Tag Manchester City

Tag Manchester City

Reds aim to beat odds and rivals in cup clash

January 7, 2012 Tags: , Matches 28 comments

Magic of the Cup? Manchester United might need it this weekend, as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side heads into the derby as clear underdogs for the first time in many years. The Scot’s side is seeking to repair some of the considerable damage done over the past week after defeats to Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United, which have handed Manchester City the initiative in the Premier League title race. But Sunday’s visit to Eastlands for the FA Cup third round offers potential redemption. City, now odds-on to take the Premier League, will start favourites to repeat last season’s FA Cup semi-final victory.

Ferguson’s efforts to bring home silverware this season are being undermined by a lengthy and persistent injury list, with key defenders Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans still absent for Sunday’s visit to Eastlands. Tom Cleverley, now back in light training, will also miss the game alongside long-term injury victims Nemanja Vidić, Michael Owen, and Fábio da Silva. Ashley Young is unlikely to return for another fortnight, while Rafael da Silva could make the side after being benched for the trip to Newcastle.

Indeed, injuries and home advantage means that City will expect to take the tie, admits Ferguson, with the Scot banking on a cup tie spirit to send the Reds into the fourth round at the old rivals’ expense.

“There are no new injuries from Wednesday so it’s the same squad for Sunday,” confirmed Ferguson.

“There’s no progress really to report. Chris Smalling is the one I’d love to get back but he’s got a really bad bout of tonsillitis. We expect to have him training by Monday. Jonny Evans has still got his calf injury. But there are enough experienced players in the squad to cope with a really difficult tie on Sunday.

“I always say about the FA Cup that we take anyone in a home draw so the advantage is with City, in this respect, in terms of the home draw. But it’s a cup tie, a local derby and anything can happen in these games. I think we’ve been expecting City to do well. They’ve got a strong squad and, apart from Mario Balotelli, all the players are very experienced. So it’s not unexpected where they are now. But they also know we’re right behind them.”

Manchester City v Manchester United, FA Cup third round, Eastlands, 8 January 2012The challenge to City suffered a double blow in the past week with defeats to Blackburn and Newcastle. United had looked set to take the Premier League lead as the season entered its second half. Instead, the focus is now on the Reds poor form and defensive instability. Having shipped three goals in each of the past two games this week, Ferguson knows that he must tighten up a leaky back-four at Eastlands. It is a challenge not aided by so many absentees

Meanwhile, key midfielder Michael Carrick says that the team is banking on its ability to recover quickly from setbacks for the match against City. Carrick is one of many United players not to have won the cup – of the current squad only Darren Fletcher and Ryan Giggs have winners’ medals. It’s a fact that the 30-year-old midfielder is determined to put right.

“We’ve just got to get on with it. We tend to overcome setbacks pretty well here and hopefully we can do the same,” Carrick told ManUtd.com.

“Sunday’s game is a massive game – against our biggest rivals – and we’re looking forward to it. The fixture’s gone to another level from my first two or three derbies. You’ve got to be impressed by City. As well as having some great attacking threats, able to hit you at any time, they’re also a solid unit and hard to break down.

“We want to be playing in the big games, when there’s real pressure and a whole lot at stake. These are the games in which we really test ourselves and in the past, we’ve been really good at finding a way to win. That’s what we’ll be focusing on on Sunday.

“We just want to go through and be challenging to win the competition. A lot of the players here at United, including me, haven’t won the FA Cup and the club hasn’t won it for a number of years. That’s something we want to put right. Okay, with our biggest rivals and our local rivals in front of us on Sunday, it makes the game a whole lot bigger. But on the face of it, we just want to progress and be successful in the competition.”

United’s chances of progressing will depend greatly on how tight Ferguson’s back four remains at Eastlands. Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones suffered a torrid spell at St. James’ Park, with the home side scoring three. It could have been many more. But with Vidić, Evans and Smalling all out, the partnership is likely to resume at Eastlands.

Ferguson may well choose to pack midfield though, hoping to win a battle in which may be missing key Yaya Touré. Although the Ivory Coast international is due to report for the Africa Cup of Nations Ferguson doubt’s whether City manager Roberto Mancini is telling nothing but the truth.

The Scot is likely to deploy Wayne Rooney as a lone forward, with Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Anderson and Park Ji-Sung competing for spots in central midfield. Antonio Valencia, Nani and Danny Wellbeck will compete for the wide positions.

“I am not sure Touré won’t be available for Sunday,” added a suspicious Ferguson.

“He probably will. I don’t know the whole background but apparently, he doesn’t need to meet up until Monday, I read somewhere, which suggests he should be playing on Sunday. All the teams who have African players have never really suffered much. If you check the records, they all seem to sail through it. I don’t think it makes a great impact when you have a squad of players. There are plenty to occupy those positions until they come back.”

Meanwhile, City will also be without forward Mario Ballotelli and defender Kolo Touré, who is due to meet up with the Ivory Coast squad. Manager Mancini could recall outcast Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong in Yaya’s stead, while James Milner, David Silva and Adam Johnson will compete for a place in wide areas.

Facing the tournament holders is a reminder to those in the squad that Ferguson’s side has not lifted the FA Cup since beating Millwall in 2004. Defeats to Arsenal and Chelsea in subsequent finals each came with a touch of ill fortune, and United will surely need to turn that around to win at Eastlands. Yet, says the United manager, the lack of Cup medals in the squad will motivate his men to push that little bit harder on Sunday.

“It’s probably a motivating force for the players who haven’t got medals,” admitted Sir Alex.

“Particularly someone like Rio Ferdinand. He mentioned to me last season that he hadn’t got an FA Cup medal and I couldn’t believe it, given the length of time he has been at the club. Everyone likes to win the FA Cup at least once in their life.”

History is with the men in Red – just. United has five FA Cup victories over the Blues, to City’s four. And of the 160 previous meetings, United has won 66, to City’s 44, with 50 drawn.

Match Facts
Manchester City versus Manchester United, FA Cup – third round, Eastlands, Sunday 8 January 2012, 1pm.

Potential Line-ups
City (4-4-2): Hart; Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Zabaleta; Silva, De Jong, Milner, Nasri; Džeko, Aguero. Subs from: Pantilimon, Kolarov, Clichy, Savić, Barry, Johnson, Nimely, Razak.

