Saturday, February 27, 2010

An interesting weekend

This will surely be that!

Man United fans may be looking forward to the Carling Cup final tomorrow, but their eyes, no doubt, will be glued to the idiot box for today's early game. Man City travel to London for a showdown with Chelsea and MU fans will definitely be cheering their City rivals on.

Having won their midweek game against West Ham, United will be hoping City can at least take a point off Chelsea so the Londoners remain within sight. Better yet if City can beat Chelsea. It will be no easy task, as Chelsea have won all their games, bar one, at Stamford Bridge this year. The one game in which they did slip up was a draw so they have yet to lose at home.

With Adebayor suspended, MU fans will be hoping old boy Tevez will do them a favour and smash a few goals past Hilario, who will deputise for Cech, who is out injured for about a month, in the Chelsea goal.

New money Man City visiting Stamford Bridge would be enough to grab headlines in itself, but the focus of the newspaper articles so far has been on a different issue altogether: the match-up between Terry and old-pal-turned-enemy Bridge.

Though both are defenders, they will occasionally meet up during Bridge's forays down the flank or Terry's jaunts into the City penalty area during freekicks and corners. It will be interesting to see how the two react to each other on the pitch. Or will their managers tell them to stay as far away from each other as possible, unless absolutely necessary? Will things come to blows?

Whose silverware will it be?

Come Sunday, Wembley will see two good teams with two good managers going head-to-head. The might of the league's top scoring team taking on the league's meanest defence.

This is Villa's first title match in over a decade and their fans will be hoping for some glory at last. Actually, history is on Villa's side as United have never won back-to-back league cups (whatever they are called at the time).

They are coming up against a team, however, that has a certain man in a rich vein of form at present. A certain Mr Wayne Rooney. There's a report out that Ferguson is considering leaving Rooney out of the match to give him a rest and leave him for the important Champions League and EPL matches which are coming up, but somehow I don't think that is going to happen.

Players definitely out of the final, however, are Ferdinand, Giggs, Anderson and O'Shea, all through injury. Van der Sar should be back between the sticks after Fergie decided to give Foster a run-out against the Hammers in mid-week. Vidic is back, which is great. I think he'd probably have Evans as his sidekick, although I think the young lad has not been playing to par over the last few games. Having said that, however, I have to say I don't know how he performed against West Ham. Leftback should be Evra, of course. As for the opposite side of the field, I hope it's either Wes Brown or, preferably, Rafael.

I don't know what sort of midfield formation Ferguson's going to adopt, but I think Fletcher deserves a place in the squad. If Fergie opts for a five-man midfield, then the centre should also include Carrick and Scholes or Gibson. On the flanks, Nani and Park are the most likely contenders, although Fergie may opt for Valencia in place of either one of them.

Lone man upfront, of course, should be Rooney, and if he gets a partner, it will obviously be Berbatov.

Whatever it is, I'm looking forward to a good game and a good weekend. Here's hoping MU can break that jinx and win a Carling Cup for the second year on the trot. Make that trophy case groan even more boys!

My prediction: a hard-fought 2-1 win for the Devils!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Clearly second best

Pathetic! Absolutely pathetic!

That was indeed a horrendous display by United. Kudos to Moyes and the Toffees for making MU look like a bunch of schoolboys on the pitch.

To be fair, the side looked like they were in control at the start of the game. In fact, there should have been a few goals before Berbatov scored, such was the way they were attacking. But once Everton scored the equaliser (and what a goal that was), United looked out of sorts.

They came out looking and playing better at the start of the second half, but then lapsed into a horrible game again, with Berba and Rooney ineffective up front. Rooney, in fact, really looked like he left his shooting (and passing) boots at home.

Can't bring myself to say anything more except: Good job Everton.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Keeping up the pressure

Man United travel to Goodison Park this weekend for what promises to be a hot reception for Everton old boy Wayne Rooney.

Rooney may be England's darling at the moment, but Evertonians are not likely to greet him with much enthusiasm, to put it mildly. He may have left them years ago, but the Everton fans are still not liking it one bit.

Rooney may have been a top player even as a young lad with Everton, but there is no denying he has improved tremendously as a Red Devil. Look to him again to be among the scorers. After all, he tends to cherish a fight when the chips are down, and the ribbing he is sure to get from Everton fans is sure to fire him up.

Nani and Ferdinand are both suspended, while Giggs is still out with a broken arm, but the good news is that Vidic is available to play his first game of 2010. Nani's replacement is likely to be Valencia, who proved just what a good wide man he can be against AC Milan, setting up the second goal for, who else, Rooney.

