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United begins Euro adventure

September 15, 2009 Tags: , Matches 2 comments

Manchester United begins its European campaign tonight, seeking to go one better than last season, with the pain of comprehensive defeat to Barcelona in Rome still fresh. But as in domestic matters the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez have left many pundits expecting Euro failure this season.

Tonight sees United take on Beşiktaş at the picturesque BJK İnönü Stadium in Istanbul, in what could amount to a 13 match European season. There follows tough looking group games against VfL Wolfsburg and CSKA Moscow, alongside the Turkish champions. But if getting out of a tough looking group B will be hard enough then redemption in the form of a Champions League win in Madrid, 22 May 2010 looks a world away. Naturally that is not an assessment that many United players agree with.

“The Champions League is the stuff of dreams and, as a kid growing up, you sit there thinking if you will ever be good enough to win it,” defender Rio Ferdinand told The Guardian.

“To be able to get there and win it was ridiculous for me, especially the way we did it on penalties against Chelsea. But having also lost a Champions League final, I know what that feels like too and it’s not an easy thing for me to talk about. It was sickening because it was our chance to win the trophy for a second successive year.

“We felt that we were on the cusp of greatness and the worst thing about it was that we didn’t even put up a fight really. To lose the way we did was really difficult. We just never got going. If we had scored in the first 10 minutes, I think we’d have gone on to win the game, but they got the first goal and it stunned us. We never recovered after that and that’s what is so disappointing.”

The pain of Rome’s final clearly resonates as deeply with Ferdinand as it does with most fans. Fourteen weeks on from the 2-0 defeat to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team and the search for answers still continues. Indeed, it was not the defeat itself but the manner in the context of last season that caused so much consternation. While United did not play the best football of any team in last season’s Champions League – that honour belongs to the eventual winners – the team did play some of the most effective.

Tonight marks an opportunity to put the past to bed and leave the regrets of Rome behind. Yet Beşiktaş represents no walkover and not solely for their vociferous support – the standard of Turkish football has improved markedly over the past decade. The Beşiktaş side contains not only former Barcelona goalkeeper Rüştü Reçber, but the Brazilian Bobô and former Inter and Everton defender Matteo Ferrari. The cosmopolitan nature of the squad reflecting the improved financial power of the Turkcell Süper Lig.

Despite the improved strength of Turkish football, Beşiktaş is seen as an opportunity for manager Sir Alex Ferguson to rotate the squad, with the weekend’s local derby front of mind. Don’t be surprised to see Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Ryan Giggs on the bench for tonight’s match. None will want to be in a similar position in Madrid, eight months from now.

Fergie’s foot fetish

September 15, 2009 Tags: , , Shorts No comments

Diego Forlán was kicked out of Manchester United because he refused to wear the studs manager Sir Alex Ferguson demanded, according to the Atletico Madrid striker. The Uruguayan, regarded as a cult figure amongst fans for the two goals he scored against Liverpool at Anfield in 2002, scored just 17 goals in 98 games for United. He departed for Villareal in 2004.

“Ferguson wanted me to play with high studs, the interchangeable ones that suit wet pitches, but I feel more comfortable in low ones.” Forlán told the official Champions League magazine.

“I agreed to change boots, but I didn’t. Against Chelsea, I slipped in front of goal and wasted a chance.

“Afterwards, I rushed to the dressing room to change boots. Ferguson caught me. He grabbed the boots and threw them. That was my last game for United.”

In February 2003, Fergie famously kicked a boot across the dressing room at David Beckham, injuring the midfielder above his left eye. United had lost 2-0 to Arsenal in the FA Cup fifth round.

Forlán has become one of Europe’s leading strikers, winning the Golden Boot last season and scoring 48 goals in 68 La Liga games for Atlético.

Vidic: “We’re paid loads of money”

September 14, 2009 Tags: Shorts 2 comments

Manchester United can win both the Premier League and Champions League this season, with or without Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, according to Nemanja Vidic. Speaking to the RedRants website, the Serbian defender, who has recently returned to the United side following an ankle injury, says that the players are paid “loads of money” to win, so that’s what they’ll do. Nice to know its all for the love of the badge.

“Perhaps on paper we are weaker this season, but on the pitch it is a different matter. It is true that we will miss Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez for their goals. We cannot deny that,” said Vidic in an exclusive interview with the RedRants website.

“But this United squad really has enormous potential because we have so many talented youngsters who are improving all the time.

“The desire to win the Champions League trophy again never wanes. I can assure you that everyone at Manchester United will be very unhappy if we fail to win the competition this season.

