Month January 2013

Month January 2013

Preview: United v Southampton

January 30, 2013 Tags: , Matches 134 comments

Manchester City’s eye raising draw with Queens Park Rangers on Tuesday has changed the Premier League title race dynamic once again in a season of frequent surprises. Within sight of a two point gap at kick off on Tuesday, Roberto Mancini’s side will slip to seven points off the lead should Manchester United beat Southampton at Old Trafford on Wednesday night.

Victory at Old Trafford promises a significant carrot for Ferguson’s team, and with City facing Liverpool at Eastlands next Sunday there will be more than a few United supporters counting on a even greater gap by Saturday evening.

Indeed, City’s slip against relegation fodder QPR has opened up a huge opportunity for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men against the Saints. While the south coast side certainly gave United a genuine test earlier this season – the fixture in which Robin van Persie scored his first goal for the club – Southampton remains in deep trouble,  just three points off the relegation zone.

The Saints arrive, if not in disarray, then in a state of considerable flux. Much loved manager Nigel Adkins was sacked on 18 January despite a record of just two defeats in the club’s previous 12 matches. His replacement, the Argentine Mauricio Pochettino, comes with a coaching pedigree at Espanyol in La Liga, together with 20 caps for his national team.

Yet, Saints’ fans, angry at the manner of Adkins’ dismissal, have not been slow to voice disapproval. It is a sentiment that Ferguson, always supportive of the managers’ union – Rafael Benitez aside – has been quick to echo ahead of Soton’s trip north.

“I spoke to [Adkins] the day before he was sacked,” said Sir Alex on Tuesday.

“He phoned me about his situation there. I mean I can’t understand these things. I think their form had picked up. Was it two defeats in 12 games? That’s not bad for a team at the bottom of the league.

“Southampton’s fans have got a way of demonstrating and there were a few banners up at the Everton game. It’s nice in terms of recognising the contribution Adkins made. He brought them up into the division and it’s not an easy job.

“The game prior to losing his job, they were 2-0 down to Chelsea but they came back and got a draw. Arsenal had the same situation and got to 2-1 but couldn’t quite get the second goal. The task of getting back at Chelsea on their home ground when you’re 2-0 down is pretty impressive.”

Southampton’s impressive display in the goalless draw with Everton a fortnight ago said much about the team’s fighting spirit in recent weeks even if too few goals scored, allied to far too many conceded, left Adkins side teetering on the brink before the Englishman’s dismissal.

Manchester United v Southampton - Premier League, Old Trafford - 30 January 2013 7.45pmMeanwhile, United host new coach Pochettino with the home side in rude health. Just Ashley Young and Jonny Evans will be absent through injury. The packed squad leaves Ferguson with plenty of selection dilemmas, especially with van Persie, Rio Ferdinand and Anotonio Valencia due to come back into the side after the trio sat out United’s comfortable FA Cup victory last Saturday.

Ferguson may opt to bring Tom Cleverley or Paul Scholes back into midfield, although Anderson impressed in United’s total dominance of Fulham in the cup. Meanwhile, van Persie and Wayne Rooney should be reunited in attack, with Nani, Valencia and Shinji Kagawa competing for, perhaps, two wide spots.

Whatever the team selection United can look forward to a fixture period that includes matches against Southamton, Fulham and Everton in the league prior to the European fixture at Santiago Bernabéu. There is every reason for supporters to believe that United can secure nine points prior to the Euro game.

Meanwhile, the visitors will make a late call on the fitness of Adam Lallana, while striker Guilhermo do Prado and defender Jose Fonte will miss the clash with knee injuries.

The travelling supporters are not expected to make any significant protest against the club’s management at Old Trafford. Although the voices of disapproval were heard at St. Mary’s after Pochettino’s appointment, widespread protest has yet to materialise.

Certainly, the new Southampton manager has played a cute public relations game in the past 10 days, although results will define his relationship with the travelling support above all else. After all, Adkins achieved two promotions with the club, while the Argentine is yet to achieve anything of note as a coach.

The manner of appointment leaves Pochettino’s bank of credit in debt from the off; United hope to make another sizeable withdrawal with victory on Wednesday night.

“I don’t know a lot about him to be honest but I will have a chat with my brother [Martin] as he’s been scouting in Spain,” said Ferguson of the Premier League’s newest manager.

“It won’t matter in this particular game as he’s just at the club but they had a fantastic response against Everton. They should have won as they were superb and could have been five-up in the first half. Tim Howard had a fantastic game, they hit the woodwork and Rickie Lambert missed a couple of chances. They played really well against Everton who are at the top of their game and playing really well.”

It should be a home-banker whatever Ferguson’s tact, although the Reds’ inability to shut the opposition out this season has encouraged visiting sides to attack at Old Trafford. Some have profited from the bravery, although Fulham’s performance last weekend was anything but.

Still, Ferguson is keen for complaceny to be eradicated as United seek to drive home a significant advantage.

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” said Sir Alex. “We’ve got Southampton on Wednesday, then we go to Fulham and then it’s Everton at home. These are big games, massive games.

“Teams will drop points. Not just us but Manchester City will drop points, absolutely, it’s a certainty. We’ll probably drop two or three ourselves but the important thing is accepting the challenge that every game is just as difficult as the rest.”

