Author Ed

Author Ed

United fighting dawn of a new age

August 19, 2009 Tags: Opinion 4 comments

Whereas losing one prominent player this summer was unfortunate, and two somewhat careless, three would represent an unmitigated disaster. It is for this reason that no amount of money will take United’s Player of the Year, Nemanja Vidic, to European Champions Barcelona this summer. No matter how much his wife, Ana, is apparently demanding it.

While in this case there is no smoke without fire – rumours have been circulating about Vidic for months – United’s refusal to even countenance a transfer of the giant Serbian defender this summer is about more than the short-term impact on the team. United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson and his board know that the club must reimpose itself in the European hierarchy if it is to not fall behind its closest rivals. Usurped as European Champions by Barcelona, outspent by Real Madrid, and upstaged by neighbours Manchester City, United risks losing its status as one of the premier destinations for the continent’s leading players.

But attracting and keeping top talent its no easy task for United in the current environment, even without taking into account the impact of the club’s £700 million corporate debt. Tax changes and the degradation of the Pound against the Euro means that continental clubs effectively only have to offer half the amount United are willing to pay players to remain competitive. Barcelona, for example, can probably make a net offer that is 50% more than United’s mooted new contract offer of £100,000 gross per week to Vidic. Mrs Vidic can buy an awful lot of designer handbags for that.

The impact of these changes has been felt across the Premier League this summer, with fewer big money overseas imports arriving in England. United, for example, saw Karim Benzema’s price rise an equivalent of about 40% simply because of the forex market impact over the past 12 months. However, the club by refusing to pay market prices this summer, no matter how overinflated, has moved itself down the football food chain.

The loss of Cristiano Ronaldo has also sent out a clear and unambiguous message; unhappy players will eventually be allowed to move, albeit at the right price. “It would be a dream for Vidic to play for Barcelona as he wants to play in La Liga,” Vidic’s agent Paolo Fabbri reportedly told Catalunya Radio RAC1. Note the word ‘dream’. While rapidly denied, his agent’s quote would appear to be no accident. Vidic has been linked with AC Milan prior to Barcelona, and Real Madrid would jump at the chance to sign a defender of Vidic’s quality.

The rapid development of Johnny Evans means that United could probably afford to lose Vidic in a year’s time. Although with Vidic the younger of central defensive pairing with Ferdinand, Ferguson would have earmarked Evans as the England international’s natural replacement. United may have stocks of talented defenders in reserve – Corey, the younger of the Evans brothers, James Chester and Craig Cathcart – but their promise is no match for the proven talents of the Serb.

As for Vidic, United will need to come up with a big new deal to test the player’s ‘commitment’, pr his wife will get her wish to stroll Las Ramblas rather than the Trafford Quays in 12 months time. In the meantime, as United’s hugely embarrassing 1-0 loss at Burnley demonstrates, the team will welcome the defender back with open arms once he has recovered from a long-term calf strain.

Poll: should United stop Vidic leaving?

August 19, 2009 Tags: Polls 6 comments

Nemanja Vidic has been linked with a move away from Old Trafford this summer, with Barcelona reportedly interested in the giant Serbian defender. It would be a huge loss to the team – and United is said to be preparing a huge pay rise for last season’s Player of the Year, which will take the Serb’s earnings to more than £100,000 per week.

But with persistent rumours that Vidic’s wife is unhappy in Manchester and pushing for a move to Europe, and the player’s agent apparently quoted in the Spanish press as saying his client “dreams” of a move to Camp Nou, should United stop the player leaving?

Should United let Nemanja Vidic move to Barcelona?

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Persecuted Scouse denied 378 penalties

August 18, 2009 Tags: Opinion 12 comments

Shocking new research has revealed that Liverpool FC is the most persecuted football club in the history of the game. The torment, which is now a weekly occurrence, has been happening since the Big Bang itself say boffins. Such has been the injustice dealt out to the club that facts now show Liverpool has been denied an astonishing 378 penalties this season alone. The research, which contains many facts, shows that Liverpool may indeed be walking alone.

“Es el fact, la,” said Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez*. “Every week referee Sir Alex Ferguson looks the other way, even when loyal Steven Gerrard dives in the box. It’s a fact that we are denied penalties all the time. It is a fact that we never foul the opposition. It is a fact, la.”

The Liverpool manager pointed to the fact that his team were denied eight clear penalties against Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend, when the home side’s left-back Benoit Assou Ekotto waged a campaign of cruelty and violence against the persecuted Liverpudlian forwards. A minute’s silence is believed to have been held on the Liverpool team bus after the game.

But persecuted Liverpool, who has a net transfer spend of minus £47 trillion after finding all of their players growing on the professional footballer tree, at least have the World’s Greatest Player™ and the World’s Even More Greatesterer Player™ in Fernando Torres and Steven “Give me the CD, la” Gerrard.

