Match Report: Sunderland 1-2 Manchester United

Posted on April 11, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Man United, Match Reports, Sunderland   No Comments »

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Macheda scores against Sunderland

Federico Macheda gave the travelling fans a thrilling sequel to his Old Trafford heroics by scoring a crucial winner to rescue Manchester United – going one better and scoring with his first touch after coming on for club record signing Dimitar Berbatov.

United put their followers through the wringer yet again but this moment from the young Italian was confirmation of his ability and perhaps more importantly, given the path of the season so far, his momentum.

The first half saw a compelling contrast between the two sides when in possession – the Red Devils showing a composed, cultured and comfortable approach and the Black Cats’ whipping their support with frenzied attacks. Sir Alex Ferguson had made another team selection that prompted many scratched heads – with O’Shea and Neville in both full back positions, Park and Scholes still in the side, and Wayne Rooney operating from the left while Cristiano Ronaldo warmed the bench.

Unsurprisingly, as these things go, Wayne Rooney defied expectation by being the main creative outlet for United – first almost scoring with 15 seconds on the clock and then with around 16 minutes gone, turning provider by knocking the perfect ball into the box. Paul Scholes was there to meet it with a lovely header reminiscent of those he scored during a spell for England and United in the autumn of 1997, to give fans worried about his recent form (including this writer and website!) a timely reminder that he could provide a classy contribution.

Indeed, Scholes and Carrick’s ability to keep and move the ball was a feature of the Champions’ play – but the hosts were not about to lie down and helped to provide a pulsating first half with a shoot on sight policy that saw them come close on a number of occasions, hitting the post – while United had an attempt of their own cleared off the line.

Sunderland started the second half just as ferociously and after surving a scare caused by a stunning Rooney bending effort, they deservedly drew level after Park was easily skinned and Foster flapped at a cross, Kenywne Jones stretching to stab home.

In response, Scholes shot narrowly wide, and Tevez couldn’t convert a move that had intricately weaved on the edge of the Mackem’s box. With a quarter of the game remaining Ferguson finally brought Cristiano Ronaldo on in response for the not only ineffectual but also increasing liability Park.

And with 15 minutes left Fergie took what surely was a championship gamble – replacing £30m record signing with 17 year old kid Macheda. It was quite a statement to make even if it was later apparent that Berbatov was suffering badly enough to require treatment.

Would the substitution prove to be inspired or a desperate last throw of the dice, almost an admission of surrendering the title? There was hardly time to form your own opinion – within the same minute we had our answer, as Macheda swung a hopeful, opportunistic, but meaningful, and ultimately fateful boot in the direction of a wayward Michael Carrick shot – the ball unbelievably nestled in the corner of the net to restore the advantage for United, and ultimately prove to be the winner.

Sunderland played their part in the nervous closing stages but United – who brought on the returning Anderson to shore up things – were rarely seriously threatened from that point.

Cynics will say United got out of jail again following a bad initial selection from Sir Alex and they may have a point, but this latest fateful interjection from Macheda may just make the gaffer realise that the youngster has the confidence, ability – and, crucially, as mentioned before, the momentum, to play a more prominent part in the Champions’ run in.

And with Porto next in a seemingly impossible task, it could be such a player who continues to write such a stunning story in a potentially record breaking season.

Source: (Yolkie)

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Cantona – Le Roi

Posted on April 10, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Man United, Players   No Comments »

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Eric Cantona

Eric Cantona may have spent only just under 5 years at Old Trafford but his influence on Manchester United can still be seen today – whether it is in the crowd, who still remember him fondly in almost every game, or in the team, with the thrills of exhibitionist football.

Cantona’s impact spread nationwide and there is a strong argument that he had the biggest individual influence on the evolution of the English game from somewhat of a kick and rush, long ball reputation to the fantastically glossy product seen on Saturday’s in this era.

Eric Daniel Pierre Cantona was born in Marseille in May 1966 and had a stormy start to his career in France. Starting at Auxerre before moving to the club of his birth town, with loan spells out at Martigues, Bordeaux and Montpellier, Cantona’s on pitch brilliance was tempered with controversy – even at the age of 21, when he punched a team mate at Auxerre!

Further issues of controversy included red cards, kicking the ball at the crowd and abusing the French national coach on television, leading to a one year international ban (well, he did call him a “bag of (naughty, naughty)”!!). His switch to his boyhood club Marseille (for a then French record fee) did not go to plan as Eric typically struggled to fit in, and his subsequent loan spell at Montpellier was the scene of another team mate altercation – this time, half a dozen players protested that Cantona should be sacked.

His on pitch form, however, was such that Marseille were persuaded to recall him, but after a couple of managerial changes, found himself under the stewardship of Ray Goethals. Despite being instrumental in Marseille’s league triumph Cantona found himself on the move again, to his final club in France, Nimes.

It was here Cantona had his infamous referee spat, throwing the ball at him after being angered by a decision – Cantona was banned for a month, and at the hearing, Eric called each committee member an idiot, leading to a two month increase. So incensed, Cantona “retired” from football in December 1991.

