Posts Tagged ‘Manchester United’

Season Previews 2010/11 – Manchester United

12/08/2010

Man Utd

Last Season: 2nd + Carling Cup Winners

New Signings: Smalling, Hernandez, Bébé

Key Player: Wayne Rooney

One To Watch: Javier Hernandez

Needs  A Big Year: Rio Ferdinand

Would Quite Like: To keep City in their place while winning title 19 to overtake Liverpool’s record. Two birds, one stone.

Prediction: 1st

Thoughts: Alex Ferguson came mighty close to another league title last season but ultimately fell a point short of Chelsea, which was impressive given they’d lost both league matches against the Blues. Wayne Rooney carried them with his best ever season but the injury he suffered in March meant the Red Devils stuttered to the line somewhat and were pipped at the post.

Not too much has changed at Old Trafford with just three players joining in the shape of Chris Smalling (who was bought in January), Javier Hernandez and unknown striker Bébé for whom Ferguson has paid £7m or so on the back of a Carlos Queiroz recommendation. This last signing is really out of the blue, and considering how Nani and Anderson have turned out, it might be another case of overpaying.

In terms of the other two, Smalling is clearly being groomed as an eventual successor to Rio Ferdinand, though he wasn’t impressive when he played for Fulham last season. Hernandez or ‘Chicarito’ as he likes to be known is the interesting one. He looked very lively in the World Cup and has had a good pre-season. Double figures in goals could well be possible in his first season.

Bebe Man Utd

The last two Queiroz recommendations (Anderson and Nani) haven't exactly been rip roaring successes.

Elsewhere, there appears to be another crop of good youngsters pushing through, which is probably why Fergie hasn’t spent too much this summer. The likes of Tom Cleverley have been impressive in pre-season and should feature regularly as the season progresses.

The defence is solid if a little injury prone with van der Sar, Rio and Vidic all susceptible to niggles. Evans is a capable deputy at centre back however. Evra was one of the team’s best players last season but a question does remain over right back, where you have the same scenario as last season with O’Shea, Neville and Rafael battling it out.

It might be this for England.

Further forward, there are a huge range of options in midfield and attack. Fergie hasn’t named the same side in well over a 100 games and the likes of Valencia, Anderson, Nani, Park, Berbatov, Owen, Carrick, Scholes and Giggs all provide different options at different times.

Nani especially looked to finally be living up to some of his potential last season and Fergie will hope that he can be consistent over a whole season.

But it's more like this for Man Utd.

Really though it all depends on Rooney. The team is built around him now and he responded with his best ever season last year. After a dreadful World Cup (due to lack of fitness more than anything) he will want to bounce back – he looked half decent in the Charity Shield before being a bit rubbish in the Hungary friendly but I suspect the home comforts of Manchester will see another good season.

As ever, United have a pretty good team and if you come above them, you stand a very good chance of winning the title. I do feel Chelsea won’t be quite as good while Arsenal are still a decent keeper away from being true contenders. Ferguson has seen it all before and still has the same determination to win as he did twenty years ago. I think they’ll come top

T.

Weekly Photoshop – 2009 Review

23/12/2009

Hello hello, long time no speak. This week there’s no Photoshop theme in the Guardian, merely a collection of the year’s best entries. They’ve decided to not just use the weekly winners (not sure why) hence Emmanuel Eboue gets in from way back in January while October’s effort for Old Trafford Injury Time also makes it.

.

My three personal favourites from this year are as follows:

3. Nicklas Bendtner (more for Ade as Ike Turner):

Nicklas may think he's "simply the best, better than all the rest" but sadly for him Ade is the Ike in this relationship.

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2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (proving me wrong to be fair):

zlatan ibrahimovic barcelona guardiola

"Of course you can rely on me in the big games Pep." Zlatan's already epic nose suddenly seems to increase in size...