Anderson is also in the running for a shot at the first team. After spending some time on the sidelines for going AWOL a short while back, Ando is expected to be in the squad for the trip to the blue half of Liverpool, or so the news coming out of Old Trafford seem to indicate. Not sure I want him in the team, though, since I think Fletcher, Scholes, Carrick, Gibson and Park have been doing a fine job.

I expect Fergie to employ a five-man midfield again, with Park and Valencia playing wide and Rooney, of course, being the lone striker. The middle of the field, however, is anyone's guess although I would probably go for Scholes, Fletcher and Carrick, with young Gibson on the bench.

The backline seems to change in every game so it's anyone's guess who will be on the pitch at the start of festivities, although one player who will feature for sure would be Evra.

Everton will definitely pose a problem. They are strong at home and David Moyes is a shrewd manager. After all, he is one of Fergie's favourites, and that says a lot.

MU old hand Saha is always a handful. I always did like him, but couldn't stand the fact that he was injured so often. Arteta, if he plays, will be another one to watch, as will Pienaar, who has been playing really well of late.

Missing from the lineup will be two of the more dangerous players, he of the wild hair, Fellaini, and more importantly, Cahill. The latter came away injured from the Toffees' Europa League match against Sporting Lisbon and is expected to be out for three weeks.

I still fancy another win for United, which will see them leapfrog over Chelsea, even if only for two hours or so. Chelsea are away to Wolves and I don't see them dropping points there, although you never can quite tell these days.

Whatever it is, United need to keep up the pressure on Chelsea so they will definitely be going for a win here. What am I saying? Does MU ever not go for a win?

The tarot cards say: Everton 1 MU 3

Monday, February 15, 2010

Back to Europe

It's been a while since I last blogged. Been super busy, so have not been able to get things done here.

But since the San Siro beckons, and not much is happening in the office, I simply have to blog today, or kill myself!

A mouth-watering European tie is at hand, and with United having a pretty good run of late, it should live up to billing. MU's last five games have seen them win four times and draw once, while Milan are not exactly on a purple patch, winning only once, drawing twice and losing twice.

But Milan is a formidable side at home. At the San Siro, their last five games have seen three wins, a draw and a loss. MU's away record in the last five have seen them win only twice and lost once. That loss came in the first leg of the Carling Cup at the City of Manchester Stadium.

History in the Champions League, however, shows that Milan will have the advantage. In the two games the two giants have played there, the Italian side has come out tops both times, winning 3-0 in 2007 and 1-0 two years earlier.

Based on current form, you would think MU have a slight advantage, but I don't think this will count for much. San Siro is a place no one travels to thinking they'll come away with a sure win. No doubt Rooney and Co will try their very best to scalp Milan on their own ground, but I sense this will be a very tight game.

The bones say: Milan 1 MU 1


Giggs has been left out of the squad to Milan due to the broken arm he sustained in the game against Aston Villa, as has Vidic who is still suffering from that nerve problem in his leg.

Anderson has also been left out of the squad, albeit for a different reason. Reports from England say "he has yet to prove his worth since going AWOL last month". Anderson went AWOL? When? Why? How come I didn't know this? Oh well!!

Anyway, we have lots of cover for both Vidic, Giggs and Ando. Ferdinand and Nani may be suspended in the EPL, but they are available for the CL match!

Meanwhile, former France captain Marcel Desailly has tipped MU to beat Milan. His reasoning: United want revenge after the disappointment of last season's loss to Barcelona, and that the MU players have more experience playing in the top echelon of Europe than the Milan players!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Taking back the league

MU will go a point clear of league leaders Chelsea for at least a day should the form book ring true today.

Portsmouth seem to be on a free fall, having taken only a point in their last five games in the league. Their last win was at their own ground, an impressive 2-0 win over Liverpool. But that was in December.

In fact, their only away win was against Wolves on Oct 3, and that finished a narrow 1-0. MU went to Fratton Park in November and whipped Portsmouth 4-1, so you know what should happen.

I, of course, say should because, as they say in football, the ball is round.

Kanu is expected to feature for Portsmouth and although I don't think very much of him, he does pop up every now and then and scores crucial goals. Portsmouth is also battling relegation. Mathematically, they can still make it out of the relegation zone but they have to start winning points now. So beware the wounded tiger (although in Portsmouth's case, it's more like a wounded mouse!).

At Old Trafford, Vidic is back in contention although it remains to be seen whether Fergie will use him or save him for the midweek match against Aston Villa. In fact, you can expect Fergie to be ringing in the changes this week as he tinkers with the side again to ensure his main players are well rested and his fringe players get a chance to get some real match practice in and try to prove themselves to the manager.