Legend has it that Sheffield Wednesday turned down the chance to sign Cantona because they wanted “to see him play on grass”, Cantona didn’t want to wait around, and Leeds offered him the chance to sign in January 1992.

The Frenchman had some contribution as Leeds won the league title, and in the season that followed, showed a real flash of his ability with two hat-tricks – one against Liverpool in the Charity Shield, and one against Spurs. But his stay at Leeds was again relatively short – as his career moved onto its final destination, Old Trafford.

The transfer itself came about peculiarly – Howard Wilkinson, Leeds manager, phoned Martin Edwards to ask about the availability of Denis Irwin. Edwards and Alex Ferguson were in a meeting and were able to tell him “no”, but Ferguson thought to ask on the off chance about the availability of Cantona. Edwards and Wilkinson set to work and Alex Ferguson had a lunch with Peter Reid, then Manchester City boss.

During the lunch Ferguson was called by Edwards to confirm the signing, which was met with a mixture of bewilderment and humour by Reid. Indeed, such was the divide of opinion that Liverpool legend Emlyn Hughes wrote a two page spread in the Mirror declaring it a “panic buy”, to “not look to him as a match winner”, and best of all, that Ferguson was “clutching at straws”. (The entire article can be read in all its glory in our forum!).

Ferguson was taking a risk but at £1.2m it was one worth taking on a player with considerable talent. Manchester United were clearly in need of an individual who could provide the glue and a little extra sparkle for a team that were promising but threatening to become nearly men.

Cantona’s debut was as substitute against City at Old Trafford, but after that he never started another game on the bench. His first goal was against Chelsea but the first real flash of the difference Cantona could provide was against Spurs in January 93, when a sensational stabbed ball over the defence provided a goal for Irwin. And he was inspirational again as in a crucial match at Carrow Road against Norwich, he was among the scorers as United swept to a victory that started a title winning sequence of 7 wins to finish the campaign. The Red Devils had won their first league title for 26 years, and Cantona had been a big player. More was to come the following season.

United had been transformed into a truly dominating force, equally capable at pressing their opponents or destroying them on the counter attack using the pace of Giggs and Kanchelskis, with Cantona more often than not pulling all the strings in either mode of attack.

Goals came in their droves, and not just tap-ins, truly stunning efforts that seemed beyond the technical capabilities of other players. Orchestrating a comeback from 2-0 down at Maine Road with two goals and then a last minute amazing juggle to start the move for the third, hitting the bar from almost the halfway line against Chelsea, a full pitch break and goal against Sheffield United, and a flick up and volley in the top corner at Wimbledon in the FA Cup were all memorable moments.

As ever, though, Cantona was embroiled in on the pitch problems, and in the spring he was sent off in consecutive games against Swindon (for stamping) and Arsenal (for nothing), leading to a five match ban. United suffered two league defeats in this time and stumbled to a semi final win over Oldham as their season threatened to self destruct.

The return of Cantona coincided with a 4 game title winning streak, the first of which was a triumphant first half double against Manchester City. And the season was rounded off in style as Le Roi scored two penalties in the FA Cup final to secure the double. Despite his on pitch misdemeanors Cantona was named PFA Players’ Player of the Year.

Things were going swimmingly for Cantona with his national side as well – named as captain by coach Aimé Jacquet as the team prepared for Euro 96. Prior to the 1994 World Cup, however, Eric had a public falling out with David Ginola following a mistake by the latter leading to a crucial Bulgaria goal in the final qualifier, which ultimately meant France didn’t qualify.

If 1993-94 was Cantona’s most successful in terms of goals and assists, the 94-95 season was certainly his most notorious – and illustrated just how vital he was to United when he wasn’t on the pitch.

The events of Selhurst Park in January 1995 need no introduction, but prior to that Cantona had been in sizzling form as United looked to make it a hat-trick of titles. The season (of course) began with its controversy, as the number 7 saw red in a friendly against Glasgow Rangers, rendering him suspended for the first 3 games. Typically, he scored a penalty on his return at home to Wimbledon. Scoring crucial goals in the home and away fixtures against Blackburn Rovers summed up Cantona’s contribution but reminiscents now cast their opinion over what they suggest were Cantona’s weak points – Selhurst, and his apparent inability to perform in Europe.

While somewhat true – United never hit the lofty heights in Europe as they did in the Premier League – it is equally true that perhaps Manchester United were severely handicapped by the foreigner rule. And, what is more true, is that Cantona was actually suspended for the first 5 group games following his altercation in Galatasaray the previous year. His return, against the same opponents, was in a team that was not at all familiar to the one he would line up with on a Saturday. The subsequent opinions that Eric was a failure in Europe are in my mind grossly unfair – the one real season where we were able to play as a unit was 1996/97, which will be documented later.

Of course no review of Cantona’s career could be complete without mentioning the Selhurst Park incident, where he “kung fu kicked” Crystal Palace Matthew Simmons. It was an incredible scene, coming after Cantona had harsly seen red and was walking off. Simmons claimed he had been targetted and was innocent, Cantona claimed Simmons had hurled vitriolic racist abuse at him – no-one can be 100% sure of what happened other than that was shown. What cannot be disputed was Simmons’ prior conviction for a violent racist attack, which would lend itself to Eric’s account, who would of course have had no prior knowledge of the mere existence of the numskull in the crowd.

