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Jan 062014

Manchester United 1-2 Swansea City
ALeqM5jvmkA2R0qXjDMYQhE4adPAJF4bOg TRa to the F.A. Cup!Anyone who’s seen the film Bridge on the River Kwai understands. And I have it on very good authority that David Lean’s film masterpiece on the absurdity of war is David Moyes’ favorite. Like the stubborn, class-bound POW Colonel Nicholson, dragged away from his suffering in ‘the box’ by the vicious Japanese camp commandant, Colonel Saito, in order to get his prisoners to become obedient workers, David Moyes will do it his way. After yet another disappointing performance resulted in a 1-2 defeat–Our fourth defeat over the last six games home at Old Trafford–he pushed out that stiff-upper-lip and told us yet another Pictish fib.

“We played quite well at times, got near the edge of the box quite regular, but didn’t make an opportunity to score the goal,” he said while avoiding all eye-contact.”I thought for long periods we had good control of the game. We were a bit unlucky to lose. We had some opportunities, not enough, and we were down to 10 men.”

United started with six changes from the 2-1 home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. Lacking the fire offered up by the presence of Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, Phil Jones and captain Nemanja Vidic, Moyes could conjure up no successful alternatives. With Javíer Hernandez left alone to look for crumbs up front and the consistently gutless, mediocrity that is Tom Cleverley left to float around central midfield doing nothing in particular, striker Danny Welbeck took it upon himself to be the link-up man as Rooney has been for most of the season. Having rested Carrick, who underwent a harrowing time against Spurs in his return to the first-team since injury, Moyes clearly did expect more from Cleverley and Kagawa in midfield but received very little in return for his good faith.

Throughout proceedings, especially later on, the crowd chanted “Attack! Attack! Attack!” The problem is that, although United can still dominate for short periods, they own little desire and no cutting edge whatsoever. Similar, actually, to the Swansea City team they played. As with the 2-1 defeat against Tottenham Hotspur on New Year’s Day, Moyes’s side heard the final whistle while they were in the midst of laying siege to City’s goal. Too little. Too late. Unfortunately, their tactics have become so predictable and dull that defending against them is as simple as man-marking relentlessly and fouling at the edge of the box with the knowledge that none of United’s players can take a quality free kick.

Chicharito Hernandez in particular missed a handful of quality chances. Early on, he fluffed United’s first opportunity when a faulty back-pass from Routledge found him alone in his own half. Having done all the hard work and sprinted 60 yards, the Mexican striker had plenty of time to pick his spot, but his shot was weak and easily blocked by Swansea’s right-back Dwight Tiendalli. Later, Hernández had a far easier opportunity when the ball reached him from a toe-poke off Danny Welbeck close to the Swansea goal, but he scuffed the shot wide off his laces. As with Danny Welbeck, the desire, energy and graft was all there, unfortunately the kind of service they needed was not.

Seconds on, Hernández and his team-mates really regretted their error as Bony tapped the ball back to Alejandro Pozuelo. His first-time pass dissected United’s midfield like a sharp shiny macheté finding Routledge, who stiffed a static Cleverley, moved easily past an an exposed Chris Smalling, and casually lobbed the ball into the net over an advancing Anders Lindegaard to take the lead in the 12th minute.

The lead only lasted four minutes, though, as Hernandez finally located his goal-scoring touch with a nicely placed finish from close range after a superb curved cross from Alex Büttner. One couldn’t help thinking that, although a high percentage of Büttner’s crosses, passes and shots narrowly missed their mark, he can only improve if he gets picked more often. There’s an old cliché about nothing working if the center does not hold; but, if there is no center whatsoever, not even a soft one, what then?

All the way until half-time, Moyes’s side continued to create more start-up opportunities, coming close through Valencia and Büttner, yet Swansea played far superior, more deliberate football as they remained unchallenged in midfield, building up careful attacks from behind the raw physical presence of Bony.

Then, suddenly, in the 76th minute, United were shockingly reduced to ten men as, first, the visibly aged Rio Ferdinand, making his first appearance for a month, limped off the field after two hard encounters in succession with Bony and Routledge. Then, his replacement, Fabio Da Silva lasted only four minutes before receiving a straight red card for a studs-high late challenge on José Cañas.

Fortunate or not, United hung in there and the stadium was quiet enough that everybody could hear Moyes repeatedly screaming for his jaded team to “wake up!” It took until the 90th minute for the still speedy Wayne Routledge to fly past a tired Darren Fletcher down the left and flick a high ball up off his laces that the mighty unmarked Bony headed powerfully past a stranded Anders Lindegaard for Swansea’s deserved winner.

With Messrs. Moyes, Woodward and the United hierarchy announcing a zero-sum January transfer window what happens next in the Glazer era seems woeful to contemplate. The player I felt most sorry for was Fabio Da Silva, whose horribly late tackle will surely place him on the lowest line of our manager’s shit list, which is a pity because some lucky club will doubtless pick him up for next to nothing and he can observe the Moyes project enter its next sad phase at a distance. Maybe his tackle would have been better timed if Moyes had played him more previously. I doubt that we’ll ever know now.

