Month October 2012

Month October 2012

Preview: Chelsea v United (COC)

October 31, 2012 Tags: , Matches 100 comments

Like London buses incidents of racism appear to come in threes in English football; a trio of shocking accusations that have left the beautiful game with a festering wound. When Manchester United visits Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, for the second in a league and cup double-header this week it is, once again, the most unsavoury side of the game that will dominate the headlines. It should not be this way; a game no longer at one with itself.

First, a little over a year ago, Luis Suarez racially abused Patrice Evra, repeatedly and with malice. Shortly after, John Terry called Anton Ferdinand a “f*cking black c*nt” – a crime for which the Chelsea captain is serving a far too lenient ban.

In the latest dark moment for the game referee Mark Clattenburg stands accused of racially abusing two Chelsea players – John Obi Mikel and Juan Mata. While nothing is yet proven of Clattenburg’s actions last Sunday, briefing and counter briefing through the mass media has done little to clarify the picture of an alleged incident that may yet have major ramifications for the game.

The episode, taken together with Chelsea’s perceived injustices during the Premier League encounter on Sunday – Fernando Torres’ red card, Javier Hernández’ winning goal – means there will be a feisty atmosphere for what might otherwise have been a tepid affair. Whatever the merits of the Capital One Cup, Wednesday’s tie was always going to feel like the morning after the Lord Mayor’s show. No longer so.

Still, there is a game on and United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to field a fringe side for the fourth round tie in west London. Out go United’s old guard, including Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick; in come a host of youngsters and squad players in need of playing time.

Chelsea v Manchester United - Capital One Cup, Stamford Bridge - 31 October 2012, 7.45pmIndeed, Ferguson is likely to make at least 10 changes from the side that started at the Bridge on Sunday, although winning goalscorer Hernández could start alongside Danny Welbeck in attack. Into the side may also come defenders Alexander Büttner, Michael Keane, and Scott Wootton, together with Nani, Anderson and Anders Lindegaard.

“Obviously we will make changes for the Wednesday game,” confirmed Ferguson, with United seeking consecutive wins at Stamford Bridge for the first time since 1998.

“The squad that played against Newcastle will be in place again. You don’t want to lose down there and we want to continue in the cup. Any game down there is going to be tough. There has been good progress there since Roberto di Matteo took the job. They are big games – and big games are good for us.”

However, the game will come too soon for defenders Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, although each is nearing a return that will bring to a close a defensive headache that has seemingly overshadowed Ferguson’s squad since August. Captain Nemanja Vidić is likely to be on the sidelines until December at a minimum.

“We will try to push Chris on quickly,” added Ferguson of the 22-year-old centre back.

“I don’t think he will make Wednesday’s game but I am sure he will be ready for the following week. There was some hope both he and Phil would be back for this busy schedule. Phil will be starting football training next Monday. He still has some running to do. The good news is they are not far away.”

Smalling’s loss is potentially others gain, with at least one of Wootton or Keane likely to start at Stamford Bridge. Keane impressed with a classy performance against Newcastle United at Old Trafford in the third round, although as the senior party Wootton is more likely to start.

Still, Keane is relishing the opportunity to be part of United’s party travelling south once again this week. The Stockport-born youngster is United’s current Reserve Team Player of the Year.

“You play games with more pressure when you get to a higher level,” the 19-year-old told MUTV.

“Every game you play, you’ve got more experience of playing for points and playing because it means something rather than just friendlies. When you get called into the first team, you’re used to being desperate to win.

“I was so tired [after the Newcastle tie]. I’ve never been that tired after a game. Mentally as well as physically because of the concentration, how the day went building up to it and then the 90 minutes was tough but we did well.

“I know there’s probably only going to be one or two opportunities because of the players involved but I can’t think like that. I’ve just got to work hard every day in training and prove I’m good enough to play and, hopefully, get picked. I keep stepping up a level and, hopefully, that will keep happening and I can progress with England and keep getting my chances here in the first team.”

Meanwhile, Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo is likely to rest those most closely involved in the post-match argument with Clattenburg, including the alleged victims of on-the-field abuse, Mikel and Mata.

The west London club this week made a formal complaint that the Geordie referee used “inappropriate language” on the field, while briefing the press that words of a racist nature were uttered by Clattenburg. It is likely to be another long-running and highly damaging saga.

On the pitch Di Matteo is without a host of first-team regulars through injury and suspension, meaning a much changed Chelsea side is likely to be deployed for United’s visit.

“It is certainly a tricky situation,” said the 42-year-old Italian.

“We have Branislav Ivanovic, Fernando Torres and John Terry suspended, and Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole out injured. Ashley’s ankle is sore and swollen and he won’t recover in time for tomorrow. So it reduces the squad but everybody else is okay. We always talk about developing and giving youngsters a chance so this type of game is a good opportunity for some of them.”

It is a strategy, for one match at least, mirrored by the visitors. In that there is hope for the future. If not the game itself, then of the respective clubs at least.

Match Details
Chelsea v Manchester United – Capital One Cup, Stamford Bridge – Wednesday 31 October 2012, 7.45pm

Possible teams
Chelsea (4-4-2): Hilário; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill, Bertrand; Marin, Ramires, Romeu, Moses; Sturridge, Piazón. Subs from: Turnbull, Ferreira, Mikel, Oscar, Mata, Hazard, Torres, Malouda, Feruz.

United (4-3-3): Lindegaard; Keane, Wootton, Evans, Buttner; Anderson, Cleverley, Fletcher; Nani, Hernández, Welbeck. Subs from: Johnstone, De Gea, Cole, Lingard, Vermijl, Rafael, Valencia, Giggs, Young, Powell, Macheda, King, Henríquez.

