henríquez – was the right one, especially with so many of Ferguson’s defenders having a poor injury record in recent times.

While Ferguson brought Alexander Büttner to the club in support of, or competition for, Patrice Evra, Rafael da Silva is the only other United defender to have not suffered injury this season. That in itself is a bonus, with the Brazilian youngster having developed a well-earned reputation for lengthy spells on the sideline.

Then there is he vexed question of squad planning. One injury crisis is unfortunate and two suspicious; three in as many seasons begins to look like the manager has failed to learn from history. Many have made the same observation about United’s central midfield.

Ferguson’s problems will exacerbate further if Michael Carrick is forced into central defence once again. The 30-year-old struggled during United’s defeat to Everton on the opening day, and then once again for United’s narrow win over Fulham at Old Trafford.

After all, while Carrick and partner Ryan Giggs were thoroughly dominated by Liverpool’s midfield last Sunday, it is not as if Ferguson has a bounty of riches in the engine room from which to extricate Carrick if necessary.

Yet, Vidić’s loss may become a youngsters gain, with Scott Wooten and Michael Keane also now in contention both for the Capital One Cup tie against the Geordies on Wednesday, and United’s fixture with Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford next weekend. Wooten spent much of last season on loan at Peterborough United, while Keane made his competitive début for the club in last season’s Carling Cup.

“I’ve been really impressed with young Michael Keane,” said Evans of the 19-year-old who won the Denzil Haroun Reserve Team Player of the Year last season.

“I think his brother has been getting more of the headlines over the last couple of years. Will’s also a fantastic player but obviously he’s got an injury at the minute. I’ve been really impressed with Michael when he’s stepped up into training with us and I can see him getting a bit of a run-out if things go well.”

On a more serious note, however, United’s ability to challenge on all fronts this season will surely be hampered by defensive shortages. The open midfield deployed this season, together with frequent changes in the Reds’ back-four, have led to six goals being shipped already, with far greater challenges ahead.

Unfortunately for Ferguson, while United’s schedule is packed during Vidić’s absence, the Reds also face some testing opponents. In addition to Spurs next weekend, United face Chelsea, Arsenal, and visit Newcastle before November is out. The Derby with Manchester City at Eastlands is scheduled for 8 December.

Whether Vidić ever returns to the form that made him one of Europe’s finest defenders is now surely open to question. Rustiness in the opening matches of the campaign was understandable. So too a permanent dip in performance levels or, more specifically, pace cannot be unrealistic.

Add Ferdinand’s age into the mix and Ferguson may be forced to phase out two of his stalwarts this season; providing the pair’s replacements can keep themselves fit that is. Smalling’s pace and power, Evans progression, and the multi-talented Jones offer much promised. None of it can be fulfilled from the physio’s bench.

Fortunate Reds gain points and praise at Anfield

Ed September 24, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 47 comments

So there it was – a result at Anfield at last. Nearly five long years of struggles, ending not with a domineering performance so many travelling Manchester United fans sought, but a huge slice of fortune. It favours the brave, doesn’t it? At least those ‘brave’ enough to deploy a midfield axis of Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs.

United’s 2-1 victory on Sunday, after four defeats in the past five visits to Anfield, came not on the back of a great team performance. Not even near it. Nor indeed, any real moments of individual genius – although Rafael’s fine goal came close – but two refereeing decisions that swang the match United’s way. First robbing Liverpool of all midfield momentum, and then handing United the match 10 minutes from time.

Referee Mark Halsey got both of those key moments right though – JonJo Shelvey’s 39th minute dismissal for a high tackle on Jonny Evans, and the 81st minute penalty that enabled Robin van Persie to seal United’s first win at Anfield since December 2007. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men deserved very little of the luck though, with the Scot’s midfield completely – and predictably – overrun until Shelvey’s red card changed the game, and the canny Paul Scholes was brought on to ruthlessly exploit the additional space.

In truth, while United defended far better than in many recent matches – Rio Ferdinand on the day of John Terry’s international retirement was immense at the heart of the Reds’ back-four – Ferguson’s men created very little. This was a match in which United’s 70-year-old manager got his tactics all wrong, but came up trumps anyway.

Relief, then, for Ferguson whose team stole the points from a Liverpool side raising its game, once again, for United’s visit.

“In the last four years here we haven’t played well,” Ferguson told MUTV.

