It’s Liverpool’s year, it’s always their year. Touted as just about every pundit’s tip for the Premier League title, the Dippers have blown their domestic chances and crashed out of the Champions League in the matter of weeks. Benitez’ side managed a 1-0 win away to tiny Debrecen but crashed and burned as Fiorentina beat Lyon in Italy.
With Liverpool’s domestic ambitions shot, most boards would fire Benitez’ arse without delay. But the hapless Spaniard will keep his job because the club’s owners can’t talk for long enough to make a decision, let alone afford the massive pay off.
On the day Ryan Babel demanded out of the club – a rat jumping a sinking ship – prey gentlemen, a minute’s silence please!
Sir Alex Ferguson will offer Manchester United’s fringe, young and reserve players a chance to impress the Old Trafford faithful as the Scot’s team takes on Besiktas in the Champions League Wednesday night. Ferguson, who is without injured Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, John O’Shea, Jonny Evans for group B matchday five game, will bring in youngsters to take the baton.
The United manager will start attacking youngsters Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda against the Turkish outfit, with doubts surrounding Dimitar Berbatov’s fitness and Wayne Rooney rested.
“I will be making changes (against Besiktas). Not a lot, but enough just to freshen it up,” Ferguson said.
“It’s a problem keeping players happy, but everyone has that when you have a squad of players. We use the League Cup for that and, if we can qualify early enough in the (Champions League) group, we can then use the likes of Welbeck.
“He will definitely play (against Besiktas) and Macheda too probably. They are the ones that need to be challenged. They’ve reached a point, and it happens in football, when a footballer has the ability to be a top player and you recognise that.”
“You have to give them the challenge. If you don’t, they lose the scent. But this club has been good at recognising that over the years.
“That’s the nature of football. A young player turns the corner and takes someone’s job.”
United’s place in the knockout stages of the competition is assured, although the prize for topping the group is a potentially easier tie in the next phase. Despite this, Ferguson intends to use Darron Gibson in the centre of midfield and Gabriel Obertan on the left-wing as the Scot aims to cope with the loss of so many injured players.
Obertan, who has impressed supporters with his pace and trickery since a £3 million move from Bordeaux in the summer, has another opportunity to displace the consistently disappointing Nani in United’s attacking quartet.
In addition, Rafael Da Silva will feature at right-back, while Ji-Sung Park will play some part in the match after recovering from an injury that has kept the South Korean out for several weeks.
Ferguson though still expects United to win the match and top group B, with a fixture against a group runner-up in round two the reward for victory on Wednesday night.
“We want to win the group,” added Ferguson.
“Their (Besiktas) form has been transformed in the last six matches. They have won them all and they are in very good form.
“It’s a good fixture in that we are already through. It means I can try one or two things. We could easily have an absolute non-event game, but we will try and challenge the younger players at the back.”
Ferguson is as hungry as ever to win the Champions League – which would take a third final in-a-row – with the pain of last season’s final defeat to Barcelona vivid in the memory. It’s an achievement that the Scot feels was overlooked in the aftermath of the comprehensive loss to Los Cules .Indeed, last season’s opponents face an uphill task to qualify for the knockout stages after losing to Rubin Kazan in matchday four.
“Barcelona could be out tonight and that shows how tough it is to retain the European Cup, as we nearly did last season,” said Ferguson.
“Maybe our achievement has been underestimated because you see how difficult Barcelona are finding it. But if Rubin Kazan with the game, you would not be happy facing Barcelona or Inter in second place.
“But Barcelona are such a good team. They were my favourites to win it at the start of the competition.
“I think there are one or two more difficult groups than we anticipated. The one with Rubin Kazan, Barca, Dynamo Kiev, Barcelona and Inter Milan is a real group of death.
“If Rubin Kazan win against Kiev and Inter and Barca draw, they could both be under the cosh.
“Real Madrid and AC Milan in the same group is difficult, Bayern Munich are struggling, and if Fiorentina beat Lyon, then that’s another big team out in Liverpool.”
With Liverpool’s form as it is, that’s unfair on Debrecen!
Liverpool’s Champions League position is a disgrace, according to Pepe Reina. The Spanish goalkeeper, signed from Villareal in 2005, has seen his team slide to third in Group E after a draw with Olympique Lyonnais Wednesday. Liverpool’s Champions League fate now rests in the hands of others, with a place in the Europa cup the most likely scenario.
“No it’s not the end. We have got two games to go and disgracefully we are not depending on ourselves,” Reina told Dipper rag the Liverpool Echo.