Jul 292013

Manchester Uniteds Wilfri 008 Uniteds Hong Kong HijinxDavid Moyes’ gentle introduction to stewardship of a first-class football club ended with a no-nonsense win which sent a sold-out crowd home happy and entertained from the Royal Hong Kong Stadium. After the match Manchester United went straight to the airport, all ready to jet home after a tiring three-week marathon tour. A 5-2 win is a decent enough result. Unfortunately the Lads took a nap in the second half and Moyes can clearly see a pattern developing. With all five center backs–Rio Ferdinand, Phil Jones, Michael Keane, Jonny Evans & Chris Smalling–performing sloppily (and repeatedly so), and the club captain, Nemanja Vidic, back home in Manchester repeatedly looking the worse for wear and tear, Moyes needs to decide upon whether to reinforce his back-line via the transfer market or gamble on winning a lot of high scoring games just like last season. Only two serious games take place between now and the opening-day away trip to Swansea City. One at AIK in Sweden on August 6 and then Wigan Athletic in the Community Shield five days later. He has his work cut out!

The good news, again, was that Wilfried Zaha looks serious and ready for the Premier League, as did Adnan Januzaj and Jesse Lingard in the second half. Danny Welbeck, Chris Smalling and Fabio all scored in the first half as Anderson put in an excellent shift for the whole game and finally looks to be getting fit. The oft maligned Brazilian may no longer be anybody’s idea of a wunderkind, to be sure, but in Hong Kong he put in an aggressive shift as a central midfield pivot and was not shy about making more than a few guerrilla runs into Kitchee’s box. Meanwhile Zaha’s pace along the wings as he shifted back and forth along the flanks with a disciplined Ashley Young. paid dividends. Both missed a pair of sitters while drifting in and out of the penalty area. Exhibiting some exquisite ooh-ah touches, Zaha looked good and ready to take upon himself the soon-to-be retired Ryan Giggs, the Welsh wizard’s, magic wand. Clearly motivated by the hunger and efficiency of Zaha, Januzaj and Lingard, Young clearly wants to keep his job and went out of his way to avoid his usual dreadful vices of diving and feigning injury.

United’s opener arrived in the sixteenth minute as an Ashley Young shot bounced off goalie Wang Zhepang’s right post and the fleet-footed Welbeck was there to smash home the rebound. Six minutes later, Young was in the mix again as his wicked shot was parried away for a corner. Young passed the ball short to Tom Cleverley, who returned the favor. Cleverley then squared an excellent cross which Chris Smalling rose high to head home. Four minutes later, Michael Carrick executed a fantastic 45-yarder right onto the foot of Welbeck., who promptly miscued the ball. Welbeck’s pass missed Anderson, but Zaha took possession and tapped the ball to Fabio, who slipped the ball home under the flying goalie.

In the second half, United added a fourth after Büttner fed a beautiful short cross to Januzaj, who headed home to make it 4-0. Carelessness was contagious for United, however. 53 minutes in, Lam-Ka Wai had all the time in the world to score after Christian Kwesi Annan dribbled rings around Chris Smalling to set him up as he gamboled about unmarked before firing an unstoppable beauty past Ben Amos. Fourteen minutes later, it was even easier for Alex Alkande as he slalomed past Büttner and a flat-footed Michael Keane before firing past Ben Amos.

United then scored a final insurance goal as Twinkletoes Jesse Lingard danced around Kitchee’s massed defense before firing a rising rocket into the roof of the net. Having scored four goals during the exhibition tour, Lingard has made a good case for himself to make the club squad. Moyes may also take some comfort in knowing that. if Wayne Rooney decides to force his hand and the new manager decides to sell him, he will not necessarily be forced to splash any of the cash on new strikers when he knows he already has to invest in one or two midfielders. Make no mistake, this young man from Warrington will come good!

The Japanese teams United faced were tough opponents. The merciless heat and humidity did not help, either. Still, it’s Moonsoon Season and the Hong Kong Stadium’s turf gave United a seriously worrisome problem after days of torrential rain and a series of other exhibition matches with visiting European teams had left the pitch in a state that rendered the surface into a landscape resembling something between the surface of Mars as photographed by the Voyager space observer and Omaha Beach on D-Day. After seeing the awful knee-injury Jan Vertonghen of Spurs received last week in the same stadium, Moyes, the coaching staff, and all of us fans are clearly relieved the team managed to escape without any injuries.Jesse Lingard celebrates ALeague AllStars v 2975699 Uniteds Hong Kong Hijinx