Referee: L Mason
Assistant referees: J Collin and J Brooks
Fourth Official: M Dean

Chelsea: WWWWLL
United: WLWWWW

Head to Head
Last 10: United 6, Chelsea 2, Draw 2
Overall: United 79, Chelsea 41, Draw 48


Reds’ slice of luck Bridges a decade of ill fortune

October 29, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 37 comments

It has been a decade since Manchester United last won at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League – a 3-0 win in April 2002, with Paul Scholes, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scoring the goals. During the intervening years Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, and many others, ran foul of officialdom in west London. The Stamford Bridge crowd may be as plastic as it comes, but Roman Abramovich has rarely had cause to complain about a referee’s performance when United comes to town.

Amusing then that such a storm should brew after Ferguson’s men benefited from marginal calls at the Bridge to secure three vital points in a dramatic fixture on Sunday afternoon. United won 3-2 following Javier Hernández’ late winner, but the scoreline tells just part of the story in which the Reds very nearly threw away a two goal lead.

But the game, as is now customary in the Premier League, almost becomes a secondary consideration amid the “narratives related to it, a screen on which to project neuroses and prejudice,” as one writer put it.

Fernando Torres’ yellow card for ‘diving’ under Jonny Evans’ challenge, and Hernandez’ marginally offside winner could have gone either way. But Chelsea’s manager Roberto Di Matteo can have no complaints about Branislav Ivanovic’s red for taking out Ashley Young, nor the fortune that saw Torres’ get away with a wildly dangerous chest-high challenge on Tom Cleverley just after half-time.

“Surely, when he’s going to watch the images he’s going to realise that he made big mistakes,” said Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo of referee Mark Clattenburg’s performance.

“It is a shame a game like this had to be decided in that manner by officials. It always seems to be in favour of the opposition.”

The final comment, one presumes, was appended without hint of irony from the 42-year-old Italian. But west London complaints aside, United’s third win of the week brings a substantial boost to those at Old Trafford. Yet another defeat at Stamford Bridge would have left the Reds seven behind Chelsea, and three behind Manchester City, with a quarter of the season complete.

As it stands there is now but a point between the country’s three leading teams, with United hosting Arsenal at Old Trafford in the Premier League next weekend. None of the three is faultless though, leading to the conclusion that there will be more than one twist in the months to come.

Still, United will pay little attention to Chelsea’s cries of foul; not with a title to claw back from Eastlands.

“We don’t care. We win, we have the three points,” added Hernández of the ‘controversial’ win.

“That was the only thing we had on our mind. Probably for some people it was very controversial, for other people not. For us, we won the three points and it is very difficult to come here to Stamford Bridge and take the three points, and we’re very lucky and happy with that.”

But Ferguson will once again be concerned with United’s defending at the Bridge, especially given the extent to which his men crumbled under Chelsea’s pressure either side of half-time. So open was the Reds’ central midfield all afternoon that at one point Ferguson ended the pretense altogether and paired Carrick with Wayne Rooney.

No combination it seems offers Ferguson’s back-four any protection, with United having conceded twice for the third time in seven days. Indeed, the Reds have shipped 13 in nine Premier League matches do date. Liverpool, in 12th, has conceded 14.

It is tempting to suggest that United’s fortune, such as it was at Stamford Bridge, will not hold indefinitely, while Ferguson’s side will certainly persist in conceding goals unless something changes. Whether the Reds’ adaptation is tactical, technical, or in personnel – whatever the solution to United’s faults it is a truism that the most successful sides rarely concede at will.

Ferguson suffered a similar dilemma last season after City ran riot at Old Trafford. United tightened up and went on a run of narrow victories that set the stage for a more closely run title race that many believed possible. This season, United’s open play has brought far more entertainment, but the genuine question on offer is whether Ferguson believes the attack-at-all-costs policy is one that can bring the title back to Old Trafford next May.

For now, the Scot will enjoy a rare victory in Abramovich’s lair. After all, it comes for too infrequently for comfort. In 26 visits to the Bridge, Ferguson’s side has emerged victorious on just seven occasions, including Sunday.

The victory also reward for Ferguson’s bold team selection and attacking philosophy – one which has not always been prevalent in United’s biggest matches over the past two years.

“It’s 10 years since we won here [in the Premier League],” Sir Alex told Sky Sports in the aftermath.

“I said before the game that we’ve had some shocking decisions down here. It’s very difficult to come here and get all the decisions as it’s a very difficult place. The sending off of the right-back was the turning point for us. I think we would have won it from that point. I put Chicharito on and he got the winning goal as I think the momentum was with us then.”

Five victories on the spin since Tottenham Hotspur won at Old Trafford in September, no matter the defensive record,  is another kind of momentum too. With qualification from the Champions League almost ensured, Ferguson’s men have little distraction this side of Christmas, and a series of eminently winnable games before the derby with City on 9 December.

That match will, of course, be another genuine test, and United supporters will be grateful for another modicum of good fortune in just over five week’s time.

Preview: Chelsea v United

October 27, 2012 Tags: , Matches 134 comments

There are few place that Sir Alex Ferguson visits with justifiable trepidation, not considering the 70-year-old’s record without peer, but Stamford Bridge is surely one. In 25 trips to the west London ground during Ferguson’s reign, Manchester United has emerged victorious just six times. Indeed, Ferguson’s record in 50 matches against the Londoners is only marginally victorious – one that will be tested once again as United visit the Premier League leaders on Sunday.

United has infrequently impressed this season, although the Reds campaign clicks into another gear in the coming week, with a league and cup double-header against Chelsea, followed by Arsenal’s visit to Old Trafford next weekend. The next seven days could prove a crucial period, with defeat at Stamford Bridge leaving United seven points behind the leaders.

Ferguson’s men must defend better than in recent weeks if United is to get a result on Sunday, especially given the nature of soft goals conceded against both Stoke City and SC Braga in recent matches. And that is to say little for Chelsea’s firepower this season as Roman Abramovich’s attacking evolution takes hold a Stamford Bridge.

“They’re top of the league after a great start to the season – they’ve done really well,” Ferguson told the media on Friday.

