Month November 2012

Month November 2012

Rant Cast 132 – statues

November 30, 2012 Tags: Rant Cast 3 comments

On this week’s packed Rant Cast we review Manchester United’s victories over Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United at Old Trafford – occasions on which the Reds did very little to impress but gained valuable points in the Premier League title race.

It was a week in which legends and nostalgia reigned. United supporters celebrated 20 years of Eric Cantona’s signature, while Sir Alex Ferguson’s statute was finally unveiled underneath the eponymously named stand at Old Trafford.

We also talk about Anders Lindegaard’s call for a “gay hero” in professional football – what are the chances of a more progressive view from football fans? Finally, we take your questions, and look ahead to the football in the week ahead!

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

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Media Digest: the love story, heroes of the past and Regina Spektor

November 30, 2012 Tags: Opinion 3 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 Manchester United-related news and blogs – Media Digest.

BLOGS

Another week, another comeback: fitting not only to the season so far, but to the occasion, as United unveiled Sir Alex Ferguson’s statue. A lot of praise mixed with some disapproval in this week’s digest, as the heroes of the past returned. Although she once sang that “blue [is] the most human color”, our hostess this week is Regina Spektor.

“The sculptor’s marble sends regards, They made a statue of us”

There are times fans may disagree with Ferguson, and even feel ashamed of his behaviour at times, but the manager means a world to United fans. “Love” would be too strong a word for some, as they quite simply do not forgive and forget when it comes to Glazers, but the chant of “Every single one of us loves Alex Ferguson” is still sung loud and clear during games.

Indeed, whatever your views are on how Fergie handles the press or whom he supports, there is a sense of gratitude for what Sir Alex has done for United.

The Busby Way quotes Sir Bobby Charlton: “we didn’t in our wildest dreams think that it would last as long as this. He’s just a sensational manager, I keep repeating it, [but] others must look on in envy.”

Last Friday marked a special occasion, as many United legends and greats – including Bryan Robson, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Eric Cantona – came to Old Trafford as special guests for the unveiling of  Ferguson’s statue.

“Normally people die before they see their statue. I’m outliving death!” the boss jokes, with a humor both light-hearted and dark.  The fire is still burning despite being just a month short of 71-years-old.  Certainly, as Republik of Mancunia reports, Ferguson didn’t need a second invitation to fire a first shot at newly appointed Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez this week.

Obviously, many blogs reported on the statue unveiling, featuring pictures and videos, but The Peoples Person offered some of the best content. Apart from an excellent multimedia-heavy post, the blog also featured a nice tribute to “The man who made Manchester United”, The Peoples Person:

While other teams have sometimes been much more pleasing on the eye, Manchester United were often called “the worst United side to win the league”. It is this ability to constantly defy critics and bring the best out of the players brought in that truly make Sir Alex the greatest manager of all times.

Meanwhile, The Busby Babe looked at Fergie’s time at the club from a different angle, asking readers to vote on the greatest United player of the Sir Alex era. King Eric might be on the article’s featured photo, but he’s not leading the poll!

“They’ll… later say it’s all our fault, Then they’ll give us a talking to”

Howver, life wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows for fans. Once again, United failed to impress in the first 60 or so minutes of the game against Queens Park Ranger, owing the positive result to QPR’s mediocrity. With United topping the league table, and in the knockout stage of the Champions League, there’s no need to panic, but with so many bad signs, nervous are many fans.

At Daniele puts it in “Will the real Manchester United please show up?”, Red Rants:

While in the end the result rewarded United, their tendency to forget tempo and pressure in the dressing room is a problem that a world class team can’t afford, let alone a team like United whose shortcomings appear with alarming regularity. Fans must be wondering which one is the real United – the shockingly bad one of the first 58 minutes or the blood and thunder one that scored three times in 10 minutes?

There is no doubt players under-performed against the Hammers, but it’s the manager who’s often held responsible for team’s failures. Has Fergie become too sentimental to let some players go? That’s what a number of bloggers argued.

Indeed, Shane looks for answers in “Going Through the Motions – Is Fergie Going Soft?”:

Whatever Fergie and Gill claim publicly  the tightening purse strings have denied us the opportunity to make the changes clearly needed. The gaping hole in the centre of our midfield would be visible to my partially-sighted grandmother, looking through a telescope from the moon. Fergie is one of the best managers in the history of the game. A glaringly obvious lack of quality in the centre of the pitch is not something that is likely to have just passed him by. He just can’t do anything about it. Or is it that he just feels obliged not to, out of loyalty to a couple of his most trusted lieutenants? Has Fergie simply got a bit softer with age?

Meanwhile, Jon Wilmot echoes some of the thoughts, as he tries to find the right formation and players for the rest of the season.

“Ne Me Quitte Pas, Mon Chere”

Remember how this song goes? “And think about how things were right, / When they were young and veins were tight, / And if you are the ghost of Christmas Past / then won’t you stay the night?”

Well, for United fans Christmas comes a little earlier this year. In “Celebrate The King, CANTONA”, Stretford End Flags reports on #cantonaweek:

Manchester United supporters will be showing their affection for Eric, with a special week of tributes to pay homage to the great man. #cantonaweek kicks off with a supporters charity evening in honour of Eric, at The Bishops Blaize pub on the Friday night (23rd Nov). Hosted by Pete Boyle, tickets are £2 and are available from The Bishops. A special tribute message from Eric himself will be played on the screen during the night… Prior to the West Ham game, a supporters Cantona march will take place before the game.

The latest issues of popular fanzines Red News and United We Stand also featured Cantona related stories and both have the Frenchman on the cover.

“Hey, open wide, here comes original sin”

The brilliant “Deadly Sins” series continues on ManUtd24, as Gluttony takes stage in “Manchester United’s Seven Deadly Sins: #3 – Gluttony”, ManUtd24featuring Fergie, Juan Sebastian Veron, Laurent Blanc, Darron Gibson, Roy Keane – and drinking:

The refreshingly blunt Keane would remind this group of Liverpool players that they were indeed underachievers, going at them like the wooden targets in a shooting range, one by one for verbal practice. Phil Babb would get it. John Scales, too: “You’re rubbish as well, with your England B cap, you’re nowt, rubbish.” And then Redknapp who, like Scales, tried to make peace and failed. “What the hell have you done in the game?” Keane would ask, most likely rhetorically.

Meanwhile, Devils of Manchester notes an interesting example of hatred. In his book My Premier League Diary, Swansea City defender Ashley Williams writes that he’d love to knock Suarez out. Amazingly, as if the Being Liverpool television series wasn’t embarrassing enough for the club and Brendan Rogers… [the book] “was actually sanctioned by Brendan Rogers during his time as Swansea City manager.”

More…

With United already through to the knockout phase of the Champions League, The Busby Babe offers a breakdown of the Reds’ possible opponents.

Sam from The Peoples Person is concern about Joshua King’s loan deal, which is potentially a permanent one, and laments that United is selling the wrong striker.