Apr 032013

Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United
cesc 1702785a The Wages of Apathy: Manchester United Stumble Out of the F.A.Cup at Stamford BridgeAfter playing a dire, miserable game of low-risk football, Chelsea and their manager Rafael Benïtez look forward to an F.A. Cup semifinal against Manchester City while a yawning Manchester United, clearly complacent about having the Premier League Championship completely locked up, looked hungrily toward returning home to their Cheshire mansions where they could text-message their brokers and read travel brochures. Outplayed and intimidated in equal parts, the whole nightmare scenario for millions of United fans worldwide was repeatedly personified in the way which both Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley winced and turned their bodies aside rather than challenge Chelsea’s dynamic midfield enforcer, Obi Mikel Jon, who gave neither one any quarter in midfield. To fold, mutilate and spindle an old cliché: It’s not the fight in the poodle, but the poodle in the fight! And this poodle was a pussy!

Did somebody say this was going to be a classic dog fight? With Chelsea only 22 points behind United in the P.L.? As Russell Brand put it, Roman Abramovich had a harder time getting a crew of his thugs to help Boris Berezovsky hang himself than United gave Chelsea. Indeed, having given away a two goal lead to United in the first F.A.. Cup Quarterfinal game at Old Trafford, they deserve a lot of kudos. Such endurance is applaudable in a young team in transition, especially considering the disheartening loss of its fine young manager Roberto Di Matteo. and despite the hiring of a sad-sack yes-man hack manager in the rotund shape of Rafael Benitez, they have persevered. More often than not left to try and fail minus the presence of old-school leaders Frank Lampard and John Terry, they have found a new backbone in the tough-mindedness of Brazilians David Luiz and Ramires, who perform with a passion alongside the underrated Mikel. I mention all this not because I’m a Chelsea fan but because, by comparison, although United have a more or less an equal number of high-quality performers to the much celebrated Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata, we have no warriors of our own save a worn-down, psychologically-troubled Patrice Evra and the tiny Rafael Di Silva who can be admired when there is so much negativity swirling around the club.

Although others my disagree and find the winning of a 20th championship plenty of reward, any absurd notion that this United squad is up there by comparison with the treble-winning team of 1998-1999 is imbibing opiates.

One thing is for sure. It was an absolutely out of this world goal by Demba Ba which turned Stamford Bridge’s Easter Monday into a party and basically saw United instantaneously throw in the towel. Thus, four minutes into the second half, Juan Mata, who had looked tired and jaded throughout the first half, shimmied about with the ball in the left central corner of the box before firing an exquisite tumbling floater as he simultaneously ghosted his way around Rio Ferdinand. As good as this chipped beauty was, just how Ba managed to stretch his full body diagonally to reach the ball and manage to hook it on the volley past a fully extended David De Gea is amazing to contemplate.

Just how totally United capitulated after the goal was scored is shocking to contemplate, yet no more surprising than the aftermath of surrender against Real Madrid after the issuing of a red card by a nakedly biassed referee. The incident, although it’s only a few weeks back. seems like it has turned into United’s customized version of the movie Groundhog Day.Is it possible that our beloved club has been overwhelmed by the ascension of a dominant group of weak-minded quitters? Indeed, the post-match rantings of the team’s captain Patrice Evra, “I was certain we could not lose and I still do not believe it,” are the words of a man unfit for leadership, not the skipper of one of the world’s top football teams.

My bread and butter comes from analysis, so looking back at the first half surely offers clues. One is that Chelsea’s goalie, Peter Cech, made a stupendous save off Javíer Hernandez that defied the laws of gravity. How so sweet a cross from the otherwise consistently awful Nani reached little Chicharito after some deft interaction was put together by Carrick and Cleverley was marvelous to behold. The little Mexican’s header was an arching work of art, so how could it be that vast bulk of Cech was able to twist like a one-handed reflexive human pretzel and, miraculously, save the day(dare I say it?) like a captain.

And thus it was Cech’s monstrous hand that wrote on Sir Alex Ferguson’s wall. United have not won the F.A. Cup since 2004 and this showing has to have yanked the old man’s reality chain. I am not one for using the tiredness excuse but both Cleverley and Carrick have been forced to play too much now that Scholes seems to have finally lost the ability to play more than twenty minutes and Anderson suffers from the same problems of stamina and repeated injury. No wonder Carrick looks wiped out! Valencia, too, looked exhausted and Nani seemed intent on acting the fool, a sort of Cape Verdean manifestation of latter-day Mr. Beane. Phil Jones, who always looks like he’s on the verge of somehow doing something seemed lost in midfield, perhaps so intimidated by the effortless power and bullying assurance of Obi Mikel Jon that he became a passive observer.

