Archive | March 2010

United and Rooney limp as Bayern reverse events of ‘99

Franck Ribéry, Bayern Munich v Manchester United

Bayern Munich 2-1 Manchester Utd: Observations

When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored that dramatic goal in Nou Camp all those years ago, dejected Bayern Munich players hobbled off the pitch knowing they could have done more to prevent the United fight back. When Ivica Olic scored that dramatic goal in the Allianz Arena all those well, hours ago, dejected Manchester United players, and Wayne Rooney quite literally, hobbled off the pitch knowing that Bayern quite simply shouldn’t have snatched victory in the dying seconds of the game.

The game started all too well for United in a first half where the visitors were comfortable and were largely untroubled in the possession they di have but after the break they lacked any real cutting-edge. The hosts were no longer on the back foot in the second, scoring two fully deserved goals.

For Wayne Rooney, this was too a game of two halves. An overused cliché, yes, but it was a fair reflection in a match where he scored a 1st minute goal and was dangerous, especially for Dimechelis, and had plenty of chances to double United’s lead. After the interval, he was forlorn at times and he was unlucky to play a part in Bayern’s equaliser where he deflected Frank Ribery’s free-kick (a carbon copy of Basle’s set-piece goal back in 1999). That was before he limped off the pitch, with scenes very reminiscent of the broken metatarsal he suffered a few years ago.

You would have to concede that Bayern deserved their victory. They had much of the ball without looking that mightily threatening, but with men like Ribery and van Bommel were always able to throw a surprise (or two as it were). You feel United are still favourites to win the tie but this game showed that the hosts are certainly a different proposition to Milan. That said the winning goal could’ve been prevented. Question marks should be raised over the defending.

In a bid to take some authority back at 1-0 up, Sir Alex shuffled things around and brought on Dimitar Berbatov and Antonio Valencia. Bayern had started to dominate possession but the impact of the double substitution was minimal and failed to change the control of the game. But it perhaps changed the shape of United and allowed Bayern to attack with relative little pressure and the visitors unable to fully halt attacks. Indeed that was in some ways displayed by the second goal, as Bayern advanced to the goal with almost a slight ease before Olic nipped the ball off Evra.

The Red Devil’s real standout performers were most notably Darren Fletcher and Nani, both displaying moments of magic without reward. Edwin van der Sar was usually solid between the posts and made some vital saves late on. He could do nothing, however, to prevent either goal and that’s what separates the two sides at the end of the day. If United are to overturn this deficit, an improvement is definitely required. Knowing Manchester United at Old Trafford, that is unquestionably accomplishable.

Bolton, Berbatov and a look ahead to Bayern

Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney 

Have things become much clearer after a remarkable day’s football on Saturday? It certainly looks like it. Both Chelsea and Manchester United beat Aston Villa and Bolton respectively in ruthless fashion, while Arsenal lost ground in the race for the title after being held to a draw. Many would not discount Arsenal just yet – arguing that they have the easier run-in and that both United and Chelsea still have to play each other. I wouldn’t say it is a two-horse race just yet, but for Arsenal to realistically win the title they would have to win all six of their remaining games. For the Red Devils, they have to make sure they gain more points than Chelsea for the remainder, but that’s easier said than done. You feel next week’s clash on Super Sunday will be a title-defining game.

 There are no easy games…Bolton an exception?

 Nowadays, we’re used to seeing the “Love United, Hate Glazer” banner at United games. Cheeky Bolton fans brought along a banner of their own, similar to United’s, except that the words ‘Glazer’ and ‘United’ were reversed. That’s was all very amusing but it was the visiting fans who had the last laugh. By the time the score was 3-0, there were only a few Bolton fans in sight near the banner. You can’t really blame the majority for leaving early as the Trotters were shocking, particularly in the second half.

 It took a while for a Rooney-less United to get going, but began to dominate possession and soon took the initiative. Jlloyd Sameul scored an inexplicable own goal in the first half and in the second, Bolton had collapsed under severe pressure from the away side. This was a game full of costly errors and one wonders how this side have appeared to avoid relegation. Manchester United were cruising and really cranked up the pressure in the final quarter in a bid to increase goal difference in a week where Chelsea had scored twelve league goals. Sir Alex Ferguson believes this season could be decided on goal difference. As we head into the penultimate month, winning games and scoring goals will be crucial for the defending champions but we must remember there are no easy games in the Premier League. Especially because we’ve played Bolton twice this season…

 Berbatov and Nani continue to prove critics wrong

 There is little Berbatov could do these days. All he really can do is score goals and he’s doing just that but although his appearances in the team have been limited, his impact has been priceless. The ‘lazy’ tag which he acquired last season is no longer correct – ‘hardworking’ bodes well for him now don’t you think?

