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May 082013

Manchester United 0 -1 Chelsea
2013 05 05T171237Z 1 CBRE9441BT700 RTROPTP 2 SOCCER ENGLAND Shameless on the field of Our Dreams!It was, according to my old mate and midfield partner from the Prestwich Heys team, Rob Cockcroft, in the message he sent me from Pnom Penh, the very worst single display of a team at its worse in at least 34 years. An exaggerations, perhaps, or else an apt clarification of just how mediocre the football has been in the Premier League this season. Having been crowned champions, however, good, bad, or mostly mediocre, as I would have it, the players of Manchester United have quit. All well and good for them. It’s nice to be a millionaire. But, really, for the season ticket holders, satellite dish owners and suckers who order a la carte from their cable supplier, expecting the lads to at least give enough of a damn to try just a bit seems too much. Why is this asking so much? Worse yet, is the sound of my Spurs’ fan acquaintances’ sarcasm, as, humiliated by 63 years of the F.A.’s favoritism, they sincerely wonder why United’s players would prefer not to have them in ECC instead of Spurs. Even the guys on Republica Deportivo posited the idea that not qualifying for the top four will cause Spurs’ owner to flog Gareth Bale to United(and thus why we would let them win!). That, of course, is ridiculous, but no less ridiculous than the fact that Danny Levy would rather sell the Welsh chimp boy to Les Gooners than Us.

Not that Chelsea were particularly good. Going into their 65th match of a long long season, the royal blues had to do without an injured Eden Hazard. Yet, even minus the slick Belgian playmaker, Chelsea were far more creative than a jaded United, who were bound and determined from the get-go not to score at Old Trafford for the first time in 67 league matches, and didn’t. Adding another piquant soup con of insult to treating their millions of fans around the world like a roll of one-ply toilet paper, the red devils appropriated their very first red card of the season as a dimwitted Rafael Da Silva let himself get suckered into retaliating against his fellow Brazilian tormentor, David Luiz.

Yet none of any of this would have mattered a whit had not the indefatigable Oscar not located Juan Mata with an absolutely exquisite pass four minutes from full-time. With Patrice Evra’s elderly legs having given out somewhere after the beginning of the second half, he was a frozen, grinning twit of a witness as Mata seized the moment. Firing a curving left-footer at the bulk of Phil Jones, Mata was like a sniper doing maty in his head, calculating wind and spin and the manner in which United’s goalie Anders Lindegaard–who had virtually nothing to do throughout the game–would angle his dive for the ball. And even though the goal will be credited as a Jones own goal, we’ve all seen enough of these clever Mata deflected masterpieces that they may soon deserve a category all of their own.

Hard to say much about the rest of this match. Chelsea were marginally better in a yawn of a first half. Mata missed twice after nice passes from Demba Ba. Moses shot over the bar and Lindegaard made a single save, smothering a fine shot from Oscar at the post. United’s single tactic seemed to involve always locating Robin van Persie after too many tiki-tiki-tak short passes. Indeed, only Ryan Giggs manage to surprise the flat-footed Chelsea back four as he stole the ball off RVP’s toe and shot past a diving Peter Cech, only to see the ball waylaid by a bump and go a centimeter or so past the post. The old wizard also came close with a header off a Vidic cross, but Cech was there in the way with plenty of time to to smother it.

Poor Tom Cleverley, slow on the uptake as ever, was well set up by both Anderson and Giggs, and allowed all the time in the world on the edge of the box, but twice he hammered the ball on the edge of the area, yet with a better opportunity than he possibly realized the fringe player lacked the composure to take advantage, shooting early and blazing over the bar. Those of you who are as utterly exhausted by the mediocrity of Cleverley and puzzled by Roy Hodgson’s penchant for picking him for England must remember, he simply is not very good and has regressed rather than improved. As he was such a hit under the tutelage of Roberto Martínez at Wigan Athletic, I suggest we put him in a parcel with a bow and pawn him off in some kind of part-exchange for Jamie McCarthy.

Chelsea might have had a penalty at the start of the second half when Giggs hauled down David Luiz as he entered the area. Howard Webb waved away their claims, however, which seemed reasonable as the offense seemed to originate outside the box, though it appeared overly generous of the referee not even to award a free-kick or a red card after Luiz managed to simultaneously take the kick and dive forward as if wounded from behind my a high caliber bullet.

Even introductions of Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres as substitutes didn’t work. Both seemed distracted. Rooney looked particularly enfeebled. All the repeated rumors of Rooney’s transfer requests to leave for new partnerships with Lewandowski at Bayern or Ibrahimovich at Paris S.G. may have been deemed absurd, but there clearly is something wrong once again with Wayne Rooney. His losing of the ball to the aggressive Ramires in his own half is clearly understandable. Goes with the territory? Right! But Wazza’s attitude, having only just arrived on the pitch full of pizzazz, was, one might reasonably expect, to give chase. Ramires, clearly Chelsea’s best, most consistent player this year, was off to the races but clearly exhausted, puffing as he looked all around for someone to pass to. Our stocky little Scouse should have easily been able to run him down, but he did not.

Consequently, although United and Chelsea had each looked deliriously happy enough to settle for a draw. Ramires urinated in the punch bowl. Ramires to Lampard to Oscar who found Mata before the Spaniard fired a masterpiece of a left-footed beauty fit to deflect in off Jones’ back and wrong foot Lindegaard at the far post.

Any last second hope of a last-second United miracle comeback evaporated as David Luiz made easy sucker-work out of his Brazilian compatriot Rafael Da Silva after elbowing him twice and then falling down tragically once again “like a dying swan,” as Fergie put it. United ‘s hotheaded right back really ought to know better now that he is no longer an adolescent. Sure, Luiz was seen all over the world smirking at the referee, Howard Webb, after he sent Fabio off. It was indeed sad for the club to receive its first red card of the season over something so petty. Yet the collective naïveté of the team is not at all touching as it is in a club full of kiddiwinkies like Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa. Nothing cute at all, just embarrassment.

Ferguson was clearly not best pleased when he made his post-match appearance before the press. With his face fixed in a sort of gargoyle state of rictus, the old veteran looked as devastated as he had more than a year ago after the club took a 6-1 home hammering to Manchester City. “The desire was not there,” he said from between pursed lips. “It just wasn’t there.”Chelseas Juan Mata and a 008 Shameless on the field of Our Dreams!