United (4-5-1): Lindegaard; Rafael, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Anderson, Park, Park; Rooney. Subs from: De Gea, Fryers, Anderson, Pogba, Cole, Giggs, Nani, Lingard, Diouf, Hernandez, Welbeck, Berbatov.

Form
City: LWWDLW
United: WWWWLL

Officials
Referee: Christopher Foy (St. Helens)
Assistant Referees: Simon Beck & Steve Child
Fourth Official: Michael Jones

Classic United versus City in the FA Cup

January 6, 2012 Tags: , Reads 5 comments

In the second of a series of FA Cup related posts, United Rant looks at the history of Cup games between Manchester City and Manchester United down the years.

Nine times the two Manchester clubs have faced each other in the world’s oldest football tournament, with the Reds five to four ahead in wins. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will be out for some measure of Cup revenge after City won last season’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. That victory was part of City’s first major trophy in over 35 years. But along the way each has scored some famous victories in the FA Cup. And while around 80,000 witnessed City’s win at Wembley last April, the first Cup match between the sides was in much more humble surroundings at North Road, Manchester…

Newton Heath  5 – 1 Manchester City, FA Cup first qualifying round
North Road, Manchester (11,000), 3 October 1891

The first meeting of the two Manchester clubs was a thumping win for the Heathens, whose mixed early history in the cup has been covered elsewhere on this site. The match was played at North Road, the club’s ground from its foundation in 1878 until 1893, when the Heathens moved Bank Street, Clayton. Fans crowded two newly erected stands at North Road – now Northampton Road – but the ground expansion was to prove a key moment in the club’s history and eventual split from its roots, when the Yorkshire and Lancashire Railway company refused to meet the £2,000 cost of two stands.

Newton Heath: J F Slater, Bob McFarlane, John Clements, Roger Doughty, Willie Stewart, Jack Owen, Alf Farman, Alf Edge, John Sneddon, William Sharpe, Arthur Henrys

 

Manchester United 0 – 3 Manchester City, FA Cup semi-final
Brammall Lane, Sheffield (46,450), 27 March 1926

Manchester United v Manchester City 1926

The first cup meeting of the sides under their modern names took part on neutral territory in Sheffield in front of a bumper cup semi crowd. United was clear favourite  for the tie under manager John Chapman, with City bottom of the First Division, but as always in football things do not always pan out as expected. The Blues scored three times through, with a Tommy Browell brace and a Frank Roberts goal that sealed a place in the final against Bolton. Thankfully, for despondent Reds, the final was a match City would lose! Perhaps it was the unusual build up, with City said to have prepared with a trip to Buxton, which included games of golf, billiards tournaments and brine baths. United, meanwhile, stayed at the club’s training ground and prepared with “the old-fashioned methods,” according to Reds captain Frank Barson.

United: Alf Steward, Charlie Moore, Jack Silcock, James McCrae, Frank Barson, Frank Mann, Joe Spence, Tom Smith, Frank McPherson, Charlie Rennox, Harry Thomas

 

Manchester City 2 – 0 Manchester United, FA Cup fourth round
Maine Road, Manchester (75,000), 19 February 1955

Three years before many of the Babes would die at Munich some of those caught in the tragedy, including clubs legends Bill Foulkes, Duncan Edwards and Tommy Taylor, appeared in this loss to City in front of a huge crowd at Maine Road. The fixture came just a week after the Blues had thumped United 5-0 at Old Trafford in the first division, with Matt Busby’s young side outclassed by the cross-town rivals three times that season. But United would finish higher in the table as the era of Red supremacy began. Meanwhile, the Blues went all the way to Wembley, but it wouldn’t be victory for City as Newcastle United ran out 3-1 winners. The Geordies’ last major trophy!

United: Ray Wood, Bill Foulkes, Roger Byrne, Don Gibson, Allenby Chilton, Duncan Edwards, Johnny Berry, Jackie Blanchflower, Tommy Taylor, Dennis Viollet, Jack Rowley

 

Manchester United 3 – 0 Manchester City, FA Cup fourth round
Old Trafford, Manchester (63,417), 24 January 1970

Manchester United 1970

Two years on from United’s glorious European Cup win and the Reds were already in decline under new ‘chief coach’ Wilf McGuinness. No George Best or Denis Law for this one, but a resounding win over old rivals City nonetheless. Brian Kidd, still only 21, hit a brace and Willie Morgan the other to book United’s place in round five – the match when Best hit six against Northampton Town! But with United in poor league form, City manager Malcolm Allison had made much of the Blues chances in this one. It would blow up in Allison’s face in front of a bumper New Year’s crowd at Old Trafford.

United: Alex Stepney, Paul Edwards, Francis Burns, Paddy Crerand, Ian Ure, David Sadler, Willie Morgan, Carlo Sartori, Bobby Charlton, Brian Kidd, John Aston

 

Manchester United 1 – 0 Manchester City, FA Cup third round
Old Trafford, Manchester (54,294), 10 January 1987

Just two months into Alex Ferguson’s tenure at Old Trafford, and along came this massive test for the Scot. For fans and manager alike, losing was not on the agenda. Thankfully, big Norman Whiteside’s solitary goal won it for the home side on a frozen Old Trafford pitch. The match could have gone either way but the Northern Irishman’s smart finish half way through the second period beat City ‘keeper Perry Suckling. Both Manchester club’s would struggle that season, as United finished mid-table – Everton claiming the First Division – and City relegated. The Reds would fail in that season’s FA Cup too, with little Coventry City beating Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 at Wembley in May.

United: Chris Turner, Johnny Sivebaek, Colin Gibson, Norman Whiteside, Billy Garton, Kevin Moran, Mike Duxbury, Gordon Strachan, Frank Stapleton, Peter Davenport, Jesper Olsen

 

Manchester United 2 – 1 Manchester City, FA Cup fifth round
Old Trafford, Manchester (42,692), 18 February 1996

Eric Cantona, 1996

Well on their way to a famous double win, ‘Fergies Fledgelings’ overcame City in this tight fifth round encounter at Old Trafford. Lee Sharpe and Eric Cantona scored the goals to defeat City after the Uwe Rosler’s early goal. Cantona’s penalty provided the controversial turning point, with referee Alan Wilkie pointing to the spot despite City’s protests and media outrage. But in truth United was always on top as Sharpe volleyed in a stunning winner with 13 mintues to go. United would complete the tournament victory with a 1-0 win over Liverpool at Wembley, proving that Ferguson certainly could “win things with kids.” Meanwhile, the Blues were relegated from the Premier League. Not for the first time!