 I’ve always been a big fan of Berbatov but that’s not always been the case with Luis Nani. Before January, his future at the club looked bleak and I had the impression that both Sir Alex and the fans had lost faith in him. However, it takes just one game to rectify yourself. It was the 3-1 victory over Arsenal a few months ago which did just that, a quite blistering performance where he created two of the three goals. And against Bolton he continued his rich vein of form, once again in on the assists. He looks a sure starter against Munich on Tuesday. If United were to win the Premier League, Wayne Rooney will receive most plaudits but you feel that the likes of Evra, Fletcher, Valencia (to name a few) and these two have been inspirational.

 Bayern Munich are a different proposition to Milan

 This being a repeat of the 1999 final will make this a very special occasion indeed. Manchester United fans can recall that night in Barcelona like it happened yesterday but the Germans would rather forget those dramatic minutes at the Nou Camp where United reached the ‘promise land’. They can finally banish those memories with a victory on Tuesday and although they come into the game as underdogs, you can certainly expect a more balanced tie over the two legs.

In Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben they have two quality players who can change a game instantly, not forgetting Phillip Lahm too who has been first-rate for Bayern this season. On paper, Milan look a better side than the German outfit but that certainly hasn’t shown in action. I would think United will prevail over the 180 minutes, but it shouldn’t be as one-sided as it was against the Rossonieri.

Unsung Park sinks the Liverpool ship

Park Ji-sung

Manchester Utd 2-1 Liverpool: Observations

If you were to rewind back to the early 90’s Liverpool were on top of the world. The club had just won their 18th league title, while Manchester United were desperately lagging behind. Fast forward twenty years and the fortunes have been reversed, United doing the impossible and closing in on the 19th league title while Liverpool have won nothing since. And although, this 2-1 victory over Liverpool wasn’t a classic, far from it actually, the only thing that really mattered was the result and that was evident at the final whistle. Even sweeter as United had comeback from 1-0 down. This triumph could be a title-defining one, and you’d bet the Kop won’t like the sound of that.

In contrast, Liverpool find themselves fighting a losing battle for 4th place. It looks as if though they’re missing Xabi Alonso more than United are missing Cristiano Ronaldo. The likes of Mascherano and Lucas have failed to deliver for Liverpool this season, while both Gerrard and Torres spend more time on the treatment table than on the pitch. Another year of the Channel Five Cup beckons.

Here at Old Trafford, under the watchful eye of Malcolm Glazer, United had been the better side over the 90 minutes of a typically tight and tense encounter. Last time Liverpool came here, they recorded a 4-1 win and they scored the opener here as Fernando Torres had headed home Dirk Kuyt’s cross after just five minutes. However, United were quick to respond and after a short period of pressure, Antonio Valencia won a penalty. Wayne Rooney, in a rich vein of form heading into the World Cup, saw his spot-kick saved but he duly dispatched the rebound and scores were level.

United had much more possession than the visitors and looked the slightly more dangerous side in the final third with the midfield running with their usual hustle and bustle to provide Rooney support. Ji-Sung Park was tireless and hard working as usual, while Rooney provided the threat from the centre. It was Park who had scored the winner, expertly diving in to head Darren Fletcher’s inviting cross. It was only his second goal of the campaign, the other against Arsenal, but once again he proved his worth against the bigger clubs. His recent good form has reaped rewards and now Park is becoming somewhat of a regular. Gary Neville’s run provided the decoy and gave Fletcher the time and space to pick out the Korean from what the right wing, which is surely United’s most dangerous weapon.