Match details
Manchester United v Southampon – Premier League, Old Trafford – 30 January 2013 8pm

Possible teams
United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Cleverley, Carrick; Valencia, Rooney, Nani; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Jones, Smalling, Buttner, Scholes, Giggs, Anderson, Kagawa, Welbeck, Hernandez

Southampton (4-5-1): Boruc; Clyne, Yoshida, Hooiveld, Shaw; Schneiderlin, Ramirez, Cork, Guly, Puncheon; Lambert. Subs from: K Davis, Fox, Richardson, S Davis, Chaplow, De Ridder, Rodriguez

Match officials
Referee: Lee Mason
Assistants: R West, S Bennett
Fourth official: P Tierney

United: WDWWDW
Southampton: DDLWDD

Head to Head
Last 10: United 7, Fulham 2, Draw 1
Overall: United 46, Fulham 14, Draw 18


  • Robin van Persie’s goal scoring this season has allowed Wayne Rooney to drop deeper, a move supported by the Scouser’s stats which show he makes more passes per minute in the opposition half than any other Premier League striker;
  • Tom Cleverley provided the assist for van Persie’s goal in United’s fixture against Tottenham Hotspur – just his second of the season, despite having completed 386 passes in the opposition half at a rate of one every 3 minutes 6 seconds;
  • United defender Phil Jones made five blocks during the game against Spurs, the joint second highest number of the season;
  • Southampton’s new manager Pochettino has inherited the hardest working team in the Premier League – Southampton’s players have covered more ground than any other team with a total of 1474 miles;
  • Morgan Schneiderlin takes the individual trophy for most distance run with a total of 148.2 miles so far this season, one of only five players to have topped 140 miles;
  • Schneiderlin has also completed 414 passes in the opposition half this season, more than any other Saints player;
  • Rickie Lambert is Southampton’s top ranked player in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index having scored ten goals in the Premier League at a rate of one every 191 minutes 40 seconds, and one every 5.1 shots;
  • Lambert also has five assists to his name, meaning he has contributed to exactly half of Southampton’s 30 Premier League goals this season.


Project FA Cup

January 27, 2013 Tags: Opinion 33 comments

There is a little something about Manchester United’s renewed relationship with the FA Cup this season. It has been a love affair not always on solid ground over the past decade, but after the Reds’ comfortable victory over Fulham at Old Trafford on Saturday evening, thoughts have turned once again to a Wembley final in May. Eight and a half long years since United last lifted the 140-year-old trophy, the hunt appears to be on once again.

True, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side has appeared in two finals – losing both – since the Scot’s side secured the FA Cup in 2004. Two further defeats at the semi-final stage, to Manchester City in 2011 and Everton in 2009, has brought scant comfort in a decade of cup disappointment.

But United’s long affinity with the FA Cup – a tournament the club has secured on a record 11 occasions – has been weaker in the past decade. Troublesome draws, bad luck and eyes on greater prizes has played a part in United’s relative sack of success since 2004.

While Ferguson selected a strong side to face City at Wembley two years ago, other priorities took precedent to United’s semi with Everton in 2009. Although, admittedly, there was genuine ill fortune in final defeat to Arsenal in 2005 and Chelsea two years later.

Yet, the past decade is in marked contrast to the earlier part of Ferguson’s tenure at Old Trafford that brought much joy in the Cup. United claimed the trophy four times in the 1990s – part of two doubles and the 1999 treble.

However, there is a real change in mood at Old Trafford this season, with Ferguson and his players insisting that the Cup is once again a priority despite the heavy workload at home and in European competition.

That Ferguson, together with his senior lieutenants Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, are the only members of the current squad to have tasted Cup glory says much for the barren period. Perhaps, too, the squad’s desire to rectify a perceived imbalance.

“We’ve not done as well as we should have done in the last eight, nine years,” said Giggs in the aftermath on Saturday’s.

“There’s a lot of players desperate to win it. With the history we’ve got in the competition, we should be there, we should be getting to finals, so hopefully this will be the year.”

Safely through to the fifth round after an almost embarrassingly comfortable win on Saturday, United will now face struggling Reading at Old Trafford in three week’s time.

The Reading tie is yet another in a long line of fixtures United has faced against Premier League opposition in recent years. Eight of United’s past 10 FA Cup fixtures have been against top level opponents – including 20 of the past 25 – and each of the last seven ties: Reading, Fulham, West Ham, Liverpool, City, City and Arsenal.

Still, with the Royals in the bottom three and staring into the abyss of relegation from the Premier League the year before a new TV deal kicks in, Ferguson’s side should comfortably progress. After all, Brian McDermott’s side can ill afford to concentrate on anything bar league salvation.

History is with the Reds too – the sides have met 12 times before in the competition, with United having lost just one of those fixtures.

However, Ferguson’s resolve to field strong sides in the competition will be sorely tested in the coming weeks, with United hosting Reading just three days after a physically and emotionally draining Champions League tie against Real in Madrid.

Indeed, a packed schedule up to the European ties surely ensures changes will be made in the FA Cup. United host Southampton at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, before travelling south to meet Fulham in the Premier League next weekend. The international break will the disrupt the squad before Everton come to Manchester in early February.

The schedule may be packed but at least the rate at which Premier League teams have fallen in this season’s competition – 13 of 20 by the fourth round’s conclusion – should make United’s passage a little easier, although Chelsea, Arsenal and City remain in the competition.

And should United continue to progress in both cups supporters’ dreams of another treble, 14 years on from the original, will grow – unlikely as the achievement may have seemed last August.

“We want to win all three. We want to win the treble. It is in our minds,” admits striker Javier Hernández, who’s brace against Fulham proved decisive.

