Posts Tagged ‘Ferguson’

Season Previews 2010/11 – Birmingham



Last Season: 9th

New Signings: Foster, Zigic, Valles

Key Player: Roger Johnson

One To Watch: Eric Valles

Needs A Big Year: Ben Foster

Would Quite Like: Avoiding second season syndrome and a victory over the Villa.

More money please.

Prediction: 12th

Thoughts: If Ben Foster can adequately replace the departing Joe Hart in goal then Birmingham will go a long way to having another successful season. One of the surprise packages last year (I had them down for relegation!), Alex McLeish will be looking to consolidate and make sure his team remain as tough to beat as they were last season.

A lot of their players probably over-performed and bearing in mind there is quite a reliance on people as old as Steve Carr and Kevin Phillips, there is a valid concern that this year won’t quite be as good. A proper left back is needed so Ridgewell no longer has to play there while Zigic will hopefully provide consistency up front or a big target to aim at if nothing else.

Carson Yeung’s promised riches haven’t quite materialised but continued defensive solidity will ensure mid-table will be perfectly acceptable and attainable again this season.


The Six Pointer – Arsenal deficiencies, Arsenal deficiencies & more…


1. While Man Utd clearly deserved their win against Arsenal on Sunday, they were greatly helped by the non-performances of three Arsenal players in particular; Almunia, Clichy and Denilson.

Almunia has been a liability all season. He appears to have no confidence in his own decision making and no confidence from his two centre backs, Gallas in particular. Perhaps the Nani goal was unfortunate but I’ve seen Almunia do that weird palming thing too many times (e.g. Bentley last season) to think so.

almunia arsenal man utd

Words fail me.

There’s a level of technique which he clearly doesn’t have, and won’t learn at the age of 32. Mentally he looks shot and I struggle to think of which Premier League teams he’d get into right now. Certainly no-one in the top half.

With Fabianski being just as dodgy at the moment, it leaves a big hole to fill. Part of me wishes there had been a cheeky loan move for David James as a six month stop gap. Certainly the position will be one to address in the summer.


2. Clichy is perhaps still a bit unfit but not for the first time this season he was given a torrid time by so-so right-winger. After Wright-Phillips and Young, Nani joined the list of players who have outwitted him positionally and through a bit of pace.

His form hasn’t been good for a while now and I’d hazard a guess that Kieran Gibbs will be pushing him very hard for a first team spot next season.


3. Another player who has stagnated is Denilson. If you get beaten fair and square then fine, but if in one of the biggest games of the season you’re half-heartedly jogging back while the opposition are breaking at speed then something’s not right.

denilson arsenal

Jog on jogger.

Denilson has always been someone who divides opinion, on the surface a player who does nothing particularly well but nothing particularly badly. However, two weeks running he has now casually made half hearted attempts to stop breaks which have both resulted in goals.

Aaron Ramsey may give away the ball more but at least he makes things happen and chases after people. I’d play him next week if Diaby isn’t fit.


4. Playing three tiny players up front doesn’t work. I like the 4-3-3 formation but it only works if you have a variety of players. Van Persie, Arshavin and Bendtner offer different heights, differing skills and differing work rates and it was one reason why Arsenal were playing so well at the start of the year.

A trio of Arshavin, Nasri and Rosicky is just too similar. Arshavin to his credit wasn’t that bad and caused a few problems against Wes Brown but it’s just a shame Bendtner wasn’t match fit which would have allowed the Russian to face Rafael instead.


5. Theo Walcott isn’t going to the World Cup unless he has a dramatic improvement in form. He’s been found out for having one skill (pace) but not the intelligence to do anything with it.

I know he’s been out injured a long time and he was only a sub but you could say the same for any of his (few) games this season. There’s struggling to get into a game and then there’s complete anonymity. The problem with Walcott is he often finds himself in good positions; he just rarely makes the right decision. I know he’s a confidence player but how can he gain confidence if he’s never doing anything worthy of lifting it.


6. If you count the Champions League and cups the last eight games against Man Utd and Chelsea have resulted in one draw and seven defeats with just five goals scored and 18 conceded (thanks to East Lower). In two home games this season against the top two Arsenal have been crushed 3-0 and now 3-1.

Yet still Wenger believes in his players and refuses to buy anyone new. I wrote last season about how it was misguided to refuse to sign players because they might ‘kill’ a current player.

arsene wenger arsenal man utd

Mr Grumpy, meet Mr Stubborn. Mr Stubborn, meet Mr Grumpy.

I don’t really care if Denilson suddenly has his path to the first team blocked or if Walcott has to work that little bit harder to get a start. What matters is the success of the team and sometimes the feelings of players have to be sacrificed.

