Thursday, 31 January 2013

UNITED COME AWAY FROM A SHOCKER OF A PERFORMANCE WITH ALL THREE!

How about that for a horrendous performance from United. I mean you would be hard pressed to think that it was Southampton in the relegation zone and United leading the league during that second half.


At a point when we were conceding an average of 2 goals per game at the start of the season and mid-season, I pointed it out on this blog that our failure to press opponents when we are not in possession was the reason as to why teams found it easy to get goals against us. What made Pep Guardiola such a hit at Barca is that he made them the best team in the world when they don't have the ball----and that was by hassling the opponents into submission.
It's fair to say that last night, Southampton were a poor man's Barca in terms of hassling us whenever we had possession to the extent that we virtually gave up our rights to the ball and allowed them the freedom of the park.
I can't think of the last time a team of that calibre bullied United at Old Trafford. Credit to them, if they can play like that every game, then they will definitely stay up.

As far as United were concerned, this performance will go unnoticed if they display something better this Saturday at Craven Cottage. The biggest positive was that we got the three points and extended our lead but  it must be appreciated by the players that in this unforgiving league, you do not play often as poor as that and still get away with it.
The manager said in championship races, you need that one game when you were lucky to win. I hope it will be the only one where we ride on as much luck to fall over the line.

We now have the opportunity to ask City the question when we play before them this weekend. They host Liverpool and its down to us to give them that extra psychological pressure ahead of that game--something they've failed to do to us after their draw with QPR ahead of our game last night. A double-digit lead will deflate them further but the reverse scenario will also have the reverse effect on their psyche.
Hopefully the former will be the case.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

INTO THE FIFTH ROUND

Yet again, Manchester United have been drawn against EPL opposition in the FA Cup for the 5th Round after seeing off EPL sides in the 3rd and 4th rounds. It's such luck that makes me loathe this competition. Of course Reading at home is not the fixture that will have any of us peeing in our pants, but I'd rather have taken Luton Town at home for this one. I'm pretty sure that Luton would have taken us over Millwall had they been offered the choice. That to me is what the FA Cup is about, not 26 consecutive games against EPL opposition.


Anyhow, the manager played the squad I wanted out for Saturday and they got the win. It was good to see RVP and a couple of regulars get a break as I think they'll need it as we embark on a couple of EPL games.
Like I said, next 8 games, very winnable if we are on point in terms of concentration. Those 24 points could put us in a position of comfort going into the last 5 games of the season which are much trickier.

Great to see our forwards boost their goal tallies especially Chicharito who will always be judged on goals scored. I think it remains worrying that Giggs can still start two games alongside Nani and still have a better game than the Portuguese player overall. Yes, he's still coming back from injury but its fair to say that what we saw of Nani in that first half was essentially the same old Nani---inconsistent especially when you add the second half to that (in which he was brilliant).

We've now got a job to do in the league against Southampton at home. By the time we kickoff that one, we could be just the 2 points ahead of City as they get to play on Tuesday. I've mentioned it before that the next 8 games are very winnable with the right concentration so I hope that we carry that single-minded attitude to the next few games.
It will be a disaster of relative proportions if by the end of Wednesday, the gap is not at least 5 points so here's to all three points.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!

Friday, 25 January 2013

BERBA IN THE CUP!

It is hoped that the players have returned from Qatar in good shape and focus to tackle the tripple header of challenges that awaits them over the next 10 days.


Now that I've got that out of the way; let me just say once again, and for good measure, that I will not be kicking myself if we get knocked out of the Cup tomorrow. God knows that if any fan was offered a win tomorrow or three points in the EPL midweek, they would without a doubt pick the latter.
Our lead at the summit of the league is down to five points so its imperative that we do not drop any more points before City do. We cannot afford to let them get very close to us as we have European engagements later on in the season.

About tomorrow though, you'd think that we should be able to get the home win without using our very best players. A home Cup tie is the least one can ask for and the fact that we've got that should hold us in good stead ahead of the game tomorrow.
The game will no doubt be teed up by the return of Dimitar Berbatov to OT following his move to Fulham. If the Cottagers keep calm and pass the ball to him, there is not a doubt that he could be responsible for that piece of magic that leads to them scoring.
All will be well though is it meas that for every goal they score, we score three!