Our brilliant puppy striker Danny Welbeck was all enthusiasm and no bite. As with playing for England earlier in the week, every time the lad would scoop up the ball and enter into his long stride, it felt like this time would be different. A lot is being made of Robin Van Persie’s run of bad luck in front of goal and perhaps he shouldn’t have started against Sunderland, but the kind of hard work and pure graft his attacking teammates put out there for him in the first two-thirds of the season is gone. Indeed, although there are already whispers that he will not be missed by the Gaffer if he leaves, the passion of the injured Wayne Rooney is irreplaceable. Without Rooney on his shoulder and no consistent service from Carrick, Young, Nani or Valencia, RVP seemed lost in search of balls that were never coming his way me. His one good chance was a volley which he blasted over the bar into the crowd in the 87th minute. Too little, too late.

Thus, a week from now, the derby game against Manchester City looks like it looms more important in the minds of its fans than their team. A loss to the sky-blue Abu Dhabian rent boys would definitely, at this point, hold more dread in it for those who truly love the club rather than those ho see it as just a receptacle for a paycheck.
cesc 1702785a The Wages of Apathy: Manchester United Stumble Out of the F.A.Cup at Stamford Bridge

Mar 122013

Manchester United 2-2 Chelsea
“I think, therefore I choke!”
article 0 188DA923000005DC 184 634x464 The Choking Kind Choking in sports gets to be a painful habit. I’ve observed it for years in Everton, Spurs and the England national team. But with vices becoming habits and the same old suspects trotting out the usual litany of garbled excuses, Manchester United have not simply had an accident on the Yellow brick Road, but thrown themselves under the wheels of their very own bus. Leading 2-0, United literally had a reeling devastated Chelsea team in the palm of their hand. That the game only ended up tied at 2-2 may be the greatest miracle since Bernadette of Lourdes shared this earth with us mortals. Sir Alex Ferguson’s dog-ate-my-homework excuse, that the lads were mentally and physically knackered after the circus that was the quarterfinal of the European Champions Cup really doesn’t convince anyone in March. What a difference five days makes. How does a team go from relentlessly thinking out loud about winning the Treble and being superior to the now legendary team of 1998-99 to worrying about holding on to its twelve point lead in the Premier League? What happened?

Meanwhile, moneybags Chelsea, for all their problems, have an awesome squad of midfield players which will challenge the rest of the division for at least another decade. Their clownish manager Rafa ‘The Tapas Waiter’ Benítez is a sensitive, funny fellow who needs to grow a thicker skin vis-à-vis the temporary nature of his position and the rivalry he feels toward Sir Alex Ferguson, who has outfoxed him a multitude of times over the years. Benítez, who is proud enough of his Roman Catholic faith that he feels the repeated need to announce to the world that he goes to church at least twice a day, 365 days per year, must, consequently, believes in miracles. A couple of savvy substitutions and a sixty minute choke by United aren’t really much of a miracle when you’re an unbeliever like me, but to Rafa, a draw surely tastes exactly like a win and the refusal of a gentlemanly handshake from the ungentlemanly maestro, the Gaffer, reads like a total diss but is just the human reaction of a bad loser to another one.
All of this, of course, is gassy rhetoric. United scored two sweet goals within the first eleven minutes and, later, Chelsea scored two exquisite goals of their own. However, had David De Gea–who, to be fair, did not have the best of days between the sticks for United, his distribution repeatedly dreadful throughout–not made one fantastic save and five ‘normal’ ones, the two clubs wouldn’t be whining about finding a date in their busy schedules to go at it in a Stamford Bridge replay.

The first goal came from one of Rafa’s substitutes, Eden Hazard, and was a beauty. The second, from Ramires, followed a wonderful move of classy, incisive counterattacking. Benítez’s team have not been renowned for their perseverance and competitive courage under his watch but they would have booked a place at Wembley were it not for an exceptional save from De Gea, jutting out his right boot to deny Juan Mata in the last minute of normal time. Even then, there were still three other separate chances where Chelsea’s fluid midfield penetration might have won the match and prevented the rigmarole of trying to shoehorn a replay into an already congested fixture schedule.

The transformation was remarkable, especially considering  the way Chelsea began the match, their interplay riddled with errors, looking short of confidence and perhaps suffering their own fatigue. Ferguson was entitled to blame tired legs and minds but Chelsea, lest it be forgotten, did not get back from their Europa League tie against Steaua Bucharest until the early hours of Friday.