An 18 month deal for an experienced player that can do offer an alternative is hardly to going to finish the career of 21 year old Denilson. It may however have helped win a trophy this season, something which now looks unlikely.



The Six Pointer – Blue Hughes sees red, Megson’s style (or lack thereof) & more…


1. Mark Hughes has been getting on my nerves recently so it was quite funny to see him fume at Michael Owen’s last minute winner for Man Utd against Man City yesterday. He can bleat all he wants about the amount of stoppage time played but as has been pointed out several times now, the time that gets shown up on the board is a minimum not a maximum. Bellamy scored to make it 3-3 right on 90 minutes and the celebrations took around a minute. Fergie made a substitution and brought on Carrick which added around 30 seconds and Owen scored after 95 mins 28 seconds which if you add all the other stuff makes it perfectly fine.

Almost as good as the Neviller's celebration.

Almost as good as the Neviller's celebration.

If I was Mark Hughes I’d be more concerned about how my near £40 million centre back partnership appears to be a bit rubbish in the air while my right back has atrocious positioning skills. Richards was nowhere to be seen when Giggs slipped Owen through while Fletcher twice out jumped the City defence. Don’t forget all the great headed chances Berbatov had too.

Another issue of concern will be the number of shots Man City are taking. Even disregarding the three strikers they had out on Sunday, only five clubs have fewer shots on goal this season. City’s success thus far has been due to making the most of those shots with the highest on target accuracy of 57%. Given you would expect this to drop a little (the average is 44%), it means they’ll need to be more attacking if they’re to maintain their good start.

A word too for Craig Bellamy who has made a good start to the season and scored two excellent goals. I was arguing with the Football Guy the night before the game over where he stood in the pecking order at Man City. He reckons that Tevez is easily ahead whereas I wasn’t so sure. I think Bellamy’s two goals have added to the argument that he’s just as worthy of a place in the side as the Argetine. For all the talk about the determination and fight Tevez brings, it was clear on Sunday that Bellamy has fight in him too!




2. Chelsea were pretty good against Spurs, with Drogba in particular terrorising their makeshift central defence once King went off. The talking point was Carvalho’s challenge on Keane in the box at 1-0 Chelsea. The Portuguese defender took none of the ball but Keane stayed up for a step before going down. This delay probably cost him the decision though Howard Webb wasn’t in a great position to see it clearly.

Had he been at a different angle Webb would have had no choice but to give it and perhaps send off Carvalho too. Given how Drogba played it may not have made a difference but it certainly would have been more of a challenge for Ancelotti’s side at 1-1 and with ten men.


3. I’ve been thinking for a while that of the three centre backs Liverpool have, more and more Carragher seems to be the weak link. To be fair to him, Carlton Cole caused just as many problems for Martin Skrtel but Carragher is making lots of mistakes these days. Agger is not quite fit but it will be interesting selection choice once he is. I for one am quite happy if Rafa continues to play the Scousest man on Earth.

Luckily for Rafa Benitez he has probably the best player in the league in Fernando Torres who scored his 42nd and 43rd league goal in just 63 games – an awesome ratio that compares with Ronaldo and Henry at their best.

Another goal for El Nino.

Another goal for El Nino.


4. It appears Bolton fans are slowly getting fed up with Gary Megson, booing the team off the pitch after the 1-1 draw with Stoke. Only Matt Taylor’s last minute penalty spared defeat but it’s the manner of play which is at odds with the support. Attendances are falling at the Reebok and it’s in no small part to Megson’s style of play. I imagine it would be bearable if it was bringing good results like last season but there’s just a solitary win against Pompey so far.

Bolton have made the fewest passes in the division and have the fourth lowest shooting accuracy. While the direct tactics may be effective against some, it’s not going to work when you have Kevin Davies on his own against the giant Stoke defenders. Klasnic might prove useful once he fully adjusts to the Premier League but record signing Elmander has not played any part in the last two games. With the promoted clubs doing better than expected it looks to be a long season ahead for Bolton.

Under fire.

Under fire.


5. Just like that Aston Villa have won four straight games and all the talk of crisis after the Wigan defeat has gone. The new look defence has settled well and Agbonlahor has found himself some form again. Three straight clean sheets has shown value in Martin O’Neill’s policy of tending to buy domestically. Players like Dunne and Warnock were established Premier League players before moving to Villa Park and thus could slot straight in without the need to adapt. There’s even a little more rotation going on this season with 20 players already used (just 21 were used all of last season). Once again they look well placed to challenge for that elusive top four spot. With a more open league they could get that little bit closer this time round.


6. Portsmouth have now lost six of six. Even Derby didn’t start off this badly. Might we have a new contender for the record low points tally?