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1. Roy Keane (both entries):

roy keane ipswich

There'll be none of this Tractor Boys business now Keane is in charge, it's manual labour all the way...

roy keane ipswich mick mccarthy

Mick McCarthy may have escaped Keane's clutches for now but he'll soon hunt him down.

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Hope you enjoyed them all, I’m going to try to spend more time on them next year. Alberto Aquilani is first up in the new year.

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T.

The Six Pointer – Men vs Midgets, Self-Deprecation & more…

30/11/2009

That was the weekend that was.

 

1. Chelsea showed Arsenal what it takes to be champions elect yesterday with a lesson in how to blend skill with power. Up until the first goal Arsenal were in control without really doing anything, though Chelsea could have had a penalty for Sagna’s foul on Anelka. Then out of nothing Cole wasn’t closed down and a great cross came over for Drogba to finish clinically. The defending wasn’t the best. Sagna could have made a better attempt to prevent the cross from Cole and one of the centre backs could have cleared it but it was a great ball in.

A couple of minutes later an almost identical goal was scored. Cole again had time and space to put in a great ball from the left but this time it went in off Vermaelen who was expecting Gallas to clear it. Two quick goals before half time, game over. The second half was notable for Arshavin’s disallowed goal, Drogba’s free kick to wrap up the victory and nothing more.

The game showed exactly how far Arsenal have to go if they are to match Chelsea. Ancelotti’s team had height and strength all over the pitch as well as skill, overpowering Arsenal everywhere. Wenger was missing Van Persie, Bendtner and Diaby who all would have played in this game and perhaps made a difference. However you’d imagine that even with them on the pitch Chelsea would find have found a way to win.

For some reason there was a constant stream of hopeful crosses and medium length passes to the forward line of Arshavin, Nasri and Eduardo, who every time were beaten in the air by Terry & co. It changed a little in the second half but there were mainly lots of runs up blind alleys. Eduardo in particular looked well off the pace and badly needs a meaningful goal while Arshavin continued his peripheral form of this season. Walcott was poor when he came on and there are no true wingers at the clubs, instead lots of inside forward types.

didier drogba ashley cole arsenal chelsea

I find it so hard to decide who I dislike more in this picture.

As for Drogba, Arsenal must be sick of him. Two great goals and an all action performance in tandem with Anelka. He now has 10 goals in 11 games vs Arsenal and has been directly the match winner six times.  I think Almunia should have done better with the third goal; his positioning was wrong (why move behind the wall?) and thus the ball was already in the net before he even reached with his dive.

Wenger can say the disallowed goal was pivotal but I disagree. As in the game against Man Utd, having all the possession is pointless if you can’t do anything with it. The reason why Chelsea and Man Utd have been the two top teams for the past few years is that they can soak up pressure and still win. Arsenal have yet to discover that method.

arsenal weak

What you see and what you get.

 

2. Everton lost again and although there’s no shame in being beaten by Liverpool (actually…) you sense that perhaps Moyes has taken them as far as he can. That’s not to say he isn’t right for the job and the Scot has done wonders with the budget and constraints he has but maybe something needs freshening up.

Everton won’t reach the heights of the past few seasons and the constant long-term injuries to key players means a likely finish outside the top eight this year. With the Kirkby stadium plans rejected and no buyers for the club, the future looks a little uncertain at Goodison.

 

3. Is the clock ticking for Mark Hughes? Seven straight draws now. Funny how you can say they’re unbeaten in ten or without a win in seven. Hughes will no doubt slant to the former but I suspect the owners will be looking at the latter. Of the seven games (Villa A, Wigan A, Fulham H, Birmingham A, Burnley H, Liverpool A, Hull H), only Villa and Liverpool are truly tough games if you have real aspirations to be in the top four, and despite everything said otherwise that is the target. Somehow I don’t think Hughes will get a second attempt if he doesn’t achieve it this season in what is such an open year.

