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Tag Aston Villa

United maintain momentum with win over Villans

February 2, 2011 Tags: , Matches 12 comments

Wayne Rooney scored twice as Manchester United maintained a five point Premier League lead with victory over Aston Villa at Old Trafford. The United striker lashed home a superb volley with less than a minute on the clock and then sidefooted a second before half-time for just his fifth and sixth goals of the season. Villa’s new £24 million man Darren Bent pulled a goal back on the hour before captain Nemanja Vidic drove an unstoppable shot past high into the top corner to seal United’s win.

The win marks a welcome return to form for United, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side labouring to wins over Blackpool and Southampton in the past week. In truth United had the tie well under control from the off after Rooney’s stunning opening goal on 56 seconds. Indeed, if neither the Reds nor Rooney have been at their best this season, then Ferguson’s outfit stepped up a level in front of 75,256 at Old Trafford.

“The man’s got a great appetite to play and everyone should remember that,” said Ferguson of 25-year-old Rooney.

“We remember that – he has a great appetite to work and fight and he gets his rewards eventually.

“You keep knocking off the games and if we can keep winning then eventually you run out of games. The aim for us is to keep the momentum going and keep the work-rate up like we did tonight against a good Aston Villa team and hopefully it gets us where we want to be.”

The United manager resisted calls to drop Rooney despite the striker’s paucity of goals this season. With Mexican Javier Hernández bagging two goals in the past week, supporters would have forgiven Ferguson for dropping his star man. Instead the 69-year-old Scot was rewarded inside a minute with Rooney controlling Edwin van der Sar’s 60-year-pass and lashing a volley past Brad Friedle in the visitor’s goal.

It was the perfect start for Ferguson’s men, who have come from behind twice in three days this week.

There was more to United’s play that Rooney’s early goal though, with the Reds far slicker in possession than has often been the case this season and Villa struggling to stay on terms. Indeed, Ferguson’s men were denied a clear penalty when Richard Dunne brought down Nani. The Portuguese then fired just over Friedel’s goal, before Patrice Evra and the outstanding Ryan Giggs each went close for the home side.

Far fetched as it seemed but Villa was on the cusp of making it to the break just a goal down and still in the tie. That was until Rooney ran on to Nani’s cross and slotted home to double his tally and United’s lead.

Yet it was to Villa’s credit that the Midlanders fought their way back into the tie, even if the pattern of the match changed little after the break. United had thrown away victories at both Everton and Fulham this season and when Bent headed home Stuart Downing’s cross on 58 minutes the Old Trafford crowd feared more dropped points.

However, any doubt about the result was dispelled in the most emphatic fashion just five minutes later, when man-on-the-match Rooney laid off to Vidic who smashed a stunning shot past Friedel. The Serbian will have scored no better goal in has career than this.

In total this was a hugely satisfactory victory over the newly in-form Villains, with Michael Carrick, Rooney, Nani and Dimitar Berbatov on another level to the visitors. Expansive in midfield, penetrative in attack and – mostly – solid in defence, United laid down a marker for the side’s rivals in the Premier League title race.

Chelsea and Arsenal matched United’s result tonight but United’s five point lead leaves Ferguson’s outfit in control of its own destiny. On the back of a seven match winning run and unbeaten in the Premier League the title is surely now United’s to lose.

Whether it is confidence in his squad or restrictions put in place by the Old Trafford paymasters, Ferguson’s decision not to invest in the winter market has been countered with more than £70 million of deadline-day spending at Chelsea. Even Villa, parsimonious under Randy Learner’s ownership until now, spent big on new forward Bent.

“There has been some amazing buys,” added Ferguson.

“I think there has been a chain reaction from Aston Villa paying £24million for Darren Bent because everybody thinks their player is 24-plus. But you can’t be surprised or amazing because this is the Premier division.”

Match Facts
United – 442 – Van der Sar; O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Fletcher (Anderson 34), Giggs; Berbatov, Rooney.

Villa – 4411 – Friedel; Walker, Dunne, Collins, Clark; Albrighton (Heskey 69), Makoun, Petrov (Agbonlahor 74), Downing (Reo-Coker 80); Young; Bent.

