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United v Wolfsburg: Van Gaal looks to luck for Reds’ success

September 30, 2015 Tags: , Matches 1 comment
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Ambition. Wayne Rooney once accused the club of lacking a certain quantum of it. There’s certainly no lack of appetite to regain credibility in European circles, but the ‘process’ – as Louis van Gaal might put it – is ongoing. The Dutchman was winner of the Champions League with Ajax and a finalist at Bayern Munich; and he has aspirations to regain the trophy with Manchester United before he retires in 2017. Van Gaal has two seasons to achieve that goal.

Talk of victory in Europe’s premier competition is, of course, premature, especially after United’s loss at PSV Eindhoven. The defeat places the club’s status firmly in context, almost five years after the last of three finals in four seasons between 2008 and 2011. Instead, United is now a club now rebuilding its reputation on the continent after missing out on European football altogether last season.

If anything, the loss in Eindhoven served to highlight United’s regression – and talk of the club’s lowly European status will resurface if this campaign proves to be shorter than anticipated. And it may well be should Van Gaal’s men suffer another reverse on Wednesday night against a tough Wolfsburg side. PSV proved there are no guarantees even if United faces none of Europe’s élite clubs in Group B.

Still, Van Gaal’s ambition remains and the Dutchman appears content with the “progression in the maturity and balance of the team” – especially since Antony Martial came into the side to add a genuine high-class number nine where Rooney once roamed. It leaves United’s manager dreaming of success this season, perhaps ahead of the Dutchman’s own schedule.

“Reaching the final is an aim and winning the final is a little bit of luck,” said Van Gaal on Monday.

“I think Manchester United knows and remembers that fantastically, when they won the Champions League, because I saw at that time the people of Bayern Munich already going downstairs and then they scored in the last minute and, in injury time, Manchester United scored. You can say that was quality but when you have seen the match then you know it was not like that. So you need also luck.

“To get in the final, that is already a fantastic result. In the media, it is nothing because second is not the best. That’s the only thing that counts. But, for me, as a manager, I have to say when you reach the final then you have done fantastically. If you win the final then, of course, all the honours go to your team and yourself but I know better.”

For now United seek both quality and luck with Wolfsburg in town on Matchday 2. The German side enjoyed an unbeaten start to the season until faced with Robert Lewendowski’s Bayern Munich last week. The Polish striker scored five and nine minutes as Die Wölfe suffered the wrong end of a 5-1 defeat. It’s a result that might offer a false impression of Wolfsburg’s quality.

One of Van Gaal’s key players at Old Trafford is likely to be Bastian Schweinsteiger, the first German to play for the club. Schweinsteiger has become increasingly dominant in recent weeks as the 31-year-old’s fitness levels have increased, while the player’s natural leadership skills have come to the fore. Rooney may be the club’s official captain, but Schweinsteiger has become it’s leader. Against fellow German internationals Julian Draxler and Max Kruse, Schweinsteiger’s experience may tell.

“He was my former captain with Philipp Lahm at Bayern Munich so I think that he is also very worthwhile off the pitch,” added Van Gaal.

“You can see it already now because he is already accepted as a leading player, and that is why also we have bought him from Bayern Munich. I believe in the mixture between youth and older players. He is an example for the younger players to follow so I am very happy with him.”

Meanwhile, Dieter Hecking’s side enjoyed a 1-0 win over CSKA Moscow on Matchday 1, although the side could only manage a draw with Hannover at the weekend – a hangover, perhaps, from heavy defeat to Munich. Hecking lost Kevin de Bruyne in the summer – a player who had contributed 43 goals and assists combined last season. Yet, the replacements are high quality too: £25 million attacking midfielder Draxler and Germany international Kruse. Both should start against United on Wednesday.

The club has achieved little in European terms, although the side made the Europa League quarter-finals last season. Still, Hecking’s side has an early advantage in four-horse race – with United already playing catch-up.

“I don’t have dreams. I prefer reality and there is a lot of hard work in front of us, but we are in a good position after our home win against Moscow,” said Hecking.

“We are aiming to get a result. If we can get a result it will give us confidence. We are facing a good team and most will expect a home win and before the draw I would have said United would have finished top of the group. Their defeat at PSV makes it more interesting. That creates a bit of pressure for United. It is up to us to increase the pressure on them.”

History is on the Reds’ side at least. United has never lost the first two games of a Champions League campaign, while no German team has kept a clean sheet in the past 16 Champions League games against United.