“Our expectations have not gone down at all because of the rebuilding. Our goals are exactly the same. To win the Premier League and to win the Champions League.

“The season is very long and we know what it means to be a Manchester United player. Everyone gives their all against us. But that’s no problem for us. We are paid loads of money to win and that is what we intend to do.”

Source: www.redrants.com

Park signs new contract

September 14, 2009 Tags: Shorts No comments

Park Ji-Sung, United’s South Korean winger, has signed a new three-year contract extension at Old Trafford that will keep him with the club until 2012, according to his agent. Park, who has been in talks with the club for months, will be 31 when the £65,000-per-week contract runs out.

“Park and Manchester United have reached an agreement on a three-year deal,” said Park’s agent Kim Jung-Soo.

“The contract will be effective through June 2012.”

Park had one of his most successful ever seasons in 2008/9, competing in 40 games and scoring 4 goals for the club. Park also became the first ever Asian player to appear in the Champions League final against Barcelona, although his performance was widely regarded as disappointing.

Park, who signed for United from PSV Eindhoven in the summer of 2005, cost the club around £4 million.

Some Turkish delight, please

September 13, 2009 Tags: , Opinion No comments

Reality check for Manchester United’s opponents; three pretenders hoping to emulate the Red Devils’ domestic and European success. Spurs downed in pretty emphatic fashion, next up the Turkish champions Besiktas, followed by the small matter of the Manchester derby next weekend.

United’s magnificent performance saw Spurs’ bubble burst and the home side’s long-suffering fans silenced . White Hart Lane’s faithful thought Harry Redknapp could bring them Champions League football. Saturday’s match served to highlight the gap that Spurs must bridge.

United, on the other hand, showed precisely what’s required by Spurs to gatecrash the elite of English football. The never-say-die attitude to come from a goal down, the ‘grab-any-opportunity’ mentality to score a goal and even the let-them-think-they-have-a-chance sucker-punch when having a man sent off.

There were some outstanding individual performances on Saturday. Patrice Evra stood out for an excellent man-marking job on the in-form Aaron Lennon. The Frenchman won the battle of the midgets, by showing Lennon onto his left foot, and reducing the Spurs’ winger to launching aimless crosses with his weaker foot.

Ryan Giggs was impeccable and tireless, as was Anderson, whose dynamic play was finally rewarded with a goal. The Brazilian must push on from here and cement a place in the middle of the park alongside Darren Fletcher, who needs to share his vitamin pills with Michael Carrick. The former Spurs man has looked out of sorts so far this season, and on this form he’ll be sitting on the bench more often.

Rio Ferdinand’s return could not have been better-timed with a packed fixture list to come. Led by the England defender, United’s back four dealt well with Spurs’ tactic of launching the ball towards the freak Peter Crouch.

Don’t forget Ben Foster, whose fingertip save from Jermaine Jenas’ shot was the second time in as many matches that the ‘keeper has pulled off a stop Peter Schmeichel would have been proud of.

The pairing of Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov caused plenty of problems for the Spurs defence. The Bulgarian dropped deep, which gave him plenty of time and space to dictate play. Ledley “jelly legs” King just couldn’t keep up with Berbatov’s off-the-ball movement. It was another understated display from Berbatov, who does not get the recognition he deserves simply because he is expected to bang in goals for fun.

Best of all, the way Rooney took his goal was pure quality. You can’t teach people to play football like that. Either you’re born with a football brain, or you’re not – like Emile Heskey.

Sir Alex has options in midfield, which not only keeps his opponents guessing but heats up the competition for places. That’s what it takes to get Anderson and Nani performing week in, week out.

If United was good against Tottenham, then a stellar performance is required against Besiktas on Tuesday night. It’s no easy task.

Fans at the BJK İnönü Stadium, which has the most beautiful view of any stadium in the world according to the legend Pelé, make English hooligans look like kindergarten kids. Not that United players should plan any sightseeing, with bottles and stones thrown raining down from the stands. Apparently it’s a customary request for an autograph! United can expect to face a welcome about as warm as Emmanuel Adebayor at an Arsenal supporters’ fan club night.

Despite winning a domestic league and cup double last season, Besiktas has started the season poorly, with only one win in five matches. Galatasaray thumped Mustafa Denizli’s men 3-0  over the weekend. Besiktas will surely be looking to salvage some pride against the Red Devils.