“We need Lyon to get something in Fiorentina. Our priority is to win our two games that remain and we will keep trying. Miracles? They happen, particularly at Liverpool.”
Liverpool conceded at last-minute Lisandro Lopez goal at Stade Gerland to leave the club on just four points, with Lyon topping the group on 10 and Fiorentina second on 9.
“That was our best performance in the Champions League so far this season,” Reina said of Liverpool’s 1-1 draw in France.
“Even in some of our league wins, we didn’t play as well as that. We didn’t deserve anything but a win. I’m really disappointed as we were unlucky. We have got to look for the positives and that is we played well under big, big pressure. We can handle the pressure.
“We can trust in ourselves and we will turn this situation around, I am sure of that. We have got enough quality and enough character. We have to look at the big picture. The team is playing better. It hasn’t been great for clean sheets this season but I would have settled for a 5-4 win.”
Liverpool has lost six, drawn one and won one of their last eight games placing manager Rafa Benitez’ job at risk. A minute’s silence is set to take place should the Spaniard’s team bow out of the competition on matchday five.
Manchester United will not appeal Darren Fletcher’s yellow card for diving because there’s no scope within UEFA’s rules to do so. The United midfielder, who missed last season’s Champions League final through suspension, picked up a booking in last night’s draw with CSKA Moscow. Replays showed the Scot was clearly fouled.
“It was a penalty,” Fletcher said.
“I turned and the lad swept my feet away. I didn’t try to fall, he just swept my feet away.
“When the referee blew his whistle, my first thought was, ‘Great it’s a penalty, we can get back in the game’ and then he started walking towards me with the yellow card and I couldn’t believe it.”
Sir Alex Ferguson called referee Olegario Benquerenca’s decision the worst he had seen in more than 50 years in the game.
“You can’t appeal a yellow card – it is crucial because to miss an important game because of that is unfair. They should look at that but they won’t,” the United manager said.
In last season’s semi-final Fletcher, suspended for the 2008 Champions League final following a red card against Arsenal, appeared to get the ball before felling Cesc Fabregas.
Manchester United came close to a humiliating home defeat against weak opposition in last night’s Champions League match against CSKA Moscow. The three each goal fest looks flattering for the Russian team – just four shots on target to United’s ten – but the lack of fighting spirit from Sir Alex Ferguson’s side must have been highly encouraging for Chelsea’s Carlo Ancelotti.
United it seems – a fully fit Darren Fletcher and Wayne Rooney apart – doesn’t like to fight.
CSKA Moscow sacked former Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid manager Juade Ramos after just forty-six days in his job and replaced him with the unknown and inexperienced thirty-eight year old Leonid Slutski four days after United’s away win in Moscow a fortnight ago. But the new manager can be more than pleased with his Champions League debut, whilst the United players, ashamed of what could have ended a four and half-year unbeaten run in this competition at Old Trafford, must think again.
Injuries to the preferred central defensive pair, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, will of course be used as an excuse for last night’s weak performance. So will Ryan Giggs and Dimitar Berbatov’s absence, and the late induction of Wayne Rooney. Still, it wasn’t the youngsters given their chance, in lieu of absent stars, that failed their exams last night; it was their decorated multi-millionaire veterans that didn’t put up a fight.
Wes Brown, a seasoned United professional for more than a decade, was out-run, out-paced and out-muscled along with his young colleague, Johnny Evans, by the CSKA Moscow strikers Alan Dzagoev and Tomas Necid. Edwin van der Sar will go into football history as one of the finest goalkeepers ever to grace the game but he failed to command and direct his disappointingly quiescent defenders. The veteran himself will surely be displeased with his handling of all the three conceded goals.
Paul Scholes’ passing is still the best in the game but when an opposition huff and puff at the Ginger Prince for as long and as consistently as CSKA Moscow midfield duo of Deividas Šemberas and the excellent Milos Krasic did, the old legs of the midfield maestro simply aren’t mobile enough. The distance between United’s defenders and midfield last night was evidence of this.
And Michael Owen up front took his typical poacher goal well but wasted two easy sitters inside the first half and was generally slow, with a poor Tevez-esque first touch.
Most of all, it was the poor work rate from United that stood out. This didn’t change until new father Wayne Rooney entered to lift United to a very late comeback, while potential United target Igor Akinfeev in CSKA Moscow’s net made a series of fantastic saves and but for the unfortunate own-goal from Georgi Schennikov would have steered his team to a win.
