Archive for June, 2009

Think twice before signing Karim Benzema, Fergie..

Posted on June 24, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Man United, Players, Press, Transfer Targets   27 Comments »

Karim Benzema

In the two weeks since it was announced that United had agreed to sell Ronaldo for the princely sum of £80m, there have been a plethora of names linked to the club, with the general consensus being that in order to appease the fans and keep the club on its current level, we can’t afford to “unearth” another player, we can’t afford to give Nani a chance to develop, we need a “marquee signing” as it were, with the two major names being mentioned, Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema.

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Telegraph includes Benzema and Valencia in our side…

Posted on June 20, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Man United, News, Players, Press   8 Comments »

Karim Benzema

The Daily Telehgraph is a superb newspaper, which boast one of the UK’s top journalists – Henry Winter. Yesterday’s edition had a full eight page spread on Cristiano Ronaldo and therefore I bought a copy right away. The general consensus is that for all his gifts and talents he never fully understood what it took to become a Manchester United legend – because no one person ever comes near. For this reason Ronaldo will be better off in Madrid with their Galactico philosophy. However, Ronaldo wasn’t the main attraction of the spread for me – but our potential 2009/10 lineup.

Again – this is only a potential lineup – but the Telegraph had us as:

(GK) Foster (RFB)Fabio (CB) Ferdinand (CB) Vidic (LFB) Evra (RW) Valencia (CM) Carrick (CM) Fletcher (LW) Rooney (F) Berbatov (S) Benzema

Now couple of things there, firstly – yes they did get Fabio and Rafael mixed up! I presume they meant Rafael, unless they think Fabio could be our next Denis Irwin! Secondly, Rooney is out on the left flank as opposed to his favoured central role. Thirdly, the addition of Karim Benzema.

Lyon have revealed that Benzema could indeed go to United and I have felt for a long time he would be an exceptional signing. So why not? What is stopping Lyon and France’s top marksman from coming to the Premier League and signing for the Champions? Possibly that he has stated he wants to stay in France till after the World Cup? Or maybe Real Madrid might borrow some more of the government’s money to finance their transfers? Who knows! But if we could get our hands on Valencia and Benzema – we will have one hell of a side – add Ribery into that equation and a certain Portuguese will be long forgotten.

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Posted on June 16, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Man United, Players, Press, Stoke City   5 Comments »

Ryan Giggs

The dust has settled and the over-reactive furore over the Rome disappointment seems to have faded, so what better time to look back at what was, in terms of trophies, the second most successful season in Manchester United’s history?

United Statistics (in all competitions)

Top Goalscorer: Cristiano Ronaldo (26 Goals)

Most Assists: Ryan Giggs (18 Assists)

Most Appearances: Nemanja Vidic (55 Appearances)

To see all of these statistics please go to our 2008/09 Manchester United statistics page.

Player of the Season –

Ryan Giggs –
The United legend just pips it in what was a real team effort this season. A year after what the number 11 described as the “best 10 days of his life”, and 10 years after his most memorable contribution as a United player, came what Ryan described as “the most enjoyable season of his career”. It showed on the pitch – pencilled in at the start of the season to be used sparingly, Giggs quickly showed in the Carling Cup that he was indispensible and was used accordingly by Sir Alex as the man to trust in big games. More often than not he was man of the match in those big games, most notably against Chelsea and Inter Milan at Old Trafford – and he almost rewound the clock with a semi final goal against Arsenal, denied only by a dodgy offside flag! His vital goals at West Ham and Middlesbrough kept him and United on course for an amazing 11th Premier League title in a season where he proved himself to still have as much talent as any of his peers – a fact recognised BY his peers when he was named PFA Players Player of the Year.

Runner up : Nemanja Vidic – but for a dodgy couple of games was the next clear candidate, just edging out Fletcher, Rooney and Ronaldo.

Breakthrough Player of the Season –

Jonny Evans

Some argument here for Darren Fletcher and John O’Shea who unpredictably made first team places their own, but Evans’ smooth transition when thrown into the deep end mid-season was remarkable in its lack of newsworthy headlines – the young Irishman did not put a foot wrong, indeed, being a vital part of the defensive unit that went onto break all sorts of domestic clean sheet records. That he was trusted in crunch games at the end of the season is a real testament to the form he showed earlier in it.

