Sunday 30 August 2009
This article was going to be very very different at half time…..
I wrote small sections of it in my head. About the failure of United’s 4-3-3 system as it had in the Champions League final. About the legs of Ryan Giggs no longer being able to get up the pitch in the role of attacking midfielder. About the shakiness of Michael Carrick. About Nani taking 6 minutes to cross the ball every time he was wide. About Wayne Rooney playing the role i hate him playing most…the isolated central striker. At half time, it felt like hopeless doom. And when they trotted out for the second half, and i saw no changes in formation. No substitutions. I thought it was all over. I prayed i wouldn’t have to write an article with the emphasis on “..if we had Ronaldo”
Thankfully that article is now in the mental waste bin
In what proved to be a manic game of football, full of Premiership grit and steel, United battled and out fought the Wengerboys to wrestle away the three points from the clasped hands of the North Londoners. It was not pretty. But it was effective. In fact, it was the United of old. ‘ If you cant pick the lock of your opponents door, then you simply kick it down’
I was worried when i heard the team announced as i arrived at Old Trafford. I could sense that Rooney would be isolated…both Nani and Valencia are far too conventional to play this system. They are made for 4-4-2. If the boss had played Berba up top with Rooney left and Park right, i would have got the idea…maybe even had been enthused by it. But I just felt deflated. I was happy with the rest of the team but could not see where the goals were gonna come from.
The first half was fairly even with good possession at times, but with no real attacking thrust. Rooney was frantically waving his hands as Giggs struggled to get the ball to him. At one stage there was no United player within 30 yards of Roo, so every time we attacked, Arsenal merely had to mark the space between midfield and attack…all way too easy for them. Arsenal started to look menacing as the half progressed. Arshavin was being allowed more and more space, and eventually it was this that led to the first goal. It was quite a beautiful strike, and the little Russian turned away to the crowd with his “finger to lips – shut your face” celebration…most original. The half time whistle could not come quick enough for us in the stands. Too coin a Mancunian catchphrase, it was all going pear-shaped.
During half time i stood there mentally writing bits of my article. Actor heart-throb (and United mad) Max Beesley was wheeled out onto the pitch to make the draw in the matchday raffle. He enthusiastically shouted out on the mic that United would win 2-1. I thought he was an idiot but now realise he must be the owner of the Delorian from Back to the Future. What a clever man.
The Second half was very different. United meant business and we all reacted in the stands. Rooney upped his work rate. Giggs played a more disciplined role in the game, relying on his skill rather than his physical frame. And Darren Fletcher turned into Bryan Robson. The man is immense. Nobody (except maybe the manager) could have predicted what the Scotsman would turn in to. He is the sole reason why United have not added to the central midfield this year. For me now, he is United’s first choice central midfielder…(oh if we had had him in Rome) I would have sold Fletcher 3 years ago..when he could not string a pass together and ran around like a chicken missing it’s head. But his development has been poetic…’Young man from a nation in footballing decline..has limited ability but works like a dog and it all comes good for him!’ Just brilliant. We really need to get him a song for the OT crowd…he deserves it. Even Owen Hargreaves has his “curly hair” song and he has only played about 10 minutes for the club.
I’m not really going to go into depth about United’s two goals (for this is not really a match report but a reflection of the day) Rooney’s penalty was a definite foul. Abu Diaby’s header was the best own goal i have seen in years. And Arsenal’s 95th minute equalizer was a country mile offside in the first phase of play (the second phase of play – Van Persie’s shot at goal, was directly influenced by the first phase, so the offside stands) I wrote an article on my blog some weeks ago about the Madness of King Wenger. His reaction on the sidelines convinced me that Arsenal’s stoppage time effort must have been onside, but this was corrected when i saw the replay. The man is barmy! Yes, get upset when you definitely know something is wrong. But he would have seen the replay on the touchline. Him standing on the roof of the old tunnel will live in the memory of many United fan who witnessed it for years to come. One of football’s classy statesmen, once again allowing old age to effect his decision making, and hence treading on his own reputation as Brian Clough did in his later years (Punching fans, wearing green jumpers, being pissed, etc, etc) Arsene may yet have the last laugh, for his team played some good stuff and have started the season well…but the same problems that were there the day before the season started are all still there and cannot be clouded by some pretty, mathmatically formulated football.