An early Manchester derby took place at the Manchester Arena on Saturday, as Vyacheslav Senchenko, Ukrainian boxer and United fan (Daily Star), defeated Ricky Hatton, a huge City fan. The Busby Way has a photo of Senchenko with a United shirt near Old Trafford.

Red Flag Flying High reports that Ferdinand and Evra made the FIFA FIFPro World XI shortlist and are among the top 20 defenders to be considered for the final eleven.

Finally, Scott from Republik of Mancunia is enraged by United ripping the fans off. Apparently, the club thinks it’s okay to give away City away tickets to random businesses, rather then ensure fans get them.

PRESS

Mancunian Matters – quotes Jose Mourinho, who calls Sir Alex “incredible, amazing, unique”; features a video depicting ugly scenes in Istanbul airport prior to United’s arrival earlier this month; and offers a Kenny Morgans obituary.

BBC – this week the“Fergie time” myth is analysed through statistics and Graham Poll. The outlet also boasts a nice video from the statue unveiling ceremony and Dave Sexton’s obituary.

The Guardian – praises Nick Powell, although the author notes that “there are currently no truly outstanding teenagers in the United academy ranks”. The paper also runs a nice career-in-video article on Eric Cantona. Finally, The Guardian reports that “United stand accused over a low level of corporation tax paid”.

The Telegraph – becomes yet another outlet reminiscing over Cristiano Ronaldo, featuring a gallery dedicated to former United player. It also reports on graduates of the Ferguson school of management.

Daily Mail – another week, another brilliant article from Gary Neville, this time on Ronaldo. The outlet also quotes Tony Pulis, with the Stoke boss claiming Berbatov is the signing of the summer.

 

Preview: United v West Ham United

November 28, 2012 Tags: , Matches 69 comments

Old Trafford takes in a rare midweek Premier League game, with high-flying West Ham United in town on Wednesday as Sir Alex Ferguson’s team aims to consolidate a one point lead in the table. Manchester United’s renewed Premier League supremacy came amid few positives from a lethargic display against Queens Park Rangers on Saturday – a scenario Ferguson is keen to avoid against the Hammers.

Once again, on Saturday, United fell behind, only to secure victory over QPR with a three goal burst inside 10 second half minutes. It is a pattern that has repeated all season, although the Reds’ lifelessness for much of Saturday’s tie will definitely certainly concern United’s manager.

West Ham travel north following defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend, but lying in a healthy eighth place in the Premier League, with Sam Allardyce’s outfit just two points off a European qualification place.

This is a performance that brought fresh support from Ferguson for his old friend Allardyce. The former Bolton Wanderers manager has rarely enjoyed universal support from Hammers’ fans during an 18 month spell at the club.

Meanwhile, United will make at least one change from the weekend’s line-up, with veteran midfielder Paul Scholes absent through suspension.  Anderson, who impressed in a 30 minute cameo on Saturday, could start just his seventh game of the season against Allardyce’s outfit.

Ferguson has plenty of dilemmas ahead of kick off, with neither Ashley Young, Nani, nor Antonio Valencia in form for the Londoners’ visit. In any case Valencia’s hip problem could rule out the Ecuadorian once again, while Nani has missed matches against Aston Villa, Norwich City and QPR with a hamstring problem. Young, jeered off on Saturday, could drop to the bench.

“We’ll see what Antonio is like today and tomorrow,” admitted the United manager.

“Nani is still going to be out [but] Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were on the bench on Saturday and they’re available. It’s good to have them as back-up and in the back four things are much healthier. We’ve got plenty of options in the midfield and up front – it’s just the two wide positions.”

Manchester United v West Ham United - Premier League, Old Trafford - Wednesday 29 November 8.00pmInjuries and form could see United once again deploy a narrow midfield, with Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck also in contention to start alongside the Reds’ oft-errant Brazilian, Anderson.

Yet,  the big-boned midfielder, with Javier Hernández, changed Saturday’s game for United – the pair adding urgency and dynamism as the Reds won the fixture with a short burst in the second half. The player has often frustrated at Old Trafford, but a 30 minute substitute appearance has renewed hope that the former Porto star could fulfill his potential.

“I thought Ando won the game for us,” said Ferguson after United’s 3-1 victory on Saturday.

“His performance was outstanding. He took the game by the scruff of the neck and he was so positive and determined in his play that he picks himself on Wednesday.”

However, much focus will also be on United’s opponents at Old Trafford, with £35 million on-loan striker Andy Carroll likely to draw the Stretford End’s jeers. The Liverpool forward, on loan at Upton Park for the season, has scored just once this season after a near disastrous campaign with the Merseyside club last year.

Still, United’s inability to come up with more than three clean sheets in 20 matches this season means Carroll is an undoubted threat on Wednesday night.

“I am sure if you ask any defender, they find it difficult to play against someone like that who is good in the air and on the floor,” said fellow striker Rooney who should return to United’s starting line-up against the Hammers.

“He is physical and he makes it difficult. That type of player doesn’t always get all the goals but they can cause trouble up front and create problems. I am sure that is what Sam Allardyce wants him to do.”

Whether Carroll’s presence induces yet another comeback performance is yet to be determined, although Ferguson is unlikely to tolerate another lesson in mediocrity. While United’s defensive performance against QPR was far better than at times this season, with Jonny Evans impressing at centre half, the team’s lack of urgency was deeply concerning.

Meanwhile, Allardyce is without suspended midfielder Mark Noble, while left-back George McCartney is a doubt after suffering an ankle injury against Spurs. Yossi Benayoun, Jack Collison and forward Ricardo Vaz Te are also ruled out though injury.

Whatever West Ham’s short-term problems, Ferguson says Dudley-born Allardyce has already exceeded his remit in brining stability to the east London side.

“Big Sam went to Upton Park a year and a bit ago and the cynics said he’s not a West Ham manager as he doesn’t play football,” said Ferguson.

“What was his mandate? To get them up into the Premier League as quickly as possible and he got them up within a year. Tell me someone else who could’ve done that? He’s also had to rebuild the team and get two or three players out because of their salaries. He’s very underrated, it’s as simple as that.”

Whether Allardyce can lead his men to victory is another matter. While memories of Fabian Barthez raised right hand and Paulo di Canio’s cup goal are fresh, so too are eight victories for the Reds in the past 10 meetings between these sides. Old Trafford expects nothing less than a repeat.

Match Details
Manchester United v West Ham United – Premier League, Old Trafford – Wednesday 28 November 2012, 8.00pm

Possible teams
United (4-2-3-1): Lindegaard; Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Carrick, Anderson; Cleverley, Rooney, Welbeck; van Persie. Subs from: De Gea, Jones, Smalling, Powell, Wootton, Buttner, Fletcher, Hernandez, Henríquez.