For now fans can enjoy the potential of another FA Cup run – it has, after all, been far too long since United’s captain has climbed Wembley’s steps. Regaining the Premier League, conquering Europe even, may come first, but the Cup still retains a special place more than a century after a first victory in the competition.

“The FA Cup is an important trophy for us this season,” concludes Ferguson. “We haven’t won it for almost 10 years, so we really need to have a big performance this year”

There are few fans that will disagree with that sentiment.

FA Cup fifth round draw:
Huddersfield or Leicester v Wigan Athletic
MK Dons v Barnsley
Oldham v Everton
Luton v Millwall
Arsenal v Blackburn
Manchester City v Leeds
UNITED v Reading
Middlesbrough v Chelsea or Brentford

Preview: United v Fulham

January 26, 2013 Tags: , Matches 53 comments

Another FA Cup tie; another fixture on live TV. Such is the appeal of the world’s most popular club that it is the 37th occasion in a row that Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have been selected by the nation’s broadcasters to front Cup coverage – a run that dates back to January 2005.

Saturday evening brings Fulham to Old Trafford, and with Martin Jol’s team comes a former Red – striker Dimitar Berbatov. There will hardly be a dry eye in the house. Except, of course, for those Reds who didn’t take to the Bulgarian during four years in Manchester.

Jol’s side arrives under pressure in the Premier Leauge, although Berbatov has already become a popular figure at Craven Cottage, scoring seven goals in 20 appearances to date. Now just five points off the relegation zone, the Cup represents a distraction for the Londonders – welcome, or not. Indeed, Jol may make rotate his squad for the trip north; there are certainly greater priorities in west London.

The same could be said of Ferguson’s side too, of course, although there appears to be a renewed appetite to secure a 12th FA Cup this season after almost a decade without lifting the old trophy. Replay victory over West Ham United at Old Trafford in the third round has afforded the Reds another home tie and an excellent opportunity to progress.

That only Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes have secured the FA Cup among the current squad says much, not only for United’s priorities in the past decade, but a series of tough draws against Premier League opposition. The hat has been no kinder in the current season, then, but there is perhaps a renewed focus on the 150-year-old tournament.

“The boss has given a big message this season – he really wants to win the FA Cup,” defender Patrice Evra told United Review.

“He really wants it and so do we. It is the only trophy that I have not won at Manchester United. That seems impossible given that I am now in my seventh year here. The FA Cup means so much and, one day, I hope I will win it. Hopefully this year.”

Manchester United v Fulham - FA Cup, Old Trafford - 5.30pm 26 January 2013If Ferguson’s team is to progress it will do so without Jonny Evans and Ashley Young, but there is a healthy outlook to the squad after four days warm weather training in Qatar over the past week.

The Scot may still use the tie to rest key players, with the double-header against Real Madrid in the Champions League coming up next month, but Ferguson’s should be a strong side at Old Trafford on Saturday night.

“We had a good week training in Qatar and it was a great time to go there – we couldn’t have picked a better moment actually when you consider the weather we’ve had here,” said Ferguson.

“So it’s worked out very well for us and hopefully we get the benefit from that. It was always the plan at some stage to do that this January. It couldn’t have worked out better for us.

“Jonny Evans and Ashley Young are still not 100% fit. Ashley Young is not far away. He trained a bit in Qatar. Jonny is just taking a bit longer than we thought. But he did a bit of training in Qatar.  The bonus for us, of course, is that Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are both back.”

Ferguson may opt to rest 22-goal Robin van Persie, although Wayne Rooney, Shinji Kagawa, Javier Hernández and Nani could all do with minutes against the Cottagers. While veteran Rio Ferdinand is likely to be rested, with a match against Southampton in the Premier League on Wednesday evening.

Under-fire goalkeeper David de Gea may start despite Anders Lindegaard’s appearance in the third round replay against West Ham. On Friday Ferguson labelled critics of the young Spainiard “idiots,” with Alan Hansen and Gary Neville among a plethora of high-profile pundits to jump on a very public bandwagon.

Saturday’s will be a another test for the 22-year-old ‘keeper, who has grown in confidence this season, but – as evidenced against Tottenham Hotspur last weekend – can still struggle under the high ball. Fortunate, then, that Fulham’s is rarely a direct approach.

Yet, all eyes will be on Berbatov, who scored 56 goals in 149 appearances during four largely frustrating years in Manchester. Acquired for more than £30 million, Berbatov won many friends with a sublime first touch and moments of unrivalled skill, but drew ire for a seemingly complacent attitude and an inability to deliver on the biggest occasions.

Despite the perceived low return on United’s heavy investment Ferguson remains supportive of the 31-year-old Bulgarian, who moved south for around £2 million last summer.

“I don’t think Dimitar was a failure here,” said Ferguson. “Some people like to see players run through brick walls all the time. Dimitar is not that type of player, but he is very talented player and he had a decent goalscoring record here.

“The problem for him here was the way we wanted to play and the selections I had to make. When you have choices you hope to make the right one. Javier Hernández had a fantastic first season with us and as time went on he became a more regular player than Dimitar.”

Berabtov will start despite Fulham’s recent troubles in the Premier League, which ensure Wednesday’s fixture with West Ham remains a priority. Meanwhile, former Red Kieran Richardson misses the game against his old club with a calf injury, while winger Kerim Frei and midfielder Mahamadou Diarra did not travel.

