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Reds offer a little charity as season looms large

Ed August 2, 2011 Tags: , , , , Opinion 15 comments

It has been more than a little busy for Sir Alex Ferguson this week, whose squad arrived back in Manchester after a successful tour of the United States. No sooner had the squad checked in at Carrington than it split in two, with seven players and Ferguson heading towards Marseille for a charity match on Tuesday night. Many others will join up with Edwin van der Sar in Amsterdam for the great Dutchman’s testimonial on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s game, which a Manchester United XI lost 8-2 to the home side, was held in aid of former Marseille goalkeeper Pascal Olmeta’s charity “Un sourire, un espoir pour la vie” – a smile, a hope for life. Patrice Evra, Park Ji-Sung, Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones started for the visitors, while reserve teenage midfielder Paul Pogba was a second half substitute.

That United’s players were joined by former Red Fabian Barthez, David Ginola and even a local pop-star said much about the relaxed nature of the game, which at best offered Ferguson’s players additional minutes on the park ahead of Sunday’s Community Shield fixture with Manchester City at Wembley. Goals from Cleverley and Welbeck brought United back into the tie at 2-2 before Marseille ran away with the match in the second half; a relaxed Ferguson worried not a jot.

On to Amsterdam then for an afternoon of games in honour of van der Sar, who retired this summer. It promises to be an emotional occasion for the former Ajax goalkeeper, who returns to face the side with which the 40-year-old began his career in 1990. More than 800 games for Ajax, Juventus, Fulham, United and Holland have followed for one of the all-time greats in his position and a gentleman to boot.

van der Sar is staging a unique occasion at the Amsterdam Arena, which comprises not a full match but a series of games. First, van der Sar’s son Joe will play for United Under-13s against Ajax’ age-group team. Then the European Cup winning Ajax side of 1995 takes on Cup of Nations’ champions Holland from 1998. Finally fans will see ‘Edwin’s Dream Team’ take on Ajax in an hour-long encounter.

United first teamers Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney have joined the party in the Dutch capital, while former Reds Gary Neville and Louis Saha will also be in the team.

“Hopefully it’ll be a great night,” van der Sar told official rag manutd.com.

“It’s a chance for fans to see some top players and some of the current up-and-coming stars for Ajax. It’s 12 years since I left Ajax, so I’m really looking forward to going back and seeing old friends. I’m grateful for their support with the event. This is the perfect way to say goodbye.

“And I’m delighted the manager, Rene [Meulensteen] and the players are coming over for the game. I’d like to thank fans and staff at United for six great years. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I see you again.”

Then on Friday United takes on New York Cosmos at Old Trafford in Paul Scholes’ testimonial. Cosmos is a club without a team, a franchise sans stadium. Little more than a badge, a marketing ploy, a rich man’s wet dream. For Scholes, all style and substance during a truly wonderful 20 year career at Old Trafford, the opposition is, of course, an oxymoron.

The opposition does possess something United does not though: Eric Cantona. The 45-year-old is not a man, he is… a brand ambassador and Cosmos’ Director of Soccer. Even if the title sounds incongruent it takes nothing away from the five years Cantona gave to United before walking away in 1997. He is remembered, as always, with undying affection by Old Trafford regulars, even if the make-up of the club’s support has changed beyond recognition since the Frenchman’s retirement.

For the expected full-house, whether fans come to pay homage to heroes old or more recent, the occasion will be no disappointment.

On to the real thing then: Sunday’s game with City – billed as a portent for the upcoming season at hype-obsessed Sky – marks the start of 328 days of continuous competitive football, ending with Euro 2012 in Ukraine and Poland. By the end of the coming season United may well be English Champions for a 20th time. Few will bet against it even if Ferguson is unable to land the additional midfielder than so many supporters crave.

Ferguson will likely use the tie as a final warm-up before the Premier League season begins on 14 August. One wonders whether City – the noisy cross-town neighbours – will be a little more circumspect. With genuine pretensions to the title Roberto Mancini’s men, now boasting £38 million Sergio Aguëro in the squad, will surely want to strike the first psychological blow of the season.

Reds wont blow Euro tie says Fergie

Ed March 14, 2011 Tags: , Matches 191 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson says that his squad’s experience will serve the club well as Manchester United challenges on three fronts this season. Leading the Premier League, into the FA Cup semi-final and with a second leg tie against Olympique de Marseille on Tuesday night, United will need all its resources in the coming weeks.

With Antonio Valencia, Nani, Michael Carrick and Michael Owen all available for the Champions League fixture at Old Trafford, Ferguson’s resources are reinforced for the tie. The Scot also told reporters on Tuesday that long-term injury victim Owen Hargreaves and winger Park Ji-Sung are each back in training and could return to the United squad within the month.