Attendance – 75,256
Man of the Match – Rooney

Possession: United 50% – 50% Villa
Attempts: 18 – 9
On Target: 2 – 4
Corners: 5 – 5
Fouls: 6 – 6

Villa in town as Reds seek eight point lead

February 1, 2011 Tags: , Matches 148 comments

Manchester United defends a five point Premier League lead tonight with Aston Villa at Old Trafford. Indeed, Sir Alex Ferguson’s outfit could move up to eight points clear with Arsenal also in action on a busy night in the Premier League.

Ferguson can boast a virtually fully fit squad, with most leading lights returning to the side following United’s victory over Southampton in the FA Cup last week. In addition to rested stars, injured defenders Rio Ferdinand and Rafael da Silva are fit to return, while Michael Carrick will feature if an ankle problem has cleared sufficiently. Patrice Evra also returns following a short trip back to France for a family bereavement.

United faces a Villa side with renewed confidence after the £24 million capture of Darren Bent and three wins on the bounce. And without a victory over Villa in the past three meetings between the sides, United is set for another close encounter with the Midlanders.

Ferguson is set to reunite Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov in attack, with each experiencing deeply contrasting fortunes this season. While the Bulgarian has now bagged 19 goals, with a brace against Blackpool last week, Rooney has just one strike from open play this season.

It’s a fact that does not sit comfortably with Ferguson though.

“Some of our critics are making a meal out of the fact that Wayne Rooney is lagging behind in the goal stakes. He is, compared with the bucketload he scored last year, but I am not worried,” said the United manager.

“It is the scoring partnership that matters and the combination between our two front men has improved beyond all recognition. Last year, Wayne benefited from Dimitar’s work but this year it is Berbatov enjoying the last touch.

“If we finish the season with Berbatov scoring 30 and Wayne on 10 – and those are the targets I have in mind – I will be more than happy. That is what I call a successful strike partnership, reminiscent of Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke.”

Chalkboard versus Aston VillaStill, Ferguson must decide whether to stick with his misfiring £30 million striker or bring Javier Hernandez into the side. The 22-year-old Mexican has scored 11 goals in just 12 starts this season, including vital goals against Blackpool and Southampton in the past week. Although Rooney is favourite to start, the Ferguson has never been afraid to drop his leading stars in the relentless drive for success. Indeed, it is arguable whether Rooney merits a place in the side on current form irrespective of whether Hernandez starts or not.

It is this outlook underpins United success under the Scot’s management over the past quarter century says Ferdinand, with the Reds coming from behind to win twice in the past week.

“You never lose faith when you play for Manchester United,” Ferdinand told The Sun.

“It’s in our make-up the game’s not over until the final whistle has blown and until then you try your hardest.

“If you do that week in, week out, you get a bit of luck and you get your rewards. It comes from the manager – he has got that desire and will to win.

“He’s been here 25 years and if he’s still got it, then why haven’t players who have only been here for a year, two years, 10 years, whatever?

“So it comes from him and filters down through the club and that’s always the way it’s been. That’s why you see it so often that we can come back from adverse situations and create results like we did against Blackpool.”

Meanwhile, Villa will give a late fitness test to Agbonlahor, with the striker suffering a minor hamstring strain. Defender Nathan Baker is suspended, while Fabian Delph has a knee injury. New signing Michael Bradley could play following a deadline day transfer from Borussia Monchengladbach.

Darren Bent return’s the the squad after missing last week’s FA Cup win over Blackburn Rovers.

Despite Villa’s lowly position in the Premier League under-fire manager Gerard Houllier says his team can with at Old Trafford.

“We’re capable of beating any team,” said Houllier.

“We need to take our hats off to the record so far of Manchester United – to stay undefeated for that many games. They’re impressive.

“They were impressive when we played them. It was a thrilling game. The way they came back into the game – I think the goal from Federico Macheda changed everything because it brought a spark of hope. If we’d have been able to hold another ten minutes it would have been different.

“I wish I could play as badly as they do and have the same record! People say that but when they played well they battered Birmingham 5-0, Blackburn 7-1. I hope they don’t play well then!”

While another cricket score seems unlikely, with Villa’s record at Old Trafford respectable in recent years, Ferguson will take any victory and a vital three points in the title race. Indeed, with Chelsea spending more than £70 million on transfer deadline day in a desperate attempt to clam back lost points, Ferguson will be keen to ram home United’s advantage.