The visitors predicament means that Ferguson’s side remains strong favourites for the tie. After all, United has beaten Fulham on 46 of the 78 occasions these two side have met, including a 3-2 victory in the Premier League last August. In eight previous FA Cup fixtures between the clubs, United has triumphed on seven occasions, including a 4-0 victory at Craven Cottage in 2009.

“We haven’t done as well in the FA Cup for a few years now,” admits Ferguson. “It’s a cup which has fantastic appeal given our record in it. We have benefit of the home draw. We’ll take that any time. It’s going to be a challenge for us but we would play anyone at the moment.”

That statement may be disingenuous given United’s tough draws over the past five years, but supporters will care little so long as United remains in the fifth round draw on Saturday evening.

Match Details
Manchester United v Fulham – FA Cup, Old Trafford – 5.30pm 26 January 2013

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

Fulham (4-5-1): Schwarzer; Riether, Hangeland, Hughes, Briggs; Dejagah, Ruiz, Sidwell, Karagounis, Duff; Berbatov. Subs from: Etheridge, Senderos, Baird, Kacaniklic, Petric, Rodallega

Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Assistant Referees: David Bryan, Peter Bankes
Fourth Official: Michael Jones

United: WWDWWD
Fulham: LWDDWL

Head to Head
Last 10: United 7, Fulham 2, Draw 1
Overall: United 46, Fulham 14, Draw 18


Rant Cast 140 – what’s up doc?

January 25, 2013 Tags: Rant Cast 13 comments

On this week’s show regular presenters Ed and Paul look back on Manchester United’s hard-fought draw with Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side conceded a last-minute equaliser amid controversy over a penalty not given and criticism of David de Gea. But would the Scot have taken a point ahead of the game?

Also on this week’s show: we talk Qater, with United’s players heading out to the middle east for four days of warm weather training. But why were Ferguson’s players wearing Bugs Bunny pyjamas on the flight and did the great man himself partake?

We talk transfers, with  Wilfried Zaha heading to Old Trafford in a a £15 million deal, and Federico Macheda heading off to VfB Stuttgart on loan for the rest of the season.

We take your Twitter questions and preview games in the coming week against Fulham in the FA Cup at Old Trafford and Southampton in the Premier League.

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

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

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

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, reasonably clean and leave a name to take part. Record your message in the widget to the right -> or send an MP3 to

Scholes: 20 years as a pro

January 24, 2013 Tags: Opinion 41 comments

There was little fanfare from the maestro on Wednesday; it would, in all honesty, be more surprising if Paul Scholes actually knew the significance of the date: 23 January, 1992. Remember it, for these moments come by but once in a lifetime – two decades on from Scholes inking a signature on his first professional contract with Manchester United, alongside David Beckham, Nicky Butt, and Gary Neville, the midfielder is still making a mark at Old Trafford.

The little ginger kid with magic in his feet, who’d rather disappear into the shadows than listen to the inevitable plaudits on another anniversary. No celebrity for Scholes; no VIP restaurants, overpriced nightclubs, billboards or TV adverts; no post-match interviews with flowing man-of the-match-champagne; none of the hyperbolic media, nor the lingerie models hanging off his arms and on his every word. To Scholes everything bar playing has always been bullshit.

Instead there have been goals. Lots of them. And quality almost without peer in any midfielder of his generation. The flicks, tricks, 60-yard passes to feet. The 25-yard volleys, flying headers and ever-so-late tackles. The time and space on the ball that is such a rare commodity in modern football.

It has been 20 years of joy for those following. Not solely for the success that Scholes has been part of at Manchester United, but the unique brand of entertainment he fostered too. In 20 years’ time, 50 surely, Scholes will be remembered as one of the United greats. Player or not next season, United should never let this gem go.

After all, the reverence shows no bounds at Old Trafford – supporters, players, management.

Yet, remarkably, Scholes is not appreciated in the same way in the country – the cost of playing for the nation’s biggest club. Scholes played more than 60 times for England as well; it would have been more than a 100 but for Sven Goran Eriksson’s negligent abuse of the midfielder’s role. Ironic, perhaps, that a Swede should sum up the English reticence towards the technically gifted that the Scot Ferguson has always embraced.

“If he was Spanish,” said Barcelona’s maestro Xavi Hernández, “maybe he would have been valued more.” Had Scholes’ birth come in Salamanca not Salford he would surely have been nominated for the game’s greatest personal honours.

Either way, Scholes is unlikely to look back with any regret.

The midfielder has always been valued by his fellow pros though; from Zinedine Zidane, to Pélé, always a players’ player. No more so than Andreas Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Xavi, who on the conclusion of Barcelona’s victory over United at Wembley in 2011 sought out the wee man. Scholes took home the match ball; the opponents his shirt.

After all, Scholes has always been the embodiment of the United spirit that has long been ebbing away from the game. There is unlikely to be another quite like him.

Yet, here is a player who chose not to leverage his status as United’s finest – Scholes has never been Old Trafford’s highest earner, nor anything more than a reluctant participant in the marketing machine.

Like all the greats there is an enigma to Scholes too. The ‘dark side’, as Arsène Wenger so crudely put it. “A dirty little git,” Scholes’ former colleague Butt once said. The kid with asthma who conquered the world owed no little part to his steely resolve. It has served United well through 715 pre and post-retirement games for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.

Of the cohort only Beckham is still playing, although the midfielder’s future is yet to be decided after leaving LA Galaxy in November. One more mega contract surely awaits in a career that is now more advertiser’s tool than playing resource.