Weekly Photoshop – European Super League


Last week, Arsene Wenger predicted that the Champions League would not exist in ten years time, instead being replaced by a European Super League. It wouldn’t be a surprise to be honest, I’m sure most of the major European clubs want a competition where they have more control and income than from the current UEFA format. Anyway, this formed the theme for this week’s Guardian photoshop gallery comepetition, the entry for which is below.


It's Come Dine With Me as Wenger predicts a European Supper League...

It's Come Dine With Me as Wenger predicts a European Supper League...


The rest can be found here (lots of superhero entries).





Champions League Semi Final Second Legs


After two fairly underwhelming first legs in both the Barcelona-Chelsea tie and Manchester United-Arsenal tie, this week should see a tense and exciting finish conclusion of the semi finals. It is still all up for grabs. Here are my thoughts about how the first legs panned out and what to expect from the  sides involved in the second.



Chelsea vs Barcelona

Guus Hiddink and his team were heralded in the media for their tactical outmaneuvering of Barcelona at the Nou Camp. The stats tend to agree – not only did Barca not score but they failed to create that many good chances, with the best falling to the youngling Bojan Krkic. Credit where credit is due, Chelsea played to their strengths – very literally. The combination of Essien, Ballack and Mikel in the middle denied the engine room players Xavi and Iniesta the space to operate, while Messi was often forced inside by a unusually defensive-minded performance from Bosingwa.

Nevertheless, it was such an unambitious showing from Chelsea that I am not quite sure why anyone is confident they can beat Barca at Stamford Bridge. Failing to score an away goal puts them in the unenviable position of needing 2 should Barca score one. Guardiola’s men have scored 140 in all competitions this season, who wants to put money on them failing to score one in 180 minutes against Chelsea?

The Blues have players who have the quality to maintain possession and distribute accurately but instead they put all their eggs in the lump-up-to-Drogba basket. If he had scored the chance gifted to him by Rafael Marquez then Drogba may have vindicated the strategy. Lampard was a spectator and thus was unsurprisingly withdrawn before the 90 were up. The reality was that Chelsea did not even attempt to play any football and I think more likely than not it will be the same case in the return leg.

Barca were at their devastatingly best going forward in their 6-2 drubbing of Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Saturday night. Although it is pretty clear they won’t get that kind of joy against Chelsea at the Bridge, I expect Las Blaugranas to dominate proceedings yet again. Hiddink will rely on the same tactic of frustrating Barca and hope to provoke them into a mistake by frustrating and aggravating their players, as they did in the first leg.

If Henry is injured it is a massive blow but I think this Barca team is playing with such confidence and quality that regardless of who comes into replace him, Chelsea won’t see much of the ball and ultimately the class will show.



Arsenal vs Manchester United

While Arsenal, unlike Chelsea in the other semi, attempted to play the game against Manchester United, their lineup was completely non-conducive to getting a result at Old Trafford once they conceded the early goal. Wenger tried to contain United with a five man midfield but in the end was lucky to come away with a 1-0 defeat. Ultimately, I think that Arsenal’s failure to score an away goal will come back and bite them on the Arse.

Wenger’s choice to deploy Fabregas in the advanced position, Diaby on the left and Nasri as a holding midfield was based on success against a poor Boro side the weekend before. What happened against United was that Fabregas was forced to come deep to see any of the ball, meaning Arsenal’s last third was congested and Adebayor was isolated figure struggling against the formidable duo of Vidic and Ferdinand. The threat of Walcott was made redundant through lack of distribution and space in behind Evra, while both Gibbs (who had a good game) and Sagna (who was poor) were pinned back by United’s wide forwards.

At the Emirates Wenger will go back to 4-4-2 (thank fuck), although the success of that working depends on Van Persie being fully fit to play (he was passed fit today but who knows what that means for chocolate leg). A forward line of Bendtner and Adebay plays into the hand of United’s aerially astute centre backs. Fabregas will go back to the middle and Nasri return to the left. The problem for Arsene is that United will press the Gooners the same way they did at Old Trafford, safe in the knowledge that if they go out to score early doors, Arsenal will be forced to go gung-ho in search of the 3 goals needed to overturn the away goal.

Nevertheless, the important factor for Arsenal is that they return to playing in the way they feel comfortable (4-4-2) and enjoy. Wenger’s two big matches of tactical experimentation (Chelsea FA Cup semi final and United first leg) were largely failures. Arsneal have got good results against the big sides playing their own game.

United showed why they are European champs at Old Trafford. I expect Arsenal to show that they can play on a par at the Emirates. But when it comes to the crunch, United have the confidence and experience to score when it matters. For my sanity’s sake, I hope it doesn’t come after Arsenal outplay United, leading 2-0 until the 93rd minute. If you are gonna kill my boys Fergie, make it quick and painless.