 

4. Hats off to Jimmy Bullard for the celebration of the season. In case you haven’t seen it, he gathered his teammates in a circle and mock scolded a la Tango Man last season. Ironically enough it was at the City of Manchester Stadium again. His return has been the main reason behind Hull’s resurgence and they may yet find themselves in a position like last where they weren’t very good but three teams were worse. He has brought a sense of fun back to the KC Stadium and fair play to Phil Brown for being able to see the funny side of Bullard’s celebration.

jimmy bullard goal celebration man city hull

Genius.

 

5. One of those teams will be Wolves unless Mick McCarthy goes. It took a while but it’s now clear that either the players or the manager aren’t cut out for this level. Time for either to prove that’s not true.

 

6. Birmingham have been doing well of late. They have been hard to break down since the start of the season but Alex McLeish has realised that by adding an extra striker and playing 4-4-2 he is far more likely to rack up the points that will lead Birmingham to safety this season.

 

T.

Champions League Semi Final Preview – Manchester United vs. Arsenal

28/04/2009
Sitting comfortably gentlemen

Sitting comfortably gentlemen?

Wednesday night’s meeting between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford will be the first time the two sides have faced each other in European competition. The all English match-up of the past few years – Liverpool vs Chelsea – ,failed to inspire the European audience until the cracker of a game two weeks ago. This time around we have the two teams that have been playing the creme-de-la-creme of Premier League football for the past 10 years. In Wenger and Fergie you couldn’t have two different managers, yet both respected as the best in the business by pundits, fans, players and peers across the world. This is the all Premier League fixture the world has been waiting to watch.

As a Gooner, I must say I feel both the excitement and sickness that comes whenever we are about to face Man U in a big match. I nearly forgot how much I dislike Rooney & co. following the past few seasons of playing second fiddle to a top class Man U team that were superseded in my distaste by those bunch of shit bags over in West London. But then I remember Van Nistelrooy cheating us, Giggs showing his carpet chest, Yorke embarrassing us and the brute rubbing salt in the wounds. The satisfaction of  beating a team that has caused me such pain (1999) and is arguably the best in the world has reminded me how much we must beat them and make sure Cristiano Ronaldo cries. Amy Lawrence over at the Guardian has a decent article looking back on the hate-filled meetings of the past between these two. I doubt we will see anything like the Vieira versus Keano or Keown versus Ruud anytime soon.

Both clubs’ familiarity with each other’s players, style and tactics will make the home and away nature of the tie less important. Arsenal have recently won at Old Trafford and United have got good results at Highbury, then the Emirates, over the past few years. It is always better having the second leg at home because at least you know what you have to do in front of your own fans, but if I am honest, I will not be confident of qualifying for the final even if the Gooners take a one-nil lead from the first leg.

Tactical Analysis – Arshavin-less Arsenal

Regular readers of this blog will know how much we rate Andrei Arshavin. He has made a much bigger impact than even we could have hoped, defying Arsene Wenger’s belief that it takes foreign players at least half a year to adapt to the Premier League. Arshavin has brought much needed creativity, hunger, experience and as we saw against Liverpool – top class finishes. But come Wednesday, Arsene will have to alter the side to compensate for Shava’s cup-tied status. Here are some of the main tactical considerations for Arsene:

 

Angry Cesc

Angry Cesc (on a sidenote doesn't the guy behind look like a white Rio Ferdinand?)

Fabregas

Since the Spanish general has come back from injury, Arsene has for some reason been determined to play him in an advanced position just behind the lone striker. In his first game back Cesc assisted two Adebayor goals in this position but since then he really hasn’t convinced me. He had a pretty anonymous game against Villareal in Spain and spent huge periods of the Liverpool game being anonymous. Cesc’s two goals against Boro at the weekend will probably confound Wenger’s belief that he should remain playing there but for me that is a waste of his talents. Fabregas is at his devastating best when collecting the ball from deep utilising his full range of passing. Further upfield he can be dangerous playing in that crucial through-ball but is also more likely to see the game pass by him should Arsenal struggle to dominate possession. However, with Van Persie missing out and Arshavin cup-tied, Arsenal don’t have any better options to put in the ‘hole’ of a 4-5-1.

