Month November 2012

Month November 2012

Preview: Norwich City v United

Ed November 17, 2012 Tags: , Matches 91 comments

Another weekend, another opportunity for Manchester United to defend as if a team of highly paid international stars has been transformed into a cohort of overweight, talent-light, Sunday League cloggers. It’s a Christmas miracle – of the pint-or-ten-too-many down the Dog and Duck the night previous, variety. Indeed, United’s “Achilles’ heel,” as Ferguson put it on Friday, threatens to undermine United’s title challenge.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s team may well have scored more than its rivals this season, but 16 goals conceded equals that of Liverpool, in 13th place; a genuine concern that, for all the Reds’ entertaining attacking play this season, has become the Scot’s focus.

Ferguson’s team visits Norwich City this weekend – the scene, last season, of a hugely complacent performance in which Ryan Giggs, in his 900th game for the club, saved the Reds’ blushes at the death. Yet, the theme may not always run so. Despite securing 16 points from losing positions this season there can be no guarantee that United’s fortune will hold in the future.

“Certainly after last Saturday’s experience we don’t want to lose two goals and be having to fight back all the time,” said Ferguson.

“That’s certainly an Achilles’ heel. You actually don’t expect it. You don’t expect to be behind by two goals. That’s the part that you always find difficult. It’s not that we underestimate anyone – it’s just that we don’t expect a Manchester United team to be behind. You’ve got to go into games believing you’re going to be two goals ahead rather than two behind.

“The fact we’ve got players who can change the course of the game is certainly a big advantage to us. When Chicharito came on last week the game changed completely. But it won’t happen all the time. It’s not definite that you’ll come back from 2-0 down. And this is the area we are going to improve on. We are going to defend better.”

Still, says Ferguson, frequent comebacks from losing positions this season has engendered a bold spirit in United’s dressing room. On Saturday Javier Hernández’ brace maintained the Reds’ two point Premier League lead, with United throwing caution to the wind in the second half at Villa Park. It has become the season’s theme; a stark contrast to the previous campaign’s conservatism.

“It does feel different,” admitted the 70-year-old Scot.

“I think the dressing room is different too. When you get these late goals and when you’ve come from behind in particular, it does make an impact on the dressing room. There is more excitement and we’ve experienced that many times. It’s a credit to the character of the club that we can do that.”

If United is to win Saturday tea-time, whether from out in front or otherwise, Ferguson’s men may have to do so without Wayne Rooney, who missed England’s loss in Sweden during the week. However, top goalscorer Robin van Persie is fit and should start alongside in-form Hernández. The Mexican has scored eight from just six starts and seven appearances off the bench this season.

Norwich City v Manchester United - Premier League, Carrow Road - Saturday 17 November 2012, 5.30pmMeanwhile, Chris Smalling may continue in central defence with Jonny Evans still struggling, while youngster Phil Jones will not make the trip to East Anglia, but should return in midweek. Anders Lindegaard is sidelined after suffering injury with Denmark during last week’s internationals.

“We’ve still got some doubts about Wayne and Jonny Evans,” said Ferguson.

“I think Robin should be fit. We’ll see what they are like today but there is a doubt. Phil Jones has been training all week. We will take him to Turkey [to play Galatasaray in the Champions League] with us. He’ll get part of it there, which is a good start for him.”

Elsewhere Ferguson must decide whether to stick with Paul Scholes, whose performance in victory over Villa last weekend showed up the veteran’s 38 years far more than was comfortable. Tom Cleverley and Anderson stand by for Ferguson’s call should Scholes be afforded another rest.

One player unlikely to start, however, is goalscoring England international Danny Welbeck, who has been largely frozen out of the side this season. Following a highly promising campaign in 2011-12 the 21-year-old Longsight-born striker has suffered for van Persie’s arrival at Old Trafford.

Yet, says Ferguson, Welbeck’s time will come despite heated competition for striking berths at Old Trafford.

“What we have to try and do is alternate selections so that Danny feels he is making a contribution,” admits Ferguson.

“At the moment, we have tended to play him wide left, which is maybe a little bit unfair to him. I think he’s capable of playing there. He is a threat coming in off the wing and he has done that many times. But I think he is a natural centre-forward.

“Danny’s best form has actually been with England. He has shown with his form with England that he can be a real asset to us through the middle. That will come for him.”

Meanwhile, Norwich has recovered from a poor start to the campaign to find a modicum of form in recent weeks. Chris Hughton’s side is unbeaten in five matches, and secured a rare victory over Arsenal a fortnight ago.

Hughton has midfielder Alex Tettey available again in a fully fit squad. And with the Reds’ defence anything but secure this season the Canaries will begin the game with a genuine sense of confidence.

“They are such a quality team, it is difficult to get points against them,” said Hughton. “You know you have to either have that little bit of fortune against them or you have to play very well.

“But it is possible.”

Should United defend with the same sense of calamity as in recent weeks that is a sentiment with which Sir Alex will surely concur.

Match Details
Norwich City v Manchester United – Premier League, Carrow Road – Saturday 17 November 2012, 5.30pm

Possible teams
Norwich (4-4-2): Ruddy; Whittaker, Bassong, Turner, Garrido; Johnson, Pilkington, Hoolahan, Tettey; Snodgrass, Holt. Subs from: Bunn, Tierney, R Bennett, Howson, E Bennett, Jackson, Morison.

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

Officials
Referee: A Taylor
Assistants: R West, P Bankes
Fourth Official: N Swarbrick

Form
Norwich: LWDWWD
United: WWLWWW

Head to Head
Last 10: Norwich 1, United 8, Draw 1
Overall: Norwich 10, United 30, Draw 12

Stats

  • Norwich played out a scoreless draw with Reading last weekend – the Canaries have conceded just one goal in the last four games;
  • Sebastian Bassong has often divided opinion, but looks close to his best at Norwich – the defender made eight clearances against Reading, the joint second highest by a player in a single match this season;
  • Leon Barnett has been instrumental to Norwich’s defensive performances, winning eight of 15 attempted tackles and making 10 clearances, 35 interceptions and 3 blocks this season;
  • Goalkeeper John Ruddy continues to impress this season – the England international is the fifth busiest goalkeeper in the Premier League so far, making 55 saves;
  • Ruddy has conceded 18 goals, averaging 3.05 saves per goal conceded;
  • Wesley Hoolahan topped the chart for ground covered against Reading with 6.77 miles, the third highest by a Norwich player all season;
  • Rafael da Silva has come of age in an attacking sense this season, completing 241 passes in his opponent’s half, second only to Leighton Baines among defenders in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
  • However, Rafael has come away with the ball in just 57 per cent of 30 tackles attempted this season, although 17 tackles won is the highest among his United peers;
  • If Rafael’s tackling is inconsistent, United’s aerial defence isn’t – Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evan are in the top 20 for clearances this season – only Vincent Kompany and Phil Jagielka feature in the top 20 from other sides in the top four;
  • Michael Carrick has quietly dictated play for United – the midfielder made 92 passes in his opponent’s half against Villa, which is the most by a player in a single game this season;
  • Last season United averaged 16 crosses per game, with 238 passes completed in the opponent’s half – this season United has averaged 11 crosses per game, with 256 passes completed in the opponent’s half.