The test is real though – just the kind of fixture where Schweinsteiger adds most value. The German captain adds experience and high quality in a team that has little in European terms, as a unit, of the former and has inconsistently applied the latter.

“I scored my first goal for Bayern away at Wolfsburg, so I have good memories,” said Schweinsteiger. “But I always remember it wasn’t easy to play against them. They were always tough matches. Wolfsburg have a good team, especially over the last three or four years. They have improved a lot.”

Team news and line-ups

Manchester United v VfL Wolfsburg, Champions League,  30 September 2015

Van Gaal is without midfielders Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera with minor injuries. Antonio Valencia faces a late test, but could start at right-back. Marcos Rojo has missed the past two matches with a hamstring problem picked up at Southampton and did not feature in training on Tuesday. Phil Jones or Paddy McNair could play if Valencia does not make the team, with Daley Blind moving to left-back.

Van Gaal is again likely to deploy Rooney at number 10 behind French teenager Martial, with support from Juan Mata and Memphis Depay from wide areas. Van Gaal may draft one of Donald Love, Guillermo Varel, James Weir and Josh Harrop into the matchday squad.

Wolfsburg midfielder Luiz Gustavo has a knee injury, while defender Robin Knoche, winger Vieirinha and goalkeeper Koen Casteels are also out of the game.

United subs from: Romero, McNair, Varela, Love, Weir, Harrop, Pereira, Fellaini, Valencia, Young, Wilson
Wolfsburg subs from: Grün, Schäfer, Ascues, Felipe, Jung, Arnold, Seguin, F Rodríguez, Bendtner

Match officials (HUN)
Referee: Viktor Kassai
Assistant referees: György Ring, Vencel Tóth
Additional assistant referees: Tamás Bognar, Ádám Farkas
Fourth official: Peter Berettyán

United 2-1 Wolfsburg

£1 bet club
Draxler and Martial to score @ 11/1

Match graphic by @cole007

Owen hat-trick breaks Wolfsburg hearts

December 9, 2009 Tags: , Matches 4 comments

Michael Owen’s first hat-trick in four years helped an injury-ravaged Manchester United see off Wolfsburg and secure top spot in Group B. United’s injury crisis, with Sir Alex Ferguson missing nine defenders, meant that Patrice Evra, captain for the night, was the only recognised defender in the side that secured an unlikely 3-1 victory in Germany.

Evra, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher created a three-man defence, with the energetic Park Ji-Sung filling in at right wing-back and Nani reprising the role on the other flank.

Wolfsburg required a win at the Volkswagon Arena to seal the club’s place in the knockout stages of the Champions League, while United needed only a point to secure top spot and a potentially easier tie in the next round.

Wolfsburg, surely sensing an opportunity, looked threatening against the makeshift United defence and should have taken a 17th minute lead when Andrea Barzagli found himself unmarked five yards out. The midfielder’s close-range header flew over a grateful Tomasz Kuszczak in United’s goal.

Carrick was then fortunate not to concede a penalty when he felled Makoto Hasebe with a mis-timed tackle eight yards out. While the midfielder was not under control of the ball, the referee got the decision wrong in awarding a corner.

Woflsburg wasted two further guilt-edged chances when Barzagli and then  Zvjezdan Misimovic headed over when well placed.

But United countered well on the break and teenage striker Danny Welbeck slotted in neatly on the half hour only for the referee to rule the Manchester-born striker’s effort offside.

Then came United’s break a minute before the interval. Paul Scholes played a ball out to Nani on the left-wing and the infuriating Portuguese winger repaid the manager’s faith by looping a pinpoint cross to the back post for Owen to outjump his marker and nod in. One chance, one goal from the diminutive striker.

Wolfsburg, almost inevitably, struck back after the break. Midfielder Marcel Schafer crossed from the left and reported United target Edin Dzeko powered a header past Kuszczak. The Polish ‘keeper, who is starting to show some real confidence in Edwin van der Sar’s absence, could do nothing to prevent the equaliser.

Kuszczak was in good form and he denied Grafite, Misimovic and Dzeko as Wolfsburg looked for the winning goal to take the side into the next stage.

Antonio Valencia and Gabriel Obertan came on for Nani and Welbeck and ten minutes later United scored to end Wolfsburg’s hopes of qualification.  Obertan brilliantly danced his way through the German’s defence – beating three players in the process – and delivered an inch-perfect pass across the six-yard line for Owen to slot home.

