It’s not yet a case of ‘Cristiano who?’ but it certainly may well be soon if Nani continues to play like this. He isn’t, and never will be, the ‘next Ronaldo’ but he has definitely justified his £17m price tag. Many had lost faith in the winger after a string of inconsistent performances in Autumn and his future at the club was under a cloud of uncertainty.
However, the penny finally appears to have dropped since the turn of the year and we have found a new player who has matured somewhat – not only is he creating goals, but scoring them too. The Arsenal game was a turning point and since then he hasn’t looked back. The picture above suggests jubilation etched across his face. That’s an all too familiar sight for the Old Trafford faithful these days.
What a difference a few games make, eh? I’m not sure if I would’ve trusted him to take a throw-on back in October, but I’m pretty certain that he could land a plane now. He’s learnt substantial amounts and is quickly realising his potential that he had but due to inconsistencies he could never display that week in week out. I feel that the real test for him now is to continue his rich vein of form for the remainder of the season, and transfer that to the World Cup going on to the new season.
I, along with many others, lost faith in him and was crazy enough to suggest that his days at Old Trafford were over. I’m glad that hasn’t happened, and it shows great character and determination from the player. I’ve always been a fan of his trickery and his skilfulness but was rather tired of his lack of maturity and his indecision. There are still many things for him to work on, for instance tracking back to help out more often but what we have seen in the last few months is the transformation of a player whose career at the club was grim.
Recent performances against Spurs and Bolton suggest why he’s now the first name on the team sheet. It was he who provided the all important cross for Paul Scholes against Manchester City last week, and I believe his better days are still ahead of him. Think about it, bags of confidence, faith restored in both fans and manager, and results on the pitch. If this is just a purple patch, let’s hope it continues for a long time…
Manchester Utd 3-1 Tottenham: Observations
Nani and Berbatov aren’t too familiar with praise. They don’t get it often. There is a reason for that, Nani only started to play consistently down those flanks at the turn of the year. And he deserves the plaudits he’s been receiving in the past few months because he has never been so devastating down the channels. Berbatov, for all the criticism, has at least (well in my eyes, that is) banished the ‘lazy’ tag. Of course it hasn’t been raining goals for the Bulgarian, but his impact on the pitch is, and has been, underrated.
While Berbatov’s commitment and hard work was a delight to watch, it was Nani who was sublime and his reward for an excellent performance was a goal sandwiched either side of Ryan Giggs’ brace of penalties. For all the praise that can be heaped on Nani and Berbatov, this wasn’t a great game by any means. A few individuals, Spurs’ Ledley King included, shone on a glorious day but the match was lacking somewhat.
The first half was dreadful and little happened. King’s block on Berbatov’s shot was the best we saw in the first 45, the half lacking any real flow and fluidity and you could draw many parallels to the Manchester Derby last week. After the interval, things substantially improved and four goals were scored as a result of a more open game where United largely dominated.
Dimitar Berbatov came close with a header moments before he had cleverly set up Patrice Evra with a backheel, and the Frenchman was then tripped by Benoît Assou-Ekotto and ref Andre Marriner correctly pointed to the spot. Giggs duly dispatched and United had led deservedly after some relentless pressure. That was the Welshman’s first ever penalty for United, quite remarkable considering he’s scored in the every one of his last 18 Premier League seasons. Spurs were on the back foot, their only real stand out player being Ledley King. And quite fittingly, in front of Fabio Capello’s no.2 Franco Baldini, he scored the equalising goal. It was a terrific header, although question marks will be raised on Rafael’s failure to clear on the post.
Just when Spurs had begun to settle, Nani had once again shifted the tie into United’s favour, his delicate chip a reward for a fantastic individual performance. And a solo run minutes later brought about another foul in the box, and another penalty kick. Giggs went right this time, but Gomes’ despairing dive could not deny the third and winning goal.
This wasn’t classic Manchester United by any means but definitely the team are starting to gel without the services of Wayne Rooney. Darren Fletcher and Paul Scholes controlled the game from the centre and Berbatov and Nani proved difficult to handle for the Spurs back four. This victory cranks up the pressure on Chelsea and who knows, maybe a 19th title will be secured come May.
Ratings: Van der Sar 7; Rafael 8, Vidic 9, Evans 8, Evra 7; Fletcher 8, Nani 9*, Scholes 8, Giggs 8; Valencia 6; Berbatov 8
Football. Bloody hell. Reports suggest Sir Alex Ferguson’s eminent managerial career will come to an end after next season and speculation has filtered in with potential successors. Now, ignoring the fact that the current season has yet been concluded and that Fergie is still boss, I personally believe Ole Gunner Solskjaer may just be the perfect candidate for the hot seat.