After the second goal, the game seemed to have petered out until the very last minutes where Torres had a great chance to equalise. He scuffed a sot and was left to rue what could’ve been. At the end of the day, the hosts had been the better of the two teams and the victory was deserved. Jubilation was evident on the faces of the United faithful, who waved their green and gold scarves furiously at the final whistle, and they can sense that, despite the strong competition from both Chelsea and Arsenal, that this may finally be the year where they have full bragging rights over their most fierce rivals. The word ‘fierce’, however, doesn’t quite describe the Liverpool of 2010…

N.B. Apologies for the lack of posts this month. I have been buried in work in the last week or so, but normal service should resume soon.

Classy combination up-front down Fulham

Wayne Rooney

Manchester Utd 3-0 Fulham: Observations

Wayne Rooney is a goal-machine. Much of his good form has come down to where he’s playing on the pitch, particularly thriving with the task of being the main man upfront after the departure of Crisitano Ronaldo. His strength, bullishness and generally unpredictability makes him a difficult to task to come up against for opposing defences but this time he had a partner in crime. The Tubbs to the Crockett. The Robin to the Batman if you will. Rooney’s strike partner, Dimitar Berbatov was inspirational and put in another tireless performance that will no doubt be overshadowed by Rooney’s stature, to send Manchester United two points clear at the top.

Rooney’s brace took his impressive tally up to 32, but if you think that he alone is carrying United to their fourth successive title, then think again. The likes of Patrice Evra, Darren Fletcher and Antonio Valencia have been consistently excellent throughout the season, but there’s no doubt that Rooney has improved vastly player since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer. The forward is no longer just a scorer of great goals; he is now a great goalscorer.

His partnership with Berbatov hasn’t always been effective the most this season, but this game was proof that the duo can play together up front. The first half was far from vintage United, with both Rooney and Berbatov having great chances. The Red Devils had much more of the ball than Fulham, but no goals came of it as the half finished goalless. The Cottagers had looked decent in the first 45 and frustrated the home side – but after the interval the game was totally one-sided.

Rooney broke the deadlock minutes after the break and Fulham simply had no answers as the hosts started to dominate. Edwin van der Sar found himself with little to do, and need not occupy his mind on the game. Several chances went begging, but the game was finally put to bed later on a Rooney had made it 2-0 thanks to some fine work from Berbatov. The Bulgarian then made it three, as he headed home Park’s cross.

At half time it was hard to see Man Utd winning 3-0, but having said that, the scoreline did not flatter them in the sense that they were always in control. This was sweet revenge from when Fulham had beaten United by the same score earlier this season. A convincing victory for the hosts, one that lifts United to the top of the table and two points clear of both Chelsea and Arsenal, although the former have played a game less. Yet, with these kind of performances you’d bet that this side is good enough to win another league title. You can never have too many trophies – something that must be going through Wayne Rooney’s head all the time.

Match Preview: Manchester United Vs AC Milan

United welcome Italian giants AC Milan to Old Trafford on Wednesday for the second round of their Champions League First Knockout Round showdown.  Sir Alex Ferguson’s side hold a one goal lead over the Serie A side, having won the first leg 3-2.  It will be an uphill struggle for Milan, they will probably need to win by two clear goals to progress to the next round but it is still a fixture that needs to be taken very seriously indeed.

The major injury news as far as United are concerned is the possible absence of Wayne Rooney.  The England international has a knee problem, which Ferguson attributes to the Wembley pitch and the fact Rooney played practically the whole of England’s friendly with Egypt.  If Ferguson’s views on the pitch at that stadium are correct it really has cost United in the last few weeks, with both Rooney and Michael Owen (now ruled out for the season) victims of the heavy surface.

I perhaps did Wolves a disservice in my last match preview, suggesting United would easily secure all the points, but they gave the Reds a decent game and Paul Scholes’ second half strike was all that separated the sides.  Rooney’s absence was certainly felt in the victory over the Midland’s side and hopefully he will recover in time to face the Rossoneri, but there really are no guarantees.

Defender Jonny Evans is also struggling with a knee problem but may return in time for the game on Wednesday, with Ryan Giggs also scheduled to return soon although this fixture may come too soon for the veteran midfielder.  Anderson and John O’Shea remain long term absentees, with O’Shea possibly to return before the end of the season but Anderson will play no further part.

United may have struggled somewhat against a Wolves side who worked tirelessly and were committed throughout.  Milan, of course, have much more quality than Wolves and will play a very different game so perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into that performance but there were few people who really shone on Saturday.  Antonio Valencia’s progress this season has been outstanding and it would be a great opportunity for him to make a name for himself on the European stage.  With his pace he could easily trouble Milan’s veteran defenders and his crossing seems to be getting better with every game.

