Tag Wolverhampton Wanderers

Tag Wolverhampton Wanderers

Reds focus on title with Wolves in sights

March 18, 2012 Tags: , Matches 59 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson is rarely one to dwell on past defeats, even if Thursday’s hammering at Athletic Bilbao’s hands was particularly galling. In 10 European ties this campaign, Ferguson’s Manchester United side rarely rose above the mundane. It is no surprise, then, that the Scot chose, Friday, to move on from Europa League elimination, focusing instead on the positive as his side chases the Premier League title.

With little time to dwell on what has been a disastrous European campaign, the Reds will move four points clear of near neighbours Manchester City with a win over Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux on Sunday. That potential gap, a barely credible concept just weeks ago, is reward for United’s “resilience” in the title race, says 70-year-old Ferguson. Indeed, if anything can drive away the indolence demonstrated in Bilbao, then a title to pursue surely must be it, with pressure mounting on Roberto Mancini’s outfit as the race comes into its final straight.

With City not hosting Chelsea until Wednesday, Ferguson praised his squad’s determination and experience in hunting Mancini’s side down this season – a level of character certainly not demonstrated in Spain on Thursday, where far too many senior pros simply did not care about the result.

“The players have performed, they’ve gone out there and shown a great resilience and a great determination because they know they’ve got a chance of winning this league,” Ferguson told MUTV this week.

“They know they’ve got a great chance. It’s marvellous, it’s a testimony to the players’ resilience. We’ve got to take one game at a time. It’s the best way. If you look too far ahead, you can get yourself confused. Thinking too far ahead can be a danger.

“The mental attitude of the players who’ve been there and done it all before is take it one game at a time and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. That’s the part they play – the Ferdinands, Evras, Giggs, Scholes and the Rooneys. They’re the ones who will guide the younger players. They bring that sense of ‘It’s not affecting me, it shouldn’t affect you.’ I think it helps, I really do.”

Wolverhampton Wanderers versus Manchester United, Premier League, Molineux, 18 March 2012, 1.30pm.Despite European failure, United face Wolves in the Midlands on the back of seven wins in the past eight Premier League games – a run that included fixtures against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. The series has come amid one of the worst injury crisis in Ferguson’s 25 years as United manager, with up to 11 players out of action at any one time.

Recent prognosis has been more healthy, although long-term injured Darren Fletcher, Nemanja Vidić and Anderson are unlikely to play any part during the run-in, while Michael Owen is some week’s from full fitness.

“It’s unusual to have so many injuries. As we all know, we’ve had more injuries than is normal for any team, in any situation,” added Ferguson.

“I thought everyone was fine. Jones was back, Smalling was coming back… and then Smalling got a head injury, Jones went down with flu, Anderson picked up a hamstring problem and Nani injured his ankle. Just when you think you’ve got them all back, something else happens. But this hasn’t derailed the team. They’ve been brilliant.”

With little more than two days preparation, Ferguson’s squad will have completed only light training following its return from Bilbao. And the Scot may be without a phalanx of players in the Midlands, with Nani suffering from an ankle problem – not a bruised shin as Ferguson reported last week – Anderson pulling a hamstring, and Phil Jones absent with flu.

United’s medical staff will conduct late tests on Rio Ferdinand, who applied ice to a sore calf after being substituted in Spain. Meanwhile, Wayne Rooney could miss out with a knock picked up at San Mames on Thursday night.

The United striker says the club’s away form – the best in the Premier League by some distance – will play a crucial role in securing title number 20 if United is to do so come May. Last season the Reds beat Chelsea to the Premier League based, largely, on dropping only two points at Old Trafford.

“It’s a massive game for us, particularly given that Manchester City don’t play until Wednesday,” Rooney told ManUtd.com.

“We have a chance to go four points clear at the top of the table and we have to get the win. We’ve had tough games there in the last couple of seasons and we need to be at our best to win. Wolves are fighting for their lives after going through a bit of a sticky patch and seeing Mick McCarthy leave. I’m sure it’s been hard for Wolves to lift themselves, but from our point of view when you go to the home of a team fighting to survive it’s always very difficult. So we know we need to play well to win.

“Last season was a nightmare really in terms of our away form. We knew we had to put that right and there’s been a real determination about us away from home this season. That’s definitely helped us get us results and win games. We’re pleased with that and hopefully it will continue between now and the end of the season. If we keep getting the results we want away from home we’ll have a great chance of winning the title.”

Meanwhile, Wolves manager Terry Connor has concerns over Nenad Milijas and Jamie O’Hara, while captain Karl Henry definitely is out with a hamstring injury. The potentially missing trio adds to the turmoil at Molineux, with the bizarre sacking of Mick McCarty being compounded by a long-winded and ultimately fruitless search for a new manager. Heavy defeats to West Bromwich Albion and Fulham in recent matches has reduced confidence to a low.

That Wolves has not won at home in eight games, while United boasts the best record on the road this season, should make for a comfortable away win. But, as ever in the Premier League, Ferguson’s must not count on securing the points without a level of performance significantly better than demonstrated in the double-header against Bilbao.

Paul Scholes’ return to the starting line up will inject some experience into midfield, ensuring that complacency does not against creep into United’s game. Scholes has completed around 90 per cent of his passes since returning to the side in January, while averaging more than 30 in the opposition half per game. It’s the kind of quality, quite remarkably from a 36-year-old, that could just win United the title.

Match details
Wolverhampton Wanderers versus Manchester United, Premier League, Molineux, 18 March 2012, 1.30pm.