United: Peter Schmeichel, Denis Irwin, Phil Neville, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Lee Sharpe, Nicky Butt, Roy Keane, Andy Cole, Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs

 

Manchester United 4 – 2 Manchester City, FA Cup fifth round
Old Trafford, Manchester (67,228), 14 February 2004

United provided the Cup romance on Valentines Day 2004, with Paul Scholes, Ruud van Nistelrooy and teenage sensation Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the goals to beat the Blues yet again. Defender Gary Neville saw red for headbutting Steve McManaman (who could blame him?), but the dismissal did little to stop the United juggernaut as Ferguson’s side went on to record a comfortable victory. Neville had been accused of diving in an attempt to win a penalty, only to be confronted by the former Liverpool winger. But the Bluies couldn’t capitalise on the man advantage, with United ruthlesss in front of goal, The Reds went on to claim an historic 11th FA Cup win with victory over Millwall at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.

United: Tim Howard, Gary Neville, John O’Shea, Mikael Silvestre, Quinton Fortune, Cristiano Ronaldo, Phil Neville, Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Ruud van Nistelrooy

Poll: derby day thrashing is…

October 24, 2011 Tags: , , Polls 10 comments

Manchester United’s 6-1 defeat to City on Sunday afternoon will live long in the memory for all the wrong reasons. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side committed tactical suicide in a second-half performance that saw the Reds concede five in the worst home defeat for more than 50 years. The disastrous result, called the worst of his career by Ferguson, has media tongues wagging and fan forums packed with predictions of further woe this season.

But what do you think the result means for United…

United's 6-1 derby day thrashing is a...

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Moving forward

October 24, 2011 Tags: , , Reads 23 comments

Sunday’s 6-1 defeat to Manchester City at Old Trafford was the second biggest loss in Manchester United’s history. Sir Alex Ferguson described the match as “the worst result in [his] history.” Still, the arrow of time points firmly towards the future and United must move on, starting with a visit to Aldershot Town on Tuesday night. But what lessons should the Reds take from Sunday’s defeat?

First, United must quickly sort out the midfield, which was again exposed. Many pundits and fans consider United’s engine room the weakest part of the squad. Rightfully so, as the cupboard remains rather bare, with only four senior central midfielderss available to Ferguson. Darron Gibson sits firmly in the reserves, while Ryan Giggs and Ji-sung Park can put in a shift but, mired in mediocrity, the options still look limited.

One option, certainly in the short-term, is to revert to the gridiron style 4-5-1 of last season, which would enable two central midfielders – two from Anderson, Tom Cleverely and Darren Fletcher – to bomb forward while allowing the deep-lying playmaker, Michael Carrick, to create. With Carrick also providing an anchor, the two more advanced midfielders are freed.

The current ad hoc, and rather brittle system as epitomised by the City game, of one staying behind while the other attacks can be abandoned. An ancillary benefit lies in the fact that their attacking takes off opposition pressure from Carrick, who is at his best with a bit of space and time.

Perhaps Fletcher summed it up when he called United’s tactics on Sunday “naïve”. With more than shots conceded to the opposition than any other team in the Premier League, they may have been all season.

“We kept trying to win the game when it was conceivably not possible,” said the Scotland captain.

“Maybe we were a bit naïve and should have sat behind the ball and tried not to concede. At the time you’re thinking we’re at Old Trafford and we always want to get the ball down and play. The players haven’t been brought up to sit behind the ball, defend and see games out. But to lose those goals late on was very disappointing.”

Ferguson’s other option is simply to make do with what is available for now and bring in some reinforcements in the winter transfer window. Luka Modric and Daniele De Rossi, for example, remain available – crucially neither is cup-tied in the Champions League. Yet, both are improbable acquisitions given the nature of Fergie’s previous winter deals.

Ferguson must also examine his full-backs. Patrice Evra has been in decline since the start of last season. On Sunday, the Frenchman’s poor positioning was responsible for the majority of goals conceded. It is worrying that a seasoned professional has been making such glaring defensive errors of late. Surely the day has arrived for Fabio Da Silva to be given a stint on the left, if only to shake Evra out of his funk.

The situation on the right must also be scrutinised. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, for all their bravado and composure on the ball, remain centre-backs out of position, and too often out of depth on the right. While there are legitimate arguments to be made for their deployment, with 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 looking increasingly untenable, the time has surely come to deploy a proper full-back in the mould of the Da Silva twins.

Then what of Ferguson’s strikers? The club has more strikers than it can deal with and implementing a more solid system means one less spot for a forward. Wayne Rooney stands out from the bunch and will be first-choice in such a regime. It is very hard on Javier Hernández, Danny Welbeck and Dimitar Berbatov but surely their feelings are secondary to the general well-being of the club.

Fluidity is hard. Barcelona pulls it off only because the majority of the club’s players are schooled in the same philosophy at La Masia. There is no shame in failing to emulate the Catalan club. Besides, whomever knocks Barça off its perch will likely do so with a unique brand of football, not a tiki-taka replica.

With United’s failings so brutally exposed by City the priority now lies in fixing the most obvious flaws, moving past the historic defeat, and not in attempting to uphold an unsustainable philosophy.

Ferguson commented that “there’s a lot of embarrassment in that dressing room and quite rightly so.” But the players have no time to wallow in their self-pity – there is a lot of work to be done.

“There is a lot of embarrassment in the dressing room”

October 23, 2011 Tags: , , , Reads 37 comments

It was, said Sir Alex Ferguson, the worst result of a 50-year career in football. Manchester City’s 6-1 victory at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon brought the Blues three vital points in the Premier League title race and total humiliation for the Scot’s side in its own back yard. Defeat to City in last season’s FA Cup semi-final was bad enough but a thrashing at Old Trafford is, for the Scot and fans alike, totally unacceptable. This reality, Ferguson says, hit home in a silent dressing room post-match.