Thus, it only took five minutes for a perfectly weighted 40-yard lob off the foot of Michael Carrick to completely fool goalie Peter Cech. Deftly placed to a slow running Chicharito, all the Mexican striker had to do was put the softest bit of contact on the ball with the side of his head and United had the lead. It won’t win any awards at the end of the season, but  it was a goal of true, unique beauty, nevertheless. Then, only six minutes farther along, with Chelsea in a state of total disorganization, Wayne Rooney, back in the line-up, lifted a floating free kick in the direction of Peter Cech’s far post. Both David Luiz and Demba Ba leapt high to head the ball, but somehow, both missed and it eluded a distracted Cech, again, and took an awkward bounce into the net to make it 2-0.

article 0 188D3BA3000005DC 30 634x351 The Choking Kind What happened to United then can only be conjectured upon. First the tricky Nani, who had been turning Chelsea’s left back Ashley Cole into a frustrated pretzel, pulled himself out of the game, claiming a hamstring injury. His substitute, Antonío Valencía, never got to warm up properly and somehow never seemed to get his head into the game.  This bit of bad luck was followed by  Cech, who had suffered an abysmal beginning, finally start to make some fine saves. To be sure, just on the cusp of half-time Cech stopped a shocking David Luiz miscue from scoring an own goal, right after stopping a superb shot on the edge of the box from Rooney. Unfortunately, at the same time, a passing rot had already set in as numerous one-touch give-aways saw Cleverley, Carrick, Nani, then his substitute Valencia, and then Rafael and Evra make it simply seem as if no one wanted the ball or felt even the slightest sense of responsibility. In the five minutes before the half time whistle I counted eleven United passes missing their target.

And for Chelsea, before that whistle blew for blessed half time, it’s enough to say that their best chances–when they weren’t being presented with gift passes by Cleverley, who might have been wearing a blue shirt–was a Victor Moses snap shot which hit the corner flag. Indeed, as Benitez left the field, the Chelsea fan entourage–clearly louder than United’s fans who seem to have left it all behind in the Real Madrid match, too–kept singing ‘You don’t know what you’re doing!” Did the tapas waiter feel lonely on his walk to the dressing room? You betcha by golly!

As of Monday morning, Fleet Street has heroicized Rafa as a savvy coach for seeing fit to bring on Eden Hazard and, more importantly, Obi Mikel Jon, but, really what alternatives did he have? With Hazard free on the right flank, Juan Mata and Ramires were no longer burdened with handling Carrick and Cleverley. Free to go where they pleased and gifted the ball repeatedly by Cleverley, Carrick and Valencia, Hazard, Ramires and Mata simply overwhelmed the Reds. And if Carrick and Cleverley felt any sense of adventure or machismo, Obi Mikel, grinning his gargoyle grin repeatedly kicking them into a state of cowed submission. Mikel, who has been relentlessly and repeatedly criticized by the press for his lack of football gravitas, also took on the John Terry role, repeatedly screaming at and cajoling Chelsea’s two erratic center backs, Gary Cahill and the sometimes brilliant-but-childlike David Luiz. For the whole second half, after Mikel took charge, Chelsea quit making goofy errors and the Chelsea midfield performed like a dream.

Chelsea scoring became simply a matter of time. Carrick, so gobsmackingly awesome in the first half hour, suddenly looked like the Gaffer had issued him a velvet smoking jacket and a pair of slippers. Locked in competition with Cleverley, Carrick’s passes were each more and more impetuously misplaced. To their credit, with a visibly aging Patrice Evra repeatedly left gasping in midfield and Rafael Da Silva running from flank to flank trying to stop every opposition run, Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand held the fort with an almost perverse stubbornness. In the 59th minute, however, the levee finally cracked. A few minutes after coming on for Victor Moses, Hazard picked up a Cleverley pass, wrong-footed Rafael twice, shifted gears, approached De Gea at an extremely acute angle before curling the ball into the net.

Nine minutes later, gifted the ball by Carrick, Demba Ba took off next to the tiny Oscar. Executing a beautiful double give-and-go they dissected United’s defense before Oscar connected with a sprinting Ramires, who cut into United’s box before firing a perfect left-footer past De Gea, who, although he made fingertip contact with the spinning ball, could not prevent it from squeezing in at the far right post.

All that was left was for United to hang on by their blessed fingertips. Indeed, only an absolutely fantastic reflex save off David De Gea’s foot one minute from time prevented Juan Mata from scoring with a wickedly accurate shot after a fine, mazy run through United’s defense.

There was an incident during the last ten minutes of the game where the cameras caught Rio Ferdinand laying a cheap-shot on his old foe Fernando Torres. Ferdinand may face censure and a suspension over an infraction that the referee, Howard Webb, clearly never caught. These two have been going at it for years and one only needs to go to You Tube to see a number of incidents both were involved in during Torres’ Liverpool days. As Rio has probably been overused by Ferguson lately, however, a few matches off might well do him good.

Just when the F.A. will pick a date for the match replay is a conundrum. Still, provided United can manage to maintain their twelve point lead at the top of the Premier League, a Sixth Round replay should now be a stress-free affair as winning a treble is a vanquished dream. With the prospect of facing Manchester City at Wembley as thee reward for beating Chelsea, a victory would be nice, but is certainly not a priority.


Feb 192013

M a n c h e s t e r U n i t e d 2 -1 Reading
65948744 nanifour Nani Baahs his Way Back into the Picture!

