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A tale of two strikers

September 21, 2009 Tags: , Opinion 2 comments

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… and few who witnessed Sir Alex Ferguson’s ecstatic dance down the touchline as Manchester United’s Michael Owen wheeled away from the vanquished’s goal could doubt which it was for the Scot. Owen, the free-transfer striker picked up on a whim and against all sane advice, became an Old Trafford hero in an instant. How stark the contrast then at the other end, where Carlos Tevez – Owen’s predecessor – crouched prone in disbelief.

Unsurprisingly the Argentinian’s every step was loudly jeered by the home support. United fans, ill-prepared for players jumping ship, turned tables on Tevez. No longer the total support offered towards the end of last season. And as Tevez walked out of the Old Trafford tunnel just short of the 1.30pm kick-off he looked genuinely surprised by the reaction.

The Argentinian was his usual self – all hustle and bustle – harrying Ben Foster into a mistake for City’s first equaliser. The City striker nearly scored too, striking the post with a first half shot. But the £25.5 million striker – or £47 million depending on which report you believe – then fluffed his best chance of the afternoon. The kind of miss Ferguson was not ready to pay over-the-odds for.

Owen by contrast waited patiently on the bench for his opportunity. Up front Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov were causing significant trouble to City’s outrageously over-priced central defensive partnership of Joleon Lescott and Kolo Touré, benefiting from another magical display from the evergreen Ryan Giggs.

Then came Owen’s moment, collecting Giggs’ sumptuous slide rule pass and striking it past Shay Given in the City goal with the outside of his right boot. It was a fabulous finish for which Owen can now be forgiven his Liverpool past. Something which the player is acutely aware.

“If there was any doubt before then maybe this has sealed the deal,” Owen said after the match.

“Me coming to Manchester United was always going to create a bit of noise but even if they didn’t take to me it is still a privilege to play for Manchester United. The fact I’ve scored the winner in the Manchester derby hasn’t sunk in yet.

“It’s one of those few moments in my career that I’ll look back on and see it as one of the highlights. To score in a derby is great, but for it to be as dramatic as that, you’d have to see it to believe it. It was such an entertaining game and it must be one of the best televised games of all time.

“As soon as they scored I heard the announcement which said there were four minutes, so immediately I thought that we might get a couple of chances. When they score, you think ‘that’s it, it’s probably going to be a draw’, but you never stop believing that you can do it.”

Manager Sir Alex was typically effusive in praise of former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Newcastle player. A manager who is always ready to back his own judgement, Ferguson was hardly going to do anything else.

“Michael was only on for something like 17 minutes,” said the Scot. “He was the best man to be on there when the game is going to be in their penalty box. There is no one better at taking chances.

“His positional play, first touch and finish were absolutely superb. World class.”

A lot more than could be said for Tevez.

Hughes loses dignity as reds take derby

September 21, 2009 Tags: , Matches 5 comments

United put the upstarts City in their place in a Manchester derby classic. It was a match full of drama, goals and plenty of hapless defending, with the winner coming from a former Liverpool hero. You couldn’t write a script this good. But as United fans filtered out of Old Trafford delirious with the result, Mark Hughes was busy ruining what little respect the red side of the city may have held for him.

For the neutral it was a match that had everything; most fans will have left with a few extra grey hairs. Three times United took the lead in normal time, only for City to peg Sir Alex Ferguson’s side back on as many occasions. While ‘plucky’ City can be pleased with their character in fighting to keep on terms, in truth the home side were vastly superior.

But for some truly awful defending – gifting City their first and third equalisers – United would have won at a canter. It was a point not lost on Ferguson after the game.

“We made three horrendous mistakes which you don’t even half associate with our team and it kept them in the game,” Fergie told Sky Sports after the match.

“I am unhappy about the goals we conceded because it spoilt [an otherwise] really emphatic victory – we could have scored six or seven.

“The fact that we made the mistakes probably made it the best derby game of all time so you-re left wondering, what would you rather have had – won 6-0 or won the greatest derby game of all time, and I would rather have won 6-0.”

Before all the drama, the derby came to life as early as the second minute, with Rooney holding off two City defenders to slot past Shay Given in the visitor’s goal. Patrice Evra created the chance, finding space on the left flank to cut back for United’s leading scorer. Magic.