“It’s an important time, with us being involved in three tournaments,” said Ferguson, whose side must beat the French champions on Tuesday night to progress in the competition.

“But we are experienced enough to do what we’re doing at the moment – taking each game as it comes. We have faced that situation a million times. You have to get on with it. The team needs to step up and perform though, we know that.

“With Antonio back it’s a fantastic bonus for us. It’s a great step forward considering he’s been out for such a long time. It’s a great selection poser for me to have. We missed him in the run-in last season so it’s a great boost.

“Hopefully it will help us, having everyone available but we are getting players back. Ji-Sung Park is making good progress and Owen Hargreaves has started training. It doesn’t matter how many players you have injured in the past, the important thing is to have them available for the run in. If we have that, then it will increase our chances.”

Indeed, with United fighting on three fronts – and Arsenal now free to concentrate on the Premier League – Ferguson will need to carefully rotate his resources. And after fielding seven defenders against Arsenal on Saturday the Scot is expected to field a more attacking line-up against L’OM.

Ferguson could recall top goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov, alongside leading creator Nani in a much changed United line-up. With Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes certain to start, it is likely Valencia will start on the bench after seven months on the sidelines. United will be without defenders Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans for the tie, meaning another game for the ever more impressive Chris Smalling.

However, United will surely offer more adventure than in France, when both sides opted for a cautious approach. The scoreless draw in Stade Velodrome three weeks ago was marked by few chances that leaves United vulnerable to the away goal. Should Didier Deschamps side score, the Reds must respond twice to progress.

Moreover, with L’OM recovering in League 1 – the champions lie fourth four points behind Lille but recently beat Nancy and former leaders Rennes – United faces a resurgent opponent.

“I thought Marseille went for a 0-0, I must admit,” added Ferguson of the match in southern France three weeks ago.

“These games are always that way. It’s nice to have a bit of apprehension about big ties. We’ve had that many times and it won’t be any different on Tuesday. We’re playing a very experienced, powerful Marseille team and we will have to play well. I’ve watched them twice away from home, against Monaco and Rennes, and they’ve showed the qualities that we will be up against.

“Saturday’s performance was a recovery. Tuesday is a different type of match, but we need to get to a good level to win. We are experienced enough to take each game as it comes. The focus is on Marseille because they are a good team. It’s a European match, a night game, and it’s at Old Trafford – all these things work in our favour. Hopefully we get the result that we want.”

Indeed, United has a phenomenal record at Old Trafford this season despite the side’s recent travails on the road. Ferguson’s record against French opponents at Old Trafford is also very healthy, with eight wins and no defeats in 11 previous encounters against Ligue 1 sides. United beat Lille Métropole 1-0 to complete a 2-0 aggregate victory at the same stage four years again and then beat Olympique Lyonnais by the same margin a year later.

Victory would bring United’s fifth successive quarter-final appearance while L’OM is seeking a spot in the last eight
of the competition for the first time since lifting the trophy in 1993.

Manchester United v Marseille, Champions League, Old TraffordMeanwhile, Marseille welcomes back key playmaker Mathieu Valbuena, who damaged his left knee ligaments on 22 January, making a substitute appearance against United before suffering a relapse in training. André-Pierre Gignac played against Lille last weekend after recovering from the groin injury that ruled him out of the first leg. Lucho González is also available after suffering with a muscular problem in the past fortnight.

The match is also a first return to Old Trafford for former United left-back Gabriel Heinze, who played xxx for the Reds before leaving for Real Madrid in xxxx.

“My first big moment at Old Trafford was when the fans and my team voted me as best player,” said the Argentinian.

“To hear the fans singing ‘Argentina, Argentina’ was very emotional; my family was there as well. It’s something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. To go on to win the domestic league title with Manchester United – my first – was unforgettable. I have so many great memories that I can’t pick one out above the rest.”

His former manager Ferguson will hope that it is a disappointing night for the 32-year-old defender.

Opposition
Marseille – 433 – Mandanda; Taiwo, Fanni, Diawara, Heinze; González, Cheyrou, Valbuena; Rémy, Gignac, André Ayew. Subs from: Jordan Ayew, Cheyrou, Andrade, Mango, N’Diaye, Sabo, Lowinsky, Kaboré, Abriel, Moulet Abbes, Kaboré, Cissé, Brandão, Mbia,

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

Officials
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (ESP)
Assistant referees: Roberto Alonso Fernández (ESP) & Jesús Calvo Guadamuro (ESP)
Additional assistant referees: Carlos Clos Gómez (ESP) & Antonio Rubinos Pérez (ESP)
Fourth official David Fernández Borbalán (ESP)

Form
United – WDWLLW
Marseille – WWWDWLW

Reds say adieu to entertainment in French draw

Ed February 24, 2011 Tags: , Matches 24 comments

Amid the criticism of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side this season the wily 69-year-old Scot is too infrequently given due credit for his tactical accumen. Given the limited nature of his side – lacking the “stardust” of previous incarnations – Ferguson has very effectively built an obdurate team on the European stage. Just nine goals in the past nine Champions League outings away from home tell the story of Manchester United’s defensive approach in Europe. Eight wins in the past 10 games paint another picture altogether.