Villa – 433 – Friedel; Clark, Cuellar, Collins, Walker; Petrov, Reo-Coker, Bannan; Albrighton, Bent, Young. Subs from: Bradley, Marshall, Downing, Delfouneso, Heskey, Pires, Makoun, Agbonlahor.

United – 442 – van der Sar; Rafael da Silva, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Scholes, Fletcher, Giggs; Rooney, Berbatov. Subs from: Kuzszazk, Evans, Brown, Gibson, Owen, Bébé, Lindegaard, Fabio da Silva, O’Shea, Carrick, Anderson, Obertan, Hernández, Smalling.

Referee: Chris Foy
Assistant referees: Dean Mohareb & Glenn Turner
Fourth official: Stuart Attwell

United – WWWWWW
Villa – LWDWWW

Shapeless United snatch late draw

November 14, 2010 Tags: , Matches 40 comments

Manchester United’s poor performances away from home continued as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side fought from two down to take a late draw at Villa Park. In truth, the Scot’s side could have been many more behind before captain Nemanja Vidic headed home in the 85th minute to earn the visitors an unlikely share of the spoils.

Gerard Houlier’s outfit twice struck the woodwork before Ashley Young scored from the penalty spot with 20 minutes remaining. Marc Albrighton added a second from close range before Federico Macheda lashed into the top corner to offer United hope. United’s comeback was complete when Vidic headed home Nani’s cross with time running out at a raucous Villa Park.

It was a stunning end to a game in which Ferguson’s side looked all at sea. Out-passed and too often out-thought by a youthful Villa side, Ferguson will no doubt de grateful to escape with another point on the road. It was United’s sixth away draw in the Premier League this season, with 12 points dropped away from Old Trafford already.

“We could have lost six goals in the second half. They hit the woodwork three times and Albrighton missed two great chances,” said Ferguson

“I think the emotions of the way Villa played kept them at a high boiling point. The tackles, some of it was fair, some of it wasn’t, but the referee allowed things to go and sometimes that makes a great game.

“I think we’ve seen a great game today. Great credit to Aston Villa for keeping that emotional aspect up for the whole game. They got stuck in, tackled, fought and the crowd kept them going.”

Indeed, United was as listless as Villa lively. The Reds began in sluggish fashion and failed to find any spark until the match was seemingly beyond Ferguson’s outfit.

Missing a creative heartbeat, with Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher paired in a midfield that offered function over flair, the visitors did not force ‘keeper Brad Friedel into a save before the 80th minute.

Yet Ferguson’s outfit fired the opening salvo, with Dimitar Berbatov shooting wide when well placed after Javier Hernández’ smart pass. The Bulgarian has now not scored in nearly two months since the hat-trick against Liverpool at Old Trafford in September. Gone, it seems, is the confidence that brought seven early season goals and the manager’s effusive praise.

The wasted chance mirrored United’s sloppy play to half-time as United often gave away possession, while creating few chances. Worst was to come with Evra whipping a ball across the six yard area that not a single colleague gambled on. A touch would have brought a certain goal but United’s attacking endeavour seemingly lacked any life.

The more United struggled the greater Villa’s confidence grew. The home side’s midfield averaged just 20 years-of-age but Albrighton, alongside Barry Bannan, Jonathan Hogg and – at 24 the comparative veteran – Stewart Downing, increasingly came into the match.

Edwin van der Sar saved from Young before Rio Ferdinand deflected Downing’s shot narrowly wide just before the interval. United’s play only deteriorated after half-time as Villa created half a dozen outstanding chances in the second period.

Albrighton headed Downing’s cross wide when just six yards out before the woodwork twice saved the visitors in quick succession. First defender James Collins headed against the bar before Gabriel Agbonlahor hit van der Sar’s right hand post with a thumping effort.

Villa then opened up United on the counter-attack, with Wes Brown clumsily bringing down Young inside the area. The defender was spared red but Young smashed home the spot kick anyway.

Within moments Villa doubled the lead, with Albrighton tapping in another Downing cross for the goal his play deserved.

Then came United’s late comeback as Ferguson replaced the ineffective Hernández and Berbatov with Gabriel Obertan and Macheda.