Runner Up –


Probably only expected to play a few Carling Cup games but such was the impression he left on Fergie that he was straight in the first team. Scored a cracker at Arsenal and showed a fearless approach that defied his age. If not for an injury he would probably have already cemented the right back slot, but for now everyone at United can only be delighted with his progress.

Goal of the Season –

Cristiano Ronaldo (2nd) v Arsenal at the Emirates

For a (supposedly) bad season Ronaldo didn’t half run his own goal of the season show – be it a free kick against Stoke, a free kick against Blackburn, a 40 yard drive in Porto and a 41 yard free kick to precede the eventual winner, the number 7 seemed on a mission (late season in particular) to prove he has magic in his locker that a certain Argentinian plying his trade in Spain has yet to prove capable of. The goal that wins this award though was typical of United’s season in that it was borne out of stunning team play with Ronaldo starting and ending a move involving Park and Rooney, it was typical of United’s history in that it was a devestating break, and in scoring, Cristiano put the rubber stamp on the most magical moment seen in European football all season.

Runner Up – Ryan Giggs (v West Ham)

For all Ronaldo’s aforementioned crackers and despite the goal about to mentioned in our next section, Ryan Giggs’ solo stunner at Upton Park rolled back the years and was one for the nostalgia collection. A special mention should go to the goal scored by Tevez against Blackburn in the Carling Cup which involved 3 1-2s by Anderson – truly magic.

Moment of the Season –

Federico Macheda scoring against Aston Villa

Was there ever any doubt? There may not have been about the winner of this section but as Federico Macheda received the ball in what seemed like an impossible cul-de-sac, there was plenty of doubt over United’s title credentials. Down and out after two consecutive league defeats, on the ropes in the title race and hanging on against a spirited Aston Villa who were breaking with heartbreaking regularity and incision, the Champions needed a moment of inspiration – and it was in Macheda’s beautiful curling effort that it arrived, guided by destiny and sucked in by a force of nature previously experienced by the likes of Bruce, Sheringham and Solskjaer, as the 17 year old cocky Italian thoroughly stamped his mark in Red Devils history. The goal started a title blasting sequence of 7 victories which Liverpool had no answer to – certainly with a Gerrard-mocking camera kiss from the young striker, then.

Runner Up : Rooney scoring v Liga De Quito to win the World Championship

Could easily have gone with Macheda’s next outing, another title defining flick of his boot at the Stadium of Light, but given that Rooney was sacrificed tactically in the Champions League Final and missed the Carling Cup Final it was fitting that he scored the only goal in the World Club Cup Final – the United number 10 enjoyed a stunning season where his contribution has been recognised more as time has wore on.

Game of the Season :

Manchester United 5-2 Tottenham Hotspur

Despite a relatively “poor” season there were a few choices here – the Villa game at Old Trafford, and the Arsenal away tie in Europe, but the Wayne Rooney Inspired Goal Crazy Second Half Circus against Tottenham in late April shades it for me. 2-0 down at half time and needing a dodgy decision to get back in the game (apparently, so dodgy that it made deluded Scousers and the media in general forget that Palacios should have been sent off in the first few minutes for a shocking challenge), the floodgates opened as Rooney orchestrated the kind of comeback we normally do save for Spurs. A 5 goal blitz in little over 20 minutes (including 3 in 5) secured the win which was extra special in deflating Liverpool, who thought they had gained a precious point with a last minute equaliser that they were given against Arsenal 3 days previous.

Let down of the season

Owen Hargreaves being injured

It would have been too easy to just say “Berbatov or Nani” but they’ve probably had enough stick, so just edging out the Darren Fletcher suspension is an even greater “what if” lamentation, the Owen Hargreaves injury.

Okay, so even Hargreaves being available may not have made a difference in Rome but most people would concur that Barcelona would not have had it so easy – nor would Liverpool, at Old Trafford. Indeed United’s shortfall this season has been the lack of a biting, technically sound midfielder – Anderson is developing and may yet be, but Hargreaves is the finished article and it’s no wonder that many United fans can’t help but think the “Quintuple” would have been a real possibility if not for Owen’s dodgy knee.