“Today at least we’ve got a result. Hopefully that’s a turning point for us because if you look back over the years we always did really well here. I think it was about five, six, seven years in a row we did exceptionally well, but it goes in cycles anyway. Before we had that run they had a period in the late ’80s of getting results against us, so it’s maybe our turn to start.

“I thought we were poor, to be honest with you. I think the last four years we’ve allowed the crowd to get to us a little bit – they give fantastic support to their team and they really dominated the first half. Second half they got a great start.

“With ten men I thought that was a great boost to them because it was something to hold on to, but credit to the players in that respect; the second half we played much, much better, but we were against ten men. I think Scholes, Carrick and Giggs’ experience got us through.”

Predictably, Liverpool’s players and manager complained about the refereeing, although it was almost impossible for Halsey not to have shown Shelvey red for a tackle that crossed the line from reckless to excessive. Meanwhile, other marginal calls fell United’s way, with little evidence for Liverpool’s complaint. Evans cleanly tackled Luis Suarez, with the Kop baying for a penalty, while Glenn Johnson felled Antonio Valencia ;under the official’s nose for the winning spot kick.

The pre-match ceremonies had brought a measure of détente between the camps, but it was shattered five minutes before half time when Shelvey refused to take his punishment with any grace. The former-Charlton midfielder, having already hit Ferdinand with a barrage of four-letter expletives on the pitch, aimed further ire at Ferguson before departing for the dressing rooms.

“I think it’s a clear sending off, I’ve absolutely no doubts about it,” added Sir Alex.

“I’ve seen the replay. It was reckless. Jonny Evans, who has dived in, went for the ball and got the ball, no question about that, but Shelvey was nowhere near getting the ball and could have given Jonny Evans a real bad injury. He was very lucky, actually.

“Shelvey came and blamed me. Why not? Why look at himself in the mirror? Just blame someone else. I think the boy’s young and when he looks at it again he’ll realise the stupidity of it. He may apologise, he may not.”

The midfielder later claimed on Twitter that he had apologised to United’s septuagenarian coach, before deleting the statement. It takes not a soothsayer to predict why, not least after the 20-year-old later accused Ferguson of being “a grass” for the manager’s perceived role in the decision.

Meanwhile, in a week when United supporters came under fire for singing “Always the victim” at Old Trafford last Saturday, Ferguson came perilously close to echoing the sentiment if not the dark spirit of that particularly divisive chant.

But there were positives for United, not least Ferdinand’s outstanding defensive display, and another buccaneering performance from Brazilian right-back Rafael da Silva. The youngster retains many critics, especially with loose defensive work too often complementing fine attacking skills. But with United on the rack for much of the fixture, Rafael demonstrated maturity in defence and an outstanding goal, curled in with his left foot.

“Rafael’s goal got us out of the mire,” added Ferguson of the 51st minute equaliser.

“It was a fantastic goal, a good bit of football and it put us in the position where we didn’t need to panic and worked our way through the rest of the game. [The penalty] wasn’t easy for him [van Persie], but he’s taken it well, just the way I envisaged he would take these penalties. When he was at Arsenal, either side he would thunder them home. Reina’s had a good attempt, he got a hand to it, but the power of the shot has made it safe.”

Off the pitch United played a full part in commemorating those lost at Hillsborough 23 years ago, with Sir Bobby Charlton handing 96 roses to former Liverpool striker Ian Rush. The flowers formed part of an extensive pre-match ceremony, which Ferguson had ensured United did not shirk.

Meanwhile, Steven Gerrard released red balloons over Anfield, followed by the usual pre-match rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Visiting supporters, warned to behave by Ferguson pre-match, sang through the anthem as is always the way at Anfield. “U N I T E D,” sang almost 3,000 travelling Mancunians in support of their team. ‘Foul’ cried a select few – ill-informed – journalists on social media.

While, Sky Sports deliberately sought to stoke the controversy, and the Mirror’s Martin Lipton claimed disrespect, there were no complaints from more sensible observers. After all, nobody claims “United Calypso” and dozens of other club anthems across the land are sacrosanct.

Indeed, this was a match when – save for a few muted cries of “Murderers” and one unfortunate burst of “Where’s your famous Munich song?” after 13 minutes – the majority came to pay respect and enjoy a fine, if fortunate United victory. By the end two Liverpool supporters ran across the Anfield turf wheeling their arms in an all-too-familiar aeroplane motion to provoke another round of anti-Liverpool songs in an empty stadium. There’s always a few to break the mould.

