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United in search of Anfield redemption

October 25, 2009 Tags: , Matches No comments

When Andrea Dossena lobbed Edwin van der Sar to score Liverpool’s fourth goal at Old Trafford in March the Merseyside team completed a Premier League double over Manchester United for the first time since 2001-2. Despite the fact that Rafa Benitez’ side ended the season with no trophies – Sir Alex Ferguson’s men picked up the Premier League and Carling Cup – the result remains a source of pride for Liverpudlians and pain for United supporters. Ferguson’s team travel to Anfield tomorrow in search of a result that will right the wrong.

The teams meet an Anfield in markedly different form. United, having emerged victorious from a potential banana skin in Moscow, travel to Anfield in good spirits, expecting victory. Indeed, with just one loss all season – in August at Burnley – United already has significantly more points than at this time last season.

Key players will also return to the United squad, with Wayne Rooney now fit to take part having recovered from a calf injured picked up on international duty with England. Darren Fletcher’s participation remains doubtful with a groin injury, while Park J-Sung is definitely out with a knee problem. However, Ryan Giggs and Patrice Evra, who both missed the Moscow tie, are fit to take part.

Ferguson must choose between deploying both Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov in the 4-4-2 formation that has become typical this season or go with the ‘European’ lone-striker used in Moscow this week. However, in a typical Ferguson ruse, the Scot suggested, Friday, that Rooney may sit out the match due to his fragile temperament in matches against Liverpool.

Despite typically using a single striker in matches against the ‘big four’, Berbatov’s form – outstanding against Bolton last weekend – is likely to come into Ferguson’s thinking when picking the team for tomorrow’s 2pm kick off.

“The United-Liverpool fixture, as I’ve said many times, is without question a massive game,” Ferguson said Friday.

“That’s not changed in the 23 years I’ve been here, this is the game.

“We go into the game in decent form, and there is a confidence to our play. But it’s a derby game and anything can happen. Going to Anfield at any time is hard, for both teams. It won’t be any different on Sunday.”

Liverpool meanwhile come into the game under intense pressure, having lost four games in a row. The club’s worst run of form since 1987 has placed Benitez under increasing strain, to the point that co-owner George Gillet offered a ‘vote-of-confidence’ in the manager this week.

With the pressure on, Benitez this week suggested that the two side’s differing results are a factor of money available to each manager. A ‘fact’ repeatedly proven a lie.

On the pitch Benitez is without captain Steven Gerrard through injury, although talismanic striker Fernando Torres will return after yet another hamstring strain and £18 million Glenn Johnson is also fit to start at right back.

Despite the Anfield side’s recent poor results United defender Rio Ferdinand says that it matters little when the teams take the pitch tomorrow afternoon.

“I think form goes out of the window in these games,” Ferdinand told United’s official website.

“We all know that when there’s a big rivalry between two teams, whether it’s a derby or a big cup clash, form doesn’t come into it. It all comes down to who performs best on the day and that’s what we’re looking to do.”

Supporters traverse the M62 ready to answer Liverpool’s fans who, in 1993, suggested legend Eric Cantona return to Anfield once United had won 18 English league championships. Ferguson’s men take to the field Sunday in just that place, having collected an 18th title in May.

Liverpool, meanwhile, hasn’t taken the title back to Anfield since 1990. A victory for United Sunday will surely end the Scousers hopes for another season.

Ferdinand younger saves Fergie’s bacon

October 4, 2009 Tags: , Matches 1 comment

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side escaped with a draw at Old Trafford after another late, late goal but as good as United has been in recent weeks, the team were below-par on Saturday tea-time. In the end Fergie’s men, indebted to a massive slice of luck for salvaging something from an unmittigatingly poor performance, were grateful to take a point. In fact, so off-key was United’s passing that a Ferguson team can rarely have given away the ball so often.

Sunderland meanwhile, fresh from a 5-2 drubbing of Wolverhampton Wanderers last weekend, was on course for an unlikely victory until Anton Ferdinand’s injury-time own goal.

The match started poorly for the Champions – looking for an eighth victory in a row – with Darren Bent swivelling on the edge of United’s area and rifling in a low shot that beat Foster to his right. Much like his new team, Bent has been resurgent under former United stalwart Steve Bruce’s stewardship. Perhaps sensing United was there for the taking, Ferguson having made seven changes from the team that beat Wolfsburg in midweek, Bruce’s team was bright and full value for its early goal. The strike should have galvanised the home side into waking from its slumber, instead Bruce’s team continued to force the issue.