Potential Line-ups
Wolves (4-4-2): Hennessey; Ward, Johnson, Berra, Zubar; Kightly, Edwards, O’Hara, Jarvis; Fletcher, Doyle. Subs from: De Vries, Bassong, Stearman, Foley, Milijas, Ebanks-Blake, Hunt, Milijas.

United (4-4-1-1): de Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Scholes, Carrick, Young; Rooney; Welbeck. Subs from: Amos, Fabio, Smalling, Jones, Giggs, Park, Cleverley, Pogba, Hernández, Berbatov.

Wolves: LWLDLL
United: WLWLWL

Match Stats

  • Wolves lost a potentially crucial game 2-0 against fellow relegation candidates Blackburn Rovers in the side’s last Premier League match;
  • W Jamie O’Hara covered the most ground for Wolves in that game with 6.54 miles, although Wolves were out run by Blackburn by 63.01 miles to 60.42;
  • United went top of the Premier League in the last round of games, taking advantage of City’s slip up at Swansea. Wayne Rooney scored both goals for United in a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion, and covered 4.9 miles, second only to Ashley Young’s 4.97 miles as United’s strongest runner;
  • Rooney’s goals were his 19th and 20th of the season, and the England striker is second only to Robin van Persie in the overall rankings of the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
  • Rooney has taken exactly 100 shots at goal in the Premier League season, with 66 shots on target, covering 20 into goals;
  • Carrick completing 51 passes in his opponents half against West Brom – only Yaya Toure completed more in the last round of games;
  • United’s Luis Nani, who is likely to miss the game, has delivered more than any other player in the Index with 116, while Wolves’ Matt Jarvis is third with 90 crosses so far this season;
  • Nani is also one of two United player’s to have contributed ten or more assists this season, with Antonio Valencia also having done so – only five other players in the Index have achieved this.

Referee: Anthony Taylor (Manchester)
Assistants: S Beck, S Child
Fourth Official: H Webb

Reds move on, but will it last?

December 11, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 14 comments

When Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side was thrashed 6-1 by rivals Manchester City at Old Trafford in late October the talk, naturally, was of moving on. United needed to get beyond the freak result, establish some measure of stability, and, most of all, tighten up at the back. To some extent the Reds managed to do that domestically, winning xx and drawing one of xx games up to and including last weekend’s victory over Aston Villa. The football wasn’t pretty, but Ferguson’s side did a solid job of building a rennaisaince.

Then came FC Basel and United’s Champions League exit on Wednesday. Blame the result on bad luck; blame it on lack of quality. Whatever the cause, and whomever the culprit(s), United simply had to take steps towards recovery on Saturday when Wolverhampton Wanderers visited Old Trafford. Indeed, Mick McCarthey’s side was surely the perfect tonic for a bruised United, having failed to win at the Theatre of Dreams for more than 30 years and, more recently, having lost seven of the last 10 in all competitions.

True to the script Sir Alex wanted United thrashed a meek Wolves side, which caved in all too easily. Goals from Wayne Rooney and Nani will have boosted the Reds’ confidence – and goal difference – as the home side racked up an easy 4-1 victory on Saturday. True, McCarthy’s side possesses nobody of Xherdan Shaqiri’s excellence. Nor Marco Streller, Alexander Frei, Nicolás Gaitán, and Pablo Aimar, who have each caused United so much pain in Europe this season. But a win, in the circumstances, is a win nonetheless.

No wonder Ferguson wrote off Wednesday’s loss as bad luck – however disingenuous – and praised his side’s performance against the Midlanders.

“I was well pleased with the performance, our attacking play was terrific and we could have scored a lot more goals,” the United manager said.

“Goals are what we are about really, and today was a fillip in terms of pushing us on in the league. We are coming up to an important part of the season now and a win like this puts us in good fettle. On Wednesday we worked our socks off and didn’t get a break. Today we worked our socks off and we did get the breaks. There’s no question that what happened on Wednesday was a massive disappointment, but some of the young players will be able to learn from that experience. Some of them have not suffered a bad defeat before, and in the long term it could be good for them.”

Moving on from Wednesday has become a theme, with Ferguson rightly eyeing a favourable fixture list during December as United’s opportunity to close the gap on Manchester City in the Premier League. Indeed, more than one player confronted personal demons against Wolves, with out-of-form Rooney scoring twice, and Nani recovering from an inconsistent spell for bag a brace.

And in Phil Jones, the 19-year-old defender Ferguson has pushed into central midfield, the Scot has a determined performer who suffering in the St Jakob-Park cauldron last week, only to recover more than a semblance of pride against Wolves

“The manager said the most important thing was to move on, and that’s what we did,” 19-year-old defender Phil Jones said.

“We moved on quickly and showed what we are capable of. The fans were 100% behind us and that’s exactly what we needed. Everyone at the club was incredibly disappointed on Wednesday, but there’s no point dwelling on it. It’s gone, and now there are other things to play for. It’s a credit to the lads. It was a terrific performance after the disappointment of midweek but we have picked ourselves up quickly and gone again. It was a spirited performance and hopefully we can push on from here.

“Wayne was brilliant again. Just because he hasn’t been scoring doesn’t mean he hasn’t influenced the game because the things he does off the ball are terrific. People don’t take that into consideration, but he has been playing terrifically well for us. Nani was also terrific.”

While United successfully ‘moved on’ against McCarthey’s tepid outfit there are far greater challenges to come. After all, United has failed in the club’s two toughest challenges of the season to date – at home to City, and qualification from the Champions League.