Finally United came to life, creating perhaps eight chances in as many minutes with the game drawing to a close. Too little, perhaps, but at least it was not too late to save a sixth draw in seven Premier League outings away from home.

Ferguson’s side remains unbeaten but as in last week’s win against Wolverhampton Wanderers, the Scot’s outfit was more than a little fortunate.

“To be 2-0 down with 10 minutes to go you have to be pleased with that,” added Ferguson.

“With another five minutes we would have won the match, there was no doubt about that, but we waited too long to get there.”

In truth though victory for Ferguson’s side would have been a miscarriage of justice. That United created a flurry of chances in a breathless last ten minutes is testament to the side’s will to succeed.

That the Reds created almost nothing for the previous 80 is far greater substantiation of the deteriorating quality of Ferguson’s squad.

Match Facts
Villa – 442 – Friedel; L Young, Dunne, Collins, Warnock; Albrighton (Lichaj 88), Bannan, Hogg (Herd 90), Downing; Young, Agbonlahor (Delfouneso 78).

United – 442 – Van der Sar; Brown 49, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Fletcher, Carrick, Park (Smalling 86); Berbatov (Obertan 73), Hernandez (Macheda 73).

Attendance – 40,073
Man of the Match – Vidic

Possession: Villa 51% – 49% United
Attempts: 12 – 16
On target: 6 – 10
Corners: 9 – 7
Fouls: 11 – 9

Roo missing as Reds seek rare away win

November 12, 2010 Tags: , Matches 139 comments

Further injury and illness concerns dominate Sir Alex Ferguson’s planning ahead the trip to Aston Villa this weekend. Manchester United’s six match winning streak came to an end against neighbours City on Wednesday night but the chance to build momentum Saturday lunchtime is hardly helped by injuries to Patrice Evra and Rafael da Silva.

The French left-back may feature against Gerard Houlier’s outfit if his sore ankle responds to treatment today, although Rafael will definitely miss out with a dead leg. Meanwhile, ‘flu continues to sweep through the United camp, with up to 12 players having been infected over the past week.

Long-term injury victims Owen Hargreaves, Michael Owen and Antonio Valenica each miss out, although Ryan Giggs could make his long-awaited return if the Welshman suffers no further relapse on a hamstring.

Paul Scholes is suspended under the totting up procedure after collecting five yellow cards this season, although with the midfielder having played 90 minutes against City on Wednesday it is unlikely the 35-year-old would have started anyway. Darron Gibson and Anderson could again miss out with the ‘flu.

Indeed, such is United’s paucity of options in midfield that Ferguson may turn to John O’Shea, whether Evra is fit to feature at left-back or not, or tuck Park Ji-Sung into a more central role.

However, United will again be without Wayne Rooney, who returns from a week’s training at Nike World campus in Portland on Saturday. The 25-year-old has responded well to the SPARQ programme according to United and could feature in upcoming fixtures against Wigan Athletic and Glasgow Rangers.

“Wayne has been doing really well,” assistant manager Phelan told Key 103 radio.

“He has been training really hard, working morning and afternoon. Our people out there who are looking after him have been really pleased with his attitude and approach. All being well he can have a nice easy flight back.

“We will see where he is at on Monday but we think he will have improved immensely.”

In the striker’s stead Ferguson is likely to restore Javier Hernández to the United line-up alongside Dimitar Berbatov and Nani in attack. Despite beginning the season in fine form the Bulgarian has not now scored in nine matches, since hitting a hat-trick against Liverpool in September.

Meanwhile, United continues to chase a rare win on the road this season. Ferguson’s side has just one Premier League victory away from Old Trafford – at Stoke City. With six Premier League draws already, midfielder Darren Fletcher says that United must get back to winning ways at Villa Park this weekend.

“People are talking about us not losing but we have drawn too many, especially away from home,” said Fletcher.

“We have to start winning our away games if we want to push up this league. You can’t afford to draw too many games, otherwise you will get left behind.

“Overall, you would be better winning two games out of three and losing the other one rather than winning one and drawing two.

“That is why we were disappointed on Wednesday. We could have got the win and felt we produced a performance good enough to get us one.”

Indeed, United might be further than four points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea but for the Londoners own inconsistencies. Without Frank Lampard until December and with Michael Essien now banned for three matches, United might benefit from further slips by Carlo Ancelotti’s men in the coming weeks.

