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Smalling & Jones Step into the Light!

 Posted by on November 12, 2013 at 11:19 am  Blogs/Media
Nov 122013

Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal
Robin van Persie Wayne Ro 011 Smalling & Jones Step into the Light!Beyond all the embarrassing braggadocio set forth by Arsenal’s players, managers, fans, pundits and the eternally biased London media which was the usual usual, there was the seed of doubt we knew was there at Manchester United F.C. The difficulties for a new manager and his coaches taking over from a dynasty of relentless success, two or three players kept at the club past their sell-by dates, a new chief executive and owners who know as much about football as they do about brain surgery, an unfathomable lack of passion, the Wayne Rooney soap opera, the Tiago Alcantara/Cesc Fabregas circus; and, worst of all, the recent unfathomable failure to cope of so many of our young players. Well, yesterday, over 94 minutes at Old Trafford, United’s problems did not get sorted out, per sé, but they were put in sensible perspective. Maybe nothing was ever really as bad as it had seemed. Maybe this instant gratification thing we’re addicted to is the real problem!

Yes. Perspective-wise, I always love playing Arsenal. I always make money. Their fans are so spoiled and bitter, so easy to wind up, so lacking in integrity or any kind of moral fiber: They remind me of their team. Just as I have seen and read about Dubya declaring victory in Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s line in the sand and Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich, Arsenal fans win the Premier League and the European Champions Cup every November. Aren’t they fantastic? And a betting man’s dream sucker bait!

Anyway, save for the very end of the match, during a final twenty minute stretch where a Red D team which had worked its socks off throughout began to look tired, Manchester United dominated the game. Ticky-tacky Arsenal huffed and puffed but they couldn’t blow down Old Trafford and were incapable of building up into their usual quick-tempo tsunami-style. United simply wouldn’t let them play! Then, 27 minutes in, when Rooney executed a rarity for him, a perfectly taken corner, Les Gooners were stunned. Arsene Wenger’s addiction to a policy of zonal marking meant Van Persie could make a long leaping sprint for the ball completely unimpeded. Seeing it all too late, the Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud attempted to block his path, but Van Persie was already high above him, his header zipping past Szczesny into the net.

71028979 71028978 Smalling & Jones Step into the Light!What followed–which I assume was a reaction to Arsène Wenger’s prematch assertion to the gathered ghouls of Fleet Street that RVP is still, deep down, an Arse man–saw the Dutch striker run to the touchline to embrace Wayne Rooney and his teammates before charging, arms aloft, to greet the faithful of the Stretford End. Not really a United player deep down, hunh, Arsene? You could have fooled me!71030210 71030671 Smalling & Jones Step into the Light!

The kudos and post-match awards may have deservedly gone to Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie and David Moyes, but for me it was truly the night of the water-carriers. David De Gea finally put the pundit quacks who have accused him of being a pussy in the box in their place. Not only was he up there in the air laying out some muscle and brawn and punching away the ball almost as hard as he kicks, the warrior Spaniard was so totally amped and in the zone that he ruthlessly (albeit unintentionally)laid out his center-back hard man Nemanja Vidic because he was in the way of the ball. Even more impressive, however, were Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. Both have talent to burn, but have also been repeatedly guilty of lacking in concentration. energy and desire the last two seasons. This was not the case against Arsenal. Last week, it seems, some kind of epiphany took place in both of them because, in their case, ‘potential’ is no longer a valid concept. Something wonderful happened to Phil and Chris and a thousand flowers bloomed!

Interestingly, earlier in the day, the players Smalling and Jones have ostensibly replaced in the squad, John O’Shea and Wes Brown(back from almost two years on the sidelines), both had fantastic matches in Sunderland’s shock home win over Manchester City. Meanwhile Chris Smalling played his best game ever for Manchester United. Confident and brave, he committed himself totally to making tackles in the box. It’s a risky business being responsible, but Smalling had his war face on and made a number of crisp, surgically precise tackles that reminded me of a certain Bryan Robson in his pomp. Very vocal, despite owning an even tinier set of vocal cords than David Beckham, Smalling has repeatedly begged off from playing at right back previously. I’m guessing here but having disappointed rather repeatedly this season as a center-back, Smalling may well have been told by the new Gaffer that he was definitely standing in vicinity of the last-chance saloon. Whatever the reason, Smalling was brilliant against Arsenal. Indeed, beyond a number of brave, superbly timed tackles in the penalty box, Smalling made a number of fine quick runs down the right flank, Smalling even came close to firing the coup-de-grace and scoring a second goal when, left unmarked in front of Arsenal’s goalmouth, he narrowly missed making an easy-peasy header at the other end from a Patrice Evra free-kick.

How fantastic that, on exactly the same day, Phil Jones stepped forward and finally became one of United’s most important players. His versatility made him look to be of the same worth as a Touré or a Mascharano. Assigned the mission impossible task of standing mobile watch in front of his back four and smothering the probings of Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and the Premier League’s flavor-of-the-month, Aaron Ramsey, Jones was the one on fire. The rubber-faced, stout-hearted big man not only accomplished his mission, but executed it impressively. Again and again, his intuitive tackling, quick ball recoveries and instinct for covering up for out-of-position team-mates repeatedly choked off Arsenal’s speedy but predictable moves before they could fully develop, making life a lot easier for his defenders. Like Johnny O’Shea, Jones can do any job he is asked to do in games. Unfortunately, until this Sunday he has never been quite up to doing it consistently and in a fully concentrated manner. After being superb in the first half, he was then required to change positions in the second half and fill in for the injured Vidic alongside Jonny Evans. Evans, who is never up to it in games where he has to take charge of the back line, was wise enough to let Jones give orders along with De Gea and came off all the better for it.