United’s opponents were held to a goalless draw in their last game, although that was against a resurgent Roma side who have been in outstanding form of late.  They’ve got some injury problems of their own ahead of this fixture with the likes of Alexandre Pato, Clarence Seedorf and Gennaro Gattuso all doubts ahead of their trip to Old Trafford.

One player who has impressed at the San Siro this season is Ronaldinho, a player Sir Alex once tried to sign of course.  The Brazilian super star fell upon hard times at Barcelona but has resurrected his career in Italy and has earned some plaudits with his displays for Milan this season.  The attacking playmaker is also trying to force a recall with the Brazilian national side and could well prove a thorn in United’s side on Wednesday.

Milan’s visit to Old Trafford is also David Beckham’s first return since he left United all those years ago.  I’ve still got a lot of time for Beckham personally and I’ll always appreciate what he did in his time in the Premier League – regardless of anything that may happen on Wednesday.  In truth, his best days are probably behind him now but he is still an outstanding professional and his delivery from a dead ball is as good as ever.  The former United favourite is relishing his return to his old club and paid tribute to the fans before his return.

This is what Becks has had to say: “It was a very emotional night for me playing against United in Milan, but going back to Old Trafford is going to be even more so.

“The United fans were unbelievable in the first leg and I thank them for that. It was amazing to hear their chants.

“Without a doubt it will be emotional to hear that from a crowd of more than 70,000 at Old Trafford.

“I had family with me in Milan and they’ll be going to Old Trafford. My dad’s a big United fan and this is probably the only time he won’t want them to win!”

Even if Rooney doesn’t pull through I’m still confident United can progress in this tie.  Beckham’s return may be an emotional one for him but for me Ronaldinho could well be the danger man for the visitors.  However, with three away goals and a one goal advantage the odds are stacked in United’s favour and they should be able to hold Milan off and make it through to the next stage.

Written by Gareth Freeman, a sports writer who blogs about Cheltenham 2010 tips, Manchester United and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Arsenal: Title contenders or title pretenders?

Could this really be Arsenal’s year? This question is asked every year and the outcome is always the same. That seemed to be the case again this year after the Gunners were outclassed and outplayed against United back in January when they were beaten 3-1. Back then, plenty of critics, including me, had dismissed any chance of them winning the league.

However, Arsenal are not out of it. Suddenly, they find themselves level on points with Chelsea (Blues having played a game less) and just two behind Mnachester United. And Arsenal have by far the easiest run-in. I still (obviously) view United as favourites, but it is hard to see Arsenal dropping too many points now, especially because they no longer have to face any of the ‘big four’ this season. They prosper against the lesser teams, but falter against the better sides.

Looking at their remaining fixtures, only Manchester City and Tottenham may provide tough tests but their record against the latter is impressive, regardless of playing home or away. You’d also expect them to ease past the likes of Wigan and Hull. United’s run-in includes their noisy neighbours, Liverpool and Chelsea. However, and encouragingly so, the other six games I expect United to prevail.

What is also vital for Arsenal is keeping their players fit. Cesc Fabregas is the key to their title bid – and his latest setback could prove costly. He is set to miss the Porto game on Tuesday, but it is crucial that he stays fit for the rest of the season. The Spaniard is right up there with the best in the country, a quality player who the north London club can’t afford to lose but with the lack of silverware at the club in recent years, a move away from the club could still happen in the near future. He is Arsenal’s top goalscorer with 14, and has the most assists in the league with 15. Those are some devastating stats, as that combined is 29 goals. Wayne Rooney is second with 27 (23 goals and 4 assists).

Robin van Persie is due to return next month, and how important will that be for the club considering the inconsistencies with both Eduardo and Nicklas Bendtner. The latter is a good player, not great, as we saw on Saturday when he missed a host of chances against Burnley.

Even if they had all their players fit, could Arsenal really end their trophy-drought? Like we’ve seen year after year, the league title is too big an ask for the Gunners. In contrast, we’ve seen Manchester United overcome such pressure and there’s no team better nor is there a manager better for this type of situation. I believe the Gunners are serious contenders – rather than pretenders – but can they finally end their trophy-drought with a Premier League title this year?

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