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Dec 312012

“I’d rather win ugly than lose pretty!”———-Bobby Bowden

Manchester United 2 -0 West Bromwich Albion
Manutdvwestbromdec12 large Nemanja Vidic Inspires United in His Return to Old TraffordA lot of folks hate games like this last match of the year at Old Trafford, but, frankly, not me! I’m not just happy to see the Red Devils grind out an ugly win on a rainy Manc night, I’m bloody ecstatic. With skipper Nemanja Vidic having returned to his home spot as pivot after being gone for close to a year, United’s anemic defense finally seems to have received the disciplinary jolt it needed. Even the perpetually donkey-brained, positionally vacant Jonny Evans looked clearly both petrified and inspired by the presence of Vidic beside him and the determined Serb’s willingness to strategically place his boot up the Belfast bollix’s butt.

West Bromwich Albion, who have been at best diligent and slick and, at worse, snoringly defensive over the season so far, proved to be worthy opponents in the game’s second half. Playing without their awesome defensive line featuring James Morrison, Yussef Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob, made the Baggies fairly toothless, yet they still managed to give United a scare.. Nevertheless, the bottom line, especially if you asked Sir Alex Ferguson, would be that the club are happy to take a boring win and a seven point lead at the top of the Premier League over last New Year’s Day travesty, when United lost to the shockingly bad bottom-of -the-league Blackburn Rovers and began their inexorable slide toward second place.

Nevertheless, before Robin van Persie fired home his exquisite curving clincher in the 90th minute after coming on as a late substitute, United had looked more and more nervous and under seige as the referee’s watch ticked down. With Wayne Rooney injured, the Gaffer still chose to rest Van Persie, and let Danny Welbeck play up front with a returning Shinji Kagawa riding his shoulder. The passive/aggressive Welbeck was brilliant at moments, stultifyingly inept in others. More often than not, unable to hold the ball while venturing into his predictable spin moves at the very edge of the box., Welbeck is enigmatic at best. What Ferguson wil choose to do with him next season is anybody’s guess.

United were lucky to get away with a penalty box scare only two minutes in as the referee Jon Cross gifted an aggressive Chris Smalling the benefit of the doubt after he gave the Baggies’ striker Shane Long a hard shove. Four minutes later, Shinji Kagawa and Ashley Young traded a clever one-two of remarkable foot speed before Young’s speculative low cross was deflected past his own goalie Ben Foster by Gareth McAuley to make it 1-0.

Kagawa was excellent in his first game back from injury, coming close to setting up a second for Young 30 minutes in as his gorgeous chip found Valencia on the right flank. Valencia’s cross then found Young, who had a pile driver fantastically saved by Ben Foster at full stretch. Foster, who always performs like an obsessed demon against his old club, nearly botched it just before the half time whistle, however, allowing a marauding Welbeck room enough to charge down a clearance from a poor back pass by Gareth McAuley, freezing up as the loose ball couldn’t be controlled by Welbeck and rolled to safety rather than into the empty net. Over the rest of the half, David De Gea did nothing but yawn. Albion were only up for one good run from Peter Odemwingie which fizzled out of its own volition, and a dreadful pair of dud free kicks from the disappointing Chrissy Brunt which caused United little hassle.

What Sir Alex Ferguson said to his team at the break must remain a mystery, but it was surely the anti-hair dryer. Content to play pitty-pat with the ball during repeated periods of bland football and wasted possession, United spent much time passing the ball backwards as if it were a rugby league match with neither Cleverley nor his partner Michael Carrick making much of an impression at all. Perhaps the Gaffer wanted Jonny Evans to get a maximum number of touches to boost his confidence; nevertheless, a number of these weak touches came close to being pounced upon, especially once the clever James Morrison came on as a sub.

At any rate, the Baggies’ confidence grew slowly as Chris Brunt had a long shot saved, then a more familiar rocket blast blocked by Patrice Evra. Meanwhile, United couldn’t score. Young, Welbeck and Kagawa all missed sitters so that, .65 minutes in, the frustration got to Ferguson too and he took off Kagawa for Van Persie. And although Morrison inspired manager Steve Clarke to bring on strikers Fortuné and Lukaku, their joint efforts saw Vidic ratchet up his defensive line, screaming instructions at his teammates like a latter-day Robbo or Keano. And despite giving up a few strategically questionable free kicks, Evans and Evra proved up to the task and the brave warrior’s example offered up by the excellent Vidic and Smalling. who were both splendid throughout

Late in, as West Brom began to tire, United’s counterattacking tendencies became increasingly venomous. Over the last five minutes Robin Van Persie had a shot brilliantly saved by Foster and then, with an optimum piece of splendid trickery, put through a fine pass to Welbeck which the young Manc striker failed to control. Then, right on the cusp of injury time,Van Persie turned magician again, pirouetting to create space for himself after retrieving a blocked shot from substitute Paul Scholes. Seemingly defying physics, RVP kept moving in a deft diagonal line before findng space and firing a left-footed curler from the edge of the area past the flying Foster.