This is far from a vintage United outfit; Darron Gibson again proved that he is no Paul Scholes, and Michael Carrick is not a patch on Roy Keane, while Dimitar Berbatov once again disappeared into his shell on the ‘big’ occasion.

Yet, Ferguson’s side justifiably remains favourite to progress to a fifth Champions League quarter-final in a row after securing a goaless draw in Marseille last night. After all, United has won 17 of 20 matches at home this season.

The story of United’s stoic approach, which borders on the Mourinho-esque at times, was familiar in southern France. Deploying five in midfield behind lone-runner Berbatov, United limited Marseille to a handful of half chances in a match that rarely rose above the mundane.

The draw leaves Ferguson’s side in pole position to progress though, albeit with a warning: should Marseille secure an away goal at Old Trafford, United must score twice to progress. Real Madrid and Monaco have each knocked out Ferguson’s outfit in recent memory after goaless away draws.

“A goal away from home is important. We didn’t do that, that’s a disappointment for me,” said the United manager.

“At this stage of the competition, away goals count. But you have to say at home we have a good chance.”

“Our passing wasn’t as good as it normally is. Marseille made sure they weren’t going to lose a goal. They’re very strong defensively, a very powerful team. They didn’t pose many problems for us. Nothing really happened to be honest and I don’t think it was a good match to watch.”

Ferguson’s sole surprise selection came in Irishman Gibson, picked ahead of Scholes in an otherwise familiar away-day line-up. Wayne Rooney, again shunted to the left-wing, and Nani were deployed in support of Berbatov. Behind, Gibson was handed the sole attacking role from central midfield, with Darren Fletcher and Carrick forming a near impenetrable barrier in front of United’s back four.

The approach left little room for Marseille to work, with Didier Deschamps side hardly aided with recent injuries to key attacking players Mathieu Valbuena and André-Pierre Gignac. In truth though, Deschamps outfit was rarely more adventurous than the visitors, seemingly affraid of being caught on the break and frequently hitting aimless long balls.

Indeed, United started the brightest, with Fletcher forcing a save from Steve Mandana in the Marseille goal. It was perhaps the only serious effort on target during a cagey opening period. United’s passing, which was ragged at times, hardly helped, while the game’s pace rarely increased above a casual jog.

In a second half of few chances, former Red Gabriel Heinze nodded off the line on the hour as Nani threatened to score, while Edouard Cisse’s shot was deflected to André Ayew, who shot across goal. Rooney was then dragged down late in the match when breaking clear only for referee Felix Brych to wave away the protests.

But it would be churlish to point at officialdom even if a red card was the appropriate decision for the foul. In truth, neither side did enough to win a dull encounter.

Yet there are many positives, with Patrice Evra riding out the inevitable hostility from the local crowd. The former Monaco player has been wideley scapegoated by French officials and media for his role in France’s poor World Cup and the supposed ‘strike’.

Moreover, Chris Smalling, chosen with Rio Ferdinand still injured, against demonstrated his huge potential. The 20-year-old impressed with his defensive concentration and composure, earning praise from Ferguson for his “tremendous display”.

“You always worry, at this stage of the season, because it’s always good teams you face,” added the Scot.

“We should have one or two players back, as will they, but we can’t take anything for granted and we won’t be doing that. Monaco was 14 years ago, but with any 0-0 at this stage, you know that away goals count.

“But you have to say that Manchester United at home, we have a good chance. I don’t care if it’s 10-9.”

In truth there’s little to suggest Marseille will change its approach in Manchester. United must take the initiative though; whether Ferguson is bold – or perhaps reckless – enough to do so by deploying two strikers at Old Trafford is another question altogether.

Match Facts
Marseille – 433 – Mandana; Kabore, Diawara, Fanni, Heinze; Edouard Cisse (Cheyrou 70), M’bia, Gonzalez; Brandao, Remy (Valbuena 79), Ayew.

United – 451 – Van der Sar; O’Shea, Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Gibson (Scholes 72), Fletcher, Rooney; Berbatov.