West Ham (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Reid, McCartney, Tomkins, O’Brien; Nolan, Diame, O’Neil, Taylor, Jarvis; Carroll. Subs from: Spiegel, Collins, Demel, Taylor, Moncur, Cole, Maiga.

Officials
Referee: M Jones
Assistants: R Ganfield, G Beswick
Fourth official: J Moss

Form
United: WWWLLW
West Ham: WLDWDL

Head to Head
Last 10: United 8, West Ham 2, Draw 0
Overall: United 56, West Ham 42, Draw 24

Stats

  • Hernández remains the league’s most productive goalscorer in terms of the average time per goal strike – one every 69 minutes is unmatched by any other forward;
  • Robin van Persie failed to add to his tally against QPR, but performed well enough to usurp Carlos Tevez as the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index‘ leading player – on 276 points to Tevez’ 275, with Juan Mata in third-placed on 244;
  • The Dutchman’s philosophy is certainly more than ‘style over substance’ – he covered 6.39 miles at the weekend, more than any other United player for the third consecutive game;
  • United is the only team in the league to have won six of the last seven games, yet in nine of the past 13 league matches Ferguson’s men have fallen behind;
  • Darren Fletcher returned from a long-term absence at the weekend – his first league start in over a year – and covered 6.29 miles in 90 minutes, more than all but three of his team mates;
  • Meanwhile, West Ham head to Old Trafford just two points off Everton in fifth-place, with Kevin Nolan key to the Hammers chances at Old Trafford – Nolan is the league’s most accurate finisher according to the Index, with 70 per cent of 30 shots on target this season;
  • Defender James Tomkins has won 93.8 percent of his tackles this season – more than any other league player;
  • The Hammers suffered a tough day against Spurs last weekend, but Andy Carroll’s goal means that the east London club has failed to score in just three matches this season;
  • Carroll has split fans’ opinions this season, but has 13 on target from twenty attempts.

Prediction
3-0

Second gear might just be enough for lethargic Reds

November 26, 2012 Tags: Opinion 22 comments

It is a truism that Manchester United has rarely, if ever, hit top form this season. The Premier League’s top goal scorers may have entertained at times, finding the net 32 times in 13 Premier League games, but the unit has rarely, it seems, worked as a collective. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team is on course for 90 plus domestic league goals, but may well concede half as many at the other end. More worrying for the Scot is his team’s propensity to play only in bursts.

Saturday’s clash with Queens Park Rangers is a case in point, with United failing to keep a clean sheet for the 17th time in 20 games, while scoring three in a 15 minute second half spell to win the match.

It’s hard to argue with the results – United sits top of the Premier League and has comfortably qualified for the knock – out stages in Europe. Yet, there is a growing sense that Ferguson’s team cannot keep ceding goals if it is to succeed in the Spring, while there must equally be a step change in performance levels.

This is an observation that Saturday’s emotional goalscorer, Darren Fletcher, understands all too clearly, with the Scot demanding improved performances from the Reds after the weekend’s unconvincing victory over QPR.

“We’re very frustrated,” Fletcher told MUTV. “It shouldn’t take going a goal behind for us to start playing. The only positive thing we can take from it is that every time we do it we seem to respond. But we can’t keep making a habit of it.

“We want to go on a run of winning games now and not keep conceding first. After the defeat at Norwich and at Galatasaray it was important we got a win today. Hopefully now we can kick on and see an improvement in our performances.

“It’s great to be back and to score goals but it has to be in winning teams. That’s what made today special. It wasn’t great to go a goal down in my first league game back. I was thinking: ‘Here we go’. But the lads always respond and the most pleasing thing for me about my goal was that it put us 2-1 up.”

Fletcher’s call-to-action pays little credence to QPR performance. After all the west London outfit lived with United for all but a short spell in the second half. The Reds’ performance was at times lethargic, and far too often insipid, on a day when many supporters had expected something a little more dynamic.

Indeed, the question of United’s rejoinder to going a goal, or sometimes two, behind has been oft-debated this season, although Ferguson’s side was unable to respond at Everton and Norwich City, or against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford. Despite the Reds’ lofty league position those defeats could yet haunt Ferguson’s men.

The warning is clear though: if the Scot’s side leaks goals at more than one per game, United will continue losing matches in the campaign.

“Conceding first is a bad habit but it’s good that we can turn it around,” added goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard, who was preferred to David de Gea on Saturday

“Last weekend against Norwich we were not able do it. I don’t think we should have conceded in this match, it is very disappointing. I asked one of my team-mates in the locker room about what would have happened if we hadn’t conceded a goal. It was like a wake-up call for us.”

In that Ferguson is surely troubled – he is seemingly unable to bolster a defensive unit that, despite intermittent changes, has contained five internationals in almost every match this season. This is a question unanswered in the campaign to date, with the Reds conceding first in 13 of 20 fixtures.

More concerning though is Lindegaard’s admission that his team-mates now require the spur of conceding to kick on. After all, talk is undoubtedly cheap when the Dane, Fletcher and company have been unable to right a listing ship, defensively at least, for much of the campaign. If motivation has now become such a problem that the team cannot find its optimum, without the pressure of potential defeat, then Ferguson has much work to do.

Yet, Manchester City’s draw with Chelsea on Sunday leaves the Reds heading the Premier League table with a third of the season now complete. The lesson, if any is to be drawn, from challengers’ inconsistency, is that Ferguson’s side need not be of his finest vintage to claim domestic league title 20 in May.

“We only played for 10 minutes,” admitted Ferguson of United’s performance against QPR. “We expected an improved performance from Queens Park Rangers. We saw that today, they fought very hard. But in terms of our own quality we only played for 10 minutes.”

“It’s always important to win. We want to challenge for the title this season and victories like this when we’re not playing at our best are important.”

Yet the question of what is now “United’s best” remains relevant. Ferguson’s United side may well contain a plethora of attacking talent, but it is undoubtedly hamstrung in other areas. On Saturday Javier Hernández once again rescued Ferguson’s men – a habit the young Mexican has invariably found in recent months. Hernández and his attacking cohort will not always do so.

Good for the United that the club’s rivals have similar weaknesses, amply demonstrated by English clubs’ poor performance in the Champions League group stages. City’s inability to convert draws to victories, especially away from home, has become costly. Meanwhile, Chelsea – with yet another manager – lacks as much direction as quality in central midfield.

In Europe, come the early-spring knock-out stages, none of this will be relevant to Ferguson’s side. But for now, domestically, performances such as that against QPR on Saturday may well be enough to see the Scot’s side home. In what could yet be Ferguson’s final campaign the Scot may want for little more.

Preview: United v QPR

November 24, 2012 Tags: , Matches 98 comments

The latest tribute to Sir Alex Ferguson’s remarkable career was unveiled at a wet Old Trafford on Friday – a nine foot high statute placed at the entrance to the renamed Sir Alex Ferguson Stand. The opening ceremony, attended by the great and good of United’s past and present, is the latest in a series of tributes to the great manager as the winter of his career approaches.