On the pitch United is yet to reach anywhere near top gear this season, having only ever played well in short bursts. There were rarely any moments at all on Sunday, save for the goals. In that there is at least hope; United can only get better in the season to come. Unless, the pessimists among us might add, Ferguson’s luck simply runs out. It certainly didn’t on Sunday.

But after a week in which the 70-year-old has forcefully built a bridge between the two clubs, perhaps he deserved it.

Preview: Liverpool v United

Ed September 22, 2012 Tags: , Matches 137 comments

There is an acute media focus on Manchester United’s trip to Liverpool this Sunday for well document reasons, with Sir Alex Ferguson demanding visiting fans do nothing to provoke embarrassment at Anfield. Yet, while less attention is focused on pitchside matters than usual there is still a pivotal game in play, with United seeking a fifth win in six Premier League games this term. Moreover, with the Reds having failed to win at Anfield in nearly five years Ferguson’s men are certainly due a result Sunday lunchtime.

Liverpool versus United has always evoked memories of great matches and intense rivalry. This weekend’s match is likely to be both poignant and tense given the contents of the Independent Hillsborough Panel report, released two week’s ago, together with controversy over United supporters anti-Liverpool chants sung against Wigan Athletic last weekend.

Add the background of Luis Suarez’ racial abuse of Patrice Evra in the same fixture last season, and the clash becomes something greater than the sum of its parts.

United’s 3,000 travelling fans are under the spotlight, although match-going Reds have long had plenty to say about the opposition’s behaviour regarding the Munich disaster. But this is no time for moral relativism; it is a time for mutual and solemn respect of those who have been lost. With flowers set to be laid by Ferguson and Si Bobby Charlton at the Kop, and captains Nemanja Vidić and Steven Gerrard releasing 96 red balloons, it is unthinkable that supporters on either side will behave in a way unbecoming of two great clubs.

On the pitch United has failed to produce either the performances or results at Anfield recently – Ferguson’s men have failed to win on Merseyside since December 2007. But neither side has started the campaign in top gear, although somehow United has ground out four wins from five matches despite some shockingly poor defensive performances.

As so often in recent seasons it is in midfield where the questions of Ferguson’s men will most be asked, with the Scot facing a key decision about how many men, and whom, to deploy in support of Michael Carrick in central midfield in what will be a keenly fought encounter.

“In tight games like this you know there are not going to be a lot of goals,” Ferguson told the press on Friday.

“It will be an odd-goal victory for either side or maybe a draw. Our away form last year was terrific, one of the best years we have had away from home. We hope that continues. We want to make sure we do our best and represent ourselves in the proper way. That is the key for us on Sunday, just to enjoy it. Once the whistle goes, go and win the game. That should be our attitude.”

Ferguson, blessed with no fresh injuries after United’s laboured win over Galatasaray on Wednesday night, brings. Rio Ferdinand back into central defence along side captain Vidić, with Jonny Evans dropping to the bench. Howevr, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young and Anderson remain on the sidelines with injury.

Ferguson will choose between Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Tom Cleverley and Shinji Kagawa in central midfield.

“Everyone who was involved on Wednesday is available,” added Ferguson.

“I know there were reports in the paper about Rooney being possible, but that is not the case. He’s not far away, I think he may be fine for next week. He’s doing a lot of great training and has been working hard. It’s just a matter of getting him into the full football training side of things, which he has done part of.

“Ashley Young has got a bruised cartilage – I think it’s going to take two or three weeks more for him. We’re just taking our time with that one. You can easily play with it and train but we’re not going down that road, we want to make sure he’s okay. We get a lot of experiences these days of injuries reoccurring when they come back too quickly and we don’t want that with the players – we want to give them a full recovery. He should be okay with two or three weeks’ time.”

Liverpool v Manchester United - Premier League, Anfield - Sunday 23 September 2012, 1.30pmAlthough Darren Fletcher made a late appearance from the bench against the Turkish champions the Scot is not expected to feature at Anfield, where United has lost four matches in the last five visits. Ferguson side has also seemingly been unable to keep 11 men on the pitch for many of those encounters.

“Darren made a start on Wednesday which was great,” added Ferguson.