Wolfsburg, desperate to find an opening, piled forward but United ended the game with a superbly taken third. Obertan found Owen on the counter and the former-Liverpool striker ran half the length of the pitch before expertly chipping in for his hat-trick and three points for United.

Fabio Capello take note.

“It was a fantastic performance,” said Ferguson of Owen’s hat-trick.

“Michael’s finishing and positional play were superb. He has proved his worth and I’m delighted with his performance.

“Obviously, in some games recently we have only played with one striker and Wayne Rooney has been it. Against Wolfsburg we used a different system.

“I made the point some weeks ago that Owen’s training performances have improved steadily. I have had no worries about him.

“The evidence of a player is always on the field and Michael has given us that.”

Team: Kuszczak;  Evra, Carrick, Fletcher; Park, Scholes, Gibson, Anderson, Nani (Valencia 74); Owen, Welbeck (Obertan 74)

Injuries mount for battered United

December 7, 2009 Tags: , Matches 1 comment

It never rains, but it pours. When Sir Alex Ferguson selects his team for the Champions League matchday six against VfL Wolfsburg Tuesday night, he will do so without a dozen players erstwhile at the Scot’s disposal. Critically, Ferguson will have just Patrice Evra and teenager Oliver Gill to call upon in defence for the match against the Germans.

United requires a solitary point to secure top spot in group B but with eight defenders troubling the physio at present Ferguson faces one of his toughest tasks in recent seasons. Wes Brown (hamstring) and Gary Neville (groin) joined Nemanja Vidic (flu) and Rio Ferdinand (calf) on the injury list following United’s victory over West Ham at the weekend. Additionally teenagers Rafael (calf) and Fabio da Silva (groin), and veteran ‘keeper Edwin van der Sar (knee) are also out.

“Wolfsburg will be delighted that we have so many injuries because it’s a big game for them,” Ferguson said today.

“My main concern is getting players back from injury. I have to look at the bigger picture and that means looking to Saturday [against Aston Villa] and future league games.”

While Ferguson rarely fields a team he does not believe can win, the Scot does insists that losing – and finishing second in the group – is no disaster, with high-quality opposition guaranteed whatever the outcome.

“We’ve qualified for the Last 16, and looking at the groups I’m not sure whether first or second really matters,” said the boss.

“So that is a major boost to us. If we are second, I don’t know if it does matter.

“In one group you’ve potentially got AC Milan or Real Madrid, in another you’ve got Barcelona, Inter Milan and Rubin Kazan, another you have Fiorentina and Lyon, or Bordeaux, Bayern and Juventus. You get one of those teams and it doesn’t really matter. They’re all of a similar quality – very good teams.

“The only advantage you’re giving away by finishing second is playing the home game first in the knockout round.”

Ferguson has taken a paired-down 19-man squad to Germany, with Michael Carrick, Darron Gibson and Darren Fletcher likely to fill in at the back. The manager must also decide whether to start Gill, son of managing director David Gill, in what would be his first team début. The central defender has appeared just six times for the reserves this season.

Despite Gill’s presence in the squad Ferguson dismissed any suggestion of nepotism in his pre-match press briefing today.

“It doesn’t concern me. If he is good enough, he plays,” Ferguson told reporters at Wolfsburg’s compact Volkswagen Arena.

“That is the name of the game at Manchester United. I had my own son in the squad for four or five years and he was treated exactly the same as any other member of the squad.

“It will be the same for Oliver.”

In midfield Ferguson has left Ryan Giggs in Manchester, with the legendary Welshman having played the full 90 against the Hammers on Saturday. Anderson, Darron Gibson and Antonio Valencia are likely to start, while the manager will choose between Nani, Gabriel Obertan and Ji-Sung Park on the left wing.

With Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov confirmed injured and not rested for the match – and Federico Macheda also injured – Ferguson has just Michael Owen and Danny Welbeck available in attack.

On the opposite side United will again face Edin Džeko, one of Europe’s most promising strikers. The 6’ 4″ Bosnian, wanted by AC Milan in the summer, is reportedly a target for United as well. Indeed, United’s assistant manager Mike Phelan admitted that the club is monitoring the striker’s progress. But any thoughts of the club spending upwards of £20 million on bringing the forward to Manchester is a rumour quickly dismissed by Ferguson.

