Tag Premier League

Tag Premier League

Berbatov fires United to OT win

January 17, 2010 Tags: , Matches 3 comments

Defeat to Leeds United in the FA Cup, followed by a disappointing draw at Birmingham City and much talk of financial meltdown added to the air nervousness at Old Trafford. It was an atmosphere that the visitors briefly threatened to take advantage of before three second half goals handed Manchester United a flattering 3-0 win over Burnley today.

Dimitar Berbatov, under pressure to finally deliver on his £31 million price-tag, scored one and created another as the Bulgarian proved the catalyst for United’s victory over Brian Law’s men. Sir Alex Ferguson will need his striker to keep up this form as he nurses the former-Tottenham Hotspur player through the rest of the season.

Yet the Bulgarian was guilty of wasting chances in an unimpressive opening half for the home side, which saw the return of Edwin van der Sar and Nani to the starting eleven.

Arguably Burnley made the most of the opening 45, with former United trainee Chris Eagles central to some of the visitors’ best work. Indeed, the midfielder’s superb break and pass created an opening for David Nugent who should have scored to give the Clarets the lead.

Earlier the former-Preston striker, on loan from Portsmouth this season, had created an opening for Steven Fletcher only for the Scot to slide his shot wide of goal with only van der Sar to beat.

While Berbatov was clearly affected by the knee injury that will need a summer operation, his teammates were out-of-sorts in a first period that brought plenty of possession for the home side but little real danger. On this evidence Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Nani will miss out on the trip to Eastlands for the Carling Cup semi-final next week.

On the hour United had the breakthrough, Berbatov collecting the ball to score with a deflected left-footed finish past Brian Jensen. Earlier the Bulgarian had superbly controlled the energetic Antonio Valencia’s pass only to fire against the post.

Minutes later Wayne Rooney doubled United’s advantage, taking his time to control and fire past the Burnley ‘keeper after Berbatov’s good work for the Scouser’s 16th strike of the season.

United wrapped up the flattering win when Mame Biram Diouf nodded Valencia’s long pass over Jensen and into the net in the final minute. The Senegalese striker’s gymnastic celebration will live longer in the memory than United’s tepid performance.

“Maybe the scoreline was a bit unfair on them,” said Ferguson, who revealed that Berbatov’s knee was troubling the striker during the match.

“It was a funny game, we were very frivolous, Burnley missed good breakaways and it could have been embarrassing. Maybe we were a bit nervous but, for a long time, I thought Berbatov was the one player who looked like scoring. He was feeling his knee and could have gone off at half time but he wanted to stay on.”

On the day that Chelsea scored an ominous seven at home to Sunderland, with key players absent at the African Cup of Nations, Ferguson’s team needs its best players back. Fast.

Indeed, the solidity that van der Sar offers, despite Tomasz Kuszazk’s outstanding recent form, is central to United’s ambitions at home and abroad this season. And while Ferdinand did not start at Old Trafford the England international’s return to the heart of United’s defence is now days and not weeks away.

United is clearly missing the creative spark in central midfield but any hope of a fourth Premier League title in a row is extinguished without Ferdinand and van der Sar.

Relief today, with much credit to Berbatov for a superb goal and assist, but Ferguson is unlikely to be happy until a full squad compliment is at his disposal again once again.

Back to football after week of financial turmoil

January 15, 2010 Tags: , Matches 3 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson may turn to Edwin van der Sar as United look to increase the pressure on Premier League leaders Chelsea with a win over Burnley at Old Trafford. The United ‘stopper, who joined the squad’s warm weather Qatar training camp, is available following his wife’s recent illness and could take over from Tomasz Kuszczak in goal.

“We’ve had light at the end of the tunnel with Edwin coming back,” said Ferguson in his morning press conference at Carrington on Friday.

“He’s done well. He’s been out for a few weeks with his personal situation. It’s great to see him back and that experience, when he does come into the team, is very important. We’ll see him today and see how he feels but he’s trained every day and is doing well.”

Ferguson, who took his players on a short-notice trip to Qatar this week, confirmed that long-term injury victims Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves trained with the squad in the past last week.

Indeed, Ferguson, who must plan for upcoming matches against Manchester City in the Carling Cup and Arsenal in the Premier League, may spring a surprise and start both Ferdinand and van der Sar against Brian Laws’ men.