Prediction
0-1

Rant Cast 130 – comeback kings

Ed November 16, 2012 Tags: Rant Cast No comments

Rant Cast this week looks back at Manchester United’s latest comeback victory as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side triumphed at Villa Park. How many more times will the Reds concede only to snatch a late victory? We talk Javier Hernández – has the little Mexican emerged from a ‘difficult second season’ to become a key man in United’s charge towards the Premier League title?

Also on this week, we talk financials,  with Q1 results coming out. For the first time since the Glazer family took control of the club in 2005 United’s gross debt dips below £400 million. It’s only taken £550 million wasted on debt repayments and other costs to take debt to a “manageable” level!

Finally, we take your Twitter questions, and preview United’s trip to Norwich City and the European tie with Galatasaray next week.

Rant Back
Want to appear on Rant Cast? The pod’s new call-in section “Rant Back” features the very best audio comments each week. Keep your comment under a minute, clean and leave a name to take part. Record your message in the widget to the right -> or send an MP3 to cast@unitedrant.co.uk.




Competition
This week we have a fantastic competition prize – a finest quality cashmere Savile Rogue Manchester United scarf. Savile Rogue scarves give a nod to football terraces of yesteryear, shunning in-your-face logos and cheap nylon in favour of a traditional bar design and the comfort, quality and warmth of top grade wool.

To win simply Tweet your Manchester United “Rogues XI” – the best bad boys from the club’s history – ensuring that you use the hastag #rantcast.

Savile Rogue Manchester United cashmere football scarf

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.

Ferdinand goes back to the future over contract extension

Ed November 14, 2012 Tags: Opinion 15 comments

“Rio can play for two or three years,” said Sir Alex Ferguson recently, playing down a row over Rio Ferdinand’s non-appearance in a Kick It Out t-shirt prior to Manchester United’s fixture with Stoke City. Ferguson may believe that 34-year-old Ferdinand can play into his late 30s, echoing the careers of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, but with just seven months to run on the central defender’s contract, United face the prospect of losing Ferdinand in the coming summer.

Neither side, it seems, is ready to blink in a game of contract chicken that could run for another six months before a resolution, one way or the other, is found.

Typical with United’s recent policy, a one-year contract extension is likely to be on the table should Ferdinand wish to extend a decade-long stay at Old Trafford. Ferdinand, meanwhile, must swallow pride, accept a reduced status and sacrifice long-term security, in addition to halving his £130,000 per week wages, if he is to stay at the club.

Hard on a man of Ferdinand’s lofty status of course, but this is a recipe now typically followed by leading clubs, including Chelsea who let Didier Drogba leave last summer, and face Ashley Cole’s departure in June 2013. Drogba desired a two-year deal with the west London club; Chelsea stood firm, for better or worse.

Behind the scenes briefing and counter has led to a rash of media stories, with many a leading broadsheet running with the defender’s apparent ‘reluctance’ to sign on at Old Trafford.

Meanwhile, Ferdinand took to Twitter to lambaste press suggestions that he is ‘stalling’ on signing the new deal. Instead, Ferdinand claims, he will wait until after the Christmas programme to decide on his Old Trafford future.

“You just take every week and every month as it comes,” Ferdinand told Inside United.

“The best thing to do is look at it at Christmas, then again in the summer to see how I am feeling and go again from there. I think it has but I will have a better idea in December and January when the games start coming thick and fast. That’s when it really hits you, you know the hard work has to start and you begin to think about the home stretch. I will probably get a better gauge of where I am fitness-wise and the benefit of having the summer off then.”

In reality the debate is a little more nuanced, of course. While Ferdinand has no intention of quitting the game altogether, and has plenty of suitors away from Old Trafford, the defender will surely weigh up his many options should United come up short on the final offer. After all, while Ferdinand is player building for a prosperous future, with media and leisure business interests, he has spent no time in a fine career on the bench.

Different circumstances, of course, but should player and club reach stalemate it will not have been the first time Ferdinand has taken United to the brink over a new contract. Recall, if you will, summer 2005 when Ferdinand seemingly held United to ransom over a new deal – one that eventually took the Peckham-born player past £100,000-per-week in wages.

The affair, just months after the defender spent much of the previous campaign on the sidelines through suspension, brought jeers from the stands and long-running derision in a leading fanzine. After all, United stood by Ferdinand after an eight month ban was imposed by the Football Association for missing a random drugs test. So much for loyalty, Rio, cried the Stretford End.

Ferdinand’s star is neither so high, nor his value so great today. Injuries have reduced the player’s participation in Ferguson’s first team, although a long-standing back injury has proven far less stubborn over the past 18 months. Meanwhile, Ferguson has sought to recruit younger replacements in Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, while Jonny Evans matures with each passing game.

Much like Scholes and Giggs, Ferdinand’s future participation in Ferguson’s thinking is guaranteed only by the fate of others. Smalling, Evans, and Jones will hasten the 34-year-old towards retirement should that cohort develop as planned. Injury, inconsistency and the ill-fortune or hampered development of others has come to Ferdinand’s aid to date.

Yet, Ferguson is apparently keen to retain the veteran’s services. “He has different issues from Giggs and Scholes in terms of injuries,” adds the 70-year-old Scot. “But his experience is important and there is no reason he can’t stay on.”

Which might beg the question why, if Ferdinand is fit, healthy and still in Ferguson’s planning, the club is unlikely to stretch further than a one-year extension. The Peckham-born defender could even point to United’s decision in 2005 to offer Giggs two years, rather than one.

It leaves United to wait on Ferdinand, and for the defender’s people to gamble on the player’s fitness and form. Offers from the United States, China and the Middle East may well come in – as could a romantic offer from West Ham United to return south. And in January Ferdinand will be free to negotiate with whomever he pleases.

Yet, somehow, if the past teaches us anything about Rio, it seems unlikely that the former Leeds United man will depart Old Trafford just yet. Somebody will surely blink first.

Striking comforts in a burden shared

Ed November 11, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 11 comments

There is a temptation in familiarity; to paint large brush strokes, to pigeon-hole, to find a box of mutual convenience. This is true of football, a sport in which punditry of the vanilla so dominates; perhaps more so than in any other mass cultural event. In this there can be no surprise that Manchester United’s summer signing, Dutchman Robin van Persie, has brought inevitable comparison with a compatriot of yesteryear.