The kick cannot be condoned and Sir Alex Ferguson was in agreement with club directors that they should suspend Cantona for the rest of the season. In discussions with the FA, Manchester United were led to believe that this was a satisfactory conclusion (in addition to whatever criminal charges he was due to face), though as always the FA sought to make an example out of a Manchester United player and imposed a further 4 months suspension.

Such a decision in isolation cannot be declared unjustified but when taking into account the fact that, for example, Jamie Carragher’s coin throw at Arsenal in 2002 went relatively unpunished and the fact that several players have committed far worse offenses than Cantona and have had far less severe – if any at all – suspensions, then the chagrin of Sir Alex is slightly more understandable.

What was clear, was that Cantona’s suspension was probably the defining moment in the title race, as his absence saw three goalless home draws against Spurs, Leeds and Chelsea. Blackburn won the title by a single point and Everton won the FA Cup – if there were any doubts lingering regarding Cantona’s influence, the following season would dispel all of that.

Eric Cantona’s suspension was up on the 30th September 1995, and television scheduling (along with a cute fixture list) meant that his return would be at home to Liverpool. The expected media whirlwind that tagged along asked all sorts of questions – would he be fit? Would he be the same player? Even ridiculous theories like, will he attack the crowd? As it turned out, Eric was back in the crowd, but for totally different reasons.

The conversion of a penalty after McAteer had rugby tackled Giggs in the box, to rescue a draw was the fitting conclusion to a game which had started in spectacular fashion, as the Frenchman provided the assist for Nicky Butt to score in the first minute. It was the introduction to a season (which, in inducing heartbreak of a few thousand Scousers, would have a similar climax) that was possibly one of the only seasons in British football that was completely dictated by the form of one man.

The United side he rejoined had a far different complexion than the one he had been suspended from. Gone were stalwarts Ince and Hughes, gone was the lightning speed of Kanchelskis, in their place were not expensive thoroughbred replacements but wet behind the ear kids in the shape of Butt, Beckham and Scholes. Cantona’s role in the team had been transformed from puppet master to nurturer and leader and he had not even been there for the event. In truth, the side took some time to adjust, with a 5 game winless streak in the winter threatening to undermine the title challenge.

When the slide was halted with a 2-0 win over title rivals Newcastle, it looked as if a faint glimmer of hope remained, but a 4-1 defeat at Tottenham on New Year’s Day seemingly ruled United out of the race. They were 12 points behind and had lost a host of experienced players to call upon.

The White Hart Lane mauling was the making of the character of the kids as United went on a twelve game unbeaten streak which included a return to Selhurst Park (in which Cantona scored a penalty and jumped in the crowd, again in celebratory fashion), and a sensational return fixture at Newcastle where Cantona volleyed in a winner completely against the run of play. The St. James Park game was the beginning of a four game run where Eric scored United’s only goal, with a last minute equaliser at QPR, a magnificent 30 yard half volley to earn all three points at home to Arsenal, and a stunning solo effort to win against Spurs a run of games that would be pivotal to the season.

The King scored goals in the win at Manchester City and against Coventry as the Red Devils really got a grip on the race – and the FA Cup was the number 7’s playground, too, with goals in every round aside from the semi where his goalbound effort was tapped in on the line by Andy Cole. His contribution to the side was not restricted to goals, however, and in the semi against Chelsea Cantona’s goalline clearance was crucial to the side’s progression to the final.

The League title was sown up at Middlesbrough and so came Wembley and Liverpool in the FA Cup final. Cantona was named captain as Steve Bruce was dropped, and the game seemed to be drawn towards extra time, when a corner was punched out to the edge of the box by David James. In true Eric style, he volleyed the ball back through the crowd with expert accuracy and consummate ease to reclaim the double for United.

For Cantona it was complete confirmation that he had made the right choice by toughing it out and staying at United when most players would have jumped ship – for the club itself and it’s manager, complete justification in retaining faith in the unpredictable genius that had now manifested itself in the presence of the armband. In the space of 12 months Cantona had gone from fallen idol to king of his domain.

Few could have predicted, even with the Frenchman’s penchant for the unexpected, that 12 months down the line he would go from king of his domain to another member of the clubs illustrious history book.

The year in between is seen by most as a failure – Cantona had begun to fall out of love with the game, citing his performance against Liverpool as so bad that “he had forgotten he could play so badly”. The truth was Cantona’s standard was set impossibly high, his performances on the pitch were of course not the shambles they are now implied to be – perhaps he had one or two imperfect moments, but the truth of the matter is he was still the best player in the British game capable of moments of genius that no other player, including the likes of Zola and Bergkamp who had joined Chelsea and Arsenal respectively, could achieve.