However, Dimitar Berbatov will need surgery on a knee injury, the Scot confirmed, which will take place in the summer.

“Dimitar doesn’t want an operation,” said Ferguson.

“Sometimes he feels the injury, other times he doesn’t. It might have been the warmer climes but he didn’t feel it at all in Qatar last week. We are just keeping an eye on it at present.”

Berbatov is available for the The Clarets’ visit and may start along with Wayne Rooney in a two-man attack against the team that inflicted United’s first defeat of the season in August. Meanwhile, Michael Owen will face competition from new recruit Mame Biram Diouf for a spot on an increasingly crowded bench.

In midfield Ferguson will base his selection on Wednesday’s Carling Cup semi-final with Manchester City, with Gabriel Obertan and Darron Gibson likely to play at Eastlands but not in the Premier League. Michael Carrick and Anderson may start in central midfield on Saturday with Darren Fletcher suspended after the Scot’s red card at Birmingham City last weekend.

New Burnley manager Brian Laws, sacked as coach of Championship strugglers Sheffield Wednesday in December, takes charge of his first game at Old Trafford. The surprise choice must do without defender Steven Caldwell and Chris McCann through injury. Andre Bikey is at the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola. Former United trainee Chris Eagles is fit and will play.

Burnley, who haven’t won in nine Premier League matches, visit Old Trafford just two points above the relegation zone after the departure of former manager Owen Coyle to Bolton Wanderers last week. But, says Laws, all the pressure is on United.

“The pressure has totally transferred on to Manchester United. They are having a sticky moment,” said Laws predictably.

“Burnley deserved the result at the start of the season and the whole country was delighted. It gave a realism back to football and this was what Burnley had been waiting for for 30 years.

“There’s no reason why they can’t go and do it again, everything is possible.”

United meanwhile must take full advantage of Chelsea’s recent dip in form if the team is to put any pressure on the leaders. United, just a point behind the Londoners with a game more played, can retake the Premier League summit should Carlo Ancelotti’s men stumble at home to Sunderland.

Getting down to business

January 12, 2010 Tags: Opinion 5 comments

The Premier League saw another uncharacteristic twist this weekend as both Arsenal and Manchester United drew games that they were expected to win. Such games have become commonplace this season, with Chelsea and particularly Liverpool also frequently dropping points nobody expected. Can United take the initiative in the next month?

In recent times, the Premier League winners have finished the season with points in the high 80s. Arsenal, Chelsea and United have even managed to gain more than 90 in four of the last six seasons. It appears it won’t be the case this term.

As we settle into 2010 though, Sir Alex Ferguson must be aware that one of the top three teams is going to take the initiative and string a series of wins together. Will it be United?

Arsenal faces a challenging run of games in the next month, which will see Arsène Wenger’s team play Aston Villa, United, Chelsea and Liverpool in the Premier League. If the Londoners come out of that run with nine points or more, the Frenchman will fancy his side’s chances in the title race. Whether Arsenal has the strength in depth to do so without Robin van Persie, Emmanuel Eboué and Alexandre Song over the next few weeks is questionable.

Meanwhile, Chelsea’s run is a touch easier, with home games against Birmingham City and Sunderland followed by away ties with Burnley and Wolverhampton Wanderers. And while Chelsea must still contend with Arsenal, the fixture will be played at Stamford Bridge. Carlo Ancelotti will certainly look to gain an advantage in the Premier League race given that relatively easy run. But as is been the way this season, time and again the so called ‘lesser teams’ look hard to beat.

United has a mixed run in the next month, with manageable home games at Burnley, Hull City and Portsmouth bracketing a massive game at the Emirates and ties in both the Carling Cup and Champions League.

With the cup ties in mind, it is likely that Fergie will rest key players in the team’s home Premier League matches, given the opponents. But with points already dropped against the lesser lights, it is absolutely essential that Ferguson’s side take maximum points from home ties against teams which – as Burnley showed in August – are no push-overs.

The next four games could be absolutely key come the end of the season and there is certainly reason for United fans to be optimistic. Although the team is far from its imperious best, a good performance at the Emirates and an improved success rate against the ‘smaller’ Premier League teams this month could see Ferguson’s side take a decisive advantage.

The time for United to hit top form is now, when building momentum is so important. And the timely return of players such as Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves in the next month could carry the side through to May and a record fourth consecutive Premier League trophy.