Indeed, Les Gooners only managed to get any traction on the game at all after the break due to Jones’ absence in central midfield and the substituted Cleverley’s inability to withstand any kind of sustained physical contact. As well as being great defensively, Jones made a number of powerful runs with the ball in the first half, and the biggest conundrum facing both Moyes and England’s manager Roy Hodgson from now on is just where to place the lad to receive maximum potential. The answer may actually be simple. Against lightning-quick small teams like Chelsea he needs a more stationery role. The question in fact seems to be whether, game by game, is he better assigned particular opponents to mark or in a less specific role.

A last bit of kudos for Rooney. The cliché about Wayne Rooney is that he covers every blade of grass. And as capricious as he’s capable of being, there can be no denial of just how much desire and sense of will he utilized in the little masterpiece he made of this game. Twice before the half, Rooney made decisive tackles on the cusp of his own box before galloping 75 yards into the Arsenal six yard box. Then, a few minutes later, sprinting back 70 yards to chase down a long, dropping ball, punted out of defense by Arteta. His feelings about David Moyes may be ambivalent, but the dour Scot has the Scouser playing at a level of fitness and confidence which is off the charts.

During injury time Old Trafford had a bit of bum-squeak as the pony-tail-bunned Arsenal substitute Nicklas Bendtner–looking like a refugee hit-man from an 80s Steven Seagal movie–tried in vain to connect with an exquisite Bacary Sagna cross. It was as close as they ever got on the night. Asked about it by the press, Wenger said his team was “inhibited by nervousness.” Butterflies in the 92nd minute? Pretty unforgivable, it seems to me, especially if you keep up the talk about winning the championship. To be sure, Arsenal’s five-point lead still needs to be whittled down further. United now sit fifth, after a hop, skip and a jump over Everton, Spurs and Manchester City to bring themselves within a point of Chelsea. United have not lost for six weeks now and the blogs will surely ease off on their personal attacks on Our Dour Davey.
Manchester Uniteds Vidic 012 Smalling & Jones Step into the Light!

Sep 192013

69902634 69902633 An Improving United Battle Past BayerNever mind Wayne Rooney reaching the landmark of 200 goals for Manchester United or the new manager David Moyes making a victorious start start to his first Champions League group play. This was the Manchester United we know and love. Score four goals: One dead jammy! Give up two home goals out of sheer bloody-minded laxity. Moments of utter bliss coupled with pub team slovenliness. “Who’s that team we all adore?”

Although Wayne Rooney may be a pain in the arse: Someone we see a train wreck in wait for somewhere in the infinite distance. All is now definitely forgiven! After all kinds of soap opera machinations at the start of the season–not all of which were his fault, to be sure, Rooney has gone into the second month of the season on fire. On the night, while covering every slippery blade of grass at Old Trafford, he was downright inspirational. 4-2 looks simply like a successful win, but the truth is that Bayer Leverkusen really were comfortably beaten. The main reason was the Scouser striker. Still covering up a head wound with a toweling bandage—an injury that had kept him out of the club’s defeat at Liverpool and England’s draw in Ukraine–Rooney put the red devils ahead in the 22nd minute.

Leverkusen felt Van Persie was offside by the corner flag in the build up, but then had a mass hissy-fit when, with the referee’s assistant standing directly in front of of the incident, he failed to spot Valencia, standing in a clearly offside position as he tried to block Bayer’s keeper Bernd Leno’s line of view. This allowed Rooney to charge in and push a Patrice Evra cross home. And despite Bayer’s righteous protests, the referee allowed the goal to stand.

69902694 hi019338987 An Improving United Battle Past BayerThis was Rooney’s 200th goal for United, he now stands fourth in line as part of the clubs goalscoring history behind Jack Rowley at 211, who he will certainly catch this season, Denis Law at 237, and, at 249, Sir Bobby Charlton.

United were uneven for the rest of the half, still prone to give the ball away to the German team’s hard-pressing midfield. Indeed, Leverkusen showed signs of life after Rooney’s goal, although Simon Rolfes seemed to miss the presence of his usual sidekick, Sven Bender, who stayed on the bench until the second half. Still, despite some ragged passing, it was definitely United, with Marouane Fellaini patrolling midfield with a kind of effortless majesty on his full debut, who were well in control and creating the better chances, as Rooney went just slightly off target with a free-kick and Shinji Kagawa’s shot was deflected just wide by Leno.

Still, nobody was even slightly surprised when a casual United defense made a hash of getting a loose ball out of their penalty box in the 54th minute. A slipshod pass from Rio Ferdinand didn’t make it to Patrice Evra and Leverkusen’s captain, Simon Rolfes, was there to volley home beautifully from fifteen yards out to make it 1-1.