It is up to Ferguson’s team to take full advantage at a ground where the Reds have not lost since the opening day of the 1995/6 season. The 3-1 defeat prompted BBC pundit Alan Hansen to declare that United could “win nothing with kids.” The rest, as the cliché goes, is history with United ending the season with a second double in three years.

Villa, though,  has won just once in 27 games against United – the 1-0 win at Old Trafford last season – but could be without 10 players for the Reds’ visit. Carlos Cuellar and Habib Beye also dropped out of the Villa squad this week, while former City midfielder Stephen Ireland is doubtful with ‘flu.

Houllier will again rely on younger players for United’s visit, although the former Liverpool manager boasts a surprisingly good record against Ferguson.

“Sir Alex said to me ‘you are more successful against Manchester United than even Bob Paisley.’ But they’ve won more titles!” said the former French FA technical director.

“Villa have not won against United (at home) for a long time. I would say that at some stage it has to stop.

“It already stopped in a way last year because Villa won at Old Trafford for the first time in 25 encounters or something like that.

“We hope in front of our fans, we give the best of ourselves and get a result.”

It may take something special. After all United remains the only unbeaten team in the country.

Villa – 442 – Friedel; Luke Young, Dunne, Collins, Warnock; Albrighton, Clark, Bannan, Downing; Ashley Young, Agbonlahor. Subs from: Guzan, Hogg, Lowry, Johnson, Lichaj, Delfouneso, Sidwell, Delph, Salifou, Osbourne.

United squad
Van der Sar, Kuszczak, Amos, Rafael, Brown, O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Smalling, Evans, Evra, Fabio, Obertan, Bébé, Carrick, Fletcher, Giggs, Park, Berbatov, Hernández, Macheda.

Referee: Mike Dean
Assistant referees: Simon Beck & Simon Long
Fourth official: Martin Atkinson

Villa – DWWDDW
United – WWWWWD

Carling Cup gallery

February 28, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 1 comment

Manchester United claimed the club’s third Carling Cup win in just five seasons, with Patrice Evra lifting the trophy at a damp Wembley Stadium in North West London. With supporters decked in green and gold as the Glazer family watched on, Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen scored the goals to win the cup for United.

Nemanja Vidic

Nemanja Vidic brings down Aston Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor for the opening goal.

Michael Owen

Michael Owen scores United's equaliser in the 10th minute, sweeping home Dimitar Berbatov's pass

Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney turns away in celebration after heading home Manchester United's winning goal at Wembley

Patrice Evra

Manchester United captain Patrice Evra lifts the Carling Cup at Wembley

United against Glazer

Many of United's 30,000 supporters donned the green and gold of Newton Heath in protest against the Glazer family's ownership

Rooney – It’s an unbelievable feeling

February 28, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion No comments

Manchester United players were delighted with today’s 2-1 Carling Cup win over Aston Villa at Wembley. None more so that match winner Wayne Rooney, who came off the bench to head home. The 28-goal striker replaced Michael Owen in the 40th minute and headed home United’s winning goal with 15 minutes to go.

“It’s a great feeling to play in a final at Wembley and to score the winning goal,” said Rooney who started the match with a cold and ended it with a minor knee injury.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling but the lads did really well and we deserve the win. I wasn’t feeling too great and I should have scored another header. It hit the post, maybe I should have been another one?”

Serbian Nemanja Vidic, who Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neil felt should have seen red for a fourth minute challenge on Gabriel Agbonlahor, said that United deserved a third Carling Cup win in five years.

“It’s nice to win the big games, it was a hard game today but we deserved to win,” said the former-Spartak Moscow defender, who escaped further sanction from referee Phil Dowd for the penalty challenge.

“I could have done better with the goal they scored. Agbonlahor did really well but I don’t think it was a sending off. I got in front of him and made the tackle, I wasn’t behind him.

“It’s always nice to win, now we have the confidence for the rest of the season. We’re happy.”

Owen, who will have an assessment on a tweaked hamstring tomorrow, was delighted despite being forced out of the match in the opening half. The striker made a rare start ahead of Rooney for the final.

“It’s great to win, great to score and great to play a part,” added the former-Liverpool forward, who scored his ninth United goal in just 11 starts this season.