But just for now….we have the bragging rights
Saturday 22 August 2009
Monday 17 August 2009
And heres the chant we all love to sing:
"Hes half a boy, Hes half a boy, Torres..Torres
He looks just like a transvestite, Torres..Torres
He wears a frock, he loves some cock, he sells his arse down Albert docks
Fer-nan-do Tor-res. Carraghers bit on the side"
Manchester United 1 Birmingham City 0
There was a subdued air about Old Trafford on Sunday. Although the loses of United’s two latin megastars has been apparent for sometime now, this first opportunity for the new look United (well, not so new look if you look at the squad!) to shine in front of The Faithful was a red letter day…and what the crowd found out was not much had changed..
Despite the game only ending 1-0, there was enough creativity, movement and flair (albeit without much finishing product) to suggest that The Red Devils will beat most teams again this season. Rooney and Berbatov clicked beautifully at times in the front position, again both playing at the top of a 4-4-2 formation. In fact, Mike Phelan (United’s assistant manager) confirmed after the game that they had instructed Roo to “stop going wide to pick up the ball”….something which i have bemoaned about when ‘The White Pele’ has previously played as the central striker, and had not held his position. Berbatov’s contribution is becoming evident. He did more running in one game that i have seen him do for most of last season! He seems comfortable in his environment now, and that must mean only good things for the fans.
Throughout the rest of the team, Ben Foster deserves a special mention. After some of the vitriol that has been spreading like wildfire after his awful distribution et al in the Community Shield, he had a fine game. A couple of very important stops saved the team from leaking points, and halted the tabloid papers from printing their pre-prepared “United are finished after drawing with new boys” headlines. Once again. Fabio looked very comfortable at full back, considering he is only 12 years old, and Valencia seemed to be at home on the right of the midfield, without producing any match defining moments.
Birmingham deserve a few words. For a promoted team, they played rather well, especially in the second half. If they had had an extra slice of the Luck Pie for lunch, then they would have got a share of the points. Alex McLeish will be pleased with the performance and the impact that new signing Christian Benitez made from the bench. They may just be able to survive this year….just!
So another season is underway…Bravo!! And with the Scousers dropping points to a Tottenham team with a truly disgusting home kit concoction of white with odd yellow bits, United, Chelsea & Arsenal have all stolen a march.
Thursday 13 August 2009
Cable television has landed in Great Britain for the first time, swelling the tv channel choice from our paltry 4 to about 50..albeit that 20 of these are in French, Italian or Spanish. Not much use to a young English lad from a council estate.
What it did do though was feed my obsession with "The Game"
For the first time we got to see live Serie A games. I became seduced by Juve, as I disliked Maradona at the time (Hand of God blah blah blah) and as a result wanted Napoli to lose. I saw parallels with the Turin club to that of my own. I cannot say i supported them..for i only support one team! But it was more like a school boy crush.
Through out the 1980s one thing was missing in English football...it was just TOO English. Crap stadiums and violent crowds detracted any sophistication away from the sport. We were an island nation behind a sheet of glass...looking outward. What we saw was great football, interesting punchlines to well written footy scripts. Dazzling skills. 30 yards screamers. Trophies galore. Of course, Heysel robbed us of European competition for 5 years (a necessary sentence at the time) and we all felt a bit hard done by. Our league was dominated by a boring nemesis of "1-0" Liverpool with the odd title from flair driven Everton, and "nearly as boring as Liverpool" Arsenal. The offside trap was about as tactical as it got!
It was hard times and hard watching.
With the advent of the Premiership we saw our first real influx of foreigners. Many bemoaned that they were here "to make a quick buck at the end of their careers" as most of them were in their 30s. And in many ways they were partly right. But what it gave us was an inlet. A route through the sheet of glass surrounding us. A sporting Channel Tunnel as such. Europe realised that we didn't all eat fish and chips daily (just on Fridays!) and that the shops in London were "quite good". That not all English players were alcoholic beer monsters, mainly because Tony Adams and Paul Merson had drank the country dry on their own. And that our fans were reformed, amazingly due to the fact that we were forced to sit on our bums to watch our game rather than stand. It was an eye opener, and our Britpop country was considered cool.