This was just the bit of a scare United needed. It took a while, though. Another sixteen minutes before Robin van Persie’s acrobatic volley allowed them to grab the lead again, It was only justice after United had attacked the Germans in wave after relentless wave. The sitter Rooney missed after collecting a long De Gea kick and casually rounding Leno was a gob-smacker. The two wide open, gaping chances Van Persie missed after exquisite set-ups from Valencia and Carrick were a shocker, too. But then Rooney did it again, twice. Firing one home at the near post minutes later after ghosting past a tired but static Bayer defense as a clever Valencia pass found him. Rooney then set up another for Antonio Valencia with a pass weighted to perfection, allowing the Ecuadorian winger all the time in the world to make long diagonal strides into the box before firing home in the 79th minute.

Omer Toprak’s late second goal for Bayer was the result of another slipshod pass from Rio Ferdinand coupled with a slow-witted lack of concentration from an otherwise faultless David De Gea and an accidental deflection off Carrick. One of these years the defense will get it together early in the season, I pray.

Along with finally seeing a return of confidence and form in Antonio Valencia and witnessing the superb quick feet and awesome passing skills of Shinji Kagawa, Moyes will clearly feel happy to be finally receiving the benefits of United’s truculent refusal to do business with Chelsea. Here was the evidence that the club’s early season stance was righteous in spite of much criticism. It was also good strategy for Moyes to substitute Rooney late with Hernandez. The two clearly did not act out any kind of rapprochement as the striker left the field, but the crowd, which stood up en masse for him, and its passionate applause lasted for minutes and surely reiterated to our sensitive Scouser that he really is truly adored by the majority. Well, of course, there was crusty Sir Alex Ferguson, who remained glued to his padded seat, but he’s just had hip surgery!
38891b15 8e82 4710 9b70 a24542fee75b 140x841 An Improving United Battle Past Bayer

Bushido Football!

 Posted by on July 26, 2013 at 5:51 pm  Blogs/Media, England, Manchester United
Jul 262013

Cerezo Osaka 2-2 Manchester United
Wilfried Zaha 008 Bushido Football!The never ending soap opera that is Manchester United continued in Osaka. While the gossip factory back home in blighty belched out continuous yes/no rumor-mongering vis-a-vis Cesc Fabregas leaving F.C. Barcelona to become part of our brilliant crew, the Japanese celebrated the return of a native son as Shinji Kagawa was feted and celebrated to the uncomfortable point of idolatry. For anybody watching this match who doesn’t own a schoolgirl crush on Kagawa, the game took on all the bizarre glamor of a pay-per-view WWF grudge match. With 85,000 locals relentlessly making banshee-like shrieking noises, Our Shinji did it all: Scored a goal, missed a sitter, missed a penalty. I hope the crowd got what they wanted. The game was entertaining indeed, but it was hardly professional football.

At any rate, Our new young rising star, Wilfried Zaha, spared his more famous teammate Shinji Kagawa from much embarrassment when he scored an injury-time equalizer for Manchester United over J League heavyweights Cerezo Osaka just as it seemed like the Red Devils were about to suffer a third tour defeat against Prince Shinji’s old club. The grateful massed squeal of the crowd as Kagawa’s substitute tapped home n a low, beautiful cross from Anderson’s meant a final sense of yin equaling yang after Kenyu Sugimoto and Yusuke Maruhashi had scored either side of Kagawa’s equalizer.

United began with a lot of hustle and Cerezo’s South Korean goalie Kim Jin-hyeon was busy from the get-go after he made a flying save off a stinging left-footed Robin Van Persie shot inside the first minute. The Dutchman had been the victim all week of many panic ridden rumors about having an injured hamstring after being taken off early in the team’s loss to Yokohama. on Tuesday. Clearly, in spite of the Daily Mirror, he was okay! Indeed, Van Persie was in the mood for long-distance target practice as Kim was forced to make three diving saves off him in the first half. Quite a useful custodian, Kim made a string of fine saves, although he was extremely lucky that a spectacular diving Phil Jones header went over the bar.

It’s doubtful that they ever do this normally, but it was so humid and just plain hot that officials and coaches decided to take a drinks break midway through both halves. Meanwhile, as United began to wilt, Osaka improved. Anders Lindegaard was forced to make a series of quality saves before their forward Edno sent his header straight at the Dane from pointblank range. Any kind of nod in either direction would have put the hosts ahead, to be sure. But minutes later, clearly intent upon giving his blundering rival Jonny Evans a run for his money, Chris Smalling hesitated with the ball at his feet in the six yard box and a thieving magpie, Masahiro Sugimoto, was there to steal away the ball and fire home past Lindegaard to make it 1-0.

Late in the half, Van Persie picked up a loose ball after Danny Welbeck had failed with a beautifully powered rocket which hit the post. Normally, the lethal Rotterdam assassin would surely have surely scored himself. Instead, in some weird kind of reverse loyalty and Bushido to his teammate, RVP squared chivalrously toward Osaka’s venerated Home Boy Kagawa. Absurdly, ridiculously and almost unbelievably, Kagawa caught the ball on his instep and hit it with his laces high over the bar accompanied by Takashi Mike samurai-movie moans from the capacity crowd.

