Author Brett Sneddon

Author Brett Sneddon

Reina: Liverpool a disgrace

November 5, 2009 Tags: , Shorts 1 comment

Liverpool’s Champions League position is a disgrace, according to Pepe Reina. The Spanish goalkeeper, signed from Villareal in 2005, has seen his team slide to third in Group E after a draw with Olympique Lyonnais Wednesday. Liverpool’s Champions League fate now rests in the hands of others, with a place in the Europa cup the most likely scenario.

“No it’s not the end. We have got two games to go and disgracefully we are not depending on ourselves,” Reina told Dipper rag the Liverpool Echo.

“We need Lyon to get something in Fiorentina. Our priority is to win our two games that remain and we will keep trying. Miracles? They happen, particularly at Liverpool.”

Liverpool conceded at last-minute Lisandro Lopez goal at Stade Gerland to leave the club on just four points, with Lyon topping the group on 10 and Fiorentina second on 9.

“That was our best performance in the Champions League so far this season,” Reina said of Liverpool’s 1-1 draw in France.

“Even in some of our league wins, we didn’t play as well as that. We didn’t deserve anything but a win. I’m really disappointed as we were unlucky. We have got to look for the positives and that is we played well under big, big pressure. We can handle the pressure.

“We can trust in ourselves and we will turn this situation around, I am sure of that. We have got enough quality and enough character. We have to look at the big picture. The team is playing better. It hasn’t been great for clean sheets this season but I would have settled for a 5-4 win.”

Liverpool has lost six, drawn one and won one of their last eight games placing manager Rafa Benitez’ job at risk. A minute’s silence is set to take place should the Spaniard’s team bow out of the competition on matchday five.

United flatter to deceive against Moscow

November 4, 2009 Tags: , Matches No comments

Manchester United left it very, very late to secure a draw against CSKA Moscow at Old Trafford and with it qualification to the last 16 of the Champions League. United, never in front in the tie, had to come from 3-1 down  in the Group B clash against a poor Russian side.

Sir Alex Ferguson, extolling the virtues of stand in central defenders Wes Brown and Jonny Evans this week, watched in horror as United’s defence, missing the injured Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, crumbled in the first half.

The opening goal came on 25 minutes, scored by Alan Dzagoev following a neat one-two. Youngster Dzagoev, too quick for Evans, fired into the roof of the neat with a finish not dissimilar to that by Fernando Torres’ 10 days ago. The embattled Ferdinand this time thankful he was not on the pitch.

But the goal sparked United into life and four minutes later Michael Owen, who had already missed two good chances, turned to slot past the helpless Igor Akinfeev from close range.

United’s central defenders left another huge gap to allow CSKA back into the game minutes later. Milos Krasic scoring to put the Russians into a shock half-time lead.

Ferguson, hairdryer still warm, could do little as Vasili Berezutsky took advantage of poor marking by Federico Macheda to head in from a set piece just seconds after the restart.

Darren Fletcher, returning after injury, found himself in the book  for diving to add insult to injury. Replays showed the Scot felled in the box following a good turn and a clear penalty denied. Ferguson called the decision “one of the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime” post match.

United, searching for a route back into the game, brought off the disappointing Nani for new father Wayne Rooney, with Fabio making way for Patrice Evra. And Frenchman Gabriel Obertan, on for Macheda, again impressed with his penetration and running.

With the tempo increased, United forced a string of fine saves from Akinfeev. The ‘keeper, linked with a move to United in recent weeks, once against showed why he is CSKA’s most highly prized asset.

With just five minutes to go Paul Scholes headed in from a Gary Neville’s cross to bring United back into the match. The full-back, who caused CSKA problems all night, crossed for the midfielder to score into Akinfeev’s top-right hand corner.

In typical United fashion the home side equalised with moments remaining. Valencia’s wickedly deflected effort, following neat work by Rooney, left Akinfeev with no chance to ensure United maintained a 22-match unbeaten home run.

