Tag Premier League

Tag Premier League

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.

United betrayed by ponderous attack

August 22, 2009 Tags: , Matches 2 comments

United’s humiliating defeat at Burnley on Wednesday night is not the beginning of a crisis for the club. Early in the season, with a rash of defensive injuries, shocks are unsurprising. Even defeats such as United’s to Burnley Wednesday night. Save for another defeat this coming weekend, the word crisis can be placed firmly on the shelf. But the Turf Moor game confirmed the suspicions of pre-season that United without Ronaldo lack creativity and penetration in attack. Indeed, if the team needs around 114 goals to match last season’s achievements, it seems unlikely to achieve it with the current personnel.

Worryingly, newly promoted Burnley, with barely a player worthy of United’s reserve team, didn’t even have to ‘park the bus’ in order to beat Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. Despite the away team’s superior possession, Burnley took the attack to United on the break  and looked consistently dangerous. All credit to them. For all United’s territorial advantage against the Turf Moor outfit, the team managed just four shots on target all night. One of those was Michael Carrick’s unsuccessful penalty.

Ferguson may be right in his assessment that United created enough chances to win the game but the team’s profligacy is a now recurring theme. Frankly, the chances created weren’t all that good anyway. Fans must hope that the 100 goals Ronaldo either scored or assisted in the past two seasons are not the difference between success and mediocrity.

But inherently Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Nani and Antonio Valencia are top class creative players; the goals should be flowing by now. Ferguson is right to say that the club has “a great group of players.” But the concern is that the team isn’t gelling in the way Sir Alex would have hoped. Shorn of Ronaldo, and tactically more predictable, United is a undeniably blunter force this season.

The defeat against Burnley was..

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Could it also be that the club’s forwards simply can’t work together? At international level Rooney and Michael Owen rarely clicked. At club level the evidence suggests that Rooney and Berbatov have failed to strike up a profitable relationship either. Meanwhile, it would be unfair on Valencia or Nani, talented though each is, to pretend that either can be the new Ronaldo.

Ferguson must also be concerned with Michael Owen’s likely success this season. Three competitive and seven pre-season matches on and Owen has scored only against the semi-professional teams on the Asian tour. Play him and the goals will come they say. The fans are still waiting.

Perhaps – most realistically – United is likely this season to be the ‘rigid’ team predicted by Darren Fletcher. Safety in defence is the team’s route to success this season. It’s a strategy that is being undermined by injuries, with Rio Ferdinand out for the next month, Johnny Evens in desperate need of an ankle operation and Nemanja Vidic only just returning to fitness. The Serb, who will play against Wigan at the weekend has no pre-season matches behind him. For the sake of a morale boosting victory against the Latics, fans will hope Vidic picks up the pace instantly.

Bitter Benitez lacks any class

May 17, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion No comments

Has there ever been a worse loser in the history of the Premier League than Rafael Benitez? It’s hard to recall a losing manager more bitter, or buried deeper in a pit of denial than Liverpool’s Spanish coach. As United claimed a record equalling 18th Enlgish title yesterday, Benitez refused to congratulate Sir Alex Ferguson on the victory. We shouldn’t be suprised. In the final analysis class shows in defeat much more than in victory.

Ferguson has had many intense rivalries over the years. There isn’t a coach on the planet more schooled in falling out with his closest rivals. But even Arsene Wenger at his most myopic was able to grudgingly congratulate Sir Alex Ferguson on each of United’s Premier League wins. Jose Mourinho was positively gushing with praise in comparison to Liverpool’s loser. United’s manager, meanwhile, has famously sent a case of fine wine to each of the very few victors other than himself in the Premier League’s history.

Benitez? According to second-placed Benitez Liverpool are the better side, United bought the title, referees are all United fans, and the moon and the stars were out of alignment. Sounds like you’re talking out of Uranus, Rafa.

This coming from a man who  spent £7 million on a third choice left-back, and £20 million on a striker he refused to play, as part of a £200+ million splurg over the past five years. And he has the gall to claim United’s success is built on money. Perhaps the defeated Benitez would have faired better actually coaching his side, rather than choosing to pile the pressure and focus on his own team with a truly insane “facts” rant about Sir Alex. At least his scally players don’t want to beat each other up. Oh.

