Carling Cup final
Venue: Wembley Stadium Date: Sunday, 1 March Kick-off: 1500 GMT
Manchester United face Tottenham in the Carling Cup final on Sunday with Man Utd looking to complete the first of their possible quadruple.
Spurs will look to defend their crown at Wembley, and will fancy thier chances against United. Tottenham are likely to opt for their strongest XI, after they fielded a weakened side in midweek.
Sir Alex Ferguson says he will play youngsters Darron Gibson and Danny Welbeck, as well as rare starts for Carlos Tevez and Luis Nani.
“We obviously want to win because the winning mentality in the club is why we have been successful, but we know what our priorities are and that will affect the team that I pick on Sunday,” he said.
“We have a big game at Newcastle on Wednesday and the priority for us will always be the Premier League and the Champions League.
“The Premier League is the only place to be and Harry Redknapp is well aware of that judging by the team he picked in the Uefa Cup on Thursday.”
Possible starting XIs:
Man Utd: Foster, Fabio, Ferdinand, Vidic, O’Shea, Giggs, Gibson, Scholes, Ronaldo, Wellbeck, Tevez.
Tottenham: Gomes, Corluka, King, Woodgate, Assou-Ekotto, Bentley, Zokora, Jenas, Lennon, Modric, Pavlyuchenko.
Prediction: 1-0 (Man Utd win)
United’s youngsters have been terrific this year, and SirAlex Ferguson believes United are reaping the rewards when fielding their youngsters.
Sir Alex’s policy of giving his young players an opportunity to impress has seen an impact this season as the likes of Danny Welbeck, Darron Gibson, Rodrigo Possebon and Rafael Da Silva have all burst on the Old Trafford scene.
The Carling Cup and the FA Cup are good examples of this, as the Red Devils have enjoyed a good run in both competitions. In fact, expect Sir Alex to continue to field a young looking sikde in the Carling Cup final and for the rest of their FA Cup run.
“Some time ago, I took a deliberate decision with (former assistant manager) Carlos Queiroz that the way forward with our youngsters was that as soon as we identified they had the quality and temperament to become first team players, then we would bring them into the squad and let them train with the seniors,” revealed Ferguson.
“This has made a huge difference to their readiness for the big time and they are able to make the most of a first team chance as and when it comes along.”
Ferguson admits training sessions can become crowded with so many players pushing for starting roles, but believes a big squad is an integral part of a successful side.
“This policy we have undertaken has made our training sessions quite hectic and crowded at times but we have the coaching staff to cope,” he added.
“It has enabled our young players to step up with more confidence than if they were coming straight out of the reserves and into the first team.”
The legendary United boss also believes that squad rotation is crucial to the development of players on the fringes of the senior side.
“When you pick lads and come a cropper, there will be some people who point a finger and criticise you for fielding a weakened team,” said Ferguson.
“But you don’t win every match, whatever the strength of your side.
“For the first leg at Derby (in the Carling Cup semi-finals), I am sure some of our critics felt that with a Wembley final just one step away, I should have played all the big guns.
“But I didn’t have any regrets because I knew that long-term, the lads wouldn’t let me down and that I was pursuing the right policy.”
Inter Milan 0-0 Man Utd
Despite Man Utd’s dominance, the Red Devils had to settle for a goalless draw in a lively encounter at the San Siro.
Four minutes had gone in the game, when Cristiano Ronaldo’s header was well saved by Cesar. Ryan Giggs also had a good chance, as United dominated the first half. Ronaldo had a free kick saved as Cesar stuck out his left arm to deny a goal bound strike
Ronaldo then threatened with another free kick, before headering just wide. The Inter fans grew increasingly impatience at Inter’s lack of goalscoring threat as Ibrahimovic and Adriano failed to exploit a new look defence by United, mustering just one shot on target in the first half. The home side did improve though in the second half, and gave Man Utd more of a test.
Adriano scuffed an effort over while also tried to claim a penalty as Rio Ferdinand put his arm on the Brazilians shoulder as he went to head. Cambiasso couldn’t connect with an Inter corner when given space but it was Manchester United who could have won it, first Cesar rushed out to deny Rooney a chance before saving a Ronaldo free kick in injury time.
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Uefa Champions League, 1st Leg
Venue: San Siro Date: Tuesday, 24 February Kick-off: 1945 GMT
It is a clash of two heavyweights. Man Utd face Inter Milan in the knockout stages of the Champions League on Tuesday night, and no doubt it’s going to be a cracking match at the San Siro.
Last time United visited this ground, they were hopelessly crushed by AC Milan 3-0. A repeat of that result is unlikely at the Giuseppe Meazza, but with the likes of Adriano and Zlatan Ibrahimovic it will be difficult to keep them at bay. (Read more here)
United face a dilemma at the back, with Nemanja Vidic suspended, but Jonny Evans and John O’Shea has travelled with the squad after they were both doubtful for the game. Gary Neville, Wes Brown, Rafael da Silva are all out of contention. Fabio da Silva and youngster Adam Eckersley will be drafted in the squad as cover.
Jose Mourinho will no doubt be relishing this tie. Man Utd have won only once in twelve games when facing a side led by Mourinho (Porto or Chelsea), and the former Chelsea boss will want to carry that on. Inter style of play is very unique to the other teams in Serie A. They play long balls from the back looking for both their front two Ibrahimovic and Adriano as they are both very good in the air. They defend very tightly, as well as the threat up front.