Champions League Quarter Final Preview – Man Utd vs FC Porto



When this draw was made a couple of weeks ago it seemed like Man Utd were clear favourites to progress against the Portuguese champions. Indeed that is still very much the case – you get 10/1 on a Porto win tomorrow night and 9/2 on Porto getting through full stop. Now I know United are a force to be reckoned with at home in Europe but 10/1 is an absolutely ridiculous price in a Champions League quarter final and is worth £2 of anyone’s money on Betfair. I think the bookies are underestimating Porto, especially in light of Man Utd’s somewhat dubious recent form. 

Fergie - much to ponder

Fergie - much to ponder


Squeaky bums

Whilst domestic form doesn’t necessarily always translate into European form, Fergie will be wary of being over confident. Recent defeats to Liverpool and Fulham were followed by a less than convincing win over Aston Villa at the weekend. Considering six weeks ago this side looked like they could never concede, the defence is quite shaky at the moment. This is not helped when Ferguson decides in his infinite wisdom that it’s a good idea to play Gary Neville at centre back against John Carew. The mistake was rectified in game, but not before Neville was given a torrid half hour. Rio is still out so Evans will look to form a solid base with Vidic. A clean sheet would be much appreciated, given ten have been conceded in the last five games. Further forward you’re likely to see the usual suspects in midfield and attack with Tevez likely to partner Rooney up front while in midfield you could maybe expect Carrick, Scholes, Ronaldo and Park. 


Jose’s shadow

The last time Porto got this far, they went and won the whole tournament and the world was introduced to the Special One AKA Jose Mourinho. Indeed it was at this same stage in 2004 that they faced Man Utd and proceeded to knock them out with 1-1 draw at Old Trafford after winning the first leg. Cue Jose’s jig down the Old Trafford touchline.

Anyway, that’s all history now but Porto haven’t managed to reach the same heights since, despite winning the league three years running. They currently have a solid, counter-attacking team that has a pair of very effective strikers in Lisandro and Hulk. Both have the ability to cause the United defence some problems – Lisandro has six European goals already this campaign while Hulk is like a good version of Julio Baptista (not saying much I know). In midfield Rodriguez will pull the strings centrally and will be supported by Meireles and Gonzalez. 

Hulk - Is that him angry or happy?

Hulk - Is that him angry or happy?



It will be interesting to see which Porto turn up, the one brushed aside 4-0 by Arsenal at the Emirates in the group stages or the one that classily won the return leg 2-0 (though against an understrength Gunners). In the last round Atletico were knocked out on away goals in a tight affair, but I remember from the highlights that Porto missed enough chances to have put the tie long beyond doubt. Man Utd will be hoping that following his double against Villa, Ronaldo has come into some form. He always makes sure he noticed in big games, but not always for the quality of his play. They will target the Porto keeper Helton who isn’t the most convincing and hope too that Rooney has one of his nights where everything comes off. I do think the price on Porto is too big but at the same United are justifiably favourites and will hope to take a clean sheet into the second leg, ideally topped off with two goals of their own.



The Six Pointer – Fat Man Strike Rates, Macheda’s Bruce Impression & more…


That was the weekend that was.


1. Were the last ten minutes at Old Trafford yesterday the most important of Man Utd’s season so far? Following Liverpool’s last gasp win which took them briefly top, all the pressure was on Fergie’s men to produce a response, even more so given they had lost their previous two Premier League games before the international break. Villa were good value for a point but were undone by a Ronaldo double and a fantastic goal from a seventeen year old debutant that I would doubt many United fans had heard of, let alone anyone else. Federico Macheda was only on the bench due to some good form in the reserves and Berbatov’s injury but he had a debut to remember with a lovely turn and curling shot past Friedel in stoppage time.

The five minutes of stoppage time was slightly dubious (anyone remember Steve Bruce in 1993? A vital winner in the eighth minute of injury time! Unbelievable!) but of course Fergie won’t mind. The effect of a similar last minute winner so soon after Liverpool will no doubt galvanise United and should see them home. Man Utd go back to the top and still have that game in hand (though not till May 13 against Wigan) but I would imagine that it will probably depend on how the respective title challengers do in their home games against Arsenal that will decide the destiny of this year’s race.

Steve Bruce mark II

Steve Bruce mark II


2. Talking of Arsenal, the returning Fabregas and Adebayor duly slotted straight back with the former providing two very nice assists for the latter (thanks as ever to the fantastic 101greatgoals). While you could argue that a seventeen game unbeaten run in the league show that they arguably haven’t been missed, I would say that their return for the run in ensures that a strong base for next season can be developed. Wenger appeared to be trying a Liverpool style 4-2-3-1 formation which saw Denilson and Song playing the Alonso/Mascherano roles; Walcott and Arshavin patrolling the right and left wings; and Cesc playing quite far forward just behind Adebayor (a la Gerrard/Torres).

