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Tag Champions League

From Russia with points

October 21, 2009 Tags: , Matches No comments

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.”

Rooney could miss Moscow trip

October 2, 2009 Tags: , Shorts No comments

Wayne Rooney could miss Manchester United’s trip to CSKA Moscow due to the birth of his first child. Rooney’s wife Coleen is due to give birth shortly after United’s 22 October return to the Luzhniki Stadium, the venue for the club’s 2008 Champions League victory over Chelsea.

United, due to fly 48 hours before the match, face a 3,200 mile round-trip to play Juande Ramos’ side and should Coleen give birth around the time of the game, Rooney is likely to stay behind in Manchester.

“Coleen is due just after the Moscow game. It’s a long way [to Moscow], but I have a job to go and play for United and, unless anything changes, I will be there,” said the 23-year-old Rooney.

“But of course, I want to be there for the birth of my child and, if anything happens around that time, then I am sure I will stay back.”

Rooney has been in outstanding form this season, with six goals in all competitions. Him omission would be a considerable blow to manager Sir Alex Ferguson, with question marks hanging over the fitness of Michael Owen. The former-England forward is set to miss the next three weeks with a groin strain.

Wolfsburg feels United’s bite

October 1, 2009 Tags: , Matches No comments

Manchester United picked up another three points in Champions League Group B following an understated performance at Old Trafford last night. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men did just about good enough to defeat the German champions, finding the goals when they needed to, with Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov producing star turns. But not before Armin Veh’s Bundesliga winners threatened to cause an upset on Ferguson’s home patch.

United started the match in first gear and rarely moved out of it with a performance that was at frequently sloppy. Nemanja Vidic twice gave away possession in the opening minutes before Patrice Evra matched the Serbian.

The opposition hardly needed any encouragement. Wolfsburg, keeping possession well, threw forward players in the style that saw Veh’s team lead the Bundesliga scoring charts last season. On more than one occasion the German’s forwards Edin Džeko and Grafite made their physical presence tell on Vidic and his partner Rio Ferdinand.

It took a quarter hour before Carrick and Anderson finally began to take control of central midfield, the Brazilian youngster driving forward and winning a free-kick that Rooney drove just wide.

Then came one of the pivotal moments of the night, with Michael Owen – starting ahead of Berbatov – limping off with the groin injury that had threatened to keep him out of the match. The Bulgarian replaced the former-England striker under the gaze of Fabio Capello. And the Berbatov, seemingly sensing his opportunity, finally delivered the kind of all-action performance the media has craved.

Berbatov’s introduction seemed to galvanise United as an attacking force, with some pace finally injected into the game. It was the Bulgarian’s neat flick to Antonio Valencia that led to one of the best openings of the first half. The Ecuadorian shooting wide when he really should have worked the German’s goalkeeper. It’s becoming a common theme.

United then had a goal chalked off – perhaps unfairly – after Carrick released Berbatov, for the Bulgarian to set up Rooney’s tap-in. The Bulgarian was onside, O’Shea was off and the assistant made the wrong call.

As the period wore on the Bulgarian became increasingly influential, setting Carrick free on goal before firing over himself. United created enough chances to go into the break a couple to the good.

But it was Wolfsburg that began the second half brighter, with Zvjezdan Misimović pulling the strings and United offering far too much space. It was no surprise then when the away side took the lead, with some nice interplay on the edge of United’s area. Makoto Hasebe’s cross picking out Džeko at the far post to score the opening goal. Replays showed that the Bosnian was marginally offside but his headed finish was every bit as classy as Wolfsburg’s fans have come to expect.

Attack, attack, attack, demanded the Old Trafford crowd. And within three minutes United was back in it. Ryan Giggs, with an Old Trafford banner demanding his investiture, clipped the Wolfsburg wall with a free-kick and the ball span beyond Diego Benaglio into the net for the Welshman’s 150th United goal.

United continued to create chances – Rooney curling an effort just over and Giggs putting the ball in the net, which was later ruled out for offside.

Then United won the match. Fittingly Berbatov and Giggs created the chance for Carrick – United’s better players on the night. The former Spurs man striking an unerring shot into the top right-hand corner.

“Their goal was a surprise but that’s football,” said Ferguson after the game.

“I thought it was a matter of time before we scored but I think the performance was good, it deserved a win. We always try to win, no matter what the score we always try.”

It was a good summary from Ferguson. United did enough to win. Just. But even when under-performing compared to recent Premier League matches against Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur, his side was able to fashion enough chances to take the game.

Carrick and Berbatov, on-the-other-hand, had an outstanding night. The former Spurs players have suffered more than a little unfair criticism in recent weeks. Two excellent performances will give the fans food for thought, and the manager ever greater options.

