Archive for February, 2008

Moaning Chelski, Moaning Arsenal

Posted on February 29, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Arsenal, Chelsea   2 Comments »

Maybe I should be concentrating on United’s fortunes rather than that of a rival, but I just couldn’t believe the amount of moaning that went on today in the pre-match interviews.  Now lets get this out of the way – Wenger is a top manager – he’s done wonders for Arsenal and although I do believe Arsenal fans over hype what he has done in terms of what other managers have done for their clubs (not a criticism, I just don’t believe Wenger is on the same level as Jesus!), however the man has transformed Arsenal from a bunch of indisciplined (you may laugh but i’m talking in terms of the drinking and diet culture) layabouts to a top footballing side.  End of the day, I like good football and he promotes that but he is a sore loser and I believe he does feel the pressure.

Wenger commented today on the fact that “everyone is out to get Arsenal” and to be honest it’s nonsense.  In his ambition to diffuse the pressure away from his young Arsenal side, your mind immediately flocks back to that April game in 2003 against Bolton.  2-0 they were with Wiltord, the prankster that he is, sticking his tongue out at the cameras – the media and Arsenal knew how this was going to end apparently.  Cue goals from the iconic caveman himself Martin Keown and world cup winner Youri Djorkaeff, Arsenal ended up drawing the game 2-2.  United went onto win the league that season and images of Wenger looking a little worse for wear at the end of that Bolton match will live with him for ever.  Tie off, sweat pouring from his brow.  He really was feeling the pressure and fast forward five years and he’s hoping his young talented side won’t crumble as his more experienced Championship winning side did.  Arsenal have a good side but Wenger really should stick to what he is good at and thats coaching players to play good decent football – not mind games.

Whilst over the other side of London Avram ‘Caretaker’ Grant was coming out with some even sillier comments.  Blaming the media left, right and center for all of Chelsea’s problems.  Sure it was the media that made Cech come running out and miss his punch as Woodgate glanced a header past him.  It may also be the media’s fault for Grant trying to accommodate Nickolas Anelka in a left wing position whilst Joe Cole (a player whom I really admire for his creativity and skill) sits on the bench.

We all make mistakes in football from an amateur level right up to international level, but one thing you must do is take some responsibility.  If Terry and the assistant have a scrap so what?  Why not put a positive spin on it as Mr Wenger would.  Something like, ‘they’re just too passionate about our amazing side’.  Or better yet……’I didn’t see it’.

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Liverpool siege mentality? Or forced upon pressure?

Posted on February 26, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Liverpool   5 Comments »

So, Liverpool “master tactician”, Rafa Benitez, believes it is easier to find success in the Champions League than the Premiership? I have a theory that backs up maybe why that is. Firstly, lets examine Liverpool under Benitez’s reign:

1 Champions League Win & 1 FA Cup win (major trophies excluding the European Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup).

Pretty good to be honest. In four years he has won (although rather fortunately) the Champions League and triumphed in the oldest domestic cup in the world. But we’re always being constantly told that ‘Liverpool would triumph in the league if he stopped his squad rotation policy’. I think that is utter garbage and fans who believe this need to open their eyes.

Liverpool’s squad isn’t as good as the other top teams in the Premiership. Aside from the two world class players that they have in Gerrard and Torres, they can not compete with the other three sides. This season they have drawn twice with Chelsea, lost to United and drawn with Arsenal. Combine this with a defeat away to Reading and home draws with Aston Villa and Wigan, it is no surprise to see them fighting for a Champions League place. However, will they need that 4th spot if they repeat their 2005 success?

The 2005 final was a freak and I doubt we’ll ever see a Milan side ever throw away a 3 goal lead again. Having said that it showed great character and determination to claw back three goals. But what about the other competitions? 5th in the Premiership and miles behind Chelsea and went out of the FA Cup to Burnley. Season after as European Champions they go out to Benfica but win the FA Cup. Lastly, the 2006/07 season, they finished light years behind United and went out in the third round to Arsenal – however they reached the European Cup final ahead of tired rivals Chelsea and United. This gets me to the theory…

Ferguson, Clough and Mourinho to name a few successful managers over the years used a certain type of mentality to fire up players. This was in the form of a siege mentality that everyone is against us and we need to rally together in order to overcome this. The difference between Ferguson’s United, Clough’s Forest or Mourinho’s Chelsea was that they were fighting for a lot more than Benitez’s Liverpool.