Of course, the celebrations will have to be cut short to prepare for the third consecutive Champions League final, played just days later. We can but live in hope…

Reds miss summit after Brum draw

January 10, 2010 Tags: , Matches 1 comment

Manchester United missed the chance to retake the Premier League lead as Sir Alex Ferguson’s men were held 1-1 at in-form Birmingham City. But United, seeking redemption after last weekend’s humiliating FA Cup third round defeat to Leeds United, left St. Andrew’s indebted to a controversial equaliser in the second city.

Ferguson declared himself satisfied with a point, although the Scot will know that this is not the stuff of Premier League titles. But grateful for small mercies, United’s manager was happy to take anything back to Manchester after Alex McCleish’s side pushed the Reds to the limit.

United started brightly though, dominating possession through the middle of the park with a three-man central trio of Paul Scholes in the holding role, supported by erstwhile defenders Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick.

Indeed, it was United’s Scottish enforcer Fletcher who created the first chance as United monopolised the opening passages of the match. Then Joe Hart, by far the busier of the two ‘keepers for the opening half-hour, saved superbly from Wayne Rooney. Set clear by the lively Antonio Valencia, United’s leading marksman could not convert in a key moment.

Then chances came for Carrick and Ji-Sung Park in quick succession as the home side defended both desperately and gallantly at times.

But Birmingham isn’t on a 13-match unbeaten streak under Ferguson protegé McCleish without a little of the master’s character. Arriving completely against the run-of-play, Cameron Jerome beat Tomasz Kuszczak just moments before the half-time break as Birmingham scored with the home side’s first chance in the game. Ferguson’s men defended poorly from the home side’s corner, enabling striker Jerome to poke home from yards out.

The goal lifted the home side, who began the second half with intent. Indeed, the outstanding Christian Benitez forced a save from Kuszczak before Jerome wasted another good opportunity.

United, leveling on the hour, was controversially back in the match as referee Mark Clattenburg overruled his assistant’s offside flag. Desperate Birmingham defenders blocked Rooney and then Scholes’ efforts before Scott Dann turned Evra’s shot across the box into his own net.

Birmingham protested but Clattenburg got the decision spot-on with the home side’s defender touching the ball into his own net, therefore eliminating the possibility of offside.

Birmingham and the visitors traded chances, with Evra and Rooney testing Hart in the home goal, while Paul Scholes shot narrowly over before the game ended in more controversy. United’s midfielder enforcer Darren Fletcher saw red for a second bookable offence late in the match.

“I’ve not seen a softer sending off for a long time, it was absolutely ridiculous,” said Ferguson.

“I watched Mark Clattenburg at the Arsenal-Spurs game and you had to have somebody hit by an axe to get booked. There were some weird and wonderful decisions out there.”

And while the Scot has every right to bemoan the dismissal, perhaps one of the more poignant decisions of the afternoon came in attack where United’s Senegalese striker Mame Biram Diouf made his debut as a late substitute. Dimitar Berbatov, not selected in the matchday squad traveling to Birmingham, may yet regret his ambivalent performance against Leeds United last week.

“We played ever so well in the first half but at the moment Birmingham are in such good form and work so hard that I’m satisfied with a point, particularly as we ended with 10 men,” Ferguson said.

“To lose the goal just before half-time after dominating the game was a real sickener.

“But the most important thing is to persevere in situations like that. We have got the experience to do that. But this is a tough league. Birmingham have really improved since they have come into this division.”

Yet for all Birmingham’s good recent form it says something for how far United’s star has fallen in recent months that Ferguson should choose his ‘European’ five-man midfield for an away fixture against one of the Premier League’s less fashionable sides.

United in its pomp expects to win in Birmingham. Yesterday, the team arrived hoping not to lose.

Latics hammered in United rout

December 31, 2009 Tags: , Matches 1 comment

Happy Birthday Sir Alex Ferguson was the message as his Manchester United players humbled Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford. Goals from Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, Rafael da Silva, Dimitar Berbatov and the inspirational Antonio Valencia were enough to bring United to within two points of Chelsea at the Premier League summit.

Wigan, so meek in defeat to United by a replica scoreline in August, barely offered a threat as United ripped apart Roberto Martinez’ relegation threatened side. Tottenham Hotspur scored nine past Martinez’ side in November and bar some good fortune United could have run up double figures at Old Trafford last night.