Indeed, Sunderland was dominant with United failing to register an effort on target until the second period. With Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher restored to the side following their demotion in midweek, United may have expected to monopolise possession as is the way at Old Trafford. Not so. In Andy Reid Sunderland held the dominating force in the middle of the park, with able deputies in Lee Cattermole and Steed Malbranque.

Last week’s man-of-the-match Scholes misplaced just four passes in more than 80. It’s doubtful whether four reached their target against Sunderland and he was rightly hauled off at half-time.

But six minutes into the second period, with Scholes sacrificed for the Brazilian youngster Anderson, United gained a lifeline with Dimitar Berbatov spectacularly garnering the home side’s equaliser. The Bulgarian, outstanding again in midweek, fashioned a picture-perfect overhead to the bring Ferguson’s team level. Berbatov has been excellent this season and he stood head and shoulders above his team-mates on Saturday.

Indeed, the Bulgarian deserves more recognition from a media pool that refuses to understand him. The overhead kick was spectacular – great stuff on an awful day for the home side – but his all-round performance was worthy of better headlines.

Yet the goal only served to underline Sunderland’s superior play, with United failing to push on for the expected victory. Bruce’s character and determination, rubbing off on his new charges, meant that a meek surrender was never on the cards. The North East’s only Premier League side led just seven minutes later, with Foster’s half-hearted attempt to challenge Kenwyne Jones for a high ball so spectacularly inept that all debate about the Englishman’s claims on Edwin van der Sar’s shirt must now be extinguished.

But while Ferguson is in charge at Old Trafford, United will continue to gamble even in the face of overwhelming odds. Old Trafford alumni Kieren Richardson, having underlined the immaturity that led to his departure, saw red for a second bookable offence with five minutes remaining. It was the only stimuli United needed and, throwing men forward with abandon, the home side got the equaliser its play barely deserved – Evra’s shot cannoning in off the younger Ferdinand’s shins and into the net.

Deploying Danny Welbeck on the left-wing was odd and Ferguson nearly paid for resting some of the side’s leading players. The manager admitted as such and was happy that his team came out of the game with a point.

“I was pleased to get something out of the game considering how badly we played,” said Ferguson.

“There wasn’t much creativity. Too many players were running with the ball, the passing wasn’t good and at our level, when the opponents are motivated, you make life very difficult for yourself.

“We didn’t create a lot of chances and the quality of our play in the last third wasn’t good enough. We have to sum it up as an off day. We get them, we don’t enjoy them, but we do get them.”

But in the end two points dropped at home, adding to those lost at Turf Moor, could prove costly come the end of the season.

Hughes loses dignity as reds take derby

September 21, 2009 Tags: , Matches 5 comments

United put the upstarts City in their place in a Manchester derby classic. It was a match full of drama, goals and plenty of hapless defending, with the winner coming from a former Liverpool hero. You couldn’t write a script this good. But as United fans filtered out of Old Trafford delirious with the result, Mark Hughes was busy ruining what little respect the red side of the city may have held for him.

For the neutral it was a match that had everything; most fans will have left with a few extra grey hairs. Three times United took the lead in normal time, only for City to peg Sir Alex Ferguson’s side back on as many occasions. While ‘plucky’ City can be pleased with their character in fighting to keep on terms, in truth the home side were vastly superior.

But for some truly awful defending – gifting City their first and third equalisers – United would have won at a canter. It was a point not lost on Ferguson after the game.

“We made three horrendous mistakes which you don’t even half associate with our team and it kept them in the game,” Fergie told Sky Sports after the match.

“I am unhappy about the goals we conceded because it spoilt [an otherwise] really emphatic victory – we could have scored six or seven.

“The fact that we made the mistakes probably made it the best derby game of all time so you-re left wondering, what would you rather have had – won 6-0 or won the greatest derby game of all time, and I would rather have won 6-0.”

Before all the drama, the derby came to life as early as the second minute, with Rooney holding off two City defenders to slot past Shay Given in the visitor’s goal. Patrice Evra created the chance, finding space on the left flank to cut back for United’s leading scorer. Magic.