In his final season Cantona scored 15 times, with the standout moment the goal against Sunderland where he wriggled past challenge after challenge, played a one two and scored a chip of supreme quality. It was hardly the disaster it is painted to be, particularly with a league title in the bag, meaning that for every season he had completed in English football he’d ended with at least a domestic championship winners medal. The truth of the matter isn’t that Cantona had become less effective, but that his influence had been so great that the likes of Beckham and Giggs had become capable of moments of genius like that of their leader. In that respect, Cantona had been so successful that he was demanding some kind of self perfection to improve even further, believing there was something greater than the pinnacle he was already at.

Seemingly frustrated by his gaping miss against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League semi final, Cantona informed Sir Alex of his intention to retire less than 24 hours after the game. When he did so publicly, in late May of 1997, the news came as a bombshell to United fans. Cantona had been an iconic figure during the rebirth of the club as the major force in English football, the personification of the team during that period, and had provided the on pitch influence to the youngsters coming through that Ferguson had craved – helping them to play the game as an art form, and not a tactical battle. And in all truth, it’s an influence that still stands today and a philosophy and style Ferguson clearly still adopts.

Eric Cantona’s comments since retirement seem to illustrate the point – when asked about his ideas for coaching, he has spoken about creating a style of play never before seen, a concept he is dreaming of.

There is a real double shame in the timing of Cantona’s retirement as it would seem it coincided with Sir Alex’s tactical approach to Europe – the abandonment of this to trust in his side to play their natural game paid dividends in 1999, with a style of play that Cantona would no doubt have revelled in.

Talk of the King returning to Old Trafford has never ceased since day one of his departure ( and he has indeed graced the pitch since then for testimonial matches ) whether it be talk of returning to playing, which seemed to last until he was 40, coaching, or even taking over the managers role when Sir Alex finally vacates it. Certainly in recent years he has expressed an interest and has frequently indicated that United is the only place he could return to football for, such is his love affair with the club – and, in the same vein, most United fans dream of Cantona as manager regardless of his lack of experience or any managerial reputation!

After retirement Eric still found time to be at odds with the French national set up and now actively supports England at international events as his adopted homeland.

Away from football, Cantona explored his passion for acting and has won acclaim in many roles, while also becoming somewhat of a legend in the sport of beach soccer.

Still typically outspoken, the King makes clear his everlasting affinity for the United fans who still sing his name, at almost every opportunity he has in interviews. His time at United was shorter than the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy or even David May but his impact was as significant as, if not more than, any other player in the clubs’ history. Cantona’s arrival and influence was the vital ingredient in the clubs’ victorious rebirth, an era which is still in existence more than 15 years on.

His relationship with the club and its supporters is something that the fans look for in every player – such was the bond between Cantona and the fans in the sense that United are the only club, that supporters cannot accept anything less than anyone who wears the red shirt.

It is perhaps this factor that has led so many fans to be reluctant to adore the current number seven, Cristiano Ronaldo, in the same way, though at the time of writing there is of course time for that to change.

So there you have it, a biographic review (that was intended to be in a nutshell) of our King Eric and no mention of trawlers or fishermen. D’oh..

Source: (Yolkie)

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Match Report: Manchester United 2-2 FC Porto

Posted on April 07, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Champions League, Man United, Match Reports   1 Comment »

Porto score at Old Trafford

European Champions Manchester United all but relinquished their hold on the trophy with a slapstick display against outsiders Porto.

After the last gasp resurgence against Aston Villa on Sunday Sir Alex Ferguson would have wanted an emphatic display to be sent out, but instead, his troops performed in anonymous fashion for most of this crucial tie. Less than a handful of players can hold their heads up high after this quarter final, and United now have to become the first English team to win at Porto to progress.

Porto took the lead with less than 5 minutes on the clock when Cristian Rodrigues picked up on a poor defensive header by Evans, cut inside and finished with ease past van der Sar.

The home side were never going to score through any creative cutting edge and so were reliant on a howler from defender Alves, whose backpass was intercepted by Rooney with the inevitable finish taken with a touch of class.

It was Rooney who provided what little spark United had until Fergie made changes after the break – the decision to swap Park for Giggs almost past instant dividends as the Welshman created two gilt edged opportunities for Vidic, who was unfortunate on both occasions. With just 5 minutes remaining Rooney turned provider, latching onto one substitutes throw to create a goal for another – Neville’s set piece was exquisitely flicked on by the forward to Tevez, who converted to send the Stretford End wild.

The celebrations lasted for less than 5 minutes as opposition sub Mariano was the last to benefit from some poor defending, finishing comfortably to give United a near impossible task in the second leg.

Source: (Yolkie)

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Match Report: Manchester United 3-2 Aston Villa

Posted on April 05, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Aston Villa, Match Reports   2 Comments »

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Federico Macheda
Seventeen year old prodigy Federico Macheda scored a stunning injury time winner to send Manchester United back to the top of the Premier League – though that sentence alone gives no indication to the roller coaster ride the Champions sent their manager and supporters on to get there.

A sensational game of football was capped off in storybook (and almost, some would say, inevitable) fashion with the most impressive debut for a United player since current world player of the year, Cristiano Ronaldo in 2003.