The last section more or less summed it up – for all of our wonderful achievements in 08/09 we have still ended up with a feeling of underwhelming. It’s almost easy to forget that we equalled Liverpool’s 18 titles record (okay, not that easy =D) – and with Wayne Rooney’s goal in December, we now have football’s equivalent of 3 Kings and 2 Aces (in terms of European Cups/World Club Cups) to Liverpools 5 Kings. The only reason debate exists about whether Ace is high in this game is down to the fact that Liverpool are yet to win one.

There are plenty of reasons for optimism – it is widely acknowledged that we played most of the season in second gear yet still won the league with a certain degree of comfort after a wobble and came within two games of a season that would have been impossible – yes, IMPOSSIBLE – to surpass.

The frightening thought for the rest of the league is that with a season’s settling in Berbatov should be better, the likes of Ronaldo, Rooney and Anderson are still not even at their peak and should improve further still, the probable exit of Tevez will force Fergie into purchasing a true “plan B” striker, that is one who actually likes the penalty area, and even in the event of a Ronaldo departure, the likelihood of a swoop for a name like Ribery would seem all the more possible with a £60m warchest.

And if Hargreaves’ knees hold out, who knows..

Source: (Yolkie)

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So what for next season?

Posted on June 11, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Man United, Managers, Transfer Targets   7 Comments »

Writing this a few weeks after the 2-0 dressing down from Barcelona it would be easy to over react – media columns have been illuminated with the opinion that United are in decline and message boards across the internet are plagued with deluded Scousers who seem to think they now have a completely better first XI than United, and even some Chelsea fans who believe their midfield of Lampard, Ballack and Essien would easily dominate for victory in a head on clash with United’s midfield.

This is of course nonsense – a Chelsea midfield admittedly shorn of Essien were overran by Fletcher and Giggs in January and that is pretty much United’s 5th choice midfield.

The crowing of Liverpool fans is all very well but comes after their 3rd consecutive season without a trophy and where early eliminations from all cup competitions enabled Benitez to field a full strength squad for most of the league campaign – even then, they never really managed to get anywhere near a United team that had key defenders missing, Hargreaves and Anderson out for long periods, and all in all played all season almost in 3rd gear while having the distraction of fighting for a quintuple (in doing so, falling a penalty shoot out short of playing one game short of what would have been a maximum season at the very highest level of the game).

And the loss to Barcelona was no disgrace on reflection – where they are strongest they highlighted our greatest deficiency. It was a result waiting to happen upon reflection where in the losses to Arsenal, and Liverpool at Old Trafford the absence of Hargreaves meant a heavy reliance on Anderson to be disciplined – as hugely gifted as our number 8 is, he cannot yet combine the role of puppet master and defensive shield. This is no slight on Anderson – for all of the wizardry of Xavi and Iniesta they would have struggled to dictate if not for the insurance of Busquets. They would have struggled to dictate at all if Hargreaves and/or Fletcher were available and while it is no use lamenting over “what ifs” it is worth noting that their absence posing such a significant question means that it’s not ALL bad.

Those who are slightly more level headed have suggested that Barcelona simply took advantage of United’s absentees where United couldn’t do the same to Barcelona. I tend to think that it’s somewhere between the two – Barca’s use of the ball was depressingly mesmeric and you cannot hide from the fact that they are deserving European Champions.

However there is no hiding from the fact that there were shortcomings that need addressing and that those shortcomings may not be simply fixed by the return of Hargreaves and a full season from Brown, Ferdinand and Rafael.

Tevez looks to be on his way out and his end of season form only strengthens the popular opinion that he is a better option than Berbatov. In the crunch games at the end of the season where Ferguson demanded a performance from his players, Berbatov has notably been dropped.

A season of reflection tells us a few things – primarily that Berbatov being signed as a “different option” to Tevez hasn’t really worked. Yes, Berbatov has a better touch, but at the same time Tevez’s work rate is a leveller there – Berbatov, too though, drifts in and out of games and appears in areas where he is not effective. The argument that he was signed to play Rooney as an out and out striker holds no water given the fact that Rooney has played on the wings towards the end of the season. Ironic, given that he was on performance our best player in the last 2 months.

The solution here is unfortunately one that can not be helped much – the investment in Berbatov has already occured and no-one will take a £30m plunge on him (despite maybe City). The dream scenario of maybe writing £10m off Berbatov and spending an extra £5m on securing Tevez maybe something Ferguson may well want to do but it is not prudent and in all fairness writing a player off after one season isn’t really Ferguson’s style anyway. The only feasible outcome is to either take the plunge and sign Tevez and start with him next season, or sign a REAL alternative. A goal poacher. Benzema has inevitably been mentioned, and here at we were also quite partial to taking a punt on Eto’o last summer before Berbatov came and before Eto’o’s stock rose considerably again at Barca.