May 012013

Arsenal 1-1 Manchester United
Robin van Persie Arsenal 008 1 Arsenal: If it Wasnt For No Class, They Wouldnt Have No Class At All! The story behind the story. My dream. Friday at the Arsenal training ground. Theo Walcott is staring at his opened locker door. Scotch-taped to the door is a carefully cut out newspaper photo of Rio Ferdinand. Theo is making his war face.
“You talkin’’ to me?” he says in his thin Berkshire boy-soprano mockney. “Are you talkin’’ to me?”
Rio just stares back, which makes Theo madder and madder. “Are you talking to me?”
He feints and then throws a left hook just short of the photo. Doesn’t want to dislocate his shoulder again, does he?
“We-ell I don’t see anyone else in this room,” he says real Yardie-like. “So I’m gonna have to kick your arse.”
Next to him, on the left is Gervinho, his funny, string and real hair toupée-cum-extention do making funny noises as it taps against his forehead while he swears in French at a photo of Jonny Evans. To his right, Per Mertesacker, lovingly referred to as “Der Meatsack” by his teammates, keeps staring at Wayne Rooney and calling him “Shkausser Schweinhundt!”
Meanwhile, behind them, an old skinny Alsatian named Arséne is smacking a riding crop against a bench while his even dourer assistant sucks his teeth. “Zey got our little gift on Sunday, right Steve?” Steve Bould, nods repeatedly.
“Venez sur mes garçons de poupée lttle. Montrez-leur ce qui, dans le coeur d’une poupée, est un guerrier.!” *
Theo does not know what his silly French boss is talking about. He never knows what his silly French boss is talking about. But he does know he’s going to beat that bloody Rio Ferdinand all the way back to Pinner or Peckham, or wherever he comes from.
A dream? How else can one explain Sunday’s comic draw? Arséne Wenger, Nick Hornby and Piers Morgan with their simpering platitudes about their team being on its best behavior proved to be about as sincere as a pregnant nun. One more desperate, tragic attempt to seize an early advantage. Sure, the crowd booed at Robin Van Persie and, sure, the Dutchman looked sad. The full human comedy had to be played out, however, and, at the end of the game, Robin Van Persie had scored 25 league goals for Manchester United, 29 in all competitions, and taken over the lead for the Golden Boot from the hungry one, Luís Suarez of Liverpool. Arsenal fans went home even more miserable than they had when they arrived

Nevertheless, the goal he scored against Arsenal may turn out to have a truly resonant impact. Should Les Gooners miss out on a top four place in the Premier League and thus the Champions League next season, it will be the first time they have gone without the most lucrative of cash cows for the first time in fifteen years. Let me reiterate. You know the cliché–the one that says revenge is a dish which tastes much better when served cold–it was one Arsenal fans had to swallow in a state of deeply deserved anguish on Sunday. Having booed their former hero throughout the first half, they got their comeuppance. Yes, irony was well noted on all sides as Robin Van Persie stepped up to rocket home a well deserved, icily dispatched penalty in the 42nd minute while the fat lady sang.

United versus Arsenal matches are by their very nature ugly affairs. Not ugly in the vicious sense of United’s tactically ugly matches with Liverpool are. They are, rather, emotional, slapdash, petty, often badly behaved matches on both sides, full of sneaky off-the-ball encounters, relentless speed races, shocking mistakes and always always always too chock full of drama for mortal referees to handle. In this case, with Howard Webb’s favorite assistant Phil Dowd running things, veteran United fans were all well aware that if anybody was going to make sure He was going to be the star of the show, it would be Phil himself. And so it came to pass!

Arsenal were shockingly dominant for the first half hour. Testing Dowd with every single tackle, ankle-tapping and rabbit-punching off the ball, the Arse were the 2005 team temporarily reincarnated, minus the purity of talent and finesse, though. Much quicker to the ball, playing with width, sprinting to fill every space, repeatedly taking turns kicking Wayne Rooney as if he were a sort of Scouse Guy Fawkes dummy, they kept United pinned back while repeatedly, relentlessly daring them to retaliate for a series of cheap shots. Yet United did not retaliate. It all being part and parcel of a season of ridiculously good behavior. Yet the crew of officials seemed to blow everything Arsenal’s way. It became pretty clear once they’d received their fifth yellow card in a row after Rooney collided 50/50 with Arteta and Rafael Da Silva took umbrage after receiving a throw-in in the mush, that Phil Dowd was not in a state of empathy.

The one goal Arsenal did score came in the second minute and was so clearly offside that United actually took it well, seeming to sort of collectively shrug their shoulders. Ironically, Van Persie was the culprit as he carelessly gave the ball away to the thieving magpie Rosicky. The Slovak schemer was quickly off to the races before firing a fine pass into the box which Walcott sped onto from an offside position before firing a finish at an obtuse angle past a stranded David De Gea, who had no chance.

And from then on, until about the 40th minute, Arsenal played well. Still, led by Lucas Podolski in place of the suspended Olivier Giroud, although they attacked relentlessly, they were mostly ineffective. In spite of the relentless energy displayed by Rosicky, Arteta, Ramsey, Cazoría and, later. Wilshere, they were simply never looked capable of executing that effective last ball in United’s third of the field.

To say United took a long time to get going is a copious understatement. The boys were obviously hungover, many said. But these young millionaires really are quite fit and surely young enough to shrug off what might well hinder lesser men. Yet how did Rafael da Silva and Phil Jones both end up passing the ball to an invisible teammate and out of touch under no opposition pressure? Sure we expect De Gea to drop a clanger under pressure, but how did he simply drop a corner kick he caught cleanly and make a bollix out of a subsequent clearance? Wayne Rooney was fine in the second half, but in the first half he seemed to spend a lot of time admiring the hue of his boots. Nani and Valencia were more or less invisible beyond passively absorbing cheap shots from Arteta and Ramsey. With Ferguson letting loose a very audible string of invectives at the fourth official and a grinning Phil Dowd, United’s ‘hangover’ seemed to be more of a case of narcolepsy. The kind of body-snatched stupor associated with absinthe, not champagne!?

Yet, as bizarrely un-United as they so often seemed early on, they still created a couple of opportunities of their own before Van Persie’s equalizer. Phil Jones, as cumbersome and awkward as he seems, was a more and more of a menace in midfield as Arteta and Ramsey’s off-the-ball bullying upped his ire. Well set up by Evra and Rafael Da Silva, he headed two gaping sitters wide of the goal. Then, having botched a series of half-chances, Nani sold Arteta an exquisite dummy, lifted a breathtaking cross into the path of Van Persie as he sprinted into the box. How Szczesny saved his shot is hard to know.

But, minutes later, Van Persie shrugged off the cobwebs again. In fairness to Dowd, his judgment was impeccable for the penalty because, at the speed the actual play was made at, it was anything but a straightforward decision. Picking up a Valencia pass, Van Persie took off at speed down the left-hand channel, leaving right back Bacary Sagna flat-footed and humiliated. Having made a mistake, Sagna swiveled and gave chase. In an attempt to make up for his mistake, he slid in on Van Persie’s ankles and threshed him down well inside the box. Dowd, who had already forgiven an identical foul by Sagna on Evra earlier, grinned back at a caterwauling Ferguson, blew his whistle and pointed at the penalty spot. Many in the crowd were amazed. A wall of boos accompanied that penalty, but Robin Van Persie is made of strong stuff. His shot, a piece of raw, pure, beautiful left-footed power, beat Wojciech Szczesny easily.