But stripping past all of the drama was a game that the home side were very fortunate to win – a resurgent Aston Villa played their part in the tussle, and perhaps it was only their half desire to waste time after scoring their second which ultimately cost them.

With United missing more than half a dozen players who would have probably walked into the first team, Villa were always likely to fancy their chances to restore some pride after their Anfield mauling, and began brightly, before falling behind – James Milner and Brad Friedel were both careless with a backpass which led to an indirect free kick. Ryan Giggs rolled it to Ronaldo who showed tremendous ability to zip the ball into the top corner.

Despite his lack of options Sir Alex Ferguson will probably concede to making a tactical error by deploying Gary Neville in the centre of defence against John Carew – it was simply an accident waiting to happen, and when the big Norweigan easily headed in from Barry’s cross, United’s makeshift side suddenly looked bereft of options. It was no surprise when Gabriel Abgonlahor put the visitors in front just before the hour, and it was this goal that prompted Ferguson to think with his heart and not his head by taking the abysmal Nani off for the young Macheda, who had scored a hat-trick in the reserve outing at Newcastle last Monday.

The youngster immediately began to put himself about and gave United the much needed up and at them attitude that was required in the place of the lack of creativity, and a game of end to end began where first Macheda was denied a penalty after being manhandled in the box, and then Curtis Davies almost extended Villa’s lead.

Out of nowhere, Ronaldo popped up at the edge of the box and coolly stroked home with his left foot – the ball seemed to take an eternity to roll in, but it did, and with 10 minutes to go, the Champions knew that the remainder of the game was likely to play a major part in their title push.

When first Fletcher and then substitute Welbeck were denied by Friedel – who had seen his blatant red card against Liverpool rescinded, which surely must have made Sir Alex think he should have appealed against Vidic’s recent sending off – it seemed that the writing was on the wall, but then came Macheda’s moment of history.

Up there with Bruce against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993, Cantona against Tottenham and QPR in 96, and O’Shea against Liverpool in 2007, Macheda latched onto a Giggs through ball, skinned his marker with a Cruyff turn on the edge of the area, and, almost losing his balance, curled in a stunning winner past the helpless Friedel in the third minute of injury time to signal wild celebrations at the Stretford End. It was harsh on Villa, who had clearly done enough on the balance of play to deserve a draw, but there was nothing untoward in the manner United got their victory.

Make no mistake – Macheda, in his brief spell on the pitch, was a clear man of the match even before his winning goal with his aggressive attitude and his composure on the ball, and the esteem the striker is held in was summed up by club captain Neville after the match when he said, “If there was anyone in the team you wanted that chance to fall to, it was him”.

Such an introduction may lead to expectations that are unrealistic, but the talented forward has certainly done enough in one historic game at Old Trafford to show that he is ready to be called upon – and in such testing times, you wouldn’t count against Fergie doing just that before the end of the season.

Source: (Yolkie)

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Federico Macheda – A star is born

Posted on April 05, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Players   4 Comments »

Federico Macheda may only be seventeen years old but he has scored one of the most important goals of the season as Manchester United beat Aston Villa 3-2. A superb Cruyff turn was then met by a sublime right footed strike into the top corner.

Interested in finding out some more on the lad? Check out the following links:

Federico Macheda @ ManUnitedYouth

Federic0 Macheda @ Football TalentSpotter

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Do we need Hargreaves back in?

Posted on March 30, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Man United, Players   6 Comments »

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Owen Hargreaves

Prior to the World Cup in Germany back in 2006 – the name of Owen Hargreaves wouldn’t get the heart pumping that fast if your club was linked to him with a transfer. Hargreaves used to be ridiculed in this country as Sven’s fall guy and sentence to the embarrassing group of Michael Ricketts, Stuart Downing, Kevin Davies and Jermain Jenas. I was a little more optimistic about Owen in the early and middle part of this decade – however I was unaware of what a good footballer he actually is.

Now like most people in this country – i’m not a massive watcher of German football, except when they play in the Champions League and United aren’t playing. However, when I did watch him play at full back or in the middle of the park – I always thought he was a decent player and when you win a Champions League medal, four Bundesliga titles and three German Football-Federation Cup’s – you know that you have to have some quality.

United were linked for a long time to Owen Hargreaves - with Bayern Munich reluctant to sell on many occasions. The transfer eventually went through in July 2007 and United had landed that industrious midfielder than many fans were crying out for since the departure of Roy Keane in 2005, however some weren’t convinced due to the much inflated price tag. There were many players linked with United since Roy Keane’s exit including Gattuso, Mascherano and Senna – however Fergie opted to the Bayern Munich man once it appeared Senna was unavailable for transfer.

Hargreaves qualities as a player are evident. Firstly, he is versatile and can play either in the middle of the park or on the right. When in the middle, he is at his best when occupying one of the two deeper midfield berths when either playing a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1. In terms of attributes he closes the opposition down extremely well, is a good passer of the ball and can read the game comfortably – he also has a superb freekick on him, which we could use sometimes from the usual smash and grab technique of Ronaldo.