The Reds will surely confirm the renaissance in fixtures against QPR, Fulham, Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers during December. Yet, January begins with a visit to Newcastle United, followed by the FA Cup fixture against City at Eastlands. Then there is the visit to Arsenal, before back-to-back games against Chelsea and Liverpool in early February.

And whatever the structural imbalances in Ferguson’s squad it is highly unlikely that the Scot will dip into the transfer market this weekend. More unlikely still that the Glazer family will dig deep to sign the kind of high quality central midfielders that are so patently required.

“It is very difficult to buy players in January,” Ferguson said.

“You don’t just want to buy any player simply because it gives you another player. If you are going to buy, you want to buy someone who can make a difference. We have only had maybe four or five signings in my time here in January: Louis Saha, Andy Cole, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra. It is not a consistent route for us to buy in January, simply because of all the disadvantages. There are a lot of issues there and there is nothing in my mind at the moment.”

With Anderson too often injured and always inconsistent, and Tom Cleverley unlikely to be fit until well into the New Year, Ferguson is left to find his best combination in midfield. December should provide the boost to confidence United’s 69-year-old manager seeks. But the real challenge will come in the New Year, with the tougher fixtures to come. Will United’s familiar failings raise their head again?

Fergie rues Nemanja loss ahead of Wolves visit

December 9, 2011 Tags: , Matches 58 comments

Manchester United will be without captain Nemanja Vidić for the remainder of this season after Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed that the 29-year-old Serbian ruptured his left cruciate ligament against FC Basel on Wednesday night. News of Vidić’s prognosis adds to a growing list of absentees ahead of United’s weekend Premier League fixture, with manager Ferguson missing xxx first team players for the Midlanders’ visit to Old Trafford.

Losing Vidić, easily United’s best player this season – subjectively, or by any objective measure – is a huge blow to United’s ambitions in the three competitions that Ferguson’s outfit will still contest. Indeed, the news capped off one of Ferguson’s worst weeks in the past five years after United was knocked out of the Champions League.

But with a busy Christmas period coming up Ferguson says that United’s squad will cope with the loss – both of Vidić and to Basel in Europe’s premier competition – starting against Wolves on Saturday afternoon.

“We thought it was a bad one,” Ferguson said of Vidić’s injury.

“He’s out for the season. It’s not unexpected but it’s still bad news. He’ll see a specialist on Monday to work out the progress of when he has the operation. It won’t be immediate as we have to let the swelling come down. We’ll now have to choose between Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. I thought Rio had his best game of season on Wednesday. His experience will be vital.

“[Vidić] is a loss and we missed him in the early part of the season for five weeks with his calf injury against West Brom. He’s such a dominant character, particularly his defending in the penalty box. That’s always a strong feature of his game.”

Manchester United versus Wolverhampton Wanderers, Premier League, Old Trafford, Saturday 10 December 2011, 3pmIn the Serbian’s stead will step one of Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans or Phil Jones, with the Northern Irishman favourite for selection. But central defence is only one of Ferguson’s selection headaches; the Scot will also be without strikers Michael Owen and Javier Hernández, midfielders Anderson and Tom Cleverley, and full-backs Rafael and Fabío da Silva.

However, the Scot’s options are supplemented by Michael Carrick’s return to the side, after the Geordie missed United’s European defeat through suspension. Dimitar Berbatov, who has missed two matches with a calf strain, could feature from the bench. Fit again Danny Welbeck is likely to start along side Wayne Rooney in attack. The Scouser has not scored in eight matches since netting a double against Otelul Galati in the Champions League, and not from open-play since 18 September.

Meanwhile, Ferguson defended his under-fire players, after United departed the Champions League at the group stage for the first time since 2005 and dropped into the Europa League. Despite summer calls from supporters and pundits to invest in experience, Ferguson has long trusted his squad’s young stars – blaming the media “hounds” for placing the club in the spotlight following Wednesday’s defeat.

“When the likes of Giggs and the other young lads came in to the side, they came in for criticism early on, particularly against Aston Villa [in 1995]. We’ve experienced that many times over the years,” added Ferguson.

“But the Wes Browns and John O’Sheas and Darren Fletchers all became the foundation of the club and that’s what will happen with these young players. They’ve achieved many great things so far. Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck have played for their country – they will be the foundation of the club in a few years’ time, there’s no question about that.

“They had a nasty experience on Wednesday but they know they have the trust of me and my coaches, and they will not be hounded because of one bad performance. Time will prove us right. We’re not the only club in the world that can’t have a bad result. Everyone gets them. How you recover from them is important and it’s good for our young players in particular.

“It’s a situation we have to deal with. I don’t think anyone relishes seeing criticism of themselves. But I’ve said it time and time again: you only need to lose two games here and the hounds are out. It [the criticism] is something I don’t really follow, to be honest, because I know the work we’re doing here is the right work. The players we have here are the right players. We always want to be better, we want to be perfect, but you never can be perfect. Perseverance is necessary to try and achieve that, and that’s what this club is good at.”

That road will start on Saturday against a Wolves side that has lost seven of its last 10 fixtures in all competitions. However, Mick McCarthey’s side comes into the fixture on the back of a win against struggling Sunderland last weekend. Midfielder Karl Henry will start after serving a one-match ban, but defender Jody Craddock has a hamstring injury and is likely to miss out. Roger Johnson could come back into the side.