“They’ve played an interesting formation and it’s something we have to deal with. They’ve brought Oscar and Hazard into the team – they’re similar types of players, I think. They’re adapting to having players like Mata also in the same position – there is a situation where they’re in behind the front player all the time. It’s not an easy system to deal with, but we just have to find a way.

“They’re all similar players, they play in behind the main striker. Of course they don’t have Didier Drogba so their game had to change anyway. They always had that alternative route of playing with Drogba up front – they could play it long or they could play it through midfield. Now it’s straightforward, it’s through midfield all the time.”

United’s transformation this season, initially built around Shinji Kagawa’s creativity and Robin van Persie’s goals, has halted in recent weeks as Ferguson tinkered with formations and tactics. Kagawa will miss the match – and the next month – with a knee injury, although Sir Alex had marginalised the Japanese midfield in recent weeks in any case.

Chelsea v Manchester United – Premier League, Stamford Bridge – Sunday 29 October 2012, 4pmIndeed, Ferguson’s tactical thinking will be tested once again at Stamford Bridge where the Scot’s predilection for defensive selections in crucial matches over the past year may yet come to the fore. More than a few United fans will be thankful that Park Ji-Sung’s departure last summer means the South Korean cannot start on Sunday.

Still, with Paul Scholes likely to start alongside Michael Carrick in central midfield, Ferguson will call on plenty of experience in west London for a crucial week ahead. Meanwhile,

David de Gea will retain the goalkeeper’s spot with Anders Lindegaard out, and Chris Smalling could return to the matchday squad after recovering from long-term injury.

“We’ve got three massive games really in a week,” admitted Scholes.

“Obviously Chelsea twice and then Arsenal at home. Sunday is a big one. We’ve not got a brilliant record at Chelsea over the last few years and it’s something we hope we can change.

“We watched them against Tottenham last week. They’ve signed a different type of player to a couple of years back when you were looking at a big, powerful team. Now they’ve signed smaller, better footballers who are difficult to play against. We know each of them is capable of creating chances and scoring goals themselves.”

Meanwhile, Chelsea manager Robert Di Matteo is without captain John Terry, who is banned for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand last year, and Frank Lampard who has a calf injury. More pressing still, De Matteo is seeking a response from his players after the side’s Champions League defeat to Shaktar Donetsk in midweek.

Defeat has undermined an outstanding start to the new campaign by the European champions, but Ferguson’s men must still overcome the Premier League’s only 100 per cent home record to take anything from Sunday’s match. It is a record every bit as daunting as Ferguson’s is underwhelming in matches at Stamford Bridge over the years.

Match Details
Chelsea v Manchester United – Premier League, Stamford Bridge – Sunday 29 October 2012, 4pm

Possible teams
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Luiz, Cahill, Cole; Ramires, Mikel; Oscar, Mata, Hazard; Torres. Subs from: Hilário, Bertrand, Azpilicueta, Romeu, Ferreira, Moses, Malouda, Piazón, Marin, Sturridge.

United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Scholes, Carrick; Valencia, Rooney, Welbeck; van Persie. Subs from: Johnstone, Wootton, Buttner, Anderson, Cleverley, Fletcher, Giggs, Nani, Young, Hernández.

Referee: M Clattenburg
Assistants: M McDonough, S Long
Fourth Official: M Jones

Chelsea: WWWWWL
United: WWLWWW

Head to Head
Last 10: United 5, Chelsea 3, Draw 2
Overall: United 78, Chelsea 41, Draw 48


  • Despite a disappointing Champions League outing in the week, Chelsea’s Premier League form has been outstanding this season, with the Blues recording a 4-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur last weekend;
  • That performance means Chelsea now has four of the top five ranked players in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index this season, with Juan Mata top ahead of Fernando Torres in second, Eden Hazard in third, and Branislav Ivanovic in fifth;
  • Mata now has three goals and five assists to his name, and has completed 271 passes in his opponents half – the fifth highest number of passes overall in the Index;
  • Mata covered 6.95 miles against Spurs, the most by a Chelsea player in a single game so far this season, while Ramires’ 6.69 miles in the same game was the second highest,;
  • Defender Cahill, increasingly be in the spotlight as John Terry serves a four match ban, has two goals to his name this season, and has made an impressive six blocks – Chelsea’s defenders have scored six of the side’s 18 goals this season;
  • Brazilian Oscar has netted twice in Europe this season, but is yet to score in the Premier League, although the youngster has made 13 attempts at goal;
  • Meanwhile, van Persie remains joint top goalscorer in the Premier League with six goals from eight games – the Dutchman’s haul coming from 17 shots at goal;
  • Early rivals for the golden boot, Michu and Demba Ba, are both also on six goals too, but have required 20 and 30 efforts at goal to reach that total;
  • van Persie’s ratio of shots on target is just 47 percent, but the striker still has one of the best minutes-per-goal quotients in the league with one every 106 minutes and 40 seconds this season;
  • Paul Scholes picked up his fourth yellow card in just 440 minutes of play against Stoke last weekend, although the midfielder may consider his reputation a factor as he had committed just nine fouls compared to Aston Villa’s Karim El Ahmadi who has committed 17 fouls the same number of cards;
  • Rooney’s 6.75 miles against Stoke was the joint highest distance covered by a United player in a single game this season, while Carrick’s 6.63 miles was enough to put the Geordie fourth overall in the Index for distance covered with 49.56 miles


Rant Cast 127 – playing for the shirt

October 26, 2012 Tags: Rant Cast 9 comments

On this week’s packed Rant Cast regular presenters Ed and Paul look back on Manchester United’s matches against Stoke City in the Premier League and SC Braga in Europe. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team came away with two victories, but once again looked suspect at the back.

Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand and Ferguson were embroiled in a media row over the Kick It Out t-shirt that never was. Ferguson came within a whisker of a PR disaster, while Ferdinand maintained a quiet dignity. We analyse what the row means for United, Ferguson, Ferdinand and race relations in English football.