It shouldn’t take the former Arsenal striker long to break out of this metaphorical confinement though, not in fashion that van Persie has begun his United career, with 11 goals in 15 games. For the record, it took Ruud van Nistelrooy 19 games to reach the same tally.

van Persie may not have scored in United’s 3-2 victory over Aston Villa on Saturday evening, but the 29-year-old did almost everything short – striking the bar with a bullet header, and then again with a fierce long-range drive in the second period. Indeed, while Javier Hernández saved United’s considerable blushes at Villa Park with a second-half hat-trick – dubious goals panel pending – it is van Persie who remains central to the Reds’ success or failure in the months ahead.

Fortune is a little short of the ideal expression given United’s lavish expenditure on the Dutchman, but Sir Alex Ferguson will certainly feel capricious – van Persie has been pivotal in the Scot’s team securing 16 points from losing positions this season.

“His confidence is just sky-high at the moment,” observes United veteran Ryan Giggs.

“I read last week that a lot of the players think he’s similar to Ruud in the respect that Ruud used to get a chance and more often than not he’d put them away. That’s the case with Robin at the minute; his confidence is high, we’re creating chances for him and he’s putting them away.”

van Persie, together with Wayne Rooney, and Hernández, must continue the pattern, especially given United’s woeful defending this season. It takes not a cynic to observe that Ferguson’s call for his team to score 100 Premier League goals this season may be short if his team continues to play in a fashion that invites goals at the other end. Villa Park was no exception.

Despite the tragic-comic nature of United’s defending Ferguson will feel comfort in Chicharito’s return to form in recent weeks. van Persie’s rapid integration into the Old Trafford scene had begun feel like a dependent relationship – and not of the mutual kind.

Goals spread around the side offers comfort, with Ferguson expecting more than 60 strikes between his leading men this season, as United seek to win from the front whatever the consequences at the back.

“I don’t think it’s a problem relying on Robin,” adds Ferguson. “The way Javier has started this season, I’m certain he will get to 20 goals plus. Wazza will get there too, he’ll get 20 goals plus I’m sure. It’s a healthy combination we’ve got there.”

Yet, it is van Persie who is now expected to strike against the very best in the months ahead – a burden bestowed not by his manager, but from the striker’s peers at Old Trafford. The Dutchman is now a lionised figure in a United dressing room packed with seasoned internationals.

“I think he’s great for the whole team; he’s our talisman,” admits Rooney, who had previously held that particular moniker. “He has a calmness about him. We have to try and get players around him.”

In Birmingham, on Saturday night, van Persie once again led United’s forward line effectively, although with little personal luck. On this occasion it mattered little as United came from two goals down to secure a four-point Premier League lead, with Hernández bringing a stunning conclusion to the game late in the second period.

United should never have been so troubled by a mediocre Villa side, but such is the way this season, with the Reds seemingly content to play every match as a cup tie of folklore.

“It reminded us of a cup game here a few years ago when we were 2-0 down,” said Ferguson of United’s latest victory comeback.

“I think van Nistelrooy scored a couple and we won 3-2. We were disappointed with the first-half performance, it has to be said. You had to give credit to Aston Villa, they never gave us a minute’s peace on the ball. When they got the second goal we were up against it, but once we scored our first goal, you always felt they were going to do it.”

United’s won’t “always do it” of course, not against domestic and European opponents of a higher quality. In that there is a salutary lesson; admirable though Ferguson’s commitment to attacking football is this campaign, there has rarely – if ever – been a successful side whose basic defensive make-up is so lacking.

No wonder Ferguson is relying on United’s spirit where technique and tactics is sometimes wanting. “The tenacity of our performance,” lauded Ferguson on Saturday, “was really brilliant.”

In this van Persie has also become pivotal. At Braga, in midweek, van Persie’s introduction reshaped – and refocused –  Ferguson’s side as United once again came from behind; during the second period at Villa the Dutchman’s movement proffered Hernández the space to fire the Reds back into the game.

There is a warning though. In Portugal United’s attacking play was blunt for an hour without the Dutchman. For all the inherent firepower, United may still need to find a way to score without the now talismanic forward.

Hernández’ impressive haul in the Midlands is certainly a positive start; the beginnings of a burden better shared.

Preview: Aston Villa v United

Ed November 10, 2012 Tags: , Matches 111 comments

Not since Sir Alex Ferguson’s kids crumbled in 1996 has Manchester United lost to the second City’s leading team at Villa Park –  in the Premier League at least. The 3-1 loss, followed Alan Hansen’s now infamous chide, is long past, with United emerging undefeated 17 occasions in a row during the intervening years.

Indeed, there is nothing in the form of these two teams that suggests anything bar another win on the road for Ferguson’s team this Saturday, with United enjoying a spell of good results, and Villa resting just a place above the relegation zone.

Still, United’s inability to keep a clean sheet will retain Ferguson’s concern despite his side’s outstanding recent record at Villa Park, although the Midlanders have scored just five goals all season at the 115-year-old stadium. Paul Lambert’s evolution at Villa Park is taking some time to bed in, with just nine points this season, leaving only Reading, Southampton and Queens Park Rangers to prop up the Birmingham side.

Relegation will be far from Lambert’s mind, but it is now more than 16 years since Villa last won a trophy and American Randy Learner’s spell in control of the club has yielded little promise, let alone silverware. It is a recent past that has cast a cloud over one of the Football League’s founding members. Indeed, it is now history rather than the present that is the currency on which Villa primarily trades.

“They have a great history,” said Ferguson on Friday.

“It’s probably correct to say that they haven’t matched their expectations over the years. The year we won the league [in 1993] they had a good team. You wonder when managers change whether that has bigger effect than the playing standard of the team. They’ve had quite a few managers – quite a collection over the years.”

Aston Villa v Manchester United - Premier League, Villa Park - Saturday 10 November 2012, 5.30pmJohn Gregory, Martin O’Neill, Gérard Houllier, David O’Leary, and Alex McLeish have tried and variously failed to bring silverware to Villa Park since Brian Little’s outfit won the 1996 League Cup. That relegation fodder Birmingham City won the same competition in 2011 cannot sit well with Villains.

Years of failure, and United’s outstanding record at Villa Park, leaves Sir Alex unmoved – accepting complacency from his side in the Saturday tea time kick off.

“Although we have a great record at Villa Park we never take them for granted,” adds Sir Alex.

“We’ve always had to perform there. It’s been a good ground for us as a team, though, and I’ve always enjoyed it. It’s one of the old traditional grounds. There’s always a good atmosphere and the support is always fantastic. Hopefully we can keep the momentum going as it’s got us into a good position.”

