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The Beautiful Number 20!

 Posted by on April 24, 2013 at 12:27 pm  Aston Villa, Blogs/Media, England, Manchester United
Apr 242013

Manchester United 3-0 Aston Villa
Manchester United celebra 006 The Beautiful Number 20!Ah! Where to begin? Twenty minutes after the end of the match Sir Alex Ferguson is bowing to the Stretford End while, across the field, Robin Van Persie is encircled by the Dutch press, both of them serenaded by Queen’s We Are the Champions. Is this the same crowd–most of them clad in the green and yellow striped scarves of M.U.S.T. protest–that has repeatedly voiced so much ambivalence about their manager’s unrelenting support for the club’s American owners, the Glazer family? On the night, resentments have been set to one side. They adore him and he adores them back. As with most families. The relationships may be fractious and sometimes truculent, but the club is beloved by all in their own way and winning the championship back is sweet to all and sundry.
Meanwhile, Robin Van Persie is being adored and assaulted with questions by a Nederlander press corps he talks to on a first name basis. An old aquaintance from Rotterdam, Henk Van Sleewanhoek, who has , I’m told, been his tormenter since leaving Arsenal for United instead of (the journo’s preference) Juventus gets the most attention.
“Did you ever think you’d come out of your dry spell of terrible misses?” the cheeky writer asks.
“I was worried,” says Robin. “I was not sleeping.”
“So this hat-trick you scored must feel fantastic.”
“I have never been so happy, This is my greatest day ever as a player and the first time in my career I have ever won a championship. No thanks to you, Henk!”
I only mention all this because I caught it all on the iPad of a Dutch friend. A long time mate and a fellow United fan, Jaapie has been following Van Persie’s career since way before he signed for Feyenoord in the Eredvisie. With a history of never ever having played a full season of football until last season’s contract year, Van Persie had been thought of as an inconsistently brilliant. An awesome talent who, like his compatriot, Arjen Robben, was unable or unwilling to play through pain. United paid a fee of £24m and wages of £220,000 per week for a player who was too often hurt and it seemed like no bargain at all, especially because he was taking up a place in the squad vacated by the departure to Fulham of Ferguson’s grand folly, the consistently inconsistent Dimitar Berbatov. Well, we were as wrong can be! Van Persie has been as brilliant as a newly discovered sun appearing in the firmament out of some black hole. Beyond the spectacular goals he has scored is his place as the best Manchester United table-setter I have ever seen. A brilliant taker of corners and free-kicks his clever linkup play has been instrumental in the improvement of Wayne Rooney, who is now a more complete player than ever before; Javíer Hernandéz, who is becoming better and better at screening the ball and setting up teammates; even the sometimes out-of-control ungainly presence of Danny Welbeck has been much improved by playing in his proximity.
Robin Van Persie celebrat 003 The Beautiful Number 20!

Of course, there were hints of this at the last World Cup. Especially when RVP, alongside Wesley Sneijder and Rafael Van Der Vart dismantled Brazil’s self-anointed Samba machine. A great player for the great occasion, Van Persie arrived at Old Trafford on Monday afternoon about as ready as ready has ever been. Having won the championship nineteen times and having blown it big-time a year ago on, of all things, goal average, United played like a team of destiny. This has not always been the case over a surprisingly inconsistent season, but United wanted to clinch at home, especially considering next week away match away at United’s long time rivals Arsenal, who just happen, in case you live in a vacuum and don’t know, to be Robin Van Persie’s old club. Primed and prepareed, thy were a red steamroller determined to be reunited with their trophy. And with Robin van Persie playing at his maximum exquisite artistic best, it seemed apt and altogether natural that he would completely dominate the match. Indeed, it felt appropriate that the Dutchman should be so transcendent and dominant on the night.

Van Persie might not win the individual honors but he has certainly had the greatest impact of any player on the Premier League this season and his first-half hat-trick, taking him to 24 league goals, saw him leapfrogging Luis Suárez as the leading scorer in the division. And having just been suspended from playing for ten games after a biting offense against Chelsea’s Bronislav Ivanovic in Sunday’s 2-2 tie, Suarez will clearly not win this year’s Golden Boot award. Such accolades and awards are well deserved by Van Persie who is clearly the best striker playing in England. In the match, he was everything, the warhead of United’s multi-faceted attacking game, a constant menace. It seems absurd to think that making it feel like a trick of the imagination that only one week ago he was overreacting to chances, devastated by a short, debilitating patch where he couldn’t score.