 

But mum, I am so excited!

But mum, I am so excited!

Ronaldo versus Gibbs

Kieran Gibbs has done fantastically well for the Gunners since coming in for the injured Gael Clichy. He managed to get a few Carling Cup and FA Cup games under his belt before being called on to replace Clichy and I am sure that has benefited him. Gibbs, like Ashley Cole, has moved to full back from a more advanced position (formerly a left winger) and his strengths going forward are obvious to see. His crossing is certainly better than Clichy’s, although that isn’t saying much. Defensively he hasn’t done too badly but I fear that Fergie will do the obvious and deploy Ronaldo down the right hand side. That will be a big ask of Gibbs, especially in a Champions League semi final. If he takes note from Cole’s good performances against Ronaldo, he will keep his nerve and avoid doing anything rash.

The key for Arsenal keeping Ronaldo at bay should be to attack United down the left hand side as often as possible. It looks likely that Rafael will play, who like Gibbs has an abundance of talent, yet also suffers from a lack of experience at this level. Nasri, who will start on the left, loves to come inside so Gibbs will be the threat going forward. This might leave Arsenal exposed but may force Fergie to deploy Rooney on the right to give more defensive cover.

Walcott versus Evra

Pat Rice Evra is a very good player and probably someone the likes of Gibbs would look up to. Neverthless, I think Evra is someone that can be exposed if you take him on. Walcott (Theo, Theo) is coming of age and has looked extremely confident and decisive since returning from injury. My theory is that Theo charges up like a Duracell Bunny every time he is injured and then comes back at least two times  better than he was before. Anyhow, Theo has the opportunity to a) provide Arsenal with a real threat down the flanks; b) make Evra look like a chump; and c) become such a legend that we will even consider let him grow that bum fluff beard that he likes to connect up with his sideburns to look like a proper rudeboy.

 

Will Nemanja be able to handle the kids?

Will Nemanja be able to handle the kids?

A test of defensive resolve

Arsenal have a defensive injury crisis that sees Gallas, Sagna, Clichy and Fish Face all sidelined. However, the last time Arsenal got to the Champions League final they were playing a midfielder at left back (Flamini), Eboue at right back, Toure and the liability formerly known as Philip Senderos. Maybe, just maybe, Arsene can replicate a similar kind of lineup with the current crop. Although Djorou’s timely return is a boost in place of Fish Face, the biggest boost is the recovery of Manuel Almunia from injury. Fabianski has had a torrid few weeks and clearly can’t handle the pressure. This has reinforced my belief that sub keepers should be experienced ageing keepers. Fabianski should be out on loan and Arsenal’s sub keeper should be someone like Cudicini.

Regardless, United are back to scoring ways and Wednesday night will be a big ask for Arsenal defensively. Song will provide much needed protection and I expect him to excel in his role as he has over the past couple of months. If the Gunners can restrict United to just a goal at Old Trafford, they can build on that defensive solifity for the second leg.

As for United, despite seeing the formidable duo of Vidic and Ferdinand return, they looked anything but solid against Spurs at the weekend. Adebayor will stretch the centre backs with his runs and Ferdinand has remarked before that Togonator is one of the trickiest players he has come up against. United’s best bet will be to snuff the Arsenal midfield out by deploying the highly charged duo of Fletcher and Park while allowing Carrick to marshal Fabregas and provide distribution. Chelsea put this tactic to great effect in the recent FA cup semi final, drawing Arsenal into their own game.

The Call

United haven’t been playing well, Arsenal have. Does that really matter? Who knows? Arsenal have a good record against the top teams this season but these two sides won’t fear each other. I hate making predictions for my own team but I reckon this will be a score draw or could be edged by United, 1-0 or 2-1. Regardless, I think it will still be all to play for in the second leg at the Emirates. The less I say the better.

What’s left to ponder?

Will Wenger and Fergie share a glass of wine after the game?