Looking at Liverpool against Inter Milan it was like a different team (and no not down to the squad rotation), a team that has nothing else to play for. Liverpool’s siege mentality isn’t reserved for those European nights. Benitez has stumbled upon this by having been eliminated from every other competition. The media then build him up as some master tactician that knows how to outwit European opposition. I guarantee, if Liverpool were lead leaders, they wouldn’t have beaten Inter Milan (who are league leaders for their domestic title) the other night. Liverpool deploy a defensive counter attack system, which yes can help to exploit attack minded teams in Europe. His two holding midfield policy does help to stifle space in attacking third for Liverpool’s opponents but at what attacking cost? Liverpool have succeeded in Europe due to the defensive tactics that Benitez adopts and also the fact that they have nothing else to play for so their players are fitter.

Now i’m not a bitter red as some Liverpool fans may think, why would I be bitter? I do think we sing a little too much about Liverpool at Old Trafford, which should only be reserved to when we play Liverpool. But I can’t help to see that the media play on this ‘European tactician tag’ with Benitez. It’s painting a false picture of how far away Liverpool are from competing for a number of honours. Liverpool are a top side, but world class? European Champions class? They shouldn’t be.

Running out of time?  Or running out of luck?

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Giggsy to make 100

Posted on February 20, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Man United   No Comments »

If Ryan Giggs plays tonight he will have racked up 100 Champions League appearances for Manchester United.  It is a great achievement for such a long servant to the club.  In the 99 games that he has played so far he has scored an impressive 25 goals (so a goal every four games).  This makes him the second top European cup scorer behind Ruud VanNistelrooy (who notched up 38 for the club).

Giggs first played in the European Cup back in the 93/94 season as a 20 year old.  His first game was against Honved of Hungary and helped Manchester United to a 3-2 win in Hungry.  The goals being converted by Keane (2) and Cantona.  United finished off the Hungarian Champions 2-1, with a brace from Steve Bruce.  The inexperience of the United side showed in the next round, losing to the Turkish Champions on the away goal rule.  United drew 3-3 at Old Trafford and the Turks held the English Champions to a 0-0 draw in Turkey.  Events in the 0-0 circulated around Eric Cantona who was to be banned for a number of games the following season.  It was a good learning experience for United to face.

The Champions League was introduced in 1994/95 and with United winning the domestic league the previous May were entered once again.  Giggs played in the first ever Champions League match at Old Trafford, when IFK Gothenburg visited Old Trafford. United got off to a great start in the group beating the Swedish Champions 4-2 and Giggs getting two of the goals.  However, the rest of the group didn’t go so smoothly with United losing to Barcelona 4-0 and the Nou Camp and then going 3-1 down to IFK Gothenburg.  Fergie learned from these two failed European experiences and the next time United qualified for the tournament they would reach the Semi final losing to Dortmund 2-0 over both legs.

Some of the great Giggsy goals over the years included that memorial goal against Juventus in 1997 to beat the Italians 3-2.  Juventus were always considered the bench mark as United had lost to the Italians in previous tournaments.  He continued the knack of scoring great goals against Juve in the 2002/03 season when United beat the Italians in turin 3-0, with Giggs (who was under pressure at the time for some poor performances domestically) picked up the ball from the half way line and dribbled around a number of players before slotting the ball right footed passed the helpless Buffon.  The other goal that stands out against Juventus (once again!) is the goal in the final minutes at Old Trafford to secure a 1-1 draw in the 1998/99 season.  Juventus played a lot better than United in the first leg, however that goal allowed United to push on to the next level in the second leg and win 3-2 to get to the final.

Ryan Giggs has been a great servant to the club and although he is getting on in years he is still a valuable asset to the club and will hopefully help United achieve a wide range of trophies this season.  He should have won the competition at least two more times with United, however this was not to be and his only winners medals comes from the 1999 final.  Ryan Giggs – a great servant, a great ambassador and most of all a great player.

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Tiredness threatens to kill United’s title chances?

Posted on February 14, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Man United   No Comments »

Let’s face it, as United fans we’ve developed a bit of a thick skin over the years from having rival fans have a dig at what seem to them like ridiculous excuses for not performing – the most infamous one being the trip to the Dell in the grey shirt.

And Carlos Queiroz’s comments after the derby game seem set to fuel the fires, claiming that the players were suffering from fatigue.

I don’t think the comment should be as mocked as it has been, it was a fair assessment following an international friendly week where Ronaldo was forced to play 90 minutes in Italy, Ferdinand and Brown both playing the full match (while Micah Richards had a week off, in essence) against the Swiss at home is another notable reference. These players haven’t had a rest all season and while this is not an excuse – City outplayed us and thoroughly deserved to win – it is the bigger, more general picture that we should look at.