United laboured to three points in Braga on Wednesday night, following the deceptive 2-1 victory over Arsenal last weekend. That was victory gained, but a match which left Ferguson feeling angry about United’s profligacy. Not for the first time this season the 70-year-old Scot reminded his players that never again should United lose the league title on goal difference.

Fortunate, then, that Ferguson has a quartet of strikers in fine form. While Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney grab the headlines, Javier Hernández has scored half-a-dozen goals in recent games. Danny Welbeck, lauded for his role last season and with England during the summer, has seemingly dropped to fourth choice.

The striking riches has Ferguson demanding United scores 100 league goals in the campaign. Cynics, it could be said, will point to the Reds’ defensive record and add that Ferguson’s side will need to do just that if United is to secure a 20th domestic league title come next May.

“It’s a healthy combination we’ve got,” said Ferguson.

“Robin has come to us at the right time, no doubt about that. He’s got us 11 goals so far. The way young Chicha has started this season, I’m certain he’ll get to 20 goals plus. The summer’s rest has helped him enormously and he’s looking fresh and aggressive in his running. Wazza will get there too, he’ll get 20 goals plus I’m sure.

“We have 15 goalscorers this year and it’s definitely helping us at the moment. I look back to that season in 2000, when we were three goal short of 100 in the Premier League. The last game was at Villa Park, when we had the opportunity to get to 100 but didn’t quite make it. It would be nice to think we could do that.”

However, Ferguson will have to do without several injured players on Saturday, including Nani who will miss 10 days with a hamstring strain. Jonny Evans has a minor groin problem, with Chris Smalling ready to play a second game in four days, while captain Nemaja Vidić will not feature before the New Year. Midfielder Shinki Kagawa misses the next month, and Phil Jones returns to full training next week.

“Nemanja is a long way off, we can forget about him until after Christmas,” admitted Ferguson.

“Jones trains with the first team on Monday with the football side, which is good, and he should be available maybe 10 days after that so things are looking better that way. We’re hoping Evans will be okay for Saturday. He’s a doubt, although not a serious one. Nani is out with a tight hamstring and that will be around 10 days but he should be okay. It’s not torn, just tight.”

Meanwhile, the host’s Karim El Ahmadi returns after suspension, but defender Eric Lichaj is banned. Defender Joe Bennett is struggling with a knee injury so Enda Stevens could, while striker Darren Bent is still out.

Whatever the injuries and suspensions the fixture is likely to prove a difficult test for a Villa side yet to find any real form this season.

“I know the task of it and the team know the task of it, but on any given day you just don’t know what can happen,” said manager Lambert.

“To beat someone like United you need a bit of luck. We also have to believe that we can win. The belief in the football team at the minute is there. We are going to have to play well against them that’s for sure.”

Playing well, let alone winning, is a feat Villa has achieve ever so rarely this season.

Match Details
Aston Villa v Manchester United – Premier League, Villa Park – Saturday 10 November 2012, 5.30pm

Possible teams
Villa (4-4-2): Guzan; Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Stevens; Ireland, El Ahmadi, Bannan, Weimann; Agbonlahor, Benteke. Subs from: Given, Stevens, Lichaj, Albrighton, Delph, Holman, Bowery, Westwood,  Herd.

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

Officials
Referee: K Friend
Assistants: J Flynn, S Burt
Fourth Official: M Halsey

Form
Villa: DLDLWW
United: WWWLWW

Head to Head
Last 10: Villa 1, United 6, Draw 3
Overall: Villa 49, United 91, Draw 38

Stats

  • Ciaran Clark was dominant in breaking up play for Villa against Sunderland last weekend, making 30 interceptions, the most by a player in a single game all season according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
  • Ashley Westwood displayed a fantastic work rate in covering 7.1 miles in the game, the most by a Villa player in a single game this season;
  • Defenders Mathew Lowton and Ron Viaar have been standout performers lately, winning 22 and 20 tackles respectively this season;
  • In Bent’s absence Gabriel Agbonlahor finally ended his run of 28 league games with a goal by scoring last weekend’s winner against Sunderland;
  • Meanwhile, for United van Persie has scored eight goals from 15 shots on target in the Premier League this season, compared to Carlos Tevez’ four goals from 21 shots on target, and Darren Bent’s two goals from nine shots on target;
  • van Persie striker partner Rooney covered 7.03 miles against Arsenal last weekend, the most by a United player in a single game this season;
  • Michael Carrick has made the sixth most successful passes in the Premier League this season, finding a team-mate 301 times according to the Index.

Prediction
0-3

Rant Cast 129 – there is a light that sometimes goes out

Ed November 9, 2012 Tags: Rant Cast 4 comments

On this week’s Rant Cast we discuss two victories in the past week for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men – neither without some difficulty.

First, Manchester United overcame Arsenal 2-1 at Old Trafford, but not before Wayne Rooney had missed yet another penalty. Then in midweek United qualified for the Champions League knock-out stages with victory over SC Braga. The lights went out at Estádio Municipal, but Ferguson’s side found a late spark to win and qualify with ease.

Also on this week’s show: we take your many questions, discuss Robin van Persie’s form, preview Sir Alex’ brand new statue and look ahead to the weekend’s game against Aston Villa.

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.

Media Digest: rivalry, vindication… and Bob Dylan

Denys Koval November 7, 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 United-related news and blogs – Media Digest. This week, delivered a little late!

BLOGS

Players vindicated, rivalry lost, deadly sins resurfaced and the search continues in this week’s blogs.

“The Loser Now Will Be Later to Win”

Steve Jobs loved Bob Dylan. “The Times They Are a-Changin'” was among his favourites; Jobs even quoted the song when unveiling the Macintosh in 1984.  Steve was a controversial figure: “a Buddhist and a tyrant, a genius and a jerk”.

It’s doubtful that this generation’s footballers will be spoken of in the same reverential terms, but all their skills and flaws, just like Steve himself, some are gradually winning over the critics. Meet this week’s guests: Anderson, Jonny Evans and Javier Hernández.

For some time now, Anderson presented a major challenge to United’s coaches. Anderson has always been able to learn new skills and make use of the old tricks up his sleeve, but in order to achieve that you had to feed him really well.

The Brazilian posted pictures of his meals on Instagram and got replies such as this from omar_chowdhury: “You need to stop eating and go to the gym! You always look a bit fat when you come back to pre season”.

And while we sighed and laughed, for the most part, fans just felt sad that Anderson had not lived up to lofty expectations. It’s not that the latter were too high; it’s the player who usually failed to deliver despite boasting so much talant.

Fans missed the confident young man who drilled the ball into the net in the Champions League final shootout, but too often was nowhere to be seen. Injuries didn’t help either; paired with Tom Cleverley, Anderson drove United forward in the first months of the 2011/12 campaign, but the idyll ended too soon.