Former Latic Antonio Valencia was the tormentor-in-chief, offering power, pace and constant penetration from the right-wing. And it was the Ecuadorian who came closest to opening to scoring within minutes of the start only to shoot tamely at Chris Kirkland in the visitors’ goal.

Nemanja Vidic, joining Wes Brown, Rafael and Patrice Evra in Ferguson’s strongest back-four in weeks, then had an attempt blocked on the line before Berbatov has a good shout for a penalty turned down by referee Lee Mason.

Rooney, sublime again last night, then hit the post from an impossible angle as United completely overran the visitors in the opening minutes. That Martinez’ side barely put in a tackle hardly helped the Spaniard’s cause – a failing that will surely drag the Latics into a relegation scrap.

That the inevitable opening goal took nearly half an hour to come was the only surprise. Valencia, full of menace all night, worked an opening with Rafael for the Brazilian to feed Rooney at the near post. The Scouser need only touch the ball to score his fifteenth goal of the season.

Goals two and three came before the half-time break to end the match as a contest. In truth it was barely ever one to start with. Berbatov’s beautifully weighted pass from left-to-right found Valencia, who cut back a low pass for Carrick to sweep home. Then Rafael showed brilliant footwork to create an opening on the edge of the area, which the teenager finished with his left foot. The Brazilian’s joy marked only his second goal in a United shirt.

United, hungrier and more determined than in recent weeks, was in no mood to take a breather in the second period. Valencia was again instrumental, skinning Manuel Figueroa on the right flank before finding Berbatov in space inside the box. The Bulgarian, afforded plenty of time, toe-poked home United’s fourth.

By now United’s team was enjoying itself, and some lovely one-touch football from Berbatov, Park Ji-Sung and Rooney resulted in the Scouser crashing a shot against the underside of the bar.

But it was fitting that man-of-the-match Valencia should wrap up proceedings against his former club by latching onto Rooney’s slide-rule pass and chipping home to cap a five-star performance from the home side. It was Valencia’s sixth Premier League goal of the season.

“I think the players realised there were goals there to be scored tonight and they took their chance. That was good because, who knows, goal difference could be important at the end of the season.”

“The really important thing for us is that Antonio scored another goal. That was key for him. He’ll get a lot more.”

“The whole team played well. They all need to play their part, and at the moment they are certainly doing that. It was marvellous stuff tonight.

“Defeats against Aston Villa and Fulham gave us an uncomfortable Christmas, and five defeats in the first half of the season is already one more than we had in the whole of last season. That’s a concern, but the way the league is going it’s not fatal. I just hope that we haven’t damaged ourselves too much.

“There have been a few shock results this season that hopefully might mean the title is taken with fewer points than usual.”

Ferguson, who had confessed to not sleeping over Christmas following those defeats, will find New Year far more comfortable. Matches against Leeds United in the FA Cup and Manchester City in the Carling Cup are exciting for the fans but the Scot will use them to rotate heavily as the Premier League enters its closing months.

Reds look to close in on Chelsea

December 30, 2009 Tags: , Matches 1 comment

Sir Alex Ferguson will rotate his squad for the visit of Wigan Athletic tonight as Manchester United aims to end the year just two points adrift of Premier League leaders Chelsea. With club captain Gary Neville again fit, Ferguson will be without just Rio Ferdinand and Edwin van der Sar as United’s defensive injury crisis finally abates.

On the eve of Sir Alex’ birthday the Scot will deploy a rotated side for the 100th match in succession. Not since the closing stages of the 2007/8 season has the Scot picked an unchanged team. But ever wary of the load placed on his players – especially at Christmas – Ferguson is likely to bring Michael Owen, Anderson, Paul Scholes and Gabriel Obertan into tonight’s team.

But the United manager, 68 tomorrow, must do without Edwin van der Sar who has been given an extended leave of absence to visit his sick wife in Holland. In the Dutchman’s absence Ferguson will deploy Tomasz Kuszazck for the eight successive game, with Neville, want away Nemanja Vidic, Wes Brown and Patrice Evra making up an experienced back-line.

One of Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher could make way for Anderson or Paul Scholes in central midfield, while Frenchman Obertan is due a start with Nani out-of-favour and injured. Michael Owen may begin the match ahead of Dimitar Berbatov for the home fixture against a side United defeated 5-0 in August.