Whatever did go wrong on the day for United, I think none of us or them have any idea of what it was. Absinthe drinking offers up as silly a reason as any. The sad reality is that they had a fine opportunity to set a record and overtake Chelsea’s 95 points, from José Mourinho’s first title-winning side in 2005, but that chance is now gone. The game could have gone either way in the second half but it was an erratic performance from the champions. Indeed as monentous as some of the bad moments have been this season, it’s rare occasion when they look as disheveled and disoriented as they had in the opening 40 minutes.

I don’t mean to belabor this issue again and again, but, really, how is it that, despite being so close to London, the ruling class at the F.A. and by virtue of always having their noses up in the air and always out of joint, and thus, by implication, closer to God, why do Arsenal have no dignity or class? Poisoning Spurs’ buffet on the night before a crucial last match of the season over fourth place in 2007 typifies how they operate. Their willingness to form a guard escorting the champions on to the field was, their manager said, a sample of just how sportsmanlike they were. Yet any good will ended there as, clearly having noticed what everybody else has also clearly taken advantage of this season, that this current United squad, although massively talented, is both physically and emotionally the weakest Manchester United have fielded ever. Indeed, having been beaten up plenty this season, winning the championship surely is even more of an achievement. Taking one’s lumps goes with the territory. We understand that. Nevertheless, the petty acts of sly, underhanded , off-the-ball skulduggery perpetuated by Les Gooners and willfully turned a blind eye to by Phil Dowd should be duly noted by United fans. No matter what, I pray that Sir Alex Ferguson buys at least one player who is familiar with the dark arts of the game for next season. Those who doubt me might tune in to Bayern’s Champions Cup steamrollering of Barcelona. The natural toughness and adaptability of a certain Javíer Martinez they bought for 50m euros from Athletic Bilbao had made a world of difference to them which the Gaffer shouldnote

And so, finally, picture Theo in his parents basement in Compton, Berkshire. Still staring at the same newspaper cutout of Rio, only now it’s attached to a mirror and he’s wearing boxing gloves.
“You talkin’’ to me? You talkin’’ to me, Rio? Offside? Rubbish.” He throws a combination at the mirror. “Is there anyone else in this room?”
Arsenal v Manchester United Premier League 1858663 1 Arsenal: If it Wasnt For No Class, They Wouldnt Have No Class At All!

*”Show them that inside the heart of my doll-boys is the heart of a warrior!”

Apr 182013

W e s t H a m United 2 -2 M a n c h e s t e r U n i t e d
67074426 robin vanpersie getty1 De Gea Gets Hammered!Is there anything left for Manchester United to play for? United only need some combination of their own wins and losses and Manchester City losses and draws that make seven points to clinch the Premier League championship. Rhetorically, however, the players say that they want to win the Premier League in historic style–despite these dropped points–and overtake Chelsea’s record of 95 points in 2004-05. So there was plenty to play for when Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils stepped out from the tunnel at the Upton Park Cockney noise cauldron against the claret-and-blue kings of the Mile End Road. The fact is that’s never easy at the Boleyn Ground. Those who think Planet Ingerland goes soft South of Wolverhampton need to think again.

West Ham were definitely intent on making it difficult for the Red Devils. Well managed by the veteran Sam Allardyce this season, they have bounced back from a season in the Championship Division with a visible hunger. Performing with a consistently visible edge, the Hammers play consistently well at home, maintaining a position in mid table. Allardyce, maintaining his same-old predilection for putting teams of overachieving, long-ball bruisers out there, just as he has previously done in stints at Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers and much less successfully at Newcastle United, gets the job done by recruiting cheap veterans and young big club rejects. And although West Ham are not at all easy on the eye for their fanatic fans, their lack of finesse has been countered by the kind of ruthless acumen which keeps the fans fear of relegation at bay. A lot of Hammer fans don’t like Allardyce’s style but beggars can’t be choosers in the ruthless jungle that is the Premiership and, more importantly, his players are behind him. Big Sam’s tactics against his old friendly rival, Sir Alex Ferguson saw Mohammed Diamé and Kevin Nolan play high and hard against United’s defensive midfielders, Phil Jones and Michael Carrick, while their loan striker, big Andy Carroll, used his huge body as a battering room against United’s goalkeeper David De Gea and an aging center back combination of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Allardyce has made West Ham both truculent and competitive. With the referee Lee Probert not even the slightest bit interested in blowing his whistle, Carroll went ruthlessly about feeding the three a diet of head-butts, elbows and WWF-style grappling. Accompanied by an aerial bombardment from wingers Ricardo Vaz Té and Matty Jarvis, who took turns humiliating United’s past-it left back Patrice Evra to the point where he resembled the Gimp in Pulp Fiction, United realized they were truly up against it from the get-go.

Indeed, Carroll lads put the stick out there so ruthlessly well that Ferguson spent much of the match verbally haranguing the match’s fourth official, André Marriner, and his cloth-eared boss, the referee Lee Probert, especially after Carroll rendered him glassy-eyed with a sucker-elbow after a 45th-minute corner. Indeed, De Gea had his busiest day ever in a United kit after an early Carroll shot smashed the outside of the far post and venomous snakelike machinations of Vaz Té saw the Spanish custodian make two brilliant saves.

United were not so much on the ropes as being calculatedly lazy and laid back early on. Such tactics are always risky for a team schooled to play in a run-and-gun-style, however. Seventeen minutes in, after a lackadaisical Rooney lost the ball in the opposition box, Diamé stole away with the ball, and played a pair of one-twos with Jarvis, who fed Carroll. Carroll steamrollered Ferdinand, simply shrugging the veteran defender off before slipping the ball back out to Jarvis on the wing. The clever ex-Wolves winger then fired it back toward De Gea’s far post. Diamé met the ball, but fired only a mistimed chip toward goal. Meanwhile, brushing aside Evra, Carroll charged in, pushing the loose ball low toward Vaz Té, who dived to ground and forced a header past a flailing De Gea..