Yet, there is some sad irony in celebrations of Ferguson’s greatness, coming at the end of a week in which his side has been anything but. Defeat to Galatasaray in the Champions League may not have damaged United, but that to Norwich City, domestically, certainly did. More worrying than a pair of 1-0 losses, though, is the insipid manner in which Ferguson’s side played this week, especially at Carrow Road.

United’s defending has been anything but optimal this season, leaving the Reds in genuine trouble should Ferguson’s multi-talented attacking unit fail as it did in East Anglia. Of course, despite two defeats in a week there’s no crisis at Old Trafford – with United qualified for the knockout stages in Europe, and second by a point at home, a fourth defeat of the season on Tuesday was far from fatal.

Good job, though, that Queens Park Rangers arrive at Old Trafford this weekend, with the Premier League’s worst team now managerless after Mark Hughes’ dismissal. With the visitors in disarray it should prove to be a comfortable victory for Ferguson’s side at Old Trafford, although few will be surprised if QPR’s hapless players turned up the work-rate for the first time this season. That old cliché about it being the visitors’ Cup Final certainly holds true.

Ferguson will have an almost fully fit squad too, with half a dozen players returning to the first team after sitting out the Champions League defeat in Turkey.

“Wayne Rooney is fit,” said Ferguson. “He had tonsillitis but has been training all week, which is good. Jonny Evans will hopefully train today but I don’t know if he will be available for tomorrow. Chris Smalling had a small shoulder injury on Tuesday night.

“I wanted to play Phil Jones anyway – at least the two of them are back because I thought Jones did very well in his first game back, which is really good news. Nani is not available yet, he’s not fit yet. He’s still got a little problem with his hamstring.”

Manchester United v QPR - Premier League, Old Trafford - Saturday 24 November 2012, 3.00pmStill, the real concern is no longer with injuries, although captain Nemanja Vidić and playmaker Shinji Kagawa may well not play this side of Christmas. Jonny Evans is back in training, but will not feature.

Yet, following a brace of losses Ferguson’s primary motive is for his team to find the winning formula once again. QPR’s current state-of-play should help United, although the Hoops now have little to lose in a game that everybody expects the hosts to win comfortably.

“Obviously last week was a massive disappointment for us,” said striker Rooney, who returns to the team following a bout of tonsilitis.

“After losing that one, this QPR game couldn’t have come quickly enough. We’re looking to get back out there in the league and try and get the three points. If we can get the three points, that will take us to the top again. It might only be for 24 hours but it’s always great to be there.

“QPR last season made it difficult for us. They went down to ten men early on and got players behind the ball and made it difficult. I’m sure it will be the same this season.”

QPR owner Tony Fernandes’ decision to dismiss Hughes this week, replacing the Welshman with out-of-work Harry Redknapp, came as little surprise, with the west London outfit picking up just four Premier League points this season.

Yet, the option to retain Hughes until Friday was met with bewilderment in some quarters, leaving Redknapp no time to take the reins before kick-off. The 65-year-old may watch the game from the stands, with Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki taking charge for the game.

Former Red Park Ji-sung is unlikely to face his former club due to a knee problem, while Bobby Zamora and Andrew Johnson are also out. Loanee Fabio is ineligible.

“If you analyse things a little bit more closely, it’s probably a lesson to everyone that changing a team and bringing 11 new players in to the Premier League is not easy,” Ferguson added.

“But I am surprised they’ve only got four points. I didn’t expect them to immediately set a blazing trail or be up at the top of the league or anything like that with 11 new players to bed in. But they’ve only four points and of course that creates its own headlines.”

United supporters attending Old Trafford on Saturday will hope that the media will have a different story to tell than the Reds have faced in the past week. Indeed, with Manchester City not in action until Sunday, United will return to the Premier League summit should victory be achieved in a rare Saturday 3pm kick off.

Match Details
Manchester United v QPR – Premier League, Old Trafford – Saturday 24 November 2012, 3.00pm

Possible teams
United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Smalling, Ferdinand, Evra; Carrick, Scholes; Valencia, Rooney, Young; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Jones, Powell, Wootton, Buttner, Cleverley, Fletcher, Anderson, Hernandez, Welbeck, Henríquez.

QPR (4-5-1): Julio Cesar; Onouha, Ferdinand, Nelsen, Traore; Hoilett, Taarabt, Granero, Diakite, Faurlin; Cisse. Subs from: Cerny, Bosingwa, Green, Wright-Phillips, Dyer, Ehmer, Magri, Mackie, Derry, Ephraim, Harriman.

Officials
Referee: L Probert
Assistants: S Beck, S Child
Fourth official: G Eltringham

Form
United: LWWWLL
QPR: LDLDLL

Head to Head
Last 10: United 9, QPR 0, Draw 1
Overall: United 30, QPR 6, Draw 13

Stats

  • Rooney’s return at Old Trafford is welcome after the striker missed last week’s defeat a Norwich – the Scouser recorded the fastest average speed of any United player in the previous three games, including 4.65 mph against Aston Villa;
  • Paul Scholes may now be the wrong side of 38, but the veteran has played more successful passes per minute than any other league player this season, according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, with 277 in under nine hours of pitch time;
  • Michael Carrick put in the passing performance of the season against Villa two weeks ago, completing 92 passes in the opponents half – however it was just 49 against Norwich;
  • Passing may be United’s forté this season, but dribbling certainly isn’t – the Reds have just two of the top 100 top dribblers this season in Antonio Valencia and Luis Nani;
  • The Hoops’ best hope of an upset may be Adel Taarabt, who has struck 20 shots on target this season – three more than Robin Van Persie – with the Algerian on the pitch for two thirds as many minutes as the Dutch striker;
  • Esteban Granero will be equally key to QPR’s afternoon – the former Real Madrid player covered more miles than any of his teammates for the fourth league game in a row against Southampton, with a shift of 6.43 miles;
  • If QPR is to take advantage of David De Gea’s perceived uncertainty in the air, the managerless team may have to put in a cross – Jose Bosingwa is the only QPR player to have put ten crosses into the box this season, while Everton’s Leighton Baines has chalked up 60;
  • Unsurprisingly Ji Sung Park has topped the charts for distance run in four of his eight games so far this season, covering a total of 46.06 miles.

Prediction
3-0

Rant Cast 131 – we drink a drink

November 23, 2012 Tags: Rant Cast 7 comments

On this week’s show – we look back on Manchester United’s double defeat to Norwich City and Galatasaray. While the kids lost in Turkey, the oldies came unstuck in East Anglia. It was one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s less salubrious weeks.

Yet, the daddy of all managers celebrates a new statue in front of the old North – now renamed – stand. In a week for managerial changes, we discuss Roberto Di Matteo’s sacking at Chelsea, and a new Spanish appointment in west London. We also discuss Sir Alex’ possible replacements – could double title winning Ole Gunnar Solskjaer be in the frame?