The Black Eagles’ forward line, led by Nihat Kahveci the former Villarreal striker – whose injury proneness rivals Louis Saha – and the Brazilian Bobo has found goals hard to come by so far this season. However, the ridiculously named Bobo has an impressive record since joining the club in 2006, scoring 74 goals in roughly twice as many matches.

On the United side, Antonio Valencia will hope to make his European debut, in what will be a good test of the Ecuadorian’s ability to step up to the next level.

United must seize the impetus with an early goal, which would silence the mad-men in the stands and calm the players’ nerves. The Turks are likely to adopt a counter-attacking 4-5-1 formation, aiming to overload the midfield and play a pressing game. This is where Rooney and Berbatov need to produce that extra bit of magic to find space in the final third.

In a tense affair, United will clip the Black Eagles’ wings by the odd goal or two. Then, it’s time for Sir Alex’s men to focus on bringing Manchester City back down to Earth with the mother of all reality checks!

Liberated Rooney among world’s best

September 13, 2009 Tags: Opinion 6 comments

Wayne Rooney, the 17-year-old boy who burst on the scene with that goal against Arsenal in 2003, is now firmly a man. His coming-of-age born in part of necessity, in part of a growing maturity. Rooney’s performances for club and country this season – now out of the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo – have been truly magnificent. He is a player shorn of the tactical constraints that have held him back in recent seasons and is clearly enjoying the extra responsibility now placed on him. Rooney’s potential has always marked him out as one of the world’s finest youngsters. Potential no more. To the elite of Ronaldo, Kaká, and Messi, now add Rooney.

The boy from the estates of Croxteth has always possessed the right tools. His natural skills unlimited and determination limitless. But the start of this season is the longest sustained period when Rooney has put all of his attributes together at one time, resulting in a run of goalscoring and eye-catching performances.

Too often exiled from the centre of the action in a tactical system that has pushed him to the left wing, Rooney was handicapped by forces outside his control in recent years. While Rooney has always been the natural heartbeat of United’s side, but it has often suffered a murmur.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson defended his use of Rooney from the left, arguing that the striker benefited from cutting onto his right foot. In truth this argument was always a red-herring. Rooney’s deployment from the left a compromised forced in part by Sir Alex’ determination to use three central midfielders in the biggest games but also from the need to offer the defensive protection Ronaldo could (or would) not.

It was a system that starved Rooney of the ball, forced the player to defend and reduced his ability to cause damage in the final third. Last seasons Champions League final was the last straw for many fans. It seems for the player himself. Rooney barely saw the ball that night in Rome and subsequently spent the summer arguing for a return to a central striking role.

Ronaldo’s departure has liberated more than Rooney tactically. That the striker is now seeing far more of the ball in forward areas is without doubt, perhaps more importantly there has been a mental effect on the player. Rooney has taken greater responsibility to win games himself. The challenge of losing the world’s finest player is one that Rooney realises he can now meet.

Importantly, this responsibility is being chanelled in a far more effective way. Rooney is now prepared to play is a more selfish way, which ultimately benefiting the team. Deployed as a central striker, with Dimitar Berbatov ‘in-the-hole’ against Tottenham, Rooney was full of pace, running and menace. Perhaps even more so when United was reduced to ten men. The number of occasions that Rooney got caught offside is evidence of how far forward the former Everton man played on Saturday. For England Rooney is playing just as centrally but far deeper with the Aston Villa striker Emile Heskey the target man. Rooney has excelled in both positions.

Goals will transform Rooney from a great player, to the world’s finest. In the past Rooney has tended to score in bursts. But there is compelling evidence to suggest that his start of five goals in five Premier League games for United will be sustained. The striker has also scored 11 in his past 10 international fixtures under Fabio Capello’s stewardship.

It’s a transformation that could fire both club and country to glory this season.

Fergie – Scholes red ‘terrible’

September 13, 2009 Tags: Shorts 5 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson has slammed the red card that could have cost Manchester United yesterday’s match against Tottenham Hotspur and will now mean a one-match ban Paul Scholes. The United midfielder saw red after a second booking in the 59th minute following a clash with Spurs’ Tom Huddlestone.

“I think he got sent off because his name is Paul Scholes,” said Ferguson in his post match interview.

“It was a terrible sending-off. The referee has got it wrong. He went in with his leg above their player. If anything, I think the Tottenham player has done him. He should have been punished.

“I’ve seen it twice and it was a bad decision. I didn’t see any sending-off in that at all.”

Scholes two yellow cards means that there is no possibility of appeal for the midfielder who has made over 600 appearances for United.

Scholes will now miss next weekend’s derby clash with Manchester City at Old Trafford. If face-stamping, crowd-inciting Emmanuel Adebayor doesn’t join him in the stands, there is no justice.