One poor performance doesn’t merit criticism for United’s lack of fight, of course, just as one swallow does not make a summer. But it is undeniably worrying that when United lose – or come close to it – it’s often against teams with that fighting spirit. Burnley away this season, Liverpool at Anfield and the home draw versus Sunderland – all proof that United suffers more from the loss of Roy Keane, than Cristiano Ronaldo!
It’s fitting then that United will face Chelsea’s hard-man Michael Essien this Sunday. The Ghanaian will have noted much of yesterday’s match.
Ingar also blogs blogs on United, sport and internationa travel at ingar.blogg.no.
Manchester United left it very, very late to secure a draw against CSKA Moscow at Old Trafford and with it qualification to the last 16 of the Champions League. United, never in front in the tie, had to come from 3-1 down in the Group B clash against a poor Russian side.
Sir Alex Ferguson, extolling the virtues of stand in central defenders Wes Brown and Jonny Evans this week, watched in horror as United’s defence, missing the injured Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, crumbled in the first half.
The opening goal came on 25 minutes, scored by Alan Dzagoev following a neat one-two. Youngster Dzagoev, too quick for Evans, fired into the roof of the neat with a finish not dissimilar to that by Fernando Torres’ 10 days ago. The embattled Ferdinand this time thankful he was not on the pitch.
But the goal sparked United into life and four minutes later Michael Owen, who had already missed two good chances, turned to slot past the helpless Igor Akinfeev from close range.
United’s central defenders left another huge gap to allow CSKA back into the game minutes later. Milos Krasic scoring to put the Russians into a shock half-time lead.
Ferguson, hairdryer still warm, could do little as Vasili Berezutsky took advantage of poor marking by Federico Macheda to head in from a set piece just seconds after the restart.
Darren Fletcher, returning after injury, found himself in the book for diving to add insult to injury. Replays showed the Scot felled in the box following a good turn and a clear penalty denied. Ferguson called the decision “one of the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime” post match.
United, searching for a route back into the game, brought off the disappointing Nani for new father Wayne Rooney, with Fabio making way for Patrice Evra. And Frenchman Gabriel Obertan, on for Macheda, again impressed with his penetration and running.
With the tempo increased, United forced a string of fine saves from Akinfeev. The ‘keeper, linked with a move to United in recent weeks, once against showed why he is CSKA’s most highly prized asset.
With just five minutes to go Paul Scholes headed in from a Gary Neville’s cross to bring United back into the match. The full-back, who caused CSKA problems all night, crossed for the midfielder to score into Akinfeev’s top-right hand corner.
In typical United fashion the home side equalised with moments remaining. Valencia’s wickedly deflected effort, following neat work by Rooney, left Akinfeev with no chance to ensure United maintained a 22-match unbeaten home run.
“We were absolutely fantastic in terms of our desire to win the match and were unlucky at times in the game,” Ferguson told MUTV.
“Their goalkeeper made some fantastic saves, we hit the post and missed a lot of other chances. And we also had a stonewall penalty turned down.
“But we didn’t make it easy for ourselves and it became an uphill fight. That’s maybe not a bad thing though because it’s a reminder that when you leave yourself open in European football it can be very dangerous.
“Their first two goals were soft goals to lose and the third was unbelievable – a free header at the back post on a set-piece. That’s the first goal we’ve lost on a set-piece for a year; it’s a good reminder for us about how we need to defend those situations, especially as we’ll face a lot of set-pieces on Sunday at Chelsea.”
But the manger must restore confidence to United’s brittle defence if his team is to take anything from Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge. Evans and Brown, likely to feature against Chelsea, will take little confidence from this game.
Sir Alex Ferguson has rejected criticism of Rio Ferdinand and suggested that the defender is playing through injuries for Manchester United. Ferdinand, who has made a series of costly errors in recent weeks, will miss United’s Champions League tie against CSKA Moscow tonight with a recurring calf injury.
“There’s no discernible depreciation in Rio’s qualities, none for me at all,” Ferguson said ahead of United’s group B tie where a win will seal qualification for the knock out stages of the competition.
“In my time here we’ve always had the situation where one of the star players hits a little blip,” Ferguson added.
“Rio is going to get criticism but that’s part and parcel of being a Manchester United player and we are all aware of that. With Rio it’s quite simple. No one likes to be criticised. They all like to be loved and have arms round their shoulders at times but he will come out of it, there is no doubt at all about that.”
Ferdinand, who has made high-profile errors in recent United and England matches, has suffered a series of calf, back, hip and thigh injuries over the past year. The former Leeds and West Ham player, beaten for pace and strength by Fernando Torres for Liverpool’s opening goal at Anfield 10 days ago, has appeared in just eight of United’s 17 matches this season.