Brown has been our only choice at right back all season, Simpson has impressed in fits and starts but really Brown is the senior man. He’s barely had any time off, because when the centre halves are out, he’s first choice replacement there too. Rio has barely missed a minute, likewise Ronaldo, but both seemed to be suffering the consequences of a gruelling and pointless midweek.

Some will say “but they might have been playing for United in midweek”, yep, that’s true, but Ferguson’s selection policy would be to protect those players from burnout and he would have used them sensibly, not recklessly.

But as I commented above, we need to be looking at the bigger picture. I’m going to instantly draw comparisons with 10 years ago. 1997/1998. Is it fair to say tiredness killed that season? Perhaps. There are many paralells.

Roy Keane was injured early season and while the replacement, Butt, performed admirably being thrust into his first real position of responsibility, he simply couldn’t keep it up, and there was no-one to come in for Butt.

The comparison is almost the same for this season with Scholes injury, but it is more to do with the timing of Scholes’ return, being thrust straight back in where perhaps a softly softly approach would have been appropriate.

The more general point would be to use comparative injury lists of those eras, and the strength in depth we had in the affected areas in that period. In 1998, a team already shorn of Eric Cantona, United lost Schmeichel, Pallister, Irwin, Keane, and Giggs for crucial parts of the season. We played the likes of Ben Thornley, Gary Neville at centre half, John Curtis. In 2008, we’ve missed Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney, Owen Hargreaves, and Louis Saha may as well have handed his number 9 shirt to someone else for the season given his input. Aside from the Scholes injury, we are light in all affected areas. Seeing the likes of John O’Shea go up front against Reading in the first game, and Vidic playing as a centre forward for the last 15 minutes on Sunday, has flashes of Phil Neville replacing Ryan Giggs on the wing against Monaco in 98.

Like 10 years ago, we went into winter full of form and playing the best football in the country by a considerable distance. After Christmas, despite flashes, we stuttered and lost our title without so much as a whimper.

An unfancied Leicester snatched 3 points from Old Trafford in the late winter – likewise, a resurgent City at the weekend. Two late season home fixtures with Liverpool and Arsenal in 1998. Check. Football has a nasty habit (or good, some might say) of pandering to superstition.

Without wanting to sound pessimistic, it would be very unlikely that we will have a full quota available to us in the near future, and there’s probably one or two injuries to key players at key times yet to happen. To be optimistic, using superstition, the 50th anniversary of Munich should inspire the players – it is fair to say that the burden of expectation weighed too heavily on those too eager to impress on Sunday, but that was a one off game, and that alone does not mark the anniversary.

And to end on a positive note – United almost always bounce back from adversity in style, and what greater opportunity to do that by overcoming Arsenal, first directly on Saturday in the FA Cup, and then in the League to retain the title? It is too early to say whether the potential disappointment will prove whether the current players are as good as hoped, but the next few months will certainly give us an insight of their personality in adversity.

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Reflection on Citeh game

Posted on February 12, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Man United   2 Comments »

It’s now more than 24 hours after the derby game and I feel it is a good time to reflect on the game and what this will mean for the title race. Firstly, I felt the tribute and reflection on the victims of the Munich air disaster was both emotional and moving. It is such a shame that the performance of the United players couldn’t live up to the occasion.

It was one of the most flat performances I have seen from United over the years. The tempo was flat and so was the movement of the attacking players. It was also one of the most shaky performances from Ferdinand and Vidic. The media have commented on the performances of Ireland (who I also felt played well) but Ferdinand didn’t have to enhance his performance by gifting him the ball at least four times during the course of the game. It was a horrendous piece of play and only contributed to our dreadful performance.

So what happened? Just an off day? Citeh played their hearts out? The players overcome with emotion? I think all three had a bit to play in the game. Citeh were first to ever first and second ball and crowded out United all day long. Richards and Dunne were immense against Tevez and any forward running midfielder (as they were in August). Rooney would most certainly have made a difference but after a long hard emotional week and the burden of pressure the players may have felt, I don’t know if we would have gotten the three points or not.

Not that we get any readers from other clubs on here, but it might now seem like i’m making excuses. Far from it. United totally outplayed Citeh in the game at Eastlands and lost, but this time around we got everything we deserved out of the game. The only performer that seemed like he wanted to win was the dogged Anderson. Gritty, determined and creative, the boy is going to be some player. It’s such a shame that older heads that could have used their experience didn’t turn up like Giggs and Scholes.