Have we missed him? I was actually thinking of this a couple of weeks ago – despite the fact that we were winning games comfortably. Or do you think that Carrick, Scholes, Anderson, Giggs, Gibson and Fletcher have got enough quality to press the opposition accordingly? Has Hargreaves been a waste of money – considering he has only played a handful of games this season – whilst playing in 35 games last season – thats less that O’Shea. However, remember those games that he played in – the 1-0 victory over Liverpool at Anfield, the 2-1 victory over Arsenal (scoring the winning goal in the process) – whilst playing well in the Champions League final and scoring a superb penalty. Hargreaves has been a massive loss for the club and the sooner he gets back playing the better – although I can’t see that any time soon.

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Reasons to be positive

Posted on March 21, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Champions League, FA Cup, Man United, Premier League   1 Comment »

Sir Alex Ferguson
Wow, its been quite a depressing week for most Reds – which could get even worse if Liverpool overcome Aston Villa at Anfield tomorrow. Last weekend was soul destroying – whilst today’s performance indicates that United are starting to feel the heat. Is it something to be concerned about? Of course! Losing two games in succession isn’t something we’re used to – in truth we have been spoilt. However, how much of an impact will this have on the remainder of our season?

Lets look at the negatives first before venturing down the positive path:

  • Poor performance in the Champions League
  • Lost to our title rivals 4-1
  • Lost 2-1 to a side we’d thrashed two weeks previous

Yes – these things are hard to take, however it happens to all teams throughout the course of a season. Every side hits dodgy patches and I guess we are just in one of those. Look no further than Barcelona – who were cruising in La Liga – destroying Real Madrid in the process, lost two games recently (to Espanyol and Atletico Madrid) to ‘blow the title race wide open’. Barca are now six points clear of their title rivals – can they be caught? Of course they can but it will take one hell of a push from Madrid to overcome the deficit.

So to the positives and there are plenty of them – trust me:

  • United played poorly against Internazionale but still won the game
  • Chelsea lost to Tottenham Hotspur today
  • Even if Liverpool win tomorrow United will be four points clear – providing that game in hand is won of course.
  • United are still on course for five trophies

I think the last point speaks volumes. United could well win five trophies this season and our fate is still in our own hands across the board. We have a favourable draw in Europe – whilst will be pleased with Everton in the FA Cup. Also, like I said, we have a decent gap in the Premier League also. Remember when Chelsea blew away everyone in 2005/06? What we would have given for a four point lead at this stage of the season – considering the run in.

So the point of this blog is to reassure any Red that feels like everything is slipping away – this happens during a season. Sometimes it happens for the worse (1992 and 1998 spring to mind), whilst other times it is a mere poor patch – like when we lost to Portsmouth in the April of 2007 for instance. We are still in all the major trophies and lets face it – topping last season in terms of awards and performances was always going to be a major task.

United will not self implode – the only thing that may come into play is fatigue and how well the United players can cope towards the end of the season. For once I agree with Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger who claimed United ‘looked tired’ against Liverpool. I’m hoping this International break will do the lads well – whilst we must claim three points against Villa on the 5th April.

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Match Report: Fulham 2-0 Manchester United

Posted on March 21, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Fulham, Man United, Match Reports, Premier League   9 Comments »

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Murphy scores a penalty
Shambolic Manchester United crumbled to an embarrassing defeat at Craven Cottage to provide a major sign that the championship will be surrendered to Chelsea or Liverpool – but have every reason to be aggreived at referee’s Phil Dowd despicably biased performance.

A first half penalty from average ex-Liverpool player but constant United scourge Danny Murphy and a last gasp classy strike from Zoltan Gera were enough to secure victory for the home side but Dowd’s ridiculous decision to send off Wayne Rooney with the away team gaining momentum could be the defining moment in the title race.

Sir Alex Ferguson rung the changes after last weeks capitulation to Liverpool but Paul Scholes and Berbatov were abysmal, while Park was anonymous and Vidic’s replacement Jonny Evans appeared to lack significant confidence A penalty awarded midway through the first half was just about Dowd’s only decent decision of the day – Scholes’ inexcusable handball on the line was the catalyst for United’s subsequent downfall, and Murphy gladly accepted the invitation to score from the spot.

Wayne Rooney was brought on for the awful Berbatov at the break but the Champions continued to falter with ten men – Rooney, Ronaldo and Fletcher all missing chances with Park even guiltier, before United got a free kick placed where Ronaldo would strike, around 35 yards out.

Rooney threw the ball back and no-one caught it – and Dowd saw fit to give the striker a second yellow, and in doing so, dispel all of United’s momentum, write off the rest of the game, and ensure United were unable to appeal the pathetic decision, rendering forthcoming games an even greater obstacle. Dowd is an experienced referee and this appalling decision will doubtless be welcomed nationwide but Rooney’s dismissal was a simply incredible move.

The title challenge for the Red Devils shows signs of 98 and 2002 and is clearly on the rocks, and honorary Scouser Phil Dowd will have every reason to pat himself on the back tonight – though Sir Alex Ferguson, subsequently, will surely have every reason to request that Dowd is not considered for future United games.