All achtung as Wolfsburg arrives in Manchester

September 29, 2009 Tags: , Matches 4 comments
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Reigning German champions VfL Wolfsburg arrived in Manchester today ahead of the side’s Champions League Group B encounter with United at Old Trafford on Wednesday night. The Bundesliga side, seeded the group’s worst outfit, arrives with few in Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad expecting anything other than a thorough test for last season’s beaten finalists. But far from worrying about Wolfsburg, Ferguson is already looking beyond the group towards a third final in a row.

“I think the material is there for us to win the European Cup again. We have a good bunch of players. And if we win it, it won’t be the team that wins it, it’ll be the squad,” said Ferguson.

“But it’s not easy to win it, as we found out in last season’s final against Barcelona.”

“One mistake in a big game like that and you’re crucified, remember that. One mistake – dead.”

United, on a seven match winning streak, emerged from a testing matchday one tie away to Besiktas with a 1-0 view victory, courtesy of Paul Scholes’ header. Ferguson, who will be without virus-struck South Korean winger Park Ji-Sung, is looking for a home win that would take his side to within a game of qualification. Nine points is typically enough to qualify, a fact not lost on the manager.

“If we keep our heads and play the right way in the group stage of the competition, I think we should qualify,” said Ferguson, who is likely to rotate his squad for the tie.

“When we get to the later stages, then we can start to think about getting to the final in Madrid.”

Wolfsburg won the club’s first ever Bundesliga title in 2008-9 and the team arrives at Old Trafford boasting the talents of Edin Džeko, one of the most coveted strikers in Europe. The Bosnian scored 26 league goals last season and was the subject of multiple bids from AC Milan in the summer.

Armin Veh’s side, which has suffered an uncertain start to the season with defeats against Hamburg, Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen, also Includes Brazilian Grafite and former Newcastle United striker Obefemi Martins. Grafite, named German Footballer of the Year after scoring 28 goals in 25 Bundesliga appearances last term, scored a hat-trick in Wolfsburg’s 3-1 victory over CSKA Moscow. He is only the third overseas player to win the award after Aílton and, in 2008, Franck Ribéry.

However, the Wolkswagen-owned team, will be without new signing Thomas Kahlenberg, who is out with a long-term hip injury.

This is Wolfsburg’s first trip to England, although they did emerge victorious from their first encounter with a Premier League team last season – beating Portsmouth 3-2 in the UEFA Cup group stage with goals from Džeko, Zvjezdan Misimović and Christian Gentner.

Ferguson believe’s that it is not beyond Veh’s team to do well in this season’s competition.

“It says a lot for Wolfsburg’s position and progress that they did win the league last year and they did it in a very positive way with the goalscoring form they showed,” said Ferguson.

“They beat Bayern Munich 5-1 with only four or five games remaining and they won their final game 4-0 – that’s emphatic.

“Countries like Germany are always producing clubs capable of winning the Champions League. Yes, the last few years it has been dominated by the English teams in the semi finals and finals but there is always the possibility that someone else can come in to win the Champions League. If you take the final between Porto and Monaco just a few years ago, it’s a case in point.”

Ferguson’s main selection dilemmas are in midfield and up-front. Joining Park on the injury list could be Michael Owen, who is suffering from a minor groin strain. Although the former Liverpool striker took part in light training on Tuesday, he is unlikely to play until fit. While the manager has concentrated on developing the Dimitar Berbatov – Wayne Rooney axis this season, there has been some expectation that Owen may start against Wolfsburg.

In midfield Scholes, superb against Stoke City at the weekend, is unlikely to play twice in three days, with Anderson favourite to replace the former-England star. Ferguson must also choose who to start with on the wing. Ryan Giggs came on as substitute to great effect against Stoke City at the weekend and may play in place of Nani, who was so wasteful last time out.

Rooney, who has now scored 11 in 12 competitive games for club and country since June, will start his 50th European game.

Ferguson’s United has not lost a home game in the Champions League since a 1-0 defeat by AC Milan in February 2005. Wolfsburg, despite its outstanding strike-force, is unlikely to break that record tomorrow night.

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.

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.

Hargreaves in, Tosic out of Euro squad

September 3, 2009 Tags: Shorts No comments

Owen Hargreaves has been included in Manchester United’s Champions League squad but there is disappointment for Zoran Tosic, who misses out on the bloated 35-man squad.

Hargreaves, who is set to return to training on September 23 after undergoing operations on both knees to cure a career-threatening tendinitis problem, may be able to compete in the latter matches of the first group stage.