Still, United kept up their pressing game and that other legend, Ryan Giggs, narrowly failed with a chip shot over the bar before Welbeck came close as his shot beat Kim but curled wide by a bare inch or so. Kagawa then really blew everybody’s mind. After a sprinting Ashley Young was brought down in the box, Van Persie shrugged, bowed to his colleague and allowed Shinji to take the spot kick. Unfortunately, Kagawa hit it too softly and the goalkeeper guessed right, making a fine low save. This caused the embarrassed crowd to make even more bizarre keening noises. Luckily, ten minutes later, Kagawa was the recipient of a sweet lobbed Giggs pass into the box which Kagawa had all the time in the world to fire home.

Cerezo were not to be easily shrugged off, however, and after some sterling midfield work, Anderson lost the ball to Minamino. Minemino then executed a fine bit of dribbling, executing a deft run to the edge of the box before firing a bazooka which exploded into the top corner of the net.

With both sides clearly tired and wilted, the exhibition match began to take on the look of the final round of an old Rocky Movie as the two teams staggered all over the grass, the Japanese team desperately trying to hold the lead as United periodically worked toward a draw. Yet, after some marvelous dribbling artistry from Zaha, Cerezo almost scored a third as Lindegaard made a fine, flying. fingertip save to deny Maruhashi.

It was only in injury time that the Premier League champions managed to salvage their dignity as Zaha, the new young winger who has impressed the most on this three-week trip, ruthlessly took his chance from close range.

Yokohama Marinos 3-2 Manchester United
Read the usual blogs and you’ll see the usual fans are going at it, as per usual. The panic brigade is already considering collective seppuku while the usual Orthodox loyalism-obsessed jihadis want to behead anybody who hasn’t fallen into a state of instantaneous thrall to Davie Moyes and his new crew. All of it is stuff and nonsense, of course. As with any preseason match, much that’s useful can be learned by the coaching staff and pundits alike, but nothing significant; nevertheless, a vanity -beguiled Manchester United side suffered a second defeat out of three preseason matches when the J League’s Yokohama Marinos scored late for a well deserved win.

The good news is the same. Jesse Lingard scored another goal and, alongside the equally hungry Adnan Januzaj and Wilfried Zaha, United clearly own some impressive and potentially fruitful young attacking talent. Bad-news wise, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans were just as mismatched at center back as they were when paired together for Sir Alex Ferguson’s 5-5 farewell at the Hawthorns in May. Once Fergie’s blue-eyed Ulster boy–leading to the exit of a far superior talent in Gerard Pique–Evans, along with teammate Tom Cleverley, is the ultimate proof of the cliché that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Repeatedly positionally retarded, Evans is living proof that, no matter which videos you watch, or how much good coaching you receive, all the natural athleticism in the world can not render you intelligent. The opposite holds true for Cleverley. Although he is energetic and intelligent, he is shockingly slow and technically predictable. When scouts on the other side of the world can so readily prepare their less talented players to trivialize two of your starters, there’s a problem.

The United team which won the World Club Cup in its last appearance in the same stadium in 2008 clearly bears no resemblance to this one. Of course, the introduction to massive applause of Shinji Kagawa, was very moving for the locals and lucrative for the Glazers. Lots of Kagawa, Van Persie and Rooney replica shirts were sold. Yet Moyes started a youthful lineup. and was clearly happy early on as they fought back after suffering an early sucker-punch. Yokohama attacked straight away and David de Gea had to make an acrobatic save to deny Brazilian striker Marquinhos. But the ball was too desperately hacked-away by a leggy Patrice Evra, who is clearly just a shadow of his old self. Hanato then played the ball back into United’s penalty area for the 37-year-old Marquinos to streak past the flat-footed Evans, Jones and Evra, before slamming home. And all before a minute had ticked by.

But United tied it up after eighteen minutes as the 20-year-old Jesse Lingard played a pretty pass out wide to Wilfried Zaha,. Sprinting into Yokohama’s box, Lingard took a difficult return pass from the speedy Zaha. A desperate Masakazu Tashiro stretched to intercept the cross but Lingard was there to seize the loose ball and fire home

With United fairly bubbling with energy, Yokohama were not coping well. Repeatedly teased and trivialized by Lingard and Zaha, Tashiro went up to block a wickedly hit Adnan Januzaj free-kick. The ball glanced off Tashiro’s shoulder into the net and United took the lead in the 32nd minute.

Slowly but surely, however, the high humidity began to slow United down. With Michael Carrick injured, United have offered ample opportunities to Tom Cleverley and his partner Anderson to prove themselves. Their passing quality from central midfield proved to be awful, however. Yokohama seemed to pick off every pass. Steadily growing more and more fatigued. United still made more than a few good chances. only for the plodding Jonny Evans to squander them. How he missed a beautiful Zaha cutback which was dished right onto his foot, but which he blasted way wide despite an open goal.
Minutes later, United let it all slip as the crowd’s national hero Kagawa made his first appearance. In the midst of a wall of noise, Yokohama’s Brazilian defender Fabio leapt high and headed Nakamura’s precise curving corner home.

In the latter part of the match Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck each squandered chances repeatedly. Yet, instead of keeping up the pressure, United looked ready to settle for a draw
The Marinos tireless veteran midfielder Jim Hanato had other ideas. Hanato took the ball from the weak-tackling Cleverley and zigzagged his determined way toward United’s box. With United’s whole defense backing up, Hanato chipped a long ball straight to Yoshihito Fujita, who tapped the ball home past a a stranded David de Gea for the victory.