Going in with a 13-point lead, Ferguson set the team up with Wayne Rooney as its play making fulcrum. Inspired as much as Van Persie, it seems, Rooney was both a bodyguard for the brilliant-but-brittle Michael Carrick and an inspired passer. If Paul Lambert’s pack of young midfield jackals pressed him, Rooney would execute short and square to the Geordie greyhound. If they tried to cut off Carrick, Rooney was ready and waiting to ping Ginger Prince-style long, probing chip shots from United’s half. And poor Villa, who have let in a grand nightmare total of 64 goals this season were simply powerless to resist.

Two minutes in and Manchester United needed to be nervous no more. A long seeing-eye pass from Rooney found Antonio Valencia on the right. Rafael Da Silva swept up behind the Ecuadorian in support, jinking this way and that toward Villa’s box before finding the Old Master, Ryan Giggs, at the far post. Giggs casually squared his cross into Van Persie’s path out of a clawing Brad Guzan’s reach and, only two steps off the goal line, the Dutchman fired a simple tapper home.
Villa were already gob smacked and semi-destroyed. Four minutes later. Surrounded after picking up a Carrick chip, RVP fired a thirty-yarder of a volley over Guzan’s bar by a bare inch. He was just warming up. however. As if on cue, eleven minutes later, Rooney and van Persie gave us a bit of oo-wah-wow up there with Cantona and the blessed Trinity. Wazza dished up a superb curving chip that Van Persie somehow timed his run onto with a perfect moment of synchronization for the ages. Looking up, he somehow calculated the spinning trajectory of the ball and his perfect left-footed volley, as pure a piece of combined power and execution as I’ll ever see, went flying past Villa’s frozen, open mouthed goalie into the net. Did anyone ever make it look so simple? What followed, his victory run from one end of the pitch to the other with a victorious arm raised, really was the stuff of which legends are made.

For most of the half, Manchester united was a thing of beauty. Giggs repeatedly mugging and nutmegging poor Matthew Lowton. Carrick and Rooney grinning as the crowd sang their songs between marvelous examples of the passer’s art, ran Villa ragged. The sight of Giggsy out sprinting a player sixteen years his junior was the stuff of dreams. And in the midst of a familiar Stretford End serenade about Le Maitre Cantona, the Red Devils struck again.

33 minutes in, Rooney and the casually fluid Shinji Kagawa double one-two’d it in midfield and Giggs was free and clear of his marker Ron Vlar on the left. Robin Van Persie picked up his cross, snaked past Brad Guzan, and utilizing his brilliantly cool, cruel acumen, ignoring the four defenders around him, feinted toward a sprinting Lowton, shifted his balance to his right and pushed the ball home.

To the chagrin of many of the celebrating fans, United eased off the accelerator from then on. The boys taking it light and easy, especially after the interval. Villa launched themselves back into things and, even though they own no worthwhile defensive quality beyond the Job-like sufferings of Ron Vlar, Paul Lambert’s kids gave it a good go. Indeed, Ferguson was angry enough at Patrice Evra for repeatedly fouling a wing-heeled Kieran Westwood and receiving a yellow card that he ventured early to the touchline and gestured both his disapproval at his fading left back and his suddenly lackadaisical teammates. Indeed, Evra, already booked, was way beyond lucky that the referee, Anthony Taylor, did not punish a pair of brutal tackles from behind on both N’Zogbia and Weimann. Van Persie even became a defensive hero late in the match when he headed away a superb shot from Andreas Weimann off the goal line.

From then on it was all party. And clearly, had United put their war faces on again, many more goals could have been scored. Still, both Rooney and Kagawa saw their shots rattle off the bar. Having clinched with the win at home against Villa following Manchester City’s loss to Tottenham Hotspur, the challenge now, with four matches left is to beat out Chelsea’s best ever Premier League tally of 96 points.lRobin van Persie 002 The Beautiful Number 20!

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.


United Thoroughly Dominate Everton!