City were back in it within a quarter hour, Ben Foster losing the ball to the returning Carlos Tevez, and Gareth Barry slotting home the little Argentinian’s pass. Comedy defending but it wasn’t funny for United’s number one. That Foster is still playing with such nerves six weeks into the new season is deeply worrying. Foster, talented though he is, got himself out of position on more than one occasion, gifting City their first equaliser. With Edwin van der Sar back inside a month, Foster has even more reason to feel under pressure.

United were dominating possession and the chances continued to flow, especially in the second period. Dimitar Berbatov in particular will regret not taking at least one of his four good opportunities before being substituted for Michael Owen.

United’s pressure was telling though and City’s expensively assembled central defensive partnership struggled all afternoon with United’s pace and movement. Ryan Giggs was utterly peerless, having a hand in all four United goals. At 35 years old, Giggs can still tear them apart after all these seasons. It was the Welshman’s running and passing that helped create a dozen chances for United in the second half.

In the end for all United’s free flowing attacking football City lost the match by defending set-pieces and crosses poorly. United’s second and third came from the unlikely head of Darren Fletcher, who had yet another storming game in central midfield.

In between Craig Bellemy twice pulled City back into the game. His first an outstanding strike from 25 yards, after cutting in from the left onto his favoured right boot. City’s third equaliser came with just seconds to go, Rio Ferdinand guilty of being lazy in possession and gifting the Bitters a chance at an undeserved point.

But as long as Ferguson lives and breaths United will continue to play until the final whistle. Giggs’ wonderful pass released Michael Owen in the 96th minute, the striker’s first touch was true and his neat finish sent the home crowd into raptures. Fergie’s Mourinhoesque arm-pumping dance down the touchline was bliss personified. His staff and substitutes invaded the pitch in an end reminiscent of that in the same stadium against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993.

In the post-match analysis Fergie couldn’t resist the opportunity to goad the defeated opposition.

“There has been a lot of expectation on Manchester City and with the spending they have done they have to win something,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.

“For us, it’s unusual for us to accept that they’re the top dogs in terms of media attention but you know, sometimes you have a noisy neighbour and have to live with it. You can’t do anything about them if they keep on making noise but what we can do, as we showed today, is you can get on with your life, put your television on and turn it up a bit louder.

“As far as the players are concerned, they showed their playing power and that’s the best answer of all.”

Watching despairing City supporters’ faces – still bitter after 34 years without silverware – as United’s fourth hits the back of the net was sheer poetry. That their team contained the returning Carlos Tevez iced the cake.

But another United old boy, the City manager Mark Hughes, was unable to lose with dignity, complaining about the amount of added time and United’s ecstatic reaction to the winning goal. Hughes also went on to defend Craig Bellamy, who hit out at a United fan, just as he had supported Emmanuel Adebayor’s in the wake of the striker’s deliberate stamp on Robin van Persie a week ago. Hughes should be bigger than that.

“They did seem quite excitable at the end of the game. It was reminiscent of Brian Kidd and Sir Alex in days gone by. And I saw Gary Neville running on like a lunatic as well, so it showed how much it meant to them,” said Hughes.

“It’s something we’ll take out of the game. We knew we could come here and compete against the United of today.”

Compete City did, but bitter City remain.

Classic United versus City

September 18, 2009 Tags: , Matches 1 comment

To whet your appetite ahead of the weekend’s 152nd Manchester derby, which began in 1881, here are some modern classics. Forget the Blue Noses who mention Dennis Law’s back-heal, or the five goals scored at Maine Road in 1989. Consign them to history. Think about United’s five in 1994, comeback from three down a year earlier or Roy Keane’s assault on Alf-Inge Haaland in 2001.

Manchester City 2 – 3 Manchester United, Maine Road, 1993
One of United’s greatest ever comebacks – this time in City’s backyard. Trailing by two Nial Quinn goals, United returned with strikes from Eric Cantona and Roy Keane, winning it in the final minute of the match. Sweet.

Manchester United 5 – 0 Manchester City, Old Trafford, 1994
With that 1989 match at Maine Road still all too fresh in supporters’ minds, United’s flying Russian winger Andrei Kanchelskis went on the rampage, scoring an Old Trafford hat-trick. It was the match that finally shut the Blue Noses up and allowed right-minded Manchester folk to lift their chins up once again!