And despite Wolves’ renaissance last weekend Ferguson could hardly hope for a better opponent to begin United’s own recovery. The Midlanders’ have not won at Old Trafford in 31 years, and victory for the hosts will bring Ferguson’s side to within two points of leaders Manchester City.

United begins a run of five Premier League games, all against teams in the bottom half of the table, before a tougher run of fixtures in the New Year. Meanwhile, City faces games against Chelsea and Arsenal in the next fortnight. It could prove a pivotal month in the Premier League title race.

Match Facts
Manchester United versus Wolverhampton Wanderers, Premier League, Old Trafford, Saturday 10 December 2011, 3pm

Likely Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Jones, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Nani, Fletcher, Carrick, Young; Rooney; Welbeck. Subs from: Lindegaard, Smalling, Fryers, Gibson, Park, Valencia, Diouf, Macheda.

Wolves (4-4-2): Hennessey; Ward, Johnson, Berra, Zubar; Edwards, Hunt, O’Hara, Jarvis; Fletcher, Doyle. Subs from: De Vries, Elokobi, Stearman, Hammill, Milijas, Ebanks-Blake, Guedioura, Forde, Elokobi, Doherty, De Vries.

United: DWDLWL
Wolves: LLWLLW

Performance stats

  • United recorded another 1-0 win in the Premier League game against Aston Villa, with Phil Jones scoring his first senior goal in 63 appearances. Jones has recorded just nice efforts on goal, including his goal against Villa, this season;
  • Nani covered the most ground for United in the game against with 6.85 miles, and the Portuguese also provided the cross for Jones’ goal. Nani remains the most prolific crosser of the ball in the Premier League with 56 crosses delivered, while team mate Ashley Young has made 45 crosses;
  • Despite losing his top spot in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index Rooney remains the striker who has done the most for his colleagues, completing 361 passes in his opponent’s half, more than any other forward in the league;
  • United has scored 31 goals so far this season from 208 efforts at goal, a conversion rate of 15 per cent. However, rivals Manchester City has scored 48 goals from 252 efforts, a conversion rate of 19 per cent;
  • For the visitors Steven Fletcher scored twice late in the second half to rescue three points for Wolves against Sunderland last weekend;
  • Fletcher’s goals were his fourth and fifth of the season, an efficient conversion rate with the striker making making just 17 attempts at goal this season – a 29 per cent conversion rate;
  • David Edwards covered the most ground for Wolves against Sunderland, with 6.8 miles, but Karl Henry is the club’s hardest worker over the season, averaging 7.29 miles per game.

Referee: Michael Oliver (Ashington)
Assistants: C Breakspear, D Bryan
Fourth Official: C Foy

Unbeaten run ends with a whimper

February 7, 2011 Tags: , Matches 28 comments

Manchester United’s 29-match Premier League unbeaten run came to an abrupt end in the limpest fashion at Molineux, losing to Wolverhampton Wanderers with uncharacteristic timidity. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, one up within three minutes, conspired to lose against relegation bound Wolves as United once against suffered away from home. It is the pattern of a campaign.

Yet, there was a certain sense of inevitability about the loss, as United huffed with so little force during a laboured second half. After all, the warning signs have been flagged all season. Three victories away from Old Trafford had come with late and – frankly – unlikely goals.

Not so against Mick McCarthey’s battling Midlanders as United failed to take advantage of Arsenal’s draw with Newcastle earlier in the day. In truth, despite dominating possession in the second half, United looked unlikely scorers.

Ferguson’s men must now regroup ahead of the Manchester derby next weekend, safe in the knowledge that further defeat, this time against direct title rivals, could prove cataclysmic for the side’s ambitions this season.

“It was an opportunity,” Ferguson told MUTV, with uncanny honesty.

“I said before the game, I do think Wolves are in a false position. But we had a great start. We made a lot of chances, particularly in the first half.

“Then in the second we were not at the races. Their keeper did not have many saves to make. The pitch was not very good but we didn’t make anything.”

Perhaps Rio Ferdinand’s injury in the warm-up was a forebare of the game to come. The 32-year-old defender pulled out of the match at the last possible moment, with Chris Smalling unable to take part because he had not yet completed the warm-up himself. Ferdinand will miss the next fortnight with a calf injury.

“It was a blow,” said Ferguson, “because the experience Rio has got is always vital in games like that.”

Indeed, the insecure nature of United’s defence told inside 10 minutes when George Elokobi head home Matt Jarvis’ inventive short corner routine for Wolves’ equaliser. It was some sense of revenge for the Cameroonian who was completely flummoxed by Nani as the Portuguese scored, quite superbly, within three minutes of the start.

If the early United goal portended a fourth away Premier League victory of the season, it proved an entirely false dawn. And a hugely underwhelming one at that.

Yet, United could have added a second within minutes of taking the lead. Wayne Rooney shot straight at Wolves’s ‘keeper Wayne Hennessey after Dimitar Berbatov found the England striker in space, before the Bulgarian again found the opposition stopper after some brilliant footwork inside the box.

Instead, Elokobi headed home and handed the hosts the initiative.

Not that United failed to create chances. Nani went close with a free-kick on the half-hour before on-loan midfielder Jamie O’Hara and then Nenad Milijas both went close for the hosts in a game increasing affected by the driving wind.

But the Serbian was even more influential minutes later as Wolves scored what proved the winner on the stroke of half-time. Milijas’ free-kick was headed home by striker Kevin Doyle, although Elokobi was competing with his own teammate for the glory.