Meanwhile, Butt finished his career abroad, playing three times for South China in winter 2010/11. An ignominious end. At least Neville retired into punditry with Sky TV at just the right time.

In that Scholes stands peerless.

Yet, it is likely to be Scholes’ last season at Old Trafford, before he slips off into retirement for a second time and, presumably, into another coaching role in Ferguson’s staff. The Scot will waste not more than 700 games experience even if a brief sojourn into coaching United’s kids last season brought Scholes more frustration than satisfaction.

Retirement may not have worked for the 38-year-old first time round, but, in the modern parlance, the legs have certainly now gone. Increasingly on the periphery, Scholes has started just nine games in all competitions this season – as many as the perpetually injured Anderson.

None of that will distract from an admirable comeback and a celebrated career. Now more than two decades as the professional’s professional.

Scholes in Numbers
715 appearances for United
155 goals scored
66 caps for England
10 Premier League titles
5 Community Shields
3 FA Cups
2 League Cups
2 European Cups
1 Intercontinental Cup
1 FIFA Club World Cup

On Scholes’ career
“He is the best midfielder of his generation. I would have loved to have played alongside him.” – Pep Guardiola

“In the last 15 to 20 years the best central midfielder that I have seen – the most complete – is Scholes. If he had been Spanish then maybe he would have been valued more.” – Xavi Hernandez

“I tell anyone who asks me – Scholes is the best English player.” – Laurent Blanc

“An amazingly gifted player who remained an unaffected human being.” – Roy Keane

“The best? Without any doubt it has to be Paul Scholes. He knows how to do everything, and he is the one who directs the way his team plays. On top of that, he has indestructible mental strength.” – Thierry Henry

“There isn’t a player of his mould anywhere else in the world.” – Glenn Hoddle

“If you ask footballers to pick out the player they most admire, so many of them will pick Paul Scholes. He’s the most consistent and naturally gifted player we’ve had for a long, long time.” – Alan Shearer

“Scholes is one of the most complete footballers I’ve ever seen. His one-touch play is phenomenal. Whenever I have played against him, I never felt I could get close to him.” – Eidur Gudjohnsen

“Every one of us is just trying to become as good as him. Everyone can learn from Paul Scholes. I’m not the best, Paul
Scholes is.” – Edgar Davids

“He is the one whose level I aspire to. He is the best player in the Premier League.” – Cesc Fabregas

“The player in the Premiership I admire most? Easy – Scholes.” – Patrick Vieira

“I can’t understand why Scholes has never won the player of the year award. He should have won it long ago. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t seek the limelight like some of the other ‘stars’.” -Thierry Henry

“He’s almost untouchable in what he does. I never tire of watching him play. You rarely come across the complete footballer, but Scholes is as close to it as you can get. One of my regrets is that the opportunity to play alongside him never presented itself during my career.” – Zinedine Zidane

“Paul Scholes would have been one of my first choices for putting together a great team – that goes to show how highly I have always rated him.” – Marcello Lippi

“Good enough to play for Brazil. I love to watch Scholes, to see him pass, the boy with the red hair and the red shirt.” – Socrates

“I’m saddened because I think we as spectators, not only in this country but right through out Europe and the rest of the world, will be missing one hell of a footballer.” – Ray Wilkins

“Paul Scholes is my favourite player. He epitomises the spirit of Manchester United and everything that is good about football.” – Sir Bobby Charlton

“Without question, I think Paul Scholes is the best player in England. He’s got the best skills, the best brain. No one can match him.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

Reds call on blue tape to cure van Persie’s ills

January 20, 2013 Tags: Opinion 7 comments

Rather than wrap him in cotton wool, it seems Manchester United may need to cover Robin van Persie in blue tape to keep the Dutchman injury-free this season. The striker, who has become both vital and loved at United, was seen wearing the recognisable blue Kinesio Tape on his hamstrings at the back of both thighs during the game against Liverpool last weekend.

United fans hope, of course, that the Kinesio Tape (KT) was simply being used as a prophylactic, although many will be forgiven for thinking that van Persie may already be carrying a slight twinge and that it is only a matter of time before the striker is sidelined.

van Persie was notorious for being injury prone during his time at Arsenal; enough to earn the nickname “glass ankles” following persistent difficulties with both ankles. In addition, van Persie has also suffered hip, thigh, groin, hamstring, calf and metatarsal injuries throughout his career.

Although there is relatively little evidence to support KT, it has become increasingly popular with élite athletes and was particularly noticeable during Euro 2012 last year. A meta-analysis of KT’s effects (* Williams et al. 2012) suggests the tape may be beneficial for improving muscle strength and range of motion, however these results were not proven to be clinically significant, and with too few studies more research is still needed to be sure of its efficacy.

Despite this, many high-profile athletes have found KT to be useful, including Novak Djokovic, Mario Balotelli and Dwain Chambers. And although there is a lack of strong scientific evidence, anecdotal evidence from athletes is not being ignored by medical teams, often working under intense competitive and financial pressure to keep their stellar players in action.

van Persie is no stranger to experimentation with radical alternative therapies to stay fit. In summer 2009 he opted to have troublesome wisdom teeth removed, believing they could be linked to his recurrent injury problems. van Persie attended a clinic in Paris for the procedure and was seemingly injury free for several months afterwards.

“My osteopaths think there may be a connection between my teeth and the muscle injuries I suffer,” said the Dutchman. “Something like that is very difficult to prove. But if the operation makes just one per cent difference it’ll be worth it.”