“It’s just sad that I’ve picked up an hamstring injury. It’s my first injury since I’ve been at United. It was a real chance because it’s not every week I start a game.

“It’s been a fantastic season so far so I can’t grumble. Hopefully I won’t be out too long. Obviously Wayne’s played every week so it was good for him to rest today.”

But Owen wasn’t concerned with continued media speculation about his position with the England team, as manager Fabio Capello watched the Wembley final. The Italian is yet to pick Owen for an international squad.

“I didn’t think of who was watching. I don’t think about the World Cup. A lot of people have been getting their knickers in a twist about it,” added Owen.

“I just want to play for Man United and if that gets me recognition, then great. I’ve been to many World Cups and European Championships. If I don’t go, it gives someone else a chance.”

Rooney heads United to Cup glory

February 28, 2010 Tags: , Opinion No comments

Manchester United defended the Carling Cup with a hard-fought victory over Aston Villa at Wembley. Coming from a goal behind, Wayne Rooney scored the winner for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men as the Scot picked up the 32nd major trophy of his Old Trafford tenure. It represented a calculated gamble by Ferguson who had left his top scorer on the bench.

The match began in controversy however, with Nemanja Vidic’s challenge on Gabriel Agbolahor earning the Midlanders a penalty in the third minute. Villa’s players complained bitterly that the giant Serbian defender was not shown a red card as United’s last defender.

Villa started the match positively against a United side missing Rooney, who has suffered a touch of flu in recent days.

Within minutes Martin O’Neil’s side was ahead with Agbonlahor beating Vidic for pace in the left channel. As the pair grappled, Vidic’s clumsy challenge took out the Villa forward, with Phil Dowd pointing to the spot. In-form James Milner stroked home the penalty, beating the recalled Tomasz Kuszczak in the United net.

Perhaps only Agbonlahor’s check, which allowed the Serbian to get goal side, saved the United defender from a fourth red of his Old Trafford career.

While Villa was much the brighter side in the opening minutes United equalised within ten as Dimitar Berbatov defied his critics to hassle Richard Dunne off the ball and enable starter Michael Owen to sweep home his ninth goal in 11 starts for United.

The goal brought more than 30,000 green and gold wearing United fans to their feet, with the Glazer family in attendance the subject of sustained abuse.

Ferguson’s revitalised side was now the dominant force, with Antonio Valencia and Ji-Sung Park repeatedly cutting through Villa’s midfield prior to Rooney’s introduction in the 40th minute. Owen, considered injury-prone before his arrival at Old Trafford, limped out of the match with yet another hamstring injury.

It only galvanised United, with the lively Valencia’s low right-wing cross finding Park whose firm shot struck the base of Brad Friedel’s post in the Villa goal.

United began the second period as they ended the first, with Rooney cutting across the ball to volley wide and Carrick drawing a high-class save from Friedel as Ferguson’s side push for the winner.

The Scouser’s introduction introduced pace to United’s attack and forced Villa’s defenders onto their heels. But it was Berbatov who produced the best moments, first backheeling to create a chance for Park and then taking the Korean’s pass to create another chance.

Indeed, Villa didn’t create another opportunity until the 70th minute when Ashley Young firmly struck a shot into the deck and wide following Stuart Downing’s corner.

Almost inevitably Rooney won the game for United, brilliantly heading home man-of-the-match Valencia’s right-wring cross. The inch perfect finish matched Bebatov’s high-class layoff prior to the Ecuadorian’s involvement.

Within minutes Rooney almost added a third as the England striker hit the post with yet another header. It mattered little as United ran out the clock to claim a fourth league cup trophy that began in controversy but ended with only one side deserving the spoils.

Ferguson, who previously said the only good Wembley outing is a winning one, delighted in the win despite the early penalty setback

“I think it was the right decision, but we recovered,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.

“It was a bad start to the game really, we got caught on the hop. Michael Owen got a big goal and had a great first half, unfortunately he got a hamstring injury and he had to come off.

“Wayne comes on and scores the winning goal, the form he has been in we expect that.

“We’ve got a lot of big games coming up now – that’s why we didn’t play him today but he’s had 45 minutes.

“It gives everyone a boost, no question of that.”

With just 10 games to go in the Premier League season United will now benefit from the huge boost in morale that silverware brings. Tougher tests will follow of course but with Chelsea losing on Saturday it is now United that holds the momentum in a roller-coaster season.