In other news, the club has agreed a deal for Crystal Palace winger Wilfred Zaha. The stage is set for our wingers to prove their worth before the season is out. May the Best Man Win!

Monday, 21 January 2013

A CASE OF 2 POINTS DROPPED!

It's a given that we tend to score late goals more often than any other team in world football...in fact, so much so that its become part of our DNA.
Granted, that is a strength. However, it is a strength for a side to see out matches even by the slimmest of margins.



Last night's game is one of those that a United side of 2009 would have seen out 1-0 as we posted 8 results of that scoreline in the league en route to the title, but alas, clean sheets are a rarity these days.

It's with that hindsight that I categorise last night's result as 2 points dropped rather than the point gained as some will see it. Yes, we were unfortunate with a couple of decisions but I thought we kept playing to Spurs pace at a time when we should have calmed the game down and slowed it to suit or defenders and knock the adrenaline out of Spurs.

The goal itself seemed one you'd struggle to defend the keeper of. De Gea did brilliantly all game but unfortunately for him, the only punch he got wrong was punished. Whereas keepers have the problem of attackers and indeed their own defenders coming into them for the ball, the safe bet is for them to punch with an aim of getting the ball clear as far as possible. Two things: Either you punch it out of play or you punch generally away but with some sort of height or distance on the ball. the height or distance in the latter case is to afford your defenders that split second of time to reorganise to deal with the resulting attempt.
Yesterday, De Gea punched the ball downwards at the feet of Lennon, meaning Spurs were suddenly presented with the United goal minus a goalkeeper.

But let's not kid ourselves. Yes we should have seen out the game and yes Spurs have taken 4 points from us this season but in the grand scheme of things, we cannot be too disheartened by a point from White Harte Lane. We've ticked off yet another difficult trip and have just the 15 games left. A 5 point lead after 23 games is still remarkable. What we need to do now is take care of the next 8 games, which in my opinion are all winnable with the right attitude. Our last 8 of the season are a tad trickier but I gather that if we go on another winning spree, our lead will be much safer than the 5 points-lead we've got now.

The squad have flown out to Quatar for a 4 day training camp is what will undoubtedly be better and warmer conditions than the snow in England. Attention will then shift to the FA Cup next weekend where Fulham visit. Home draws should be bread and butter but I'd like that our focus more than ever remains on that EPL title.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

UNITED LIMP PAST WEST HAM!

My feelings towards the world's oldest Cup competition are well known as I have already ranted enough about them on this blog, but just in case you need a heads up---I don't care much about it!

Moving on, we've managed to get into the fourth round after trying so hard to make it as difficult for ourselves as possible. A home tie against Fulham is the reward for us----another EPL team that we could have done without in the FA Cup. Honestly, i don't see much 'romance' about the competition if it means we're going to keep playing EPL sides in the competition. I mean, what happened to meeting a third division side in the Cup? I certainly love the pressure of not wanting to lose to a lower division side, I mean is it still 'romantic' if West Ham or Fulham eject us?

The most important thing about the game for me was the fact that we had a trio players coming back from injury that needed a game. Perhaps it was their rustiness, but I didn't see much of Nani, Rooney and Anderson to suggest that we need to make serious changes to the side that beat Liverpool for the game on Sunday.
That Wayne missed a penalty adds voices to the debate of whether he should remain our penalty taker. Obviously even the best players in the world miss penalties but not at the record that Wayne has at the moment. A penalty is an almost certain goal, so given that we've missed five out of 9 so far, you do wonder whether the strikers should practice a little more.

At the end of the day though, a lot of our players want to win the Cup so its good that we're still in. We've got another crucial league fixture at the weekend as our 7 point lead at the top will be under threat kickoff on Sunday evening. Hopefully we'll be up for it to face one of three teams that have beaten us in the league---an the only side to do it at OT!

Till then, cheers!

Monday, 14 January 2013

UNITED KEEP CITY AT ARMS LENGTH

The worst possible ending to the weekend would have been ending up just four points ahead. The best possible ending would have been a double-digit lead at the top of the table. As fate would have it though, the EPL managed to sustain a title-race beyond Sunday as both City and United won their games in what Sky made us believe was Super Sunday.