It makes me uneasy that Sir Alex Ferguson is starting to speak about his dream that the current Manchester United repeat the feats of the 1999 treble-winning team is still alive. As long as it remains reasonably jocular and he can keep the press pressure off the lads, then the distant oasis that is the F.A. Cup quarterfinal with Chelsea or Middlesbrough can be trivialized as a sort of right-thinking positivist mirage. Indeed, what is does do to the club collectively is create a more forced sense of focus. This was reinforced at Old Trafford on the night as the Gaffer spent much of the game trolling the sidelines, uttering instructions, uncharacteristically micromanaging. From now on it’s one game at a time and nobody will be looking past Saturday at Loftus Road versus a desperate bottom-feeding Q.P.R.

The sight of Phil Jones leaving the field limping hard just before half time followed by the stomach churning view of him staggering on crutches after the game, is cause for alarm. The injury-prone Jones, bought as a sort of jack-of-all-trades superior English alternative to John O’Shea is becoming a worrisome presence in the squad. If there’s one silver lining to be harvested from his difficulties it will be the extra playing time allotted to the equally erratic Chris Smalling. The specter of Wes bBown’s on/off career raises its ugly head, of course, but there’s little doubt of Jones’ latent talent.

On the night, United were inconsistent and often disorganized, a state of affairs that seems to take place whenever Michael Carrick doesn’t start these nights. Smalling, Nicholas Büttner, Danny Welbeck and Anderson were all wobbly, each working hard and making up for a host of sins with nonstop energy. Reading in many ways mirrored the Red Devils. Stifling United with a pressing game, Brian McDermott‘s well prepared team survived by anticipating Anderson and Büttner’s impatience as they constantly gave away possession. For two games in a row now, the cunning Jobi McAnuff has been quicker and wiser than Rafael Di Silva, Alexander Büttner, Phil Jones and Antonio Valencia. Why he fails to do this against the other top five clubs is beyond me. His ability to pounce on a rebound with only ten minutes to go effectively silenced the Stretford End when it should have been at its most vocal. Indeed, even though Anderson enjoys a happy conductor’s relationship with the Stretty true-believers, even he couldn’t whip them into a state of excitement.

65948793 manu2 1 Nani Baahs his Way Back into the Picture!Were United bad? No. They created a lot of chances in the first half but no one could supply the coup-de-gráce after both Tom Cleverley’s shot and and Ashley Young’s rebound were was blocked for goalie Adam Federici. The Australian custodian was definitely Reading’s man-of-the match, also showing great acumen making additional saves from Welbeck, Chicharito and Valencia.

Yet the the visitors hung in there for 68 minutes before Nani settled home nerves. After coming on for Jones, the Portuguese winger was aggressive from the get-go, all-action, firing five unlucky shots, one after another. Well fed after some fine setup graft from Antonio Valencia–who had moved into the right back position behind him– Nani dazzled his way around Reading’s penalty area, flipping a breathtakingly lovely touch into the air before smashing home an exquisite volley off his right foot. Consistently inconsistent for six seasons now, Nani surely has Ferguson reaching for his acid-reflux medicine sometimes. Still, whether he stays or goes, as he enters the final year of his contract in the Summer, the black adonis from the Cape Verde Islands will surely have both his agent Jorge Mendes and the Gaffer cooing into his ear that he needs to score a lot of goals and finally get that Ronaldo-type recognition he so deeply craves.

Seconds after Nani’s goal, David De Gea showed lightning reflexes to save a snap shot from Adam Le Fondre after he was set free by yet another bit of McAnuff trickery fooling Büttner. Counter followed counter, however, and Javier Hernandez’s fifteenth goal of the season was child’s-play for him as he ran onto a perfect Nani cross after the Portuguese flyer slalomed past three Reading defenders. A sweet , cheeky headed goal that reminded me of Jimmy Greaves in his prime.

Unfortunately, United chose that moment to take their collective foot of the accelerator. The back line took a tea-break and Reading were suddenly back in the game. Clearly agitated, the Gaffer pulled off a huffing Anderson and threw on Michael Carrick to crack the whip. Yet, with his confidence sky-high, McAnuff set up yet another nervous final ten minutes for United when he dribbled past a flat-footed Smalling and Vidic before slotting the ball past a stationery De Gea 80 minutes in.

This was clearly not United at their best, but, having weathered a withering week of intensity after being in the wars with Everton and Real Madrid, United got the victory they needed and deserved. After the game, Sir Alex Ferguson was warm and fuzzy in his praise for Nani. Either way you look at it, Nani needs to play well to get that hefty raise in his wages his agent Jorge Mendes has demanded, or to show himself off in the shop window for any number of quality clubs to pay a hefty fee for his services. At any rate, a lot of the same questions being asked about Nani and Anderson are also being asked about the disappointing Ashley Young also. 65948795 manu3 1 Nani Baahs his Way Back into the Picture!