However, in November 2009 the Dutch playmaker suffered yet another ankle injury in Holland’s friendly against Italy. He traveled to Serbia to try horse-placenta treatment, by having placental fluid massaged into his sprained ankle. Although little is known about how placenta therapy may work, the theory is that it by applying the fluid it will improve the healing processes by enhancing transport of nutrients to the injured area.

Manchester City’s Pablo Zabaleta and Vincent Kompany have both allegedly visited the same clinic for treatment.

“It cannot hurt. And if it helps, it helps” said van Persie, no doubt frustrated with persistent ankle trouble and willing to try an unproven treatment.

Initially expected to be out for six weeks, scans revealed that van Persie had actually torn rather than sprained the ankle ligaments and missed a further five months of the 2009-2010 season. The placenta therapy appeared to be fruitless when advice was sought from a leading ankle specialist, Niek van Dijk, who confirmed that more extensive damage had been suffered than was first diagnosed. van Persie required surgery on the damaged ligaments.

After being plagued by so many sprains, strains and tears, van Persie’s lengthy injury trouble appeared to ease in the 2011-2012 season in which the striker won PFA player of the year. His tenure with Arsenal ended and he joined United in August 2012 with many believing it a good deal for the Gunners, given van Persie’s age and injury record. £24 million for a 29-year-old prone to so many injuries seemed like good business at the time for Arsène Wenger.

Yet, van Persie’s transfer has so far appeared to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s bargain not Arsenal’s. The striker’s contribution has been spectacular, with 22 goals to date including a number of last-minute winners and equalisers, and an important goal against Tottenham Hotspur in difficult weather conditions on Sunday.

It is possible that the striker may have picked up a minor hamstring muscle strain during the busy festive period, and taping was being used to try and prevent a serious muscle strain from occurring. If van Persie feels even the slightest hint of an injury, Rob Swire and the United medical team will no doubt be trying everything possible to ensure van Persie stays fit for the title run-in and coming European campaign. Even if it means wrapping the Dutchman in blue tape.

Robin van Persie’s injury record whilst at Arsenal:

Groin Strain – – 2012 February 29th
Ankle/Foot Injury – – 2011 August 7th
Knee Injury – – 2011 February 28th
Hamstring Injury – – 2011 February 22nd
Flu – – 2011 February 8th
Ankle/Foot Injury – – 2010 August 28th
Ankle/Foot Injury – – 2010 June 1st
Sprained Ankle – – 2009 November 14th
Knee Injury – – 2009 September 13th
Groin Strain – – 2009 April 18th
Groin Strain – – 2009 March 30th
Hamstring Injury – – 2008 October 6th
Ankle/Foot Injury – – 2008 August 31st
Thigh Muscle Strain – – 2008 May 2nd
Thigh Muscle Strain – – 2008 April 4th
Thigh Muscle Strain – – 2008 January 11th
Thigh Muscle Strain – – 2007 December 24th
Knee Injury – – 2007 October 18th
Metatarsal Fracture – – 2007 January 22nd
Ankle/Foot Injury – – 2006 November 19th
Hip/Thigh Injury – – 2006 September 14th
Ankle/Foot Injury – – 2006 February 10th
Ankle/Foot Injury – – 2005 December 22nd
Knee Injury – – 2005 October 17th
Ankle/Foot Injury – – 2005 February 5th
Sprained Ankle – – 2004 November 26th
Sprained Ankle – – 2004 August 27th


* Williams S, Whatman C, Hulme P, Sheerin K. Kinesio Taping in Treatment and Prevention of Sports Injuries: A Meta-Analysis of the Evidence for its Effectiveness. Sports Medicine. 2012; 42(2): 153 – 164

Poll: can United win another treble this season?

January 20, 2013 Tags: , , Polls 25 comments

With Manchester United top of the Premier League, through to the knock-out stage in Europe and into the FA Cup Fourth Round, Sir Alex Ferguson believes his side could seal trio of trophies this season. Mirroring the 1999 ‘treble’, says Ferguson, is possible due to the depth of resources now available at Old Trafford.

“We want to be involved in everything. We’ve got all three trophies to go for – and we’ve got the squad to do it,” said Sir Alex Ferguson on Saturday.

“It’s absolutely ­brilliant for everyone connected with Manchester United. We have got the excitement of going to Real Madrid in the Champions League and them coming here. We’ve got Fulham in the FA Cup as well after winning our ­replay against West Ham. And if you go back to the year we won the Treble, we had a Cup replay against Chelsea and ­another one against Arsenal.

“The squad is looking very strong at the moment with players coming back in. It’s a period of the season that could be crucial to us if we can keep our momentum going. These are big opportunities for us – and we don’t want to miss them.”

Certainly, Ferguson’s team is ahead of many pundits’ expectations after failing to secure any silverware last season. Ignominiously defeated in Europe, usurped domestically by Manchester City and knocked out of the FA Cup by Liverpool, 2011/12 is a season many supporters would like to forget.

But could this season match United’s greatest ever with three trophies heading back to Old Trafford in May?

Can United win another 'treble' this season?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Preview: Tottenham Hotspur v United

January 19, 2013 Tags: , Matches 253 comments

There is something in Manchester United’s clash with Tottenham Hotspur this weekend that evokes memories of classic games of the past. The romantic’s choice, as the cliché goes. Hackneyed though the tale has become, seven United victories in the past 10 fixtures between these two sides tells a story not of a fierce rivalry, but the Reds’ dominance over the north London club in recent years.

