Author Ed

Author Ed

United miss chances, but look too strong for Gooners

May 1, 2009 Tags: , Matches 1 comment

When does a victory feel like a let down? When you should have scored five! And so despite comfortably beating Arsenal in the Champions League semi-final on Wednesday, the night felt like something of an anti-climax. United were so dominant – and Arsenal so poor – that a 1-0 victory from John O’Shea’s suprisingly well-taken goal didn’t feel like a fair return on the night’s efforts. While a similar performance next Tuesday will surely see United through to the final in Rome on May 27, it could have been so much more. In fact through the veil of Arsene Wenger’s bullishness after the game there was the clear sign of massive relief. Arsenal should have been out of the tie after the first half – now they’re still in with a shout.

United go into tomorrow’s away match at Middlesborough having to rotate the squad with Giggs, Scholes, Park, Nani and Macheda all likely to start the match. Wes Brown will be on the bench as a minimum involvement. It’ll be United’s 60th game of a marathon camapaign, while Arsenal will be able to rest key players ahead of next Tuesday’s return leg at the Emirates. It’s an advantage for the London club but one that is to be expected with United chasing five major trophies up to this month’s FA cup semi-final defeat.

Still, despite the narrow win, there were plenty of positives for United against Arsenal. The back four were outstanding, Anderson put in his best performance of the season and the front three were energetic and dangerous. It was all too much for Arsenal’s midfield in particular, who were made to look as youthful and inexperienced as they really are.

There’s also goog news on the injury front, with Rio Ferdinand almost certain to be fit. While Arsenal will have Robin van Persie back for Tuesday’s game, the gulf between the two sides should be too much for the Gooners to bridge. You would have to back United to get an away goal, leaving Arsenal needing three to progress.

Whatsmore, United have some of the zip back that went missing for a month. It augers very well for the run-in. Victory tomorrow and the Reds will end Saturday six points ahead of Liverpool with four games to go. That will leave Fergie’s side needing just two wins and a draw from games against Wigan, Hull, Manchester City and Arsenal. Fergie would have taken that at the start of the season.

Giggs backlash begins

April 28, 2009 Tags: , Opinion No comments

Ryan Giggs was presented with this year’s Professional Footballers Association award for Player of the Year on Sunday night. But the Welshman barely had time to place the gong is his overflowing trophy cabinet before the backlash began. Quel surprise!

“He’s only started 12 Premier League games this season,” argued the Daily Mail before putting up Andy Towsend and Jamie Redknapp to argue their point. Pundit Towsend said, while answering the rhetoric question whether Giggs deserved the award,  that the “statistics say no” before going on to have an opinion on the matter himself. He thinks too, you know. Redknapp then demanded that the voting system be looked at, clearly wondering why non-Liverpool players are actually allowed to win.

Even Giggs’ former Welsh teammate John Hartson, fresh from winning nothing of note in his entire career, put the boot in by saying “personally, he wouldn’t have got my vote.” Fortunately, Hartson would still have to be a professional footballer to vote. Clue’s in the title, John. Then Liverpool’s long-forgotten England failure John ‘Errr’ Barnes ‘ Errr’ weighed in too, lending his support for Gerrard.

Meanwhile, over at the Scouse-loving BBC, online columnist ‘Pop’ Robson claimed that “any right thinking person would’ve plumped for Gerrard or Vidic.” Guess the pros who face Giggs week in, week out, just weren’t right-thinking enough for you Pop?

Not that we should let statistics tell the tale but, for the record, Giggs has played in 40 of United’s 58 games this season – exactly the same number as Gerrard. Good job Andy didn’t let the facts get in the way of a good headline!

Or perhaps Giggs – who has been a superb creative force from central midfield this season – does actually deserve the award? True, there has been no obvious candidate this year in the way Cristiano Ronaldo stormed to the award in the past two campaigns. Vidic, van der Sar, Ferdinand and even Gerrard have been excellent this season. But that’s the point, the votes were always likely to be split pretty evenly and in all probability Giggs won a close run contest.

After failing to come up with an clear – or consistent – alternative our friends in the press have now taken to patronising Giggs. Lauding the PFA prize as some kind of ‘lifetime achievement’ award made out of sympathy for a player in his swansong.

The truth is, of course, while many players will recognise Giggs’ 18 years service to the game, and his spotless professional record (no Red cards for United, no barroom brawls, no tabloid preening) – many actually voted for Giggs because of the quality of his football. No longer able to sprint up and down the left wing, number 11 Giggs has transformed his game to become a classic number 10 – picking out passes with ease and finding space where others can’t.

The Football Writers’ Award is announced in a few weeks, and after the shortlist of Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea nominees is whittled down, Steven Gerrard will take home the prize. Giggs meanwhile will walk off with his 10th Premiership crown. The mark of a genuine legend.