We talk about David Gill’s appointment to the Football Association and the inherent conflicts of interest involved, while we laud Ajax fans rejection of “modern football”. And Wayne Rooney’s endorsement of Barrack Obama – does that seal the presidential election?!

Finally, we preview the week ahead with a double-header against Chelsea in the Premier League and Capital One Cup. Also: all your Twitter questions and another competition prize!

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.

Ferguson on the defensive over errors

October 25, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 20 comments

There is a certain romance about Manchester United’s play this season; an innocent we’ll-score-one-more-than you attitude that is a refreshing change from the stifled tactics of so much modern football. Yet, United’s plethora of attacking talent has been forced to work at its maximum simply because Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have defended so poorly. The Reds may be top goalscorers in the Premier League this season, but there is a vulnerability that is likely to prove costly against the nation’s finer teams.

Indeed, not only has Ferguson’s team defended with sometimes comic ineptitude this season, but United has picked up an unfortunate habit of conceding early goals. The Reds have now fallen behind in eight of 12 matches this season – a run that has included two Premier League defeats, with more surely to come unless Ferguson can right a listing ship.

Just four points behind Chelsea domestically, and a point away from qualification for the knock out stages in Europe, there is little, superficially at least, for Ferguson to fret over. Yet, United’s 70-year-old manager will appreciate as well as any just how destructive poor defending is likely to be in fixtures to come this season, not least the Reds’ visit to Stamford Bridge this Sunday.

The greatest worry, however, is that short of reigning in United’s attacking instincts, Ferguson can do little more with the resource at his disposal. It is a weakness that threatens to undermine the club’s season.

“I can’t understand our defending. It’s been the story of our season,” admitted Ferguson after United beat SC Braga at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

“Starting badly and losing goals and fighting back to rescue games. It’s the front players who are doing that for us. Some of our football was terrific, some fantastic football. We created a lot of chances. But it is a concern we are losing goals.

“I can’t get to the bottom of it. If you analyse all the goals we are losing, they are all different types, a cross and then a cutback and players free in the box. It is difficult to put my finger on it. We are certainly not getting good starts to games, that’s for sure. We will sort it, I am sure of that.”

Ferguson’s problems start in the engine room where no combination of the half-dozen central midfielders at the club is able to provide the kind protection a fragmented back-four desperately requires. True, injuries have occurred with little respite, with Nemanja Vidić, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones still out, while Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans have also missed game in the campaign. But United’s trouble runs deeper.

The only constant may be change in United’s back-four, yet there are problems of Ferguson’s own making too. Indeed, Braga’s early double at Old Trafford this week owed much to the manager’s baffling decision to deploy Michael Carrick at centre-half. The 30-year-old Geordie may have fine defensive instincts, but that does not always make a defender of the highest quality. This much has become obvious in the dozen or so games Carrick has played in the centre of defence over the past three years; a truism Ferguson oddly denies.

“I think we did the right thing,” adds Ferguson

“It wasn’t Michael Carrick’s fault for the first goal. He did his job well. You have to look at the big picture, Rio at his age, with a big game against Chelsea on Sunday, Chelsea on the Wednesday, Arsenal Saturday. We have a massive programme and it is important to utilise the squad. OK, at the moment with Vidić out and Jones and Smalling not available then putting Michael back there is not the best, but he did his job well.”

This is an observation reserve defenders Scott Wootton and Michael Keane will ponder, although the point is moot if Ferguson has no faith in the young pair against one of the Europe’s weaker opponents.

More serious, though, is that question of tactical balance in a side that will surely be stumped by the next  opponent that can defend with solidity and break at genuine speed. It has left Ferdinand in particular exposed at times, not least in recent matches at Old Trafford against Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City.

In midfield Carrick’s defensive instincts in the holding role offer much, but when deployed alongside 37-year-old Paul Scholes the former Spurs player is forced to cover far too much ground for comfort. Meanwhile, neither Tom Cleverley nor Anderson offer the requisite protection, and Darren Fletcher is only just returning to full fitness. Far too often has United been open to the simplest of counter-attacks.

The genuine concern, of course, is that no combination will solve the problem in central midfield, and United’s defence will continue to suffer as a result. This is an argument bolstered by Ferguson himself, who has deployed a narrow midfield diamond in recent matches at CFR Cluj and Newcastle United in an attempt to offer a little more solidity.

This is a tactical shake-up that may not have blunted the side’s goalscoring, but certainly ensures Rooney, Cleverley and Shinji Kagawa are deployed outside their best positions.

It is easy to proffer that Ferguson would countenance no such tactical shenanigans if, for example, he was able to deploy Scholes and Roy Keane in their pomp. This is an observation that leads to an obvious conclusion – the real debate is less about tactics and injuries than it is about personnel – and begs a tougher question – why has United stocked up on attacking talent, ignoring once again the imbalance in the squad?

“We can’t keep doing that,” admitted Rooney after United conceded two sloppy goals against Stoke. “If we want to be successful this season, we can’t keep doing that.”

It is a rejoinder that might apply to more than one aspect of United’s defending this season.

Preview: United v SC Braga

October 22, 2012 Tags: , Matches 86 comments

Manchester United welcomes Sporting Braga to Old Trafford on Tuesday, with the Reds chasing a win that should ease qualification into the Champions League knock out stages. United has been far from fluent in the competition to date, but victory over last season’s Europa League finalists will take Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to within a point of guaranteed progression. After last season’s pre-Christmas exit qualification alone will be an achievement.

However, Ferguson is set to rotate his resources for the visit of José Peseiro’s outfit, with Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra certain to miss out as United’s manager seeks to rest players ahead of next weekend’s fixture with Chelsea. Indeed, the 70-year-old Scot could make eight changes from the side that beat Stoke City 4-2 at the weekend, with Ashley Young, Anderson, Alexander Büttner and perhaps even Scott Wootton coming into the side.