I say this in the aftermath of his Premier Reserves League North triumph and have been impressed, along with many others, of how well he’s adjusted to life as coach. There will be the usual comments about how he’s inexperienced but no other contender know the club more than he does. He’s United through and through, and had inspired the team to big things, not least the treble haul in ’99 where he scored a goal in the very,very last minute in the European Cup final.
Looking at the other names, David Moyes and Jose Mourinho are very popular choices along with a few others but even the mention of Pep Guardiola cannot sway me away from the Baby-faced Assassin. I’ve always believed that when Sir Alex finally calls it a day that I’d do with any coach that promises and succeeds in bringing silverware to the club. If Martin O’Neill were to be appointed in the summer of 2011, then fine, as I’m sure he has the quality to maintain the club’s position as one of the best in the world. If I, however, was to be given a choice, I’d go for the candidate who I, not only, admire as a person and coach but has been a great servant for the club in the past and present. That candidate is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Fergie has already praised his efforts as reserve coach and rates him highly, but, he rates Moyes for the job. The Everton boss would be my ‘second choice’ as it were, but it is obvious that Sir Alex wants his Scottish counterpart to replace him. He has transformed the Merseyside club into European contenders haven taken over all those years ago where they constantly found themselves in the wrong half of the table. Of course if at United, he will have a top European club that needs to continue doing what they do year after year. That’s why I’d plump for Solskjaer, as he knows the ‘United way’ of things and would bring some continuity to the team. Realistically, the best he could really hope for is as assistant boss. He would make a fine no.2. I do think he is a quality coach and although still very inexperienced, he will prove very popular with the fans. What other reason do I have? Well, he’s up their with the United greats and how wonderful would it be to see one of them becoming United boss.
“He passed them to death all day” – Gary Neville
On behalf of all United fans across the globe, Gary Neville understandably gave Paul Scholes an absolute smacker after his masterclass at Eastlands. It was proof, if any were needed, that Scholes can still provide the goods and that age is just a number. Sixteen years on, he is still the player who can single-handedly win games.
He was by far the best player on the pitch in a game where, Gary Neville says, ‘he had passed them to death’. Indeed. It wasn’t just that, though; he was excellent both defensively and as a creative force, pulling the strings from the midfield. He was the stand out performer throughout, and his reward for an exceptional game was a lovely goal. The goal itself was beautiful; a timely run into the box and a lovely floated cross by Nani finished off with an unstoppable header.
There’s life in this old dog yet. No cliché is more fitting for a player who’s ageing legs are no barrier. Praise must go to Sir Alex, too, for keeping faith in the last torch carriers of an iconic generation for a big game like this. I’ve talked about the new era in the blog before, but for the time being, as long as the likes of Scholes and Neville are playing like this, then that could be put on hold for a while. They’re not as consistent as once before but their contribution to the side cannot be taken for granted.
More praise must be heaped on Sir Alex for his nous in the dying moments of the game. “I was prepared to put him forward a little bit, knowing that there’s no-one better at ghosting into the penalty box and getting into the good positions. There was no-one near him. It was a free header and he took it very well.” Fergie also described his performance as ‘fantastic’ but that’s just an understatement. In a poor game, Scholes looked like the only player who wanted to win it. He demonstrated passion, drive and determination in this all-important derby gave that may mean more than just pride.
Come May, United could be toasting another Premier League title. That, without a doubt, would finally put rest the argument that Liverpool are the most successful team in the country. Chelsea need to slip up again, and they may well do. Against the team that would hate the sound of Manchester United winning their 19th league crown. If that were to happen, then there’s a certain Paul Scholes to thank. Something tells me there will be more one year contract extensions to come.
Citeh 0-1 United: Observations…ish
Déjà vu. Three out of four Mancunian Derbies have been decided by late, match-winning goals. And on all three occasions, it has been the team in blue who have been on the losing end of it all. Once again, they found themselves punching the turf, hiding their faces or just staring blankly into space in utter disbelief. But, who would have believed this? An utterly dreadful, abysmal (not Joey Tribbiani’s definition) show that has all-but shamed the TV Chiefs. This tie was not a glitzy or glamorous Derby by any means, instead it was scrappy and rather ugly.
But sometimes ugly things are beautiful. This late goal by Paul Scholes is just another twist in the race for the title. It was a lovely header. It was just what this game needed, even if that took 93 minutes. If you want ninety minutes of glitz and glamour, please tune into Britain’s Got Talent tonight. I hear they’ve found the next Susan Boyle. Or, you could avoid all that like I’m doing and just watch this hideous ‘show-piece’ again on Football First.