I am writing this article and little history lesson because I am genuinely worried about the future plans in place for the game, considering the "restriction of foreigners" rulings. I do not sit in the camp that believes that foreign players have destroyed our national game by not allowing inferior English "talent" to show that they are actually rubbish (See Wiki for "Jody Morris") I think they have enriched us...everyone of them. Even Thomas Brolin when he signed for Leeds United & Crystal Palace, only for him to discover crisps and Fanta rather than score goals. It is also a restriction of freedom of movement and trade, but it seems that UEFA cares not about Democracy (mainly because they are entrenched in a more Imperialist time place)
But lets not get political! Because it clouds the issue.
Whatever the rule may be (7+4, 6+5, 10+whatever..), any restriction I feel will detract from quality. Luckily, my club would have less problems than others. We all know that Arsenal are more French than The Eiffel Tower. But I hate the idea that someone, somewhere will go "You cant sign him 'cos you've got that Serbian", or "Oh we will have to get that average English lad in, cos we cant sign that great Brazilian" Maybe its just because i support Manchester United. But I actually think we would suffer less than the Bolton Wanderers and Portsmouths of this world. So it is the game that loses out, not my team.
I understand some of the logistics of the proposed rules. But I remember sitting watching Serie A in 1986....ENVIOUS. I do not want that envy back. When Italy had all the great foreigners nobody cared..maybe now it's a Platini conspiracy to stop England's dominance of the Champions League last 4? How would he have felt to be told he could not play for Juve just because he was born on the wrong side of a border?
It is like all those that say "it was so much better when we only had the BBC rather than all these channels and Internet"
They will be forever wrong.
Ian Rush at Juventus: "What do ya mean you don't serve chips here?"
Wednesday 12 August 2009
"You can wait for a lifetime, to spend your days in the sunshine"
This applies to both Chelsea and Manchester City
In-spite of Chelsea's power in the last few years, reaching the last 4 of the Champions League with almost clockwork precision, they had always been on London's second tier of football clubs, yoyo-ing up and down the divisions through the 1980s and lagging behind the traditional capital powerhouses "North of the River" in Arsenal and Tottenham...they were always competing more with the West Hams of this world rather than the Barcelonas, and European football was only likely if they had a pre season jaunt to Sweden to fight Millwall fans in Malmo. Their hooligan right-wing "Headhunters" supporter base were more famous than their players..they could eat Ultras for breakfast.
Manchester City, like Chelsea, were no strangers to lower league football. Most of their fans still remember their journey to the third rung of English football in 1999 (and only escaping that division with an extra time play off victory versus....Gillingham!) when their crosstown rivals were winning The Treble and making history.
In 2009, things are very different. Here begins a season where two of English football's Big 5 (City have used it's chequebook to ram-raid its way into the Big 4 party) start two of the years most interesting sporting projects.
'Can true success be bought or can you take what you have, and tweak your way to trophies'
Chelsea still have the post-Jose blues, and are now about to chew their way through their next high profile manager. People have already forgotten how highly regarded Big Phil Scolari was just twelve months ago. But after dropping just a handful of points, and one day giving Lord Jonathon George Terry "a funny look" in training, he is now considered an incompetent buffoon and has been banished to Uzbekistani football...Ancelotti beware! A trip to Malta's Premier Division may be your next call.
Milan's former don should do well at Chelsea. He already has a good set of players, but the club's supposed inability to spend to support him this season is baffling. I have heard the Italian say the classic words "I am happy with the squad already" These are the same words that Scolari used in 2008. Whatever happens, Chelsea will challenge hard. But I think Ancelotti will have to adjust more to English football, than his team will have to adjust to him. Scolari fell foul of this last year...being a World Cup winner was simply not enough to know how to deal with Stoke City or Wigan Athletic on a wet and cold December night under floodlights. I feel Ancelotti will have similar problems.
Man City, following the old formula of recent Chelsea Past, are a totally different proposition, and an exciting one at that..even to a United fan! Having raped and pillaged clubs and countries for the players their hearts desired, Mark Hughes' men are in a unique position. Many will say that City will need time to gel. Nobody told Blackburn this in the 1990s.
Jack Walker was a very very rich man. He brought in a top manager and paid big wages for good players. And he got what he wanted. Instant success.