Rooney’s Rough Return

 Posted by on January 18, 2013 at 12:20 pm  England, F.A. Cup
Jan 182013

Manchester United 1 -0 West Ham United
65336426 rooney afp1 1 Rooney’s Rough ReturnFootball is funny game. Rife with ironies and sometimes implausible behavior from many of it’s millionaire performers. Who would have gone out on a bitterly cold Wednesday night in Salford if they’d have known they’d get fifteen minutes of superb, speedy hell-for-leather football followed by 78 minutes of utter drudgery? Still, it was surely nice for Sir Alex Ferguson to win get a second clean sheet in a row. Kudos for United’s back four, especially as they have been the subject of so much scorn and derision this season, especially when Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have been missing in action. United’s back four–Rafael, Büttner, Jones and Smalling–got a little awkward and panicky every now and again, but acquitted themselves more or less well.

It was a particularly strange night for Wayne Rooney. Having recently suffered a knee problem and then the terrible loss of his wife’s Colleen’s sickly younger sister, Rose, Wazza did not seem to have his head fully screwed on. His ninth minute goal may have been all United actually needed, but he also skied a 79th minute penalty into the Stretford End. It was Rooney’s fourth penalty miss this season and the Gaffer was visibly apoplectic, still angry enough at the post-match press conference to dwell upon it at length. Still, although Robin Van Persie is the likeliest player to take over penalty-taking duties, the old warrior clearly misses having Dennis Irwin oe even Ruud Van Nistelrooy to rely upon. My Aunty Joan has already sent her email messages out to the appropriate authorities insisting that Anderson be given the dirty job. It’s actually a good idea, if the lad is fit enough to play.

The Red Devils were dead jammy for certain, although West Ham threatened a lot in the second half, but always seemed too anemic up front and even Rooney’s spot-kick miss went for naught. With a fourth round cup tie looming against Fulham, even a striker as shiftless and stupor-bound as the one-and-only Dimitar Berbatov will surely be yearning to show something special to his old colleagues. Never in my memory have United been the beneficiaries of both pure luck and equally dreadful defenses throughout their division. A quick holiday frolic in bankrupt Spain might be nice, but, if the Gaffer can’t get his boys a dose of sunshine, Mike Phelan standing by with some oxygen and a mask might have to suffice.

Rooney’s ninth goal of the season came in the ninth minute as Anderson, yet another player back from injury, fired a perfect left-footed seeing-eye laser pass, splitting the complete Hammers defense as if it were a rotten apple. Perfectly placed to Javíer Hernandez, the ball was hoovered up by the Mexican striker. Caught at a questionable angle, Chicharito took one deft touch before tapping the ball into the six yard box where Rooney hared in, sliding forward at exactly the perfect moment to push the ball home off his studs past goalkeeper Jussi Jaskalainen.

United sparkled for another five minutes or so, but then the blown bubbles West Ham fans like to sing about abandoned the champagne. West Ham were utterly lackluster and poor Anders Lindegaard, back after more than two months on the sidelines, had nothing to do whatsoever between the sticks. Although United were definitely the dominant force on the pitch, only Nani truly came close to scoring when West Ham’s newly-blooded right back, Daniel Potts, blocked a beautiful rocket from Nani. after it beat Jaskalainen. The Finnish goalkeeper did do a little better just before the whistle, however,when he made a clean save of another Rooney pile driver.

Just how bad the second half was going to be became obvious almost instantaneously. When Chicharito stole the ball from Alou Diarra in the middle of the box, all he had to do was tap it past Jaskalainen. Instead he blasted a sitter over the bar.

Meanwhile, Sam Allardyce’s relentless caterwauling from the sidelines started to take effect at around the hour mark. Like a man waking from a coma, Ricardo Vaz Té, for four seasons the greatest thing that almost happened at both Bolton Wanderers and West Ham, started to dribble like the proximity of the Welsh wizard, Ryan Giggs, was a call to magic. And with both Alexander Büttner and Rafael Da Silva trying to shore up the mediocre runs into empty space on the flanks by a mediocre Nani and a distracted-looking Antonio Valencía, the Portuguese forward was free as a hummingbird to flit and flicker about. None of it came to much, although a loose ball he failed to control around eight yards out accidentally touched the arm of Rafael Da Silva. It surely gave the crowd a scare and had Allardyce close to an apoplectic fit, but it was never on for the referee Phil Dowd to call it a deliberate handball. Minutes later, when Phil Jones botched a pass, an advancing Matt Taylor scooped it up but failed to pass to a lonely Carlton Cole as he waited in vain, unmarked at the far post.

Rooney then made a bollix royale of a penalty United were extremely fortunate to receive when a clumsy Jordan Spence handled a Ryan Giggs cross. Subsequently, Rooney botched his task, but, in all my years of observing Ferguson going about his business, I have never before seen him react with such unfiltered anger at one of his own players as in that moment. At any rate, despite United seeming to be collectively tired out and bereft of all ideas, Ferguson did not succumb to what must have been temptation to bring on Robin Van Persie to sharpen his attack and West Ham just did not seem to own the will or moxy to press the Red Devils’.