Manchester United 1 – 1 Manchester City, Old Trafford, 2001
Roy Keane’s long running feud with the Norwegian Alfe-Inge Haarland led to this horror tackle by the midfielder. Keane saw red and was banned for three matches. Keane’s biography, in which he suggested that he wanted to hurt the City player, cost the Irishman a further five match ban and £150,000 fine. Such a pity then that Keane and Carlos Tevez couldn’t meet on the pitch this weekend, some of a crueller disposition might say.

OT welcomes City’s nouveau riche

September 18, 2009 Tags: , Matches 1 comment

City arrive at Old Trafford this weekend having usurped the champions as the wealthiest club in the Manchester, with ambitions of extending that superiority to the pitch. The City ‘project’ has come some distance since last summer, with more than £200 million spent on a series of high profile, if over-expensive, new players. If there was any doubt that the club’s Abu Dhabi-based owners are serious about breaking into the Premier League’s top four, then there shouldn’t be any now.

The Eastlands outfit cross town in good form, having won four Premier League games in a row, including a controversial 4 – 2 win against Arsenal last weekend. But manager Mark Hughes heads back to his old stomping ground with around £100 million worth of talent unavailable. Carlos Tevez is unlikely to be fully fit, Roque Santa Cruz has yet to play this season and Emmanuel Adebayor has taken it upon himself to perform boot-based facial surgery on an old team-mate, while picking a fight with his former club’s supporters.

Sir Alex Ferguson, meanwhile, will hope to pick from a full squad – less the suspended Paul Scholes and injured Owen Hargreaves and Rafael da Silva. Rio Ferdinand will face a late test on his fitness, having picked up a minor groin injury after the victory over Tottenham Hotspur last weekend. Johnny Evans stands by to partner Nemanja Vidic, while Ferguson will pick from Michael Carrick, Anderson and Darren Fletcher in central midfield.

There will be a close focus on United’s tactical outlook for the match, with the manager having used Wayne Rooney as a lone striker against Besiktas in midweek and in the home game against Arsenal. Are City to be considered a genuine threat this season, or will the manager go for the jugular and include Dimitar Berbatov alongside Rooney?

With Hughes missing key talent and United at home, Ferguson must sense that now is the time to set down a marker.

“They’ve had a softish start to the season with two or three easier games, but the result against Arsenal on Saturday was the one that surprised people. Scoring four goals against Arsenal was an emphatic result,” said Ferguson.

“When you get off to a good start, it definitely galvanises you and gives you the confidence. And of course, they have such a big squad and a lot of players – they have about seven centre-forwards. But when you have spent that kind of money, and the wages they are paying, you have to win the league with that kind of investment.

“That is where the difficulty will come for them and it will be very difficult for City when you see the likes of ourselves, Chelsea and Liverpool and Arsenal.

On the terraces fans are looking forward not only to United’s team taking City down a peg or two but welcoming the liar Carlos Tevez back to Old Trafford with a special brand of warmth and affection. Ferguson, though, isn’t concerned about the little striker’s return. “I am not bothered whether Tevez plays or not,” said Ferguson. “Manchester City’s best player won’t be playing. Adebayor is their star player”

Ouch.

Fergie out-thinks hapless Harry

September 13, 2009 Tags: , Matches 11 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will leave London tomorrow morning for United’s Champions League fixture at Besiktas, fresh from his side’s best performance of the season to date. The visitors beat a resurgent Spurs at a canter after Sir Alex out thought and his team out passed White Hart Lane’s pretenders to the top four. Following victory over Arsenal last time out, United’s machine is now moving through the gears.

Some pundits had felt the home side started favourites, after four Premier League wins in a row.

Indeed, those pundits were proven right but only for the 47 seconds it took for Jermain Defoe to put the home side ahead with a high quality overhead. Momentarily Tottenham’s fans forgot about that penalty in United’s 5 – 2 win last season. United hadn’t read the same script as the experts though and despite going down to the early strike, dominated possession during an entertaining first half.

If Ryan Giggs has turned back the clock over the past year, then he also reminded any fans who had forgotten about his dead ball skills in the 25th minute. The departed Cristiano Ronaldo may have taken 90% of free kicks over the past few years but there’s now a new kid in town now. Giggs buried a wonderful strike into the top corner of Carlo Cudicini’s goal.