Of course it was only one game but I could see this becoming quite a regular option for Arsenal. The holding midfielders need improving but it offers flexibility in that Cesc could drop back, while Arshavin plays Gerrard and someone like RVP plays wide left or vice versa. Idle speculation for now but with the Gunners likely to next season have Fabregas, Nasri, Ashavin, Walcott, Adebayor, Van Persie, Bendtner, Vela, Eduardo and dare I say it Thomas Rosicky (haha) all battling for five attacking slots it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.


3. Looks like Shearer will need more than just the feel good factor to drag his beloved Newcastle out of trouble. Chelsea was always a tough ask in his first game but it puts a huge amount of pressure in the last seven games. Stoke away next week is critical, but winnable, no matter how good Delap and co have been at the Britannia this season. Tottenham and Blackburn follow and it will be important to gain at least five points from these three games but ideally seven. A three point deficit is not much but with an inferior goal difference to boot the pressure is on. A win next week coupled with Sunderland defeat to Man Utd would likely see them swap places, for a week at least. Momentum is key at this stage though and you feel that if they got out, Newcastle may well stay out of the dreaded bottom three.   

If MOTD is anything to go by he's not saying anything useful.

If MOTD is anything to go by he's not saying anything useful.


4. It’s always a bit odd when a player completely fails to produce for one team, but then changes his surroundings and starts scoring left right and centre. Jo scored just once for Man City in a 6-0 thrashing of Portsmouth in September but he now has five in seven since joining Everton on loan in January. This for a team, which arguably creates less chances and is more defensive than Mark Hughes’ side. Everton have always been a solid outfit but have lacked a good striker to rely on since Yakubu decided to essentially stop scoring after August and then injure himself for the season just to make sure. If David Moyes can find a way of getting Jo to stay at Goodison next season then they could perhaps again be a threat for a top four position. 


5. West Brom are going down, they have been for ages. Following Middlesbrough’s 4-1 spanking at Bolton, we can safely assume they will join the Baggies. There seems to be a resigned look about Gareth Southgate’s men, and unlike the last couple of times they went down, they don’t seem to be fighting till the end. I like Southgate, but you just feel he is not one who particularly inspires when the chips are down. His demeanor has always appeared pretty negative in recent months and that is not a surprise given they have won once in nineteen. Even changing managers at this stage wouldn’t prevent their relegation.

Ultimately Southgate will be judged by the players he bought, and specifically the £6million man Mido and the £13million man Alves. Both as fat as each other, Mido has gone on loan to Wigan having scored just six times in 25 appearances while Alves has ten in 38. Three of Alves’ goals came in a meaningless end of season 8-1 hammering of Man City last year. Ultimately if your top forwards have a strike rate of one in four (Tuncay also has a similar rate but he’s actually played quite well), you shouldn’t be surprised when you struggle.  

Alves in rare usefulness picture. Maybe.

Alves in rare usefulness picture. Maybe.


6. It saddens me that the three most horrible teams in the league (Blackburn, Stoke and Bolton) all now look like staying up. Here’s hoping that next season their negative, niggly, cheating ways (I’m especially looking at you Fat Sam) don’t wash and all three go down. The Premier League would not be poorer for it.



The Six Pointer – Champions League Second Round Edition


Midweek European action satisfaction.


1. Alex Ferguson will be pleased with his side’s victory last night, given the chances Inter created. A lot of pre-game talk was about the Mourinho factor but for all his ability, he needs to have the right players as well. At Chelsea he had people like Lampard and Drogba, who you know will always produce on the big stage. Zlatan may be a wonderful player on Youtube clips who’s capable of great goals and flicks, but at the very highest level I think he falls slightly short. He had several excellent chances over the two legs and failed to take any of them. It may be a season or two before Mourinho has made the squad completely his own. United took advantage of some sloppy defending to score two headed goals and rode their luck to see out the game. They are currently favourites with the bookies but that may all change once the draw for the quarters and semis are made. 

Vieira does a great job of 'marking' Vidic...

Vieira does a great job of 'marking' Vidic...


2. Liverpool got lucky with refereeing decisions for the first two goals in my opinion but used it to full advantage and certainly played well enough to warrant victory. Real were shockingly bad and lack both pace and power, something Liverpool (and all the English sides for that matter) have in abundance. Ramos has done very well since coming in but he has a squad of mainly one paced players and the only one who is quick (Robben) was anonymous on Tuesday. Rafa has had a bit of a moan about his European record isn’t respected. I think it is, everyone knows that tactically he’s one of the best in Europe and in Gerrard and Torres he has two gladiators who keep going and going. Once more their title challenge has faded but I imagine they’ll come close in Europe again.