Clearly, every game from now on is an important one if United hope to stand any chance of winning a fantasy treble. Getting some get back against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane is a tall order, but not impossible. Sussing Wayne Rooney’s state of mind before this big big game will be a challenge for the fiery old Scot.Manchester United v Liverpool Robin van Persi 2885345 11 Rooney’s Rough Return

Jan 082013

West Ham United 2 -2 Manchester United
West Ham United vs Manche 008 Spoiled Ham!Wee Joe Cole, once the pride and joy of a mediocre England team, was the Prodigal Son returning to the club of his roots. Well, never mind the fact that they were the only British club willing to pay his £200K per week wages, his first big match back at Upton Park’s Boleyn ground was supposed to be fairy tale. Cute little blue-eyed devil that he is, Joey was out to win over the Hammers’ passionate but cynical fan-base after leaving them behind long ago for the greener grass of West London at Chelsea. Two exquisite deliveries in United’s penalty area– where the visitors’ hapless Duh Brothers, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling, make it a point of honor to not mark anybody–set up two perfect headers for James Collins to nod home.

But hold on a minute, mate! This is Manchester United we’re talking about here. Who else but the Dutch Prince Valiant. Robin Van Persie would be capable of arriving off the substitute’s bench to throw a long-fused stick of dynamite into the Happy Hammers’ sea of blown bubbles? Of course, it’s all meaningless to Our jaded red devil fan base as galvanizing comebacks are to be expected in a season when the very fundamentals of defensive play have gone AWOL  it was, however, a kick in the privates for the majority who either hate United, or the more neutral or romantic fan who likes to see a minnow conquering whales.

United were never really in it for most of the match. Having made five changes from the team which beat Wigan Athletic, United just didn’t show much spark. The midfield threesome of Cleverley. Kagawa and Scholes looking unsure throughout as to exactly where each of the three was supposed to be positionally. Doubtless, Michael Carrick needed and deserved the rest he got, but his talismanic space-filling gifts were sorely missed on the night.

Still, even a tired disorganized United seemed to have enough to handle Sam Allardyce’s team and its size, physicality and tendency to completely rely on the long ball. 23 minute in, Javier Hernández, left alone on the right, broke down the flank and fired home a pristine cross to Tom Cleverley, who sprinted left from fifty yards out before beating Jaaskelainen with an unstoppable side-footed drive.

Yet United could only hold their lead for four minutes as Joe Cole, who had been huffing and puffing up a storm, cleverly picked up a ball from Ricardo Vaz Tê, pirouetted and chipped a high handsome cross that seemed to float a long time before being superbly headed home by a lonely James Collins. A few weeks short of 32, Cole looked almost too winded to celebrate as his team mates gave him a group hug. And without too much urgency on the part of United, even when they came out again for the second half, the hard-breathing Cole, ably assisted by the exuberant youthful mixture of energy and thuggery in Jack Collison and Dan Potts, it became clear that the East-Londoners were in with a chance to win this thing and reach the F.A.. Cup fourth round.
Thus, fifteen minutes into the second half, Danny Welbeck dribbled himself into trouble once again. Cole picked up the loose ball and was once again allowed space to fire in a cross from the exact same spot he had used to create the first goal. It really was deja vu all over again as Cole again found an unmarked James Collins who had time enough to execute a headed dummy which helped throw off David De Gea before nodding home his second.

Minutes later, Ferguson sent on Van Persie, Antonio Valencia and Ryan Giggs. Yet play after play broke down as Valencia repeatedly sprinted like a hare down the flank only to find no one waiting at the ready for him in the box. The clock ticked and the Hammer fans’ repeated renditions of what seems to be their one and only song ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ grew louder and louder from the Bobby Moore Stand. As the game passed into its final four minutes of injury time, West Ham simply looked tired while the United players seemed satisfied to make short passes at the edge of the opposition’s box. Was it possible that United were about to die without even a whimper of opposition when it mattered?

Out of nowhere came a perfectly floated long-distance lob from Ryan Giggs on the left wing all the way to Robin van Persie, who was on the field’s far right just outside the box. Just how Van Persie was able to control such a hard spinning ball so easily and peel away from their center back Tompkins is impossible to contemplate. The trapping of the ball; the one-touch piece of flow-and-move, followed by a howitzer of a shot that gave the goalie Jussi Jasakalainen absolutely no chance: It was a thing of pure blissful beauty magically mustered out of nowhere.  Boom! Out went the lights! It was his 22nd from 28 games since joining United from Arsenal.

To be sure, it’s one more fixture the club really doesn’t need, but we haven’t won the F.A, Cup since 2004. Wembley is nice in the Spring!
Robin van Persie left cel 006 Spoiled Ham!