“I am talking about another fact, la,” said Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez. “We have never spent any money on players. The £232,490,000 I have spent on players wasn’t even real money. It was just that funny green stuff George and Tom keep giving me, la.”

Despite Liverpool being the Premier League’s paupers, who has been unjustly robbed of the league title each season since their last win in 1990, they are many pundit’s favourites for the Premier League this season – especially those at the nation’s channel, Liverpool FC TV. This comes after a summer in which the club has replaced one of its best players with the injury-prone Alberto Aquilani at a cost of £20 million. The Italian, currently injured, is set to be sold back to his home-town club Roma at a huge loss this coming January, after spending the next six months on the treatment table. But Acquilani, who has a scoring record of 1 goal in every 10 games for Roma, is set to bring an increased goal threat according to Benitez.

It’s a fact.

* Benitez is unlikely to have said any of this.

United faces defensive crisis

August 17, 2009 Tags: Opinion 1 comment

Manchester United are facing an injury crisis in defence, with up to five defenders and a goalkeeper missing for the next two weeks of the season. In addition to injury absentees Edwin van der Sar (hand), Gary Neville (groin), Rafael da Silva (shoulder) and Nemanja Vidic (calf), United lost Rio Ferdinand (thigh) ahead of the weekend match against Birmingham City. Worse was to come though, with Johnny Evans limping out of the match in the second half. All six players are set to miss Wednesday’s Premier League at newly promoted Burnley – defensive troubles that could undermine the start of the campaign.

While the word crisis has become a football cliché, United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson will be grateful for the depth of resources at his disposal with the lengthening injury list. In a move that Rant predicted in our weekly podcast – Rant Cast – Brazilian kid Fabio da Silva deputised for his injured brother on Sunday, following a bright cameo performance in the Community Shield. Meanwhile, Wes Brown, freshly back in training following yet another lengthy long-term injury lay-off, slotted into central defence alongside John O’Shea during the second half against Birmingham. Belgian youngster Ritchie de Laet, who performed so admirably in the home friendly against Valencia, came into the squad at the weekend and is likely to make the bench for the Burnley match.

Ferdinand is set to miss at least two weeks after he received a thigh injury during training in the build-up to the Birmingham game. The defender’s normal partner Vidic has so far failed to recover from a calf injury that is set to keep him out for a similar length of time. It means that of Ferguson’s first choice back-line only Patrice Evra will be fit for the match against Burnley on Wednesday. Fergie will be desperate that Johnny Evans returns ahead of the games away to Wigan Athletic next weekend and at home to Arsenal on August 29. United then faces a tough trip to Tottenham Hotspur before the first derby of the season on September 12.

The crisis has prompted speculation that the manager may make a late move into the transfer market, with former Untied player Ryan Shawcross widely rumoured to be available at Stoke City. It would be an unusual move by Ferguson, however, to panic buy rather than trust the squad at his disposal.

At least the manager can be happy with Ben Foster, whose nervous display against Chelsea in the Community Shield, was not replicated at the weekend. Indeed, the ‘keeper saved brilliantly from Birmingham’s Ecuadorian striker Christian Benitez late in the game and generally looked commanding to help earn United the three points.

Foster was a positive in a generally low-key opening to the season that saw the Reds dominate possession against newly promoted Birmingham, without converting chances to goals. Ferguson will have been relieved to have taken the three points after the lively Brummies created several chances to equalised, including Bentez’ strike and a chance that Evra headed off the line.

Foster will need to maintain that form though, with new players Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia still bedding into the team, a paucity of goals conceded is surely central to United’s success this season. Ferguson will be hoping that the current crisis subsides as quickly as it has built up.

Rant Cast 1 – season preview

August 15, 2009 Tags: Rant Cast 4 comments

In the first episode of Rant Cast regulars Ed & Paul talk about:

  • The season to come
  • Ronaldo & Michael Owen
  • United’s tactics
  • Buying United shirts
  • The Fat Spanish Waiter. Now that’s a fact.

Stream the episode below orclick here to download the podcast (right click > save as).

Email all feedback to cast@unitedrant.co.uk.

Subscribe on iTunes now.

Poll: what will United win this season?

August 14, 2009 Tags: Polls 3 comments

With the long summer break behind us, United open up their Premier League defence against Birmingham at Old Trafford this Sunday. But the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez over the summer break has placed a number of question marks over the squad’s ability to challenge on all fronts. Can Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia pick up where the departed players left off? Or are the pundits right, and United set for a unsuccessful campaign? You decide…

What will United win this season?

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Ferdinand blunders but is central to the defence

August 13, 2009 Tags: Opinion 2 comments

United fans will hope that Rio Ferdinand’s catastrophic backpass for Dirk Kuyt’s opening goal during England’s 2-2 draw in the Netherlands this week is not a forbear for the defender’s season to come. Following on from indifferent pre-season defensive displays in which United conceded too many sloppy goals, the defender’s mistake was a return to the error strewn days of his youth. But Ferdinand’s form is crucial to the United cause – the central defender, who had such a commanding season last time out, will have to marshal a defence shorn of Edwin van der Sar and Nemanja Vidic through injury for the opening games of the season.