Ferdinand will not feature, but United’s manager, Monday, backtracked on an implied threat to punish the 33-year-old defender for refusing to wear a Kick It Out t-shirt at the weekend. Blamed on a miscommunication, Ferguson says that Ferdinand will return for United’s Premier League clash at Stamford Bridge next Sunday.

Aside from the inevitable changes, Ferguson may reintroduce the diamond formation that brought the Reds victory over Cluj and Newcastle United in recent outings. It is a system, claims the Scot, that plays to his squad’s strengths, if not United’s history.

“If it turns out as a consistent team selection from me, playing a diamond, it is revolutionary because we’re going against our history,” admitted Ferguson on Monday

“I think the level of the game in England and Europe is such a high level now that making yourself unpredictable is going to be a strength. Teams will have to think if we are going to play two wide players or the diamond because we have players capable of doing both things.

“Players like Shinji Kagawa and Tom Cleverley can play very well in the type of matches the diamond offers. And of course in Nani, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, I’ve got really good wide players also. It is difficult – we have had some success playing with the diamond. The history of the club is always to play with wide players, particularly at Old Trafford, so I have a decision to make.”

Manchester United v SC Braga - Champions League, Old Trafford - Tuesday 22 October 2012, 7.45pmBack into the side comes Shiji Kagawa, after the Japanese play-maker missed out on United’s victory over Stoke. The former Borussia Dortmund midfielder has failed to recreate the early season burst of form over the past month, with the Scot’s tactics and formation rarely aiding the £16 million acquisition. Ferguson is again likely to deploy the 23-year-old out of position against Braga.

“The initial reason for taking him was his ability to play behind the strikers,” said Ferguson “In the last couple of games he has played middle to right – not a problem for him because he still has the ability to create.”

Meanwhile, Young could feature after missing two months with a knee injury. The former Aston Villa winger has made just one start in the campaign, but will make the bench as a minimum against Peseiro’s side. However, there may once again be no room for Nani in Ferguson’s wingerless system. Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie could drop to the bench, with Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández in line to start up front.

Despite the plethora of changes Ferguson insists he is taking the Portuguese opponents seriously after United was accused of complacency in last season’s campaign.

“We’ve kept players back who have been playing well – Cleverley, Kagawa – so I wouldn’t call that underestimating Braga,” added Ferguson.

“Braga are better away from home, [they] showed that beating Galatasaray [2-0]. It’s not easy going to Turkey. In the modern European game counter-attack is the issue, so tomorrow hopefully we can deal with that.”

Whatever the formation, history points to victory for Ferguson’s side. United has never lost at home to Portuguese opponents, although Peseiro’s side is unbeaten in seven matches away from home in European competition. It’s quite a turn-around for Os Arcebispos who lost 6-0 to Arsenal in the club’s first Champions League encounter. With more than a touch of  coincidence the thrashing matched that handed down by Tottenham Hotspur FC in the 1984/85 UEFA Cup first round.

Yet, Braga also boasts a health record against English opponents, going five games unbeaten since defeat to Arsenal, including a 1-0 aggregate victory over Liverpool in the 2010/11 Europa League.

Peseiro, like compatriots José Mourinho and Andre Villas-Boas, enjoyed a limited playing career in the minor leagues before a low-key start as a manager. Begining his coaching career at Nacional, Peseiro took the Madeira club from the third division to the Primeira Liga in three seasons. For a season the 52-year-old worked under Carlos Quieroz at Real Madrid before returning to Portugal when the former United assistant manager was sacked by the Bernabeu hierarchy.

“We’ve got good players and a good team too, so we’re going to be trying to win,” said Peseiro, who will have been encouraged by United’s unspectacular wins over Cluj and Galatasaray.

“If we can’t win then a draw is a good result too. Sir Alex Ferguson praised Braga very highly only a few days ago, so he doesn’t underestimate us.”

Plenty of changes may say otherwise. Then again, Ferguson probably wouldn’t have it any other way.

Match Details
Manchester United v Sporting Clube de Braga – Champions League, Old Trafford – Tuesday 22 October 2012, 7.45pm

Possible teams
United (4-4-2): Lindegaard; Rafael, Wootton, Evans, Buttner; Fletcher; Anderson, Cleverley, Kagawa; Welbeck, Hernández. Subs from: De Gea, Keane, Carrick, Giggs, Scholes, Nani, Valencia, Young, Rooney, van Persie.

Braga (4-2-3-1): Beto; Baiano, Douglao, Vinícius, Elderson; Custodio, Viana; Alan, Mossoró, Barbosa; Eder. Subs from: Quim, Haas, Coelho, Amorim, Paulo César, Rivera, Michel, Micael, Ismaily, Salino, Custódio, Zé Luís, Douglão, Carlão.

Officials (All Serbia)
Referee: Milorad Mažić
Assistant referees: Milovan Ristić, Igor Radojčić
Additional assistant referees: Milenko Vukadinović, Miodrag Gogić

United: WWWLWW

Head to Head
First meeting


Media Digest: Rio’s protest

October 21, 2012 Tags: Opinion No 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.

Ahead of this week’s Digest, the new section of Manchester United official site called Made Of Manchester is well worth a read, even if it is another way for the Glazer family to cash in!


Can They Score – “Can You Believe It’s Not Büttner?”

Jonas from Can They Score on Alexander Büttner, the fighter.

Upon signing with Manchester United one would say he seemed nervous. United fans were laughing at he they called “Tom Cleverley’s evil twin” for his rugged appearance. Therefore it was a bit anticlimactic to hear the man himself stutter over his words, not seeming assured and generally seemed nervous when interview by MUTV after signing. The aura about him was that he was a badass, wasn’t it? The video of his home community throwing a huge block party in honour of their prodigy son had further spiked the assessment that here arrived this tough, take-no-prisoners bully who’d hack down any defender that had the audacity of trying to pass him. This just couldn’t be right. more

ManUtd24 – “Manchester United’s first, last and only line of defence”

ManUtd24 argues that United needs either to find a balance between defence and attack, or just keep scoring more than the opposition.