Also on this week’s show – Eric Cantona, a Rogues XI competition winner, we take your Twitter questions and a new feature on the show!

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

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Di Matteo’s demise underscores Ferguson’s enduring value

November 22, 2012 Tags: Opinion 27 comments

It has been a week for managers; one which has often reminded Manchester United supporters just how fortunate the club remains to keep Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm after more than a quarter century. True, the cantankerous 70-year-old Scot has many faults, more of them personal than professional, but whatever the legitimate criticisms, Ferguson’s stewardship continues to avoid the managerial dramas prevalent elsewhere.

Indeed, Wednesday’s commotion at Stamford Bridge, in which Champions League winning manager Roberto Di Matteo was unceremoniously sacked and replaced with out-of-work Rafael Benitez, says much for Old Trafford’s contrasting stability. Benitez is the 10th manager employed by Roman Abramovich in nine years. Ferguson hasn’t hired that many deputies in more than 25.

Fitting, than, that yet another tribute is paid to Sir Alex this week, with the manager’s statue unveiled in front of the renamed Sir Alex Ferguson Stand on Friday. The statue, marking 26 years of the Scot’s tenure in Manchester, is set to be placed above the main entrance, with Ferguson-themed artwork adorning the lower concourse.

Little wonder, while there is sympathy for Di Matteo in football circles, the real plaudits have poured in for Ferguson this week; a man still without peer in the game.

“He’s unique, especially in the modern day,” said Jose Mourinho, whose Real Madrid side knocked City out of the Champions League on Wednesday night.

“If you go back many years, then you will find somebody like him but [it’s amazing] in the modern day at the highest level, where it is really difficult to survive in our job. He’s absolutely incredible at what he does and we can’t even imagine when he’ll stop. He’s unbelievable.”

Over at Cobham, Benitez, whose anti-Ferguson rant remains a career highlight, will take his first training sessions ahead of the west London outfit’s trip to Manchester City this weekend.

Chelsea, having lost twice and drawn another brace in the past month, is hardly in a tailspin other than that self-induced by the owners. Yet, out went Di Matteo as the sun rose on Wednesday morning, seemingly on the capricious whim of a narcissistic owner. For all Abramovich’s investment, which is running at more than £1 billion over just shy of a decade, the Russian has repeatedly hamstrung his own club.

Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, and perhaps even Andre Villas-Boas, each went far too early. Elsewhere, the Russian’s bizarre recruitment policy seemingly owes more to the latest hype than a genuine process.

True, Abramovich’s spending is in stark contrast to the Glazer family’s drain on United. The Americans’ cost to the club is estimated at north of £550 million in debt servicing, interest and other payments. But the family, for all the insidious drive to exploit United’s fame, has at least retained the good sense to hold keenly the club’s playing stability.

At the core of that is Ferguson. Infuriatingly stubborn, an aggressive supporter of a hated regime, and often embarrassingly myopic, but the Scot is still utterly peerless. It is a quality recognised in high circles.

“He’s one of these people that has a strength of character that immediately marks him out as a leader of people,” said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“He’s a great competitor but he’s also got huge integrity, to himself and to what he believes in. I think that’s quite unusual in life to find people like that.

“If you’re in a tough situation and everything is coming down on top of you and you feel you’re slowly getting surrounded by the people that want to put you in a deep dark pit, Alex is the type of person you’d want standing alongside you. He is a great leader, a great character, and a great human being.”

Which, of course, leaves the oft-debated question of Ferguson’s successor out there – in this week of tributes and tribulations in managerial circles above all others.

Turning 71 in the New Year, Ferguson cannot last much longer. Indeed, the no-fly order prescribed by his doctors in the summer may be a sign of things to come. Sir Alex has often claimed that health, rather than age, will dictate his long-term future at Old Trafford.

Still, as Chelsea flit from one fashionable manager to the next, David Gill and United’s board will face the mother of all managerial appointments when Ferguson’s replacement is finally required, whether that comes next summer or beyond.

The usual suspects – Mourinho, Abramovich’s favourite Pep Guardiola, and perhaps David Moyes – will head a very short list of candidates. Whomever the new man, none will match Ferguson’s achievements. Few his aura and universal respect among his playing charges, says Paul Scholes, who at 38 has only known one club manager.

“He’s been brilliant for every single player that’s worked for him,” adds the midfielder.

“There is such a hunger and desire about him that really drives his players on – he knows how to keep you motivated throughout a season. It’s something that he’s managed to do for the last 20 years and I’m sure he’ll carry on doing it for the next few years as well.

“Somebody’s going to have to come in one day and manage this team and if they do half as well as he does they’ll be successful. There’s nobody like him I know that – but somebody’s got to give it a go.”

There could, of course, still be a left-field choice. How many have have come and gone in the decade since Ferguson’s ‘first’ retirement in 2002? Once chic Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes will be nowhere near Gill’s short-list. Neither, thankfully, will Sven-Göran Erikson, Sir Alex’s mooted replacement a decade ago.

Then there is former player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a romantic choice among United’s support. The 39-year-old is unlikely to be offered the job either, despite two Norwegian championships with Molde in as many years. After all, United’s drive for revenues and profit under the Glazer regime is anathema to inexperience.

To paraphrase the great Marcello Lippi, Solskjaer’s appointment at Old Trafford in 2013 or 14, would be akin to handing the keys of a Ferrari over to a learner driver.

Meanwhile, at Stamford Bridge, 52-year-old Benitez is certainly no learner, although the Spaniard hasn’t taken the wheel of a supercar in some time either. It remains to be seen whether the former Liverpool coach is given time in west London.

History dictates Abramovich’s whim will bring Benitez reign to a swift and unstable end. It is a lesson United learned to the club’s benefit some time ago.

Media Digest: old worries, a missing ‘Football Club’ and Cantona

November 20, 2012 Tags: Opinion 1 comment

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 Manchester United-related news and blogs – Media Digest.

BLOGS

This week few goalkeeper-related stories, apart from David De Gea’s dental problems. With goalkeeping sagas on hold, bloggers focused on every other position on the field, covering United’s attack, midfield, and defense in depth. As if some bloggers knew the outcome of the Norwich City match ahead of time, many worried about United’s tendency to not show up for large parts of matches.

Running on and out of luck

They say, United doesn’t lose, the  team just runs out of time. Well, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side might well have run out of luck during the recent trip to Norwich – or was the side so busy running that it forgot to show up? Nonetheless, as United fans take time to digest the display against Norwich, the many comebacks in recent  months have reminded supporters of one of the club’s key assets.

Stretford-End contains a nice list of the comebacks fans have seen this season, as well as some of the greatest over the years. Sheffield Wednesday: – “Bruce?! YES! Uuunbelievable!” – with Fergie and Brian Kidd celebrating in style. Juventus: – “Roy Keane with a captain’s goal for Manchester United, game on!.. It’s towards Yorke, it’s two-two!.. Cole will finish it off – full speed ahead Barcelona!”. Just one  step from the Promised Land. And then to the  final itself – sure the best of all.

