Friday, 29 August 2008

Manchester United 1-2 Zenit St. Petersburg

UEFA Cup winners Zenit St. Petersburg produced another shock result, typical of their successful campaign last season, but as was the case then, it was a well deserved victory, this time over the European Champions, as the Russian club won the UEFA Super Cup.

Manchester United looked sluggish, and at times lacking in real creativity - with a midfield of Cristiano Ronaldo, Michael Carrick, Owen Hargreaves and Ryan Giggs all unavailable, Sir Alex Ferguson once again called on Darren Fletcher and the jet-setting Anderson, who despite a typically competitive and industrious performance, was clearly showing signs of his around the world excursions in the last 7 days.

Zenit looked much the sharper in the early stages, producing a couple of surges down the right hand side. While their attacks weren't deadly, as such, they served as surprise warning signs for United. A defensive scramble seconds before half time proved vital, and possibly fatal to United's chances of winning the trophy. Pavel Pogrebnyak made amends for screwing a couple of earlier chances, and took advantage of slack defending in the box following a corner to head in on the line from a Denisov flick on.

The second half failed to spark the Red Devils into life, and £24m signing Danny showed why Zenit were prepared to splash the cash when he sealed the victory with a fine solo effort, making mugs, worringly, out of the United defence. Next game Rio and co are up against Fernando Torres who will be keen to atone for a couple of poor shows against the Reds last term - we can only hope any ring rustiness has been shaken off by then.

It wasn't looking much better up front - Nani was ineffectual on his return, and while Carlos Tevez was energetic and the most likely goal source, Wayne Rooney looked shockingly off-key - perhaps letting the media doubters get to him.
At 2-0 Zenit sat back and United produced a late surge - Nemanja Vidic converted Tevez's pull back to reduce the deficit, but an equaliser was never really on the cards. When Paul Scholes inexplicably punched in the "equaliser" with a minute or two on the clock, he not only was given a second yellow and ruled out of the opening Champions League group game, but he also ended any chances of United getting an improbable draw.

Sir Alex Ferguson will spend the rest of the transfer window trying to sign a striker - probably Berbatov - but there are a few signs of concern. Striker or no striker, the midfield did not look very creative, and the defence is at its bare bones of experience. Wes Brown will be thrown back into team for the Liverpool and Chelsea games and Fergie must be praying for an injury free international break, otherwise our chances of winning the Premier League could be on the rocks by the end of September.

Ratings : van der Sar 6, Neville 5 (Brown 5), Ferdinand 5, Vidic 6, Evra 6, Fletcher 5 (Park 6), Scholes 5, Anderson 6 (O'Shea 5), Nani 5, Rooney 5, Tevez 7*

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Yesterday's Chip Paper

A new series of articles I'm writing for (it's a great place, go check it out), is "Yesterday's Chip Paper", a look back on newspaper reports of yesteryear about Manchester United. The first takes a look at the late Emlyn Hughes hilariously bad prediction about the signing of Eric Cantona. Obviously he wasn't to know how it would pan out at the time, but even reading it now you'd be forgiven for doing a double take and wondering if his tongue was firmly in his cheek.

A Flashy Foreigner
EMLYN HUGHES on the last big gamble of United's Alex Ferguson - Daily Mirror, Saturday, November 28, 1992

It will be Oooh Arrgh Cantona

"A MASTER STROKE... that's what some people are saying about Manchester United's signing of Eric Cantona.

Me? I say it's a panic buy. One last frantic roll of the dice to see if the Frenchman can hit the jackpot for Alex Ferguson. It could either win him something this season, or cost him his job. Break the bank - or bust him.


And I'll admit when I heard the news I was simply staggered. Cantona looks the business, but in my opinion he's a flashy foreigner. He'll score goals for United... when they are two up. But don't look for him to get in there when it hurts, or to decide a game and be a matchwinner.

Cantona could have won the second leg of Leeds' European Cup tie with Rangers at Elland Road if he had been good enough. But he wasn't and he didn't. I counted a hat-trick of chances squandered before he knocked one in when the game was dead and buried.

United will want Cantona to produce the main meal of Boeuf Bourgignon, not just the appetizer of frogs legs and no filling. It might be all right for a month or two, but what will happen if Alex goes into one of his dressing room rages when things start to go wrong?


There have been allegations against the Frenchman that he shuffles off in a sulk when the flak begins to fly and has been training or even go home for two days. Don't forget he was trouble in France, where he fell foul of their authorities and was nicknamed L'Enfant Terrible. For Fergie to sign a player who looked as if he was being phased out at Elland Road, suggests he pushed the panic button. He failed to get Alan Shearer, who chose Blackburn instead of Old Trafford, then got no joy out of Sheffield Wednesday when he went in for David Hirst. Before that he sold off Mark Robins, who has since helped shoot Norwich to the top. So what he's done represents perhaps the biggest gamble of his career at the club.

I suspect Howard Wilkinson will get the best out of the deal.. the fact he's got his money back is sound business.

I'm always suspicious of crowd pleasers. Cantona had his fan club, and a chant, but it didn't mean he could play. Too often he didn't, when it mattered most to Leeds, like the two away European Cup ties he disappeared from. As Wilkinson said: "I can only play eleven players". What he didn't say was that Cantona was one of them.

Ferguson is becoming desperate in his quest to win the League for United, but his side ca't score goals.

I'm certain Cantona is not going to put that problem right. I cannot see him being the man who'll either get goals or start Mark Hughes scoring. Shearer was his man. Should have been, and Fergie is now getting stick from the fans for missing him. He has to expect it, and now he is forced to go clutching at straws. If United win the League it will prove to be the best buy of all... but if they don't...