Anderson’s first competitive goal of his 78-game United career came just 15 minutes later following Paul Scholes’ wayward shot. Sir Alex talked in pre-season of Anderson’s new goalscoring responsibilities. That’s one of at least 10 required for the campaign. Aside from the goal the Brazilian also put in his best performance of the season, using the ball wisely and offering protection to the back four. A welcome return to form.

Then came Scholes’ controversial red card. The ginger midfielder had pulled the strings all day, teaching Wilson Palacios and Tom Huddlestone in the Spurs midfield a lesson in the art. But Scholes just can’t resist a tackle, as is his habit of the last 15 years. If the midfielder’s first yellow was fully deserved after yet another rash challenge, then the second was unfortunate. Sliding into a genuine 50/50 challenge, Scholes and Huddlestone came together at largely the same moment. The Spurs man grabbed his face, Andre Mariner fell for it, and the result was Scholes’ ninth red card of his United career.

From there Spurs should have posed far more of a threat but United were outstanding on the day. With the excellent Dimitar Berbatov sacrificed for the cause, Wayne Rooney ran his socks off alone up front and Michael Carrick dictated the tempo in the middle of the park. United’s third was almost inevitable given the visitors’ continued dominance.

It was a victory born not only in the  excellence of United’s players at White Hart Lane but a system that was as right for the opponents as the toothless 4-5-1 was wrong against Arsenal. Deploying Rooney on the shoulders of the Spurs central defence and Berbatov ‘in-the-hole’, United were able to gain both possession and territorial advantage. Such was Berbatov’s excellence for 60 minutes that his substitution was particularly unfair on the Bulgarian. Rooney meanwhile was truly magnificent.

Tottenham on the other hand were a tactical mess, with Robbie Keane pushed wide left and the celebrated attacking football of Harry Redknapp’s teams reduced to aimless balls pumped long at Peter Crounch. Meat and drink for Nemanja Vidic and the returning Rio Ferdinand. Top of the league? You’re having a laugh sang the away support. How right they were.

On this form, United has nothing to worry about in Turkey.

United visit Spurs seeking momentum

September 11, 2009 Tags: , Matches 4 comments

Now that the World Cup break is over, Manchester United’s mass of international players can concentrate on the real task in hand – racking up points in search of a fourth title in a row. United return to Premier League action with a tough trip to White Hart Lane on Saturday, facing a resurgent Tottenham Hotspur side, with the glow of victory over Arsenal still warm. While question marks may still hang over the team’s form, three wins in four mean that United head to London as favourites for another victory.

Harry Redknapp, dodgy though he is, certainly produces teams that play football the right way. The game will no doubt be another classic in the mould of United’s 5 – 2 win at Old Trafford last season, or the magnificent comeback from three down in 2001. Indeed, Redknapp’s Spurs side has undergone the usual Harry makeover, with players leaving and arriving through an unstoppable revolving door. While the cynical may say this is simply to line the manager’s pockets, Redknapp has turned Spurs into genuine contenders for the top four.

The Tottenham manager’s problem in making the top four come May – aside from the strength of Arsenal and Manchester City – is in make-up of his squad. Harry has Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Roman Pavychenko on the books, but barely a fit central defender to call upon.

Central defence, of course, is an area upon which Sir Alex Ferguson is building his title defence. Indeed, Fergie will be able to pair Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic for the first time this season at White Hart Lane. Ferdinand returns after missing five games with a thigh injury.

The former West Ham United defender’s recovery is just in time, with Johnny Evans’ long-term fitness under question. The Northern Irishman’s left ankle must be operated on sooner, rather than later. Moreover the international break has ended with John O’Shea nursing a blood clot in his calf that could, in theory, keep the Irishman out for the next six weeks. And with Rafael da Silva still out, but Wes Brown and Gary Neville fit, the defence almost picks itself.

More focus at White Hart Lane will be on who Sir Alex chooses in forward areas. Will former Spurs favourite Dimitar Berbatov play, after sitting out the Arsenal win on the bench? After the Bulgarian’s performances at Wigan Athletic and then in Bugaria’s demolition of Montenegro in midweek, Berbatov deserves to play. But with Sir Alex almost permanently wedded to deploying a single striker in the biggest games it seems unlikely that Berbatov will start at his old stomping ground.

