Friday, January 29, 2010

Toss the coin-tosser, blow the Gunners away

When I posted something last, I had forgotten one thing about which I had wanted to comment: the infamous coin toss.

No. I don't mean the one before the start of the game to determine which team kicks off and which half the other team starts in. I mean that toss which hit Craig Bellamy square on the head and sent him tumbling to the ground.

I wrote before how I thought Bellamy deserved to be carded for dissent for all the complaining and arguing he did during the game. So yes, I'm sure some of the MU fans, if not all, were irritated with him. But that coin should never have been tossed.

First of all, it could have injured him badly. Secondly, it has now gotten the club in trouble with the FA. That coin-tosser should be identified and tossed out of future United games at Old Trafford. In fact, his or her photo should be distributed to all stadia in the country and in countries where United games are played to ensure he or she is not in.

And that's just for starters. Every single book possible should be thrown at this so-called fan.

What's worse is that a bottle of cider was also thrown at Bellamy. A full bottle apparently. It was something I missed when I watched the game but photographers caught the dastardly act as the bottle was in flight.

It's possible that the coin actually saved Bellamy from worse injury. From the photos I saw, it seemed like the bottle missed because Bellamy went down after being hit by the coin. Toss the coin-tosser I say, and toss the bottle-tosser too. There is no place in a sporting event for people like these.


Bad news. Now that Ferdinand has been given an immediate four-match suspension for violent conduct, the defence is back to square one. He was playing well since coming back from the treatment table but now will have to sit out four matches. The reports I've been reading say it's an immediate suspension but do not say if there is an appeals process. Can anyone out there help me with this?

Expect a top class match at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday night. Both are fantastic sides but I think MU has an edge over Arsenal. The Gunners are the highest scoring side in the league but United has one of the best defensive records, and have scored only slightly less than Arsenal.

Arsenal players are skillful and play attractive football, but I notice that they tend to overpass the ball. It's almost as if they try to walk the ball into the net. While this may work against lesser teams, there is no way the United defence is going to allow this to happen.

Still no news about the MU lineup as I write this, but then again, the game is still two days away. Unfortunately, I won't be around this weekend so I'm writing this early.

On the Arsenal front, Eduardo has been ruled out and Vermaelen is doubtful. It was earlier feared that Vermaelen had broken his leg, but a scan has confirmed that the fears were unfounded. He still remains doubtful for the match, though, so new old boy Sol Campbell looks set to face United.

A thrilling match is definitely in store. And it will be a close one. But I still see United coming out on top.

My crystal ball says: Arsenal 0 MU 1

Thursday, January 28, 2010

To Wembley we will go!

What a match!

As expected, the game was as exciting as any derby match would be, although I thought the first half was a little off. Well done lads!

As a good friend put it, it is amazing what a difference having van der Sar and Ferdinand back had on the team. United were rock solid in defence and Tevez was constantly frustrated up front. I have to say though that Bellamy caused all sorts of problems but ultimately couldn't do much about it.

Speaking of Bellamy, I thought he should have been carded for constantly complaining and contesting the calls against him. How much dissent should a referee take before handing out a card? I think he clearly deserved one, but then again, maybe I'm biased!

Another thing I have to say is that when I saw the five-man midfield lineup, I thought the worst. But they played well together and ended up delivering. What more can you ask when you have midfielders scoring goals for you?

As the good friend also said, Scholes and Giggs seemed to roll back the years last night. The only thing that marred their performance was that yellow for Scholes. How is it that Scholes has not learnt to tackle in all those years playing football is just beyond me. The best part of it all is that he is just such a nice fellow, so much so that no one thinks he is a dirty player, despite the large number of cards he's picked up over the years. His reputation as a bad tackler though, sometimes has him getting carded for the smallest infraction.