If the result is a media-friendly ‘statement’ by City then Ferguson is right to hold United’s players predominantly to account for it. No amount of United pressure prior to the Blues’ opening goal will mask the Reds’ suicidal second-half performance. Jonny Evans’ dismissal after taking down Mario Ballotelli in the 47th minute was inevitable; the performance from then on in was absolutely not.

“It was our worst ever day,” admitted Ferguson.

“It’s the worst result in my history, ever. Even as a player I don’t think I ever lost 6-1. That’s challenge for me too. I can’t believe the scoreline. The first goal was a blow for sure but it was retrievable at 1-0. The sending off was a killer for us. We kept attacking when we went 4-1 down and we should have just said: ‘We’ve had our day.’

“When we went to 3-1, 4-1 we should have settled for that. We kept attacking and we should have just said: ‘We’ve had our day.’ But our two full-backs were playing like wingers.  It’s all right playing the history books but common sense has to come into it. We just kept attacking. They were attacking three versus two. It was crazy football. I thought with the experience we’ve got – Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra – they would [defend more] but we just kept attacking. Sometimes there has to be common sense about it. It was a bad day.”

Indeed, the result was not only Ferguson’s worst-ever result but United’s heaviest at home for 55 years. Such, perhaps, is City’s progress since Abu Dahbi’s oil-fueled takeover in 2008. But not to this extent. Not at Old Trafford. Not under Ferguson’s watch. This was hara-kiri on a very grand scale, against the worst possible opposition, and a result that will not soon be forgotten.

Certainly the implied assertion that United should have at, say, 3-1, accepted defeat will not sit well with supporters. But Ferguson is also right that in playing to history, as the manager noted , indeed to the hyperbole of a ‘never-say-die’ attitude, United allowed defeat to become a calamity. Loss to City at Old Trafford after all the Blues’ recent spending comes with no overwhelming shock. Conceding six certainly does.

If there is any silver lining in this disaster – at least for those United fans prepared to throw themselves under the nearest bus – it is in knowledge that Ferguson will ensure no permanent damage to the collective consciousness. There can be no better manager for this situation than the Scot.

“We’ll come back. By January we’ll be okay. We usually get the show on the road in the second half of the season and that will have to be the case. We’ve played all the teams around us and they have all to play each other so the second half of the season is important to us now. We will react, no question about that.

“It’s a perfect result for us to react to because there is a lot of embarrassment in the dressing room and that will make an impact. What did concern me was the goals for and against. Goal difference may count. Last year it was in our favour, most years it is in our favour…this time maybe not.”

More results like this and Ferguson will have no need to be concerned with goal difference though – United will be fortunate to be within touching distance come May so inept were the Scot’s defenders. Not to mention a central midfield that was so effectively eviscerated by the opposition from 30 minutes onwards that supporters again offers cause to question both Darren Fletcher and Anderson’s effectiveness.

The manager’s decision to include no central midfield options on the bench was both a mistake and a reflection of Ferguson’s underwhelming resources available in this area. It is a concern repeatedly voiced over the past two years. No matter Tom Cleverley’s continued injury absence, a strategy that relied solely on the rookie’s fitness and form was always a busted flush.

One disaster does not a season make of course, and United will certainly return from this. Upcoming fixtures with Aldershot Town in the Carling Cup and Everton at Goodison Park will provide an immediate opportunity at redemption. In that there is temptation to send out the heavy artillery at Aldershot’s 7,000-capacity Recreation Ground on Tuesday night simply to get the process underway.

For Evans, whose fatal contribution to Sunday’s calamity cannot be ignored, the consequences may be more serious. While Rio Ferdinand’s poor header precipitated another City attack, Evans’ needless foul on Balotelli helped turn loss into club-wide embarrassment. The Northern Irishman recently admitted a downturn in form last season was due to complacency. One wonders whether the 23-year-old has eliminated that scourge from his game.

Belfast-born Evans recent progress will now halt as the defender sits out the Everton game, with Nemanja Vidic and Phil Jones both ready to step in. Whomever takes up the reigns it can, as the well-worn cliché goes, only get better.

Reds ready for City title challenge

October 22, 2011 Tags: , Matches 278 comments

There is little doubt that Sunday’s Manchester derby will provide a genuine marker for the season ahead. Lose and Sir Alex Ferguson’s United will side will find itself five points behind City in the Premier League. Victory, however, will propel the Reds back to the head of the table. The match is, in Ferguson’s words, is a “real six-pointer”.

The derby’s importance – relevance even – came into question during 35 trophyless years in east Manchester. Abu Dhabi money has changed all that, with the Blues now peerlessly rich, holding the FA Cup and now genuine challengers for United’s Premier League trophy. Cockiness has replaced calamity at Eastlands as £400 million of sovereign wealth is apt to do.

Indeed, City come into the match the team in form, with Roberto Mancini’s side having dropped just two league points this season, scoring 27 goals in the process at more than three a game. Ferguson’s team, meanwhile, has gone somewhat off-the-boil in the past six weeks, despite starting the campaign in such unusually thrilling style.

United’s comeback from two goals down in the Community Shield against City kick-started the season in stunning fashion. Yet, four draws in the past eight games have underlined the loss of form felt in Ferguson’s side since Tom Cleverley suffered injury against Bolton Wanderers in mid-September.

Cleverley’s return to fitness hasn’t come a moment too soon, although the 21-year-old is unlikely to start match Ferguson believes will be significant in this season’s title race.

“It’s early doors of course and there are a lot of winning posts along the way and one of the winning posts is this game,” said 69-year-old Ferguson on Friday.

“It could be a significant point of the season. But you can only judge that at the end of the season really. But it is a six-pointer, no doubt about that. Whichever team wins, it will make a difference. But you can recover from it if you lose. And the way we react in the second half of the season, you hope we will be better. It’s difficult to say sometimes what derby games will be like. Last Saturday against Liverpool was disappointing for 75 minutes but, once the goals were scored, it was a great game.”