What will be Arsenal-player-that-shall-remain-unknown’s food of choice when confronting Fergie?

Will Ryan Giggs be a proper gentleman and give back his undeserved PFA Player of the Year award?

Will Fish Face Silvestre come back to haunt his former employers by coming on as last minute sub and scoring with his eight inch gills?

Will Wayne Rooney be identified as the carrier of the swine virus and be promptly put down at the half time interval?

rooney-fitness-doubt-for-world-cup-2

P.

Weekly Photoshop – Nemanja Vidic

23/04/2009

After last week’s time restricted, piss poor Tim Cahill, I decided to make more of an effort this time around. The theme this week was Man Utd central defender and player of the year nominee Nemanja Vidic. I was tempted to use the Ivan Drago idea again but it’s already been used for Tony Mowbray a few weeks back. Not one to repeat myself, instead a fellow film from the 1980’s was used with the Stanley Kubrick classic Full Metal Jacket providing the inspiration.

 

"What is your major malfunction, numbnuts?" "Lack of pace on the turn Sir yes Sir!"

"What is your major malfunction, numbnuts?" "Lack of pace on the turn Sir yes Sir!"

 

The rest of this week’s gallery can be found here (not that I got in this week).

 

T.

 

Previous entries: Cahill, Shearer, King and the rest.

The Six Pointer: Europe-Wide Edition – Manc-heda Strikes Again, Fat Sam’s Samba Football & more…

12/04/2009

That was the weekend that was.

 

1. The title race – Liverpool make mincemeat of Blackburn in the early kick off beating them 4-0. This is surely the only time we will see Fat Sam let Samba inspire his side’s attacking prowess… oh yeah, and Chris Samba won’t be playing up front for them again. Poor puns aside, Blackburn were awful. Liverpool didn’t even need to call on Gerrard who rested on the bench, and the twentieth anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster saw Anfield basked in sunshine. Fernando Torres scored two, including an awesome first from a route one Carragher pass.

Are you SERIOUS?

Are you SERIOUS?

So, the focus then turned to Man Utd and Chelsea for the 3pm kick offs. To the detriment of my fantasy football team (and chances of catching the Football Guy), Fergie decided to start with Cristiano on the bench and risked playing G Nevs again, who is about as useful as a crack addict with a bum fluff moustache. Scholes opened for United with a rare header but the inevitable Sunderland goal came through Kenwyne Jones. On came C-Ron to save United’s blushes but instead it was another substitute that did the business… yes him, the Italian that looks about 25 and disturbingly models himself on Cristiano – none other than Kiko Manc-eda. This one wasn’t as scintillating as his winner last week against Villa but it was the tonic that Fergie’s faltering side needed.

Meanwhile, at the Bridge Chelsea eased into a 4 goal lead against Bolton, with the inevitable Lampard goal (which Sportboy T failed miserably to jinx, much to the joy of the Football Guy) and Snoop Drog double. Hiddink then proceeded to understandably substitute the aforementioned duo, saving them for Liverpool’s trip to the Bridge on Tuesday. However, this seemed simply to send out the message to the rest of the Chelsea team that the match was over. Bolton, who seem to have turned into something of a goal machine in the second half of this season, duly took up the challenge and proceeded to score three in eight minutes, leaving a nervy finish in front of the Chelsea faithful.

"I said C-Ron and a mobile phone, not five blondes!"

"I said C-Ron and a mobile phone, not five blondes!"

 

2. The race for fourth place – A tale of two halves and a lucky red card escape for the Gunners. Having decided to watch this one on Arab TV in a sweaty pub full of yobs, I hoped we would see a confident performance, even if the Arsenal defence was depleted. What I got was an awful first 50 minutes in which I had to bear with Mido scoring (and very nearly two at that). To make matters worse, Gibbs should have been sent off as he brought down Valencia as the last man. Instead he got away with it and the penny dropped with Wenger that changes needed to be made. On came Adebayor and Van Persie allowing Cesc to drop into a much more effective deeper role. Arshavin’s persistence paid off as Walcott was played in for the equaliser. The Gunners played some sweet stuff, topped off by a goal from my beloved Arshavin and a sexy finish from Song. That left Aston Villa and Everton to fight it out on the Sunday to see which team could give Arsenal a run for their Champions League money.