Yet, Spurs’ victory at Old Trafford in September adds spice to Sunday’s return in the capital. It was the first Tottenham victory at United in 27 attempts, ending a 23-year wait for a victory at the Theatre of Dreams.

The Londoners’ ability to break at pace unsettled United’s back four last autumn, with André Villas-Boas’ outfit taking advantage of the Reds’ openness in midfield. United will surely be more compact against the Portuguese manager’s outfit this time around.

Indeed, Spurs’ run of four victories in the past five matches has lifted Villas-Boas side into the top four – the Londoners are now favourites to secure a Champions League place next season ahead of rivals Arsenal, and an in-form Everton side.

Impressive stuff, especially given Villas-Boas’ difficult start to the season, with supporters and the media piling pressure on the Portuguese manager from the start of the campaign. No longer; the cloud of doubt has lifted and Spurs will be chasing a first league double over United since the 1973/4 campaign.

But with Wayne Rooney now fit, and Robin van Persie in irresistible goal-scoring form, United will call on the what Villas-Boas calls the best strike partnership in the country. He’s not wrong, of course. Still, it is Spurs’ firepower, even without the absent Emanuele Adebayor, that will concern Ferguson this weekend, especially given United’s continued propensity to leak goals.

“I’ve watched quite a few of their games and their form has been consistent,” said Sir Alex on Friday.

“I think Spurs have done well this season .They’re in good form and I think they’ll challenge for the top four. Villas-Boas has Spurs in the way he wants them and I think there are signs they’re playing how he wants them to play. That’s what a coach wants to do – get his philosophy across.”

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United - Premier League, White Hart Lane - 4pm 20 January 2013

Click for full size teamsheet

Yet, United’s record at White Hart Lane, where Ferguson’s side hasn’t suffered defeat in more than a decade, belies the Londoners annual challenge for a Champions League place. After all, Spurs’ traditional attacking style at home often plays into United’s hands.

“We have a fantastic record there,” adds Ferguson. “It’s a stadium that’s old-fashioned, football-wise, like Aston Villa and Everton. There’s always a good atmosphere and we enjoy playing there. But we can’t take anything for granted. We have a hard game on Sunday. We have to perform.”

Injuries will play a part in that performance, at least in the back-four where Jonny Evans is again absent. Captain Nemanja Vidić could partner Rio Ferdinand, although Ferguson will certainly be concern about the hosts’ pace in forward areas.

In midfield Anderson could make his first start of 2013 after completing an hour of United’s 1-0 FA Cup victory over West Ham United at Old Trafford last week. Nani, Antonio Valencia and Shinji Kagawa will compete for two places on United’s flanks, with Ashley Young still unfit.

Meanwhile, one man who will not make the trip south is Scot Darren Fletcher, who misses the rest of the campaign following surgery this week. Fletcher, who has made 10 appearances this season, underwent the operation to cure a persistent bowel condition.

The midfielder’s continued absence surely places into doubt whether he will ever play for the club again, although the party line remains that Fletcher will return for the 2013/14 campaign.

“This improves Darren’s prospects of returning,” adds Ferguson.

“He had to change his game and he hasn’t been the Darren Fletcher of three or four years ago in the games this season. Instead, he was sitting in front of the back four and he did well. That could be his role in the future. When he comes back, and I hope he does, it will be in a different role.

“It was something we thought would happen anyway. He tried his best to cope with the condition with the treatments he was using but, in the last couple of weeks, it’s come back. This operation will hopefully solve the situation.”

Meanwhile, Scott Parker will start for Tottenham with Brazilian Sandro set to miss the rest of the season after sustaining a serious knee injury. Adebayor is at the Africa Cup of Nations leaving Villas-Boas to pick Jermain Defoe and Clint Dempsey in attack.

Still, with Gareth Bale having given Ferdinand a chastening experience at Old Trafford earlier this season, and Aaron Lenon having a good head-to-head record with Patrice Evra there is plenty for Ferguson to consider.

Will the United manager continue this season’s open, attacking, approach that has brought 56 Premier League goal? With Rooney and van Persie having proven so effective the chances are in the affirmative. Another classic in the offing – put your house on it.

Match Details
Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United – Premier League, White Hart Lane – 4pm 20 January 2013

Possible teams
Spurs (4-4-1-1): Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Naughton; Lennon , Parker, Dembele, Bale; Dempsey; Defoe. Subs from: Friedel, Assou-Ekotto, Caulker, Huddlestone, Sigurdsson, Townsend, Carroll, Livermore, Falque

United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidić, Evra; Anderson, Carrick; Valencia, Rooney, Kagawa; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Jones, Smalling, Büttner, Scholes, Cleverley, Nani, Welbeck, Powell, Macheda, Giggs, Hernández

Referee: C Foy
Assistants: S Beck, M McDonough
Fourth official: L Mason

United: WWWDWW

Head to Head
Last 10: United 7, Spurs 1, Draw 2
Overall: United 84, Liverpool 46, Draw 47


  • Gareth Bale has been a genuine threat again this season, taking 72 shots at goal with 63 per cent on target according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.
  • On the opposite flank Aaron Lennon has notched up 28 dribbles this season, placing him fourth in the Index;
  • Mousa Dembele has been a real start in his début season with the club, notching up another all-action performance against QPR last week with 5.84 miles covered at Loftus Road;
  • In defence Jan Vertonghen is the leading percentage tackler in the Tottenham squad with a 75 per cent success rate from 64 attempted challenges, as well as 27 clearance and 74 interceptions;
  • United’s Robin van Persie is again leading the Index this season, with 26 combined goals and assists contributing to the United cause;
  • Patrice Evra has discovered a rich vein of goalscoring this season, although Nemanja Vidić was eventually credited with the Frenchman’s goal last week – Evra has also whipped in 35 crosses and is second only to Michael Carrick for passes completed in the opponent’s half with 449;
  • Carrick excelled in the victory over Liverpool last weekend and was also the hardest runner on the pitch, covering 6.5 miles;
  • Wayne Rooney is down on goals this season, but offers a healthy shot-to-goal ratio of seven and a shot accuracy of 67.3 per cent from 49 attempts.