“We were absolutely fantastic in terms of our desire to win the match and were unlucky at times in the game,” Ferguson told MUTV.

“Their goalkeeper made some fantastic saves, we hit the post and missed a lot of other chances. And we also had a stonewall penalty turned down.

“But we didn’t make it easy for ourselves and it became an uphill fight. That’s maybe not a bad thing though because it’s a reminder that when you leave yourself open in European football it can be very dangerous.

“Their first two goals were soft goals to lose and the third was unbelievable – a free header at the back post on a set-piece. That’s the first goal we’ve lost on a set-piece for a year; it’s a good reminder for us about how we need to defend those situations, especially as we’ll face a lot of set-pieces on Sunday at Chelsea.”

But the manger must restore confidence to United’s brittle defence if his team is to take anything from Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge. Evans and Brown, likely to feature against Chelsea, will take little confidence from this game.

United linked with Spanish duo

October 28, 2009 Tags: , Shorts 1 comment

Manchester United, linked with a move for Valencia stars David Villa and David Silva, is considering a £50 million bid according to reports today. United evaluated the Spanish pair as replacements for Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez in the summer but the duo remained at Valencia after no club agreed to pay an inflated transfer fee.

The Spanish club, which is more than £80 million in debt, will be forced to sell in the January transfer window according to Valencia director Fernando Gomez, who admitted the club is in financial trouble.

“The club made a great effort to keep our players this summer but our economic situation remains very serious,” said Gomez.

“It was a success to keep them, but there comes a point when you can’t stand it any more.  We may have to sell Villa.”

United has most of Ronaldo’s £80 million fee largely untouched and the purchase of Villa would enable Sir Alex Ferguson to increase the number of senior strikers to four. Silva, 24, is  a long-term replacement for Ryan Giggs should the Dorien Gray of the United side ever retire.

No case for the defence

October 28, 2009 Tags: , Opinion 1 comment

Less than a year ago Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic was the best central defensive partnership in Europe. Along with goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, the pair kept a series of clean sheets. Now each is a shadow of the former player, lacking in confidence and making errors that are costing Manchester United games and points.

Ferdinand’s recent form has been the subject of much debate. The mistakes include a chipped pass that directly contributed to Manchester City’s third goal, which was only redeemed by Michael Owen’s last-minute goal in the 4-3 derby victory. There was also the former-Leeds player’s mistake for England in the 1-0 defeat against the Ukraine earlier this month. Sunday at Anfield, it was Fernando Torres who out-muscled and outpaced the defender to score the opening goal.

Much of Ferdindand’s poor form is the result of injury and lack of match readiness. The defender has been in and out of the side, playing only a few of the games in which manager Sir Alex Ferguson would have wished. Despite this, most United supporters believe that with a run in the team, Ferdinand’s composure and form will return.

Of more concern is Vidic’s apparent decline. The Serbian, who débuted against City shortly after signing for United in January 2006, made a nightmare start to his Old Trafford career. But the defender’s signature during the winter transfer window allowed the former Spartak Moscow star time and space to adjust to the Premier League by the start of the 2007/2008 season.

Moreover, Vidic complimented Ferdinand. The Serbian became United’s rock to Rio’s continental approach, right up until the nightmare performance against Fernando Torres in United’s 4-1 defeat to Liverpool at Old Trafford in March.

Performances have followed a similar pattern. Against Barcelona in the Champions League final Vidic allowed Samuel Eto’o to waltz past for the opening goal. More recently, during United’s visit to CSKA Moscow, Vidic made repeated mistakes.

Last Sunday, Vidic was unfortunate to pick up an initial booking against Liverpool, with the Anfield crowd playing a significant part. It was also frustrating to witness the defender sent off for hauling down Dirk Kuyt, when Jamie Carragher got away with a booking for the same crime. But let us not forget the Serbian’s mistake in fouling Kuyt in the first place.