Cantona is full of flair, he's flash, he gave Leeds something different and helped them win the title. Perhaps that's what has turned Ferguson's head. Perhaps he thinks what he's done one, he can do again.

It will keep his critics quiet on the terraces, and within the club.

But for how long?"

King Eric - decent player, but Emlyn reckoned Robins was the answer

King Eric.. decent player, but Fergie must still have sleepless nights at bringing him in and letting Robins go..

Portsmouth 0 - 1 Manchester United

Fletcher refused to give Rooney the secret of his golden boots (Picture = BBC)

An under strength Manchester United claimed a precious win at the notoriously difficult Fratton Park thanks to an own goal by ex-Manchester City defender Sylvain Distin.

Sir Alex Ferguson welcomed back Carlos Tevez, while Anderson returned from the Olympic Games (yesterday!) to ensure the continued loss of Ryan Giggs, and the absence of Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick, was not a blow.

United deservedly took the lead on 32 minutes when lovely work on the left hand side - a constant highlight of the first half - from Tevez and Evra saw the Frenchman's drilled ball go in off Darren Fletcher, Sol Campbell and Distin. Whose goal? Probably a Distin OG but Fletcher will be keen to claim the goal that would put him top scorer in the Premier League. It was just reward for the Scot's workrate in the first half - obviously buoyed by the backing he has from this website!

Brazilian Anderson fizzed in a wonderful pass that Rooney expertly controlled, turning, and firing just wide from 20 yards.

Anderson's logic defying fitness levels was perhaps of marginally less belief than referee Chris Foy's decision not to send off Papa Douba Diop when he punched the ball away from Wayne Rooney in the dying seconds of the first half - in fact, the Senegalese midfielder escaped any punishment whatsoever, just moments after receiving a yellow card. The scenario had yet to play its final scene as Diop again escaped any punishment in the dying moments of the match following a bad tackle on Tevez.

The second half was one of few chances but, again, United created arguably the better openings. There were many plusses for United, Evra's magic work down the left hand side, Brown and Fletcher in a very surprising confident combination down the right hand side, Possebon making an impressive cameo after the decision to rest Anderson after 70 minutes was greeted by boos from the United travellers, Rooney's impressive forward work, the fantastic defensive work of a patchwork Vidic, and of course the always understated work that is the genius of Paul Scholes.

United head into a mammoth double header with renewed optimism - and with the increasing body count being replenished, the cause for excitement can only grow.

Ratings : van der Sar 7, Brown 8, Ferdinand 8, Vidic 8, Evra 8, Fletcher 8, O'Shea 7, Scholes 8, *Anderson 9 (Possebon 7), Rooney 8, Tevez 8 (adapted by webmaster)

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Manchester United 1 - 1 Newcastle United

Manchester United 1 - 1 Newcastle United

The Premier League and European Champions suffered an eeriely similar fate as their last opening day fixture - being held to a home draw by less fancied competition.

Where last season's game was down to a credible defensive holding job by Reading, Newcastle comfortably stopped Manchester United taking the lead - and the injury list being increased would have done nothing to help the home fans optimism.

Already hampered by the loss of Carlos Tevez prior to kick off due to a family passing, United fans must have feared the worst to see a substitutes bench with no recognisable forward, and their fears would come to fruition. The first half started quite lively, as Magpies keeper was forced to make 3 super saves - first from a diving Fraizer Campbell header attempted from a sublime Wayne Rooney cross, and then from a low Rooney shot, from which Given parried a Scholes rebound. United had loud shouts for a penalty turned away when James Milner appeared to handle a third minute Ryan Giggs free kick.

Newcastle took the lead when Obafemi Martins expertly headed in a corner, but that lead lasted just 90 seconds as Darren Fletcher converted a magnificent Ryan Giggs pass to equalise. Giggs, on his 780th game, was by far the most imaginative United player on show and when he pulled up early in the second half, almost unable to use his left foot, any hopes of a home victory were more or less extinguished. The fear was compounded when in the 7 or 8 minutes he stayed on the pitch after, clearly uncomfortable and using only his right foot, he was clearly the main creative output. Indeed, it was a somewhat sad sight to see the Welshman hobbling about but head and shoulders above his team mates.

Giggs' injury followed the substitution of Michael Carrick, who went off after Fletcher's goal to be replaced by John O'Shea. Lacking half a first team of creative ability meant that a 1-1 result was only likely to be troubled by Newcastles energetic new signings - and although Vidic headed against the crossbar, and Rooney's last gasp freekick went past the post, there was a desperate sense of resignation amongst the home crowd. That Rafael, a right back, was introduced as an attacking hope for Fraizer Campbell with moments to go, was a telling story of the piece, and prompted flashbacks to John O'Shea's introduction as a striker in the Reading game of last season.

Once again United find themselves 2 points adrift of the rest of the "big 3" on the first day of the season with a daunting trip to Portsmouth, sure to apply themselves better after their comedic effort at Stamford Bridge, to follow. The collective absences of Ronaldo, Tevez, Anderson, Nani, Park, Saha, and the injuries to Giggs and Carrick will serve as rude awakenings to Red Devils - though with no improvement on the horizon, the Champions surely are already looking at a few months of catch up on their rivals.

Ratings : van der Sar 6, Brown 6, Ferdinand 6, Vidic 6, Evra 5, Fletcher 6, Carrick 6 (O'Shea), Scholes 6, *Giggs 8 (Possebon), Campbell 5 (Rafael), Rooney 6.