There are many things Susan Boyle and Paul Scholes don’t have in common, such as the fact that he’s ginger and she’s…not. Or that he’s a professional footballer and she’s…not. The one which I want to talk about, though, is how there will always be a new SuBo but never will there be the ‘Next Paul Scholes’. This guy is on a another level. He’s irreplaceable. He’s just signed a one year contract extension, how grateful are we for that! There’s a shot right at the end where Gary Neville embraces Scholes with a smacker. I can’t blame the skipper and would not have hesitated to do the same…bit awkward now, eh?
If he hadn’t scored, he will still quite easily have been man of the match. He controlled the game excellently, and was terrific both defensively and as the creative force. His passion, determination and hunger was second to none at Eastlands. His goal was the icing on a great performance, worthy of a 9, but much of his hard work had come in vain as United just couldn’t impose themselves in the final third. Sure they defended superbly, keeping out Tevez and Adebayor in the process, so a 0-0 draw would’ve a been a fair result.
How far could this go in the title race? It could all mean little in terms of the championship, but definitely this result proved, if any were needed, that Manchester is red and will remain red. Pride was at stake and that pride remains with United. The only real sour note on a game worthy of mass celebration on the streets of Manchester is Wayne Rooney’s fitness. He looked about 73% (a random number, yes, but accurate) fit today. He was later subbed on the hour in a game where he had missed one or two great chances to break the deadlock. That ankle needs wrapping in cotton wool as United require one more final push in the race for the title. In this final hurdle, they mustn’t stumble, but for the time being, you’d still bet on the horse of Chelsea to prevail. However, there is still hope thanks to Paul Scholes.
I’m an optimist, and always have been, but after Chelsea’s victory yesterday all we can hope for now is a miracle if United are to win the title. The leaders do have some tricky games but their four point cushion at the top is enough to convince this optimist that this won’t be United’s record 19th. This season has been largely frustrating what with the Champions League exit and the failure to beat Chelsea, not to mention the early FA Cup exit with one of the club’s most bitter rivals. The season isn’t over, and I haven’t quite given up hope, but I’d like to review a couple of things. Here’s a very pro-United article in a time where pessimism rules the blogosphere.
Fingers will no doubt be pointed in the direction of the Glazers – and others to Dimitar Berbatov. The Glazers have put the club in a rather perilous position financially but on the field it will be Berbatov who will earn most blame from the critics. Berbatov has just had a difficult season and it would be a shame to see him leave the club in the summer. I’ve always been a big fan of the Bulgarian but I’ll admit that sometimes he can frustrate – especially when it matters most. The quality’s there, no doubt, and I’d like to see him stay at club for another few years where, hopefully, he can win over United fans. These stats may sway the more hard-to-convince fans. I’d give him another year to impress.
Michael Carrick, like Berbatov, have come under-fire in recent weeks. Last season was probably his best season with the shirt, although this time around, consistency has been the problem. There is doubt surrounding is future, but I doubt he’ll be flogged in the summer. If United are to add to their central midfield, I’d like to see David Silva or even a more defensive player, Steven Defour for instance. I’d like to see Carrick stay, he probably will, but I think Sir Alex may look abroad for a new central midfielder, not across town for someone like Stephen Ireland. If not, Darron Gibson looks ready to step up.
In other news, the defence has looked sharp and solid this season. Even without constant absentees Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, United have conceded the least amount of goals domestically this season, 27 compared to Chelsea’s 30 (after 34 games). That isn’t great – last season United had conceded just the 24 goals (and that’s from 38 not 34) – but it is still very encouraging that they have the best defence in the league. I believe that there’s no need to change much here especially with new acquisition Chris Smalling.
We shall also look positively at a new era. Luis Nani and Antonio Valencia have become United’s two premier wingers and long may it continue. It is not only Wayne Rooney driving the team but those two among others. It is true, however, that both wingers seem to do better with the presence of Rooney. Jonny Evans and Smalling will be understudies to both Ferdinand and Vidic, and Rafael will too emerge. There’s still inexperience but we’ve seen promising signs so far and I predict that United will continue to challenge Chelsea and Arsenal, and could go one better and win the Premier League (assuming Chelski don’t slip up now).
What I’m trying to say is squad overhaul and mass exoduses, like some suggested, are a no-no. Drastic measures aren’t required at the club because the team is good enough to win trophies. I also think Nani, Rafael and Gibson will emerge as first team players in the new campaign. I would welcome new additions, but I’m talking a couple not half a dozen. The current bunch are good enough, and even if there is little or no activity in the transfer window, I’m sure that next season would not be as frustrating as this one. That’s months away from now, though. Don’t blame me for bringing it up, it’s been ‘up’ for quite a while now…