I believe Manchester City can do the same
Lets face it. None of us want City to do well. They are now a symbol of vulgarity. But i do not blame them, that if they get bought out by an oil rich giant, that they don't splash the cash in a big way and go for it.
Robinho, Tevez, Santa Cruz, Bellamy and Adebayor will all get goals. Barry and Ireland will give them power and finesse. And if they complete their Goodison Park theft of Lescott, with Toure, Richards, Bridge and Given, they will shut most teams out. And worst of all......they will keep spending and adding to this.
Sounds dangerous to the status quo, huh? And that is a clear and present danger NOW to the whole Premier League. That is the truth of the matter. Not a danger in 1 or 2 years. NOW. Today. Forget your "bedding in". Forget your "need for a really big signing". City are here and now, and in our faces.
And I for one welcome the competition.
This year is excitingly shaping up. More exciting than previous years. Can Liverpool stop always being the bridesmaid? Will United not score any goals without Ronaldo? Will Arsenal field a youth team every week? What is for sure is that the evolution of Chelsea and the revolution at Eastlands will probably steal all the gossip column inches in the months to come.
"..and darling, this how we used to do it in the 80s"
Evolution? Lets hope so.
Monday 10 August 2009
I have just finished watching a video of a certain Mister Cristiano Whatshisname playing for Real Madrid in Pre Season. His performance was full of tricks and twists. The custom stepovers. The blistering speed. The original one man entertainment machine. He even scored a goal.
And today, I can truly say for the first time that i am glad that he has gone. It is like when you know that even though your partner is stunningly attractive to all, but you are just bored of her or his ways. The sex is still great, but you would rather not talk to them. They don't give you that chill down your spine anymore.
Yesterday's 'Community Challenge' game has given me much food for thought. Yep, it was just a friendly, and nothing really rides on it. But I just wanted to see United's form and shape in a competitive atmosphere, rather than a stroll round a park in China.
The gloom Sayers of Post-Ronaldo-United (well known as PRU to the medical profession) have led many to believe that a huge chunk of the club's hull has crumbled away into the sea, leading to an inevitable sinking of the ship. But i feel very differently now, after yesterday. The game made me remember what it was like pre-Ron. What supporting Man Utd is actually all about. With 'The Artist Formerly Known As Number 7', things had got predictable...albeit with a silver lining. Set things up, defend well and give the ball to Ron, was the formula United have used for three seasons now. And you will never hear me complain about any of that, as it is now consigned to history, and one day we will speak fondly of those days. ESPN Classic and Sky will show dedication programmes to many of our games and we will all remember what it was like to be ten years younger.
But yesterday, hit an emotion that Ive not had for a while. One emotion that I do not even think has a word to describe it!
It is a mixture of fear and excitement. Of hunger and expectation. But most importantly, it is an emotion which evokes the night in Barcelona in '99. A team (and i mean a real team, not superstar individuals) who are in it together, playing flair football and working hard for each other...in every position. Yes, even Mr Berbatov did a bit of running yesterday, and it was nice seeing the full midfield 4 drop back when needed, which never happened during the Ronaldo era. Now many may say that what i am talking is now rubbish..trash talk. Losing the world's best player and playing it all down.
But I truly love the idea that United are a team of 11 players again, and not 10 + 1.
Watching this pre season I can see what Fergie is trying to achieve. I believe he is going a bit 'old skool' He has spent the last decade trying to change the way United play. He felt we had become too predictable with our all out attacking mind set, that we need to be a bit more savvy, like a chess player setting up his opponent to fail.
But now as we hit the end of the Noughties, I think he sees a massive opportunity to stun the opposition with some classic Back 2 Basics United! We lined up 4-4-2 yesterday...for the whole game. If you are not tactically astute you will believe United play this every week. In fact, we rarely have played it for ages. Why did he set us up like that? Because of our squad personnel. With no Ron or Tev and bringing in Valencia and Owen the balance has shifted. It was a joy to see Rooney and Berba play high up top TOGETHER, pushing up against the centre backs, allowing the midfield four space to operate and push forward (second half, it didn't work as well as it did first, but that is OK)
And this made me swoon!