“It’s a tough league, you can see that. There’s nobody having a consistent run and it’s maybe one of those seasons,” Ferguson said.

“History tells you that two teams always break away at the end. That’s what normally happens, but it’s not looking like that at the moment.

“It’s always hard to win the league, and teams have improved in the Premier League this season, but it’s still a hard league no matter what season you do it. We’ve got the experience to do it, though, and the players to do it.”

Indeed, Ferguson is not expected to dip into the transfer market this winter, with the injury burden easing and Owen Hargreaves still to make his first appearance of the season. Although Ferguson would like to bring another striker to the club – David Villa, Edin Dzeko and Karim Benzema is each on a list of potential targets – it may well have to wait until the summer.

The Scot also insists that United is well placed to mount an assault on the Premier League title, with the club just one point worse off than at a similar stage last season.

“I think we’re better placed than most teams in that respect and they’ll know that. They will have to look at Manchester United, there’s no getting away from that,” Ferguson said.

“I know we have a good record against Wigan, but we have to respect the victories they have had against Aston Villa and Chelsea this season. They play football and that is the way Roberto Martinez wants them to play. He has a good philosophy, so it should be an entertaining match.

“But we’re coming to that time of the season when the challenge is there. We’ve got a league that is so tight now.

“Teams are taking points off each other that you don’t expect and it is tightening up the whole league. It means a consistent run from any team will give them a great chance.

“Obviously our experience of run-ins is good, we can handle that part, but the important thing is to win this game which will put us in the position I hoped we would get to – just a couple of points behind the leaders going into the New Year.”

Rooney rescues United after blunder

December 28, 2009 Tags: , Matches 2 comments

Manchester United draw to within two points of leaders Chelsea in the Premier League title race following a hard fought victory over Hull City at the KC. Wayne Rooney had a hand in each of United’s three goals but not before the Scouser had gifted the home side an equaliser in another tough away fixture for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men this season.

In truth Ferguson leaves Hull with a sense of relief after the home side made a competitive match of the fixture despite gaining just two points in the club’s previous five outings. No longer is United sweeping the lesser lights of the Premier League away but with the return of a back four actually composed of defenders, Ferguson’s men were able to win without excelling.

Rio Ferdinand is missing for the foreseeable future but Sir Alex named Wes Brown, Nemanja Vidic and Rafael da Silva in the starting eleven for the match. It meant a return to the heart of United’s midfield for Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher, whose absence has exposed the side’s soft underbelly in recent weeks.

Another restored to the side, Ryan Giggs, created United’s first chances by first firing just over the bar with a left-foot volley and then curling a free kick just wide in the opening minutes.

Rooney then stung Boaz Myhill’s gloves in the Hull goal with a fierce left-foot shot before intricate United football released Rafael through the middle only for the ‘keeper to block the Brazilian’s effort one-on-one.

While Giggs’ looked tired on his return to the United side – and Dimitar Berbatov had little impact until a late goal – at least Ferguson was able to count on Wayne Rooney to score the visitor’s opening goal. United’s leading marksman struck home Fletcher’s superb curling cross from the right for his 14th of the season, with Giggs providing little more than nuisance value at the near post.

United of old might have laid waste to Hull’s fragile defence but Phil Brown can take heart from a spirited comeback by the relegation-threatened home side. Alan Wiley, officiating in his first United match since Ferguson questioned the Staffordshire-born referee’s fitness to do the job in October, handed the Tigers an equaliser following Rooney’s error. The Scouser, fresh from giving United the lead, promptly lost company with the ball yards from his own goal. In the melee that followed Rafael barged over Jose Alitidore in the box, enabling Craig Fagan to score from the spot.

But United was always a major threat on the counter despite Hull’s best efforts to score a second. Ji-Sung Park, Giggs and then Rooney contributed to restoring United’s lead as the visitors’ lightening-quick break resulted in Andy Dawson turning the Scouser’s cross into his own net.

Moments later and Rooney threaded a final pass through Anthony Gardner’s legs to tee up his Bulgarian strike-partner for a simple tap in. Berbatov acknowledged Rooney’s brilliance in turning around not only his side’s fortunes but a potential ‘hairdryer’ moment in the dressing room had United not pulled off the victory.