Indeed, the defender has missed around half of United’s games over the past calendar year, with the stop-start nature of the player’s appearances having an effect on Ferdinand’s form, according to Ferguson.
While Ferguson has no doubt Ferdinand’s form will return when the injuries clear up, others are less certain. Such is the perceived depreciation in Ferdinand’s form that former England manager Graham Taylor said the defender has “lost his legs” last weekend. Although Taylor’s appreciation of the defender’s art is aptly surmised by recalling how the former Watford boss deployed 6′ 3″ United centre-back Gary Pallister at left-back for a crucial 1994 World Cup qualifier in Norway.
Ferguson also revealed that Ferdinand, 31 on Saturday, has played through the pain barrier for United in recent weeks. While the defender will miss Tuesday’s match, he has a slim chance of making United’s trip to Stamford Bridge next weekend.
“Playing with injuries is not the easiest thing to do but of course we will try to get that right for Rio,” said Ferguson, who will pair Wes Brown and Jonny Evans against the Russian side at Old Trafford, with Nemanja Vidic also ruled-out.
“Calf injuries can be troublesome and, if you don’t arrest them and give them their proper treatment, you can end up the way we are just now with players playing games when they are not 100% fit.”
But Ferdinand’s position at the heart of both United and England’s defence is far from certain should injuries persist. Norman Whiteside, Paul McGrath and Louis Saha will attest that Ferguson is no slave to quality if he cannot deploy it on the pitch.
Wayne Rooney, another player likely to miss the CSKA match, has been given compassionate leave after the birth of his son, Kai. Ferguson will pair Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen in attack, with Italian teenager Federico Macheda drafted into the squad.
Manchester United kept up their perfect record in this season’s Champions League with fully deserved win in Russia last night. Returning to the Luzhniki Stadium – scene of United’s 2008 Champions League triumph over Chelsea – Sir Alex Ferguson’s men beat CSKA Moscow in group B with a solitary Antonio Valencia strike.
Despite leaving a quintet key players at home, Ferguson’s team controlled proceedings from the off. Starting with the now typical European five man midfield, Dimitar Berbatov ploughed a lonely furrow up-front, with Michael Owen left on the bench. John O’Shea made a surprise return to central midfield and Brazilian teenage Fabio da Silva started his first Champions League game at left-back.
It was tough going for United’s Bulgarian striker but with Nani and Valencia offering outstanding support from wide areas United was the only side posing a real threat.
Scholes’ shot from 30-yards troubled CSKA’s goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, linked with a move to United this week, who palmed away awkwardly. And then Gary Neville curled a shot just over as United took control of the first half.
In spite of the oft-mocked Irishman’s presence in a holding role, United maintained possession comfortably on the Luzhniki’s artificial pitch. But with the middle of the park highly congested chances came at a premium in a tight first period.
If ever a game adhered to the old cliché, United changed the match radically in the second period, resorting to a direct approach by switching play from back to front. Tactically it was hardly United but on the night when the plastic surface played a significant part in proceedings, Ferguson had the measure of his opponents.
Nani in particular was influential, stretching the game on the left, with Valencia offering support from the right as United looked to find space in the channels. Débutant Fabio, using his pace to full effect before leaving the field with cramp, often doubled up with the Portuguese winger to offer United considerable penetration.
Substitute Owen on for Paul Scholes – protected ahead of Sunday’s match with Liverpool – missed a chance on the volley within minutes of joining the match. Valencia then capped the move of the match by crashing a shot against the bar after swapping passes with Nani.
But United was not denied and earned a hard fought for winner with less than five minutes to go. Valencia slammed home at the near post from eight yards for his second goal in as many games.
“I said before the game that if you’re a good footballer you concentrate on the ball. I think they did that and they did it well,” manager Ferguson told Sky Sports after the match.
“We wanted to go for a surge through the middle rather than in the wide positions and I think that worked quite well.
“We had some good chances at the end of the day, we improved our goalscoring chances and we’re pleased Antonio Valencia has got a good goal.”
Ferguson also praised United’s patience – a hallmark of his side’s performances away from home in the Champions League. The Old Trafford outfit is now unbeaten in 14 European away ties.
“In the first half I think we played with a lot patience, which is necessary when you are playing away from home,” Ferguson said.
“Experience in these sort of situations is always vital. In the second half I think we increased the tempo of the game and got more penetration.
“We created some good goal opportunities and if we have to wait to the 86th minute, so be it. We had to have the patience to win, and we did that.”