3. Arsenal were pretty poor against Roma, who themselves weren’t great. Juan’s early goal made for a very tense night but neither side had the quality to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Roma had a very good shout for a penalty when Clichy fouled Motta at the end of the first half, and Julio Baptista missed an absolute sitter late in the second. It soon became clear that the match was destined for penalties and the shootout was quite strange. For the first time in a long time there wasn’t a single player I was fully confident of scoring, not even RVP. Thankfully only Eduardo missed for Arsenal and series of average penalties (interspersed with quality ones from Totti and the Beast) were taken before Tonetto blasted the deciding one over the bar. Wenger will be thankful that Fabregas and Adebayor will be back for the quarter finals, providing much needed guile in midfield and presence up front. They’ll want to take more of their chances at home too, as the next opponents are unlikely to be as forgiving as Roma.

We have lift off...

We have lift off...


4. Barcelona were efficient in taking apart a Lyon side who have never managed to turn French dominance into European success. Seven successive league titles have yet to produce a Champions League campaign that went beyond the quarter finals and you wonder if they can even manage that in coming seasons with Juninho getting older and Benzema likely to leave in the next year or two. Barca meanwhile seem to have rediscovered their form following a little domestic blip. Their defence is a lot better this season and they have the firepower to score against anyone, Henry in particular showing he still has it with his 50th Champions League goal. The one question mark that remains is goalkeeper Victor Valdes, a player I’m amazed is first choice for them. He’s the kind of player that is never far away from a mistake and I suspect if Barcelona get knocked out, he will have something to do with it. Just imagine if someone of the caliber of Casillas played for them instead… 


5. Despite Bayern racking up a record 12-1 aggregate victory over Sporting, I don’t think they’re a team to be feared in the quarter finals. They’ve been inconsistent all season and rely too much on star player Franck Ribery. I’m not convinced Klinsmann has the tactical nous to take on the wiser heads remaining in the quarter finals, let alone the players.


6. Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini have both been going on record about how it’s bad that English clubs are dominating at the moment. That is true to an extent but it’s no different to when Italian and Spanish teams both had periods of dominance and English clubs failed each year. Let’s not forget that even with Man United and Liverpool’s recent victories, English clubs have only won the tournament three times since the Champions League format was introduced in 1992/3. That’s one behind Spanish and Italian teams. Bearing in mind no one has retained the trophy since the new format came in, I think that as long as you’re getting different winners every year then there isn’t too much of an issue. I’m sure next week’s draw will see at least one all English pairing in the quarter finals anyway.

Remember these guys?

Remember these guys?


There’s more analysis to follow from P.



Champions League Second Round First Leg Roundup: Inter Milan 0 Manchester United 0

"I refuse to watch this any longer...end match please"

"I refuse to watch this any longer...end match please"


Billed as the re-acquaintance of Ferguson and Mourinho, the bragging rights for this leg swung firmly in favour of one man, and it wasn’t the smug Portuguese one. Jose will consider his Inter side lucky that they did not concede in this match with United creating several dangerous moments, the best of which resulted in good chances for Ryan Giggs and headers for Cristiano Ronaldo. The Red Devils’ speed, technique and superior passing contrasted markedly with Mourinho’s lumbering, predictable side which all too often relies on getting the ball up to the big boys, Adriano and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Inter looked just like the team that went out of the competition at the early stages in the past two seasons. Nevertheless, the Nerazzuri will head into the second leg in two weeks time guided by a manager that has already performed a smash-and-grab operation at Old Trafford.

Tactical Analysis


Inter Milan

Jose named the team that he seems to have settled with over the past ten games or so apart from the surprise inclusion of Colombian Nelson Rivas (no don’t worry, not the full back of Arsenal and later Inter legend) at centre half instead of Ivan Cordoba, who Mourinho somewhat unsurprisingly fell out with. What a bad decision that turned out to be, with Rivas being torn apart by Berbatov, Ronaldo and Park in the opening 45 minutes, culminating in his substitution for the aforementioned Cordoba at half time. The diminutive but pacy Colombian of Pro Evo legend made a crucial block in the second half, denying a Giggs opener.

Sulley Muntari had an absolute shocker, leading to calls in the Italian press the following day that Patrick Vieira’s return is a must should Inter progress. The workmanlike nature of Inter’s midfield bereft them of any creativity, leading to many high balls up to the top two. he likes of Figo and Jimenez seem to be permanently relegated to the bench, although perhaps they simply don’t get on with Jose.