Villa played out a thriller against United last week and didn’t fail to deliver against Everton at Villa Park. Although Martin O’Neill’s side allowed Everton to steam into a 3-1 lead, a James Milner peach of a free kick and a dodgy penalty decision against Joleon Lescott allowed Villa to snatch a point that keeps them ahead of Everton but eight behind Arsenal. Despite the Gunners’ remaining matches against Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool, I think the fourth spot has now been sealed. Villa have a slightly easier run in than Everton but it should be an interesting battle. Kudos must go to David Moyes who has assembled a good side packed with battlers, creators and goal scorers. Fellaini seems to be excelling in his advanced role behind a rejuvenated Jo.

 

3. Spirits raised in the North-East… slightly.

After Southgate called it a must-win game, Boro’s 3-1 defeat of Hull will certainly give them some belief that they can avoid relegation. Unfortunately for them, they remain in the zone, two points off Sunderland and behind Newcastle on goal difference.

As for the Magpies, a 1-1 draw against Stoke must constitute a well-earned and highly valued point for Shearer. It must have been the training bikes on the pitch at half time. Or perhaps it was the ability to withstand Rory Delap’s launches into the box, enabling Newcastle’s own Geordie brute, Andy Carroll, to steal the point. It will still be the home games that decide whether Big Al manages to stick a big two fingers at all the doubters out there. Please Al, anything to see you finish your BBC career… please.

Big Al gets to grips with the job of keeping New'astle up

Big Al gets to grips with the job of keeping Newcastle up

 

4. La Liga watch – Messi is shit.

Ok, we all pretty much knew that Barca would win the league, but their 2-0 win against Recreativo at the Nou Camp only brings that day closer. Messi even managed to miss a penalty… rubbish isn’t he.

On a sad but good note for the Gunners, Marcos Senna had to come off injured in Villarreal’s 2-0 defeat at home to Malaga and will now miss the quarter final, second leg at the Emirates on Wednesday (unless this is a cruel deception by Villarreal’s website). Senna was awesome in the first leg both defensively and offensively. That is probably an injury too far for Los Submarinos Amarillos.

 

5. Bundesliga watch – all up for grabs now.

The German league definitely has the most exciting title race of any league in Europe at the moment with four teams competing. Wolfsburg, who destroyed Bayern Munich last week, stay on top with a win away at Borussia Monchegladbach. Klinsmann’s men managed to pick themselves up from their spanking at Barcelona by beating Frankfurt 4-0 at the Allianz Arena. Martin Jol’s Hamburg suffered a last minute defeat away at Stuttgart, putting them in third place behind Bayern on goal difference. The standings are now: Wolfsburg, 54 points; Bayern Munich, 51 points; Hamburg, 51 points; Hertha Berlin, 49 points and Stuttgart, 48 points. Now that is what I call an open race. Let’s just hope the inevitable Bayern win doesn’t materialise.

 

6. Serie A – Forget the title race but look out for Genoa.

Inter managed to draw 2-2 at home to Palermo depsite leading 2-0 but luckily for them, Juve were beaten 3-2 by the ever-more-impressive Genoa side that now finds itself two points clear of Fiorentina in the fourth Champions League spot. Milan notched up another win 1-0 at Chievo thanks to Seedorf and could now overtake Juve in second (just two points behind). If the rumours are to be believed, that won’t prevent Carlo Ancelotti ending up at Chelsea. Any takers on Frank Rijkaard ending up at the San Siro? Lazio smacked up Roma in the derby of the eternal city with the usual flurry of red cards being shown. Roma’s hopes of Champions League football next season now look over as they lie in sixth place, eight points behind. I don’t think Spaletti will be round for much longer. Shame really…I quite liked Roma under the baldy one.

