18 03 2008

Was Derby so strong, or were we so weak? I’d say it was a combination of both. We missed a couple of opportunities early on and it’s just one of things in football. Missing early chances somehow gives your opponent inspiration and they start believing they can get something from the game. And that is just what happened. In the first fifteen minutes we basically went through their defence like butter, but we didn’t punish them for it. As the game went on, their defence tightened and it was always going to be difficult to break them down once the first half went without a goal. And of course, they one Roy Carroll in goal who wanted to prove something. But in the end, class prevailed and the RoRo-combination found a way through, and luckily so …

Besides that, I’d like to lift out two players. One in a positive way, one in a negative. The positive is without a doubt Michael Carrick. In the past games he has been very impressive, distributing play, giving long, raking, pinpoint passes with both right and left and meanwhile intercepting a lot of balls in midfield and protecting the defence. This is the Carrick I always believed he could be. I don’t know why or how he suddenly found the confidence he needed, but I’m happy he did. I’m not sure if it is because of the extra competition for places or just that he only now starts feeling completely comfortable at Old Trafford, but to me, he is proving he is most definitely a worthy successor to Paul Scholes if he can keep up this kind of form.

The negative, it pains me to say, is Ryan Giggs. The Welshman has been in awful form lately. No goals, no assists, no surging runs through the opposing defence. Against Derby it was obvious yet again. I remember he went through a period like this last season and he came back to perform at his old level, but I have the feeling that it’s been going on for a longer time now. I’m not saying we should get rid of him, far from, because his experience alone is very important the team, but at this moment I really prefer seeing Nani on the wing, who’s showing why Ferguson was so keen to get him during the summer.



9 03 2008

One of my readers went to the derby and sent me a story. Since I’m short on time, I gladly post it, as I think it’s much more interesting to see it through the eyes of someone who was actually there. During the week, I’ll post an update about the latest games, since finally my gruelling schedule at uni has come to an end.

February 10th; DERBY DAY
Having had tickets purchased for us 6 months ago, this day hit us like Christmas morning. The sun beaming in our faces. We jumped up and were ready to go in minutes, dressed in our jerseys and makeshift black armbands. Lee and Carrie arrived at Mike’s to pick us up and we were off to the metro. Over the course of our 4-stop trip from Brooklands to Old Trafford, even though we were almost two hours early for kickoff, the metro filled with supporters from every corner of human demographics. Adults with young children, senior-citizen couples, grandmothers with grandchildren, adult children taking their elderly mum and/or dad, a few lads who resembled junior members of the firm, most in some degree of club colours.

If the train was busy, then going down Warwick Road made you think an exodus was at hand. As we proceeded towards the ground down Warwick Road, it became more and more difficult to stay with Lee, Carrie and Jordan. Dreams of getting into The Trafford Pub or The Bishop’s Blaze for a pre-kickoff pint were immediately wiped out.

The Flowers of Manchester were laid out on the opposite side of United Road. Heaps of flowers were grouped with scarves – mostly United, some foreign – teddy bears, poems written in marker on bristol boards. A Manchester City flag laid amongst the flowers was a particularly classy and appropriate element of the display. Hundreds of supporters cued for their turn to look and take pictures.

Immediately after ?United Road? was played over the PA, it was time for the teams.

With the warm sun beaming into Old Trafford, the teams were escorted from the tunnel by a lone piper playing ?We will never die?. The Stretford End lead the stadium in song. The ceremony was respectful and appropriate. We held up our commemorative scarves. City fans raised theirs. The moment of silence was announced. Howard Webb blew his whistle.

Although the ?fireworks’ were loud and completely dispicable, they did nothing to distract the 75,790 paying respects inside the ground. Not a sound made. Not a word spoken. Howard Webb’s whistle blew again. The stadium exploded in applause. Sir Alex walked over to the visitors’ corner and applauded their supporters. Unprecedented. Amazing. Deep inside I think Sir Alex knew they had it in them!