United were never on the ropes. per sé, but with Rooney poor up front and seemingly much less comfortable than in his masterful midfield display against Stoke at the weekend, Phil Jones and Michael Carrick were simply out hustled by Diamé and the ageless Kevin Nolan. When the equalizer did come, in the 30th minute, it was a bit of a surprise and definitely against the run of play. Mostly wasted on the left wing, Shinji Kagawa was finally cheeky enough to dance his way inside and pirouette hither and thither with the ball before flicking a perfect dish for a simple side-footed finish by Antonio Valencia from two feet out

In the second half, clearly coached by Ferguson to maintain their slow-build tactics with a view to wearing the Hammers to a frazzle, United slowly began to dominate the rest of the match. Yet football is a game full of ironies and despite owning the lion’s share of quality and possession, Fergie’s boys walked into a custard pie in the 55th minute when Vaz Tê and Guy Demel shucked and jived past a jelly-legged Evra before working the ball to a waiting Mohammed Diamé at the corner of the penalty area. Diamé spun in and around Rooney before casually firing an exquisite curved left-footed shot past De Gea to make it 2-1.

Dominant from then on, it was just a matter of time before Van Persie scored his 25th goal of the season. Just how Shinji Kagawa managed to nip into the box in the 77th minute and give Reid, Collins and Nolan the slip it’s difficult to tell. Nevertheless, a Kagawa shot bounced off James Collins, ricocheting off both posts before a marauding ever-so-slightly offside Robin Van Persie blasted home the equalizer. It was a bad call from the assistant referee but clearly far less shocking than the decision by the collected officials to repeatedly let Andy Carroll try to turn David De Gea into a vegetable. Indeed, it was sort of amusing to watch Sam Allardyce impersonate a red-faced toddler dispossessed of his toys in a way that we are more used to seeing happen with the Dark Lord Ferg on occasions.

With a Monday home game looming against Aston Villa at Old Trafford, United will be facing yet another team fighting for survival with its back to the wall. Coupled with a looming trip to the Emirates to face another favorite of the officials in a schizophrenic Arsenal side. Reaching a goal of 96 points still, somehow, seems to the least of our worries.

Most encouraging of all on a so-so day, however, was the splendid bravery of David De Gea. Battered and humiliated by Everon’s Marouane Fellaini in the first match of the season, the young Spaniard has gone through the process of a ruthless apprenticeship this season. Well and truly bullied by the gorilla-style tactics of Andy Carroll, De Gea took his punishment well, avoided retaliation and stood his ground. Still doubted by a few cynical blowhards, no doubt, De Gea looks to now have earned his laurels as an apt successor to the legendary Edwin Van Der Sar.

Apr 152013

Stoke City 0-2 Manchester United
Robin van Persie celebrat 010 Ferguson Clinches 900th Win!A joyful late afternoon’s work for Manchester United at the Britannia Stadium despite biting, gusting winds. Having lost three points off their 15-point lead in a loss to Manchester City a week ago, their relaxed victory over a Stoke City side that has stumbled badly toward the end of the season soothed a lot of frayed nerves. Additionally, Robin van Persie, a powerhouse for United throughout the season, ended what has been a two month long long late-season goal drought after scoring with a penalty kick. Now that United only need seven points to clinch, matches on Wednesday against West Ham United and a week Monday at home versus Aston Villa loom large. Indeed, the Red Devils may well already know their destiny by the time they visit Arsenal at the Emirates on April 28..

For Sir Alex Ferguson, for whom it was the 900th career victory, there was a certain kind of redemption after a number of his match stratagems in recent team losses to Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City had failed miserably. Simply unable to drop his exhausted talismanic central midfielder Michael Carrick, but clearly distrustful when it came to the input of squad midfielders Tom Cleverley, Anderson or veterans Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, the Gaffer moved his stocky star English striker Wayne Rooney back into central midfield alongside Carrick. Carrick who has definitely been spooked by the physical tactics repeatedly and ruthlessly used against him by the opposition, was visibly much comforted by the protective proximity of Rooney. Meanwhile, behind them, United’s center backs, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic dominated at the back against Tony Pulis’ Potters. This was a bit of a surprise in that Stoke are easily the tallest team in the division, custom built for scoring off the long ball and set pieces. Unfortunately, lacking their tricky winger, Matty Etherington, and his box of tricks full of lobs and clever passing because of injury, Pulis’ team were toothless

Stoke were dreadful from the get-go. Giving up a set piece goal in only the fourth minute, the tall Stoke back line fell into an instantaneous state of malfunction. After Ryan Wootton gave up a corner, Van Persie’s inswinging corner glanced off Kenwyne Jones as Geoff Cameron blocked Phil Jones’s deft second attempt before Carrick was on the spot to prod the loose ball past goalie Asmir Begovic.

Only Robert Huth came close to equalizing for the Potters with a header off a Glenn Whelan free-kick but that was a rare Stoke chance during a slow first half in which United coasted and stayed relaxed on their back foot. And although veterans Evra, Fedinand and Vidic all started to look more than a tad leggy late on, the high work rate of Rooney and Phil Jones made light of their deficiencies. Consequently, 65 minutes in, after the number of hacking fouls showed just how much more tired the whole Stoke team were by comparison. With United slowly, grindingly backing Stoke up toward their own box, and, after Nzonze unnecessarily hacked down Rooney, the Scouser’s pass to Van Persie set the Dutchman free in the box. Nevertheless, RVP was in no way close to putting himself into a scoring position while dribbling the ball. This did not stop a worn-down Andy Wilkinson from panicking and ruthlessly hacking him down, however, and the referee, Jon Moss, showed no doubt whatsoever in pointing to the penalty spot. Guessing correctly, goalie Amir Begovic came close to stopping Van Persie’s spot kick, but the veteran striker hit it just perfectly to the lower left corner where it squeezed home to make it 2-0.

In what was definitely one of the more joyous moments for Manchester United this season, an ecstatic Robin Van Persie heard the touring Red Army singing out his name as he did a jig before running toward his manager while he stood gesturing happily on the sidelines. What followed was a spontaneous bear hug from the burly Netherlander that almost knocked the canny old Scot off his feet. “He nearly killed me! He forgets I’m 71,” Ferguson said after the match. It was a lovely moment. All the more resonant to me because no one who loves the game could conceivably imagine Van Persie ever doing the same thing to his old manager Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.
66999180 017737973 1 Ferguson Clinches 900th Win!

Mar 192013

Manchester United 1-0 Reading
Rio Ferdinand 0061 Rios Revival!Manchester United’s match against Reading was like taking a duff date to dance. Could be your sister, your mother, your gran, your stepmother, Lidia Bastianich, Reading, Ragi Omar in drag or Dame Judi Dench. Well, yes, they did what was expected and played poor sad-sack rictus-riddled Reading, but, after a pathetic performance by Manchester City against Everton at Goodison, perhaps a bit more oomph and emotion had been expected. It was an easy, albeit plodding victory over a depressed, poor Reading side. Still a 1-0 win was enough. Enough to put them 15 points ahead of the sky-blue Abu Dhabian rent boys and two steps closer to a 20th League title. Of course, there are nine games left and a City comeback is still mathematically possible, but barely probable nevertheless. Should United win their next game against a relegation -zone mired Sunderland and City lose to a lowly ranked-but-resurgent Newcastle United, the red devils could feasibly clinch in the Derby match on April 8 at the Al-Itehad..