Talking of that amazing treble-winning team, Red Army wonders if Fergie is going to successfully recreate the 1999 formula, with four brilliant strikers on his books. It’s certainly not going to be easy managing the quarter, with each trying desperate to play in Ferguson’s first XI. Nonetheless, it worked once, why shouldn’t Ferguson try again?

One striker did stand over the past few weeks – Javier Hernández. Even though the Mexican was a poor against Norwich, United’s ‘super-sub’ deserves praise he has gained in recent weeks. The 23-year-old’s second season wasn’t as good as his first, but the striker in great form now. Over at “The Summer of Javier Hernandez”, Can They Score? fans are genuinely excited about Hernández’ game this season:

But it’s so much more than that. His ability to move around the box and draw defenders who had previously looked like Maldini and Baresi out of position has no equal. Ron Vlaar, the Villa captain, had marshalled his defense to near perfection prior to Hernandez being bought on. The Little Pea’s intelligent movement, which took him to the wing, into the box, and saw him come deep into midfield left Villa’s defenders somewhere near lobotomized. Indeed, even Antonio Valencia began to run at and beat his marker, perhaps reminded by Chicharito that these were, after all, just men.

The never-ending story

So many great comebacks distracted fans from some of Ferguson’s problems, but for every point dropped there are seemingly three articles on United’s midfield troubles. Get into the mood by comparing midfield stats, courtesy of Republik of Mancunia.

To paraphrasing Sir Matt, “if they’re good enough, they’re young enough”. However, even when they are as good as Paul Scholes, the Reds# veterans are getting no younger – over-reliance on players who are now far from their best, like Ryan Giggs, can’t be a good sign.

Fans cringe at the thought of Giggs in the midfield now and, although few are fond of saying it, it might be the right time for the Welshman to consider retirement. In “The Toughest Decision Sir Alex May Ever Face”, Red Flag Flying High Jon Wilmot says that all good things must come to an end:

Scholes played well last season. He was a huge asset and without him it is likely we would have been more than just an Aguero away from winning the league. The summer, though, provided ample time for reflection. Maybe it was time to be bold. Maybe the presence (and wages) of Scholes and Giggs prevented the midfield additions that could elevate United to a level where they could compete more evenly in the higher echelons of the Champions League. However, if it was a thought for Ferguson, it was a fleeting one.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. United has plenty of young starlets in the team who could go to become Old Trafford legends. It may only be potential, yet fans can’t help but get excited. One of the youngsters is Nick Powell. In “Is Nick Powell The Answer To Our Midfield Problems?”, Old Trafford Faithful Jordan Street is rather optimistic about Nick’s future:

Sir Alex obviously sees a lot in him having already touting him to be ‘the next Paul Scholes’, and he obviously trusts him already by using him off the bench for the first team in league game as well as the epic Capital One Cup tie at Stamford Bridge last month. As we’ve already qualified I’d like to see him start in the Champions League games against Galatasaray and Cluj, there would be no pressure on him and he can go out there and play his natural game. I wouldn’t expect to see him go out on loan either, he can do a job already within the squad and if we were to have a midfield injury crisis he is more than capable of stepping in. He could well be a regular in the side within the next year or so.

In head-to-head articles, The People Person echoes Jordan’s thoughts. “His progress has been fantastic already in his short United career”, writes Jonny Escott.

When veterans go, other players have to take responsibility on their shoulders. Some see it as the opportunity to shine. For others it could be a burden, or should that be a burger? Nathon Woodhead, in a guest post on The Faithful MUFC, is rooting for Anderson to finally conquer United’s midfield.

Or will Phill Jones finally find one position and make it his own, wonders Paul Rowles in “Can Jones shake off the dreaded ‘utility man’ tag?”, Stretty News:

The manager experimented with Jones in there, and guess what? He excelled again. During the usual hectic nature of the festive football period, Jones was entrusted to provide energy and be a threatening box-to-box player. Incidentally, he scored his professional goal from midfield for United in a 1-0 away success against Aston Villa, and went on to be outstanding in later fixtures against Wolves and QPR in midfield. Ok, they are hardly the most stringent of tests, but you can only beat what is in front of you and Jones showed he had the potential to be a very dynamic central midfielder. This run of terrific form led to Capello selecting Jones in centre midfield for his England debut.

A midfield quartet of Shinji agawa, Jones, Tom Cleverley, and Anderson certainly sounds promising. For now though, it ends there.

Amit Mandora believes that he has a solution: while other “top teams in the world have Yaya Toure and David Silva, Ramires and Juan Mata, Busquets and Xavi, Alonso and Ozil”, all we need is “to find the someone and Rooney.” Mandora argues the case in his article “Why Manchester United should look closer to home”, By Far the Greatest Team:

Reading about Manchester United of late and their ‘over-reliance’ on Robin Van Persie doesn’t change anything at all. There isn’t a team on this planet that wouldn’t rely on such a clinical finisher. The problem here is not the ‘over-reliance’ on Van Persie but the option not to rely on a midfielder. Out of Carrick, Cleverley, Fletcher and Anderson it is pretty tough to think of them as the reason a game was won. The latter’s exerts in the League cup aside, it’s a mediocre foursome of players for a top of the table club; in England or in Europe… Wayne Rooney’s potential as an all-round midfielder far outweighs his exploits as a striker thus far.

When attacking is not enough

“I know what you’re thinking,” says Harry Callahan. in Dirty Harry. “‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

In the course of the  season, almost every United fan has felt like that punk for a moment, afraid that the Reds’ opponents will have another trick up the sleeve. Yet, until Norwich’s victory last weekend, only against Tottenham Hotspur was ‘unlucky’ enough. Has all those wonderful comebacks hidden the truth? More often than not, United has been awful while defending.

In “We need a central defender more than a central midfielder”, Red Rants Ian argues that United’s troubles don’t end with the midfield:

That itself means Wanyama would now cost United far more than the quoted £7M from last summer, it looks likely that figure could inflate closer to £20M, and if that happens, regardless of whether we sign him or not, his name can be added to the ever growing list of players we hesitated to sign then jumped in feet first when it was too late to pay a reasonable fee or simply lost out on. Now though, with the possible pending departure of Rio Ferdinand next summer and the uncertainty surrounding Nemanja Vidic’s future fitness, I think our biggest most important vacancy is at the centre of defence.

Not so long ago fans were all excited about the club’s young defenders. Soon enough Jones, Chris Smalling et al. will have to fight on without Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. In United’s Game of Thrones, winter is coming.

Fortunately, there is hope. The outstanding defender this season has been Rafael da Silva. In fact, the Brazilian has impressed fans so much that some even rate him as the second best player in the team.  As “Rafael da Silva, the best of the second bests”, ManUtd24 argues,  “after four years of enthusiastic bouncing around ‘There’ and ‘Not Quite There’, has finally made firm his place in the starting eleven.”