Actually lads it was a penalty

April 27, 2009 Tags: , , Shorts 4 comments

Sometimes it seems there’s one media law for United and another for everybody else. Take this Sunday’s game for example. The media consensus is that United were given a penalty that should never have been and that Spurs were ‘robbed’ of a potential win as a result. In fact Heurelio Gomes’ foul on Michael Carrick was just that, by any interpretation of the law. Gomes took both man and ball – and it really doesn’t matter which came first for a foul to be given. Meanwhile, Wilson Palacios’ disgraceful two-footed knee high lunge at Ronaldo went unreported in many media outlets. It all goes to prove the old adage that it’s always better to print the story rather than the facts.

Ready to resume old hostilities

April 27, 2009 Tags: , Matches 2 comments

Do you miss the United versus Arsenal fizz of yesteryear? You know, the pizza throwing, tunnel shoving, all-out-21-man-brawling edge that seems to have been missing from recent encounters. It was that needle that gave the fixture its meaning over the past two decades. After all, while Arsenal aren’t traditional United rivals like City, Leeds and Liverpool, the tie had more than an air of ‘derby’ about it from the nineties to the early 21st century. But ‘Pizzagate’ onwards, when United ended Arsenal’s 49 match unbeaten league run, and the encounters have been tame. But with the clubs’ biggest meeting in a number of seasons taking place at Old Trafford this coming Wednesday, could old rivalries flare up again? Let’s hope so!

Perhaps its because messrs. Ferguson and Wenger have mellowed over the years that has removed some of the spark from the fixture in recent seasons.  After all, when was the last time either of them engaged in petty media-orientated ‘mind-games,’ name calling and put-downs? The arrival of Jose Mourinho and Chelsea’s huge spending certainly gave both clubs a new focus. And, horror of horrors, the pair even agree on certain issues now, such as a common enemy in universally disliked Rafa Benitez.

Or maybe its that the players have changed too. Neither side has the spikey characters that fueled the personal vendettas of the past. Without the incendury personalities of Keane, Viera, Keown, Winterburn, McClair, van Nistelrooy and others, what’s left to fight about? After all Viera hated – literally hated – Ruud van Nistelrooy; Brian McClair tried to cut Nigel Winterburn in half; and Roy Keane scared the aforementioned Viera so bad he probably had to run home to his mummy for a cuddle. Moreover, Cesc Fabregas aside, there’s nobody on either side who – to paraphrase – would gladly start a fight in an empty room.

Most of all the edge has gone because the clubs aren’t rivals for the Premiership title anymore, with the North London side now more accustomed to fighting it out for the fourth Champions League qualifying spot than actual trophies. By the time the two meet in the Premiership at Old Trafford on May 16th the title ought to be as good as wrapped up.

The Champions League semi-final this coming Wednesday, however, could change all that. At last a United versus Arsenal fixture worth getting excited about!

OAPs prove better than ever

April 26, 2009 Tags: , Shorts No comments

Wednesday night Ryan Giggs will don a red shirt for the 800th time in a competitive game. The historic milestone comes shortly after the Paul Scholes – the Ginger Prince – played his 600th game for the club. In that match, against Portsmouth last Wednesday night, Scholes slotted a sumptuous ball through the Pompey defence to release Michael Carrick for the second goal of the game. The Salford-born magician, it seems, may have lost much of his old zip and eye for a goal but none of his world-class brilliance on the ball. Giggs meanwhile is having yet another Indian-summer – 17 years after his debut. Aging the pair may be but they provide further proof, it were ever needed, that class is permanent.

Lay off Berba

April 25, 2009 Tags: Shorts No comments

Does an – albeit dreadful – penalty miss really make a bad player? Dimitar Berbatov has always been a striker of the highest quality. True, he’s different. The Bulgarian doesn’t run around the pitch like a headless chicken; he’s always been a thinking man’s player. Moreover, the former Tottenham man has added composure and no little skill to United’s team this season. In a squad of Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez (not to mention Macheda and Wellbeck) there’s no reason for Berbatov to start every match. But equally, United’s squad desperately needs a player of his ilk. Calls by fans and former managers for the player to be sold this summer are way short of the mark.

Tevez set to leave Reds

April 25, 2009 Tags: Shorts 4 comments

It will be a great shame but it seems inevitable that Carlos Tevez will be leaving United this summer when his two-year loan contract comes to an end. Fans love his insatiable appetite for the game and the heart he shows every time he dons a United shirt. True, the young Argentinian’s statistics aren’t great this season. Three goals in more than 20 Premier League games for the club isn’t nearly enough. Especially for a man that will cost United €34m, minus the loan fees already paid. But Tevez is worth more than his weight in goals. Let’s hope the club find a way to keep the wee man.

Sorry really is the hardest word

April 25, 2009 Tags: , Opinion 6 comments

On Friday 4th November 2005 your editor called for Sir Alex Ferguson’s head. Frustrated by a crushing 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough in the Premier League, followed by a limp performance against Lille in the Champions League, I came to the conclusion that Sir Alex’ time was up at Old Trafford.

I made this call not because for one moment I believed Ferguson has lost any of his skill. Nor that a change of manager would guarantee success. And certainly not because I had become spoilt by success and expected nothing less (I supported United through 26 barren years too). But because the great man’s legacy was genuinely under threat.