 

P.

Champions League Quarter Final Preview – Man Utd vs FC Porto

07/04/2009

Preamble

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?

 

Prediction

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.

 

T.

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

27/02/2009
"I refuse to watch this any longer...end match please"

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

Summary

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

tactics

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.

P.

The Six Pointer – Mad Jens, Boro’s Struggles & more…

23/02/2009

1. We touched on Ronaldo and his tetchiness last week and on Saturday there was yet another incident in which he kicked out at someone and got away with it. This time David Dunn was on the receiving end of his petulance, and given that Howard Webb didn’t book him over the incident it would not surprise me to see him get a retrospective three match ban.  Blackburn are right to feel aggrieved when shortly afterwards he scored the winning goal with a wonderful free kick. I sense too that whilst he may get away with it in the Premier League, Ronaldo won’t be so lucky if he does it against the likes of Inter Milan or Barcelona in the Champions League.

Needs to calm down

Needs to calm down

 

2. Liverpool’s title hopes were over before yesterday’s draw against Man City. Victory over Man United on March 14th won’t revive them either. I imagine Rafa will prioritise the Champions League now anyway so will tinker his way to plenty more dropped points before the season’s end. It will be interesting to see if they hold off a revived Chelsea for second place who should finish strongly under new manager Guus Hiddink.

 

3. Good to see that Jens Lehmann is still Mad Jens even though he’s now with Stuttgart. Here he takes issue with Khalid Boulahrouz’s headband and throws it away. There was also an incident at the weekend where an opposition striker’s boot had come off and Lehmann proceeded to hide it on the roof of his goal (video deleted sadly but the pic below gives you an idea). In true Jens style he said “the shoe lies where it could be an obstacle for a shot or a through pass.” Brilliant. Let’s also remember a couple of classics from the days when he was still Arsenal goalkeeper.

Mad Jens

Mad Jens

 

4. Fulham have struggled away from home for many a year now; picking up no away wins this season, three last year and just one in both 2006/07 and 2005/06. However they have 27 points from 36 at Craven Cottage this season and sit pretty in eighth place. Goodness knows how high they’d be if they had anything resembling away form.

 

5. While the debut of Arshavin was a bright spot in an otherwise drab performance, Arsene Wenger must be very concerned with the lack of goals coming from his side at the moment. They have only scored only four times in their last seven home league games and have three consecutive 0-0 draws for the first time under his stewardship. Fergie may have a point when he talks about Wenger not buying defenders but ultimately it is the current central midfield which poses the problems. With Fabregas injured and Flamini long gone, there is no one to provide probing passes from the middle of the pitch to the strikers. This puts pressure on the wingers to do it (and they like to cut in anyway) and opposition teams have worked out that if you stop the like of Nasri and Eboue (not too hard) then Song and Denilson will do absolutely nothing to hurt you. 

Why must I play with such dross?

Why must I play with such dross?

 

6. The longer Gareth Southgate remains as manager, the more likely it is Middlesbrough are going down. I know Steve Gibson is a very patient man (remember how long he took to get rid of Robson?) and personally I like Southgate and wish him well. Boro however are really struggling at the moment and are now a club record 14 games without a league win. They are second bottom and are relying on Mido, Afonso Alves and Marlon King to score the goals to get them out of trouble. Best start preparing for the Championship then…

 

T.

Weekly Photoshop – Edwin van der Sar

19/02/2009

This week our focus of attention was record breaking Man Utd keeper Edwin van der Sar. The clean sheet maestro has now gone about 17 years since conceding a goal…

The real reason for the relaxed atmosphere in the Man Utd box.

The real reason for the relaxed atmosphere in the Man Utd box.

 

The rest of this week’s gallery can be found here.

 

T.

 

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ITVCookFerdinandFellainiBrownEboueCredit Crunch,


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