Now i know we will not play like this every game, but it opened up something inside of me (oo er missus) I loved the days of Ronny Johnsen, Henning Berg and Denis Irwin. Without these types of players we would never have won the treble. I loved the days of having 4 very different strikers in Teddy, Ole, Yorkey and Coley. Now again we have multiple options in this area. I loved it when we played with two wingers who could go wide in tandem, as Kanchelskis did with Giggs..could this happen again with Nani and Valencia?
And that is why I am feeling that 'new girlfriend' feeling all over again that I have not felt in footballing terms since we signed Ruud Van Nistelrooy (not to say I haven't loved her in the mean time all these years, but you know what i mean, dont you?)
2009/10 is going to be a very exciting year with lots of 'getting to know each other' and 'dirty habit' problems. But maybe if we can make it work, it could all end in the perfect marriage, with tons of trophy shaped children. Come to Papa.
Ronny J..The definition of love?
Sunday 9 August 2009
So we lose a penalty shoot out to Chelsea in the Charity Community Sky Dish shaped Cup. Oh Well. No real problem there. But of course there should never have been penalties, as United scored 2 good goals and Chelsea scored 1.
Now, like the Murphys, I'm not bitter. The result is not important. But as i settle into the second hour of my life listening to the feedback on the game, which is filled with only one thing...a referee's mistake.
Was it a foul or was advantage played correctly? It does not matter. Because as Evra had been elbowed in the face the referee is BOUND BY LAW to stop the game for treatment. That is the rule.
Should a Video Referee be allowed to support the officials on the pitch and call for the Ref to stop play? It is a dumb question. Until it is addressed, our game will be riddled with this sort of crap, and Jamie Redknapp will become obese, feeding off the scraps of fat that these decisions on the pitch give him. I'm sure i would be able to do a piece on this every week of the Premier League season, as 50% of Match of the Day is 'Cliche Hansen' and 'Lawro the Fop' talking about referees. Its dull.
On matters that do have substance, United played well I thought. Positively, Berba and Rooney looked comfortable together both pushed high up the pitch. That is something that we craved last season to see, but never really did. Two up top in tandem is the way forward with this squad. Nani did more clever stuff than idiotic headless chicken running. Lets hope his shoulder has not popped. Park was busy as ever, and Fletch and Carrick looked excellent as a pairing (but all please still say a prayer for Mr Hargreaves)
Defensively we were...OK. The first Chelsea goal was a bit poor but that happens in these games. The second goal I think Chelsea took well, inspite of play not being correctly hauled back (that is not their fault!) Ben Foster's kicking has gone AWOL. It is well known to the United brains, that Fosters history of being an outfield player in his youth (and a good one at that) has given him the edge when kicking...so what the hell has happened to him I do not know. He did however, make a fine save from Drogba in the second half, but did not look like he was going to get anywhere near those pens. If he has distribution problems at the moment, then the manager should draft in Tomas for the first game.
But lots of positives me thinks. I'm looking forward to Birmingham next Sunday. We have good options in almost every position..even young Fabio did well for the minutes he was on the Wembley turf, and the old man Giggsy...great vision and control for Roo's 92nd minute equalizer.
For a footballing pessimist, i feel rather happy and hopeful going into the new season.
Erm...you can keep that Chelsea.
Friday 7 August 2009
Thursday 6 August 2009
"Liverpool had probably their best season for 20 years and still finished four points adrift. It will be hard for them to match last season"
- Liverpool attained alot of points last year and they will struggle to match that.
- Teams will know how to play them better this year.
- Feels Chelsea are the main threat.
- Milan were unlucky to lose to Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League final, in reference to the way Carlo Ancelotti's teams play.
I listened to Talksport last night while i cooked. The managers comments had been dissected and translated into these words:
- Liverpool are not good enough to win the league.
- Liverpool were lucky to win the Champions League in 2005.
- He has done the same as Rafa did during "that rant" last season.
- He is running scared of Liverpool.
As they seem to say in Internet speak these days.....OMG!
Firstly, Liverpool have an excellent team. They are steeped in a history that they have earned on the pitch. Their win against Milan was spectacular in 2005. The boss knows that Liverpool are a threat to our trophy pursuits in every competition.
AND HE KNOWS THAT YOU ALL KNOW ALL OF THIS AS WELL! So the point is...why should he then reflect any of that in public?