Either way, United faces one of its toughest away trips of the season.

Classic United v Spurs

September 10, 2009 Tags: , Matches 2 comments

It’s a football cliché but over the years there have been some classic Tottenham Hotspur versus Manchester United encounters from two teams that play the right way. United’s comeback from three down at White Hart Lane in 2001, or last season’s blistering second half spree at Old Trafford and of course the 2 – 1 win that brought the title to Old Trafford in 1999.

United 5 – 2 Tottenham Hotspur, Old Trafford, 26 April 2009
Last season’s comeback from two goals down was the moment that turned the Premier League title race, according to many pundits. United’s second half performance, led by the fab four of Wayen Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, was as good as anything United fans have witnessed in recent seasons.


Tottenham Hotspur 3 – 5 United, White Hart Lane, October 1 2001
United came back from three goals down at half time to win in emphatic style. Goals from Andy Cole, Laurent Blanc, Juan Sebastant Veron, David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy capped a magnificent comeback and one of the finest second-half displays in recent memory.

David Beckham

United 2 -1 Tottenham Hotspur, Old Trafford, 17 May 1999
United needed a win in order to claim the first part of the 1999 treble. Not for the first (or last) time, United was forced to come from behind in order to win. Andy Cole went mad, Fergie hugged his staff and there was dancing in the streets of Piccadilly that night!


United 3 – 3 Tottenham Hotspur, Old Trafford, 12 August 1967
One for the Spurs’ fans here as Pat Jennings, Tottenham’s Northern Irish goalkeeper scores. Alex Stepney in the United goal won’t be happy with that one. Still ranks as one of the most celebrated Spurs goals ever.

Arsène loses plot as United win

August 30, 2009 Tags: , Matches 14 comments

United’s record in matches against the top four last season was poor, so Sir Alex Ferguson will have been delighted to walk away from Saturday evening’s match against Arsenal with all three points. With luck on their side, Ferguson’s men got away with a mediocre performance that required a penalty and an own goal to take the honours. But if the manner of the victory was fortunate, then United contributed to its own problems by deploying Wayne Rooney as a lone striker, which left the forward isolated and played into Arsenal’s hands.

United entered the match having played with two strikers throughout seven pre-season games, the Community Shield and three Premier League matches. It was a suprise then when Fergie reverted to type for United’s biggest test of the season, deploying Rooney alone up-front. Ferguson had talked beforehand about countering Arsenal’s new tendency to use three through the centre of midifield. The theory being that Nani and Valencia from the wings would provide ample support. But it was a decision that almost backfired, with Rooney often 30 yards from his nearest team-mates in the opening period, and United’s midfield reduced to punting long balls forward as Arsenal outpassed the home side.

The visitors probably deserved their lead at half-time after Andrei Arshavin’s wonderful strike. Ben Foster, who got both hands to the ball, couldn’t direct the 30-yard effort wide. But Ferguson is a winner and he breeds the same mentality in his troops. United may not have been playing well – possession was lost far too easily in the first 45 – but the team wasn’t about to be beaten meekly. Ferguson’s side, led by the peerless Ryan Giggs, increased the tempo after half time. While the result was certainly not “beyond belief” as Wenger whinged, it was one of those days when the details fell right for United. On other occasions the home side would have paid the price for such sloppy use of the ball.

While Valencia was anonymous on the right wing and Michael Carrick strangely wasteful in possession, Ryan Giggs was superb through the centre of the park. At 35 Giggs’ career should be winding down but on this evidence Fergie can ill afford to leave the Welshman out of the team. Giggs’ ability to change the pace of the game was central to United’s ability to force its way back into the match.

The penalty that brought United back into the game was fortunate but only in so far as Manuel Almunia had no sane reason to make the challenge. Racing out to meet Rooney, who was running away from goal, the Spaniard was always going to make heavy contact. The referee’s decision was spot on, no matter how much Arséne Wenger tries to blow smoke over his own side’s outrageous cheating in the past week.