Fletcher and Carrick were great too, especially the former. Fletcher's combativeness was a delight to see as that is something the team lacks sometimes. His set-up for Carrick's goal was good too as he showed what a good team player he is by pushing it to his mate and not trying to turn and shoot. And what a goal it was. Scholes' goal was good, but Carrick's was just something else. It was so beautifully placed that it didn't take much power for it to go past Given and bulge the net.

The blemish to the team's performance came when Tevez scored. It was a good piece of opportunistic finishing coupled with a bit of luck. I hated it that of all people it was Tevez who scored.

And now we come to that talismanic striker who seems to be unable to stop scoring these days. Rooney made it 3-1, making sure that for the second time in a row, Man City lost to a goal in time added on at Old Trafford.

So another Man City loss at Old Trafford in injury time means another 4-3 scoreline (albeit over two legs) and another appearance in a finals for Man United. Now bring on Aston Villa.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

This is it (at least for now)!

So, tonight's the night!

The Carling Cup finals are beckoning and all United has to do is win it by a 1-0 scoreline. Of course, MU is not the sort of team that will settle for that kind of scoreline and will likely be going all out to put several goals in and seal the final spot emphatically.

Still no news about who is going to feature in this match but you can bet all the money you have that, barring any injury, Rooney will be there. England's top striker is in red hot form at the moment and Fergie will not want to leave him out of any team which is fighting for a place in a final.

It's just a matter of who will be playing alongside Rooney. I think Owen did well the other day as he showed a good level of understanding with Rooney. Perhaps trying Owen out from the start may be a good idea.

I'd also give Nani a chance to start this one as well, although I still feel Valencia is a better player overall. Nani did well the other day, I thought, so why not give him a chance to prove that it wasn't just a flash in the pan. Valencia should be kept on standby, though, in case Nani doesn't deliver.

Other than that, I don't think there will be any problems selecting the team. I'm looking forward to another cracker of a match. We'll see you in the final, Aston Villa!

My call: MU 3 MC 1

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Simply wonderful

What a game. What a performance by Rooney!

Missed most of the game, dozing off because I was just too tired after a full day at the NPC inter-media hockey tourney, but from what I saw, this was the best performance for a long, long time! Rooney's goals were really well taken, especially the second and fourth.

The defence looked rock solid, something I have not been able to say for a really long time. Ferdinand played well despite being out for quite a while. Evans was good too, as were Evra (who is probably the most consistent of all the MU players) and young Rafael. The entire midfield played well too, including Nani.

Nani has got to be the greatest enigma in the United squad. The boy has the skills, but his performances belie this. Ronaldo was exactly like him when he first came to United. He held on to the ball for way too long, passing only when he had no other choice. And when he should hold on, he passed. It's the same with Nani. But where Ronaldo learned from his mistakes and improved, Nani hasn't. So yesterday's game showed Nani can do it. Let's hope he continues to do so.

Up front, Owen and Rooney worked well together. Owen just needs to improve on his shooting. For such a natural finisher, he seems to have lost much of his ability! But still, he combined well with Rooney.

So, it's top of the league again, albeit with more games played than Arsenal and Chelsea. This means more pressure on the other two clubs, and hopefully, this will translate to dropped points for them.

Good job boys. Let's keep up the good work!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Never thought this would happen!

It is an FA Cup weekend and United are playing a league match. I never thought this could happen so early on in the FA Cup season.

Oh well! C'est la vie!

The news out of Old Trafford is that Mame Diouf has put himself in the running for a place in the squad against Hull with a hattrick in a reserve match against Sunderland which ended in a 4-0 scoreline. I highly doubt Diouf will be in the starting lineup, but he will certainly make the bench. I am quite a fan of the fellow. He's got some great qualities, and I think he can only get better as he gains experience in a league as tough as this. Well, it's certainly much tougher than the Norwegian league!

The bad news is that O'Shea is out for a long time. Not the best player in the world, he is. But, he is an important member of the squad when you take into account his "utility-ness". He's even popped up and scored goals, including one very important winner against a certain side coached by a Spaniard and now find themselves running out of trophies to win.