So it once was a ‘Football Club’

Despite signing an initiative that requires the club to speak to its fans United refuses to acknowledge IMUSA as long as the group supports anti-Glazer protests. The club believes it is not breaking any rules as the refusal is not with any individuals. The following is a fascinating excerpt from a larger interview – “How United talks to fans – a Reds Away investigation”, Reds Away:

Q. How did Mr Gill reply?

A: He wrote to IMUSA: “The club is aware of both Article 35…and the Premier League’s rule R1… The club is compliant with both… The club remains committed to improving supporter contact and has invested heavily in infrastructure, personnel and expertise to facilitate the two-way information flow between fans and the club… However, with regard to your own organisation, I see no reason to deviate from the position I set out to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in 2011 (when I said) ‘We do not communicate with certain fan groups, but they have an avowed aim to change the ownership… It would be slightly strange to enter into dialogue with those groups that have that intention or that objective.’”

Apparently, the board does what it wants too.

Meanwhile, Red Mancunian features some interesting articles written by United fans from abroad. In “Fan Stories: Why I support (a non-local) United”, Red Mancunian Jack Holt wonders:

“You should support your local club you glory hunter.” How on earth am I supposed to do that after all this time? Please, tell me. If you’ve been married for twenty+ years to a woman you love, and this woman truly loves you, could you go through with a divorce just because people say that you should? Just because they all say – with no proper or clear reasons why – that your marriage is wrong? Of course not. It’s bullshit. The people who find themselves able to do so didn’t care for the woman (/football club, do keep up with this tenuous metaphor) to begin with, anyway. ‘Till death do us part and all that.

More…

Angelo Henriquez, United’s starlet, scored with a header in his first game for the senior Chile team, as La Roja lost 3-1 to Serbia. In September, Angelo also scored on his debut for United under-21s. United fans have plenty to be excited about . The goal can be found on The Busby Way.

Meanwhile, Beautifully Red announced the winner of the The October ‘GIF Moment’ of the Month. Check out the post to find out the winner and nominees.

Finally, The Devils of Manchester reports on the Fergie’s mind-games with his own players. Shaking your own players up by showing them the league table? Simple is genius.

PRESS

Manchester Evening News – MEN was little short of ridiculous this week, arguing that Fergie should sign Steven Gerrard, calling Robin van Persie Sir Alex’ “most important” signing and praising  “a wealth of options in midfield”. However, the outlet published a nice article on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, reveals details of the United-Nike negotiations and has Harry McShane’s obituary.

SkySports – echoed others in reporting Ferguson’s assertion that Cristiano Ronaldo is “unbuyable”. SkySports also reports on the praise Paul Pogba received from Antonio Conte right after the youngster was axed from the first team game for “bad time-keeping”, and that Fergie never worried that Hernández would become a ‘one-hit wonder‘.

The Telegraph – quotes Pogba on Fergie’s propensity to tell jokes than the hairdryer. The paper also compares four Premier League clubs’ chances of landing Pep Guardiola after the Spaniard’s sabbatical ends, remarking that “following Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford is arguably the worst job in football.” Finally, The Telegraph reports on United’s finances and wage cap.

Mancunian Matters – quotes Alan Shearer on “the most frightening array of attacking talent Alex Ferguson has ever had” and Eric Cantona on his desire to take a hotseat at “special United”.

Daily Mail –  fears that Ashley Young has turned into a one-trick pony, reports that United scouts have watched Porto’s Alex Rodriguez for the seventh time this season, and argues that a mega bid for Wilfried Zaha is on. Daily Mail also has a big article on Solskjaer’s second triumph with Molde.

More…  A Fine Lung reminisces about that 5-0 win over Manchester City in 1994. Paul Wilson from The Telegraph looks back on this season so far for Chicharito and Luis Suarez, who have both contributed heavily to their clubs’ results. Finally, Kevin Keegan shares his thoughts on the ‘super-sub’ label and players who wore it in his column for ESPN.

Preview: Galatasaray AŞ v United

November 20, 2012 Tags: , Matches 40 comments

Welcome to … Moss Lane! Not quite, although Sir Alex Ferguson is seemingly taking Manchester United’s trip to face Galatasaray in Turkey about as seriously as an under-21 fixture in Altrincham. The Scot’s party of 21 players departed Manchester on Monday morning containing no fewer than seven men yet to make an appearance in European football. With United comfortably qualified for the knockout stages, Ferguson is bent on resting his first team ahead of key domestic fixtures to come.

Ferguson’s selection threatens to turn a frequently hostile atmosphere, and sometimes antagonistic match, into the dead rubber it has become for the visitors. Yet, with three teams locked together in Group H, there is nothing lifeless about the occasion for Galatasaray, for who victory would be a major stepping stone out of the group and into the round of 16.

Meanwhile, Sir Alex’ selection is unlikely to go down well in Braga, who did not benefit from such generosity of United’s spirit over the recent double-header, although the Reds’ defending almost made up for it. But if the Scot’s men are to get anything out of the 3300 mile round trip, they will do so without Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David De Gea and Robin van Persie.

Indeed, it is out with the old and in with the inexperienced, as Nick Powell, Larnell Cole, Davide Petrucci, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Joshua King and Marnick Vermijl come into the squad. Two, Tom Thorpe and Sam Johnstone, are yet to make their club debuts in any competition.

“We don’t consider the young players a gamble,” said Ferguson in defence of his squad selection.

“What we do consider is our reputation and we have to be fair to the other teams in the group. When we discussed the team for tomorrow we had to give serious consideration to how the media and the public would react, so we had to think hard about the team we picked. It will be a good occasion to see our young players introduce themselves to the public and the media. Our aim is to win.”

Galatasaray AŞ v Manchester United - Champions League, Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleksi - Tuesday 19 November 2012, 7.45pmInjuries continue to play a part in Ferguson’s choices, with captain Nemanja Vidić and Shinji Kagawa on the sidelines through injury until Christmas. Yet, Phil Jones traveled with the squad to Turkey and could start in his first United match of the season. Meanwhile, Darren Fletcher should feature in just his fifth game this campaign, as the Scot makes a slow and painful recovery from a chronic bowel complaint.

“It’s a big day for Phil Jones,” said Sir Alex.

“He’s been out all season but he’s done enough training now to make sure his fitness is okay. I’m looking forward to bringing him back. Phil’s had different types of injuries. He had concussion, he had a rib injury, but he’s young so he’s still to develop physically in terms of his body. He’s only 20 years of age so there’s plenty of time for him.”

“Shinji Kagawa’s progress has been quite slow. He’s not started any outside work and we’re looking at another four weeks away, which is disappointing.”

Still, while United may be without a rash of keys players the home support is likely to keep the atmosphere hot. It will be a severe test of United’s inexperienced squad.