Manchester United versus Manchester City, Premier League, Old Trafford, Sunday 22 October 2011, 1.30pm.United will surely have to play far better to ensure a result on Sunday against a City side that is superior to any in the blue half of Manchester for two generations. It is challenge that Ferguson accepts fully, although that has not come without the odd barb of course. After all, United’s noisy neighbours were always likely to get under the Scot’s ultra competitive skin.

Ferguson’s focus on maintaining United’s primacy is undiminished in the face of the new, more localised, threat though. It is a challenge, says the Scot, that the Reds must meet if a 20th domestic title is to head towards Old Trafford next May.

“It doesn’t matter where the challenges come from in this league, you know every year you are going to have to beat someone,” said Ferguson on Friday.

“This year it may be City, although people are being a wee bit premature in writing off Chelsea as far as I am concerned. You can’t discount them. We hope we finish above the both of them. That is the name of the game. City have done fantastically well and, but for throwing away a two-goal lead against Fulham, they would have a 100 per cent record, so we’ve got a game on our hands and we’re looking forward to it.

“The money they have spent doesn’t matter. They are where they are at the top of the league at the moment and at this club we always accept a challenge. We’ve done that time and time again. It’s another situation, another game in the history of the club and we have to deal with it. I enjoy that. It’s the type of challenge we have accepted well over the years.

“When Blackburn had that two-year spell when they were second one year and won it the next it was interesting. It was good for the game. We won the league in 1993 and the next year. Blackburn came along and took the title off us and we reacted in the right way. It doesn’t do any harm.”

In the more immediate future United faces the City challenge with returning midfielder Cleverley likely to make the bench. The youngster exploded into the national consciousness with a match-winning second-half display at Wembley in August. With Ryan Giggs injured, Ferguson will choose two from Darren Fletcher, Anderson and Michael Carrick in central midfield.

Meanwhile, captain Nemanja Vidic is likely to partner Rio Ferdinand in central defence in a rare outing for the pair this season, with Chris Smalling or Phil Jones deployed on the right flank of United’s back four. Wayne Rooney, who scored a brace of penalties in mid-week, will partner Mexican Javier Hernández in attack.

Midfielder Fletcher, who missed much of last season with a mystery virus, underlines the fixture’s importance, not only in the supporters’ consciousness, but for each side’s confidence too. Moreover, adds the Scottish national team captain, United’s pre-eminence is under threat from City. It is a challenge that fans expect United to meet head on.

“We don’t want to give City the confidence of winning trophies to get to our level,” Fletcher told the Daily Mirror.

“Our job is to keep Manchester United on top and as long as we keep on winning the big titles, it means they’re not winning them. If City were to go on a run of winning a lot of trophies, then they would become a global club. But for world recognition, United stands out alone.

The great thing about United is the history of the club. No-one can take away the Busby Babes, the Munich tragedy – all of these things are engrained in the club’s history. United are known all around the world for its history and success, which is what makes it so strong and such a special club.

“Teams like Chelsea have won trophies and built on that success, but that’s been maybe over a 10-year period. They still don’t have the global appeal and size of Manchester United and that’s how we want it to stay.

“The Manchester derby has always been massive, but now City are genuine title contenders for the first time, that makes it even bigger. In previous years, it was bragging rights in the city if you won – it’s a lot more than that now. For years, City weren’t really a threat to us in the league. The derby was always a big game, but now it’s huge in terms of the points at stake and where the title may end up at the end of the season.”

For the moment United remains the dominant force in English football. But City’s challenge is surely coming. How quickly depends, more than just a little, on Sunday’s fixture.

Match Facts
Manchester United versus Manchester City, Premier League, Old Trafford, Sunday 22 October 2011, 1.30pm.

Likely Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Jones, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Anderson, Fletcher, Young; Rooney; Hernandez. Subs from: Lindegaard, Smalling, Fabio, Evans, Pogba, Carrick, Cleverley, Park, Berbatov, Welbeck, Valencia, Owen, Diouf.

City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy; De Jong, Barry; Nasri, Y Touré, Silva; Agüero; Subs from: Pantilimon, Taylor, Johnson, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Savic, Onuoha, Razak, Milner, K Touré, Hargreaves, Ballotelli, Dzeko.

Performance stats

  • Seven of the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index’s top ten players will be on display at Old Trafford on Sunday, with Rooney (1), Young (3) and Anderson (5) all likely to start for United.
  • Rooney has scored nine goals this season while City’s top scorer is Agüero with eight. The United striker averages a goal every 66′ 53″ seconds.
  • In midfield the battle may well come down to each side’s wide players. City’s midfielders David Silva and Samir Nasri have completed a pass in their opponent’s half every 2′ 42″ and 2′ 20″ this season. Young and Nani have averaged one every 4′ 43″ and 4′ 25″, but have completed 62 dribbles compared to the City pair’s 22, and put in 57 crosses against 22.
  • Young and Nani have also out run their City counterparts, putting in 122.68 metres and 127.2 metres respectively for every minute they have been on the pitch. Silva and Nasri have run 119.36 and 96.83 metres respectively.
  • Meanwhile, in defence Phil Jones and Vincent Kompany have been leading figures for each side, with neither player having lost a tackle this season. Jones has also completed a remarkable 78 passes in his opponent’s half this season.
  • In goal, David de Gea has been the busiest ‘keeper in the league this season, making 58 saves compared to Joe Hart’s 33. Both ‘keepers have conceded six goals this season.

Officials
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (County Durham)
Assistant referees: S Beck, S Child

Cook: the gift that keeps on giving

September 5, 2011 Tags: , Reads 48 comments

News that Manchester City CEO Garry Cook has sent an offensive email to Nedum Onuoha’s cancer-stricken mother is the latest in a very long line of gaffes from the former Nike executive. In recent times Cook, quite hilariously, has incorporated Uwe Rosler into the “Manchester United” Hall of Fame, accused AC Milan of “bottling it” when turning down City’s move for Kaká and revealed City’s transfer target list to Noel Gallagher on the back of a napkin. Classy stuff all round.

The latest gaffe has Cook (allegedly) emailing Onouha’s mother, Dr Antonia, mocking the doctor’s health. Dr Anthonia, who has represented her son throughout his fledgling career, had earlier sent Cook and City’s Director of Football Brian Marwood a message explaining that she would continue to negotiate her son’s new contract despite being “ravaged with cancer.”