 Posted by on February 12, 2013 at 1:42 pm  England, EPL, Everton, Manchester United
Feb 122013

Manchester United 2-0 Everton
65810959 65810957 1 United Thoroughly Dominate Everton!“I can sometimes be a slow learner,” Sir Alex Ferguson said in a rare interview with the BBC broadcast on Thursday. It was an interesting comment, not so much because it showed the old warrior’s unique mode of integrity or the hurt he feels at only having won only two European Champions’ Leagues. The utter humiliations of last season’s second-place finish to Manchester City accompanied by a 6-2 home loss to the Abu Dhabian sky-blue rent boys genuinely left a scar. United have a 12-point advantage with just 12 games to go, but last season’s choke at the very death of the season seems to have genuinely pushed Britain’s greatest veteran manager to reassess his status and methodology as a coach. The loss at Old Trafford to City was painful, but, worse, in its own way, was a humbling draw at home to Everton after his team had been leading 4-2 going into the last five minutes of the match before finishing 4-4. That game and a nightmare first fixture this season at Goodison Park in which the Toffees were allowed to bully and intimidate a passive, mentally detached United team still slowly awakening from a Summer of sloth. Even the most vocal pro-United pundits, like The Guardian’s Daniel Taylor began pushing the panic button early this season.

Well, it has taken awhile, and United have been far from brilliant all season, but on Sunday night Everton were comfortably dominated and defeated by a team playing like a team. The cliché may indeed be that there is no ‘I’ in team, but United were well and truly kept on a tight leash by their boss. And for those expecting something sloppy and lackadaisical after last week’s shoddy victory over Southampton, it was no such thing. With Phil Jones given the single, urgent errand of marking the awkward, troublesome Marouane Fellaini, Everton’s star performer never got into the game. Indeed, the Moroccan midfielder was so frustrated that he was hacking down any United player in his vicinity and more than a little fortunate not to see red from the referee Mark Halsey. Forced to drop deep to see any of the ball, he was not a factor in the game at all.

Meanwhile, playing out of his skin, the awesome 39-years-young Ryan Giggs ended up scoring for the 23rd season in a row. A thorn in Everton’s side all day, the wise Welsh wizard was, like Wayne Rooney, all over the field throughout proceedings. Taken along with Manchester City’s defeat at Southampton, United did not look like a team capable of self-destructing and losing their twelve point cushion at the top of the Premier League. And although many fans are praying  for United to self-destruct once again, no such thing is going to happen.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Dav 005 1 United Thoroughly Dominate Everton!United dominated from the very beginning. and the Toffees were never even close to finding their rhythm when their usually foolproof offside trap went awry only ten minutes in as Phil Neville went after a hard-running Wayne Rooney a second too early, which allowed Robin Van Persie the time to round Tim Howard and stare at an open goal before forcing a massive collective ‘Ooooh!’ out of the crowd by shooting awkwardly with his weaker right foot and hitting the outside of the post. But, only three minutes later , John Heitinga, only playing because of a late injury to Sylvain Distin, failed to stop a header from Valencia after a superbly passed set-up by Rafael Da Silva. The ball fell to Van Persie who tapped it sideways to an unmarked Ryan Giggs who rolled the ball in off the post with a neat poke from his right toe.

Still, even though they were severely blunted without the bustle of Fellaini up front, Everton were still a threat and both Leon Osman and Kevin Miralles forced yeoman defensive work out of David De Gea and Nemanja Vidic. Then, right on the stroke of half-time, United beat Everton’s offside trap once again as a beautiful seeing-eye pass, again from Rafael beat Neville, found Van Persie and the ruthless striker rounded Tim Howard again, making no mistake this time, firing home despite a desperate diving move from Heitinga to block it.
United held on to their lead well in the second half, playing a superb game of reactive football throughout. and both goalkeepers made a series of splendid saves throughout. Instead of worrying about Real Madrid on Wednesday I am relishing the prospect of a football feast. Now that they are playing their best football in two seasons, United are clearly about as ready for this fixture as it;’s possible for them to be.

As Everton’s manager David Moyes put it after the match. “It’s only our fourth league defeat this season and I would say it is the only game where a better team has beaten us.“Ryan Giggs scores the fir 008 United Thoroughly Dominate Everton!

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


 Posted by on February 1, 2013 at 3:49 pm  England, EPL, Manchester United, Southampton
Feb 012013

Manchester United 2-1 Southampton
article 2271000 174258BC000005DC 843 634x424 Sanctified!Manchester United made hard work out of what should have been an easy victory at Old Trafford against Southampton. We have won pretty and won ugly this season. This win was something in between, a sort of zombie walkabout broken into periodically by Southampton’s awkward young team of blossoming journeymen. Like a sleep-deprived medical intern coming to the end of a 96-hour shift, United seemed to punctuate long bouts of shiftless indolence with flashes of inspiration and urgency. Nevertheless, they somehow got the job done, putting themselves seven points ahead of an even more lethargic Manchester City, who were held to a draw by Queen’s Park Rangers. Indeed, poor Mike Phelan, who seemed to spend the night shuffling between the Gaffer’s throne and the team technical area, spent a lot more time than usual barking out orders and looked just as knackered as his players when Lee Mason blew his final whistle. Better yet, with Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur also being held to draws, the status quo of two weeks ago was restored and Fergie’s boys find themselves well and truly in the driver’s seat.