Fergie out-thinks hapless Harry

September 13, 2009 Tags: , Matches 11 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will leave London tomorrow morning for United’s Champions League fixture at Besiktas, fresh from his side’s best performance of the season to date. The visitors beat a resurgent Spurs at a canter after Sir Alex out thought and his team out passed White Hart Lane’s pretenders to the top four. Following victory over Arsenal last time out, United’s machine is now moving through the gears.

Some pundits had felt the home side started favourites, after four Premier League wins in a row.

Indeed, those pundits were proven right but only for the 47 seconds it took for Jermain Defoe to put the home side ahead with a high quality overhead. Momentarily Tottenham’s fans forgot about that penalty in United’s 5 – 2 win last season. United hadn’t read the same script as the experts though and despite going down to the early strike, dominated possession during an entertaining first half.

If Ryan Giggs has turned back the clock over the past year, then he also reminded any fans who had forgotten about his dead ball skills in the 25th minute. The departed Cristiano Ronaldo may have taken 90% of free kicks over the past few years but there’s now a new kid in town now. Giggs buried a wonderful strike into the top corner of Carlo Cudicini’s goal.

Anderson’s first competitive goal of his 78-game United career came just 15 minutes later following Paul Scholes’ wayward shot. Sir Alex talked in pre-season of Anderson’s new goalscoring responsibilities. That’s one of at least 10 required for the campaign. Aside from the goal the Brazilian also put in his best performance of the season, using the ball wisely and offering protection to the back four. A welcome return to form.

Then came Scholes’ controversial red card. The ginger midfielder had pulled the strings all day, teaching Wilson Palacios and Tom Huddlestone in the Spurs midfield a lesson in the art. But Scholes just can’t resist a tackle, as is his habit of the last 15 years. If the midfielder’s first yellow was fully deserved after yet another rash challenge, then the second was unfortunate. Sliding into a genuine 50/50 challenge, Scholes and Huddlestone came together at largely the same moment. The Spurs man grabbed his face, Andre Mariner fell for it, and the result was Scholes’ ninth red card of his United career.

From there Spurs should have posed far more of a threat but United were outstanding on the day. With the excellent Dimitar Berbatov sacrificed for the cause, Wayne Rooney ran his socks off alone up front and Michael Carrick dictated the tempo in the middle of the park. United’s third was almost inevitable given the visitors’ continued dominance.

It was a victory born not only in the  excellence of United’s players at White Hart Lane but a system that was as right for the opponents as the toothless 4-5-1 was wrong against Arsenal. Deploying Rooney on the shoulders of the Spurs central defence and Berbatov ‘in-the-hole’, United were able to gain both possession and territorial advantage. Such was Berbatov’s excellence for 60 minutes that his substitution was particularly unfair on the Bulgarian. Rooney meanwhile was truly magnificent.

Tottenham on the other hand were a tactical mess, with Robbie Keane pushed wide left and the celebrated attacking football of Harry Redknapp’s teams reduced to aimless balls pumped long at Peter Crounch. Meat and drink for Nemanja Vidic and the returning Rio Ferdinand. Top of the league? You’re having a laugh sang the away support. How right they were.

On this form, United has nothing to worry about in Turkey.

Did City pay £47 million for Tevez?

September 12, 2009 Tags: Shorts 5 comments

Manchester City may have paid £47 million for Carlos Tevez, according to an extraordinary report in The Times today. The figure is comprised of a £15 million down payment followed by two further £16 million payments and a bonus of £3.5 million if City win the Champions League while Tevez is at the club. If true, the astronomical fee, which is almost double the £25.5 million widely quoted in the press, would make Tevez the fifth most expensive player in history, behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká, Zlatan Ibrahimovich and Zinedine Zidane.

Tevez was ‘transferred’ to City from third party investment group MSI.

While there is little chance of City having to pay the final bonus payment, the report demonstrates the extraordinary – and ridiculous – lengths that City’s new billionaire owners are prepared to go to in order to build a team at Eastlands.

In addition to Tevez, the Abu Dhabi group has shelled out close to £200 million over the past year on Robinho (£34 million), Emmanuel Adebayor (£25 million), Jolean Lescot (£24 million), Roque Santa Cruz (£17 million), Kolo Touré (£15 million), Wayne Bridge (£12 million), Gareth Barry (£12 million) and Shay Given (£8 million).

They say a fool and his money are easily parted. £47 million for Tevez takes that saying to a whole new level.