Indeed, Emmanuel Eboué’s fully deserved yellow card for a blatant dive in the second half exposed the hypocrisy of monsieur Wenger’s faux rage at officialdom in the past week. That Eboué chose to target Evra, who had already been booked, demonstrates the depths to which this Arsenal team is prepared sink. Encouraged by Wenger’s ability to consistently defend the indefensible, the Frenchman’s team has evolved beyond a siege mentality to now act as if they are above all sanction. UEFA and the FA have surely taken note.

There was then some sense of justice in United’s – albeit outrageously lucky – winner. Abou Diaby will forever be an Old Trafford hero for the quality of his headed finish from Giggs’ right wing free kick. That no United player was within yards of the midfielder summed up Diaby’s performance, which was woeful from start to finish. It was a fortunate break but against Wenger’s obduracy all the more satisfying. The Arsenal manager talked about lack of experience in the post-match debrief. Boys against men indeed.

Then came the dénouement and there can have been few funnier scenes at Old Trafford than Wenger’s last-minute dismissal from the touchline. Born of frustration, Wenger booted a water bottle across his technical area. His sanction was obvious but the Frenchman’s refusal to sit in the stands – standing arms outstretched in-between the opposing dugouts – should be met with a lengthy ban. While the League Managers Association chief executive Richard Bevan has stated the Arsenal manager will “receive an apology from the FA,” he also recognised that the decision to send off Wenger was “correct in law.”

That Wenger’s myopia again failed to observe a correct decision by the officials – ruling van Persie’s goal offside – is utterly unsurprising. The man who would be king has become a national embarrassment.

United then will be able to bask in the satisfaction of victory over Arsenal during the two-week international break. It was a hard won match, if an unspectacular performance. But these are the points – and matches – upon which a fourth title in a row may just be built. It could also reignite the old United-Arsenal rivalry, which has been somewhat lukewarm in recent years.

United hit five, Rant takes credit

August 24, 2009 Tags: , Matches 8 comments

The message was loud and clear: United is back and how. Victory against Wigan Athletic may be commonplace but it was the five second half goals that has truly ignited United’s season. The response to last weekend’s underwhelming win over Birmingham City and the midweek defeat at Turf Moor was emphatic. But if United could have scored ten at the newly renamed DW stadium then there will still be concerns that there was profligacy in front of goal in the first half and a midfield that feels lightweight.

But what a response to criticism that the team lacks creativity and penetration without Cristiano Ronaldo. This was a United side that managed just four strikes on target against Burnley Wednesday night; there were nine more at the DW on Saturday. United, in this vein of form is always going to score goals, albeit against a Wigan team that was more than generous in defence. Roberto Martinez has brought his ethos of attacking passing football from Swansea but in this company his team needed a little more grit.

It took United nearly an hour to get started though and the flurry of late goals gave the scoreline a flattering feel. Wayne Rooney’s free-header for the opener was symptomatic of Wigan’s defending in the second 45. Indeed, better finishing from United’s forwards would have led to a cricket score given the number of chances that the team created.

But Wigan’s bright midfield three of xxx, xxx and xxxx were never out of the game, and the home side could have had three itself.There must still be a concern that United’s midfield lacks quality of the highest level. Paul Scholes, who was very fortunate not to see red after raising his hands, joined the excellent Darren Fletcher in central midfield. While Scholes is increasingly showing his age, The Scottish Player is no longer the love that dare not speak his name with the United fans. On a day when Rooney once again excelled in a central role, it was Fletcher that took the man-of-the-match plaudits. But United’s midfield four was sometimes overrun by Wigan’s three, and despite the away side hogging the possession better teams than the Latics would have cause United significant problems in the middle of the park.

On the wings Nani and Antonio Valencia were dangerous, although the mindless booing of the former Wigan player was as predictable as it was petty. Valencia created the space and delivered the cross for United’s opening goal, while Nani curled in a fine last minute free kick. Cristiano who?

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson will have been pleased to see both Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov score too. Owen’s superbly taken strike, clipped past the ‘keeper with his left foot, was easily the hardest of the chances he has created in the start to his United career. Meanwhile, Berbatov was bright and hard-working once again. Criticism of his performances last season were unfair, and it is clear the Bulgarian has put in the work during pre-season this time around.

United now face fixtures against in-form Arsenal and then Tottenham Hotspur. They are the first big tests of the season, despite the defeat at Turf Moor. United can ill afford to waste chances again in what are likely to be two tight games.