In some ways, this season resembles the previous one; Anderson had a good start. In what might be his “do or die” season, the midfielder has scored one goal in four games and assisted all three against Chelsea.

The 23-year-old has impressed some critics, although many seem reluctant to accept that the player is good enough until he has to proven his worth over the season.

Tom Coast does not want to wait though. Tom even wrote a letter to United’s “midfield magician” (“Letter to Anderson”, Can They Score):

DEAR ANDERSON, I would like to start off this letter by saying “I knew it”. “Knew what?” I hear you ask. The answer is simple: I knew all along that you had it in you. That you had it in you to turn critics around (so far) and show the world what you are capable of. Your last few performances at the club have been nothing short of wonderful. People said you had lost it, that you should be sold, that you were a waste of space. Those people are now very quickly changing their minds. It shows how fickle human beings can be.

It’s fair to say that Tom loves Anderson, going so far  as to criticise Sir Alex Ferguson for Anderson’s lack of fitness: “Starting once every 2 weeks or so can only hinder one’s fitness… This is not your fault. If anyone’s, it’s Sir Alex Ferguson’s.”

In the end though, United fans should probably follow two rules. The first: ‘support your team’, with the implication of being patient with players  even if they under-perform. The second argues that fans can only support players so far, as Matthew Perry’s character says in his the actors latest show Go On: “It’s our job as fans to say ‘thanks for the memories, you make us sad now, please, go away!'”

Evans is another player who divides opinions. While the majority of the fans view the Northern Irishman as a future leader, some of them simply refuse to buy into the assessment.

Of course, that Evans has been at United since the age of nine warms the hearts of many, but his performances, especially in the absence of Nemanja Vidic, helped to silence his critics more than anything else.

In the “The Transformation of Jonny Evans”, Stretty News, Rowlesy argues that “the laughing stock tag seems a distant memory”:

During this sublime spell of high-class defending from Evans, he received high-praise from the manager as a result of his stellar showings. Sir Alex said, “I don’t know what the fans thought but there were never any doubts in my mind about Evans. He had a period of a few injuries but he has toughened up now, he’s done a lot of work in the gymnasium and he’s 24 years of age. He’s been a top player for us this year. There is no doubt he has been helped playing alongside the experience of Rio and he is now arguably the best defender in the country. “I must admit my heart sank a little when I learned just how long Nemanja Vidic was going to be out. He and Rio Ferdinand had become the cornerstone of our defence but Rio responded brilliantly, despite his back problem, and has now struck up a fine partnership with Evans. Together they have been rock solid to give us great consistency in defence.”

With Rio Ferdinand and Vidic getting no younger, United must seek for the players that are ready to lead the club’s future defence. While Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have bright futures, it looks like Evans, who is only 24, is the one to rely on in the near-term.

After all, Evans is yet to commit a foul this season. He will, of course, just as the defender will make mistakes too. Will the fans have his back?  They really should.

Meanwhile, Hernández – who suffered second season syndrome and was written off by many fans after United bought Robin van Persie this summer – is having the best of times in recent weeks. Five goals in eleven games from United’s  fourth choice striker!

In “Little Pea, Big player – Don’t write off Javier Hernandez”, Stretty News, Chicharito is branded a 2010s version of Ole Gunnar Solskjær, a ‘super sub’ of another era, the player who provides United with pace and energy.

Another key element in order to see off your rivals is squad harmony. Many initially believed that the marquee signing of Robin Van Persie would force Chicharito to consider his options, as chances appeared to be limited, at least on paper. Not once, however, has the Mexican complained or thrown the toys out of the pram at not starting every week. Chicharito appears to be a very level-headed human being, who seems to just be eternally grateful that he is playing for the best club in world football. He is still living the dream.

“United will and have found time for him this season,” the author goes on. It looks like Hernández, who has little future at Old Trafford according to some, is thriving on challenge.

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: “The spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers the world.”

Well, here’s to United’s under-appreciated trio winning over their critics and bringing trophies to Old Trafford!

The Arsenal-United rivalry

Even the delusional Piers Morgan couldn’t help but tweet: “We haven’t sent a worse side to Old Trafford in the Premier League since…oh, last year” just day after the broadcaster claimed that he would renew Wenger’s contract for “1000 years” should Arsenal win, and that he would rather Arsenal beat United the next day than Barcelona in 2006 Champions League final.

However,  the Arsenal-United rivalry that once was the benchmark to both clubs and the League itself, ceased to be so recently. As Sean Geraghty rightly notices in his article “We Used To Have Something Special” (7Cantonas), it is special no more.

Thinking of Keown pouncing on Van Nistelrooy still riles me up. Or pretty much anything Henry ever did against us, the brilliant bastard that he was. But nothing defines the rivalry more than Vieira vs Keane for me. Two battling midfielders who drove their clubs to success. Two men who probably had a begrudging respect for each other. But on the pitch, they were enemies and they went to war. Two generals leading their armies out to the field of battle. It never got any better than that. Sure, Arsenal have had some snidey players over the years, but it’s just not the same as it used to be. There’s no players left there who you could really care about one way or another, nobody you love to hate. Scezcney’s good for a quote, but that’s about it.

While, Sean argues, United too is not the power it once was, the club has managed to contend for titles at home and abroad in recent years. Arsenal has slipped from a lofty pedestal with no recovery in sight. Moreover, the spirit is gone too; Liverpool has been in United’s shadow for two decades, but the side manages to up it’s game when United is in town. The same can’t be said about Arsenal.

As Sean concludes, “There’s just not that spark that there used to be. And it’s sad.” Don’t you think so?

“Pride in their port, defiance in their eye”

Often blogs and press alike write about the same themes each week – although for all the need for professional journalists to be objective fan blogs are often more honest in their opinions than ‘paid’ colleagues.

Original ideas are hard to find, which is why the “Deadly Sins” series on ManUtd24 is a whiff of fresh air.

And this week it is Pride, featuring Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Andy Cole, Sir Alex and Sir Matt: (“Manchester United’s Seven Deadly Sins: #2 – Pride”, ManUtd24).

Auclair revisited Cantona’s return to Elland Road, his first since leaving Leeds United, and of his provoking of a hostile crowd. As the pre-match practice was coming to a close, Auclair writes, through the help of a friend present that day, when “the moment came to return to the dressing room, drowned in an ocean of noise, a sewer in full flow, Cantona took the ball, juggled it for a while and signed off with a volley into the top corner. The jeers doubled in ferocity but, as David [his friend] remembers it, intensified by the admiration the crowd couldn’t help but feel for such arrogance (‘We had to admit — this guy had balls’).” He had big balls.

The Future Perfect

Every fortnight, or thereabouts, there is an article in which the author tries to guess Sir Alex’ replacement. For many this is as hard as it is to imagine someone else in charge at United. But with every new season we are closing on the inevitable, and if the past taught us anything, it’s that it is hard to find a proper replacement to a great manager, at a great club.