As the match progressed, our play started to remind me of a particular United that sometimes show their faces. A United where we cannot get anything going. I’ve seen this game before, I thought. Wolves vs United at the Molineux. Four years ago now? When Wolves scored and soaked us up until full time it became a unique and special day for them. To beat United at home. I was in the third row then. This day began to remind me of it.

We were difficult to watch this Derby day. Wayne Rooney banned, an all-attacking midfield with Scholes and Anderson unable to find their rhythm and Ryan Giggs (rating 4) and Nani (4) virtually ineffective. Rio Ferdinand’s (4) two sloppy turnovers were more than I’ve seen all year, and John O’Shea, who although is quite solid, lacks the attacking ability of Patrice Evra and gave us virtually no overlapping option down the left flank behind Giggs. Giggs was isolated most of the match and often gave the ball away, not to mention missing from six meters to put us in front early on. Our bright spots, as always, Van der Sar (8) did everything he could to keep Darius Vassell’s effort out, but with no immediate defensive assistance, he could not save the second effort. City deserved the lead. They were energetic and were not put off by the occasion, venue or their opponents. Deep inside, I did not mind the goal, since I was certain it meant we would have to start to play now. The beast must awake. We’re certainly not losing at home on derby day. City’s fearless play continued such that a colour-blind fan would have difficulty distinguishing City from United. They made positive runs and were composed in defense. They played simple football involving pressuring for turnovers and making the simple pass. The calm in their play made Sven-Goran Eriksson look brilliant, for the team talk must have prompted these tactics. ?Be relaxed, play simple balls, get the ball into the danger area, don’t be afraid of them.? Carlos Tevez (6) was our brightest star. He showed well for the ball and held it up well. He was energetic and creative. However with little support and creativity from the players around him, he was rendered ineffective. Ronaldo (3), appeared tired, under-motivated and threw up his arms in a show of frustration when we lost the ball, rather than tracking back to defend.

My mind slowly began to deal with the idea that there may be no comeback today, not as a result of a lack of time (who would we be kidding), but rather at the lack of improvement in our play over the course of the match. That the calibre of the event, the importance of the day, the build-up and the distraction from pure football would all combine to let Sven-Goran Eriksson get the better of us at Old Trafford for the first time since 1974. And as the noise from the Stretford End receeded, the sounds from the visiting corner continued to grow. In the end, the several thousand United supporters that remained, joined the City fans in applauding the Sky Blues off the pitch into the tunnel. Something I never imagined possible!

A day like this helps us remember how trivial football is. When we think about those whose lives football took, it’s easy to see this derby loss as nothing but a bump in our road to the title. For it cannot be compared to the adversity the club has faced in the past … as far back as 50 years.

From Old Trafford,
Alex Zaslavsky

The derby

9 02 2008
Our last game against Tottenham was disappointing, but snatching that point deep in injury time did give a sense of relief. It was one of our worst matches in a while, which was in large part due to a good performance of an ever improving Spurs-side. Luckily Chelsea couldn’t win either, so that difference remains the same and I’m sure Arsenal will slip up somewhere along the line so we can regain top spot.
About tomorrow’s game. I’m reading Ferguson is contemplating to let youngster Danny Welbeck play – and even start – with Rooney unavailable through suspension and Saha out injured. I’ve seen him play last year in the European Championship U17 and while he made a good impression amongst the boys from his age, I’d be very surprised he made so much progression in a couple of months to be really ready for first team football.
I’d go for the easy solution and play Tevez in the centre and put Giggs, Ronaldo and Nani in the team, and just let them freely rotate. All three of them can play through the centre and on either flank, and nothing is more difficult to defend than an ever changing front line.
We’re only a couple of hours away from the big bad derby now, and you can see everywhere the build-up has well and truly started. For many people – especially City fans – it’s the biggest game of the year, while for me it’s definitely more than just another game, but not more important than games against the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool, or in the latter stages of the Champions League. So of course I will be in the pub tomorrow to cheer on the boys, but I won’t have to cry myself to sleep in the unlikely event we don’t win.