Attendance – 58,000
Man of the Match – Smalling

Possession: Marseille 39% – 61% United
Attempts: 9 – 7
On Target: 6 – 5
Corners: 5 – 2
Fouls: 6 – 12

Quintet missing for French trip

Ed February 23, 2011 Tags: , Matches 146 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson must do without injured quintet Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, Jonny Evans, Michael Owen and Anderson for Manchester United’s match with Marseille at Stade Vélodrome tonight. The 69-year-old Scot is also without long-term injured pair Owen Hargreaves and Antonio Valencia for the Round of 16 Champions League tie with the French League 1 winners.

The rash of injuries, together with Marseille’s improving recent form, make for a challenging away tie. That United has scored just nine times in the club’s last eight Champions League matches away from Old Trafford is instructive of Ferguson’s seemingly negative approach to these games, although it’s an outlook that works: the Reds have won nine of the last 10 European games on the road.

Indeed, Ferguson is almost certain to retain the 4-5-1 shape the Scot adopted against non-League Crawley Town at the weekend, with either Wayne Rooney or Dimitar Berbatov spearheading United’s attack.

The match marks the first of four away trips in a row that are likely to define United’s season. Next weekend United go to Wigan Athletic, followed by trips to Anfield and Stamford Bridge in March.

“We have an important few weeks coming, there is no question about that,” said Ferguson.

“We are just starting four away games on the run, which is a great challenge for us. They are all fantastic matches but it is a time we should enjoy. They are big games and in that situation, the players don’t let us down often.”

Still, with the Champions League of primary focus Ferguson is confident that United can progress, despite the passionate atmosphere that awaits United in France.

“The Champions League this season is very open. There are a number of teams that can win it. The opportunity is there for anyone in the last 16,” added the Scot.

“But tomorrow [Wednesday] is when the competition really starts for us. They’re a very powerful team, very athletic, strong defenders.

“Marseille isn’t the easiest place to get a result. There is an atmosphere, an emotion at the Stade Vélodrome that is unique. I’ve often been to matches here and the fans have a genuine power over their players.”

With Ferdinand remaining on the sidelines and Evans suffering with an ankle problem, Chris Smalling is likely to partner Nemanja Vidic at the heart of United’s back-four. Rafael and Fabio da Silva will also be available despite coming off against Crawley last weekend.

Chalkboard versus MarseilleAside from United’s defensive combination, Ferguson must also choose between top-goalscorer Berbatov and Rooney to lead the forward line. History suggests the Scot will deploy Rooney in a loose left-side role, with Nani on United’s right and Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Paul Scholes anchoring the midfield.

The match will also reunite the Reds with Argentinian defender Gabriel Heinze who left Old Trafford in 2007 following a much-publicised fallout with Ferguson. Heinze joined Marseille two years ago following a spell at Real Madrid.

“It wasn’t easy at first with him being a former Paris Saint-Germain player. There is a big rivalry with Marseille,” said United’s French full-back Patrice Evra, who replaced Heinze at Old Trafford.

“I am happy to see him doing well and he will get a big ovation when he comes back to Old Trafford because he played so well for United.”

Meanwhile, Marseille could be without a trio of forwards, with Andre-Pierre Gignac out for a fortnight, and Loic Remy and Brandao facing late fitness tests. César Azpilicueta will miss the rest of the season with a ruptured knee ligament.

But Didier Deschamps side is in improving form, having begun the season in an inconsistent vein. Now three points adrift of surprise leaders Lille, L’OM has won five of its last six fixtures.

“I’ve watched some of their games this season and you can see they are a good team and they have a great manager in Didier Deschamps, who was my coach at Monaco,” said Evra.

“He is not afraid of any team and I know he will get his players motivated before the game so they play with no fear. It’s a dangerous game for us because we are favourites so in a way Marseille have nothing to lose.”

It was also the case in 1999 when the sides last met. United, then European Champions, lost 1-0 in France.

Opposition
Marseille – 433 – Mandanda; Kaboré, Diawara, Heinze, Taiwo; González, Cissé, Valbuena; Rémy, Brandão, André Ayew. Subs from: Jordan Ayew, Cheyrou, Andrade, Mango, N’Diaye, Fanni, Sabo, Lowinsky, Kaboré, Abriel, Moulet Abbes.

United
United – 451 – van der Sar; Rafael da Silva, Vidic, Smalling, Evra; Nani, Scholes, Fletcher, Carrick, Rooney; Berbatov. Subs from: Kuzszazk, Brown, Gibson, Bébé, Lindegaard, Fabio da Silva, O’Shea, Obertan, Hernández, Tunnicliffe, King.

Officials
Referee: Felix Brych (GER)
Assistant referees: Thorsten Schiffner (GER), Mark Borsch (GER)
Additional assistant referees: Peter Sippel (GER), Babak Rafati (GER)
Fourth official: Knut Kircher (GER)

Form
Marseille – WWDWWW
United – WWWLWW