This time it is Jonathan Escott who is evaluating David Moyes, Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in his article: “Ole, Jose, Pep & Moyes: The Battle to Replace Sir Alex”, Red Flag Flying High:

For me, Solskjaer is a big dark horse for the job. My biggest worry about him was that he wouldn’t be assertive enough, but after seeing numerous videos on youtube, it’s clear to see that the baby faced assassin can give his players a good old telling off, similar to what Sir Alex has been renowned for in the past 20 years. He will bring something new to the job, something no other manager would be able to bring. Also, it may result in a possible link up with some of the clubs senior players like Scholes and Giggs, which could be an interesting proposition. So it’s safe to say, David Gill is going to have a very very difficult 18 months or so.

Many will prefer Ole – if teh former Red proves his managerial skills by the time the position becomes available. So far, the striker-turned-coach has done well with Molde – the side is on course to become champions for the second time in as many years. But as a fat girl might sing, Manchester United and Molde is “a thousand miles and poles apart”. There is a long road ahead for Solskjaer.

And while we are at it, there was an interesting question posed in the latest Red News: what about Gary Neville? The England coach is a big United fan, an ex-player (and a good one at that), and is the most reasonable pundit on TV right now. Besides, Neville would be a better assistant to Fergie than Mike Phelan. Something to ponder …

More…

Although United esd knocked out of the Capital One Cup, fans saw plenty of positives in the game. Youth, mixed with second-string players, was seconds away from a win at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea, meanwhile, relied on first teamers such as Jua Mata Eden Hazard and Oscar to avoid embarrassment. To remind you of the beautiful side of the game, Beautifully Red picked nine moments of Chelsea game and made some wonderful GIFs.

“Clattenburg: Referee, Leader, Legend” read United fans’ banner on Stamford Bridge last Wednesday. However, United fans can laugh all they want, as Red Rants has photo evidence of Terry celebrating the Irish Premier League title, won with Sligo Rovers.

Meanwhile, By Far the Greatest Team argues that Ferguson and Arsene Wenger are wrong to doubt Chelsea’s racism claim. While i is seemingly unlikely that Clattenburg really abused Chelsea players, one is on a “dangerous ground to give 100% of your support,” as two high-profile racism cases have shown in the past year. However, the accusations led to a banner in the United end on Wednesday reading “CFC… standing up to racism since last Sunday.”

Finally, the goalkeeping saga at United may be irritating at times, but it’s hard to deny that the club has two fine ‘keepers. While David de Gea and Anders Lindegaard fight to become United’s number one Number One, the Reds younger keepers are hatching a plot to overcome them.

Red Flag Flying High reports that Ben Amos views his loan to Hull City as a unique opportunity. Guided by the former United goalkeeper Gary Walsh, Amos believes he can get himself the best possible chance of knocking David and Anders off their perch.

Preview: SC Braga v United

Ed November 6, 2012 Tags: , Matches 67 comments

There are few more atmospheric stadia than Estádio Municipal, Braga, carved as it is into the face of Monte Castro quarry. Three sides every bit a tight, sometimes intimidating venue; the other sheer rock with an almost tragi-comic large screen perched into the cliff face. Still, there is no more picturesque place at which to secure qualification for the Champions League knock-out stages – an achievement that Manchester United is seeking at SC Braga in Portugal on Wednesday night.

With nine points from three victories to date, albeit from only marginally impressive performances, United could progress with just a point on Wednesday night. That, however, is a result unlikely to impress manager Sir Alex Ferguson, with the 70-year-old Scot bent on securing top spot in group X. After United’s failure to qualify last season Ferguson’s over-compensation is the least reaction Reds could expect.

Still, Ferguson will make several changes to the side that beat Arsenal at Old Trafford on Saturday in preparation for the weekend fixture with Aston Villa. It is a familiar story in Europe, but unlike last season’s competition United has largely circumvented punishment for rotating the squad in the group stages.

“I’ll be making some changes for Wednesday, no doubt about that,” confirmed Ferguson on Tuesday.

“Obviously we want to win on Wednesday. If we get a win, that’s better as we want to make sure we qualify first. If we win, we’re through to the next phase and that’s the most important part. Braga have a good record at home, but I think we can get the win.

“The most important thing is to go through. In order to win the Champions League we have to play at a really high level. Real and Barcelona are the main contenders, and Borussia’s also one of them. I hope we can be together with them as well.”

Ferguson, however, will still be without injured defensive duo Phil Jones and Nemanja Vidić, while Darren Fletcher and Paul Scholes have been left in Manchester to rest. H

SC Braga v Manchester United – Champions League, Estádio Municipal – Wednesday 7 November 2012, 7.45pmHowever, Chris Smalling is now back in full-time training and traveled with the squad to Portugal. The 22-year-old in unlikely to start after missing the opening three months of the season with a broken metatarsal, but may feature at some point.

“Fletcher got a little bit of a cold on Sunday, and there’s no point taking him travelling with a cold,” explained Ferguson. “Scholesy, for the last few games I’ve been resting him to freshen him up a little bit. I’m just taking care of an old man, that’s all!

“Phil Jones will start training with us next Monday which is good news – he is making really good progress now. Chris Smalling is with the party and will be involved tomorrow. Those two are outstanding young defenders and it will give us a fantastic squad to take on all our challenges

“That is really good news because as we know, since the start of the season, we’ve been operating on the borderline in terms of certain defenders having to play all the time.”

The Scot is likely to bring Anders Lindegaard back into goal for David de Gea, while Nani, Anderson, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández will all hope to see some action in Portugal’s third city.

Meanwhile, Braga will feel confident of taking something from the game after going two goals up at Old Trafford last month. The Portuguese outfit, which reached the Europa League final last season, eventually succumbed to United’s second-half pressure, but not without testing the Reds’ porous defence first.

Braga coach José Peseiro is without Paulo Vinícius and Paulo César who are both unavailable with thigh injuries, although Douglão returned to action at the weekend and could start.

“We need to have some possession but must not attack too hard,” concedes Peseiro.

“It’s not even worth thinking that we can crush United. We showed we could cause them some problems in the first game. The way we switch from defence to attack is very important, but the most important thing is to be consistent.

“Even if they change their lineup, their team is top quality because they have more than one good player in every position. If they win tomorrow, they’ll qualify for the next phase, so we know what’s in their minds.”

Indeed, qualification a day after Ferguson celebrated his 26th year in charge of United will be all the present the Scot needs. In a ceremony at Old Trafford later this month Ferguson will be presented, in his honour, the latest statue erected at the old stadium.

The Scot replaced Ron Atkinson at Old Trafford in November 1986, ending United’s 26 year wait for a league title in 1993. Five FA Cups, four league cups and 11 more championships have followed.