“It’s a relief,” Rooney told Sky Sports.

“When they got their equaliser it was a mistake by myself. It’s the first time that’s ever happened to me and it’s not a nice feeling. I didn’t want to let down the lads though I was more worried about what the manager might say. But thankfully we got the win, which I’m pleased about because the manager would not have been too pleased.”

The victory moves United to within a win of Chelsea in a season where none of the leading sides have found any consistency. United’s five defeats in the Premier League before Christmas is the club’s worst run of losses in nearly a decade but Ferguson’s side could conceivably top the table by New Year’s Day.

With the club’s injury list finally easing now is the time for the Scot’s side to mount a series of victories if a fourth Premier League title in a row is to head Old Trafford’s way.

Rooney is central to that ambition.

“He (Rooney) was a threat all game; his penetration behind their back line was very good,” the United manager said.

“Yes, he made a mistake with a wayward ball for their goal but that was his one bad moment and otherwise I thought he was exceptional. He’s a natural winner and he’s always got that determination to do well. He would have been sicker than anyone that he made a mistake but he rectified it in a nice way.

“It’s looking more and more like it’s going to be a really tight league.

“It’s certainly different because we are seeing some unusual results. Experience will come into it. The team that steers clear of injuries will also have an advantage. Other than that, if you make mistakes in this league you are going to get punished. If we can eradicate mistakes we have a great chance.”

United aims to defend from the front at Hull

December 26, 2009 Tags: , Matches No comments

Manchester United’s players return from a longer-than-usual Christmas break with little respite in the injury crisis that has engulfed Sir Alex Ferguson’s team in recent weeks. The Scot need no longer worry about a festive season drinking culture but will once again deploy a makeshift defence as United travel to Hull City hoping to improve on two defeats in the past three games.

Ferguson hopes to have either Wes Brown or Nemanja Vidic available for the trip to Hull, although both will definitely feature against Wigan in three days time. Good news also comes in the shape of Brazilian brothers Rafael and Fabio da Silva who, true to form, have each been injured in recent weeks.

However, Ferguson says there is little hope of Rio Ferdinand returning to the team in the near future. Ferdinand, who has appeared just five times this season, last week said there’s is “light at the end of the tunnel” is the search for a cure to a back injury that has plagued the defender for more than a year.

“We gave Rio an injection just over two weeks ago so we have to let that settle for a week then he can go back into the gym work and do some more core work,” Ferguson said.

“We are just hoping that pain goes away. There is no light at the end of the tunnel and it is difficult to put a timescale on a back injury. But I don’t think he is too far away.”

Ferguson says that the best form of attack at Hull is defence. It’s a strategy that United totally failed to enact in the 3-0 away defeat to Fulham last weekend or the 1-0 reverse at home to Aston Villa a fortnight ago. Indeed, Ferguson may revert to a more attacking formation against relegation-threatened Hull, with Dimitar Berbatov in contention to start along side Wayne Rooney despite a knee injury that requires an operation.

“Hull will be encouraged by the fact we have got defenders injured. They will certainly have a go at us,” he said.

“It’s always a dogfight down at the bottom of the table and, as usual, there are six, seven or eight teams involved in that battle.

“We looked fragile once we lost the goal (at Fulham). We got away with playing midfielders at centre-back once or twice, but it proved difficult.

“We have to make sure we are better attacking-wise than we were against Fulham. We didn’t make a lot of chances in the match, we had a lot of possession but it didn’t amount to anything.

“In terms of creating chances, we have to get that creativity, imagination back.

Ferguson says that the injury situation will return to some form of normality by the time United play cup games against Manchester City and Leeds United in the New Year. In the meantime the Scot’s side requires six points in the coming week to keep in touch with Chelsea, who continue to drop points in a season where none of the contenders achieved consistency.

United’s cause will benefit from the return of Darren Fletcher to the heart of Ferguson’s midfield, should either of the da Silva brothers be deemed fit enough to start against Hull. The Scot’s absent destructive abilities have exposed a soft underbelly to Ferguson’s defence in recent weeks.

Ferguson will also choose from Ryan Giggs, Park Ji-Sung, Antonio Valencia, Paul Scholes and Anderson in midfield, with Michael Carrick likely to reprise a role in central defence.

“I think losing to Aston Villa was a bitter disappointment, we made enough chances to win it. Winning your home games can stabilise you from bad results away from home,” Ferguson said Boxing Day.