City were back in it within a quarter hour, Ben Foster losing the ball to the returning Carlos Tevez, and Gareth Barry slotting home the little Argentinian’s pass. Comedy defending but it wasn’t funny for United’s number one. That Foster is still playing with such nerves six weeks into the new season is deeply worrying. Foster, talented though he is, got himself out of position on more than one occasion, gifting City their first equaliser. With Edwin van der Sar back inside a month, Foster has even more reason to feel under pressure.

United were dominating possession and the chances continued to flow, especially in the second period. Dimitar Berbatov in particular will regret not taking at least one of his four good opportunities before being substituted for Michael Owen.

United’s pressure was telling though and City’s expensively assembled central defensive partnership struggled all afternoon with United’s pace and movement. Ryan Giggs was utterly peerless, having a hand in all four United goals. At 35 years old, Giggs can still tear them apart after all these seasons. It was the Welshman’s running and passing that helped create a dozen chances for United in the second half.

In the end for all United’s free flowing attacking football City lost the match by defending set-pieces and crosses poorly. United’s second and third came from the unlikely head of Darren Fletcher, who had yet another storming game in central midfield.

In between Craig Bellemy twice pulled City back into the game. His first an outstanding strike from 25 yards, after cutting in from the left onto his favoured right boot. City’s third equaliser came with just seconds to go, Rio Ferdinand guilty of being lazy in possession and gifting the Bitters a chance at an undeserved point.

But as long as Ferguson lives and breaths United will continue to play until the final whistle. Giggs’ wonderful pass released Michael Owen in the 96th minute, the striker’s first touch was true and his neat finish sent the home crowd into raptures. Fergie’s Mourinhoesque arm-pumping dance down the touchline was bliss personified. His staff and substitutes invaded the pitch in an end reminiscent of that in the same stadium against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993.

In the post-match analysis Fergie couldn’t resist the opportunity to goad the defeated opposition.

“There has been a lot of expectation on Manchester City and with the spending they have done they have to win something,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.

“For us, it’s unusual for us to accept that they’re the top dogs in terms of media attention but you know, sometimes you have a noisy neighbour and have to live with it. You can’t do anything about them if they keep on making noise but what we can do, as we showed today, is you can get on with your life, put your television on and turn it up a bit louder.

“As far as the players are concerned, they showed their playing power and that’s the best answer of all.”

Watching despairing City supporters’ faces – still bitter after 34 years without silverware – as United’s fourth hits the back of the net was sheer poetry. That their team contained the returning Carlos Tevez iced the cake.

But another United old boy, the City manager Mark Hughes, was unable to lose with dignity, complaining about the amount of added time and United’s ecstatic reaction to the winning goal. Hughes also went on to defend Craig Bellamy, who hit out at a United fan, just as he had supported Emmanuel Adebayor’s in the wake of the striker’s deliberate stamp on Robin van Persie a week ago. Hughes should be bigger than that.

“They did seem quite excitable at the end of the game. It was reminiscent of Brian Kidd and Sir Alex in days gone by. And I saw Gary Neville running on like a lunatic as well, so it showed how much it meant to them,” said Hughes.

“It’s something we’ll take out of the game. We knew we could come here and compete against the United of today.”

Compete City did, but bitter City remain.

Rant Cast 6 – first Manchester derby of the season

September 20, 2009 Tags: Rant Cast No comments

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

  • Victory against Spurs and Besiktas
  • The Manchester derby – Carlos Tevez, Mark Hughes, City’s money
  • Peter Kenyon!

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

Email all feedback to cast@unitedrant.co.uk or comment below.

Subscribe on iTunes now.

Classic United versus City

September 18, 2009 Tags: , Matches 1 comment

To whet your appetite ahead of the weekend’s 152nd Manchester derby, which began in 1881, here are some modern classics. Forget the Blue Noses who mention Dennis Law’s back-heal, or the five goals scored at Maine Road in 1989. Consign them to history. Think about United’s five in 1994, comeback from three down a year earlier or Roy Keane’s assault on Alf-Inge Haaland in 2001.