18 01 2008

The game against Newcastle must have been one of the most fun I’ve seen in quite a while. We won 6-0 and it could easily have been so much more. They saved three balls of the line, we could have had three penalty’s and Given made a couple of outstanding saves. United playing like that is just the best team to watch in the world, at this moment. We shouldn’t get too carried away just yet, because the season is still so long and being in excellent form in the middle of the season wins you nothing if you can’t play at your very best anymore come April and May.

It has happened to so many teams before, just think of how many times Arsenal played jawdropping football during the season, but when the Champions League quarter and semi-finals came, they ran out of steam. Or when Newcastle was 12 points up during the winter of 1996 and ended up losing the title to us. Or just look at last season in Spain, where Real Madrid somehow managed to snatch the title from Barcelona’s claws.

Anyway, let’s not be too pessimistic, everything is looking bright for us and we have a great future ahead of us, considering the core of our team is no older than 25 on average. In the current squad there is only big worry for me: Louis Saha. I’ve said it before, but his run of injuries is just becoming too much. We only have three strikers – not counting Goncalves because I have no idea how good is – so we can’t afford one of them being injured all the time.

Up against Reading this week at the Madejski. Of course we should beat them and they’re not in great form at the moment, but they’re always dangerous to play against. With Kitson, Hunt and Doyle they have three players who can score a goal from nothing, but I feel they have looked a bit suspect in defence recently, which of course is not so good when you’re playing a team which is that rampant and full of attacking poise at the moment …

After the party

7 01 2008

Wow, has it been a month already? Time flies when you’re having fun and holidays. Sorry about that peeps.

In a month, a lot happened. We overtook Arsenal, only to be overtaken again ourselves a couple of days later.

Fulham @ home: we started off absolutely brilliant, with high tempo, a lot of attacking intentions and great awareness at the back. Even though we scored early, it already felt like the goal was inevitable. Ronaldo volleyed it in brilliantly after Vidic’ header on after a poor clearance from Davis. About Ronaldo’s penalty shout: I’m absolutely convinced he didn’t dive. I mean, he was on a hattrick and it would have been the first time in his Manchester United-career he’d score three goals in a game. He’s not going to sacrifice that possibility to win a penalty, which he could miss of course.

Derby County @ home: not a lot to say about this one. Derby just weren’t good enough. Good day for Tevez who scored two and of course Giggsy got his 100th goal. Great achievement for a midfielder.

Roma away: I must say I was very impressed with our reserve team’s achievement against a near full strength AS Roma. Well done to the kids and I’m sure Rooney was the happiest man on the pitch. Why? Because he finally got to wear that captain’s armband of course.

Liverpool away: not the greatest game we’ll ever play, but you have to admit we held Liverpool brilliantly. They barely got a chance and never really looked like scoring. And what an awful mistake to leave Rooney standing all alone at the edge of the penalty area. They really should know better, don’t you think?

Everton @ home: all I can say is “thank you Steven Pienaar”. We probably deserved to win it anyway, but without his silly foul in the penalty area, I sincerely doubt we would have won it. Ronaldo took the penalty, cool as you like and had already scored with a quite beautiful long range shot. Our Portuguese maestro is really starting to stake his claim as the best player in the world.

Sunderland away: this game was only important for one thing really: Saha getting back among the scorers. The two goals will have done his confidence a world of good and he needed it. If he doesn’t start performing in the remainder of the season, I think this could well be the Frenchman’s last in United colours.

West Ham away: they are really starting to be a bête noire, aren’t they? Three losses in our last three meetings with them. The fact we lost was not that bad, the way we lost was far more concerning. This game was one of the worst I’ve seen in recent years. We were so lacklustre, it was like we didn’t even want to win, and conceding two goals from set pieces is just horrible. Yes, Ronaldo missed a penalty – his first one since he’s taking them (ok, he also missed his first one against Wigan, but he scored the rebound) – that turned the game in the Hammers’ favour. But just think were we’d be without him. It’s painful, but I just can’t hold it against him. There’s no one who has never missed a penalty and he has done excellently so far.