United’s failure to prevent Charlie Adam’s £10million crosses from coming into the box were neither Evans’ or Ferdinand’s problem; in fact, as dangerous as Stoke were from the cross, United’s defenders and David de Gea made sure to limit the end result of them after Wayne Rooney’s early own goal. It is far too simplistic a view to lump everything with those easiest to blame; but when Stoke attacked, and attacked well, it was because they took advantage of the way the home side set up in attack where even the midfield had wandered forward: and the back four would then find that they are indeed the first, last and only line of defence. Sometimes, you can get away with it. They did at Old Trafford. more

The Busby Way – “Thoughts on the Fallout of Rio Ferdinand’s Protest”

The ‘hot topic’ of this weekend: Rio Ferdinand’s refusal to wear a ‘Kick It Out’ t-shirt.

Rio Ferdinand has had a tough year; he saw racism in the game trivialised by the FA and the country’s judicial system when John Terry’s trial and disciplinary hearing for apparently racially abusing his brother Anton Ferdinand were postponed so as not to clash with the European Championships. He was dropped by Roy Hodgson from the England squad to placate Terry, saw a bullet and a death threat sent to his brother by post and was jeered by Chelsea fans for defending his brother during the matter. But this was only the public side of things. more

Red Rants – “What can Argentina teach Manchester United?”

For those of you who love arguing about tactics, there is an interesting article on Red Rants on Argentina’s use of the diamond.

Manchester United could do something similar, but switch the roles of the deeper striker with the tip of the diamond. If Shinji Kagawa plays at the tip of the diamond, operating as the number 10, with license to move laterally across the entire pitch and find pockets of space to receive the ball and play it forward to Robin Van Persie, who would play as the number 9, just like Gonzalo Higuain. The deeper striker would be Wayne Rooney, playing further forward where he can put his deadly goal scoring ability to use. Instead of playing laterally like Aguero did, he would take up the vertical role that Lionel Messi played. When needed, he drops into the midfield to receive the ball and help the build-up, then getting forward into the box to threaten the opponent’s defense. more

Red Mancunian – “Why a culture change is needed in English football”

Red Mancunian contributor Shaun argues that fans have to be patient with the new generation of England kids who are “adapting this country’s game to the top”.

Despite some fantastic and very long overdue changes to the grassroots structure in England recently, there are still old attitudes and practices that our game has to face up to before advancing to a new stage of development. Patience and education are the essence of this development but this is not something that the fans of the English game seem to have in abundance and this attitude towards the game seems to be an ‘old dog, new tricks’ scenario for many of the old guard of our national game. more

Meanwhile, The Busby Way highlights Henry Winter’s column on Rene Meulensteen’s work at Old Trafford.


Truly Reds reports on United’s deal with Azerbaijan’s Bakcell, while The Devils of Manchester wonders what future holds for Federico Macheda and Robbie Brady.


Daily Mail – “Man United pin hopes on new £25m state-of-the-art medical centre to end injury nightmare”

Ah, here’s some fire for the good old “medical staff is responsible! – no, they’re not!” debate.

A £13m refurbishment of Carrington is almost complete and United have announced a five-year deal with Toshiba Medical Systems that will see the Japanese company provide equipment worth £12m. [Ferguson]: “‘This fantastic partnership will put us above most clubs in the world. But it is not just the supply of their medical systems, we’re also sharing the experiences together and the new ideas to come out of it. We already have a fantastic medical staff and they will relish the challenge of working with Toshiba. Sometimes maybe the supporters don’t see that. But we’ll see the benefits and the players will appreciate it. This is fantastic progress.” more

Manchester Evening News – “Time for David to become Goliath to win Manchester United keeper battle”

MEN has Gordon Banks’ thoughts on United’s goalkeepers.

England’s World Cup-winning legend Gordon Banks insists the United goalkeeper must toughen up in order to survive at Old Trafford. And he has some unorthodox advice for the Spaniard – recommending he take on a training regime more at home with Ricky Hatton than a Premier League footballer. Banks has revealed how boxing played an important role in his development from an 18-year-old rookie at Chesterfield to England’s greatest-ever No.1. And he believes it could be vital in helping de Gea get to grips with the physical challenge of playing in this country. “I’m positive it helped me,” said the Three Lions hero. more


SkySports reports that Shinji Kagawa is not satisfied with his performances for Manchester United. Mancunian Matters tells us all about Cleverley’s mum controlling the brand management. Daily Mail reckons Anzhi Makhachkala plans to offer Nemanja Vidic a £250,000-a-week after tax. ESPN reports on Nicky Butt’s return to Manchester United as a reserve-team coach. Data showing how much it costs to follow teams in the top four divisions of English football can be found on BBC.

Ferguson’s Ferdinand folly

October 21, 2012 Tags: Opinion 45 comments

There was a period, for some considerable time in fact, that United Rant carried a ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football’ graphic on the site’s front page. In the intervening years both Rant, and Kick it Out (KIO) have undergone brand redesign. But if the graphic was lost by accident, then the spotlight placed on the organisation by Rio Ferdinand and others this weekend is anything but happenstance.

Ferdinand’s decision to refuse KIO’s ‘one game. one community’ t-shirt during Manchester United’s warm-up ahead of Saturday’s fixture with Stoke City brought Sir Alex Ferguson’s considerable ire. The organisation had asked, via the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), that all players wear the shirt this weekend, or next, as part of an annual week of action.

Ferdinand’s refusal is a pointed, though, with the 33-year-old defender reportedly angry at KIO’s limp response to John Terry’s four-match ban for racially abusing brother Anton.