How Ferguson would love to add just one more European title to the two Champions Leagues he has already won in what could yet be his final season in charge.

Match Details
SC Braga v Manchester United – Champions League, Estádio Municipal – Wednesday 7 November 2012, 7.45pm

Possible teams
Braga (4-4-2): Beto; Baiano, Coelho, Dougão, Elderson; Custódio, Viana, Mossoró, Barbosa; Zé Luís, Éder. Subs from: Quim, Micael, Amorim, , Capela, Micael, Djamal, Alan, Custódio, Guilherme, Michel, Carlão.

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

Officials (all GER)
Referee Felix Brych
Assistant referees Mark Borsch, Stefan Lupp
Additional assistant referees Felix Zwayer, Guido Winkmann
Fourth official Mike Pickel

Form
Braga: WDWLWW
United: WWWWLW

Head to Head
Overall: Braga 0, United 1, Draw 0

Prediction
0-2

Frustrated Fergie challenges Reds on van Persie’s special day

Ed November 4, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 18 comments

Comfortable, then, was victory for Manchester United over Arsenal on Saturday afternoon, stretching a record against the London opponents to eight wins in the past 10 fixtures. Yet, the 2-1 scoreline at Old Trafford barely tells the full picture of United’s total dominance against an Arsenal so tepid that it is tempting to wonder whether Arsène Wenger still holds the tools to build a championship winning team. The only disappointment on a day that saw Manchester City and Chelsea drop points: United’s failure to demonstrate superiority on the scoreboard.

Indeed, such is Sir Alex Ferguson’s quest for goals this term that United’s open attacking style has heaped the pressure on the Reds’ rearguard – evidenced in just three clean sheets all season.

Still, with Ferguson insistent that United will “never again” lose the Premier League title on goal difference, the manager’s barely disguised irritation at considerable profligacy in front of goal was evident. United’s 13 attempts at goal should have brought far more than Robin van Persie’s smartly taken opener and Patrice Evra’s close range header. The irony in van Persie’s excellent right-footed third minute finish came in the wastefulness that followed.

Yet, Ferguson’s disappointment moved beyond the superficial, to the underlying cause of failure to capitalise on United’s domination – a casual approach that bordered on the complacent despite technical and tactical superiority.

“There was a lack of urgency in our game throughout – we were far too casual, ” admitted Ferguson.

“It was an unusual Manchester United – Arsenal game. There were a lot of bookings but it never really got anywhere near the Manchester United/Arsenal games of the past. I was just really disappointed in our ability to hammer home the advantage.”

Such was the paucity of intensity during the second period that United came far too close to dropping points at Old Trafford for the second time this season. Santi Carzorla’s outstanding injury-time goal brought Arsenal but a late consolation, yet only after Wayne Rooney shanked a second half penalty wide and van Persie missed a sitter just after the hour.

Rooney’s miss, incidentally, his seventh in 20 Premier League penalty attempts over the past decade, and United’s fourth in six this season.

“It looked as if it was going to be self destruction,” said Ferguson in the aftermath. “It only takes a second to lose a goal.”

“They had some possession without really threatening us, but thank god we got the second one because the fact they scored right on full-time it would have been an embarrassment. The chances we missed – well, we should have put the game to bed a long, long time ago.”

There were some positives though, not least United’s control of a match in which Arsenal never looked capable of mounting a challenge. Indeed, Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick bossed midfield while rarely rising above the mundane, while Rooney and van Persie continued to look threatening despite throwing away chances.  Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans were never in anything but total command at the back, without claiming the clean sheet the pair’s performance deserved.

It was van Persie’s day though, highlighted by an inevitable goal and accompanying low-key celebration. Hands reached skywards in apology, van Persie’s reaction was far more respectful of the travelling fans than the 3,000 were of their former hero.

“It was good for Robin to get the goal and he took it very well,” added Sir Alex.

“I thought he was fantastic today – his movement and his penetration were brilliant. He did the right thing [not celebrating]. He had eight great years at Arsenal and he respects that and I thought the Arsenal fans were fine too.”

That is, of course, a generous interpretation of visiting supporters’ repertoire of songs that compared van Persie to a “Dutch Jimmy Savile”, accused the striker of rape and repeatedly labelled the 29-year-old a “c*nt”. Such is the way of modern fandom; a performance that mocks years of north London outrage over abuse Wenger suffered at Old Trafford.

Still, the last laugh is with the Dutchman who was conveniently reminded just why he chose to force a move away from the Emirates this summer. Arsenal’s now seven-year-long search for a trophy will, on this evidence, not be concluded with the Premier League title next May.

United’s squad has its limitations, but Ferguson’s decision to invest so heavily in the – formerly – injury-prone Dutchman is already paying handsome reward.

“In the end it was quite a game, I think we played well,” added van Persie, who has 10 goals in all competitions this season.

“We were a bit sloppy with chances and should have scored two or three more. But in the end we are happy with three points because that is all that matters. It was the first time I have ever played against my former club. It was a special day but in the end it is about the game, which won so I am pleased with that.”

In that Ferguson will be happy too – the three points taking United top of the Premier League for the first time this season. It is November rather than May, but there is a sense of momentum building even if the Reds’ performances have plenty of headroom for improvement.

Ferguson was displeased at the late Arsenal goal, but seemingly more so at United’s placid comfort in a match that should have proffered a thumping victory.

“We should have scored five, six, even more,” added the 70-year-old. “I spoke to the players at the start of the season about the importance of goal difference. We lost the league last season on goal difference and I don’t want it to happen again. We had an opportunity to add to the goal tally today.”

But those are first-place problems compared to Arsenal’s, with Wenger’s side no closer to bringing an end to an extended barren run than at any point over the past seven years. Unrest at the club’s AGM last week, is spilling over into the stands – “we want our Arsenal back,” sangd the visitors at one stage.

It was a brief respite from van Persie’s abuse; anger that would have been so much more vitriolic had the Dutchman and his colleagues notched up the thumping win United’s performance largely deserved.

Preview: United v Arsenal

Ed November 3, 2012 Tags: , Matches 63 comments

The odds, according to one well-known bookmaker, are a little short of 100/1 that Manchester United and Arsenal will share nine goals between them this weekend. Surely cheap at a half the price if the past week is anything to go by. Four goals down at half-time against Reading in the Capital One Cup, the Gunners roared back to score seven at the Madejski Stadium on Tuesday night. Outdone in the scoring stakes, perhaps, but never out-entertained, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side was on the wrong end of a nine-goal thriller at Stamford Bridge in the same competition on Wednesday.

On this perfunctory evidence neither Manchester United, nor Arsenal, can defend; the recipe for fun at Old Trafford this weekend, if not always the highest quality.