The good news though is that we can only look after ourselves and a 9th win in the last 10 matches has ensured that we remain 7 points clear at the top of the table.

As far as the match proper is concerned, the manager said that we shall never again lose the title on goal difference and whereas we believe by that he means better defending and more goals, we've not really turned the screw on City in terms of goal difference to insulate us from the calamity of last season. We've won nearly 80% of our games by the odd goal. If its not 4-3, its 3-2 or 2-1 more often than not. Maybe Sir Alex meant that we would win enough games to rule out the issue of goal difference coming into the reckoning in May.
Yesterday, we had enough chances to kill off Liverpool within the first 45 and yet we only went in 1-0 ahead. That was sickening, especially as it was obvious that Dippers couldn't possible play any worse in the second half.

Thankfully though, their improved performance in the half only warranted the one goal and hence meant that the two we conjured up were in the end enough for us to do the double over them in the league for the first time in a while.

Robin van Persie continues to enjoy a stellar debut season at Old Trafford, but what about that build up for his first goal. It was a 14 pass move involving Clev, Welbz, Shinji and Evra. Brilliant engineering and easy on the eye to watch as RVP guided it past Reina. The Dutchman could have had a couple of back-heel beauties had it not been for ill-luck in both situations (I mean its ill-luck whenever Reina saves a goal-bound effort).

Ultimately though, we've managed to put another potentially slippery fixture out of the way as we get into that final stretch of games. No United side has ever conjured up 55 points after 22 games in the EPL so that should tell us that the lads are doing something right this season.

We've got another big one at Spurs next weekend and so I hope that the manager does not risk many of our vital players for the FA Cup replay on Wednesday. West Ham were difficult because they were home. I doubt the same can be said of them away. We've got enough quality in returning players to take care of that in Wayne, Nani, Anderson, and the likes of Jones. We need to remain up for the challenge in the league since City have a run of winnable games till February. A 7 point lead is not yet cause for taking our eye off the road yet, as we found out last season. Having said that, nobody imagined that we'd be in this position at the start of the season so we'll take it with both hands!

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

DERBY WEEKEND WITH A CHANCE TO BE CHAMPIONS ELECT!

Manchester United will officially become Champions Elect if they beat Liverpool on Sunday and City fail to pick up all three points at the Emirates later in the day. The two big fixtures means that both rivals will be rooting for the other to drop points in what could prove to be another crucial weekend in the EPL title race.

United took the gigantic step of going 7 points clear after that breathtaking win over City in December but could be pulled back within range if they fail to beat Liverpool and City win at Arsenal. On the other hand, United will be Champions Elect if they open up a double-digit lead against City at the end of the weekend. Those, dear reader are the permutations heading into episode 22 of Britain's most watched drama series.

At the moment, we're in such good shape results-wise that it is easy to lose concentration ahead of a game like this and wear an expectant mood. The reality is that if there is any team most desperate to see United finish off the top this year, its Liverpool. They will go into this game fired up to restore some pride after that Anfield win we posted earlier in the season. We're home and so it will be expected that our players are up to speed following a week-long rest.

The reason why I didn't fancy the FA Cup last weekend is because of permutations like the one we have now. We've got a replay next Wednesday after the game and you wonder if that will affect the manager's selection. Obviously he will play his best players on Sunday but you wonder if one or two other squad players who would otherwise be required for this game will be rested ahead of that game.

Anyhow, we have the advantage of playing first on Sunday, meaning that we could strike a psychological blow to City ahead of their game. This same scenario happened last season when we won the earlier game at home vs Liverpool and City found themselves under pressure at the Emirates--so much so that they lost. It is unlikely they'd have lost that game had we lost ours too. We've been playing after them a lot recently and have coped well to maintain our advantage, but you'd imagine that this is an opportunity for us to really turn the screw and throw more doubt in their minds.

Even if the gap at the top stays the same, the advantage will remain with us because A) that's one less fixture remaining and B) that's another difficult tie out of the way for us.
I'll therefore be the first to do an RVP upper cut celebration if results go our way on Sunday!

Till then Cheers!

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!


Thursday, 3 January 2013

THAT TROPHY AGAIN!

It's FA Cup weekend in England, meaning the EPL takes a 10 day break to sort out the sides that will per-take the fourth round of the Cup.