At the time I wrote that Ferguson was “seemingly bereft of ideas to turn things around.” Fans will recall too many mediocre players in the United squad that season; frankly, too few good purchases. Inconsistent tactics but players consistently  used out of position were also common. Worse still, the excuses for defeat seemed more blinkered than ever. No Sir Alex, the pitch at the Stade de France that night against Lille wasn’t to blame; four central defenders in the starting XI were.

But taking the long view, your editor was wrong and Sir Alex was right. He has turned things around. United will be crowed Premiership champions for the second year running in May. The Reds may even add a European Cup double to the trophy won so gloriously in Moscow last year. Moreover, your editor’s suggestion that a young Paul Le Guen take the helm has been proven laughably off-base.

For that Sir Alex, you have my humble and grovelling apology.

As Scouse wilt, can United find their soul?

April 25, 2009 Tags: , , , Opinion 2 comments

As we head into Saturday’s match against Spurs, United are once again in pole position to take the Premiership title with Liverpool blowing their chance to beat a weakened Arsenal side at Anfield last Wednesday. Let’s be frank, Arsenal were woeful defensively and Liverpool not much better. While North London’s ‘finest’ helped themselves to four goals from four attempts on target, Liverpool simply bottled it. At this time of year, neves get to us all. Most of all the least experienced at winning titles. Now that’s a fact.

United meanwhile beat Portsmouth with a thoroughly professional but somewhat unsatisfying display on Wednesday night at Old Trafford. The visitors created little but as Sir Alex said in postmatch interviews, he “thought a goal was coming.” The match could easily have turned into a nightmare draw with a display that  was  muted at worst. Energy came mainly from the effervescent Wayne Rooney, until he was somewhat bizzarely shipped out to the left wing in the second period. But with just seven games to go, can United find the attacking fevour that will sweep them to the title and a possible quadruple?

This is no time of crisis. After all, the Reds have now won four and drawn two (penalties aside) of their last six matches in all competitions, despite the tabloid press’ best attempts to write off Sir Alex’ team. What we, the fans, would like to see now, of course, is the return of some trademark United fluency and flambouyance.

Spurs’ visit to Old Trafford this weekend could help. The team of Blanchflour, Ardiles, Waddle and Gascoigne has a history, much like United, of attacking attractive football. Will Harry Redknapp  send out his team, with little to lose, to make a game of it? Let’s hope so. 11 men behind the ball rarely makes for a good game at Old Trafford – or in the current environment – a decent United performance.

Sir Alex has his part to play too. On Wednesday his side nominally lined up as a 4-4-2, with Ronaldo joining Rooney in attack. In reality Giggs and Fletcher tucked inside and United lacked width and penetration. With games coming thick and fast, and tired legs commonplace throughout the squad, rotation is inevitable. But it was still a conservative selection.

With Spurs, ‘Boro, City, and Wigan to come before Arsenal’s visit to Old Trafford for the May 16 Premiership fixture United could well be out of sight before Wenger’s boys hit town. Better still, United could take the title with a flourish that day. Now that would be the right style.

Return of the Rant

April 23, 2009 Tags: Opinion 30 comments

Sometime in 2004 a blog was born. Not from some misplaced desire to earn web 2.0 blogosphere social media wealth and notoriety. Nor a genuine belief that the site would actually attract any readers, let alone ones that cared. But a basic primeaval urge embedded into the DNA of every football fan. The need, when things aren’t going your team’s way, to rant and then rant some more.

For Manchester United fans 2004-5 wasn’t a pretty time. United lost the league to Chelsea by 18 points and were beaten in the FA Cup final by an inferior Arsenal side. United also went out of the Champions League at the first knockout stage, somewhat meakly, to eventual finalists Milan. Worse still the winners were our great rivals from down the M62. The word that dare not speak its name.

But fans suffered not solely because the team was (I’ll be kind) in a period of transition but because our leader, Sir Alex Ferguson, was undergoing a period of mental transformation too. From a coach whose genuine belief was that his team could ‘score one more’ than the opposition, to a pragmatist tactician. The end result was a second, glorious, Champions League victory in May 2008 for which all United fans are grateful. The original Rant called for his head, and has been proven wrong.

But travel is just as much about the journey as the destination and this road was far from smooth. A website found its voice.

And while the site didn’t make a dime, at its zenith around 1,000,000 pages per month of editorial were read. That’s 1,000,000. More than 15,000 fans received the site’s newsletter twice a week and there were 5,000 registered users on a rabidly active forum. Your editor was asked to write for national newspapers and became a regular pundit on both broadcast and Internet radio. It was a surreal, if shortlived, experience.

Sadly, love rarely lasts forever. A little over two years after it’s inception the site died. It had to. It wasn’t pretty, nobody’s proud about it and you’ll forever be spared the details.

Now it is time for Rant to rise again. While we can’t promise to bring you the depth – or length – of analysis, or frequency of editorial we once did, but we’ll try our best. It’s the same editorial team, back from the dead.

Step aside immitators, fakers and haters (there were many). Rant is coming through.