Match Observations: Portsmouth 1-4 Manchester United
The scoreline may suggest that this was an easy, comfortable victory but this unfortunately was far from it as set-pieces had played a large part in a game, where, Portsmouth had had slightly more goal attempts that United in a game which had three penalties. But even though I’m sounding pessimistic, this game had plenty of positives such as the heroics of Tomas Kuszczak or even more so the partnership of Antonio Valencia and hat-trick hero Wayne Rooney.
Though his hat-trick was not very glamorous, the link up play between the new England captain and Valencia was reminiscent of the old Rooney-Ronaldo days, when they blew a team’s defence apart with a mixture of everything, ranging from pace, quick passing, one-two’s, you name it. Such a ‘mixture of everything’ was on show at Fratton Park, with Valencia constantly running at the defence, and though Rooney scored three, Valencia was my man of the match.
Antonio Valencia surged down the right, exchanging passes with Rooney with ease and precision and that led to the first goal after Avram Grant’s side had taken early initiative with a host of chances, many of which Kuszczac had saved expertly.
A break from United had pushed Pompey back, and the exchange of passes with the duo led to a penalty, in which Rooney was fouled and referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot straight away. Rooney duly converted but not before long the scores were deservedly level in an undeserved way. Dean had again pointed to the spot, but it was unclear to why this happened. Did Kuszczak foul someone after he had punched the ball away, no contact seen on replays, and a suggestion that Nemanja Vidic had pulled a shirt also looked an unconvincing claim.
Kevin-Prince Boateng stepped up and beat the ‘keeper, so the scores were level. The 4th official should thank his lucky stars that Sir Alex had his touchline ban or else. Portsmouth had been the better side in the half, so the home side would have been quite happy with the scoreline going in to the break.
But, United had made the perfect reply shortly after the interval. Giggs, 36 today, had found Rooney in a trademark Man Utd attack, and Rooney done the rest with a easy finish. Portsmouth had been rather quiet, struggling to find an equaliser, and soon another penalty was awarded. Giggs had been fouled, and Rooney once again scored from the spot. Hat-trick for him, in stark contrast from his first ever one against Fenerbahce on debut. This one not as special, nor as dazzling.
Giggs then finished things off with a free kick which brought about his 100th goal. Manchester United were far better in the second half, many thanks going to the goalkeeper and the partnership between Rooney and Valencia, who has wasted no time settling in. Three points for United, not a glossy performance but still, a good day at the office.
Last time Sir Alex Ferguson and the Simpson’s Fat Tony look-alike Avram Grant locked managerial horns the occasion was a little greater than it is this Saturday. Back in 2008 Grant was manager of Chelsea who faced United in the Champions League final, which United of course won on penalties. The tables have turned on the Israeli boss though and he now takes the reigns as his Portsmouth side and face United at Fratton Park in his first game in charge – a baptism of fire to say the least!
So what can we expect from Portsmouth? From their season so far I’d suggest not a lot but you never know how a new manager will fare when he takes charge. Despite his physical similarities to cartoon gang lord Fat Tony, Grant is a decent manager – his spell at Chelsea proved that and he was perhaps unlucky to lose his job. In terms of injuries the most notable absentee is goalkeeper David James, the England international is struggling with a calf-strain and may miss out on United’s visit. Jamie Ashdown deputised in James’ absence against Stoke last week and didn’t impress in all honesty, though they also have former Fulham man Antti Niemi in their ranks and he may be preferred by Grant – who in all likelihood will make some changes.
Other players Grant will have to make do without include African pair Papa Bouba Diop and John Utaka. Bouba Diop is a big loss for Pompey and his power in midfield will certainly be missed when United line up on Saturday, while Utaka is probably one of their better players going forward. Defensive pair Steve Finnan and Linvoy Primus have both also been ruled out.
In terms of their danger men former United youngster Danny Webber is amongst their ranks, though whether he’ll play or not remains to be seen. I quite like the look of Algerian midfielder Hassan Yebda, who looks like he has some skills in his locker. Former Spurs man Kevin-Prince Boateng has also been one of their better players, which isn’t saying much to be quite honest, though whether he’ll be able to do anything against United remains to be seen.
After a disappointing Champions League loss at home to Besiktas on Wednesday I’m sure Ferguson will have his players fired up for this one. In fairness it was a very ‘experimental’ United side to say the least and considering Wolfsburg lost earlier that day it didn’t really change much in terms of finishing top of the group. Expect a full-strength United side capable of putting quite a few past Grant’s Pompey.
There are a few United players who will have to sit this one out. Fabio has a groin strain and should miss out on the trip to the south coast, though he may be back in time for the Carling Cup tie with Spurs on Tuesday night. John O’Shea is still suffering with a thigh problem with no date yet pencilled in for a possible return. Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves are both ruled out with calf and knee injuries respectively but Johnny Evans (calf) and Dimitar Berbatov (knee) may return on Saturday.