The truth is that Benitez, after spending a fortune, has still failed to land Liverpool the title. But he could have. United started the season slowly, coping badly with the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo through injury and the integration of Dimitar Berbatov into the side. Add to that the multiple inuries to defensive personnel and the burden of playing in the European Super Cup and the World Club Cup, and this was Liverpool’s best chance of landing the Premier League in nearly two decades. But Liverpool’s failure of a manager blew the Scousers’ chances with a consistently cautious approach at home, and his January meltdown.

United meanwhile will be even better next season, whether Carlos Tevez stays or not.  The Reds’ yougsters – Nani, Anderson, Rafael and Fabio da Silva, Danny Wellbeck, Johnny Evans, Rodrigo Possebon, Zoran Tosic and Federico Macheda – will all be a year more mature. Wayne Rooney and Ronaldo are still only 23 and 24 and still getting better. And that’s without spending a penny in the transfer market, which Ferguson will do if the right man comes along.

Beating Liverpool once against next season, to land a record 19th title, will be all the sweeter for watching Benitez melt down again. Now that’s a fact.

Gambler Fergie Hits Jackpot

May 16, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion 1 comment

Manchester United won a record-equalling 18th English championship – their 11th in the Premier League – after a scoreless draw against Arsenal at Old Trafford this afternoon. The draw takes United an insurmountable seven points clear of Liverpool. And despite the bleating emanating from United’s rivals down the M62, the Reds thoroughly deserve the title after a producing the most consistent attacking football throughout the season.

United’s victory is in no small part down to Sir Alex Ferguson, whose propensity to gamble by throwing on forwards has helped United pick up crucial points when it looked like none were coming. Forget any talk about injuries to Gerrard and Torres, in the final analysis Sir Alex’ bravery in consistently throwing on four forwards when the chips were down was the real difference this season. With United’s 18th title, not only has Fergie knocked Liverpool “off their fucking perch” but he has trampled all over their dying corpse. Ronnie Moran, Graeme Souness, Roy Evans, Gérard Houllier, Rafael Benítez… you all came and tried but your boys have taken one helluva beating over the past 19 seasons.

The season didn’t start out that way of course. With Cristiano Ronaldo recuperating from an ankle operation and Dimitar Berbatov settling into the side, United started slowly. The team lost to Zenit St. Petersburg, Liverpool and Arsenal, alongside draws with Newcastle, Celtic and Aalborg among others, all before Christmas.

The Red’s victorious trip to the Fifa Club World Cup in Japan late December seemed to galvanise the side though, not least the defence, which went 14 Premier League games without conceding a goal as Rafa Benitez went into meltdown. The Liverpool manager started moaning about his now infamous “facts” on January 8th and seemingly hasn’t stopped since. But the only affect Benitez achieved was to throw his team into the bear pit and magnify the pressure. It backfired in the most spectacular way and has helped to leave Liverpool without a trophy once again.

Ferguson has seen it all before of course. When the pressure was applied it was United, not Liverpool, nor Chelsea, and never Arsenal that came up with the answers time and again. Late and often unlikely winners against Bolton, Stoke City, Aston Villa and Sunderland, to name but a few, have bought enough points for the title and some to spare. More often than not the gaffer was prepared to put Carlos Tevez, Waybe Rooney, with the aforementioned Ronaldo and Berbatov on the pitch all at the same time. United’s comeback from two goals down to win 5-2 against Spurs at home seemed to sum up a season. Throw two vital goals from 17 year old Federico Macheda the mix and every roll of the die came up double sixes. In the same situation Benitez would have thrown on one of his squad’s 12 left backs.

Let’s hope Fergie has the right numbers once again a week Wednesday in Rome.

One more point

May 15, 2009 Tags: , Shorts No comments

Arsenal head to Old Trafford for Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off, with United needing just a single point to clinch an 18th League championship – their 11th in the Premier League. If the Reds get the draw or win they need it will be the culmination of an outstanding second half of the season. Chasing five major trophies, United are within a point and a game of clinching four. Should the Reds pull it off, the season will rank amongst the very finest in both the club and manager’s histories. And with Arsenal in Manchester, it could be a fitting match in which to clinch the Premier League – just as the Gooners did at Old Trafford 2002. Not revenge as such, but sweet all the same.