Manchester City 2 – 3 Manchester United, Maine Road, 1993
One of United’s greatest ever comebacks – this time in City’s backyard. Trailing by two Nial Quinn goals, United returned with strikes from Eric Cantona and Roy Keane, winning it in the final minute of the match. Sweet.

Manchester United 5 – 0 Manchester City, Old Trafford, 1994
With that 1989 match at Maine Road still all too fresh in supporters’ minds, United’s flying Russian winger Andrei Kanchelskis went on the rampage, scoring an Old Trafford hat-trick. It was the match that finally shut the Blue Noses up and allowed right-minded Manchester folk to lift their chins up once again!

Manchester United 1 – 1 Manchester City, Old Trafford, 2001
Roy Keane’s long running feud with the Norwegian Alfe-Inge Haarland led to this horror tackle by the midfielder. Keane saw red and was banned for three matches. Keane’s biography, in which he suggested that he wanted to hurt the City player, cost the Irishman a further five match ban and £150,000 fine. Such a pity then that Keane and Carlos Tevez couldn’t meet on the pitch this weekend, some of a crueller disposition might say.

OT welcomes City’s nouveau riche

September 18, 2009 Tags: , Matches 1 comment

City arrive at Old Trafford this weekend having usurped the champions as the wealthiest club in the Manchester, with ambitions of extending that superiority to the pitch. The City ‘project’ has come some distance since last summer, with more than £200 million spent on a series of high profile, if over-expensive, new players. If there was any doubt that the club’s Abu Dhabi-based owners are serious about breaking into the Premier League’s top four, then there shouldn’t be any now.

The Eastlands outfit cross town in good form, having won four Premier League games in a row, including a controversial 4 – 2 win against Arsenal last weekend. But manager Mark Hughes heads back to his old stomping ground with around £100 million worth of talent unavailable. Carlos Tevez is unlikely to be fully fit, Roque Santa Cruz has yet to play this season and Emmanuel Adebayor has taken it upon himself to perform boot-based facial surgery on an old team-mate, while picking a fight with his former club’s supporters.

Sir Alex Ferguson, meanwhile, will hope to pick from a full squad – less the suspended Paul Scholes and injured Owen Hargreaves and Rafael da Silva. Rio Ferdinand will face a late test on his fitness, having picked up a minor groin injury after the victory over Tottenham Hotspur last weekend. Johnny Evans stands by to partner Nemanja Vidic, while Ferguson will pick from Michael Carrick, Anderson and Darren Fletcher in central midfield.

There will be a close focus on United’s tactical outlook for the match, with the manager having used Wayne Rooney as a lone striker against Besiktas in midweek and in the home game against Arsenal. Are City to be considered a genuine threat this season, or will the manager go for the jugular and include Dimitar Berbatov alongside Rooney?

With Hughes missing key talent and United at home, Ferguson must sense that now is the time to set down a marker.

“They’ve had a softish start to the season with two or three easier games, but the result against Arsenal on Saturday was the one that surprised people. Scoring four goals against Arsenal was an emphatic result,” said Ferguson.

“When you get off to a good start, it definitely galvanises you and gives you the confidence. And of course, they have such a big squad and a lot of players – they have about seven centre-forwards. But when you have spent that kind of money, and the wages they are paying, you have to win the league with that kind of investment.

“That is where the difficulty will come for them and it will be very difficult for City when you see the likes of ourselves, Chelsea and Liverpool and Arsenal.

On the terraces fans are looking forward not only to United’s team taking City down a peg or two but welcoming the liar Carlos Tevez back to Old Trafford with a special brand of warmth and affection. Ferguson, though, isn’t concerned about the little striker’s return. “I am not bothered whether Tevez plays or not,” said Ferguson. “Manchester City’s best player won’t be playing. Adebayor is their star player”

Ouch.

Poll: the Manchester derby result will be…

September 18, 2009 Tags: Polls No comments

United take on City at Old Trafford Sunday in the 152nd competitive Manchester derby. United leads the fixture by 61 wins to 41 in competitive matches, although there were also 44 matches during the war. This derby has a little extra spice, however, due to the £200 million that City has spent on new players in the past year. For the first time in decades City actually has a competitive side.

The Manchester derby result will be...