Carling Cup final: chalkboards

February 27, 2010 Tags: , Matches No comments

Sir Alex Ferguson and Martin O’Neil have each switched between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 this season, although the Manchester United manager is likely to field two strikers on Sunday. The big question surrounds in-form Wayne Rooney. Although the scouser needs a break sooner rather than later it could come a week from today.

Ferguson must also choose between Ben Foster, Edwin van der Sar and Tomasz Kuszack in goal. While Foster played against West Ham United in midweek experience may win the day tomorrow.

The Scot will choose from Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Darron Gibson in central midfield and two of Antonio Valencia, Park Ji-Sung and Gabriel Obertan in wide areas.

O’Neil, seeking his first trophy as Villa manager, welcomes Stilian Petrov back into the fold after injury and will choose between the perennially injured John Carew and wayward Emile Heskey in attack. The Norther Irishman’s other major decision revolves around the right-back position, with Carlos Cuellar edging out Luke Young in recent weeks.

Each team will play with significant amounts of width, although United’s attacking full-backs Patrice Evra and Rafael da Silva will offer greater attacking options. Perhaps the key battle, however, is Darren Fletcher versus Villa’s in-form James Milner in midfield.

Aston Villa versus Manchester United

Carling Cup final: head-to-heads

February 27, 2010 Tags: , Matches No comments

If Manchester United is to beat Aston Villa at Wembley and defend the Carling Cup then it’ll be won in the details. Villa, who beat United 1-0 at Old Trafford in December, is unbeaten in six matches and running into form at the right time. But in Wayne Rooney, United has the world’s hottest striker with 27 goals this campaign. If he plays!

Nemanja Vidic v Gabriel Agbonlahor
The giant Serbian defender has returned to the United fold just in time for the Carling Cup final after missing 11 matches with a nerve problem in his thigh. While many believe the former-Spartak Moscow player is winding down the clock on his United career, the defender’s strength and aerial presence is vital against 14-goal Agbonlahor. The Villa striker, who out-jumped Wes Brown to score at Old Trafford in December, has fail to progress to the international set-up as many in the game expected. But the Birmingham-born striker has the pace to stretch United’s defence on Sunday.

Darren Fletcher v James Milner
England-international Milner is one of the most improved creative players in the Premier League this season and a spot in Fabio Capello’s South Africa bound England squad seems inevitable. But Fletcher, who has faced and bettered the world’s top central midfielders in recent seasons, is vital to United’s dominance of the midfield, especially if Ferguson deploys a 4-4-2 as expected. Should United win the key midfield battles then the trophy will head back up the M6 to Manchester.

Wayne Rooney v Richard Dunne
There is a real possibility that Ferguson will offer Rooney, the world’s most in-form striker, a rest for Sunday’s final. With a midweek England international, Rooney will need to take a break at some point but it’s unlikely that the irrepressible forward will countenance a rest for the first final of the season. In Dunne, Villa picked up a real bargain from Manchester City last summer. The Irish international reads the game as well as anyone but exposed to Rooney’s pace and direct running there is surely only one winner.

Antonio Valencia v Steven Warnock
The Ecuadorian, who turned United’s trip to Milan in his side’s favour 10 days ago with a destructive 30 minute cameo, can boast an excellent first season at Old Trafford. The former-Wigan Athletic player’s old-fashioned direct wing play has produced seven goals and a similar amount of assists this season. United will look to use the width of the Wembley pitch with Valencia the principal outlet. In-form former-Liverpool left-back Warnock is in line for an England call following Ashley Cole’s broken ankle and Wayne Bridge’s withdrawal from the international game.

Sir Alex Ferguson v Martin O’Neil
Many see Northern Irishman O’Neil as a natural successor to Ferguson. Indeed, O’Neil’s intelligence, charisma and love of the game make him a popular figure outside Villa Park. The Villa manager has tinkered his side’s formation this season but with Stuart Downing fit, Ashley Young coming into form and Milner running the Midlander’s midfield, O’Neil will probably deploy a 4-4-2. Ferguson, however, seems to rarely use two strikers in the biggest games. Sunday is different with both Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen undercooked. Could the Scot spring the biggest surprise and play both?