Benzema, as a young, goal hungry, quick reactionary and actually quite decent in the air fits the bill perfectly. The price will however be substantial – despite not winning the league for once, Lyon still qualified for the Champions League. Eto’o, too, seems to be out of the price range so what of the alternatives? Michael Owen, a lazy money grabbing crock whose electrifying attibute in pace was last seen around the same time as David May in a United shirt? Sergio Aguero, likely to cost upwards of £30m, and too similar to Rooney, Tevez and Berbatov?

Anything else will come from left field – Macheda has bags of potential but is he ready? Of his restrictions he does seem pretty slow and up against Wheater at Boro didn’t bully his way around like he had started to make a name for himself doing.

In defence, a back up for Evra is sorely needed – perhaps Fabio is the one for this, but he needs to stay fit. As does Wes Brown if Vidic gets any more hiccupy. The rumoured signing of Dodo could be vital but as the kid is 17 I doubt he will be anywhere near physically ready to step up to the mark of replacing either an error prone Vidic or an injury prone Rio.

As for goalkeeping, does van der Sar have another season left? He has the contract but is now the time to take the plunge and risk Foster? Personally I would give the youngster a lot more opportunities than he has been given this season. The defence needs to familiarise with him rather than just being lumped with him when van der Sar retires.

It is midfield, for all our riches, that needs addressing. In Carrick and Fletcher we have the Premier League’s most improved midfielders over the last two seasons, in Hargreaves we have a player who has few technical equals and Anderson, as stated, has huge potential but needs a steady partner to find his true rhythm – think Keane and Scholes, Vieira and Petit, Zidane and Davids, these were midfields that were borne out of consistent picking. Where we are lacking however is a Scholes – it sounds ridiculous as he is still on the books but Old Father Time is creeping up on him. He still has the ability – bags of it – but 6 years ago he could play a blind pass, whereas these days he needs too much time. Time that most teams don’t give.

How many players are available though that we could get? Sir Alex spoke of his admiration for Lampard recently – would such a move ever materialise? Fabregas may not have the full range of the younger Scholes’ abilities but there are few better in the world and he may have grown disillusioned with the lack of success at the Emirates. These are players, though, that we would not only have to break the bank for but also buck a trend of the English top 4 signing from each other. Not just that, but Lampard has said many times he will finish his career at Chelsea while Fabregas’ future would be in Spain. Michael Essien, similarly, could be the enforcer that compliments Hargreaves and Anderson perfectly but his is likely to be the shirt which a new Chelsea manager creates his team around.

The fact that a ready made Scholes replacement isn’t available makes for depressing thinking, as does the inevitable conclusion that Giggs is nearing the end – there still isn’t as effective a natural dribbler in the game (I include Ronaldo and Messi in that), the closest thing after him though is Ribery. A player who could well be available as Bayern may look to cash in, but again, Bayern’s qualification for the Champions League means that they hold a position of strength, and like Lyon, they don’t tend to let their players go for reasonable prices (and why should they?).

I would want United to sign Ribery anyway, regardless of whether Ronaldo stays or goes, as we need a natural winger. The potential signing of Valencia seems at best overpriced and at worst an unneccessary gamble. It is a crucial season in terms of Nani’s development – upper body strength and greater consistency did not come into Ronaldo’s game until around his 3rd season at Old Trafford and Nani has shown that he can deliver – for that potential, it is surely worth seeing if he has learned from a difficult second season.

My conclusion? Few changes need to be made, but those that do are significant. Even those that do need to be made will be restricted by circumstance. Of priority is a goalscorer and a winger (maybe two, depending on Ronaldo’s future). Hargreaves’ fitness may temporarily make everything seem alright but we may still need that imposing or creative midfielder so Anderson can define himself and dovetail. That might yet be with Hargreaves; hopefully next season will give us a positive answer.

So come on Fergie; deliver us the impossible dream of Benzema and Ribery. Persuade Ronaldo to stay and for God’s sake get everyone fit!

Source: (Yolkie)

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