Aside from minor injuries to Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck, what Moyes called “wee worries,” United got away with no more than a loss. Yet with so much at stake back home in the world’s most lucrative league, and so many parallel changes in the Premiership at Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton, the new manager and his number two, Steve Round, have much to chew upon. With Vidic repeatedly injured, Evra’s legs gone and repeated lackluster ineptitude from Young, Cleverley and Anderson, they are running out of time to decide whether to cut them loose and sell them on the cheap or persevere with their presence. At worse,we should repeat last year’s Jekyll and Hyde model: Inspirational attack accompanied by a porous defense. If Moyes can find two or three pieces at the back and to bolster the midfield, United can still win it all again.

Dec 072012

Manchester United 0-1 CFR Cluj-Napoca
Chris Smalling 003 Trying to Get A ClujYou can’t beat consistency. In this case it’s the fifteenth time out of the last 23 matches when Manchester United have begun a game by falling behind. Shut up, I know a lot of you are saying. We’re top of the Premier League and won our Champions Cup group as we move on to Sunday’s derby at the Etihad Stadium. Indeed, the Champions League is now hibernating until February. Talk is cheap, so December is when you sort the pretenders from their bragadoccio, the men from the boys, and, if need be, look in your old couch for change to help use during the January transfer window.

And it’s true. There’s no urgency. United were already through as group winners and the Gaffer wisely chose to put Wayne Rooney alone on the team sheet. Picking ten other different names beside Wazza the Scouse from the club who won 4-3 win at Reading on Saturday. Indeed, Rooney looked rusty, so it was a good decision.

United started fairly well as Welbeck, Rooney and Giggs twice came close to scoring. For Giggs and his erstwhile midfield partners Nick Powell and Tom Cleverley(and later Paul Scholes) the night was hard going. The tough tacking Trannsylvanian team played it narrow, smothered United, forcing them out of their usual one-touch, pass-and-move comfort zone into something more primeval, made up of long passes and wing movement for both Rooney and Danny Welbeck, who couldn’t cope with the pressure of either connecting with his wing back partner Nicolas Büttner or having to tee-up Javier Hernandez in the box with crosses. Indeed, although Rooney has been extremely effective as both a deep-lying midfielder and a second or third off-the -shoulder striker over this season, performing as an orthodox winger was difficult.

The writing on the wall was drawn out in a garish neon when a poor clearance from Chris Smalling led to two corners. One fell to Cluj’s most effective front man, Modou Sougou, but his shot was well blocked and deflected wide by Scott Wootton. and the ensuing corner was well muffled by Rooney.64597787 016673917 1 1 Trying to Get A Cluj

40 minutes in, perhaps smelling the relief of the half time whistle, United put together a few moves. Cleverley made a neat run onto a Büttner beauty off his weaker right foot, but he botched it by tripping over his own feet. A Rooney corner was then clearly over the goal line before being plucked out of the air by their keeper Felgueiras, but the referee didn’t blow. A minute later Smalling connected well with a sweet chipped Rooney pass, but his header fell wide.

Energetic at the opening of the second half, there were loud ooh and ahhs from the crowd as an Alexander Büttner free-kick flew high over the bar and a Rooney free-kick that followed after Nick Powell was savagely felled on the very edge of the box was blocked.

United then proceeded to step on their own toes in the usual custard pie-manner. as Powell botched picking up a Scholes pass. Dispossessed cleverly by Luis Alberto, he froze and watched slack-jawed as the Brazilian skipped past two defenders before letting loose a 25-yard bazooka that David de Gea mistimed diving for before clipping the left post and flying in to give the Romanian champions the lead.

A certain Scottish mystery novelist from Dundee told me that when the good Lord Ferg is feeling down in the dumps it’s either Frank Sinatra’s The Best of the Capitol Years that goes on, which didn’t surprise me at all, or, much more interestingly, Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Now that gives me a picture. The Gaffer , wearing nothing but a white cotton t-shirt and tighty-whities, parked in front of the three-way mirror with ‘California’ all cranked up as he gets his rosy visage on along with his falsetto to sadly keen, “They won’t give peace a chance/It was just a dream some of us had!” There’s that and the post-match press conference on Wednesday night where he said, “If we can beat City on Sunday, it will certainly be one of my greatest feats as a manager ever!” And, of course, naturally, in his own, uniquely insincere and hyper-narcissistic manner, his rival manager, Roberto Mancini, throws out smoke bombs of his own, claiming that “Manchester United are clearly the favorites” and “we are vastly overrated!”

Clearly United players have the motivation to prepare themselves for Sunday’s game at City with the memory of the humiliation of last year’s 6-1 loss at Old Trafford still fresh on their minds. Things could have been better better against Cluj, but looking at it in a more unbiassed journalistic way, United’s insipid loss was a historical triumph for Cluj. Well, that and the solid young confidence that glimmered out of the brute-strong Nicolas Büttner and Chris SmallingUnfortunately, Galatasaray’s victory over S.C. Braga meant it was not enough to take the Romanians into the knockout stages.

Canary Wounds!

 Posted by on November 18, 2012 at 12:33 pm  England, EPL, Manchester United, Norwich City
Nov 182012

N o r w i c h  C i t y 1 -0 M a n c h e s t e r U n i t e d

64213098 64213097 Canary Wounds!