United are allowed to register up to 25 players for the Champions League and an additional 10 young players players, including Anderson and Jonny Evans. UEFA rules permit any player born on or after 1 January 1988 who has been eligible to play for the club for any uninterrupted period of two years since his 15th birthday to be registered outside of the 25-man squad limit.

There is also room in the squad for new signing Gabriel Obertan, who has been picked ahead of the Serbian Tosic.

United’s Champions League squad:
1.Van der Sar
2.Neville
3.Evra
4.Hargreaves
5.Ferdinand
6.Brown
7.Owen
9.Berbatov
10.Rooney
11.Giggs
12.Foster
13.Park
15.Vidic
16.Carrick
17.Nani
18.Scholes
20.Fabio
21.Rafael
22.O’Shea
24.Fletcher
25.Valencia
26.Obertan
27.Macheda
28.Gibson
29.Kuszczak

Additional players registered:

8.Anderson
19.Welbeck
23.J.Evans
31.C.Evans
33.Hewson
36.Gray
37.Cathcart
38.Zieler
39.Chester
40.Amos

United avoids Ronaldo in Champions draw

August 27, 2009 Tags: , Opinion 5 comments

Manchester United will not face a reunion with Cristiano Ronaldo after the draw for the Champions League group stage was made in Monaco today. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men avoid Real Madrid, but instead were drawn to play CSKA Moscow, Besiktas and Wolfsburg in Group B as the team looks to reach a third successive final. Ferguson’s side will open with a tough away tie at Besiktas on September 15, and conclude the group stage with a match on December 8.

“These are difficult ties especially the trips to Russia and Turkey,” Sir Alex told ManUtd.com. “CSKA have developed strongly in the last few years and games in Turkey are always difficult. We also know the quality that we’re up against with Wolfsburg, with what they achieved in the Bundesliga last season.”

Sir Alex Ferguson will have mixed feelings about the draw, as it pits his team against some of Europe’s lesser lights, but includes dangerous German champions Wolfsburg and a long trip to Moscow. CSKA were among the lowest ranked teams that United could have drawn from pot two in the Monaco ceremony, but Wolfsburg with no European history were the toughest of the pot four teams. With two of the four sides set to qualify for the first knock-out round, United will still expect to qualify, but will be unhappy with two long midweek trips to Russia and Turkey.

United’s opening tie, away at Besiktas, comes just a few days prior to the first Manchester derby of the season. The final game is away at Wolfsburg on December 8.

Last season’s champions Barcelona has been drawn against Inter Milan, Dinamo Kiev, and Russian champions Rubin Kazan. Meanwhile big-spending Real Madrid’s Kaká will face a trip back to AC Milan, as well as games against Marseille, and FC Zurich.

The final will take place on May 22, 2010 at Real Madrid’s home ground Santiago Bernabeu.

Full Group Draw

Group A: Bayern Munich, Juventus, Bordeaux, Maccabi Haifa
Group B: MANCHESTER UNITED, CSKA Moscow, Besiktas, Wolfsburg
Group C: AC Milan, Real Madrid, Marseille, FC Zurich
Group D: Chelsea, FC Porto, Atletico Madrid, Apoel Nicosia
Group E: Liverpool, Lyon, Fiorentina, Debrecen
Group F: FC Barcelona, Inter Milan, Dinamo Kiev, Rubin Kazan
Group G: Sevilla, Rangers, Stuttgart, Unirea Urziceni
Group H: Arsenal, AZ Alkmaar, Olympiakos, Standard Liege

Berbatov wants European win

August 26, 2009 Tags: , Shorts No comments

Dimitar Berbatov says that Manchester United’s players are determined to win the Champions League this season after defeat to Barcelona in last year’s final. Berbatov, who was left out of the starting line-up in Rome, has begun the season strongly, scoring in United’s 5-0 victory over Wigan Athletic at the weekend.

“For me, losing in Rome was doubly frustrating because I wasn’t at the club when the team won in Moscow,” Berbatov told ManUtd.com. “I’ve never won the Champions League so losing to Barcelona was very upsetting. This year our aim is to make it all the way to Madrid. The Bernabeu is one of the best stadiums in the world and I know we’re good enough to make it back there and, this time, win it.”

The draw for the group stage of the Champions League is made tomorrow in Monaco, ahead of the annual European Supercup match in the principality. United cannot be drawn against another English side or any of the fellow seeds. This means that the club will not meet Chelsea, Liverpool or Arsenal (if the team beats Celtic tonight), or champions Barcelona in the first stage. If Arsenal makes the group stage then Spanish giants Real Madrid are likely to be in the second group, alongside Inter Milan.

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