Despite the arrival of Grant as the new manager at Portsmouth I severely doubt they’ll get any joy out of United. Historically Fratton Park is a tricky ground to travel to but Pompey’s form has been so bad I just can’t see him turning it around in one game, especially with United as the visitors. Considering practically the entire first-team was rested for the midweek Champions League fixture Fergie’s men should go into this fresh and confident of victory.
It was a very good lesson for Manchester United youngsters and second string players yesterday, and they will know that, despite defeat, that the scoreline did not reflect the game itself. The Red Devils may have also lost their very impressive European run of 23 matches unbeaten at Old Trafford.
Rodrigo Tello’s goal – a well struck one – was all that separated the teams and though Besiktas hit the post late in the first half, the Turkish side were on the back for large parts of the game. Chilean Tello’s strike had a deflection of Rafael and cruelly went into the back of the net, and though your first impression may be to blame Ben Foster for slow reactions, it is difficult to do so once you have seen it again as the deflection had made him think twice. Fabio Capello has to bring him on the plane to South Africa, but Foster did have a relatively quiet night.
Though, for the ‘keeper in the other end, the story was different. Rustu might have had 89 minutes of comfortable saves, but the former Barcelona and Turkey’s legendary goalkeeper had pulled off two vital saves at the end, off headers from the energetic Federico Macheda and Wes Brown.
Danny Welbeck and Macheda, both 18, played decently up front, but when Michael Owen joined both of them two, he was as ineffective as Besiktas’s no.10. Gabriel Obertan was superb, creating plenty of chances and dangerous crosses – most of them low in the box – and continued to impress the United faithful.
Obertan, along with Park and the two up front all had chances that didn’t really threaten the scoreline but United had all of the ball and players found themselves good positions but that didn’t materialise in anything big. Darron Gibson and Anderson, especially the latter, were very unconvincing though Gibson had found the ball in the positions where, say, a Scholes or a Carrick could do something special.
It was a respectable performance and at the end of the game the result had not mattered too much, as these player had gained valuable experience too in the process. The boss did not mind to much aswell but a win or draw is required at Wolfsburg in a fortnights time.
Observations on the game
Obertan looks terrific. Quick, agile and can hit the ball quite well whether that is crossing or shooting. Macheda and Welbeck have to develop more understanding, both took two long with the ball at their feet, and had to get into the positions quicker than yesterday night.
Brown and Vidic are starting to look ok at the back. Brown, in particular, has done well again after the Everton game though for the first goal they had to close down quicker. Rafael, take note.
Gibson finds himself in good positions but has to look out more, if he can develop his passing ability and have the vision of Paul Scholes, then he can be a star in the making. He can shoot, we know that from past games, but there are other options. Foster was not to blame for the goal, while Ferguson’s tactics were all right.
Finally, Park is back from injury. Very good news! He was one of the more senior players yesterday and had his movement was beautiful. His finishing, though, wasn’t up to scratch but he can hit the ball quite well. United will need to bounce back from this game, and they take on Portsmouth on Saturday, where Avram Grant has been named as the new manger.
Darren Fletcher has been hailed as a genius following his wonder strike in the 3-0 win over Everton, and quite rightly so as he has just about proved he has the wide range of qualities which is required by a world-class central midfielder.
Whether he is ‘world-class’ right now is your opinion, teammate Michael Carrick believes that is the case, but undoubtedly he is talented and has somehow, with all the competition, became a regular in the United XI. He has instantly become an Old Trafford hero, and it is hard to believe that this very man is the player who was put on sale for 10p on Ebay some years ago.
He is a bit like Roy Keane. Since the controversial Irishman left Old Trafford for his boyhood club Celtic, people wonder if ever they would find a replacement. Quinton Fortune was one of the very first in line to be his successor but that never materialised and Fortune has found himself playing League One football for Doncaster Rovers. Arsene Wenger has been whining because he ‘kicks players to often’ and in an interview with top United fanzine United We Stand:
“I love challenging myself against all the best players and a lot of them play in the Premiership,” he says.
“I watch how good they are, but when we play them I think to myself ‘Right, I’m going to see how good you really are. [Cesc] Fabregas, [Frank] Lampard and [Steven] Gerrard, I’m going to get against you and see how you like it’.
“And when you’ve not got the ball I’m still going to get about you and see how you like it.
“I’m going to ask you: ‘Do you fancy it? Do you like getting kicked? Do you like the fact that I am going to be at you for the whole 90 minutes?
“As soon as you get the ball I am going to be in your face. You are not going to like it one bit. And when we have the ball I am going to run you into the corner and you’re going to follow me. Are you ready for that? Because that’s what’s going to happen.’”
Not the sort of thing you hear everyday, but that’s the kind of player Fletcher is. Similar to Keane, he can tackle, pass, hold the ball, and link up with great effect and most importantly not afraid to go in for a challenge for the sake of the team.