Hull may be languishing without an away win this season, but don't count them out just yet. The fact that they are third from bottom and the second half of the season is already underway may just push them to perform. That, and the fact that they are tied on points with West Ham and Wolves and just a point behind Burnley should make them want to get the points.

Having said that though, it is more likely than not that United will come away with full points on Saturday. The Red Devils, after all, need to ensure they get all the points they can. After the midweek matches, they are now third, a point adrift of Arsenal and Chelsea. And with Chelsea still with a game in hand, United need to get their act together and make sure the pressure is on the top two.

Still no news about a possible starting lineup from Old Trafford as I write this, and since I won't be around tomorrow to check up on this, I guess I will just have to wait for the start of the match to find out who plays.

My prediction: MU 3 Hull 0

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Derby Day loss

First of all, I have to apologise to anyone who may have read my previous posting, which I have since deleted.

I had mistakenly written that the Carling Cup game last night (or rather, early today) was being played at Old Trafford! I don't know what I was thinking at the time I wrote it as I actually did know the game was being played across town. Well, this is a lesson I know I will remember.

Missed the first half of the game because I went right back to sleep after switching off the alarm. Woke up at 5am and managed to switch on the TV just as the second half began. I don't know how the first 45 minutes were, but the second half was quite a match.

I thought United played well, despite the fact I hate the 4-5-1 formation Fergie seemed to have them in while the game was still tied at 1-1. The defence still needs work though. Tevez's second goal was just sloppy defending. When the ball came back in, the City player who was first to the ball (if I'm not mistaken it was Vincent Kompany) had actually slipped. Yet the United defence could not reach the ball before he did.

After Tevez scored, the game really picked up, especially when Fergie brought on Owen and MU reverted to a two-man strikeforce. We really piled the pressure on but Shay Given, one of the keepers for whom I have a lot of respect, was really playing a blinder, wasn't he? When he moved to City, I thought Mark Hughes had made a fantastic choice, and Given has proven that time and again.

Rooney missed a host of chances, sending the ball off target or watching Given pull off some superb saves. I especially liked the one where Rooney weaved his way around the City defence and then sent a shot with the outside of his right boot, only to see Given tip the ball away. What a move, what a shot, what a save!

The best chance, however, fell to Valencia, when Evra (I think it was the Frenchman) crossed from the left. With Given missing the cross and the goal gaping, Valencia somehow managed to not hit the target. To be fair, though, that cross did come in like a bullet, and at a height which was not an ideal one.

In the end, all credit to City. They played well and managed to take the two chances necessary to turn the game around after going down to a Giggs goal in the 17th minute. Apart from Given, I think credit must go to Tevez and Bellamy.

Now it's down to the second leg at Old Trafford. Giggsy's goal in the 17th minute may just prove crucial to the champions.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Was it enough?

They may have scored thrice, but Man United hardly looked like a team of champions. Call me difficult to please, if you like, but I thought the 3-0 scoreline was a little flattering.

For starters, Burnley missed two golden opportunities. The first was when Chris Eagles sent David Nugent away with a precise pass and the latter in turn played a delightful ball in to Steven Fletcher, only for Fletcher to send the ball wide. Then, in the second half, Nugent himself missed the target when it seemed he would score with only Edwin van der Sar in his way, and Gary Neville trailing behind.

Antonio Valencia and Patrice Evra posed some danger flying down the wings, especially the former. But Nani was only producing in patches, and even then not so effectively. The best chances were falling mostly to Dimitar Berbatov but the Bulgarian star just was not producing his best, perhaps due to the pain in the knee that he is suffering from. Still, he should have put away some of the chances he had.

United didn't look like scoring until that overhead kick from Nani which was heading into the bottom corner till Burnley keeper Brian Jensen managed to get his fingertips to it.

So it was that at half time, I was beginning to think it was going to be one of those nights where for all the possession they had, the Red Devils would fall to a solitary goal because they could not make their chances count. Thank goodness for a five-minute purple patch in the second half.