“It is an age-old story,” Ferguson told reporters.

“Every time someone does well against Manchester United we are going to buy him the next day.

“There is nothing from Manchester United at this moment concerning Edin Džeko.”

While a draw will guarantee United’s passage to the knock-out phase as group winners, the 2008 champions will not require a result if CSKA Moscow beats Beşiktaş in Turkey on the same night.

United’s injury list

Nemanja Vidic – Virus – 8th December 2009
Edwin Van Der Sar – Knee Injury – 8th December 2009
Fabio da Silva – Groin Strain – 12th December 2009
Rafael da Silva – Calf Strain – 12th December 2009
Wayne Rooney – Hamstring Strain – 19th December 2009
Dimitar Berbatov – Knee Inury – 19th December 2009
Federico Macheda – Calf Strain – 19th December 2009
John O’Shea – Thigh Muscle Strain – January 2010
Jonny Evans – Calf Muscle Strain – January 2010
Rio Ferdinand- Calf Muscle Strain – no return date
Owen Hargreaves – Jumpers Knee – no return date
Gary Neville – Calf/Shin Injury – no return date

Wolfsburg feels United’s bite

October 1, 2009 Tags: , Matches No comments

Manchester United picked up another three points in Champions League Group B following an understated performance at Old Trafford last night. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men did just about good enough to defeat the German champions, finding the goals when they needed to, with Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov producing star turns. But not before Armin Veh’s Bundesliga winners threatened to cause an upset on Ferguson’s home patch.

United started the match in first gear and rarely moved out of it with a performance that was at frequently sloppy. Nemanja Vidic twice gave away possession in the opening minutes before Patrice Evra matched the Serbian.

The opposition hardly needed any encouragement. Wolfsburg, keeping possession well, threw forward players in the style that saw Veh’s team lead the Bundesliga scoring charts last season. On more than one occasion the German’s forwards Edin Džeko and Grafite made their physical presence tell on Vidic and his partner Rio Ferdinand.

It took a quarter hour before Carrick and Anderson finally began to take control of central midfield, the Brazilian youngster driving forward and winning a free-kick that Rooney drove just wide.

Then came one of the pivotal moments of the night, with Michael Owen – starting ahead of Berbatov – limping off with the groin injury that had threatened to keep him out of the match. The Bulgarian replaced the former-England striker under the gaze of Fabio Capello. And the Berbatov, seemingly sensing his opportunity, finally delivered the kind of all-action performance the media has craved.

Berbatov’s introduction seemed to galvanise United as an attacking force, with some pace finally injected into the game. It was the Bulgarian’s neat flick to Antonio Valencia that led to one of the best openings of the first half. The Ecuadorian shooting wide when he really should have worked the German’s goalkeeper. It’s becoming a common theme.

United then had a goal chalked off – perhaps unfairly – after Carrick released Berbatov, for the Bulgarian to set up Rooney’s tap-in. The Bulgarian was onside, O’Shea was off and the assistant made the wrong call.

As the period wore on the Bulgarian became increasingly influential, setting Carrick free on goal before firing over himself. United created enough chances to go into the break a couple to the good.

But it was Wolfsburg that began the second half brighter, with Zvjezdan Misimović pulling the strings and United offering far too much space. It was no surprise then when the away side took the lead, with some nice interplay on the edge of United’s area. Makoto Hasebe’s cross picking out Džeko at the far post to score the opening goal. Replays showed that the Bosnian was marginally offside but his headed finish was every bit as classy as Wolfsburg’s fans have come to expect.

Attack, attack, attack, demanded the Old Trafford crowd. And within three minutes United was back in it. Ryan Giggs, with an Old Trafford banner demanding his investiture, clipped the Wolfsburg wall with a free-kick and the ball span beyond Diego Benaglio into the net for the Welshman’s 150th United goal.

United continued to create chances – Rooney curling an effort just over and Giggs putting the ball in the net, which was later ruled out for offside.

Then United won the match. Fittingly Berbatov and Giggs created the chance for Carrick – United’s better players on the night. The former Spurs man striking an unerring shot into the top right-hand corner.

“Their goal was a surprise but that’s football,” said Ferguson after the game.

“I thought it was a matter of time before we scored but I think the performance was good, it deserved a win. We always try to win, no matter what the score we always try.”

It was a good summary from Ferguson. United did enough to win. Just. But even when under-performing compared to recent Premier League matches against Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur, his side was able to fashion enough chances to take the game.