Manchester United have not won the competition for nearly a decade but remarkably remain the record winners of the Cup. Admittedly, we've come close since, most notably in 2005 and 2007 but its also fair to state that since then, the glamour and importance of the Cup has been gradually molting away.
Increase in TV revenue in both the Champions League and the EPL has meant that the FA Cup is third on big club's wish list at the start of the season. I mean what does one lose from being knocked out of the Cup these days anyway? Certainly not much for United who have nothing left to prove in the competition as the record winners.

Personally, besides the hurt of United losing a game, I cannot be bothered much if we got knocked out of it on Saturday. Whereas most of the team we have today doesn't have an FA Cup medal, I'd rather that if if we are to win it this year, it does not come at the cost of the other two bigger prizes. Whereas there is not much pride in reaching the final of the Champions League and losing it, the financial implications are very tangible as we found out after what happened last season. Given that we have a Glazer debt to get off our backs, I'd take a Champions League semi-final appearance every season ahead of an FA Cup final appearance.

The other sad thing about this competition is that United hardly get an 'easy' fixture even during the early rounds. Third Round Weekend is usually on the back of 4 EPL games in 10 days----meaning that you really hope for a draw in which you can put out your fringe players and still get a result. Although we've had Leeds and Southampton recently, how do u explain draws such as City in the third round last season and Liverpool in the season before that. If its not a top side we're up against, the draw has ensured that more often than not, its an EPL team. As such, the likes of Tottenham, Aston Villa (nearly every season), or a West Ham will  draw our number.
Besides, I doubt the FA Cup is all about throwing up more 'EPL fixtures' that we already have!

Anyhow, we got West Ham away this season. Whereas its not the most difficult opponent we could have drawn, away from home makes it one of the trickiest ties in the round. I mean West Ham and Big Sam can give our first choice side a run for their quid when they show up as they did in the league fixture at OT a while a few weeks ago. It's not so much as the tie as it is the venue in issue here. I just hate Upton Park for all its weirdness. The pitch reminds me of Arsenal's  Tennis Court Highbury. I mean, the last time we were there for any Cup fixture, we suffered a 4-0 defeat in a League Cup fixture.

All that notwithstanding, I do hope that we get the win tomorrow--if only for the fact that I hate to see United lose a game. I still hope that the manager will give a lot of the senior players a break as we need to come as close as possible to the freshness of Real Madrid in the Champions League in February.

The good news though is that I get to watch a game in which a draw and defeat can be good results---depending on how you look at it anyway.


Till then Cheers!


Tuesday, 1 January 2013

WHAT A FIRST HALF OF THE SEASON UNITED HAVE HAD!

At the start of the season, not even the most optimistic United fan dreamed of a 7 point lead at the top of the league going into FA Cup weekend. That we have managed to achieve it is testament to how brilliant United have been so far.

Yes, we've not played the best football in the league in terms of quality, but the boys have really had a go at teams this year---so much so that we seem to have forgotten about defensive duties at the back. During the treble season of 1999, we had managed 36 goals after 21 games in the league. Our 21st league game this season was the 4-0 thrashing of Wigan, and that took our goals tally to 54 so far. That is how much of a go we've had this year.




Whereas it has been the policy of Sir Alex to be negative and conservative in big clashes, the manager has had a go at Anfield, Stamford Bridge and at the Eitihad and look what we've achieved. That we last registered victories at all those venues in a season 99 years ago is testament to the magnitude of success we've had so far in the league.

The manager however will remind the players that no medals are handed out in January so the job is not yet done. City are out of Europe so we're going to need to keep them at arm's length for as long as possible. There is a good chance that if we keep professional and avoid dropping points like the ones we lost at Swansea, we could have a double digit lead at the top before Real Madrid distract us. What I'd like to see is the players kicking on and not getting complacent as it will encourage our rivals.

The FA Cup is up next and I'd like to see us use the squad a lot more to allow those who have carried us brilliantly during the Christmas programme get a much needed break. The lack of a winter-break does affect our players compared to other leagues, so you'd want our best players fit and fresh for the Champions League as our opponents are enjoying a break.

All that notwithstanding, given what I've seen from us so far, I am not complaining.....at least not that much anyway.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!