It was a dagger to West Bromwich Albion’s heart and left their blood and guts pulsing out onto the pitch. On such performances championships are won and lost. More of the same, it seems to this author, is infinitely preferable to the cardiac kid capers we’ve all become familiar with this crazy season so far.65005257 rvp getty Nemanja Vidic Inspires United in His Return to Old Trafford

Sassy Swans Outhustle United!

 Posted by on December 24, 2012 at 1:01 pm  European Champions League
Dec 242012

9cf6b3a8 68f4 4748 ba50 99662eda319e 140 Sassy Swans Outhustle United!Swansea City 1 -1 Manchester United
Manchester United were simply too inept in front of goal to maintain their six-points lead over Manchester City. Well and truly thwarted at the noisy Liberty stadium on Sunday by Swansea’s gutsy, youthful show of commitment. More often than not United looked jaded and bored; their collective lack of commitment against ‘smaller’ teams and lazy dependence on the club’s forward line once again telegraphed like a beacon to each opponent they face

United scored early enough that it seemed to hurt them. After the brilliant Michael Vorm–also returning for the first time after a long injury break of ten games– saved a wicked shot from Ashley Young. But Robin van Persie’s superb corner from the right was in a perfect spot for a high-leaping unmarked Evra, six yards out, to head home his third goal of the season. Yet, Swansea,  who have already beaten Arsenal and clearly view their home as a fortress, were really in a committed mood after two successive defeats. This was a very ironic moment in the game as the Swans, particularly their tough little wingers Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer made life miserable for the way past-it Evra and the positionally challenged Phil Jones, in at right back for the injured Rafael. The clueless Evra, incapable of getting close to either winger, spent the whole half commiting petty fouls on both, slowly chipping away at the good work Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick were trying to do as they had to repeatedly get back and commit to double coverage.

Playing at relentless full tilt for every second of the first half, Swansea also gave a returning Nemanja Vidic, back for almost the first time in a year, much grief. Their converted midfielder of a striker, Michu, tall, sleek and muscular, was the Serbian’s master in the first half. Able to sprint readily past Vidic and repeatedly able to spin around the slow of wit and foot Evans, Michu always looked bound to score. And, 29 minutes in, when David de Gea seemed to have plenty of time to try and smother or punch away a soft effort by Julian De Guzman, Michu was exactly in the the right place to tap home De Gea’s weak attempt to parry the ball and make it 1-1.

Shockingly, when the Welsh hustlers equalized and kept up their pressing game, United simply shut up shop. While Swansea played their pretty passing patterns, United lay back and made only one good attempt at scoring. A weak attempt at a volley by Wayne Rooney that was easily caught by Vorm. Clearly rattled when they left the field, one hoped that Fergie hair dryer time in the dressing room would save the day.

Swansea, clearly tired after their relentless pressing of United in the first half, gave up midfield to United in the second half. Somehow, however, United just could not get it together to muster up the usual moments of magic. Rooney, looking tired and hung over, was just not putting in the crisp no-nonsense passes we’ve become used to of late. And 65 minutes in, United sent on an extra striker in Javíer Hernández. Minutes later, a stupendous reflex left-footer from Van Persie fooled Vorm but clipped the crossbar, allowing the catlike Dutch goalie claw the spinning ball away with the tips of his fingers. This would prove to have been United’s best clear chance of the game and illustrative of what happens on those bad days every team has. Indeed, it is the sixth time a van Persie effort has hit the crossbar this season!

After more chances went begging from Hernandez, Van Persie and Young, Swansea, supposedly the cleanest-playing team in the Premier League, got a more than a little desperate and were very fortunate to get away with a number of vindictive petty fouls. Indeed, things almost took an explosive turn in the 75th minute when an amped- up Ashley Williams deliberately smashed the ball into the back of Robin Van Persie’s head at pointblank range, after the Dutchman had already been fouled on the edge of the penalty area by the outstanding Chico Flores. Flores, who was on a yellow card and had been repeatedly warned by the referee about his bad behavior, definitely dodged a bullet with the help of the crafty Williams. Not surprisingly, Robin Van Persie was outraged and a near riot took place. The referee, the very young James Oliver, who was less than masterly all day, saw fit to solve this little problem by giving both players yellow cards.

At that moment, with Rooney about to be substituted by Giggs, anybody but the out-of-sorts Scouse should have taken a very crucial free kick. Unfortunately Rooney’s halfhearted effort, was casually blocked by Ashley Williams. As Rooney left the field for Giggs, Williams stood there grinning, clearly aware that he had out-hustled, outfoxed and psyched out a vulnerable, psychologically troubled United side in a moment that seemed to be a metaphor for the whole match.

United kept up their relentless attacking, but Vorm, Williams and Chico Flores were all particularly outstanding all the way to the bitter end. It was, all in all, a fine, exciting match. Getting United ready for their next two games over the holidays should indeed be an exciting challenge for Sir Alex Ferguson.