  • Narrow United win (46%, 73 Votes)
  • Comprehensive United win (44%, 70 Votes)
  • The unthinkable (11%, 18 Votes)
  • A draw (2%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 159

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Confused Tevez ‘expects good reception’

September 18, 2009 Tags: Shorts 2 comments

Former United striker Carlos Tevez expects to get a good reception when he returns to Old Trafford for the Manchester derby this weekend. Tevez, who is struggling to make the game with a knee injury sustained on international duty, left United in the summer after failing to hold down a first team place. The player scored just five Premier League goals last season before making a £25 million move across town.

“I expect to have a good reception. While at United, I always gave my best and I had good relations with the fans,” said the Argentinian.

“They know I did everything while at Old Trafford to try to score the goals that would help the team win matches, so I don’t know why I should have a bad reception.

“What will I do if I score a goal? Well, I will be glad, but I don’t think too much about that right now.

“The important thing is that Manchester City wins the game. If I don’t score, but we can get the three points, I will be very happy.”

Tevez’ optimism is in sharp contrast to the feeling among United supporters, angered by the very public criticism the striker offered of Sir Alex Ferguson and the club in the wake of his departure. In the wake of his move to Manchester City, Tevez accused Ferguson of showing him “disrespect,” despite having stated the precise opposite just months before.

Tevez, a proven liar, also claimed that United had refused to offer him a new contract at Old Trafford.

The legend of Paddy Evra

September 17, 2009 Tags: Opinion 3 comments

Speaking ahead of the weekend’s Manchester derby, United left-back Evra has promised to join fans in booing his friend Carlos Tevez, should the Argentinian play. The French defender, who is fast becoming many United fans favourite player, hopes that the City striker will recover from the knee injury he suffered on international duty.

Evra has not only produced two outstanding seasons in a row – cementing his place as first-on-the-teamsheet – but is increasingly amusing in the media. A real fans’ player.

“I have had a message from him saying they are going to win. I am not so sure,” said Evra on Tevez.

“I just hope he plays. It’ll be special to play against him as he’s such a good friend but he is a City player now and we cannot let him beat United.

“When we have played them before they have never been in the top four. This year it is a big mission of City’s to play in the Champions League. They have not lost yet, so they will come to Old Trafford with a lot of confidence. It will be an amazing game and it is a big challenge. I hope we are ready.

“I have been joking with him about the reception he will get. I don’t know if the fans will boo him or clap him. He did a great job at Manchester United. He respected the shirt and the fans understand that. But if they boo him I will join in,” he added.

Sadly, Tevez is unlikely to make the derby, short of a miraculous recovery from injury over the coming 48 hours. The striker was unable to complete Argentina’s 3 – 1 defeat to Brazil last week.

In May Evra mocked Rafael Benitez’ “game over” gesture in United’s 2-1 away victory at Wigan Athletic. The Benitez row was one of the iconic moments of the season and Evra – being Evra – managed to deconstruct in an instant. Brilliant stuff.

Patrice Evra

Then, after last season’s Champions League semi-final win against Arsenal, Evra summed up the match as “11 boys against 11 men.” It was a declaration that incited a predictably angry reaction from the Arsenal team but capture the completely dominant victory.

Not that Evra is all about winding up the opposition – he successfully manages that with his own team-mates – by hogging the stereo.

“Before every match I sit down in my room and work out a playlist,” Evra claimed.

“I have to change it every time – you don’t know these guys, they’re like dogs! They’re hungry for new songs and get angry if it’s the same stuff as the last game. So I need to mix it up and make sure everybody’s happy – I put on some English music, some r’n’b, some dance, some Brazilian… now it’s part of the ritual before games.

“Sometimes other people come in and try and put their own music on – I don’t want to name names – but usually my team-mates will say: ‘Hey, come on, respect the iPod of Evra!’. So I say: ‘No problem,’ and just turn theirs off.”

The fun is unlikely to end when Evra, 28, retires from the game. He plans not on moving into coaching or media pundity but becoming a comedy double-act with Park Ji-Sung or somewhat randomly, a babysitter.

Until then, Evra will continue to weave his way into United folklore.