Some of the players I expect to be among the changes are Fletcher, Carrick, Nani, Scholes and perhaps even Rooney. Valencia should be back in the team to take over from Nani who has been outstanding the past three games. Anderson and Gibson perhaps will run the engine room while Park may be given an extended run in the team. Then again, it could be Giggs out there too.

Up front I think Berbatov would be brought in and perhaps partnered with Owen or Diouf, with Rooney on the bench in case things don't go according to plan.

Whatever the shape of the team and whichever players are on the field, I still expect MU to run riot over Portsmouth. Of course, running riot doesn't always translate to goals, so it'll be worth a watch to see how many get slotted in. Unfortunately, I won't be catching the game as I have something to attend tonight. Hopefully, I'll be able to catch the last 10 minutes or so, or at least the goals, later.

My reading of the stars: MU 3 Portsmouth 0


Tomorrow, I'll be watching the Chelsea-Arsenal match and screaming for Wenger's side. They may have been resoundingly beaten by the Red Devils in front of their own fans last week, but Arsenal are still a formidable side and can take a point or three off the league leaders. With Terry finding the sordid details of his personal life being splashed across the papers in the UK and after Chelsea dropped points at Hull, there is every possibility that the team could find themselves second at the end of the week.

That, and the fact that Arsenal need to win to keep alive their title hopes will make this an interesting tie. Absolutely mouth-watering stuff.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Nani and Wayne show

Boy was I off the mark. I predicted a 1-0 scoreline and I'm sure as hell glad MU decided to prove me wrong.

OK. That's taking it a little far. It's not as if MU decided to prove me wrong. But you know what I mean.

This was one time I was glad Fergie decided to go with a 4-5-1 formation. Ya, ya. I know they say it's a 4-3-2-1 formation, but to me it will always be a 4-5-1 formation. The midfield just ran the show didn't they? Scholes, Carrick, Park and Fletcher were just fantastic. Fletcher, it seems, always has a good game against Arsenal. But the man who stole the show was, without a doubt, Nani.

Nani has played three superb games for MU since returning from injury. And this one took the cake. Absolutely brilliant stuff from the Portuguese. He has shown such improvement, it's amazing. I said before he is good and just needs to learn. I compared him to Ronaldo when he first arrived in Manchester. Nani has taken a longer time to learn, but it appears as if he has finally learned.

Did anyone notice that he is now a better team player? He doesn't try to do it all himself, doesn't try to "bolot", doesn't try to go for goal all the time. It was an absolutely fantastic performance and he thoroughly deserved being named man of the match.

Nani did everything except score. On that count, however, he could have. When Almunia miskicked a clearance when the score was already 3-1, and the ball went straight to Nani, the winger should have unleashed a shot straight away, or after a touch to steady himself. Instead he chose to bring it closer and muffed the chance.

As for the first goal, although it will go down in the annals as an Almunia own goal, Nani deserves the accolades. He did superbly to get past the two defenders sandwiching him, then past the other defender with a feign and a deft move. And then came the big difference between the Nani of old and the present one. The old Nani would have gone for goal. The present one chose to chip a cross to his teammates at the other end of the goalmouth.

That Almunia turned it into his own goal was just unfortunate, because he had to do something. There is no doubt in my mind that Park would have put the ball into the net if Almunia had not managed to reach it. The goal was inevitable.

The second goal was another fantastic piece of work between Nani and the man of the moment, Wayne Rooney. It was Rooney who started it all, gathering a clearance in his own half, holding the ball and turning. Seeing Nani on the run and in the clear, Rooney played such a beautiful pass into space.

Credit to Rooney, too, that he charged off down the middle after playing that pass. Nani's ball back to Rooney was exquisite as well. Talk about your precise passes. That was one to savour. Rooney's shot on the turn was well taken and Almunia had no chance whatsoever.

Now we come to Park's goal. Truth be told, I thought Park should have played Nani in as he was tearing down the pitch, and when he didn't, I thought the chance was missed. But the South Korean did a fantastic job, finishing cooly by slotting past an outstretched Almunia.

Vermaelen's goal sparked a flurry of action from Arsenal, but it was too little too late for the London side. So well did United play that Soccernet's team of the week has three of the players -- Rooney, Nani and Scholes.

It all could have been different, however, if Arsenal had taken their chances. The finishing from the Arsenal players was woeful, to say the least. Chief culprit was Arshavin, who missed at least four chances to score early on in the game.

All said and done, though, MU deserved the win. Good job lads. Let's keep the momentum going.

By the way, who are the idiots who keep saying MU is a one-man team? They said it when Ronaldo was around. Now they're saying it's Rooney who is holding up the team. Get a life guys!