“Ravaged with it!!” came Cook’s reply, addressed to “Brian”. “I don’t know how you sleep at night. You used to be such a nice man when I worked with you at Nike. G.”

Typical of the man, Cook denies sending the email, blaming instead an unnamed practical joker at the club. Dr Antonia has written to the FA and Premier League complaining about the club’s behaviour.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised though. After all, Cook, who has a habit of putting his foot in his mouth, once told us that “comedy has always been at the heart of what this club [Manchester City] is all about.” How right he was.

Cook’s best gaffes

July, 2008 – Cook proclaims City owner Thaksin Shinawatra “a nice guy to play golf with” despite the former Thai Prime Minister being indicted on charges of corruption.

“Is he a nice guy? Yes. Is he a great guy to play golf with? Yes. Has he got the finances to run a club? Yes. I really care about those three things,” said Cook, ignoring Shinawatra’s dubious human rights record when Prime Minister from 2001-2006.

“I worked at a company – Nike – where we were accused of child labour rights issues. I managed to have a career there for 15 years and I believed we were innocent of most of the issues. Morally, I felt confident in that environment. Morally, I feel comfortable in this environment.”

In February 2010 a Thai court found Shinawatra guilty on four counts corruption, seizing 50 per cent of the former Prime Ministers fortune, and freezing the rest.

January, 2009 – Cook accuses AC Milan of “bottling” a deal for Kaká when the Brazilian midfielder chose not to join Eastland’s Abu Dhabi revolution in a proposed £100 million deal.

“If you want my personal opinion they bottled it,” Cook told the BBC. “He clearly was for sale but we never got to meet with the player, the behaviour of AC Milan got in the way.”

Kaká joined Real Madrid later than summer.

November, 2009 – Cook is forced to write to 70 City fans with a grovelling apology after inducting Blue Nose legend Uwe Rosler into the City Hall of Fame with the words: “I’d like to welcome Uwe Rosler into the Manchester United Hall of Fame.” City fans were still booing Cook when Rosler stood up to accept the award. Cook fled the event early amid a volley of home-spun abuse.

January, 2010 – ahead of City’s 2010 Carling Cup semi-final against the Reds Cook boasts that City would reach Wembley “not if, but when, we beat United again”. Caught on tape at New York’s Mad Hatter Bar, Cook went on to boast that City would become the “biggest and the best” football club on the planet. United won the semi 4-3 on aggregate.

March, 2010 – Cook engages in a stand-up row with Everton supporter George Downing in the Eastland’s directors box, prompting the Merseysiders to demand a formal apology. Everton beat City 2-0, with the row starting after Downing joined in the Evertonian’s chant of “2-0 and we’ve spent fuck-all.”

July, 2010 – Cook scribbles a list of City transfer targets on a napkin for singer Noel Gallagher’s benefit ahead of the 2010 World Cup.

“I just had a big, long lunch with Garry Cook and the revelations you lot are going to hear in the next month are going to blow your mind,” claimed Gallagher.

“Garry was writing out these names on a napkin, about who was going to be in the squad. He put it down on paper, and the 24-man squad we will have will be looking to win everything next season.”

August, 2011 – Cook claims that City’s £400 million stadium sponsorship deal with Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad is “the most important arrangement in the history of football.” The airline, which is controlled by City owner Sheikh Mansour’s half-brother, will pump money into the Blues for the next 10 years. Sadly for Cook the renamed Etihad Stadium means “Unity” or “United” in Arabic.

PlayPlay

Reds’ vibrancy points to a flexible future

August 8, 2011 Tags: , Reads 25 comments

There is something about the vibrancy of youth that is Manchester United’s signature, from the Busby Babes to Fergie’s Fledglings. It is a cliché of course but one that supporters buy into with full heart. Yet, in truth some of that youthful vigour had been lost from United in recent seasons, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad aging before our eyes.

No longer. The rash of retiring and released stars over the past year, together with youthful acquisitions this summer, has transformed Ferguson’s squad and reinvigorated its outlook. The United team that overhauled Manchester City in the Community Shield at Wembley on Saturday was aged on average just 22 in the second period, with 13 players in Ferguson’s matchday squad aged 23 or under.

Youthful abandon is not simply an empty soliloquy though. In football the lack of fear in youth so often translates to freedom of expression on the pitch. Indeed, United’s vibrant second half display not only sent thousands of Reds home happy but, arguably, for the first time since 2008, points towards a dynamic shape for the coming season.

United’s front four interchanged with such bewildering regularity that City simply could not cope. That Roberto Mancini at one stage resorted to fielding four central midfielders said much for both United’s attacking shape and the Italian’s defensive outlook.

Little surprise then that Ferguson praised his young team, which fought back from a two goal deficit at Wembley to secure victory in the final minute of injury time.

“For us I think it just confirms what I’ve thought,” Ferguson said.

“People were saying that we’re not the best United squad and things like that but you’ve got to remember a lot of young players will improve. We are very confident with this group of young players.

“I always wanted to expose Jones, Cleverley and Evans to that big-match environment. It was a big challenge for them and they did well. I’m very confident with this group of players.

“De Gea and Jones give us a good future. They are outstanding. Young was good as well. He is 25 and a mature player after playing for Aston Villa but he’s new to the type of challenge he is getting at United.”

United was the better side for much of the game, save for a period in the first half when City’s power in midfield threatened to overwhelm Michael Carrick and Anderson. While eventually Anderson offered his finest performance in a United shirt for some time, Tom Cleverley stole many headlines with a stand-out second half display.

The midfielder, who spent last season on loan with Wigan Athletic, offered the kind of central midfield dynamism that United has lacked for so long. Basingstoke-born Cleverley played a series of incisive one-touch passes, moved into space and – crucially – frequently ran ahead of the ball from central midfield. It is precisely the kind of incisive midfield play that was so lacking in Carrick’s performance during the opening 45.

“Cleverley has come back from Wigan and we brought Welbeck and (Mame) Diouf back from loans as well. These boys are good players,” Ferguson added.

“We toyed with the idea of starting Cleverley but I thought Michael Carrick’s experience was better suited to the game. Cleverley can get forward from midfield though and we probably needed that type of player.”