And United’s star of the evening? Well, David De Gea didn’t put a foot wrong; unfortunately, he had nothing top do but work on his English conversation skills with fans behind him in in the Stretford End. No, the galvanizing lord of the light and good was a certain veteran named Rio Ferdinand. The Peckham Kid, well and truly buoyed, it seems, having been recently recalled to the England squad after being involved in a long Wagnerian opera with its current and previous managers, Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson, was involved in most of United’s clever connective play throughout. Indeed, having bemoaned Father Time’s slow asphyxiation of Rio’s capabilities as probably the most mobile centre-back in the world over the past fifteen as his wonky back and hamstrings have repeatedly betrayed him this season, I’ve been shocked at his recent return tio form andfitness.

Seven minutes in there was a sprint worthy of his mate Usain Bolt, as Ferdinand nicked the ball off Jobi McAnuff’s toe, took off, and then put in a superb fifty-yard seeing-eye-pass for a flying Ashley Young whose shot only narrowly went wide of Stuart Taylor.

Then, however, he took it to the next level when he created Wayne Rooney’s goal in the 21st minute. Indeed, his 20th minute energy surge, a 34-year-olds clever bit of stop-start running, as he backed up Gareth McCleary, surged past Mariappa, tapped a sweet ball to Wayne Rooney and bounced happily on his toes as the Scouse striker fired a bullet at goal which was deflected into the goal off stranded defender Alex Pearce. It was a sweet little ooh-ah moment for Rio, instant nostalgia as, like Ryan Giggs, he seemed to effortlessly throw off the shackles of age, back pain and jelly legs, for a fine minute or two of beautiful purity.

There were eight changes from the side which drew with Chelsea. Only Rooney, De Gea and Ferdinand took the field against nineteenth-placed Reading. With next week’s international break looming, United’s manager, Sir Alex Ferguson surely felt a sustained break could do the likes of Michael Carrick, Rafael Di Silva and Patrice Evra good. Much of the usual chit-chat on British sports radio has been taken up with discussion of just how much both physical and mental tiredness affected United’s Real Madrid and Chelsea results. Yet beyond the usual giggles about millionaire lifestyles, Wayne Rooney’s pack-of-fags-per-day habit and Ryan Giggs’ sex-life, there was something sad about pundits and fans on Talk Sports, et al ,whinging about the whinging coning from the Gaffer and Chelsea’s Rafa Benitez about players being tired. But with so many younger players from bothe clubs playing for G.B. at the Olympics, in international competition and the usual lack of a British winter break, there has to be a grain of truth in their exvuses. Are the squad all knackered, many fools ponder. If so, what’s the point of having a squad? And how come the constantly injured Anderson and Phil Jones seem exhausted also?

At any rate, aside from Hal Robson-Kanu’s 25-yard effort flying way wide and referee Lee Maon failing to blow for a Nemanja Vidic penalty area pushing foul on Adrian Mariappa. during a Nicky Shorey corner, Reading were mostly invisible. Named emergency manager after the firing of Brian McDermott in mid-week, Eamonn Dolan was like a man looking for a needle inside a haystack that had been tied to his back. Thus burdened, Dolan was smart enough not to get too excited when the warrior of the day, Rio Ferdinand, made a shamefully bad pass back to De Gea which Gareth McCauley picked off, but then, after a fine, tricky run, McCauley gave the ball away when faced down by Vidic and De Gea. That moment was Reading’s high water mark of the day: Welcome to the Premier League!

The second half was simply Dull. Much had been expected from Alexander Büttner and Anderson, but the only thing they were consistent about was giving the ball away. Büttner, Welbeck and Young all took shots before Robin van Persie botched a free-kick that Taylor saved. easily. Sir Alex Ferguson had only one uncomfortable surprise left up his sleeve when, after Ashley Young got into a painful collision with McCleary, he brought on Michael Carrick to shore up the midfield. Having told the press all week just how tired his midfield master was, the boss was worried enough about Reading stealing a draw that he took the route of least resistance and shut up shop.

“We must be vigilant,” Ferguson said after the game when he was asked about bringing on Carrick. “Horses for courses. We let our guard down collectively this time last year. I won’t allow it to happen again.”66434457 wayne rooney getty2 Rios Revival!


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.


Mar 062013

Manchester United 1-2 Real Madrid
66220586 alex ferguson The Gaffer Rages As United See RedFor anyone who hates Manchester United, the pleasure principle really kicked in last night at Old Trafford. In spite of a glorious Spring night and at least two-thirds of a brilliant Manchester United display that was, at moments, the apotheosis of perfection and grace, United’s stunning, late 2-1 loss to Real Madrid may well be the saddest single moment of Sir Alex Ferguson’s long, brilliant career. In spite of a number of controversies before, during and after the game, the Gaffer’s team gave its all in a vain effort to overcome both Jose Mourinho’s team of neuvo galacticos and a shockingly biassed group of EUFA-sactioned officials. Unfortunately, their all was simply not enough to overturn the capricious will of either the football Gods, or Michelle Platini and his caporegimes at EUFA.

After the fact, EUFA officials have called a disciplinary meeting concerned with the manner in which Ferguson was seen jabbing his finger in front of the nose of the game’s pip-squeak Turkish referee, Cuneyt Cakir, and seconds later as Rio Ferdinand gave the officials face a sardonic round of applause. Yet the fact is that a  bomb went off 53 minutes in when Cakir took his sweet time to show the Red Devils’ winger Nani a red card for what he later explained was the act of embedding his studs into Alvaro Arbeloa’s midriff as he went to control a high ball. And although multiple viewings from different angles of the incident show that a careless Nani actually makes contact with Arbeloa’s elbow before the Spaniard falls over as if machine-gunned, rolls over three times and then springs up on his foot, none the worse for wear and tear, Cakir’s decision stands and life goes on. Of course, a careless Nani really could indeed have hurt Arbeloa, but he didn’t. Notions of “intent” versus “accident” will be discussed for weeks . Now they’re moot.

More questions about the referee later, but, finally there’s a devastated, apoplectic Ferguson who, in over 26 years at the club, has never previously sent one of his assistants–in this case Mike Phelan–to face the press at the post-match conference. “It speaks volumes I am sat here,” a tight lipped Phelan said.

Superb throughout. United let Real keep most of the possession. Rather than locking in nine men behind the ball, United defended effectively in small groups, restricting Real’s desperate desire for usable space. At the same time, when United got a chance to break they took it repeatedly and were faster and more effective than their favored opponents, outplaying them at their own specialty.