So to the Arsenal game and there is a great chance for the players to really make up for their well below par games against Spurs and Citeh. There are unbelievable comparisons with the 2002/03 season, when Arsenal were, according to the cockney journalists, playing the ‘best football we’d ever seen’ and we where simply playing catch up having also lost out on the title the previous season. We played Arsenal in an FA Cup match at Old Trafford and lost after Ryan Giggs had missed an open goal, Edu scored a deflected freekick and if my memory serves me right Wiltord scored at the Stretford End, giving a 2-0 to Arsenal. Manchester United then went onto beat their North London Premiership rivals in the title race, picking up a 2-2 draw at Highbury and beating Liverpool 4-0 along the way. Regardless of the score on Saturday, I hope the same scenario pans out in the league this season.

Do not get disheartened. We have lost a number of games this season when we shouldn’t have but have got 7 points out of 9 from the other ‘big 3′ this season. Did we lose the title against Citeh? No, I don’t think so. There is still a lot of football to be played and in recent seasons where we have lost the title we didn’t have the players we do today. I see Sunday as a slip up and a poor performance that warranted better, for the the Busby Boys. Hopefully the lads can raise their game for the match on Saturday and take the psychological advantage over the league leaders.

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Overseas games?

Posted on February 07, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Premier League   4 Comments »

I have never heard something more ludicrous, insulting and to be honest down right moronic. Foreign ownership has come in for some harsh criticism over the years (and rightfully so) but this is taking the biscuit. How on earth do the Premier League feel that playing league games abroad is acceptable? It’s all brushed under the same old sugar coated ‘cosmopolitan’ feel that tries to reassure everyone that what is going to happen is ok. Well it’s not. As with the Champions League this all revolves around money and I think it is an insult to the thousands of fans that travel every week to watch their teams play.

Scudamore believes that it will allow fans to ‘see the world’ and have an opportunity to ‘travel more’ as he sits in his Monte Carlo penthouse using his ivory back scratcher. Of course that is only one possibility, I couldn’t say that actually happens! What an absolute farce – I just wish he could say ‘we’ve been offered a shit load of money and we’re going to take it because we really don’t care about the game of football’.

Imagine the Statue of Liberty being moved elsewhere? You wouldn’t because it doesn’t belong anywhere else. Manchester United belong at Old Trafford. Not China, not the United States, only in Manchester. I think you have a duty to go and see your team play at their spiritual home if you’re a foreign fan, I really do. At the end of the day this is all a money making scheme and will leave the true fans of all clubs out of pocket.

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Why are we so Fickle?

Posted on February 04, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Man United   No Comments »
Why are we so Fickle?

You know what football fans can be so fickle some times. The amount of abuse i’ve heard today against Wayne Rooney for his apparent ‘loss of form’ over the past few months. Why do we not support our players and fully understand what they do on the football pitch. People like Gabriel Heinze can be criticized for their distinct lack of loyalty and professionalism, but really how can you have a pop at Rooney?

Rooney embarrassingly dived against a Michael Dawson ‘challenge’ and was rightfully booked and he should get abuse for that. Diving and cheating should be outlawed from the game and although I don’t think much of Clattenburg, he made the right decision. But we all make mistakes. What about in amateur football when you claim a throw in that you know has come off your leg? Is that the same? My point is that Wayne Rooney is human, like everyone else and makes mistakes and I think that certain people have had a go at Wayne too much since Saturday. He may be in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo, but who’s shadow is Ronaldo in? He is the best player in the world at the moment, so maybe people are just expecting Rooney to reach the same level. Rooney is a different type of player (obviously); strong, quick and has superb vision. The one thing I would say he has to improve on is his finishing, which has been a little too casual over the past few weeks. But being a forward isn’t all about finishing, Rooney is a number 10 and plays his best football off a main striker. We need to realise that footballers can’t perform at a certain level all the time.

I remember a few years ago when a select few (shall we say) were asking for Fergie’s head. It’s the exact same fickleness that I despise in a football fan. Surely, we should stick by out original beliefs for some while? Of course we can change our mind, but demanding success season after season is unrealistic. United lost out to Arsenal and then Chelsea twice (who had the ultimate resource of money on their side). I think Ferguson did an outstanding job last season to over turn a Chelsea side that literally should have bought the league.

Remember that Wayne Rooney is a top footballer who will go on to be one of the best players in the world and will continue to improve as a forward. He has shown that he is a leader (in 2005 we were literally a one man team at times) and has shown he has the quality to compete at the highest level. Give the lad a break and appreciate the qualities he has and what he brings to the United side.

I’m open to a debate here so please leave a comment for discussion.

Rooney a class act

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