“He won’t start the match on Sunday but he’ll certainly play against Newcastle. I think that’s a perfect game for him to start back. Then we have the game against Tottenham next Saturday and he possibly could be involved in that, but it depends how he does on Wednesday.

“It’ll be his first full 90 minutes after 10 months out so it’ll be a big night for him. He’s handling the conditions at the moment and he looks fine as we saw the other night. It’s a matter of hoping the condition stays dormant. He’s handling his diet well and doing all the right things so hopefully he gets that break he needs.”

Meanwhile, Ferguson is seeking to build on an indifferent start to the season, with his side picking up four victories in a row but not always with performances that match results. The hosts can lay no claim for better form, having slumped to 18th in the Premier League after suffering two defeats in the club’s opening four matches.

Tough time, then, for Brendan Rodgers, whose tika-taka sensibilities are being tested by media criticism of the neat but unpenetrative Joe Allen, and Gerrard’s insistence on wastefully hitting the Hollywood ball at every turn.

Yet, it is not only United supporters, but players too, who believe that Liverpool reserves an annual ‘Cup Final performance’ for the Anfield rendezvous with United.

“Liverpool haven’t started so well so I’m sure this will be like a cup final,” adds Cleverley, who missed the fixture last season with injury and may stand aside for Paul Scholes on Sunday.

“Meanwhile, we’ve won our last three games so we’re hoping to build on that. It’s important we maintain that momentum. It’s a massive game for the team. But I think form goes out of the window in these fixtures. It’s more like a one-off game. They’re great occasions. Growing up as a United fan, I’ve watched about 20 or 30 of these games, so I know exactly what this fixture means to everybody associated with the club. I just hope we can get the right result.”

That result will depend on whether United can get control in central midfield – an area that looks threadbare with at least one of 38-year-old Scholes and 39-year-old Giggs likely to start.

And if that is shocking, then United’s supporters need not add to the feeling on what is likely to be an emotional day on Merseyside.

Match Details
Liverpool v Manchester United – Premier League, Anfield – Sunday 23 September 2012, 1.30pm

Possible Teams
Liverpool (4-3-3): Reina; Kelly, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson; Gerrard, Sahin, Allen; Borini, Suarez, Sterling. Subs from: Jones, Doni, Enrique, Carragher, Coates, Assaidi, Downing, Shelvey, Henderson, Cole, Flanagan.

United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Scholes, Carrick; Valencia, Kagawa, Nani; Van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Evans, Büttner, Powell, Giggs, Anderson, Cleverley, Fletcher, Valencia, Macheda, Young, Hernández, Welbeck

Officials
Referee: M Halsey
Assistants: S Child, M McDonough
Fourth Official: L Probert

Form
Liverpool: DDLDW
United: LWWWW

Head-to-Head
Last 10: Liverpool 5, United 4, Draw 1
Overall: Liverpool 62, United 72, Draw 51

Stats

  • Suarez’ second-hald equaliser earned Liverpool a point away to Sunderland last weekend, with manager Rogers praising the player’s influence;
  • However, the Uruguayan ranks first on the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for shots off target this season with 12. The striker also tops the charts for yellow cards, with three and is the only striker in the top ten;
  • Midfielder Jonjo Shelvey was the hardest working player from either side away to Sunderland last weekend, covering 6.16 miles;
  • Meanwhile, Allen has continued his adaptation to life on Merseyside, receiving the ball 211 times in Liverpool’s opening matches, a club-leading figure;
  • Allen is also third overall in Index for distance covered with 25.22 miles, having covered more ground than any other Liverpool player in three of his four games for the club;
  • Midfield partner Gerrard successfully completed 42 passes in the opponent’s half and three crosses against Sunderland;
  • Scholes’ midfield masterclass was the catalyst behind a thumping 4-0 win at home for United against Wigan last weekend.
  • At 37 Scholes continues to provide an effective return for the time he spends on the pitch – the midfielder makes a successful pass in his opponent’s half once every two minutes and 14 seconds;
  • Debutant Alexander Büttner was United’s second fastest player against Wigan, clocking 19.84mph;
  • Carrick continues to go about effective work in the midfield for United, having played more minutes than any other team-mate this season – 390;
  • Carrick also covered more ground than any other United player last weekend against Wigan, working hard for 6.39 miles;
  • The ever-reliable Antonio Valencia continues with a steadfast level of performance this season – the Ecuadorian has made 55 successful passes in the attacking third, more than any other United player.