My old mate Dek Furphy put it best in the text message he sent me from Carrow Road on his Blackberry: “You lot are f**k%n’ toothless. Shitteh, Barcelona, Real, Bayern or Borussia are going to disembowel you!!!” And to think I once bought Deklyn two pints!

It really was awful to watch. Between that old hack John Champion going on mockingly about how “United never lose!” and Norwich’s patient country-ass fans seen praying for the cavalry not to come and for the Lord’s blessed munificence. All of it lovingly captured by a crystal-clear eyed producer altogether aware tht there was nothing going on on the field. The whole world, craftily set up by Sir Alex Ferguson to believe United always fight back from the brink, twiddling its collective thumbs, waiting for Robin Van Persie to pull a magic wand out of his shorts and then score not one, but two last gasp miracle goals. We-ell, not this time! On a disastrous day on which no hair dryer, nor any fickle finger of fate and certainly no RVP could intervene, a limp, arrogant Manchester United side lost for the third time and gave away their lead at the top of the table with less than a whimper to Manchester City.

This was no masterpiece of courage and tactics and pluck on the part of Norwich City and their school-of-hard-knocks manager Chris Hughton. Sure, John Ruddy put in a fine turn between the sticks, but the fact is that United had less than six honest attempts on his goal. United simply don’t own the horses to intimidate even your crippled, wheelchair-bound granny when Wazza and RVP aren’t on. On their bad days this is the worst United side since the snoreworthy horrors of the Dave Sexton era. As Hughton said so succinctly after the game, Norwich, who came in with some confidence after a run of five matches unbeaten, watched United’s wonky display against Barry Bannan and Aston Villa four times over the week and were good and ready. “United no longer have the ability to play a mobile defense,” Hughton said. “Rio’s legs have gone and Evra left holes for Morrison and Pilkington to play in all day. Smalling is not one for physicality… So we used that!”

Hughton, always a breath of fresh air as a coach, up there with the loquacious Ian Holloway, got career performances out of goalie John Ruddy, his center backs, Michael Turner and Sebastian Bassong , the ever reliable Grant Holt and ex-United academy player, right winger Anthony Pilkington. Hughton inherited a tough job when he took over from Paul Lambert, but he has made them a tough, gristly sum of their parts.

As for United, missing Wayne Rooney is a pathetic excuse. “You always miss your key players but we had plenty of good players on the pitch,” he said. A disinterested Michael Carrick might as well have been wearing a yellow shirt so often did he gift them the ball. Ryan Giggs and Javíer Hernandez played like they’d each ingested a fourteen-course-meal immediately before the match. With both the usually effective Valencia and the always erratic Young each having a stinker, the pressure ratcheted up for both Rafael Da Silva and Robin Van Persie to do something/anything. Just how abysmal United were is seen by the fact that all Ruddy had to do in the first half was save a distance shot from Van Persie in the third minute and a badly miscued effort from Young in the 43rd minute. Had Grant Holt not been the big, slow carthorse that he is, two exquisite crosses by Robert Snodgrass and Javí Garrido would have already seen the Canaries two up as Smalling winced away from an advancing Holt.

Scoring for Norwich was inevitable. Most United fans were praying for it, too. If the Red Devils fall behind, the Fergiesque self-delusion goes, we’ll finally pull our finger out! At any rate, in the 60th minute, Javíer Garrido sold a couple of dummies to a slack-jawed Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs before slotting in a beautiful dive-bombing cross for a waiting Anthony Pilkington to leap high past Chris Smalling for and power nod into the net past a stranded, diving Anders Lindegaard.

The rest was all sadly predictable Norwich kept ten men behind the ball, but still managed to repeatedly paralyze United’s midfield with a series of lightning counterattacks. Striker substitute Danny Welbeck came on, missed a gaping sitter with virtually his first touch after a fine run to set him up by Valencia and, minutes later, saw a beautiful header saved by the intervention of a brave Sebastian Bassong. But even then, with seconds on the clock, the Canaries counterattacked yet again and Johnny Howson slalomed through United’s flat-footed, exhausted defense before firing wide in front of a yawning open goal. Even then, Ruddy was on the spot to block a Bassong own goal and save a long-distance Scholes effort as the whistle blew.

This was Norwich City’s second only league win over Manchester United ever. A third loss so early in the season is not good. Yet Chelsea also managed to lose and their defense may be even more brittle than our own. The looming game against Manchester City increases in importance so early in the season by tenfold.

With a trip looming to Istanbul for a match against Galatasaray on Tuesday, what Lord Ferg will do next is interesting to conjecture upon. For those of us already worried that Evra and Ferdinand are now more or less done there was comfort in the news of the imminent return of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to shore up a thus far mediocre Jonny Evans. Now that both Evans and Smalling seem to have been found out by the whole Premiership for being tactically naïve and physically shy, the pressure for a quick return by the injury-prone Nemanja Vidic also increases. There will be a ton of angst, weltschmerz and just plainold unreasonable expectation heaped  onto Phil Jones’ shoulders right away. Let’s hope he can handle it.

