Sunday, April 18, 2010

What a weekend so far

I had wanted to post a preview of the Manchester derby, but work prevented me from doing so yesterday. After what happened last night, I simply had to write something.

I had wanted to write that I thought it would be a narrow one-goal win for Man United, simply because my gut was telling me that. And I had wanted to say it would come with or without Rooney. As it turned out I was right, and it happened with AND without Rooney. It doesn't make sense, I know, but look at it this way, Rooney played from the start but was substituted before Scholes' header found its mark.

The game itself was frustrating. I think both sides played OK, but lacked the sting to finish off their moves. Although Man City, I think, enjoyed the majority of possession, it was United, I think who had the better chances.

I'm not too sure on both counts, however, as I could only catch bits and pieces of the game while working. Needless to say, when that goal went in, I was shouting my lungs out. Don't think my colleagues (at least the non-United fans) appreciated that!

Having seen Spurs win their last match, another derby game, against Arsenal, I knew they could make it tough for Chelsea and grab at least a point, but after the Manchester derby, I knew the London derby would be even more significant.

Right after the United win, I told a colleague, one of the few Spurs fans I know, that his side would have added impetus to win. Winning a derby is always about pride, but with United having beaten City, Spurs would leapfrog the blue side of Manchester into fourth spot. That final qualifying spot for the Champions League next season is now Spurs' to lose, although I know they do have at least one more daunting match to play -- a trip to Old Trafford.

I managed to catch the second half of the Spurs-Chelsea game and, truth be told, the team in white could have slotted at least three more goals past Cech, if not for bad finishing. The biggest culprit had to be Pavlyuchenko, who missed at least two gilt-edged chances. The last minute counterattack which saw three Spurs players against one Chelsea defender and Cech should have, at the very least, tested the Chelsea goalie, but the final shot wasn't even on target!

Thankfully for the Spurs team and fans (and United and fans), they managed to still win. So all in all, it was a good weekend for United. Only one point separates the teams now, and this, hopefully, can be overhauled soon.

Let's hope it's a record fourth league title in a row and record 19th title overall.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Go on and prove them wrong, lads

Still no Wayne Rooney and 1-2 down from the first leg, but van Gaal insists United are still the favourites to progress to the next round at the expense of his Bayern team.

Was it just mind tricks when he said that? Or does he truly believe it to be so? Who knows, but in my mind, he's right.

That all-important away goal could be the one thing which separates the two sides at the end of today's (tomorrow's, for us) match. Then it will be MU as the only EPL team left in the Champions League.

Fergie has ruled Rooney out of the first 11, although the gaffer admitted his talismanic striker may just convince him of a place on the bench. So that leaves Berbatov to lead the attack again.

I wonder, however, what sort of formation Ferguson will use. The 4-5-1 (or 4-4-1-1) which he opted for against Chelsea, or a more conventional 4-4-2? If he goes 4-4-2, he'll bring in Macheda, but I doubt if he'll do that. My gut tells me he will go 4-4-1-1.

The only thing is, will he put Nani or Giggs in the hole behind Berba? I have to say he needs the big guns today, so put Nani and Valencia on the wings and Giggs behind Berba. The middle of the park should see Scholes and Fletcher reprise their roles, although Carrick may just be in for one of the two.

There's no real point in discussing the back line, although news from Old Trafford is that O'Shea is available again.

As for Bayern, Robben could be back but the main threat as I see it is Ribery. He's got some killer skills, the Frenchman. In the first leg, he was a constant threat. But I did notice that his crosses were just not working too well.

Taking everything into account, I think it will be United progressing to the semi finals. But then again, you guys may think I'm biased!

The old animal bones say: MU 1 Bayern 0

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Disappointing, to say the least

To be frank, both sides played half-baked football. A draw probably would have been a fair result, but if either team was to win, you would have to say Chelsea probably deserved it a little more.

It was a tale, I would say, of people going to sleep. First, the entire United defence were guilty of narcolepsy, it would seem, when they allowed Malouda to skip through and lay that pass on for Joe Cole's cheeky finish. Then, the referee's assistant went to sleep when he allowed Drogba to continue when he was quite clearly offside.

It can be argued that the referee and the assistant on the other side were also asleep when Macheda's goal was allowed to stand, as it was handball, but that was a situation which happened in a blink of an eye and I don't think either could have seen much. Then also there were the various appeals for penalties which they missed, at least two of which were legitimate claims.

What has me worried is that United players seem to have lost that ability to pass the ball smoothly, and this has left their game disjointed, so to speak. It seemed like in the last two games, at least, there was no flowing football, something that MU fans have come to expect. That Rooney is missing is not my major worry now, but the lack of a good passing game. Rooney not being there would not be such a problem if the passing game is there.

With the return leg against Bayern coming up, MU and Fergie better find some answers quick, or it will be the end of the road as far as the Champions League is concerned.

Come on you Red Devils! Show them what for!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Moment of truth

For the longest time now, I have been looking forward to this game knowing that this would be the clincher. I still believe it will be, but now my worst fear has been coupled with it.

I'm talking, of course, about the missing Mr Rooney. The man who seems to give his all, running from end to end, sliding in for every tackle, trying to stop goals as well as make them and score them.

England fans may be thankful that his injury is not as bad as first feared and that he will be available for the World Cup in June and July, barring any other injuries, but United fans will be cursing the loss of their talismanic striker at a time when the season is about to end. What more when the title is hanging in the balance, with just a point separating MU from Chelsea and Arsenal only a few more points behind.

Now Chelsea come to Old Trafford more rested than their opponents are, having been kicked out of the Champions League earlier, and on a high having scored 12 goals in their last two league games.

There is no doubt Rooney is an influential and inspirational player on the pitch. Whether his absence is felt will, however, rest on whether the rest of the team can step up and do the job without him.

Berbatov should step into the role Rooney currently occupies as lone striker up front. Fergie tends to use the formation I prefer seeing United play (4-4-2) when playing at home, but in this instance, with a Chelsea team seemingly rampant in front of goal, I think Sir Alex will opt for a 4-5-1 formation, or a derivative there of.

The fact that the only other first team strikers available to him are Diouf, who has yet to impress, and Macheda, who has only just returned from a long-term injury, will also play a part in the decision to go 4-5-1. I'm thinking he will play Giggs in the hole just behind Berbatov.

(You can argue that in this case, the formation will be 4-4-1-1, but I prefer calling it 4-5-1 since it's not a striker playing behind Berba.)

On the wings will likely be Nani and Valencia or Park, while the centre of the park will be marshalled, I believe, by Carrick and Fletcher.

If Fergie opts to play Nani behind Berba, then Valencia and Park will be flying down the wings, with Giggs waiting to come on if needed.

Of course, you never know until you see the starting line-up as you still have players like Scholes and Gibson knocking on the door and champing at the bits. Who knows? Maybe Sir Alex will decide to go ahead and play a 4-4-2 formation. I doubt it as Chelsea are a class team and even though they are away, Sir Alex will definitely show them a little respect and try to control the midfield instead. After all, we just need a draw to keep ahead of them.

Actually, that's where I'm heading with this. I think it will be a draw, although I'm hoping, of course, there will be three points for United at the end of the day.

So, the ol' crystal ball is a little cloudy on this one. It's either a draw, or a slim, extremely hard-fought one-goal win for MU.