Football isn’t as a simple as that, of course, and there is little doubt both sides will change personnel and outlook significantly ahead of this weekend’s Premier League fixture at Old Trafford. But there is also a truism in the analysis: these old rivals have defended far from optimally over the past week, even if Arsene Wenger’s side has become noticeably tighter at the back in the Premier League this season. Just six goals conceded in nine games attest to that.

By contrast, United’s recklessness in conceding twice against SC Braga, Stoke City and then seven in two games against Chelsea cannot be underestimated; this is a side not set up to restrict the opposition, with little to no support for an ever-changing back-four coming from the Reds’ open midfield.

Roy Keane, Nicky Butt and Nobby Stiles turn away now, there is nothing for you to see here.

Still, entertainment should be the watchword at Old Trafford for the early kick off against the north Londoners. That is the case even if fixtures against Wenger’s men have lost the edge of a decade ago, with Arsenal no longer in contention for major honours at home or abroad.

“Every game against Arsenal is always a big one,” insists Ferguson, despite Arsenal failing to secure silverware since 2005.

“Since I’ve come down here, it’s always the most important ‘derby’ game in the sense that both teams have always been challenging for the league. It won’t be different tomorrow.

Manchester United v Arsenal - Premier League, Old Trafford - Saturday 3 November, 12.45pmStill, United begin the tie as favourites even if there is little chance of Ferguson’s side repeating last season’s 8-2 thrashing of the Gunners. Weakened by injury and a Champions League tie the previous week, Wenger’s men capitulated under a barrage of United pressure. Part of the incentive, says Ferguson, for Arsenal’s more physical presence this season.

“They’re stronger physically if you look at the make-up of their team now,” adds the 70-year-old.

“They are a solid team. Podolski, Giroud, all these players they have brought in are more physical types of player than they have had in the past.”

Yet, with a plethora of forwards in outstanding form, including nine-goal former Arsenal favourite Robin van Persie, there seems little chance of United drawing a blank at Old Trafford for the first time in 53 games. Indeed, with both van Persie and Wayne Rooney in outstanding shape there is unlikely to be room in the starting line-up for Javier Hernández, whose season burst into life with three goals in two matches against Chelsea this week.

“You’ve got to think of Chicharito’s form as well and I’m trying to think of all sorts of ways I can utilise the three of them together and Danny Welbeck of course,” adds Ferguson

“Chicharito is in terrific form. He is improving all the time. The key to Chicha’s form is the decent rest he’s had in the summer. It’s difficult to work out how to utilise three of them – we did it at Newcastle but we won’t be able to do in every game. Nonetheless, it’s a fantastic problem for me.”

Whatever the Mexican’s merits, the focus will largely be on van Persie, who faces his former club for the first time. The Dutchman scored 132 goals in 277 games for the Londoners over nine seasons, before departing in a £24 million deal last summer.

Having settled into life at Old Trafford with such ease, and with the player overcoming the ‘injury-prone’ tag of old, van Persie has already become central to United’s hopes this season. The Dutchman is set to start as United’s lone forward, with Rooney in a deeper role.

“Robin van Persie has a great quality in the fraction of a second that he understands where to go – you can talk and talk and talk, but defenders have to read that at the same time,” says former manager Wenger.

“His speed of analysing those little pockets around the box are absolutely exceptional. The team know him as well because they have played against him in training. But in the game it is a question of timing – how quickly will they read it as well as he reads it?”

Elsewhere, Anderson may only make the bench, despite impressing against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup. Ferguson, trusting to experience, is likely to revert to Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick in central midfield, with Tom Cleverley dropping to the bench. Ashley Young, Antonio Valenica and Nani will compete for two spots in Ferguson’s side, but Shinji Kagawa misses out through injury.

Chris Smalling is close to fitness, although not ready to return to the first team squad, while David de Gea should take over in goal from Anders Lindegaard.

Meanwhile, Wenger’s team arrives seeking to erase memories of last season’s traumatic defeat at Old Trafford, where the Londoners lost both the game and, at times, their dignity. Wenger is likely to call on newly fit Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna, although Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain faces a fitness test on a knee injury. Gervinho and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny are definitely out.

“They say a pessimist is a well-informed optimist – on the day, I was badly informed,” admits a rueful Wenger of last season’s thrashing.

“There is an emotional aspect in a defeat like that, but the football aspect, as a manager, has no real meaning. There is no mathematical consequence. We lost a game, that is all. It was easy to explain. You feel humiliated but after that, the next game, when you win, you don’t focus on that.”

Yet, it is hard to imagine last season’s result not coming factoring into the game at some point, not least because of United’s penchant for beating the Gunners in recent seasons. Eight of the past 10 meetings between these sides have gone United’s way.

It is hard to foresee anything other than a continuation of the pattern on Saturday; then this has been a week of odds-busting scorelines.

Match Details
Manchester United v Arsenal – Premier League, Old Trafford – Saturday 3 November 2012, 12.45pm

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

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Mannone; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermalen, Santos; Wilshere, Arteta; Ramsey, Carzola, Podolski; Giroud. Subs from: Martínez, Djourou, Jenkinson, Yennaris, Squillaci, Frimpong, Koscielny, Coquelin, Walcott, Arshavin, Chamakh.

Officials
Referee: M Dean
Assistants: S Ledger, A Garratt
Fourth Official: P Dowd

Form
United: LWWWWL
Arsenal: WWLLWW

Head to Head
Last 10: United 8, Arsenal 1, Draw 1
Overall: United 96, Arsenal 78, Draw 46

Stats

  • van Persie remains joint top Premier League goalscorer, with Newcastle’s Demba Ba, having netted seven goals in nine appearance this season;
  • The Dutchman’s goals have come from 23 shots, with 48 per cent on target – just over 30 per cent of striker’s shots have resulted in goals this season;
  • Hernández’ return to form has brought two goals in the Premier League this season, with four shots on target from seven attempts;
  • The highlight of Arsenal’s uneventful fixture against QPR last week was the return of Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta’s goal;
  • Arteta’s strike was his first in the Premier League this season – Arteta has taken just eight shots at goal, with four on target so far this season;
  • In contrast, no other midfielder in the league has taken more shots on goal than Santi Carzola – the Spaniard’s 33 shots have brought two goals, with 58 per cent of attempts on target;
  • Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey put in a shift of 6.86 miles against QPR, the second highest distance covered by an Arsenal player in a single game this season – after the Welshman’s 7.01 miles against Manchester City;
  • Arsenal has the most frugal defence in the league, having conceded just six goals in nine games;
  • Per Mertesacker has been at the heart of Arsenal’s improvement – the German has lost out on just one of the 13 tackles he has attempted, the best return of any player to attempt ten or more tackles this season.

Prediction
2-1