Prediction
0-1

Ferguson plays on fans’ conscience

Ed September 22, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 9 comments

Will Manchester United supporters attract the ire of the nation’s press this Sunday? Perhaps, although there can be no guarantee of the cause ahead of the weekend’s clash with Liverpool at Anfield. Certainly, while the fourth estate awaits the merest glimpse of anti-Liverpool sentiment from away supporters this weekend, controversy could rear its head, whether real or augmented, for any manner of reasons.

This is, after all, the biggest game in the country, and Liverpool versus United has become the premier flashpoint of the domestic season. Last season’s clash at Anfield where Luis Suarez racially abused Patrice Evra is a case in point.

But it is to the fans’ songs that attention will be firmly focussed on Sunday – a day that promises to be an emotional one for Liverpool supporters, and a test of nerve for those at the other end of the East Lancs Road. Indeed, such is the desire for the day to pass off without incident that United on Friday published a letter in Sir Alex Ferguson’s name calling on Manchester’s Reds to observe the ‘best traditions’ of the club.

“The great support you gave the team here last season has seen our allocation back up to near-full levels,” wrote Ferguson in a letter that will be given to United fans entering the Anfield Road turnstiles on Sunday.

“I want you to continue that progress today. But today is about much more than not blocking gangways. Today is about thinking hard about what makes United the best club in the world. Our rivalry with Liverpool is based on a determination to come out on top – a wish to see us crowned the best against a team that held that honour for so long. It cannot and should never be based on personal hatred.

“Just ten days ago, we heard the terrible, damning truth about the deaths of 96 fans who went to watch their team try and reach the FA Cup final and never came back. What happened to them should wake the conscience of everyone connected with the game.

“Our great club stands with our great neighbours Liverpool today to remember that loss and pay tribute to their campaign for justice. I know I can count on you to stand with us in the best traditions of the best fans in the game.”

Indeed, had United beaten Nottingham Forest in the 1989 FA Cup quarter-final, Ferguson’s team would have joined Liverpool in the Hillsborough semi. It could so easily have been 96 United fans who failed to return as those from Merseyside.

In truth, while Ferguson makes no direct call for United supporters to refrain from singing the ‘always the victim, it’s never your fault’ chant that caused so much media furore, any rendition of that particular song is what the United manager most fears.

With the nation’s media in no mood to hear subtleties of argument, the reproach will likely be severe should even a modicum of Mancunian animosity be heard at Anfield. Whether it relates to Hillsborough, or not.

Far more likely, however, is that United fans will direct any hatred – despite Sir Alex’ call for détente – not at Hillsborough’s victims, but Suarez – an easy target in the circumstances. On a day when Liverpool will remember those who were not only lost at Hillsborough, but betrayed by the state, even the most bone-headed among United’s support  know where that Rubicon lays.

On the Kop attention will be elsewhere; certainly far enough away to distract Liverpudlians from the kind behaviour that United supporters have been accused of in the past week. However, Patrice Evra is unlikely to escape Anfield’s venom for his part in being racially abused last October. It remains hard to square media reaction to Evra’s victimisation on the grounds of race with coverage of United’s ‘chanting’ over the past week.

“We want this day to be remembered for the right reasons before the game, and the footballing reasons”, added Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.

“A lot of work has been done and hopefully Sunday will pass off peacefully and we can talk about the tributes and football. It is an emotionally-charged game. I wouldn’t sit here and tell Liverpool supporters how to behave. I know how they have behaved over many years has been fantastic.

On the day captains Nemanja Vidic and Steven Gerard will release 96 red balloons over Anfield, while a mosaic along three sides of the ground will read “96, Justice and Truth”. Ferguson, alongside Sir Bobby Charlton, will lay flowers at the Kop. It is a reminder that while England’s fiercest rivalry has lost none of it’s intensity, some events transcend the game.

Then, prior to kick-off, Premier League rules demand that Evra and Suarez come together for the handshake that never was at Old Trafford last February. It is an event that may yet set the tone for the game to come.

In the stands there will be more United fans at Anfield than in previous years, with Liverpool council now content that supporters will not block exits and gangways following a high profile supporters’ group campaign last season. It means Ferguson’s side will receive full and rowdy support from the Anfield Road.

Manager and club hope that it will be support in the very best spirit. In that there is responsibility not solely on United supporters, but those in the home end too.