Sadly, Danny Welbeck, who more often than not creates his own chances out of nothing, is a shockingly erratic erratic finisher and, his partner on the night, Robin Van Persie is either suffering through a barren spell or is turning out to be the prodigal son of Eric Cantona: An assassin in the Premier League, but less effective on the European stage. At any rate, although the team looked fluid, confident and had the lion’s share of quality, Sir Alex Ferguson’s gamble in leaving Rooney and Kagawa out may have hurt the team fatally. Clearly armchair hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it’s an undeniable fact that, over two legs, United squandered way too many genuine chances. Indeed, when United actually scored they were extremely fortunate as Sergío Ramos accidentally touched a Nani cross, deflecting the ball past an otherwise superb Diego Lopez, who had a dream match.

Only six minutes later, while United kept up the kind of neat passing patterns that reminded aficionados of the brilliant lateral and diagonal  A.C. Milan stylings utilized to great affect seven seasons against us, Nani raised his studs in an effort to catch up with an over hit, high Carrick pass. Nani’s boot was definitely raised and whether there was malice in his heart, or not, the consequences were fatal. That said, there was still palpable shock when the red card was brandished. Once Nani was removed by Cekir, Jose Mourinho instantaneously threw the dice, bringing on Luka Modric.

Manchester United v Real Madrid Nani Jose Mou 2910130 The Gaffer Rages As United See RedModric, having been labeled Real Madrid’s ‘worst ever buy’ by the local press and riding the bench pretty much all season, proceeded to play thirty minutes of absolutely brilliant virtuoso football. Normally dependent on the industry of Angel Di Maria, Mehmet Ozil, Gonzalo Higuain and Fabio Coentrao, Real’s Portuguese superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, was smothered by the selfless hard work of United’s whole starting team, the hard running Rafael Da Silva in particular. But once the tiny Croatian arrived, the passing lines were narrowed and with United’s full backs always aware of the danger posed by Modric’s lightning turn-on-a-dime footwork to aging center backs Ferdinand and Vidic, Ronaldo suddenly had more time to sprint, surf the angles and pick his spots.

Modric’s equalizer was fantastic. Taking a leaf out of Arjen Robben’s book, Modric gave no inkling of his intentions as he dipped down before straightening up and slotting a bullet off a diving David De Gea’s left-hand post from 23 yards out. Accompanying this dagger to United’s jugular was a an audible whooshing sound. With the Stretford End holding forth at its loudest in years, the pure shock of it was inescapable. And less than three minutes later, with United’s defense trying to regroup and adjust to Modric, the mighty Croatian flea struck again. While holding off a visibly exhausted Evra, Modric fed Gonzalo Higuain. And although Higuain’s attempted diagonal rocket missed the target ,Rafael Da Silva somehow lost his fix on Ronaldo. Whippet-quick the ex-United Wonder Boy made up for all his previous near-misses and failures by arriving at the far post to push Higuain’s errant drive home and give Real the lead.

Despite United being disappointed by the lack of ruthlessness on the part of Van Persie and Welbeck, there can be no doubt that goalkeeper Diego Lopez, bought in as defensive cover for an injured Iker Casillas in January by Real, has in the past week, twice against Barcelona and against United, been playing out of his skin. With Welbeck dominating both Ramos and Varane, Lopez was forced to make save after brilliant save from Nani, Vidic, Welbeck and Carrick. Without their two unlikely heroes, Lopez and Modric, Real Madrid would be headed back to Spain bereft of any hope for silverware this season.

Despite the loss, there are bright spots. Ryan Giggs 1, 000th game is an awesome achievement. 39-years-old and soon to be forty, he is the consummate British professional. David De Gea, Rafael Da Silva and the Reds’ pugnacious captain, Nemanja Vidic were all world-class at the back. Doubtless, because of the loss, Ferguson will be relentlessly criticized by some for leaving out Wayne Rooney. Depending upon which historian you read, it was either Wellington or Napoleon who said: “It was a near run thing!” Sometimes, it seems, you can get it wrong while you’re getting it right!

Finally there’s Cuneyt Cakir, the creepy referee. Having witnessed his card-happy persona previously in games featuring Manchester City, Chelsea, the Republic of Ireland and England, and the very dramatic shows which accompanied red cards for Keith Andrews, John Terry, Vincent Kompany, and Mario Balotelli, I think it’s pretty clear that this referee has political (or other issues) with the British and Irish. Life is like that, of course, and British referees surely own some bigotry’s and prejudices of their own. What rankles, however, is that other powerful managers like Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have protested and won appeals through EUFA against certain referees they feel hold grudges against them before matches are played. Sir Alex Ferguson seems to have missed out on his homework vis-a-vis Mr. Cekir. It will surely not be a mistake he makes again.

66221999 66221303 The Gaffer Rages As United See Red

Feb 052013

Fulham 0-1 Manchester United
65669985 rooney ap Ruthless Rooney Helps United Retain MomentumOften fragile this season, Manchester United showed a strong sense of confidence and resilience while helping themselves to a narrow 1-0 away victory over a determined, diligent Fulham side at Craven Cottage. Despite a massive twelve minute power brownout, the Red Devils’ shrugged off the difficulties of flickering floodlights, the bitter cold and a stuttering strike force to create an intimidating 10-point lead at the top of the Premier League over their main and local rivals at Manchester City. On a night when even United’s talisman striker Robin Van Persie seemed hesitant and slightly off-kilter, job number one was carried out with a ruthless acumen and efficiency by Wayne Rooney.

With the wind-chill off the Thames registering temperatures way below zero, United arrived in southwest London in an attacking mood. With both Antonio Valencia and Nani having both been a disappointment this season, it was a surprise to see Sir Alex ferguson throw the dice and put both wingers on the field simultaneously as part of a 4-4-2 lineup. And it only took eight minutes for United to twice come close as a Carrick corner ricocheted off Brede Hangeland’s shoulder and an unmarked Patrice Evra somehow botched firing home in front of an open goal. His anemic shot was blocked by Philippe Senderos, followed by a brilliant block on the part of John-Arne Riise on the goal line from a blistering  Rooney volley.

But this was a completely different Fulham side to the one which had faced United at Old Trafford in the F.A.. Cup a week back. Unburdened of the presence of their shiftless, ball-hogging striker Dimitar Berbatov, the Cottagers’ warmed up their freezing fans with a surprisingly untypical game of pressing, fast-break counterattack. Led by the big Norwegian redhead John-Arne Riise down United’s left flank, United were caught with their pants down more than a few times. Only a brilliant reflex save from the much maligned David De Gea saved United from falling behind. Then, only minutes later, De Gea’s reflexes were successfully tested again as he tipped another Bryan Ruiz shot away off the post.

Consequently, the pattern of the game was set as Fulham kept ten men behind the ball while double making and pressing Carrick and Cleverley. Yet just as Fulham were holding their own, United executed a lovely bit of business in midfield as Nani dribbled into the box, located Cleverley and he set the table for Rooney to smash another unstoppable shot that somehow hit the post.