On a positive note, young Davide Santon did extremely well (wow that sounds like something David Pleat would say). He was impressive defensively as Mourinho once again restricts the forward movements of his full backs in the Champions League.

Manchester United

Ferguson put out the solid side that has brought them much joy this season. They didn’t look like conceding and were more impressive going forward than they have in some games recently. Quite frankly, Inter’s midfield was out-run by the stalwart trio of Park, Fletcher and Carrick, the last of which seems to be a firm favourite with Italian media, naming him ‘un magnifico Carrick’ (no need for translation).

Ronaldo was his devastating self, although he himself would probably admit he should have scored. European opposition seem to be truly mesmerised when playing against the world’s best player.

Looking Ahead

crystal-ballMourinho will absolutely relish the second leg at Old Trafford and I am sure the mind games over the next two weeks will reflect just that. A first goal from Inter would make the tie extremely interesting. However, there is the small matter of Inter having to actually play well in a European away tie. The inclusion of Vieira may be effective, if only in bringing back memories of his domineering performances when at Arsenal.

The European Champions will be confident on home soil following the superior showing in Milan. An early goal for United would set them up nicely for a counter-attacking game. Should the match remain goalless until the last 30 minutes or so, then perhaps nerves will start to undo United’s game and a repeat of Mourinho’s Porto antics may be on the cards.

I never like to see United win but they will on 10 March and Mourinho will have to admit that he hasn’t had much of a positive effect on an Inter side that was already dominant in Serie A and whose real test was in Europe.


Derby vs Man Utd Live Minute by Minute!


So, after their two games in the Carling Cup semi final, Derby and Man Utd meet each other again in the FA Cup fifth round. Derby beat Utd 1-0 in the first leg at Pride Park and battled bravely before succumbing 4-2 in the return match. Will they be able to cause an upset again?

Lots of focus on Clough Jnr vs Fergie. Let’s just hope ITV let us see the goals this time…



Derby: Bywater, Connolly, Addison, Albrechtsen, Stewart, Barazite, Green, Savage, Teale, Commons, Hulse.

Subs: Carroll, Sterjovski, Nyatanga, Davies, Todd, Pearson, Porter.

Man Utd: Foster, Rafael Da Silva, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Park, Fletcher, Gibson, Nani, Giggs, Ronaldo.

Subs: Kuszczak, Vidic, Scholes, Welbeck, O’Shea, Tevez, Possebon.


A slightly weakened side from Ferguson but Ferdinand plays to marshall the defence and Evra finally makes his comeback after injury. Giggs and Ronaldo up front which is interesting. No doubt Carlos Tevez will be a bit annoyed. Robbie Savage and his Armani tattoo play and look out for Nacer Barazite who’s on loan from Arsenal. 



Edward Sheringham Esq. joins Steve Rider and Andy Townsend in the studio. He played for Clough Snr, with Clough Jnr, and for Fergie OAP so is well placed to offer an insight. Probably.


1 min: Man Utd kick off. Peter Drury and Jim Beglin commentate. Darron (why does he spell it like that?) Gibson has an early shot from 30 yards. Not too far over.

3 mins: Nani gets a bloody nose from a man sandwich of Evra and a Derby player. He’ll be alright though.

5 mins: Ronaldo reckons he’s fouled by Savage by nothing given. He gets annoyed when Savage tries to help him up. Savage will definitely play pantomime villain here. Ronaldo will probably be his sidekick though.

7 mins: Good atmosphere at Pride Park today.

10 mins: Barazite makes a run down the right wing. He goes past Fletcher but with no one to support him is eventually dispossesed.

11 mins: Derby win a corner. Commons swings it in high but Ben Foster claims it.

12 mins: Ronaldo tries to make space for himself but is tackled strongly by Savage. 

14 mins: A lovely bit of quick passing sees the ball break to Fletcher who hits a strong drive which is well saved by Bywater. A United free kick on the left wing is then driven hard at the wall by Ronaldo. He may well have been aiming for Robbie Savage’s head.

15 mins: Bywater makes a great reaction save from Ji Sung Park who had made a late run at the back post. United on top at the mo.

19 mins: United free kick 35 yards out. Ronaldo spits, wipes his nose then hits a drive straight at Robbie Savage’s cojones. That must have hurt. I reckon C-Ron is aiming at him.

21 mins: A decent turn and hit from Hulse.

25 mins: Derby have a shout for a penalty. Hulse goes down under a challenge from Rio Ferdinand but it was dive pure and simple. Rio’s not impressed with that. He shouldn’t be sticking his leg out like that though.

27 mins: Ronaldo tries some stepovers but Savage isn’t buying it. His pass then goes astray.