At Home in Braga

 Posted by on November 9, 2012 at 12:39 pm  Blogs/Media, England, European Champions League
Nov 092012

S.C. Braga 1 -3 Manchester United
Manchester United 001 At Home in BragaThe football Gods were definitely on the side of Manchester United again, as, after falling behind 1-0, the Portuguese city of Braga’s electricity grid temporarily burned out after relentless Manchester-type winter rain, seemingly exported from the Pennines, stopped the match for more than 14 minutes. After this second break and a second go-around for Sir Alex Ferguson as master-motivator, the Red Devils clawed their way back from yet another deficit to win 3-1 and be the first team reach the last sixteen of the European Champions league along with Malaga. The winners of Group H, United are still playing quite badly defensively, but making up for it with both good luck and a ruthless penchant for goal scoring.

United began the game against Braga just as they had done at Old Trafford, falling behind 0-2 before winning 3-2. Unable to put any sustained passing movement together, United’s midfield and attacked stalled repeatedly on the slippery pitch in the torrential rain as Braga practiced a simple, minimalist counterattacking game. Early on, Eder, who carried on his ownership of a positionally clueless and physically intimidated Jonny Evans, was easily able to nip in between Valencia and Evans, only to narrowly miss with a hard low shot. Soon after, with the back four on the ropes, Anderson and Rooney were trying to cover every blade of grass to plug the holes. Scatterbrained, leaving holes in their back line, United just couldn’t cope with Eder, who  was able to play with his back to goal, orchestrating a couple of fine 25-yarders which Ruben Micael blasted narrowly wide. Then in the 22nd minute, Hugo Viana squared a beauty to an again unmarked Eder whose header rattled off the post.

Meanwhile only Evans came close for United, rising high to softly head a Valencia cross into the arms of Braga’s keeper Beto. And although United looked anemic throughout the first half, they also seemed impeccably calm, especially the grand old warhorse Ryan Giggs and a returning Chris Smalling, whose self-confidence seemed to grow as the rain increased.

The match changed five minutes into the second half, however, as Braga took the lead. With the big tricky Custodio slaloming in on him, Jonny Evans stood still rather than try to play-act his way out of the situation by sticking a toe toward the ball or turning away. Instead, the Portuguese plowed into Evans and there was no verdict the referee could have reached other than the inevitable, pointing at the spot. Alan smashed the penalty home and, portentously, the volume of rainfall seemed to increase tenfold.

It was indeed a portent of something. With the rain coming down in a torrential haze, this beautiful but dark stadium, hewed out of a cliff face, suddenly went pitch- black. The floodlights failed and the two teams left the field. Perhaps there are Grecian-style Gods living on top of the cliff, probably not; but, from then on, despite being at home, everything went wrong for S.C. Braga. When play resumed thirteen minutes later, it became a new game.

With the more experienced Rio Ferdinand brought on for the hapless Evans, Rafael introduced in the right back spot, and, in the 64th minute, the talismanic Robin Van Persie introduced, United became transformed. Thus, in the 73rd minute, Anderson fired a long sloping free kick off in a high arc for Van Persie to run down. The ruthless Dutch goal machine saw their goalkeeper Beto sprint forward to engage him for some inexplicable reason, trapped the ball and fired a long, slow chip over his head into the net to tie matters up.64000965 manutd111 At Home in Braga

A draw would have been enough to see United through, but a taste of a tiring Braga’s team’s blood was an aphrodisiac. The withdrawal of Danny Welbeck for Van Persie sewed panic in Braga’s defense. Dealing with the Dutch assassin and the speedy Javíer Hernandez led to them jamming ten men into the box and trying to double up their marking on the two front men. This gave Wayne Rooney license and space to move up. And in the 85th minute, well set up by Rafael, Wazza skipped by two defenders as he reconnoitered for shooting space and was desperately upended by Nuño Coelho. It took a minute for the referee, Arno Brych, to confer with his linesmen, but, ultimately, he pointed to the spot. United fans throughout the world held their collective breath as Rooney made his run up and slid in the mud as he took his shot.The ball went in to the top corner of the net despite Rooney’s awkward moment and United had the lead.

With a devastated Braga licking their wounds, the Red Devils placed a cherry on top of a beautiful ice cream sundae as Rooney made yet another brilliant run into the box, firing an exquisite seeing-eye pass to Chicharito, who rounded a diving Beto before almost blowing it. Shooting too gently, the Mexican saw the ball bounce off Coelho and then bounce again into a melée of arms an legs on the three yard-line before he was able to recover and stab the ball home with his toe to make it 3-1.

As bad as United looked in this match until the rain delay, one also couldn’t help but observe a regal calmness. The improvement of the back line once the quick, technically proficient Chris Smalling found himself accompanied by the slow, but wise old owl, Rio Ferdinand. is inestimable. Back from injury after fracturing his metatarsal in preseason, Smalling is a sight for sore eyes. Knock on wood, with Phil Jones also on the cusp of rejoining the squad, things can only get better. This predilection for sloppy defense and a dependence on a brilliant forward line still ties my stomach up in knots and makes my heat palpitate, but Manchester United are indeed finally starting to look like themselves!!!63999910 155720040 At Home in Braga

Throwing Some Sweat on the Fire

 Posted by on July 25, 2011 at 4:24 pm  Uncategorized
Jul 252011
Nani Throwing Some Sweat on the Fire

Chicago Fire 1-3 Manchester United

The highlight of this game came just as the whistle blew. as a sweaty Nani  executed a spectacular somersault to celebrate the third United goal of the game, a sweet clincher l in the 88th minute.  The man sitting directly behind  me, his sun-scolded face as raw and ruddy as the replica shirt he was wearing, broke the seat he was jumping up and down on. United’s win may not have been nearly  as impressive as their last outing on the US Tour, but at least the Red Devils’ were tested this time out. Shvitzing hot and sweaty it was, and United, who looked rather anemic in the first half, nevertheless proved themselves to be fit, wilting and able in spite of the 94 F  heat and the  high midwestern humidity. Well prepared by their interim coach Frankie Klopas, the Fire hung in there, tackle for tackle and shot for shot, until midway through the second half.