That pass from Rooney to set up Berba for the first goal was just inch perfect, wasn't it? The entire sequence was great actually -- good movement, a great little run from Berba, the defence-splitting through pass from Rooney and a good-enough finish with a touch of luck as the ball hit the defender's boot. Really, I felt sorry for Jensen, who had put up a great performance so far. Not sure if he would have saved the shot if not for that little deflection.

The second goal, too, made me feel sorry for Jensen. He did well to save the shot from Berba, but could do nothing about the follow-up from Rooney, so well did England's top striker place the ball. It was a mark of a good striker that Rooney took the time to push the ball a little further before picking his spot. A first-timer may not have resulted in a goal, so taking his time was the best choice, and he certainly did.

When Mame Diouf came on for Rooney, I was pretty excited. The boy is fast, powerful and strong in the air. His movement is good as well, as proven by his first goal for the club on his Old Trafford debut. That probably wouldn't have been the toughest headed goal of his career -- it hardly showed his strength in the air -- but it took great presence of mind to loop that header over the hapless Jensen. Here's hoping we see more from Diouf.

By the way, how many Dioufs are there in the world who play football? That name seems to be as common as Smith and Johnson!!

As an aside, it was good to see Chris Eagles playing. I was a big fan of his when he was in United, but unfortunately he never did quite make it. I thought he played well last night, and still think he has a good career ahead of him.

So, all in, it was not the best of performances. But hey... a win is a win is a win. The three points are all that count at the end of the day.

Now bring on that pretentious team from across town!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Here we go!

What a time to be starting a blog!

The bad run of late, and it is a bad run by Man United's standards, is probably not the best of times to be starting a blog. Of course, there are worse times to start, but this is still not a good time.

No matter! I am a Man United fan and will remain so in "good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death do us part"!!

So this weekend we see the Red Devils hosting Burnley in the hopes of getting back on track in the race for a record fourth successive title. The way things have been going lately, there are those who believe Burnley may just be able to steal a point from the champions. And, I'm not just talking about the "Anything But United", or ABU, members. There are some United fans who have expressed that opinion as well.

Perhaps these people have a point. It's well recorded that teams who have new managers tend to play well. Why? Well, if you have a new manager, you're probably going to want to prove to him that you can play. So it is that the Burnley players are going to be playing their hearts out for their new boss, Brian Laws.

But Laws himself doesn't have high hopes for his team this weekend, judging from an interview he gave which was posted by Reuters yesterday.

"We all know that Burnley are not going to be matching a lot of the teams in the Premier League, the likes of Manchester United, we know that," he was quoted as saying.

Can you blame the man? Burnley is currently lying 14th in the league, having won only five of their 20 games so far. What makes matters even worse is that they have an abysmal away record. From 10 games on the road, the team has only managed to garner one point. So meeting a team the likes of Manchester United, even when the Devils are on a "bad run", would be a daunting task for sure.

There is always that factor that when the chips are down, quality teams like MU are going to bounce back, and bounce back with a vengeance! As they say, beware the wounded tiger. And if United players know what's good for them, they'll avoid irritating Sir Alex again with a lacklustre performance.

Darren Fletcher, who won't be featuring in the Burnley game since he is suspended after that sending off last week, was quoted as saying MU will bounce back. Resilience, apparently, is something senior squad members like Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs have handed down to the younger lads.

As for team news, there doesn't seem to be any coming out of Old Trafford yet. All I know is that Fletcher is suspended, Nemanja Vidic is injured, Owen Hargreaves is still on the mend, as is Rio Ferdinand, and Dimitar Berbatov has to go for surgery. Who plays is still anyone's guess, but I hope Sir Alex doesn't op for the 4-5-1 formation he used against Birmingham. Rooney CANNOT be the only man up front!

I am eagerly awaiting the match. All said and done, I believe the Burnley players will go all out for their new boss so it will be an exciting game, but I still think MU have too much firepower.

My prediction: MU 3-1