Aside from a bruised nose – and lost bragging rights – Sunday’s match matters little in the grand scheme. Liverpool, not good enough to mount a serious title challenge, will take victory as a season’s highlight. United fans can forget about defeat when celebrating a 19th league title in May. Nobody needs reminding of that fact more than Liverpool.

Of more immediate concern, though, is how to restore Ferdinand and Vidic to the finest central defensive partnership Europe has seen, and fast.

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How to solve a problem like Edwin

October 23, 2009 Tags: Opinion 4 comments

The expected retirement of Dutch legend Edwin van der Sar in May – the best goalkeeper to appear for Manchester United since Peter Schmeichel – will pose a huge problem for Sir Alex Ferguson. The Scot will be left to replace a goalkeeper who last season set a club and Premier League record for consecutive clean sheets at 1,032 minutes.

Igor AkinfeevUnited’s visit to CSKA Moscow for a Champions League fixture this week offered supporters the chance to run-the-rule over a potential successor, Igor Akinfeev. United, linked with a £10 million bid for the 23-year-old in the January transfer window, is known to be compiling a dossier on the Russian.

United, linked with a number of ‘keepers following Ben Foster’s indifferent displays during van der Sar’s absence, may also look elsewhere for van der Sar’s successor.

Sporting Lisbon’s Rui Patricio may lack van der Sar’s experience at just 21-years-old but has already matched the goalscoring exploits of Peter Schmeichel by netting in the Champions League against FC Twente. 6ft 2in Patricio, who comes recommended by Cristiano Ronaldo, could be an option given United’s links with Sporting.

Manuel Neuer

Manuel Neuer, the 6ft 4in 23-year-old Schalke 04 goalkeeper, is another youngster with Champions League experience, who has already been capped by Germany. However, Ferguson may wish to pay heed to Oliver Kahn who believes that Germany has no World Class ‘keepers.

Julio Cesar30-year-old  6ft 2in Brazilian Julio Cesar is widely considered one of the best in the world. With 40 caps for Brazil and over 140 appearances for Internazionale, the former-Flamengo ‘keeper offers experience even if Inter is unlikely to sell.

Heurelho GomesAn outside tip could be Heurelho Gomes from United’s feeder club Tottenham Hotspur. After a troubled first season in English football, the 6ft 3in ‘keeper has become a consistent performer Spurs. Gomes had an outstanding game against Portsmouth last weekend and his ability to launch counter attacks with a long throw is reminiscent of Peter Schmeichel.

United could still look closer to home for its next ‘keeper. Ferguson recently stated that he has “two excellent” goalkeepers in Ben Foster and Tomasz Kuszczak. Kuszczak, it seems, will never be considered the first choice at Old Trafford. Meanwhile, Foster is young enough to improve after a troubling season in which questions have been asked of the former-Stoke City player’s concentration and decision-making. Ferguson is known to rate Foster’s excellent technical ability and shot stopping.

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Obertan continues recovery in reserves rout

October 22, 2009 Tags: Shorts 1 comment

Gabriel Obertan continued his comeback from a spinal injury when he lined up for the Reserves against Blackburn Rovers tonight.The young winger, signed from Bordeaux in July, played in a front-three as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reserves routed Blackburn Rovers 3-0.

Obertan, who again caught the eye with pace and direct running at the Blackburn defence, set up Matty James for the game’s first chance, only for the England under-20 player to miss the target.

The France under-21 winger played his third reserve fixture in the past week after making his début against Oldham Athletic last Monday and then appearing against Clyde on Sunday.

But with Nani continuing to produce inconsistent performances the door is ajar for Obertan, who is likely to make his first team debut in the Carling Cup tie against Barnsley next Tuesday.

Obertan, voted Most Valuable Player at the Toulon International youth tournament in June, scored on English soil for France under-21s against England in March.