Mourinho has brought back confidence in the side, Adriano for one. The Brazilian was out of favour last year, but has seen his fortunes turned right round. He has also signed Sulley Muntari from Portsmouth, and the midfielder has improved his game from what we saw last season.
David Beckham, currently as Inter rivals AC Milan, thinks that United should be wary of the quality of Jose Mourinho’s team.
“They have got good players all the way through their squad but I think the forwards are strong, they are quick and they can hold the ball well and they are not frightened so if you control them Man United have got a chance,” Beckham said.
“United have also got some players that can win games and also the defence is exceptional at the minute so that’s why it is going to be so tough.”
“As a Man United fan I’m on their side and also as a Milan player I’m on their side.
“I’ll be coming to the game, I’m sure I’ll speak to some of the players and the manager so I’m looking forward to it.
“United are favourites in my eyes but I am biased, the strength of their squad and the way they have been playing recently, they are on a run where they look unbeatable and I hope that continues.”
Man Utd Champions League statistics:
Nani, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tévez have featured in all six of United’s games in this season’s competition although none have played all 90 minutes.
United conceded just three goals in the group stage, the joint best record in the competition along with Juventus.
The Red Devils have managed 53 shots wide and won 48 corners to date, more than any other team.
United have collected only five yellow cards, fewer than any other team in the competition.
Inter Milan Probable team
Maicon - Chivu - Matterazzi – Santon
Zanetti – Cambiasso – Stankovic
Ibrahimovic - Adriano
Man Utd Probable Team
Van der Sar
Rafael – O’Shea – Ferdinand – Evra
Ronaldo – Carrick – Fletcher – Giggs
Rooney – Berbatov
Guest written by Gareth Freeman
Manchester United’s Champions League tie with Inter Milan is for me the pick of the Champions League fixtures. Both teams are flying high in their respective leagues and it will be great to see Sir Alex against his old nemesis Jose Mourinho again. Mourinho is one of the few managers to have got the better of Ferguson on the majority of their meetings and I’m sure the United boss will be relishing the opportunity to get one over the special one.
Inter line up like any traditional Mourinho team. They play tight in defence but also play some neat attacking football. I watched the Milan derby earlier in the month and I was very impressed by their first half performance and they defended well to hold onto their lead. One thing is for certain, this will be a highly entertaining encounter.
Inter like to attack through the air and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is an ideal target man. The Swedish striker also has very quick feet for a big striker and if he plays as well as he can Ferdinand and his defensive partner will have a tough job keeping him at bay. Brazilian Adriano seems to have upped his game under Mourinho and the United back four will be kept busy by Inter’s attack.
In the midfield Estenban Cambiasso provides cover for the Inter back line and United’s attack are going to have to be at the top of their game to get through Inter. Like any top Italian side they have a mean defence and have only conceded 18 goals this season. Maicon is a marauding full-back and could cause United problems down the flank. They also have a great keeper in Julio Cesar so scoring against the Italian league leaders will not be easy.
The first leg at the Giuseppe Meazza will be crucial, if United can take an advantage back to Old Trafford their job will be much easier. I think player for player United are probably the better side but in Mourinho they have a manager who knows United inside out. I think United will get past them but, aside from Barcelona, Inter could provide the holders with their most difficult test in pursuit of the Champions League trophy.
If your thinking of having an online football bet on the United game I quite fancy a draw in the first leg. I think United will emerge victorious over the course of two legs but a trip to Italy is never easy and Mourinho is an excellent tactician. My final betting tip would be for Barcelona to beat Lyon in France, Barca have looked absolutely amazing this season and I think they’ll brush aside the French champions with ease.
Man Utd 2-1 Blackburn
Cristiano Ronaldo’s stunning free kick in the second half was enough for Man Utd as they overcame Blackburn at Old Trafford.
Wayne Rooney stabbed home to give United the lead after 23 minutes, before Roque Santa Cruz leveled the tie nine minutes later, collecting a pass from Andre Oijer and rounding stand-in keeper Tomasz Kuszczak.The Red Devils had not conceded since November 8 when Arsenal beat them at the Emirates. In total, United had not let in a goal for 1337 minutes.
Jonny Evans then had a goal turned down, before Ryan Nelsen hit then post. This was the first time in months, where United’s defence had been so exposed. Blackburn seemed to grow more and more confident as the game went on.
Ronaldo then gave United the lead, as his free kick found the top right-hand corner of Paul Robinson’s net. The free kick was a trademark strike, one hit with tremendous precision.
Despite Man Utd moving eight points clear, the champions know that this performance was from their best. Sir Alex Ferguson had replace Jonny Evans for Nemanja Vidic, whho was supposed to be rested for the Inter game, because United simply were not defending well.
Ronaldo may have been the hero in United’s win, but was perhaps lucky to still be on the pitch after a petulant kick on Blackburn’s David Dunn. Referee Howard Webb gave Ronaldo a yellow card, but his actions deserved a red.
Webb, recognised as the Premier League top referee, had a game to forget as he also disallowed Jonny Evans’ header towards the end of the first half as well as turning down Blackburn penalty appeals in the second half.
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