Then:, out of nowhere, darkness on the 42 minut mark as, just when Rooney was taking a corner, there was a brownout. After a tedious, cold ten minutes, the teams played out the game’s last four minutes before trooping off the field for a second time.

United carried on dominating possession in the second half, but with Carrick and Cleverley repeatedly unable to bolster up action through the middle, the Gaffer forced a tactical change on Fulham’s defense when Chicharito Hernandez replaced Valencia and Rooney took over the left flank in front of Patrice Evra. Yet, just as United looked to be at both their most casual and comfortable, Fulham squandered a couple of fine opportunities as Ashkan Dejagahteed set up Sascha Riether for a low drive, which De Gea did well to save before a brilliant flying Rafael leapt to deflect Ruiz’s header off the line.

Finally, in the 79th minute, Fulham’s slow-footed Philippe Senderos overran a long Evra pass. Then came Rooney’s moment: a clearance by Patrice Evra was misjudged by Senderos, allowing an unmarked Rooney tons of space to hoover the ball up on his left side and shift on the fly to his right, before coolly slipping the ball past a an oncoming Mark Schwartzer.

The one goal, proved to be just enough to suffice for United. Having kept a clean she without any slight sign of nervousness, David De Gea’s ownership of the goal keeping position looks to be back on track. With an in-form Wayne Rooney crackling like bacon in a cast-iron frying pan, England’s international team ought to give Brazil a run for the money on Wednesday.
65669904 rooney hernandez pa Ruthless Rooney Helps United Retain Momentum

Jan 292013

Manchester United 4-1 Fulham
Manchester Utd v Fulham 008 United Ease Past A Blasé Fulham!Funny club, Fulham. United have statues of the trinity, Busby and you-know-who outside Old Trafford. Fulham have a dreadful one of Johnny Haines and a gigantic thing remembering Michael Jackson, who is famous for many reasons, none of which have anything at all to do with football. Having flogged their two best performers, Moussa Dembelé and Clint Dempsey, for a healthy profit to Spurs, their manager Martin Jol picked up United’s sad-sack, capricious pseudo-striker Dimitar Berbatov, one of the rare expensive toys the Gaffer chose to toss out of his pram on the cheap. Beggars can’t be choosers, even if your owner is Muhammad Al-Fayed, when your London next-door-neighbor is Roman Abramovich’s oil cash Laundromat at Stamford Bridge . Hope springs eternal, whether you’re the manager or a Cottagers fan, but Jol’s claim at his Friday night press conference that Berbatov was “in the state of mind for one of his hat-tricks” was up there in the fantasy betting stakes of Google  locating  and mapping Shangri-La and Utopia.

It took but 45 or so seconds for  Berbatov’s face to take on that familiar 5,000 kilometer stare we’re all so familiar with as a probing Rooney shot caused instantaneous panic in Fulham’s back line and was deflected for a corner. Wazza’s corner led to Aaron Hughes getting all in a dither as Chris Smalling rose with him for the ball, needlessly raising a hand to divert the ball. Referee Mark Clattenburg wasted no time pointing to the spot. With Rooney still in the Gaffer’s dog house for an accumulation of missed penalties, it was left to the grizzled old Welsh wizard Ryan Giggs to calmly step up and slot the ball home.

Then, 21 minutes in, Giggs had a second penalty chance disallowed as Damian Duff took a chance in sticking an arm out  when another one of his  passes caught Flham’s whole defense flat-footed.  Referee Mark Clattenburg, long up there in the F.A.’s refereeing pantheon of caprice with Howard Webb and Phil Dowd decided to let this one go. Yet, Clattenburg’s decison proved to be of no no consequence. Bad then turned to worse for Fulham. Their abject state of disarray lingered. Bryan Ruiz made a series of bad passes, two of which were intercepted by Giggs. Attempts to feed Berbatov were not so much badly executed, as, having been aimed about fifteen feet in front of the Bulgar prima-donna, invitations for the shiftless genius to run, which was never going to happen. Consequently, after other passes from the likes of Sidwell and Duff failed to land on his toe, Berbatov began to spend more onfield time bawling out his teammates in frustration than running..

Yet before United truly  began to dismantle Fulham with a surgical grace, in the second half, the Cottagers managed to hold on to their luck. Anderson and Giggs came close twice and three fantastic saves by Schwartzer from Rooney and Nani kept them in the game. The Cottagers ran out of lucky breaks once the second half began, however.

First, an exquisitely hit Anderson pass found Rooney just inside the box and the Scouser had no problem blasting it past a marooned Mark Schwartzer. Minutes on, Rooney turned schemer. After executing a lovely little step-over and foot switch that Ronaldo would have been proud of, Rooney passed to Nani.. Nani missed his shot on goal, but the rebound bounced back to Rooney off Schwartzer. This time, Rooney fed a short pass to Hernandez, who tapped home the third.

Minutes later, the cheeky Chicharito got his second of the day, as the hapless Aaron Hughes let a Giggs cross bounce off his knee, missed making a clearance, and watched in horror as Schwartzer, already committed to moving in the wrong direction, had no way to stop the Mexican striker’s nicely executed tap-in of a fourth.

Fulham did pull a goal back, as a sloppy United defense allowed itself to become lax again and an unmarked Hughes headed in a corner from winger substitute Giorgos Karagounis’s  with 15 minutes to go. And although they did not oppose United with much passion, Fulham may not really be quite as bad as they often looked. After all, on the day, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney looked good enough to take on any opponent. Fulham are clearly not Real Madrid and neither will be Reading, who they face at home in the Sixth Round. Still, if United hope to have a chance against the Spanish champions, they will need Sunday’s Rooney and a far less lax back four.
65531280 manutd afp United Ease Past A Blasé Fulham!

Jan 212013

Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Manchester United
Vidic clears a Spurs free 001 The Blame Game!The secret, they said, was to contain Gareth Bale and Moussa Dembele. Sounded good. Contain those two, every so-called pundit and expert insisted and, just like always,  you’ve got the same old weak-willed bunch of North London sob sisters. What every one hadn’t counted on, however, distracted by the obnoxious desire for attention of the club’s abrasive, street hustler/ Spiv Chairman Daniel Levy. is that the club has finally hired a brilliant , worthy manager in Andres Villas-Boas.

Late in the game, with an exhausted Manchester United team no longer able to control the match’s tempo, Sir Alex Ferguson gambled on playing rope-a-dope from the 80th minute on. Knowing exactly what Dembele and Bale do is intellectually do is one thing, dealing with it in practice is something else again. Left to his own devices, Aaron Lennon is the most predictable overrated winger in the Premier League. Carefully marked, he has been little but an ooh-ah distraction against the likes of Stoke City and Bolton Wanderers for years. One on one in a foot race with the stubborn Peter-Panish Patrice Evra, Lennon got his own bit of pay back for at least seven seasons of getting his head handed to him, by rubbing the faded French left back’s nose in a giant pile of poo for final thirteen minutes. Revenge, in the case of Aaron Lennon, is sweetest when served dim-witted and cold!