Scholes may stay on

September 17, 2009 Tags: Shorts No comments

Paul Scholes, the flame-haired Manchester United legend, may stay on at the club past his planned retirement in the summer 2010 – if Sir Alex Ferguson has anything to do with it. Scholes’ United contract runs out in nine months time, after 15 seasons with the club. It has often been rumoured that the Oldham-born midfielder would like to see out his playing days with his home-town club.

“I don’t think this is Paul’s last season, not the way that he plays,” said Alex Ferguson this week.

“He isn’t the type to burst in to the penalty box anymore, is he? It’s difficult to say [when Scholes will retire] because it’s still only September, but I’m seeing the fresh Scholesy and the best time to use him is when he’s fresh.

“He won’t be playing the whole season but, if I get 25 games out of him at the level we saw on Saturday, I’ll be delighted with that.

“I’ve read that stuff about him playing for Oldham in his last year – no chance. He isn’t going to drop through the leagues, I’m sure of it.”

Scholes put in a man-of-the-match performance against Beşiktaş on Tuesday night, following a similarly dominant display at White Hart Lane at the weekend, prior to his dismissal. While the midfielder no longer provides the goal threat of old he is enjoying something of an Indian Summer this season.

Scholes, who will miss the weekend’s derby with Manchester City, has 143 goals for United in 610 appearances.

United edges Bosphorus battle

September 16, 2009 Tags: , Matches 2 comments

Manchester United came through its opening Champions League group match in Istanbul last night, in what was a professional if unspectacular performance. Paul Scholes’ header was enough to take the points at the unbelievably noisy BJK İnönü Stadium, with Beşiktaş’ passionate fans creating one of the best atmospheres in recent memory. While Sir Alex Ferguson is rightly delighted with the result and a performance that shut out the home side, there was little to strike fear into United’s European rivals.

“I don’t think it was our best game, but a win’s a win,” man-of-the match Scholes told Sky Sports following the match.

“Turkey’s a difficult place to come and Beşiktaş were a decent team with a good crowd behind them.

“It’s always nice to score goals. I think it was the first time I’d got up the pitch. I didn’t have much chance to get up there. It was an important time to score a goal. It was a disappointment last year — we still did well to get to the final, but we want to go one better this year.”

While Scholes’ goal was ultimately pivotal to United’s win last night, it was the ginger midfielder’s metronomic passing that enabled his side to control the tempo of the game. Much as was the case for an hour against Spurs on Saturday. That the team travelled away from home and retained 60% of the ball in the first half is evidence of United’s tactical approach – keep it tight for an hour and then go for the win.

Indeed, Ferguson must have felt he’d broken the back of Beşiktaş by the time he removed Wayne Rooney on the hour, bringing on both Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov. The change gave United greater impetus, with wingers Nani and Antonio Valencia becoming increasingly penetrative on the touchlines.

“Being the first game you always want to win that but I was quite comfortable with the performance,” manager Sir Alex Ferguson said after the match.

“I thought they did quite well most of the time, kept good possession. We were the better team, the concentration had to be good because it was a fantastic atmosphere and a test of the concentration and a test of the nerves.”

However, many fans were disappointed with the tactics that attempted to nullify the opposition – and their incredible fans – rather than create chances. This is a common pattern in Europe and it has been a number of seasons since Ferguson regularly deployed two strikers away from home in the Champions League.

Once again Rooney was left isolated and largely frustrated by a system that was hard to break down but created only a smattering of opportunities in the first hour. But fans should get used to it – this will be the pattern of United’s play for the remainder of the competition and United’s principal strength is in defence.

The Beşiktaş fans were a sight to behold, with the ground bouncing, clapping, chanting and singing for the full 90 minutes. Recent tests have apparently shown that fans at BJK İnönü Stadium are the world’s noisiest, being recorded at more than 130 Db. That’s louder that a jumbo so the experts would have us believe. Something the Stretford End might want to think about come the weekend’s match against City.

“They create an atmosphere over here like no other country in Europe,” captain Gary Neville said.

“I think if Beşiktaş had got a goal it would have been a really hard night for us. So to keep a clean sheet was important – once we get in front we aim to make it very difficult for other sides.

“European football’s always really hard so we’re really happy with the win. It puts us in a good position.”

Bring on City.