Rant Cast 139 – the official podcast sponsor of Manchester United is …

January 18, 2013 Tags: Rant Cast 7 comments

On this week’s packed show we review Manchester United’s victories over Liverpool in the Premier League and West Ham United in the FA Cup. On both occasions Sir Alex Ferguson’s side started brightly only for the momentum to tail off in the second half of the game.

We talk finance – in the week that United signs too more sponsors has the game taken rampant commercialism too far?

Meanwhile, the transfer window has brought a fresh round of speculation – Ronaldo’s contract, Nani’s future and Wilfred Zaha are all on the agenda.

Finally, we take some of your questions and talk about Pep Guardiola’s return to management with Bayern Munich.

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.

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, reasonably clean and leave a name to take part. Record your message in the widget to the right -> or send an MP3 to

Lampard unchained

January 18, 2013 Tags: , Opinion 33 comments

In recent weeks speculation has mounted that Chelsea’s Frank Lampard may be on his way to Old Trafford when the player’s Chelsea contract ends at the end of the season. The gossip has caused much consternation among Manchester United fans who, starting to doubt the waning powers of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand, struggle to see the value of bringing yet another veteran into Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad.

Certainly this season has seen Scholes and, in particular Giggs, stray further away from fans’ affections. Ferguson was heavily criticised by some supporters when he threw on the pair in United’s recent 1-1 draw against Swansea City as the Reds chased a victory.

Similarly, Scholes and Giggs’ lack of dynamism in the Boxing Day game against Newcastle United was cited as a reason for United’s lacklustre performance in the first hour of that match. Meanwhile, Ferdinand’s reputation has also been damaged due to United’s often woeful defending in the first half of the season.

Why then is Ferguson seemingly in the market for another player in his mid-30s?

Perhaps it is expedient. After all, it is not certain that any of his veterans will still be at the club come next season. Rumours have recently circulated that Ferdinand may be on his way to China in the search of one final giant pay cheque, while neither Scholes, nor Giggs, have committed to contracts next season amid rumours of imminent retirement.

In the event of the pair’s departure, United will lose 1638 games worth of experience in one go. It is a scenario in which Lampard arrives as a necessary replacement for, rather than a superfluous addition to, the squad’s most experienced players.

With Darren Fletcher seemingly unlikely to ever make a full return to Ferguson’s first team, following surgery on a bowel condition this week, United will be surely be further depleted of experience in the coming months.

Beyond experience Ferguson is attracted to Lampard’s enduring class. The midfielder has been at the centre of a Chelsea side that transformed from a decent Premiership outfit to a world football power in the past 10 years. In that time Lampard has been the Premier League’s preeminent goal-scoring midfielder, plundering an incredible 194 goals in 12 seasons for the Blues. Lampard’s presence was crucial as Chelsea finally claimed the Champions League last summer

Lampard’s hero-esque status also renders the Chelsea idol unsuitable for a rival such as United according to some, although the Londoner is generally viewed with respect among United’s following – a few ill-founded jokes about his weight apart. Certainly, Lampard has never aroused the passionate animosity that has always followed teammate John Terry and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard.

Lampard would not be the first player to swap west London for Salford. Former Chelsea assistant manager Ray Wilkins served both clubs in the 1980s and the former England international believes that Chelsea’s vice-captain could do the same.
“He’ll want to continue and play at a high level – and there’s no higher level than Old Trafford,” Wilkins recently said. Wilkins also dubbed Ferguson “the master of utilising the older player” and suggested that his recent record of prolonging the careers of ageing players might appeal to the 34-year old Lampard.

Lampard claimed as recently as August that he can still play “at the top level for a good few years” and it seems unlikely that the midfielder is ready to follow former teammate Didier Drogba to one of football’s less popular leagues in search of an easily gained fortune. Certainly, with seven goals from 13 league games so far this season, some of which Lampard started on the bench, the midfielder’s capabilities show little sign of abating.

If Lampard makes the move north, no matter how unlikely, there will inevitably be those who chide the decision as a backward step by Sir Alex and a hindrance to some of the Scot’s younger starlets. It is a genuine fear, not least given the departure of Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison since Scholes came out of retirement last January. Since then Pogba has proven to be a hit in Turin with Juventus, while Morrison is undergoing a revival at Birmingham City. Lampard’s acquisition, should it come to pass, will doubtless give rise to similar fears.

Yet, there is perhaps a prescient transfer in Italy on which Ferguson may draw inspiration. In summer 2011 AC Milan allowed ageing midfielder Andrea Pirlo to leave on a free transfer to rivals Juventus. The Italian playmaker inspired his new club to a resounding victory in the Serie A title race and starred at Euro 2012. Chelsea will be hope that they aren’t rueing a similar situation at the end of next season.