More than provoking one Scotsman’s anger, Ferdinand’s choice has once again raised the debate not only about racism in the English game, but how to deal with it. Terry’s ban is widely thought to be lenient given the crime’s severity, with the Londoner found to have racially abused the younger Ferdinand in calling the defender a “f*cking black c*nt”.

Moreover, KIO’s response has been so tepid that Ferdinand and other black players who refused to wear the ‘one game’ t-shirt this weekend now feel the organisation’s position is fatally compromised. After all, KIO’s refusal to condemn the leniency shown to Terry, who continued to play for England throughout the 11-month saga, comes within the context of the group’s funding – more than £330,000 of a £450,000 annual budget is provided by the FA and Premier League.

The anger may well be better directed at the perpetrators of racism, but there is no doubt that the Ferdinand brothers, Joleon Lescot, Reading striker Jason Roberts, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Micah Richards, Djibril Cisse, Victor Anichebe, Steven Pienaar, Junior Hoilett and others feel let down by KIO in recent months. It is an organisation unprepared to bite the hand that feeds it.

Yet, there are those ready to speak up, including Roberts who recently Tweeted that people expecting black players to “‘to put up with it’” will find “thosedays are gone. We DEMAND to be treated with respect, we are not asking.”

Ferguson is having none of it though, with the Scot promising gathered media last Friday that his players would wear the KIO shirt – presumably before checking with his squad. In that Ferguson believes that Ferdinand’s snub is as much directed at the 70-year-old United manager as it is for KIO.

No surprise then that Ferguson’s unilateral promise was followed up with an outburst of genuine anger at Ferdinand on Saturday evening, and an implicit threat towards the central defender.

“He will be dealt with, no doubt about that,” Ferguson told MUTV.

“I’m disappointed with Rio for not wearing the t-shirt. It’s an embarrassment for me. I’m very disappointed because I said in the press conference the players would be wearing it. We’re all wearing the badges and he goes and lets us down. But we’ll deal with it, don’t worry.”

Indeed, the Sun reported on Sunday that Ferguson will fine his player £220,000 – two week’s wages – for the protest. The coincidence in Terry paying the very same amount in fines for his racial slur is unpleasant. Whether United can impose the fine under the terms of Ferdinand’s contract is one question; why Ferdinand, who is out of contract in June 2013, would choose to stay at Old Trafford in those circumstances, is another.

In any case, one suspects Ferguson’s real anger is not in the protest per se, but in a perceived defiance.

Yet, Ferdinand has received support, both from PFA Chair Clarke Carlisle, and Piara Powar, director of European anti-racism body Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE).

“We will make sure Rio Ferdinand’s rights as a human being, never mind as a footballer, aren’t undermined in this,” promised York defender Carlisle.

“Everyone has a right to free speech – just like you can’t coerce anyone into shaking hands, you can’t make somebody wear a T-shirt. There are two sides to this one. First of all, Sir Alex Ferguson is continual in his unwavering support for the Kick It Out campaign, which is commendable, but you can’t vilify or coerce any individual for making a stand.

“I would sincerely hope that Ferguson now speaks with Rio Ferdinand, asks him why he wanted to make that stand and hopefully supports the position he is in and it isn’t seen as a player-against-manager situation.”

What contrast between Ferguson’s reaction and that of Reading manager Brian McDermott, with the 51-year-old mature in his support for Roberts’ stance. The very same striker who came under heavy fire from Ferguson on Friday, with United’s manager labeling Roberts a “sheep” that had “wandered off course”

“Jason had his view and it was very strong view,” retorted former Arsenal player McDermott. “We spoke on Friday and I totally respect [Robert’s] view. It was important for him to do what he did today. I one hundred per cent back him.”

Meanwhile, Powar – once a director at KIO – pointedly said via Twitter that “on this weekend of counter-protest some people still don’t get it. Old-skool racists, administrators and ‘leaders’ all still struggling.”

In that Powar is less than opaque in his criticism of Ferguson. The Scot’s support for KIO is manifest, but his understanding of the debate’s nuances is seemingly poor. After all, while Ferguson is keen that the “sheep” stay in line, coerced unity is no confederation of the willing at all.

To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, in matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place. In that there is an essential truth. Ferdinand’s stance is both genuine and sound, no matter how unpopular it is in Old Trafford’s hierarchy.

After all, there is no mutual exclusivity between directing anger at those whom perpetrate racism, and those who now do too little to eliminate it from the game. The majority may have worn KIO’s t-shirt this weekend. For those that did not, it is an organisation with much to prove.

Preview: United v Stoke City

October 19, 2012 Tags: , Matches 130 comments

Ah, the international break – that period when Manchester United fans kick back and think of better things to come, a season once again disrupted by World Cup qualification. It is also the time when Sir Alex Ferguson prays to the Gods of whomever that his squad will return from faraway lands fit and healthy. Somehow, it seems, this has rarely been the case in recent seasons. Yet, Ferguson’s squad will be fuller, and healthier, for Stoke City’s visit to Old Trafford this weekend than at almost any time in the past two seasons.

Injuries have disrupted a season that has borne two Premier League defeats in seven games to date, while a seemingly ever-changing tactical approach has rarely been conductive to consistency. However, with all bar Nemanja Vidić, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, available for the Potters’ visit, Ferguson could field something approaching his full strength side this weekend.

Tony Pullis’ side will present another test of Ferguson’s sometimes fragile back-four, although counter to popular sentiment United has rarely struggled against the Midlanders. In eighth Premier League encounters between the two sides over the past four years, United has triumphed on seven occasions. Still, with a rare 3pm Saturday kick off afforded the Scot’s side, United has the chance to close to within a point of Chelsea at the head of the Premier League table by Saturday evening.

“Everyone came back from the internationals fit,” confirmed Ferguson on Friday.

“Which is a bonus. It is always a time when you’re a bit concerned about getting the players back but, fortunately, we’ve been lucky this time. Also Ashley Young is fit. Chris Smalling is not quite there but is making progress.