That – for United – was that with the second period offering little in the way of quality in the final third, despite the introduction of Paul Scholes at half-time and Javier Hernández with 25 minutes to go.

True, O’Hara should have seen red for a crude foul on Darren Fletcher that would normally have brought a second yellow card and Elokobi’s hand-ball could have brought United a second-half penalty. But to point fingers at the referee would do little more than paper over the gaping chasms in United’s performance.

Surely, Ferguson’s outfit cannot be as poor at Old Trafford next week, when City visit for the 158th Manchester derby.

“It is a terrific game to recover from,” admitted the Scot.

“It is a massive game for us and something to look forward to. Unfortunately, we have internationals in midweek. To my mind that is crazy but we have to get on with it.

“We have plenty of players who are not involved in international games and they will all play next week.”

Freshness may indeed play a part against City; quality will be even more important. United was desperately short of it at Molineux.

There is no little coincidence in United having lost at Wolves seven years ago when Ferguson’s side was top, and the Midlanders last.

Come May 2004, United lay third behind both Arsenal and Chelsea, while Wolves finished last. For both sides a similar outcome would represent nothing short of disaster from this point.

Match Facts
Wolves – 451 – Hennessey; Elokobi, Berra, Stearman, Zubar; Jarvis, Henry, Milijas (Ebanks-Blake 88), O’Hara (Foley 59) Hammill (Ward 64); Doyle.

United – 442 – Van der Sar; Rafael, Evans (Smalling 65), Vidic, Evra; Nani, Carrick (Scholes 46), Fletcher, Giggs; Berbatov (Hernandez 65), Rooney.

Attendance – 28,811
Man of the Match – Fletcher

Possession: Wolves 51% – 49% United
Attempts: 6 – 14
On Target: 2 – 4
Corners: 4 – 6
Fouls: 6 – 11

Fergie looks to Rooney for Wolves tie

February 5, 2011 Tags: , Matches 306 comments

Wayne Rooney is ready to “take off” and fire Manchester United to the Premier League title, says Sir Alex Ferguson. The manager is backing 25-year-old Rooney, who scored twice against Aston Villa on Tuesday, to find some long-awaited consistency in the final months of the season.

Rooney is included in United’s travelling party for this weekend’s fixture against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux, with the Reds protecting a five-point Premier League lead. Ferguson is likely to pair the former Everton striker with Dimitar Berbatov in attack; the Bulgarian, who has 19 goals in all competitions, was yesterday named Barclays Premier League Player of the Month.

Indeed, Ferguson can call on an almost fully fit squad for the trip – Rafael da Silva returns after suffering a concussion at Blackpool and Darren Fletcher is fit for selection despite coming off against Villa. Park Ji-Sung is available but is unlikely to feature after the South Korean played six matches at the Asian Cup.

“Rafael should be OK,” Ferguson said on Friday.

“He has trained. He should be available against Wolves. I don’t think we’ve got any other injuries from Tuesday night. With Fletcher, we’ll assess him today. What happened is that his eye closed and he couldn’t see the ball properly. So we had to take him off. I’m sure he’ll be OK.”

Ferguson will also be without Gary Neville, who retired on Thursday, although there is no guarantee that the defender would have made the Scot’s squad anyway. The United manager was effusive in his praise of the 35-year-old this week and hopes that the defender will stay part of the “Old Trafford family” in a coaching capacity.

Anderson could come into the side, with Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs rotated, and Gabriel Obertan is in contention for one of United’s wide berths despite rumours that the Frenchman put in a transfer request this week.

Yet it is Rooney to whom Ferguson now looks, with the striker scoring just his fifth and sixth goals of a frustrating season against Villa. Win or draw at Molineux and United will complete a club record 30 games without Premier League defeat, in a season of unusual mediocrity from both team and star player.

“Hopefully – and there’s every chance with scoring the kind of goals he scored the other night – that he’ll take off,” said Ferguson of Rooney.

“Goalscorers are like that and hopefully that’s what we’re going to see with Wayne. He’s got 14 league games, European games and FA Cup games – he could easily get a good average.

“What Wayne has always had is a fantastic energy to play in a game. He’s always committed to doing his best. The bonus is, as we saw the other night, he got two goals.

“Last season he was very consistent, but in the previous years he has scored in clutches of five or six games. But if he can get the consistency of last season then we are going to benefit from that.”

Chalkboard versus Wolverhampton WanderersMeanwhile, Wolves’ manager Mick McCarthy is under increasing pressure at the bottom-of-the-table club, which has lost six Premier League fixtures in a row since winning at Anfield in December.

The Irishman is hardly aided by injuries to key players, with Stephen Hunt suffering from a calf strain, and Michaels Kightly and Mancienne out with knee trouble. However, Jamie O’Hara could make his début for the club after joining on loan from Tottenham Hotspur.

Indeed, complacency could be United’s biggest threat against the Midlanders, who lost heavily to Liverpool last week. And with a Champions League double-header to come against Marseille before games against Chelsea and Arsenal in March, United’s players will be wary of focussing elsewhere this weekend.

Still, Rooney says the United squad is aware of the renewed Chelsea threat, who strengthened with £70 million worth of new talent on transfer deadline day. Despite making similar losses in the past financial year the Londoners’ owner Roman Abramovich appears to have rediscovered his lust for the club over the winter.

“Certainly we haven’t written them off,” Rooney told MUTV.

“They’re a strong team and we know if anyone’s capable of going on a good run, it’s them. But we know we have to just do our job and we can’t really look at what they’re doing.