United’s flexibility with Cleverley, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Nani and Ashley Young in the side was no better illustrated than in the Portuguese’s equaliser. The slick, one-touch, move cut City’s normally parsimonious defence open with a passage of play that was more than a little reminiscent of Barcelona at its very best.

That each of the aforementioned quintet is comfortable in a variety of positions recalls United’s 2008 Champions League winning side, with Rooney, Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo interchanging at will.

Chris Smalling’s excellent performance at right-back and Phil Jones’ assured contribution during the second half simply adds to the confidence Ferguson will have gained from Sunday’s victory.

If that is all positive then City’s ability to over-power United in midfield reared its ugly head in the first half. Mancini’s team nominally had an extra man of course, although Rooney’s ability to drop deep augmented United’s resources. But Carrick in particular was unable to cope with the sheer physicality of the Blues for periods.

Then there is the David de  question. Ferguson’s €20 million acquisition from Atlétics de Madrid this summer is the subject of much criticism in this morning’s papers. But the Spaniard had little chance claiming David Silva’s outstanding delivery in the 38th minute for Jolean Lescott’s opening headed goal, although the 20-year-old could surely have done better with Edin Džeko’s 35-yard drive just moments later. The late dip and swerve, together with Nemanja Vidic’s failure to close down the attacker, certainly did not help. But on these small details are major games sometimes won and lost.

“City are a big team and the delivery of the ball was good. Goalkeeper no chance with that,” Ferguson claimed.

“The second goal I thought we could have closed them down but the shot swerved a bit and just caught the goalkeeper on the wrong foot. But I think that you have to cope with these things and he’s [got] no problem.”

Indeed, moments earlier de Gea had claimed a high ball under pressure and the Spaniard’s distribution with foot and hand was excellent throughout. During the second period de Gea also made two outstanding saves, which augers well for the youngster’s confidence in games to come. The suggestion, made in more than one media outlet, that Ferguson will now drop his new ‘keeper in favour of Anders Lingegaard is nothing short of rumour-mongering.

Ferguson will also be delighted with Nani’s contribution to the game following an outstanding pre-season. Starting on the right, Nani drifted inside, frequently swapped with Young and contributed heavily to United’s victory. As with last season, Nani’s output is now outstanding.

So too Young, whose delivery from set pieces is a cut above anything in a United shirt since David Beckham left in 2003. Indeed, the former Aston Villa winger created Chris Smalling’s goal with a pin-point free-kick in the 53rd minute.

“Nani had a fantastic season last year,” said Ferguson.

“He contributed 18 assists and scored nine goals. He was unfortunate that Antonio Valencia came in at a time when we needed a bit of freshness and a boost to the squad. But you have seen Nani’s form in pre-season and again today. He will start the season.”

It is a campaign for which United started favourites but will now have gained even greater confidence at City’s expense.

“This shows who the best team is,” Rooney boasted in the wake of victory.

“All game we dominated. The difference the young lads made was outstanding. We never know when a game is finished. We took them apart. The scoreline is deserved. We’re champions and we’re the team to beat. We want to prove that.”

Season opens with Wembley derby

August 7, 2011 Tags: , Matches 153 comments

The Community Shield – that clichéd ‘traditional curtain raiser to the season’ – is, of course, little more than a final warm-up for the real business of winning the Premier League in the modern game. That task begins away to West Bromwich Albion next weekend, yet, with United facing local rivals Manchester City on Sunday afternoon, it is perhaps only Sir Alex Ferguson who remains exactingly dispassionate about the fixture this season, with all the emotional and psychological edge that this game brings.

Supporters feel differently of course but the Scot remains focused on bigger tasks ahead despite the local rivalry on hand. After all, major trophies are won in May not August, even if the Manchester sides are competing for this particular gong for the first time since 1956. The full house and local pride ensures that nothing less than victory is acceptable for the 80,000 Reds and Blues return home on Sunday evening.

“It’s very easy to get emotional about this type of game. I don’t think we’ll be changing our policy,” Ferguson said of the Community Shield.

“I’ve always viewed the Community Shield as a stepping stone for the first game of the season and there are two or three players who will need a game to boost their fitness.

“I don’t think it [the Shield] has made any difference at all to the leagues. We have lost and still won the league. It is at Wembley. That is the significance of it. When you go to Wembley, you want to win. That is the only significance.”

Ferguson is likely to be without a quartet of key players at Wembley, with Michael Carrick suffering from an achilles injury, Javier Hernández not risked following concussion in pre-season and Darren Fletcher only recently returned to full training. Antonio Valencia is perhaps a fortnight away from full match fitness after the Ecuadorian suffered an ankle injury at the Copa America.

The absence of midfield pair Carrick and Fletcher, together with Paul Scholes’ retirement, offers Anderson an early season opportunity to impress. The Brazilian scored in Friday’s 6-0 win over New York Cosmos at Old Trafford and should start at Wembley. With Owen Hargreaves released and Darron Gibson consigned to United’s reserve squad in pre-season, Ferguson needs the former-Porto midfielder to start the season in good form.

Anderson, together with youngster Tom Cleverley and veteran Ryan Giggs form Ferguson’s only central midfield options at the season’s start. The limited roster serving to highlight United’s obvious weaknesses ahead of the new season.

Despite this United begins the new campaign as favourites to claim a 20th domestic title. Yet, City will be in contention from the off, having spent £38 million on striker Sergio Aguëro in the close season. The 23-year-old Argentinian offers City both creativity and goals and will likely make City’s bench at Wembley, with Carlos Tevez still absent.

However, with three weeks until the transfer window slams shut, Ferguson believes opposite manager Roberto Mancini may yet add to his already burgeoning squad. It is a challenge the Scot appears to relish.

“Because of the particular facet of the club that they have the money to spend, I thought maybe they would spend more this summer, and that may still happen; they may still sign a couple more players,” Ferguson added.

“We get this almost every year when clubs round about us buy, and that’s how you view the importance of winning the league these days. Chelsea had this great spell of buying when José [Mourinho] first went there and we accepted that challenge. It’s good to accept challenges, it keeps the complacency away from your door and we carry on as best as we can.”