United were stunned only two minutes in when a dreadful Michael Carrick back-pass was stared at and dithered upon by David de Gea as the Southampton striker Jay Rodriguez took control of the errant ball, swerved around the Spaniard and fired the visitors into the lead with a nice diagonal effort. Caught, bang-to-rights in the middle of singing ‘Glory Glory Man United!” the Stretford End went deathly silent for a pregnant minute before regrouping impressively. At that awful moment, the body language of De Gea, who has been relentlessly vilified by .his former teammate Gary Neville and an army of football journos was sad to behold.

Not that the Saints’ had long to enjoy their precious lead, though. Five minutes later United went level as Carrick wiped the sleepies from the corners of his eyes and, stole the ball away from Gaston Ramirez with a an uncharacteristically crisp, snapping tackle.He then executed did the kind of zigzag sprint fans are unused to seeing in our midfield these days and fired off a pass that was intercepted by Schneiderlin, but bounced away into the path of an advancing. The fleet-footed Japanese then slid a clever pass in behind their defense that Rooney confidently ran into before shooting gently past Artur Boruc and Carrick was redeemed.

Temporarily wide awake, United simply overran their opposition . And when a stupid Ramirez foul inside the box gifted Robin Van Persie a free kick 26 minutes in, Rooney was in the exact perfect spot to tap home the result of the Dutchman’s perfect high pass to Evra for him to head down.

Little can be said about the rest of the match which is worthwhile. Kagawa, Evra, Van Persie (twice) and the perpetual-motion-machine which is Danny Welbeck, all squandered easy-peasy chances, both before and after Rooney’s second. And when Kagawa hit Boruc’s right post from close range after Rooney dinked the ball through to him, Rooney’s verbal barrage of red-faced clearly vented frustration at the wanton, wastefulness of his colleagues was clear for all to see and hear. Of course, Southampton owed a lot to the first-rate goalkeeping of Artur Boruc, but United never seemed quite ruthless enough on the night to go beyond their two early goals. Indeed, the chorus of oohs and ahhs reached a frustrated crescendo as brilliant pirouette followed by a slick layoff from Kagawa fed Van Persie, only for him to put his foot through the ball, blasting it way high over the bar.

Mauricio Pochettino, in only his second game as boss of the Saints, must be well aware that his weak young squad is deeply mired in and around the bottom four teams in the the Premier League. Well aware that his side truly had their backs to the wall, the Argentine rang the changes at half time, replacing Jason Puncheon and Gaston Ramírez with Steven Davis and Adam Lallana in midfield. Very much encouraged by the reticence of both Carrick and Anderson to tackle in their own half, a speedy young Southampton side suddenly began exuding confidence as Rickie Lambert had a shot brilliantly saved by De Gea. Schneiderlin, Lambert and Rodriguez all took advantage of Patrice Evra’s inability to double-clutch and run. Luckily all three were equally inept at executing the final coup-de-grace. After Welbeck conceded a corner to Evra’s master, the brilliant young Natty Clyne , Rooney was forced to concede a second. Having shrugged off Smalling, Lambert leapt high over United’s defense but somehow miraculously conspired against himself to head down Schneiderlin’s beautiful floating corner ball and, still unmarked, with all the time in the world, blast wide of the goal.

With United truly on the ropes for the first 30 minutes of the second half, De Gea almost bollixed his job up again as Schneiderlin’s lightly hit 25-yard free-kick was bobbled and six Southampton players charged toward him for the rebound. Luckily, he recovered and when, minutes later, Robin van Persie looked to have put the Red Devils’ 3-1 up with a strike off a superb Wayne Rooney cross, there was a chorus of boos as the referee blew for a controversial offside after consulting with his assistants.

Last, but not least, was the moment of nail-biting drama as, with seconds to go, the gazelle-quick De Gea well and truly redeemed himself for Southampton’s opener with a fine reflex save off a superb Rickie Lambert free-kick.

“The truth is that they were the better side,” Sir Alex Ferguson said after the match. “They actually did us a service, because they showed up all our defensive deficiencies all at once.”
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