29 mins: GOAL! Derby 0-1 Man Utd. Nani scores a lovely goal. One we got to see live too. Ronaldo nearly connects with a Park cross but the ball is cleared. It is worked to Nani on the left hand side of the pitch. He takes it inside, runs past a couple of player and hits a curling drive from the edge of the box into the corner of net. About six somersaults follow.

35 mins: Derby still looking to play their game. A Commons free kick is easily saved by Foster but nothing has really happened since the goal.

37 mins: GOAL! Derby 0-2 Man Utd. Giggs plays through Ronaldo who is clear of everyone and slots it past Bywater. United celebrate but the goal is then disallowed for offside. It’s all a bit ludicrous. The offside decision was marginal but why wait so long to rule it out. Ronaldo and Fergie are not happy to say that least. It was genuinely about 15 seconds after he slotted it in. 

41 mins: We’re told it took so long as the linesman wasn’t sure if Giggs had flicked it on, so had to check with the ref. Something like that anyway. It was pretty obvious Giggs had flicked it, it was a pretty good bit of skill.

44 mins: GOAL! Derby 0-2 Man Utd. Another United free kick 35 yards out, Ronaldo takes aims at Savage once more. He hits the the wall, somewhere near Savage’s head. The ball breaks to Gibson who shoots past Bywater. This one counts.

There's only room for one poser in this town...

There's only room for one poser in this town...

Half time: United good value for their lead. Derby have come from two down against both Forest Green and Nottingham Forest in this season’s FA Cup but they surely can’t do it a third time. Can they?

Tea time.

46 mins: Derby kick off the second half.

48 mins: GOAL! Derby 0-3 Man Utd. Park pressures Derby into conceding a corner. Giggs swings it in and Ronaldo places a header from 10 yards into the top corner. Simple stuff. He barely had to jump.

50 mins: United almost score again but for a fine double save from Bywater. This could get ugly.

53 mins: Evans needlessly fouls Hulse outside the box. Derby pass it about before it’s eventually crossed in. Foster punches away just before Hulse gets his head to it.

55 mins: Double change for United. Park and Evra off, O’Shea and Welbeck on.

56 mins: GOAL! Derby 1-3 Man Utd.  Commons crosses it in from the left and Addison powers a header in from 12 yards. A good goal but Derby had all the time in the world to cross it in. O’Shea was sleeping a bit there and no one tracked Addison’s run.

59 mins: Derby try to work the ball into a good position. Gary Teale tries to blast in a 35 yarder with the outside of his right boot. It goes horribly wide and over.

63 mins: Barazite off for Derby, Sterjovski on.

67 mins: This is end to end now as Derby push for another to make it interesting while Utd hope to catch them on the break and end it. Teale makes a decent run down the left and threads it to Hulse in the box. His touch is poor and he lays it off to a United player.

69 mins: Porter on for Hulse. Giggs and Ronaldo combine but the Portugeezer slashes a left foot shot over.

71 mins: Nani goes past Connolly, knocks the ball too far then falls over. He’s shocked he doesn’t get a free kick. What a fool. He’s hard to like is Nani. 

72 mins: Possebon replaces Ronaldo. Savage has no one to tackle now. On second thoughts there is Nani. He’s probably more thankful no one will aim at him from free kicks anymore.

77 mins: Teale hits a very good shot low and hard from outside the box. Foster makes a great diving save to give away a corner. From the resulting set piece, Commons finds Addison who heads just wide. Derby still looking for another.

81 mins: GOAL! Derby 1-4 Man Utd. Welbeck wraps it up. Some lovely one touch football from United who work it to Welbeck who’s lurking on the left hand side of the area. He opens up his body and curls a great first shot time past Bywater into the far corner. Lovely finish, reminiscent of Thierry Henry in the way he just bent it round the keeper.

82 mins: Savage off to a warm round of applause. Steven Pearson on.

87 mins: This one has settled down. Nothing really happening as both side wind down the clock.

89 mins: Darren Darron Gibson gets man of the match. He’s been neat and tidy and got his goal. Giggs would be the other contender I guess but no complaints here.

Full time: Derby 1-4 Man Utd. A comfortable win for Fergie’s side. His youngsters impressed whilst there was enough experience with Giggs, Ronaldo, Rio etc to make sure there would be no repeat of the Carling Cup first leg. Derby battled bravely and got the goal they deserved. United scored some nice goals, the pick of which I’d say was Welbeck’s.


The draw for the quarter finals follows straight after and comes out like this:

Blackburn or Coventry v Chelsea

Swansea or Fulham v Man Utd

Cardiff or Arsenal or Burnley v Sheffield Utd or Hull

Everton v West Ham or Middlesbrough



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