None of this should detract from Fulham’s performance, who, after such media encouragement, were fully deserved winners, but nevertheless Dowd’s deliberate decision at a crucial point in the game could be the most powerful moment of the season.

Source: (Yolkie)

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Match Report: Manchester United 1-4 Liverpool

Posted on March 15, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Liverpool, Man United, Match Reports   18 Comments »

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Liverpool Celebrate

Manchester United suffered a humiliating 4-1 defeat at the hands of their bitter rivals Liverpool in what proved to be a very depressing day for any Red.

United fans had welcomed Rafa Benitez to Old Trafford with the usual chants of ‘He’s cracking up!’, which of course was in reference to Benitez claim that referees favour Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson goes unpunished when questioning decisions. Liverpool’s recent record at Old Trafford wasn’t great – and the last time the Merseysiders scored a goal was in 2004.

United lined up 4-4-2 with Berbatov, Giggs and Scholes dropping to the bench after the 2-0 victory over Internazionale in the week – with Tevez, Anderson and Park replacing them. Liverpool lined up with their usual 4-2-3-1 formation – which proved to be very effective across the course of the game. Liverpool were forced to make a change just prior to the kickoff when Spanish fullback Arbeloa injured himself during the warm up and veteran Sami Hyypia replaced him.

United started off reasonably well with Tevez, Park and Evra linking up well on the left handside of the pitch. However, Benitez’s usual deployment of two anchormen screening the back four worked a treat to help nullify United’s wingers – Ronaldo and Park. United’s play was often quite narrow, which allowed the left fullback Aurelio to roam forward.

Having said that United got the break through on 23 minutes when Tevez played a glorious outside of the boot pass through for Park to chase. Park then touched the ball passed the on coming Reina – who brought the Korean down – penalty. Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up to score his eighteen goal of the season in all competitions. United had the lead over their rivals and knew that they had only conceded goals in four games at Old Trafford – against Newcastle United, Hull City and most recently Blackburn rovers.

However, the lead lasted only five minutes when Liverpool’s young defender Skrtel blasted the ball from his own area towards the United goal. Ferdinand and Vidic had covered well with Torres lingering in front of the Serbian. As the ball dropped, for some reason, Vidic failed to head the ball and let it drop. Torres then pounced with immense speed to unsettle the defender who then proceeded to fall over giving Torres a one on one situation – which the Spaniard took full advantage of. An enormous error of judgment on behalf of Vidic who has been brilliant this season for the Champions.

The goal ruffled United, which resulted in a number of passes going astray – whilst Liverpool’s mentality changed, knowing that United were cleared affected by the error. Liverpool closed down United all over the pitch, pressing them high in their own half – whilst United adopted a deeper approach – with Wayne Rooney clearly showing his frustrations at the adopting of this mentality. Time after time it was clear to see an irate Rooney screaming at his colleagues – who were some way away from him.

Liverpool scored a second on the stroke of half time when Gerrard was brought down in the box by Patrice Evra. A clear penalty as Torres and Gerrard linked up well just outside the United box. Torres supplied an inch perfect pass for Gerrard to accelerate onto and win the penalty. Gerrard dispatched the penalty to Edwin Van Der Sar’s left side before running off kissing the badge on his shirt – maybe a reference to the chants that United fans sing about Gerrard’s failed transfer to Chelsea in the summer of 2005.

After the break United picked it up a little and bombarded Liverpool with chances, however Liverpool did defend exceptionally well and only and Anderson corner, which was dropped by Reina, and a Carlos Tevez chance were of any concern. Sami Hyypia played very well, especially considering that he was drafted in at the last hour, intercepting a number of passes and reading things very well.

United were pressing for an equalizer and Ferguson decided to bring on the old guard of Giggs and Scholes along with Berbatov who replaced Anderson, Carrick and Park. Michael Carrick, who is highly regarded at, was way below par for his standards – following a quiet game against Internazionale on Wednesday – and failed to stamp any authority or demonstrate his illustrious range of passing.

Fifteen minutes before the end of the game United were down to ten men when Nemanja Vidic brought Gerrard down having missed an interception. Alan Wiley was left with no choice but to send off the Serbian – who had an extremely miserable afternoon. The United number fifteen is favourite to wint the player of the year award – although he will not want to remember this performance as he trudged off the Old Trafford turf.

Liverpool not only benefited from the numerical advantage on the field but from the resulting freekick from which the foul occurred. Fabio Aurelio stepped up to place a superb left footed strike past the flat footed Edwin Van Der Sar. The Stretford End was stunned as Liverpool celebrated a two goal advantage with just over ten minutes left to play. United had last conceded three goals at home in the league to Hull last Autumn.

United pressed further more, although not really forcing any clear cut goal scoring opportunities. Liverpool then rubbed salt into the wounds of the United players by scoring a fourth in injury time. A long punt down the field from Reina wasn’t challenged dropped to the Liverpool substitute Dossena who then lobbed Edwin Van Der Sar to round off a quite miserable day for United. Two goals scored by direct balls not being cut out will not pleased Sir Alex Ferguson.