Birmingham @ home: comfortable win, that should have been far more convincing. The goal though, was an absolutely beautiful interchange between Ronaldo and Tevez. Tevez did very well to get the ball to Ronaldo and his flick on to put the Argentine alone in front of the keeper was quite simply world class.

Aston Villa away: you have to love the teamwork between Rooney and Ronaldo. They really know each other and can predict what the other one is going to do and how he will react to certain things. When Rooney came on, it was obvious straight away he had a real impact on the game. In the end it was a good win, and I was especially impressed with the way we contained the likes of Carew and Agbonlahor.

Next up: Newcastle United: we really should win it. Allardyce’s boys have been in terrible form lately, but playing against the champions will undoubtedly give them some extra motivation. With the form our top players are in, even an extremely motivated and dogged Newcastle should be conquered.

Bump in the road

29 11 2007

Well, that serves me right. For once I’m actually confident about a victory and we lose. Losing against Bolton? How did we do that? Okay, they were gradually improving, but they hadn’t won a game for three months in the Premier League. Being tired from international football and the travelling involved can’t be an excuse. They’re professionals and should be able to cope with it. It’s not like it’s the first time it happened. And anyway, Bolton have their fair share of international players as well, they were just as tired as us.

No honestly, I can’t understand how we didn’t come out of that with at least one point. We definitely didn’t play our greatest game of the season, but it wasn’t that bad. Being Manchester United, you can’t afford losing points against teams that are in the relegation zone, but apparently, some players think about this sort of games too easy. Every single team in the Premiership will punish you if you’re not playing at your best level, it doesn’t matter if it’s one from the top four or from the bottom three. Of course it’s only natural to feel a bit more confident, a bit less stressed and a bit more relaxed when you’re playing a ‘lesser’ team, but that’s one of the most important things you must learn to cope with when you’re a big team. You don’t win a championship by beating your direct rivals, you win it by not losing points against the small teams.

Anyway, I’m writing this during the closing stages of our Champions League game against Sporting Lisbon and we don’t seem to suffer from the defeat during the weekend too much. It’s a pretty good game, at least in the second half. During the first, I feel Sporting was the better team and they came close to a two goal lead, which they would probably have deserved as well. As a matter of fact, Cristiano Ronaldo just scored the winner in injury time, with a free-kick no less. One can only hope he start producing a couple more of those swerving balls that end up in the back of the net. That puts us top of the group, being the only team with five wins out of five. That’s a very good achievement and one which must inspire confidence in the entire squad we have what it takes to really compete in the Champions League this season.

Up against Fulham next weekend, I’m going to make another ‘bold’ statement. On the back of our victory against Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League and the fact we lost our last Premier League game, Fulham should be scared. I expect the players to come out firing from all cylinders and really take the game to them. Fulham have had a rocky start to the season and are now starting to play a little better, but if we get an early goal, I expect us to put four or five past Antti Niemi.

Rooney loss

11 11 2007

Our strikers seem to be cursed. It’s as if it’s impossible for all three of them to be 100% percent fit at the same time. It’s especially frustrating since Rooney was in a rich vein of form and he and Tevez really started to click. It does give Saha the chance to play himself back into the side, but is he fit enough to last 90 minutes every time for the next four weeks? Knowing Rooney, it probably won’t take him four weeks to get fit, but still, I can’t even remember the last time Saha was fully fit or an entire month, let alone him playing all the games during that period.

Against Blackburn, I expect a stern test. The Rovers are performing very well, play good football and are mentally very strong. But they concede a goal almost every game and that should be encouraging. The fact Liverpool couldn’t score against them doesn’t really mean that much. You can hardly say they’ve been in scintillating form. I do feel Blackburn could cause an upset, but almost every time I said that, we trashed the opposition. I’ll be quite surprised if that happens again, but I’d be absolutely ok with it of course.

By the way, has anyone thought about names for a long term replacement for Ferguson? I’ve thought about it a couple of times and although I can’t decide on one name, I do feel Mark Hughes should be in the running.