Header Throwing Some Sweat on the FireHaving liberally tested everyone else in the squad, Sir Alex Ferguson took the opportunity to blood new signings Phil Jones and goalkeeper David de Gea. It was also  season debut time for  late arrivals Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck. Given the wickedly hot temperature–it was 115 F on the pitch–a lot of kudos has to go to Gabriel Obertan, who,  starting for the first time of the tour, ran non-top  After an indifferent season, the Frenchman made it clear that he wants to stay with the club and showed himself very much willing to compete with the logjam of wingers in the United squad. All desire and energy, he repeatedly set up the ever languid barely interested Dimitar Berbatov with a pair of  early chances. Indeed, on five separate occasions, Berbatov came close. Still, Obertan and a hard running Danny Welbeck dominated for United in a first half , which surely gave the Gaffer much food for thought.

Surprisingly, against the run of play, in the 13th minute, the Fire scored the opener as a crafty Cory Gibbs charged between the stationary center back pairing of Smalling and Jones and rose above both to carefully place a fine header into the top corner from an exquisite lobbed pass by Marco Pappa. For this one moment, United’s new goalie David  de Gea  did not cover himself with glory, hesitating a little about leaving his line. Naturally the crowd went crazy and at last a real match was on.

Chicago’s confidence .ballooned an they began testing Jones, Smalling and de Gea repeatedly. And de Gea made fantastic reflex save after a fantastic bit of pizzazz from Pappa. Indeed, when the whistle blew for half time, United, who seemed to have nobody aggressive in its midfield, were lucky to not be at least two down.

For the second half Ferguson brought on Jonny Evans, Ryan Giggs, Anderson, Wayne Rooney and Ji-Sung Park at the expense of  Fabio, Tom Cleverley, Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov and Mame Diouf, all of whom disappointed. Ryan Giggs, the eternal Welsh wizard, was spectacular, controlling the center of midfield from the get-go.  Two minutes in, his gorgeous chip found  Smalling, who blasted a beautiful angled shot  into the net only to be called offside after a late late whistle. The Fire then missed a couple of chances as Evans and Ferdinand also seemed to wilt in the heat.  Yet  Ferdinand seemed to shrug the weather off,  holding the ball well, keeping it, pushing forward, cajoling his tired teammates and venturing forward.  And 60 minutes in,  it was Rio who split Chicago’s defense with a perfect lob, finding  Wayne Rooney, who let it bounce and then lifted tit over the Fire’s stranded goalie Jon Conway for the equalizer.

With the initiative well and truly in the hands of United, the Reds still had to endure one final scare before really getting it together. Midfielder Pappa beat Ferdinand before firing a shot toward United’s goal which beat de Gea, but slammed into the  side netting. Then, out of nowhere, Rafael, the Brazilian live wire, galloped down the right lank, took a terrific pass from the hard running Rooney, before executing a clever one-two with Nani, shimmied away from his two markers, before firing home a lovely finish through the legs of Fire goalkeeper Conway. It was a lovely goal to behold and one that the packed house deserved as a reward for attendance.

Minutes later, the Cape Verdean winger Nani  came on and had his razzle-dazzle going on right away. After prompting  multiple ooh-ahs out of the crowd, Nani finally scored with two minutes remaining on the lock. Gathering up  the ball on the right Nani, took off for goal and found  Rooney. The ball bounced off a Chicago defender, however, and bounced  back to Nani, ricocheting conveniently back into his path. Nani then waited for the keeper to charge him  down before lobbing it over Conway.

Truth be told, the 3-1 score was tough on on Chicago, but, taking the relentlessness of the heat into consideration, United had something to celebrate, too.  Rooney, Giggs and Ferdinand all impressed tremendously.  Giggs genuinely seems to still be enjoying his football tremendously, perhaps because he’s been able to avoid the savage British tabloid press in the U.S.  Rio Ferdinand, much maligned over losing the national team’s captain’s badge, suffered from injuries over a substantial part of last season. With Evans, Smalling and Jones around to pick up the slack for him now, Ferdinand was at his happiest bringing the ball upfield. He looks to definitely have at least one more good season in him.

Meanwhile, Wayne Rooney looks about as effervescent as he’s ever been in a United kit. He seems to be getting more and more used to bringing the ball up from midfield, acting as more of an attacking midfield pulse for the team. Indeed, Ronny genuinely seems to be enjoying his current role. If Ferguson fails to find a quality Summer replacement for Paul Scholes in the transfer market, I for one think an experiment with Rooney in the hole behind  any two or one of Macheda, Welbeck, Berbatov and Hernandez, looks like it could work.