United were second best for most of yesterday’s contest, despite the post-match comments of Sir Alex. All four of Liverpool’s goals were products of errors made by United – however nothing can be taken away from Liverpool who deserved their victory yesterday. Fernando Torres showed why he is a top class striker – showing strength, pace and sublime movement – which will leave many Reds wondering why United didn’t purchase him when he was at Atletico Madrid. Sir Alex Ferguson will expect a reaction and considering United haven’t conceded four goal at home since the 4-1 defeat to QPR on New Years day 1992 – I expect one.

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Where do we go from here?

Posted on March 15, 2009  by Stretford-end  in Liverpool, Man United, Premier League   5 Comments »

There’s no doubt about it – the 4-1 defeat by Liverpool was the most painful defeat in living memory for any Manchester United supporter.

Worse than the 1-0 defeat as Arsenal claimed the double at Old Trafford in 2002, worse than the 3-0 defeat at Chelsea in 2006, worse than the 5-0 defeats to Newcastle in 96 and Chelsea in 99, and even worse than the 5-1 derby defeat in 1989 and 4-1 loss in 2004.

The 02 and 06 defeats spurred United into winning the league the next season, and the 5-0’s elicited strong responses that culminated in triumphs in the league the same season. It outweighs the City results mainly because a) both were away and b) both were during periods of transition. No excuse for those defeats, it just serves to accentuate the devestation of this one.

What makes it so bad? Well, this is supposed to be (potentially) the best side in English history, being caught well and truly with their pants down against their nearest rivals. As weird as this sounds, the result would be easier to take if it had drawn Liverpool on level points with us, as it would at least spur us into life. As it is we could still stumble to the league in the same manner as we did in 2001, the defeat could mean little more than a blot on an incredibly successful season. But, it will be a blot – one we have plenty of excuses for – United had nothing to lose, played like a side who needed only to draw, the Vidic sending off changed the game, the scoreline was completely unrealistic – but at the end of the day, Liverpool scored four times and we couldn’t find the net after the first.

So, the positives? Well, to give it what I believe is the perfect (if a little rubbish) analogy, the defeat was like your girlfriend saying that someone else is handsome after you’ve both had a bit to drink. You’re angry and devestated at the time but on reflection you realise you’re still far better, and everything will sort out. Doesn’t make much sense does it?

Well, how about the defeat, in all its tragedy, still managed to sum up the beauty of being a supporter of Manchester United?

We were awful and Liverpool thoroughly deserved to win, but the defeat was more down to the former – you would be hard pushed to find anyone who isn’t a dyed in the wool Scouser or venemous ABU that would say hand on heart that Liverpool are a better side than United. It was simply a combination of the worst day for a long time for each of United’s starting XI, a mixture of complacency and an off day that had winked an alluring hello for 30 minutes against Inter and manifested itself for a hour against Liverpool.

But, even so, in the last minutes, Rooney was trying a left foot volley from the edge of the area and Ronaldo (to the anger of most fans) was trying a free kick in the dying moments with the score at 1-3, when the ball was better off floated into the box.

It’s precisely this attitude that, despite the scoreline, sets United apart from Liverpool (and the Arsenal and Chelsea sides of yesteryear). Sir Alex’s sides have always been set out to win whereas the others set out primarily to not lose – sometimes it means exaggerated scorelines like the one against Liverpool, and those mentioned above. The score could be 0-1 or 0-3 and United will be trying to claw it back.

Ultimately though it’s that same principle, that same attitude that means United will end the season with more trophies than Liverpool. At times, even with Liverpool leading, I honestly couldn’t see how a Liverpool fan could say in any seriousness that they had set out to win at Old Trafford rather than set out and see what happened. The response after Gerrard’s penalty showed just that – they had found themselves in a position they did not expect to be and they offered little in the second half, except, ironically, the goals. Some may say (and with a degree of fairness I might add) that they did not have to show anything else but on another day Vidic may not have been sent off, Edwin may have put a man on the line and United’s triple change may have paid the ultimate dividend.

Clutching at straws it may be but recent history (and that of United under Sir Alex) would support the theory.

And though I doubt there are many Manchester United fans hitting the panic button just yet, it serves as a timely reminder to utter the philosophy that was evident in our team even in the dying seconds today – “he who dares”.

It’s the philosophy that saw Eric Cantona volley in the dying seconds in the 1996 FA Cup Final, the philopsophy that saw Ryan Giggs take on the best defence in Europe in 1999 like a kid in a playground (and saw Teddy and Ole swing out hopeful boots in a game later that year), the one that saw Peter Schmeichel score to preserve our (at the time ) unbeaten home record in Europe. It’s also the same one that saw Giggs waltz past the Arsenal defence in 2003 at Old Trafford only to sky an empty net, the same that saw Schmeichel injure himself for the business end of the 1998 season trying to score in the crunch game against Arsenal, and the same that saw Rooney and Ronaldo miss with maverick attempts today. We were awful for 90 minutes but at least at the end we were still there making chances.

So the question I ask – is the Liverpool result a worthwhile sacrifice if it means another trophy at the end of the season? Or is the result unacceptable under any circumstances?

Source: (Yolkie)

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