“Young gives us another option. As I’ve said many times over the last few weeks, the strength of our squad is the attacking options we have and we’re getting better with Darren Fletcher coming back which has been terrific for him and for us.

“There has been some progress with players like Nick Powell, who is progressing well, as is Tom Cleverley and Anderson is getting better all the time so all the fears about the midfield positions are evaporating quite well.”

Manchester United version Stoke City – Premier League, Old Trafford – Saturday 20 October 2012Ferguson’s England quartet – Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck – could all feature against the Potters, although Welbeck’s inclusion from the start is far from guaranteed. The Longsight-born striker scored twice against San Marino during the recent break, but is more likely to feature against Sporting Braga in the Champions League on Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, Ferguson will make a late call on which wingers to deploy – if any – with Nani out-of-favour, Antonio Valencia travelling back from South America, and Ashley Young only just available after missing two months through injury. United successfully deployed a ‘wingerless’ diamond system against Newcastle United at St James’ Park prior to the international break, with Rooney in the hole behind Robin van Persie.

In defence Ferguson may again rotate out David de Gea, while Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans should continue a fruitful partnership in the heart of United’s back-four.

Visitors Stoke arrive with defender Andy Wilkinson available after suspension, although Glenn Whelan misses out with a hamstring problem. Former United player Michael Owen, who has had a groin strain, could make the bench. The striker scored 17 goals in 52 games for United over three years and claims that he is “desperate” to play in the fixture.

There is little history to suggest the visitors will come away with anything on Saturday. The Midlanders haven’t emerged victorious from a visit to Old Trafford in 36 years, when Alan Bloor headed home an 87th minute winner. Stoke hasn’t gained a point in Manchester since 1980. Physical though Pullis’ side may be,  it has rarely gained any traction against Ferguson’s side.

“It is always hard to play against Stoke because they play a different kind of football to most teams in the Premier League. They are very physical and have very strong players,” United winger Nani told MUTV.

“It is also difficult because most of the game is in the air. We need to be strong and try to play our game.”

Although, with United having scored a league-high five goals from corners this season it is the home side that has becoming a surprising threat from set-pieces. In a game of many contrasts that is, perhaps, the most unexpected.

Match Details
Manchester United v Stoke City – Premier League, Old Trafford – Saturday 20 October 2012, 3pm

Possible teams
United (4-2-3-1): Lindegaard; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Scholes, Carrick; Valencia, Rooney, Kagawa; van Persie. Subs from: De Gea, Wootton, Buttner, Anderson, Cleverley, Fletcher, Giggs, Nani, Young, Welbeck, Hernández.

Stoke (4-5-1): Begovic; Cameron, Huth, Shawcross, Wilson; Kightly, Whitehead, Adam, Nzonzi, Etherington; Crouch. Subs from: Sorensen, Upson, Edu, Jones, Walters, Jerome.

Referee: A Taylor
Assistants: D Cann, S Long
Fourth Official: M Halsey

United: WWWWLW

Head to Head
Last 10: United 8, Stoke 1, Draw 1
Overall: United 37, Stoke 26, Draw 32


  • United remain second in the Premier League after goals from Jonny Evans, Patrice Evra, and Tom Cleverley completed a comprehensive 3-0 victory against Newcastle United two weeks ago;
  • Evans’ progress into the United first team has been fast tracked in recent seasons by injuries, with the defender contributing nine clearances, three interceptions and three blocks so far this season;
  • Evra, meanwhile, has won nine of the 11 tackles he has attempted so far this season, while also getting forward to deliver 15 crosses;
  • Cleverley is short of goals during a fledgling United career, with the strike against Newcastle his first in the Premier League this season – the midfielder has hit the target with four of six shots at goal this season;
  • Only one player, Papiss Cisse, has taken more shots without a Premier League goal than Wayne Rooney this season – the Scouser has attempted 14 shots without scoring;
  • Carrick put in an energetic performance against Newcastle, covering 6.75 miles, the highest by any United player so far this season;
  • The Geordie has also completed more passes in his opponent’s half (213), without being credited with an assist, than any other player;
  • Midfield partner Scholes has completed 189 passes in his opponent’s half so far this season, one every 1 minute, 57 seconds – the best passing/ration in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
  • Meanwhile, Stoke earned a point against Liverpool last time out, and could have taken all three points but for saves by Pepe Reina from Charlie Adam and Michael Kightly;
  • Kightly has seen nine of his ten shots at goal on target so far this season, an accuracy rating of 90 per cent, which is the best in the league;
  • Former Red Ryan Shawcross has has attempted 20 tackles so far this season without conceding a single foul, the most of any player in the Index;
  • Peter Crouch has four Premier League goals so far this season, but has also contributed 42 tackles, interceptions, clearances or blocks this season;
  • Crouch has also received the ball more times than any other Stoke player, with 289 ball receptions.


Rant Cast 126 – up up and away

October 19, 2012 Tags: Rant Cast 6 comments

On this week’s post international break Rant Cast we look back into the now seemingly distant past to Manchester United’s thumping victory over Newcastle United at St. James’ Park. Sir Alex Ferguson’s wingless wonders gained revenge for a 3-0 loss at the same venue last season, while posing some interesting tactical questions for the season ahead.

Also this week: we talk internationals, with the bulk of Ferguson’s squad away with their national teams. Fortunately for the Scot all should return in rude health for United’s matches with Stoke City and Sporting Braga at Old Trafford in the coming week.

We talk Tom Cleverley’s potential contract, Yaya’s wages, Chicharito, Wayne Rooney’s captaincy, Nani’s terrible form, and Nemanja Vidić’s fitness.

Finally, back at home Liverpool’s Director of Communications took on a Twitter star with hilarious consequences, a crazy Austrian man jumped out of a balloon from space, and we take your – usually odd – twitter questions.

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

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