The old Ali Sami Yen is no longer in use, although Gala’s sparkling new Türk Telekom Arena will play host to more than 50,00 spectators. The plush surroundings have seemingly had no ill-effect on the local’s capacity to generate noise. Cimbom’s fans were recorded at more than 130 decibels last season – about the same as a jet at 100 feet.

However, Fatih Terim’s side has taken just a point from two Group H home fixtures to date and has not won at home in Europe
in five matches, since beating Panathinaikos in the Europa League in December 2009. Gala lost 3-1 to Karabükspor at the weekend.

Still, with a youthful opponent in town, Terim is well aware of the opportunity for progression this season in a match the 59-year-old coach is billing as key to Gala’s season.

“I don’t understand why the media are focusing on Manchester United’s Istanbul squad,” said the former international striker.

“We shouldn’t dwell too much on it because it’s still Man Utd who you’re facing in the end. It’s clear that this match is one of the most important games in Galatasaray’s history. Hopefully, tomorrow we’ll see a historic night at Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleksi. I am sure that the fans will be putting a lot of effort into their preparations for the game and will support us until the final whistle.”

That whistle is unlikely to bring the drama of United’s first encounter with Galatasaray in the Turkish capital – a night on which Ferguson’s side was knocked out of Europe and Eric Cantona saw red. Yet, with a full-house and electric atmosphere, it is likely to be another unforgettable experience – at least for those youngsters taking part.

Match Details
Galatasaray AŞ v Manchester United – Champions League, Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleksi – Tuesday 20 November 2012, 7.45pm

Possible teams
Galatasaray (4-4-2): Muslera; Eboué, Nounkeu, Cris, Balta; Altıntop, İnan, Melo, Çolak; Elmander, Bulut. Subs from: Ceylan, Zan, Nounkeu, Sarıoğlu, Riera, Yılmaz, Kurtuluş, Baytar, Amrabat, Baroš, Yıldırım.

United (4-2-2-2): Lindegaard; Vermijl, Jones, Wootton, Buttner; Cleverley, Carrick, Fletcher, Anderson; Hernandez, Welbeck. Subs from: Johnstone, Thorpe, Rafael, Petrucci, Cole, King, Macheda, Tunnicliffe, Powell, Young.

Officials (All ESP)
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo
Assistant referees: Roberto Alonso, Juan Carlos Yuste Jiménez
Additional assistant referees: César Muñiz, Carlos Del Cerro Grande
Fourth official: Roberto Díaz Pérez del Palomar

Form
Galatasaray: DWWWDL
United: WWLWWW

Head to Head
Last 10: Galatasaray 0, United 2, Draw 3
Overall: Galatasaray 0, United 2, Draw 3

Prediction
1-1

No defence for Reds under attack

November 19, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 27 comments

Truth is truth, to the end of reckoning.
The Tempest – Act I, Scene II, 1610

If there is any veracity in Shakespeare’s axiom then the Bard might also recognise that no team can prosper with a defence quite as exposed as Manchester United’s. In defeat to Norwich City on Saturday Sir Alex Ferguson’s outfit conceded first – not for the first time this season –  and most certainly not the last. On this occasion, however, the Scot’s team had not the wherewithal to mount yet another comeback.

It was, of course, always going to be this way, with United seemingly teetering on the edge of defeat in perpetuity this season. While Norwich’s victory surprised, defeat per se cannot; not at the rate and regularity with which Ferguson’s side has leaked goals of late.

Indeed, with 17 goals given up in just 12 league games Ferguson’s side is on course to top 50 ceded in the campaign. No team has won the title during the Premier League era with that level of fragility at the back. Only United, with 45 in the against column during the 1999/2000 campaign, comes close.

In this there is verisimilitude – it is almost unthinkable that Ferguson’s side will regain the Premier League title  or, cynics might point out, claim any silverware at all, unless his side tightens up at the back.

With just three clean sheets in 18 games this season, compared to 24 in 54 last, there has been a marked change in United’s defensive solidity. It is a change not solely born of another injury crisis. After all, while Nemanja Vidić has already missed a sizable chunk of the season, the giant Serbian was absent for the second half of the previous campaign.

Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones have all missed parts of both . Evans’ return to fitness has brought no greater security, while both Rafael da Silva and Patrice Evra will justifiably point to a resurgence in form this season.

In East Anglia United suffered as much for lack of shape in central midfield as from a creaky back-four. The partnership of Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs has rarely offered a solid base from which to build. In fact, few Reds will recall an occasion, save for United’s victory over Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final, April 2011, that the pair has dominated an opposition.

While Carrick retained an impressive pass completion rate at Carrow Road, Giggs lost possession on one occasion in five. In the final third the Welshman’s ratio of misplaced passing increases significantly. Wasted possession that only invites opposition pressure.

More concerning though is the defensive contribution: Giggs made just three tackles against Norwich. There were no interceptions, blocks, or clearances. Carrick, meanwhile, made just one interception and four tackles. None of these data points says anything about the open positional play that allowed Norwich to break at will.

None of these faults are new, but when United’s plethora of attacking resources misfire – as they did in Norfolk – then Ferguson’s problems are myriad. While United enjoyed more than 62 per cent of the ball, only two of the half dozen saves Norwich’s John Ruddy made – from Ashley Young and Sebastien Bassong – were more than routine for a stopper of the Cornishman’s growing stature.

“We had a lot of possession and one or two half-chances without having any great chances, but it just wasn’t our night,” admitted Ferguson.

“The players we’ve got are used to making comebacks, particularly in the last minutes of matches. We’re always a threat. We were in some respects tonight also, but they defended really well and the goalkeeper’s made two or three really good saves at vital moments.

“It was a marvelous cross and a magnificent header – there was nothing the goalkeeper could do about that. We were too long in delaying our crosses. We should have got the ball in earlier. But we just didn’t get into the space behind them, it just didn’t happen for us. Norwich got plenty of men behind the ball and closed out all of the spaces.”

This is, of course, a tame excuse for a performance that was infuriating for it’s lack of urgency or cohesion. Much the same was said of United’s last visit to East Anglia. Now, as then, passing and possession statistics say little about Norwich’s dynamism compares to United’s insipid lethargy.

Yet, Ferguson will at least find solace in a fixture list that throws up five gimmes before the Reds make the short trip across Manchester to face City at Eastlands in December. The midweek dead rubber against Galatasaray is followed by home bankers with Queens Park Rangers, West Ham United and a trip to Reading.

But none of those games is a foregone conclusion until Ferguson’s side is willing, or able, to close up the shop, while retaining the attacking verve that fans have enjoyed this season. Of this are the very best sides made.

Last season Ferguson’s men secured five clean sheets in a row during the autumn, and then another series of four during the run in. Each came at a crucial period. There is, surely, no better time to ameliorate the worst of United’s defensive problems than in the weeks leading up to this season’s first derby.

More of the same can invite only one outcome by the time United’s campaign ends next May. Or, as Shakespeare might add, what’s past is prologue.