Ferguson also believes that the coming season promises to be one of the most competitive of his 25 year tenure at Old Trafford. Liverpool’s huge outlay in the past six months is a gamble that must be rewarded with Champions League football, with Arsenal seemingly the most vulnerable of last season’s top four. With Tottenham Hotspur also chasing a spot in Europe’s premier competition only four of six leading clubs will reach their goals come May.

Yet, for United – and now City – it is the Premier League title that remains the season’s priority, the Blue half of Manchester now with genuine pretensions to the crown.

“To win the league in England is very difficult. If you look at the Premier League you are looking at the top six fighting for four places,” added the 69-year-old United manager.

“I think 84 points will win the league next year. We had less last year but you have to consider the increasing competition. Liverpool are expected to be better, the top four we know about and Tottenham as well. You expect it to be a really tough league.”

If Ferguson still regards this weekend’s derby as a friendly then his star player Wayne Rooney is more in tune with United fans who travel to Wembley for the third time this year. Defeats to City in the FA Cup semi-final and Barcelona in the Champions League offered a traumatic end to last season. A third Wembley defeat in a row is unthinkable.

“You couldn’t get better motivation to start the season with a bang,” Rooney told Four Four Two.

“I hadn’t even thought about it until I turned on the TV and someone was talking about potentially the best Community Shield ever. Playing City is the best way to start.”

Manchester United v Manchester  City, Community Sheild, Wembley 2011The Scouser may start up front with Bulgarian forward Dimitar Berbatov at Wembley – as the pair did against Cosmos on Friday – although Ferguson’s promise to deploy players in need of minutes may also offer Michael Owen, Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda an opportunity. Mame Biram Diouf, seventh choice striker, scored twice against Cosmos to stake a claim.

Elsewhere Ferguson is likely to deploy those players short of time in pre-season. Both Rafael and Fabio da Silva are in contention for a place in the side, with Ferguson boasting a full complement of defensive options, including new signing Phil Jones. With Valencia unlikely to play Ferguson will choose from Nani, Park Ji-Sung and Ashley Young in wide positions.

Friendly or otherwise United is protecting a proud record in the competition, including 18 victories overall and seven appearances in the past decade. City, meanwhile, is taking part in the match for the first time since 1973. The Blues lost that game 1-0 to Burnley, with Colin Waldron scoring the only goal.

The game could also be the final appearance in the Shield for Welshman Giggs, who turns 38 this season and holds the record for the most number of appearances with 13. What better tribute, in what might be the midfielder’s final season, than seeing off City at Wembley on Sunday just as the Reds did 55 years ago. On that occasion another United legend Dennis Violet scored the only goal of the game.

Match Facts
Manchester United versus Manchester City. Wembley Stadium, London. 2.30pm 7 August 2011

Likely Line-ups
United – 4-4-1-1 – de Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Anderson, Giggs, Park; Rooney; Berbatov
Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Smalling, Jones, Evans, Young, Cleverley, Owen, Macheda, Welbeck, Diouf

City – 4-3-3 – Hart; Richards, Lescott, Kompany, Clichy; Toure, De Jong, Barry; Ballotelli, Dzeko, Silva
Subs from: Zabaleta, Bridge, Onuoha, Kolarov, Toure, Johnson, Milner, Wright-Phillips, Agüero

Win tickets to the FA Community Shield

July 19, 2011 Tags: , , , Shorts 80 comments

** Update – competition is now closed **

We’ve teamed up with McDonald’s, the official Community Partner of the FA, to offer ten readers the chance to win two match tickets to watch Manchester United take on Manchester City at The FA Community Shield, sponsored by McDonald’s, on 7 August at Wembley Stadium.

This year’s match will be a Manchester derby, which will see Manchester United and Manchester City go head-to-head in this competition for the first time since 1956. The Red Devils look to secure their 14th Community Shield victory against current FA Cup holders City.

McDonald’s has been the Community Partner of the FA since 2002 and aims to create more football opportunities for all. Since the partnership was formed McDonald’s has created over 20,000 qualified football coaches, offering two million hours of free, quality coaching to young players across the UK.

“This year’s FA Community Shield will no doubt be a sell-out as fans from across the country make their way to Wembley to support the Reds and the Blues. It’s going to be a great game – a fantastic match to kick-off the new football season and I wish everyone who enters the competition the very best of luck,” said Geoff Hurst, McDonald’s Director of Football.

To be in with a chance of winning this fantastic prize, answer the following question and email your answer to editor@unitedrant.co.uk with the subject line “McDonald’s Compo”.

Q: How many times has Manchester United won The FA Community Shield?

The Small Print

1. Rules: Please note that, in addition to these Provisions, entrants are bound by both the Promoter’s terms and conditions at http://www.unitedrant.co.uk/latest/win-tickets-to-the-fa-community-shield/ and the Supplemental Rules For Third Party Promotions Featuring Football-Themed Prizes Supplied By McDonald’s (“General Rules”) at www.mcdonalds.co.uk/policies/football-terms-and-conditions.shtml.

2. Participants: Must be 18 and over and UK resident

3. Duration of Promotion: Enter the Promotion between 6pm 18th July 2011 and 6pm 28th July 2011 inclusive.

4. Entry Criteria: Answer a question correctly to be entered in to a draw for a chance to win.

5. Conditions of entry: Limit of one entry per person.

6. How to Submit your Entry: Entries to be submitted via email. No other method of entry will be accepted. Email: editor@unitedrant.co.uk.

7. Prizes: The prize pool consists of ten prizes each of: Two match tickets to The FA Community Shield on 7th August 2011 at Wembley Stadium.

8. Prize Awards: Winning entrants will be notified by telephone and / or email and should be contactable no later than Friday 29th July 2011. Prize notification will be sent by email to the address registered at time of entry. If the winner cannot be contacted by telephone before 1pm on Monday 1st August, an alternative winner will be selected.

9. General: Winners will be required for promotional and media activity in relation to this promotion and other related McDonald’s football activities, including facilitating the publication of press releases, editorial and photographs on the UK websites of the Promoter, McDonald’s, and The FA, winners’ local media and in McDonald’s UK restaurants.

10. Promoter’s Details: United Rant, editor@unitedrant.co.uk, www.unitedrant.co.uk