“We just have to concentrate on what we’re doing. It’s really up to us now where the title goes, and hopefully we can win that back.”

In that is the rub. Unbeaten in 29 domestic league matches – 24 of them this season – the title is surely now United’s to lose. Five points clear of Arsenal, eight of Manchester City and ten ahead of Chelsea, Ferguson’s team head into the Spring in a commanding position.

The side is in good form too, playing some of the best football this season against Villa.

Ferguson says that just 30 more points 14 games will win United the title. That United has won the last six matches against Wolves since a 1-0 Premier League defeat at Molineux seven years ago only bodes well.

Wolves – 451 – Hennessey; Elokobi, Berra, Stearman, Zubar; Jarvis, Henry, Jones, O’Hara, Hammil; Doyle. Subs from: Hahnemann, Craddock, Ward, Milijas, Ebanks-Blake, Fletcher, Mouyokolo, Vokes, Edwards.

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

Referee: Michael Oliver
Assistant referees: Dave Bryan & Mick McDonough
Fourth official: Mike Jones

Wolves – LWLLLL
United – WWWWWW

Hargo injured as Reds find late win

November 6, 2010 Tags: , Matches 46 comments

Owen Hargeaves was a surprise starter for Manchester United as Sir Alex Ferguson’s men struggled to a narrow win at Old Trafford. For the second time in a fortnight Wolverhampton Wanderers was beaten at the Theatre of Dreams but there was little imagination to United’s play on a largely frustrating afternoon in Manchester.

Park Ji-Sung scored twice to earn United the points, including an injury time winner, but the home side takes little credit from the performance, even if the result brings Ferguson’s men to within two points of leaders Chelsea.

Despite the poor performance assistant manager Mike Phelan praised United’s spirit in earning a late winner.

“It’s happened many times before. In true Manchester United spirit we kept going and we got the points,” assistant manager Mike Phelan told Sky Sports.

“The players out there were a credit because it isn’t easy when you’re under the influence of a bug. But we got there in the end and they can rest now.”

Ferguson pulled off a major surprise by recalling the Canadian-born midfielder Hargreaves, despite recently declaring the 29-year-old “weeks away” from a return. The midfielder had not started a game for United in more than two years but began on the right side of midfield in a much changed United line-up to that which won in Turkey last week.

With injuries to key players a concern and the derby coming up at Eastlands on Wednesday, Ferguson made six changes to the side that beat Bursaspor in the Champions League. It appeared to disrupt United’s rhythm, which had brought five wins in a row.

Much as in the Carling Cup game against Wolves at Old Trafford last month, United began slowly, with little intensity in the home side’s play. The disjointed formation with John O’Shea, joined by Park and Darren Fletcher in central midfield, hardly helped.

If Ferguson hoped for Hargreaves’ energy to impact on the match then he – and many supporters – were quickly disappointed with the former Bayern Munich limping off with a hamstring injury on six minutes.

The substitution summed up Hargreaves’ miserable run, with just 30 seconds play in the entire 2009/10 campaign followed by a lengthy stay at Dr Richard Steadman’s Denver clinic. The midfielder has undergone operations on both knees in a vain attempt to play for the club again.

Hargreaves’ misery was Bébé’s gain and the Portuguese winger added some verve to United’s attack, which was missing both the injured Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov. The Bulgarian fell victim to the flu virus which has swept the United camp in recent days.

But without Paul Scholes, rested ahead of United’s clash with Manchester City on Wednesday, United too often lacked invention in the final third. Javier Hernández, Gabriel Obertan and Park interchanged regularly but United’s care in possession lacked quality.

Fortunate for the home side then that Wolves’ could not take the lead on the half hour, with Nenad Milijas’ left-foot drive diverted inches wide of Edwin van der Sar’s post by Nemanja Vidic.

Where the visitors failed, United capitalised with Fletcher neatly opening up the Wolves’ defence for Park to score his third goal in the past month. The Korean was as guilty of wastefulness as any but tucked home the chance with a smart first-time finish.

Park’s reward was a move inside from the left-hand to a more central position for the second period as United sought to breakdown Mick McCarthey’s stubborn side.

Yet, Ferguson’s outfit continually failed to provide a cutting edge in the final third. Bébé was guilty on more than one occasion of failing to deliver with team-mates in good positions, although the Portuguse youngster twice tested Marcus Hannemann in the visitors’ net.

For all United’s possession the home side could not increase its lead and Wolves’ took advantage on 66 minutes when former Red Sylvain Ebanks-Blake found the net with a drive through van der Sar’s legs.

It was the seventh time United had given up a lead this season and rich reward for Wolves’ enterprise. The Midlanders have already beaten City this season, with a narrow defeat at Stamford Bridge rough justice on McCarthey’s outfit.

Hernández looked United’s best bet for a winner and certainly United’s brightest attacking outlet. Twice the Mexican forged openings as the Reds sought a second goal, although a booking for a crude dive late in the second half is the first blemish on the youngster’s Old Trafford record.

Ferguson could do little but gamble on the win, with Scholes and Federico Macheda brought into the game with 20 remaining. Bébé – the substitute – substituted following a string of wayward crosses from the right flank.

Still, although the intensity increased with the clock winding down, the famed late Old Trafford onslaught failed to come. If anything Wolves matched the hosts for chances and Steven Fletcher could have done better with a half-chance from 15 yards which the Scot lashed over van der Sar’s goal.