For those who appreciate footie ironies, both started playing in the Premier League in January 2006. Lennon, eighteen at the time, one of Levy’s usurious bargain purchases from the diseased bankrupt body of Leeds United and Evra to United from Monaco as a replacement at left back for the brilliant, but constantly injured Gabriel Heinze. In combat for six seasons, it was never any contest. The foot race rivalry for fastest-but- least brightest between Jermaine Jenas, Jerome Thomas, Matty Etherington, Ashley Young. Theo Walcott and Lennon was always won by the spring-heeled latter.

Despite the onset of early senility in many athletes, however, Evra at the age of 31, has finally been gobsmacked by the vicissitudes of time and fate. As the French say,   “?Cette fille sexy et jeune est maintenant une grosse, négligée femme au foyer!” A team-player of the first order, a hard worker, and a real gentleman, Paddy is much loved by the fans, the Gaffer and most of his United teammates. Unfortunately, although he still succeeds with many aspects of his attacking game, including his admirable leapimg ability for corners, his legs have gone. When you can no longer run with a player who has no more to his game than speed, sudden stops, and step-overs, the end is no nigh. The prospect of Paddy facing the combined switcheroo antics of Angel DiMaria, Mesut Ozil and CR7 against Real Madrid has me reaching for my trusty bottle of Johnny Walker Black!

Consequently, United exposed themselves to the cruelty of a late late dagger into its tubercular defensive underbelly, when United’s thus-far heroic goalie, a partially blocked David De Gea weakly punched a cross towards Lennon and Evra. The speedy little Yorkshire pocket-rocket simply had to skip around the knackered veteran before tapping the ball into Clint Dempsey’s path. Poor De Gea, awesome all afternoon, was totally exposed as the whole back line, petrified of Gareth Bale, shifting right with the Welshman and the one who likes to have himself called ‘The Texacutioner,’ despite being utterly, toothless throughout the rest of the match was there on the spot to spare his club defeat and destroy United’s seven point lead over the Abu Dhabian rent boys of Manchester City.

Sir Alex Ferguson Manches 006 The Blame Game!Sir Alex Ferguson may have barked at the officials and the press about the dreadful refereeing of Chris Foy and his awful assistant Simon Beck, but it just seemed to be more of the same of what the fiery old Scot always does after tight draws and losses. Doubtless United did deserve the penalty call they did not get when Steven Caulker blatantly upended Wayne Rooney to the turf in the penalty box in the 61st minute. The truth is, however, that despite often being surprisingly imperious in midfield and deserving a one goal lead from a superb Robin Van Persie effort in the 25th minute, United just did not take advantage of the scores of counterattacking breaks they had in both halves.

In spite of the incompetence of Chris Foyle, United should have been leading by three or four goals, so dominant and brilliant was their counterattacking play. Unfortunately, chance after chance was squandered. For me, however, despite the dreadful ineptitude of Evra, this was the best team performance by Manchester united this season. If the team’s major weakness on the left flank can be solved, however, the big picture is much improved for the club.

Of course, the obvious will hold true if you look at Spurs’ statistics,. The north Londoners controlled possession for close to 60% of their home match, but their finishing was so repeatedly, inexcusably dreadful that United always looked the more likely to get a second goal throughout. With David De Gea pulling off three fantastic saves from Defoe, Bale and Lennon (and Emanuel Adebayor off playing for Togo in South Africa), striker Jermain Defoe simply never seemed truly up to the task against Rio Ferdinand. After what was probably his worst display ever in a United shirt in the 3-2 loss to Tottenham at Old Trafford in September, the Peckham Kid has learned to keep his perimeter tight of late and the proximity of a fit Nemanja Vidic didn’t hurt, either. The way Ferdinand has adjusted to doing less better of late ought to have been both a lesson and a warning to Patrice Evra, but the Frenchman has not yet adjusted to the cruelties of time.

For one of the few times this season, United played truly well for 80 minutes and were always dangerous. Danny Welbeck, although not much of a scoring threat these days, was a worker-bee throughout, and, along with the twinkle-toed Shinji Kagawa, who was in his element in a winger-less midfield next to a frolicsome Tom Cleverley and a marvelous Michael Carrick who, although he always plays well against his old club, seems to be at a career high level of confidence.

And just how good is Robin van Persie? RVP’s 22nd goal of the season midway through the first half was a little bit of burglary out of Mission Impossible. After Kagawa picked the ball up in midfield, he pushed it into Carrick’s path. Carrick hit an exquisite Pirloesque cherry to Danny Welbeck on his left and the young Manc striker cut inside, seeming to dither a moment about taking a shot before cleverly locating Cleverley. Just how Cleverley’s cross was found by the flying Dutchman, who was double-marked by both Dawson and Caulker, managed to get to the ball is a miracle us mortals can only contemplate upon. Once the cross reached Van Persie there was an inevitability about where it would finish. Shrugging the Spurs center backs aside, Van Persie headed the ball home. Wow! He now has 10 goals in his last 10 league matches.

Just how well both teams performed is the snow is to their credit as professionals. The pitch was only passed fit for play an hour before kickoff. Two of the more amusing sights on the sidelines were Spurs’ boss Andres Villas Boas, swathed in blankets, attempting to remain warm and still and Sir Alex Ferguson, so absorbed in the game’s second half, that he didn’t notice his woolly club tam was then wrong way round on his head.

In the cruel postmortem which  has followed this match, the Bury accent of Gary Neville has communicated itself loud and clear. The tying goal is the fault of an eccentrically passive/aggressive David De Gea, he insists in all of his pundit gigs for television  and radio. His opinion does indeed count for something and he’s gone out of his way to show how the ‘body language’ of Vidic and Welbeck after the equalizing goal was scored showed ‘anger’ at the Spanish custodian. At the same time, another teammate, Javíer Hernandez, has been Twittering that he and other teammates beg to differ. Coupled with Rumor Mill-mongering from the usual pool of hacks who make their bread and butter out of conjecture, the repeated word is that the Gaffer has fallen out of love with the young goalie.  This is inevitably bound to become a self-fulfilling prophecy; and, ultimately, perhaps one which will be best for all concerned, if a more seasoned veteran is signed. Mark my words, however, David De Gea will eventually be a superstar! Such is life lived in the goldfish bowl of playing for Manchester United and the need to be in the good graces of a London=biassed, barracuda-like press.

*”That sexy young girl is now a fat sedentary housewife!”