Secondly, why do any Liverpool fans care what Sir Alex has to say about 2005? He quoted that he felt Milan were unlucky. This does not equate to him thinking that Liverpool were lucky. (I see this as the same as the cricket muppets that now cry about Ricky Ponting being booed by a handful of fans, making it out that it is the height of disrespect, like they were throwing knives at him as he walked out to bat.) Paranoia can be an entertaining thing. Both these Liverpool fans and Cricket toffs seem to carry some huge chip on their hunched shoulders..who says class divides people!
Thirdly, these new comments are not the same as Rafa's rant last season. Rafa's were foolish and mis-timed. Who knows for real how many points it cost the Scouse. But the fact that they dropped points the next game and lost form may indicate that either a massive coincidence had occurred, or that Benitez made a huge cock-up. I think the latter.
I do not think Rafa will open his mouth about United soon...which allows Ferguson a bit of breathing space to provoke. Timing his comments with the loss of Alonso, allows the "alleged" hub cap stealers to get all excited....."How dare he!!!" they proclaim. "He's running scared" they shout. Fools one and all.
I think that if the world has not cottoned on to any of this by now then the boss should just carry on. If they have not learned that "doing a Keegan" and getting vexed by a bit of the old mind games does their team absolutely no favours, then follow that current script in your grubby paws.
I for one hope it does not stop anytime soon.
Oh by the way! Liverpool were lucky in 2005, Steven Gerrard is a violent Scouse thug and Fernando Torres is Jamie Carragher's manwife.
Do I really believe all of this? It's up to your adrenaline glands to interject with your brains to decide. Bring on the new season!
One of these has a very red face. The other is Fred the Red
Wednesday 5 August 2009
Monday 3 August 2009
Every season, almost without fail, i utter these immortal words:
"This is Liverpool's season."
I say it without real thought, but every year i utter this ....out of fear.
Now this is probably because they are our sworn rivals from down the M62. Maybe it is because of the annually torturing they would put me through as a child in the 1980s. Maybe it is just because I'm scared of men in shell-suits and bubble perms. I don't know. But this year i think my words may have some substance. NO...I FEAR they may have substance!
Liverpool's record last year was admirable. Only losing a couple of games was excellent. The half truth that "if they had managed to keep Torres fit all season then they may have conquered all" still remains. But the real truth is they failed. Just as they have failed in the league, now for a whole generation worth of time.
However, the fear remains.
You can't help but think that if The Spanish Waiter was only able to get out a few more plates, clear the tables a tad faster and maybe make the after-dinner coffees a bit quicker, that his Liver Birds themed restaurant would be scooping Michelin Stars. They are not far off it. But it is always that extra 5% that wins you the Premier League. If you do not have it...then you simply do not lift the silver pot with the gold crown.
We all know about the threat of Gerrard. And here, i certainly do not need to start up about the gorgeous looking lady that is Fernando T. They will both drive the Scouse Machine on this year, but hopefully will not do what they did last year to me...make me watch the most embarrassing 90 minutes of football i have ever seen in the flesh. (yes you all know what I'm on about) But as much as i have never thought United ever won trophies just because of Ronaldo and Tevez, I also think that Liverpool just simply do not have enough with just these two world class players pushing ALL of their team's buttons...it defies logic.
I think they have taken steps to rectify this through the signing of Glen Johnson. He is without doubt the most improved English right-back in the last couple of seasons, and gives their team the drive and quality they need wide. Its a positive step in the right direction. There is also talk about bids for Silva and Villa..again both top notch in their positions. They too would give Liverpool that extra "5%" However, the reality that Alonso maybe leaving, Liverpool's not so secret weapon at times last year, starts to negate this recruitment work. If they lose Alonso, and it looks like Real will get their way again, then i think they simply lose far too much midfield quality in one giant swoop. If they manage to recycle quickly the Madrid millions, then who knows...but new players always need time to bed in. Whatever. Losing the Spanish international would be destabilizing...not because he has left Liverpool behind...but because they simply do not have the current depth to NOT let his departure hurt them. This is good news.
I do think this year will be a close run thing. And maybe out of all of the big 4 we will be the one showing more teething problems than we would like. But my fear is not unfounded. I have total respect for Liverpool. Even if the sight of Jamie Carragher makes me want to violently puke! (Its an involuntary action) One day soon they are gonna be able to stick it to us..I believe in the law of averages.
Lets just hope Liverpool are average in 2010