Wolves came within minutes of earning a point, comfortably retaining possession in midfield just as Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion had done against Ferguson’s men earlier this season. United’s second goal seemed unlikely until Park, deep into injury time, cut inside the Wolves’ defence from the right and scored with a stunning finish at Hannemann’s near post.

If United’s younger players have sometimes sparkled this season, then this surely was the flip side of that coin. Inconsistency, in particular from Gabriel Obertan and Bébé today, allied to a deeply average United midfield by historical standards, almost cost the hosts further points.

The paucity of quality in the middle of the park is not helped by Hargreaves’ lengthy injury. Another set-back today had a sense of inevitability about it.

“It’s disapointing for Owen, its just the way things are going for him at the moment,” said Phelan.

“He’s made himself available and he’s worked extremely hard in the two years he’s been out. It was a risk and it didn’t work out for him today.”

Time will tell whether Ferguson is building a final great side on the occasion of his 24th anniversary in charge at Old Trafford. On this evidence it may take some time and no little work in the transfer market.

Match Facts
United – 4411 – Van der Sar; Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Hargeaves (Bebe 9, Scholes 74), Fletcher, O’Shea (Macheda 74), Park; Obertan , Hernandez.

Wolves – 451 – Hahnemann; Stearman, Ward, Berra, Foley; Edwards (Fletcher 65), Henry, Hunt (Ebanks-Blake 64), Jarvis, Milijas (Mancienne 77); Doyle.

Attendance – 75,285
Man of the Match – Park

Possession: United 50% – 50% Wolves
Attempts: 14 – 8
On target: 10 – 6
Corners: 3 – 2
Fouls: 6 – 11

Wolves the warm-up act ahead of derby

November 6, 2010 Tags: , Matches 184 comments

Wolverhampton Wanderers visit Old Trafford for the second time in 10 days, with the hosts looking to extend a winning streak that runs to five games. Unbeaten in 17 matches this season, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will close to within two points of Chelsea with victory over relegation threatened Wolves, with the leaders not in action until Sunday afternoon.

United’s task is not aided by a lengthy absentee list, with key players either missing or struggling for fitness. Nani, Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen and Ryan Giggs are likely to miss the fixture, while Darren Fletcher is doubtful after injuring his foot scoring United’s opening goal against Bursaspor.

Giggs has trained all week and Ferguson will make a late call on the Welshman’s inclusion.

Meanwhile Anderson, Jonny Evans and Darron Gibson have been laid low by the virus sweeping the United camp in recent days. Ferguson missed Friday morning’s press conference with the bug as assistant Mike Phelan deputised. The manager will return to sit on United’s bench Saturday afternoon alongside the trio.

However, with the derby against cross-town rivals Manchester City in midweek, Ferguson’s men could be forgiven for losing focus for Saturday’s clash. After all, the Wolves’ fixture, important in its own right, is already overshadowed by the build up to Wednesday’s game.

“The next game is the most important game. We know how difficult it can be if you take your eye off the game. Wolves are our next opponents and they will be tough,” said Phelan.

“What Wolves have shown is a great resilience to play in the Premier League. They’ve started to play some seriously good football over the last month or so. They’ve taken good teams to the edge.

“I’ve heard everyone is requesting Wolves play a strong side. We always intend to do that and we will put our best side on the pitch we can.”

United can welcome back Rio Ferdinand, who was rested for United’s trip to Turkey in midweek. Chris Smalling will drop to the bench despite another solid display against Bursaspor.

However, with three wingers injured the England captain is likely to be joined in the United side by goalscorer Gabriel Obertan for only the Frenchman’s second Premier League start.

Injuries mean that Bébé will make the United bench at a minimum, with Ferguson likely to keep faith with Javier Hernández and Dimitar Berbatov up front. The Bulgarian has failed to score in seven matches despite an excellent start to the season.

Meanwhile, Rooney will miss both United’s match against Wolves and the derby after United sent the striker to recuperate at the Nike World campus in Oregon. United visited the campus during the club’s American tour in 2003, which houses Nike’s headquarters.

The striker has not appeared for United since signing a new £180,000 a week contract after protracted and very public negotiations last month. Death threats were made against the 25-year-old as the now infamous ‘men in black’ visited the star’s home before Rooney signed.

United, keen to avoid additional publicity in derby week, hope that Rooney will recuperate away from the media spotlight.

The striker will join Nike World’s endurance training programme – “Sparq” – which aims to increase the Rooney’s speed, power, agility, reactions and quickness to elite-level fitness. The plan is to undergo a full week of individual conditioning work, before Rooney returns to Carrington next weekend.

“We have the facilities here, but we thought might be in the best interests of him and the club to have a change of scenery for a little while,” adds Phelan.

“He can go there without the attention that would get around here.”

Meanwhile, Mick McCarthey is expected to name a full strength side. The former Republic of Ireland manager made 10 changes for the corresponding fixture last season, incurring widespread criticism and a £25,000 fine by the FA.

McCarthey is without injured quartet Jody Craddock, Adlene Guedioura, Michael Kightly and Ronald Zubar but can welcome back key players from the side that played United in the Carling Cup. This includes ‘keeper Marcus Hannemann, who this week was critical of Heurelho Gomes’ role in Nani’s controversial winner against Tottenham Hotspur.

Meanwhile, the United manager defended McCarthy against recent criticism by former Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy that the Midland’s side it too aggressive.

“It is an insult to the managers of the teams, because you couldn’t get two more honest guys than Tony Pulis and Mick McCarthy,” Ferguson told Inside United magazine.