Carrick and Berbatov, on-the-other-hand, had an outstanding night. The former Spurs players have suffered more than a little unfair criticism in recent weeks. Two excellent performances will give the fans food for thought, and the manager ever greater options.

All achtung as Wolfsburg arrives in Manchester

September 29, 2009 Tags: , Matches 4 comments
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Reigning German champions VfL Wolfsburg arrived in Manchester today ahead of the side’s Champions League Group B encounter with United at Old Trafford on Wednesday night. The Bundesliga side, seeded the group’s worst outfit, arrives with few in Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad expecting anything other than a thorough test for last season’s beaten finalists. But far from worrying about Wolfsburg, Ferguson is already looking beyond the group towards a third final in a row.

“I think the material is there for us to win the European Cup again. We have a good bunch of players. And if we win it, it won’t be the team that wins it, it’ll be the squad,” said Ferguson.

“But it’s not easy to win it, as we found out in last season’s final against Barcelona.”

“One mistake in a big game like that and you’re crucified, remember that. One mistake – dead.”

United, on a seven match winning streak, emerged from a testing matchday one tie away to Besiktas with a 1-0 view victory, courtesy of Paul Scholes’ header. Ferguson, who will be without virus-struck South Korean winger Park Ji-Sung, is looking for a home win that would take his side to within a game of qualification. Nine points is typically enough to qualify, a fact not lost on the manager.

“If we keep our heads and play the right way in the group stage of the competition, I think we should qualify,” said Ferguson, who is likely to rotate his squad for the tie.

“When we get to the later stages, then we can start to think about getting to the final in Madrid.”

Wolfsburg won the club’s first ever Bundesliga title in 2008-9 and the team arrives at Old Trafford boasting the talents of Edin Džeko, one of the most coveted strikers in Europe. The Bosnian scored 26 league goals last season and was the subject of multiple bids from AC Milan in the summer.

Armin Veh’s side, which has suffered an uncertain start to the season with defeats against Hamburg, Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen, also Includes Brazilian Grafite and former Newcastle United striker Obefemi Martins. Grafite, named German Footballer of the Year after scoring 28 goals in 25 Bundesliga appearances last term, scored a hat-trick in Wolfsburg’s 3-1 victory over CSKA Moscow. He is only the third overseas player to win the award after Aílton and, in 2008, Franck Ribéry.

However, the Wolkswagen-owned team, will be without new signing Thomas Kahlenberg, who is out with a long-term hip injury.

This is Wolfsburg’s first trip to England, although they did emerge victorious from their first encounter with a Premier League team last season – beating Portsmouth 3-2 in the UEFA Cup group stage with goals from Džeko, Zvjezdan Misimović and Christian Gentner.

Ferguson believe’s that it is not beyond Veh’s team to do well in this season’s competition.

“It says a lot for Wolfsburg’s position and progress that they did win the league last year and they did it in a very positive way with the goalscoring form they showed,” said Ferguson.

“They beat Bayern Munich 5-1 with only four or five games remaining and they won their final game 4-0 – that’s emphatic.

“Countries like Germany are always producing clubs capable of winning the Champions League. Yes, the last few years it has been dominated by the English teams in the semi finals and finals but there is always the possibility that someone else can come in to win the Champions League. If you take the final between Porto and Monaco just a few years ago, it’s a case in point.”

Ferguson’s main selection dilemmas are in midfield and up-front. Joining Park on the injury list could be Michael Owen, who is suffering from a minor groin strain. Although the former Liverpool striker took part in light training on Tuesday, he is unlikely to play until fit. While the manager has concentrated on developing the Dimitar Berbatov – Wayne Rooney axis this season, there has been some expectation that Owen may start against Wolfsburg.

In midfield Scholes, superb against Stoke City at the weekend, is unlikely to play twice in three days, with Anderson favourite to replace the former-England star. Ferguson must also choose who to start with on the wing. Ryan Giggs came on as substitute to great effect against Stoke City at the weekend and may play in place of Nani, who was so wasteful last time out.

Rooney, who has now scored 11 in 12 competitive games for club and country since June, will start his 50th European game.

Ferguson’s United has not lost a home game in the Champions League since a 1-0 defeat by AC Milan in February 2005. Wolfsburg, despite its outstanding strike-force, is unlikely to break that record tomorrow night.