“It’s unusual for us to lose two games in December, it’s not happened that many times but hopefully by the Leeds United (in the FA Cup third round) game we will have three centre-backs and we can then kick on and get back to our normal selves.

“The way the league is at the moment, I think Arsene Wenger said the other day you could lose seven games and still win the league this year.

“Someone pointed out the recognised top four have lost 41 points between them this season. Nobody would have bet on that.”

Wenger may be proven right in May but with Ferguson’s side slipping to a fifth defeat before Christmas last weekend the side cannot add a sixth at the KC Stadium Sunday.

Shapeless United thrashed at Fulham

December 20, 2009 Tags: , Matches 2 comments

On the day that Sir Alex Ferguson’s cross town counterpart received his P45, the Manchester Untied manager will put this defeat down to circumstance. But United’s humiliating 3-0 away loss to Fulham cannot be blamed solely on injuries to key staff. The burden of responsibility must also fall on Sir Alex.

United, lining up in the unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation deployed in Germany, were out of shape and sorts from the off at Craven Cottage. In more than 20 years at the helm the number of matches Ferguson has deployed three centre halves are counted on one hand. It was an utter disaster, with Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Ritchie de Laet horribly exposed by a vibrant Fulham side.

Still, United actually started the match quite brightly with Antonio Valencia unlucky not to earn a penalty for a push in the opening minutes. Referee Howard Webb seemed unsighted as the Ecuadorian fell. In truth it was just about the closest United came to a goal in a dreadful opening half for Ferguson’s men.

Paul Scholes, sent off at the same venue last season, saw yellow for a reckless tackle that took both man and ball in the same movement. But Scholes’ place on the pitch is undermined more by the United legend’s wayward passing on days like this. Time has diminished little of the 600-game veteran’s talents but sadly they are now applied more inconsistently.

Scholes was not alone in his woes however with nearly half the team deployed out of place. It’s one thing compensating for injuries; it’s quite another disrupting the shape of the side.

Still, Untied kept possession well in the first quarter of the match. Darron Gibson, now a permanent fixture in the side, shooting wildly when set up by Wayne Rooney. The hype of recent long-range efforts encouraging the Irishman to shoot when a pass is a better option.

But Fulham was always in the match and Bobby Zamora crossed for American Clint Dempsey to draw a fine save from Tomasz Kuszczak in the United goal. The Polish international, playing in his seventh match in a row, then produced even better from Zoltan Gera’s header minutes later.

Fulham’s opening strike came from Danny Murphy, so often United’s tormentor in the past. And it was Scholes who gifted possession to the former-Liverpool midfielder to strike home from 20 yards at the midway point of the half.

In attack, Rooney and Michael Owen were playing like a pair of strangers as they so often did for England, while Fulham offered threat in every forage towards United’s goal. The visitors have rarely been so shapeless.

Rooney headed wide and Gibson shot over when he could have passed as United’s strategy of hope bore little fruit. Indeed, Fulham could have doubled the lead before half time with Gera and Zamora combining once again for the former West Ham United striker to head wide.

The match was then over just 19 seconds into the second period when Fulham doubled the advantage. Duff’s cross to the back post, met by Dempsey’s neat touch was gleefully slammed home by Zamora.

All belief drained from the United players. Why should there have been any – they were never in the game. It was cruel on de Laet, cruelly exposed at the top-level.

As always United sought a way back into the game as Dimitar Berbatov and Fabio da Silva entered the attack. It finally ignited a flame in the visitors with Valencia testing Mark Schwartzer in Fulham’s net, Rooney shooting wide from Berbatov’s smart pass and Scholes slashing well wide from the edge of the area.

But then came the denouement as Irishman Duff lashed home Zamora’s chested pass for Fulham’s third. The final whistle couldn’t come soon enough.

“I hope today is not too damaging. I hope it doesn’t cost us the league,” Ferguson told MUTV in summary.

“We have to get our defenders back to give us a proper chance of going for the league. If we get them back we’ll be back in it. The quicker they’re back the better.

“The medical team and physios are working overtime to get them back, but there’s no light at the end of the tunnel at the moment, that’s for sure.”

Ferguson, without seven defenders today, undoubtedly needs good fortune in the season of good-will. Sometimes, however, he needs to help himself too.