England manager Fabio Capello brushed off Ferdinand’s error as a “stupid mistake” and born of over-confidence. “They were two presents. But I prefer to give presents in non-competitive games,” Capello said of the errors not just by Ferdinand, but City’s new midfielder Gareth Barry. “These were just two stupid mistakes. Two silly mistakes. The mistakes of this evening I can accept. I don’t accept mistakes where the position is wrong or if I try doing something in training and then, afterwards, I don’t see it being put into practice on the pitch”

In truth Ferdinand rarely switches off with such disastrous results for club or country as he did a decade ago or in Amsterdam on Wednesday. It is the imperious form of more recent times that Wobbly Gob must reach in the opening weeks of the season. With Ben Foster clearly nervous against Chelsea, Johnny Evans still learning and Wes Brown rarely fit, United’s defence could lack the experience and solidity of last season in the opening games.

In addition to Vidic and van der Sar, United will also be without Rafael da Silva and Gary Neville for the opening match of the Premier League season, while Wes Brown has only just returned to training. John O’Shea will continue at right-back but his lack of pace and positional sense has been exposed on more than one occasion. Certainly, right-back is one area of the team that Ferguson faces a selection headache.

A poser for Ferguson could be the form of Rafael’s brother Fabio, who may come straight into the mix. The right-footed left-back’s lively cameo appearance against Chelsea followed on from similarly electric performances in pre-season. Indeed, anybody following United’s reserve team last season would not be far wrong in asserting that it is Fabio, not Rafael, that is the better of the two Brazilian brothers.

In lieu of Vidic, and without Gary Neville, Ferdinand is likely to take on both the mantle of captain and leader of the defensive unit against Birmingham on Sunday and Burnley on Wednesday. United let Liverpool get off the a flier last season. One senses that the team cannot afford to do so again. Ferdinand will be central to that plan.

Fergie’s tactical conundrum

August 11, 2009 Tags: Opinion 4 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson is set to revert to a traditional 4-4-2 formation after the manager’s flirtation with a highly flexible 4-3-3 during the Cristiano Ronaldo era. In a move that plays to the squad’s strengths, Ferguson is set to deploy two through the middle and two out wide during this year’s campaign. While it’s a system that has become unfashionable in the modern day, the real question is: when it comes to the crunch of a tough away fixture, will Fergie stick to his guns and play two up front?

One of the most significant knock-on effects of the summer player departures – and additions – is to leave a squad heavy in numbers on the wing but without the goal return of Ronaldo. United’s wingers Ji-Sung Park, Antonio Valencia, Nani, Zoran Tošić and Gabriel Obertan scored a grand total of 15 goals last season, compared to Cristiano Ronaldo’s 26.

Moreover, United’s squad – minus Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez – is heavy on strikers who are best deployed through the centre, not in the channels. Dimitar Berbatov will start the season leading the line, after Ferguson admitted that the Bulgarian was used far too deep last season. Similarly Michael Owen no longer works the channels, concentrating on playing off the shoulder of the last defender. Fourth choice striker Federico Macheda looks to be a classic number nine – technically gifted and strong with his back to goal but unlikely to succeed as a wide player in a three man frontline.

The exception to that rule is Wayne Rooney, who spent much of last season to the left of a three man attack. But after a summer of breaking ranks to demand a central role, Ferguson would be more than a little remiss to deploy the Scouser on the wing once more.

Manchester United 4-3-3

“The manager has said he will play me through the middle, so I’m happy about that. That’s what I wanted,” said Rooney prior to the Community Shield. “He may change his mind and whatever he says goes, but I hope he will play me there for most of the season.”

Rooney’s hopes remain to be seen. The manager has rarely used two forwards – especially in Europe – in recent seasons.

While the 4-3-3 system was developed to maximise the impact of Ronaldo, coming in off the right, it also gave the team additional manpower in the centre of the park. The risk in switching to two central players is that it will leave United – without a true defensive midfielder – lightweight and outnumbered against most European teams.

United 4-4-2United countered Chelsea’s narrow diamond in the Community Shield by tucking Park inside and leaving Nani to attack the Londoner’s right back Branislav Ivanović in tandem with Patrice Evra. Indeed, Park may continue to play a pivotal role in midfield, especially away from home or in Europe where the risk of being over-run in midfield is greatest. As such United may only deploy both Nani and Valencia against middle ranking Premier League clubs where the Reds can expect to dominate possession.

Ferguson’s tendency to play one through the middle – deploying Ronaldo alone up-front in both semis and the final of the Champions League last season – has been the default tactic in the biggest games for several seasons. Liverpool away on October 25th will be the first real test of the new formation.