And he is no longer the right-sided midfielder that he was when he started his career, sure he can play there, but he can truly make the most impact in the middle of the park. His central midfield partner Michael says what everyone is thinking right now; “Darren is one of the best midfielders around at the moment.”
International breaks sometimes affect teams as soon as they are over. Especially, if you’re a team like Manchester United and boast many international stars such as, say, Rooney or a Vidic and maybe even a Fletcher. Because it was the latter who set the standards in this highly comprehensive victory, with a stunning strike that sent the Stretford End erupting. Any trouble you would find from a long week of hard work was not apparent at Old Trafford.
This performance was more like the Man Utd we know and love. They dominated, not large parts of the game, but for all of the game as Everton really could not match United. It was almost like an exhibition match once the home side were 2-0 up, and you wonder how we haven’t seen enough of the same in this season, as this proves that they have it in them to pull of more convincing victories.
The away side had fielded a very defensive line up, and those tactics had backfired as they had lacked any real attacking depth and therefore had found chances hard to come by once Fletcher had scored his cracker. And before the goal, it was the hosts who had most chances.
Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs had efforts saved by former United ‘keeper Tim Howard, as the Red Devils had most of the possession and their quick, slick build up play forced Everton to push back. Louis Saha had a chance saved, the one of the two Everton chances which threatened Van der Sar, before a moment of magic by Fletcher lifted the roof of Old Trafford.
The Scot had let rip a curling volley after Antonio Valencia had headed into his path, and the score was deservedly 1-0, ten minutes shy of half time. After the break, Tim Cahill had a shot smothered by the goalkeeper, but it wasn’t long before the game had effectively ended when Michael Carrick had side-footed home after a strange move in which a mis-hit shot by Rooney had gone all the way to the corner flag, which was retrieved by Giggs, and his cross had found Carrick who finish was timed and too good for Howard.
And Antonio Valencia’s deflected strike after picking up a Paul Scholes’ pass had made the score 3-0 and the game was over. United find themselves five points behind leaders Chelsea, with the Blues next game against Arsenal.
Other Observations on the game
I have also identified some really good points to take out of the game. Patrice Evra was my man of the match, he was tireless and had worked hard and help create chances and was part of the impressive build up play in this game. I also liked Owen’s movement in the game, and he created good understanding with Wayne Rooney.
And it’s was good to see the defence playing well again. Still, not perfect but we kept a clean sheet and Wes Brown was particularly good, and looks comfortable in the centre-half position with Nemanja Vidic. Finally, Fletcher is a top player. His goal proves he can do just about anything, and already looks like the perfect replacement for Scholes once the veteran hangs up his boots. Darren Fletcher = Genius.
United welcome Everton to Old Trafford in the late kick off on Saturday in what, on paper, should be a fairly easy three points for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
I mean no disrespect to Everton by this and on their day they’re capable of beating anyone in the league but the fact of the matter is their injury list is huge and so many key players are missing.
Star midfielder and the main creative spark in the Everton side Mikel Arteta is ruled out until January, perhaps longer, while Phil Neville, Victor Anichebe, Leon Osman and Phil Jagielka are all also missing for their trip to Old Trafford.
To add to Everton boss David Moyes’ woes the likes of former United keeper Tim Howard, strikers Jo and Louis Saha (another former United employee) and midfielder Jack Rodwell are all listed as doubtful. With such a long list of absentees Moyes is going to struggle to put a team together at all – let alone one capable of seeing off United on home soil.
Sir Alex has a couple of injuries to worry about himself. Johnny Evans and Rio Ferdinand are both nursing knocks but may be fit in time to face Everton, while Michael Carrick and John O’Shea also look likely to sit this one out. However, although the defence may be somewhat of a makeshift one for Ferguson his squad is in a much better shape than Everton’s and United should go into this fixture confident of taking all three points.
Whenever Wayne Rooney faces Everton there is always a little extra spark in his play and indeed the atmosphere and he could well be the key man on Saturday. I’ve been really impressed with Rooney this season and the way he has stepped up to take more responsibility since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure. Everton are a well organised team and will be on Saturday despite their injured stars, but a moment of brilliance from Rooney can undo any side and he would surely love to score against his old employers.
This fixture also marks the first game of Sir Alex’s two game touchline ban following his comments about referee Alan Wiley after the Sunderland tie. Will this affect the players? It really shouldn’t in all fairness and Nemanja Vidic has said it won’t so I’m confident it won’t affect United’s performances over the next couple of fixtures.
Usually Everton are a tough nut to crack and I would be hesitant of suggesting a comfortable victory for United. However, their lengthy injury list including key (perhaps even their best?) players means that I can’t see anything other than a United victory in this one. Despite United’s Champions League obligations on Wednesday (Besiktas) Ferguson will play a full strength squad due to the fact the Reds have already made it through to the knockout stages and they should easily get past a crocked Everton.