“Players are babies now. In my day you had to hit someone with a hatchet before a referee booked you. It’s a different game now.”

Wolves – 451 – Hahnemann; Foley, Berra, Stearman, Ward; Jarvis, Edwards, Henry, Milijas, Hunt; Doyle. Subs from: Hennessey, Fletcher, Ebanks-Blake, Jones, Bent, Mouyokolo, Mujangi Bia, Mancienne, Van Damme.

United squad
Van der Sar, Kuszczak, Rafael, Brown, O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Smalling, Evans, Evra, Fabio, Obertan, Bébé, Carrick, Scholes, Fletcher, Anderson, Giggs, Park, Berbatov, Hernández, Macheda.

Referee: Phil Dowd
Assistant referees: Stephen Child & Billy Smallwood
Fourth official: Mike Jones

United – DDWWWW
Wolves – LLLDLW

Reds edge past Wolves to reach Carling quarters

October 26, 2010 Tags: , Matches 27 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson’s reserves scraped past Wolverhampton Wanderers to reach the Carling Cup quarter-final. Javier Hernández scored a 90th minute winner as United overcame the spirited Midlanders for the second season in a row, with Park Ji-Sung and full-debutant Bébé earlier twice giving United the lead at Old Trafford.

The second period was as entertaining as the first dull, as United edged the best of five goals scored after the break. Ferguson’s side twice took the lead only for the visitors to peg the home side back, with the Reds once again careless at the back.

It almost cost United a place in the next round but with plenty of youngsters featuring Ferguson will feel positive about the Reds’ work on the night.

“It was a very open game in the second half and both teams played really well. It was a really good cup tie in the second half,” said Ferguson, who also praised United’s match-winner Hernández.

“We tend to build up heroes very quickly here but the boy is justifying the praise he’s getting at the moment.

“He’s first in and last out at training and his goal scoring is impressive.

“His touch and control of the ball is improving and his vision is improving too. That’s because the training is intense and we make sure players do improve.”

Ferguson offered a number of younger players the chance to impress, with Gabriel Obertan, Bébé and Federico Macheda spearheading United’s youthful attack. In goal 20-year-old Ben Amos made only his second start for the firs team ahead of the more experienced Tomasz Kuszczak.

Yet, the morgue-like atmosphere at Old Trafford was matched by a flat opening half, with only Macheda’s curling shot forcing a save from Wayne Hennessey in the visitors’ goal.

Indeed, Ferguson must have been disappointed with the penetration and urgency of his team save for Bébé on United’s right-flank. The £7.4 million forward showed glimpses of the pace and skill that persuaded United to spend lavishly on a player Ferguson has not previously seen in action.

But precious little else provided entertainment for the sparse – officially announced – 46,083 Old Trafford crowd. In truth far fewer appeared to turn up, with East second tier and North third completely shut on the night.

Ferguson’s side started the second period much as it finished the first, although Carrick’s long-range effort and Macheda’s curling shot at least threatened the visitors’ goal.

Park, largely disappointing during the first half, should have scored but shot straight at Hennessey when through on goal.

Bébé again looked the most progressive of United’s attacking quartet, forcing the free-kick from which Darron Gibson lashed a 30-yard effort straight at Hennessey.

Indeed, it was the Portuguese who forced the opening goal, beating Steven Mouyokolo for pace on the right before the winger’s angled shot deflected up and over Hennessey and just over the line.

If that should have been the catalyst for Ferguson’s young side to win the match, then inexperience told as Wolves’ corner was headed home by George Elokobi minutes later, with Amos failing to deal with the centre.

United almost regained the lead as Bébé centred for Macheda, who shot high on the half volley. The Italian wasted the opportunity as chances flowed in a far more entertaining second period.

United finally reclaimed the lead as Park exchanges passes with Macheda and stroked home from 15 yards. It was a rare moment of end-product from the South Korean in an otherwise horrendous season for the 29-year-old midfielder.

But United has made a habit of losing leads this season and Darron Gibson dwelt on the bal in his own half, enabling Ebankes-Blake to work an opening for right-back Kevin Foley to score through Jonny Evans legs and beyond Amos.

Twice Obertan could have given United a decisive lead with minutes to go, first failing to convert substitute Hernández’ cross and then firing over when a pass might have been the better option.

Then the winner, with Hernández starting and wonderfully finishing a flowing United move. The Mexican turned from right to left and finished past Hennessey in the final minute.

Cruel on Wolves perhaps but a mark of quality from the young Mexican.

“It was a good game all round. We did really well considering the players we played. Some of them hadn’t played in a while,” added Wes Brown.

“We thought we’d won it when we got the second goal with five or six minutes to go. Chichi got us the goal in the end. We want to win this competition for a third time.

“There were a lot of young players there and they’ve got a lot to prove for the future.”

One of those players, Hernández, has become an instant Old Trafford hero.

Match Facts

United – 4411 – Amos; Brown, Smalling, Evans, Fabio (Neville 74); Bebe (Hernández 81), Carrick, Gibson, Park (Morrison 90+5); Obertan; Macheda.

Wolves – 442 – Hennessey; Elokobi, Berra, Mancienne, Mouyokolo, Foley; Hunt, Jones, Jarvis (Doyle 85); Ebanks-Blake (Bent 80), Fletcher.

Attendance – 46,083
Man of the Match – Bébé

Possession: United 53% – 47% Wolves
Attempts: 17 – 15
On target: 10 – 7
Corners: 4 – 6
Fouls: 12 – 6