If it’s going to break … fix it

October 20, 2009 Tags: Opinion 9 comments

As the season reaches its quarter point, Manchester United sit proudly on top of the Premier League and Sir Alex Ferguson’s men remain unbeaten in the Champions League. There are long-term questions about the club’s health unanswered. United faces impending retirements in key positions that will need replacements.

In goal Edwin van der Sar has finally solved the Peter Schmeichel problem. After countless failures, Sir Alex found a genuine world class custodian, who was far too cool to let another goalkeeper’s presence overshadow him. How many more trophies would United have won if the club had signed the Dutchman in ’99, and been spared the calamities of Fabian Barthez, Ricardo, Tim Howard, Roy Carroll and Massimo Taibi?

But van der Sar is nearing the end of his career – this is almost certainly his last campaign. In Ben Foster, Ferguson has a ‘keeper with the talent to fill van der Sar’s jersey but whose decision making and lack of experience have cost the club this season. Foster could still make it but Sir Alex risks enduring another search for a successor.

United’s defence also poses a number of questions. Without the aid of rose-tinted glasses many feel that – short of a testimonial – Gary Neville should not kick another ball in anger for the club. The United stalwart can no longer be relied on due to lengthy injury absences and age. Meanwhile, Neville’s erstwhile successor, John O’Shea, is little more than a liability despite his adaptability and more than 200 games for the club.

More worrying still, Rio Ferdinand’s recent loss of form suggests that his body is starting to let his brain down. The defender’s calamities have been greatly exaggerated of course but the player is reaching an age where Ferguson must think about the future.

Unfortunately, Johnny Evans is not it. Perhaps by allowing Gérard Piqué to leave – a player who has eased his way into the Barcelona first team and is a regular for Spain – Sir Alex made his biggest mistake of the last couple of seasons.

United has a wealth of options in midfield but also an uncertain future.

Despite the doubts, Michael Carrick and Anderson are both classy options. Anderson in particular would benefit from a long run in the team. Sir Alex has also proven everybody wrong with Darren Fletcher’s development, who has established himself as the club’s midfield linchpin. And if Owen Hargreaves can successfully return from injury then United will add a world class defensive midfielder to its squad.

Yet Nani, Antonio Valencia, Gabriel Obertan are yet to prove themselves at United. Nani, who always delivers for Portugal, so often frustrates for the reds. Meanwhile the Ecuadorian, clearly a very good player for Wigan Athletic, has shown sporadic touches of class for United and Obertan will only make his début in the next fortnight.

Ferguson must also shortly decide on the future of two priceless midfielders. Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes impending retirement will offer a huge problem for the manager. Two legends that United has no immediate replacements for.

Despite summer predictions of doom, United’s strikeforce has the air of long term success. Wayne Rooney, short of a dramatic loss of form, can count on remaining at Old Trafford for life. Meanwhile, Dimitar Berbatov is slowly starting to win over the fans with his class, if not the work rate.

Michael Owen may yet be a great piece of business, provided the former Liverpool forward can stay injury free. But if the inevitable strikes then Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda have done little to prove they will slot straight into the side. This must be a concern.

Trying to offer solutions to these questions is the manager, no spring chicken himself. During the wilderness years – 2002-2005 – when United seemed so far behind Chelsea, some called for Sir Alex’ head. Yet, the Scot raised the metaphorical finger and has led United to three league titles, domestic cups, and the Champions League in the past three seasons. Ferguson, it seems, is stronger than ever.

The concern now is that when Ferguson retires the club is left looking for the best option available, not simply the best. But the board could start planning for succession now. The bold move would be to capture Jose Mourinho, the only manager with the confidence, self belief and arrogance to take over from Sir Alex. Mourinho would undoubtedly relish the challenge.

What better time for Sir Alex to call it a day, with a 19th title win in May and Liverpool, who United visit this weekend, knocked permanently ‘off their f*cking perch.’