Monday, 25 February 2013

UNITED MARCH INTO MARCH WITH A 12 POINT LEAD!

Mathematicians will say the title race is not over so technically, United still have a few yards to negotiate before we can say for certain that the 20th has arrived. Interestingly, but for last season's almighty collapse, we would all be in agreement that United are virtually Champions. Those last 6 games have planted just about enough doubt in our minds to ensure that we were still desperate for City to drop points against Chelsea yesterday---even with a 12 point lead.

The important difference between last season's United and this one is quite simply that the current one is a winning machine. Saturday was all set up for a banana split and a dropped two or three points for United. I mean, think about it, Liverpool were the highest placed team to go to QPR and win. Such is the curse of going to the team that is bottom of the league. There is every chance that the players will take their foot off the gas as 20th team should pose no threat that you cannot deal with. Our 12 point lead was, for us, an added ingredient to the whole complacency possibility.

Credit to the players though, they went about their job professionally and ticked off one of the trickier ties among the lot left in the season. Special mention to Rafael Da Silva who scored a Roberto Carlos-esque screamer to take the wind out of QPR's sails just when they were growing into the match. The boy is quickly maturing into a world class right back and it won't be long before he takes over from the likes of Dani Alves in the FIF Pro XI for that right back spot.
Ryan Giggs got the second with composure and precision that tells of his experience in the game. No surprises there. The man has his place as Manchester United's Legend of Legends.

With three months of the season left, and 33 points to play for, United need just 22 points to be crowned Champions for a record 20th time. Incredibly, we can have it sewn up within the next month as all fixtures in there are well within our means and yet City's are a tad too awkward. It's not to say that we'll have an incredibly easy month because the reality is that in this league, you never know when your number is up. Take for instance the Norwich game coming up: We've got Real Madrid in the Champions League three days later and yet the Cannaries are one of three teams that have beaten us in the league this season. Given that they know their way past United, it would be foolhardy to take our eyes off them at a time when City are desperate for us to drop at least a point.

Ultimately though, we couldn't have asked to be in a better position at the start of the season. We'll take it from here.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

INTO THE LAST 8!

Sir Alex made 8 changes to the side that played at the Bernabeau last week for the Cup tie against Reading on Monday night. The biggest change however was made after 42 minutes when Nani replaced the injured Phil Jones.
The Portuguese winger who has been inconsistent for all his time at United turned on the style to push us just beyond the finishing line and into the FA Cup quarterfinals with a goal and an assist for Chicharito's winner.

Our play was largely the usual poor with nothing really outstading save for the efforts of Danny Welbeck and later on Nani when he joined. The Captain though was at his solid best at the back winning header after header and keeping Reading up until we conceeded.

We've got QPR in the league next up on Saturday at three o'clock--a rarity of a time to kickoff. Saturday presents us with one last opportunity to twist the knife on City ahead of their Sunday game against Chelsea. It will be damning to go 15 points clear of them and hence put ourselves in a rock solid position ahead of the title run-in.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

UNITED PULL ONE OUT OF THE HAT IN THE SPANISH CAPITAL

The number of bets against United heading into the mouthwatering Champions League clash with Real would have told you all that you needed to know about the strength of Real Madrid as a force in European club competition this season.

Sir Alex on the other hand was always confident of his troops. He has repeatedly told the media that the current crop of players are among the best he's ever had. Last night was probably one of the reasons as to why we should may be take him a little more seriously.

Manchester United were clearly second best to Real Madrid on the pitch--at least in terms of technical superiority, but there are no marks for that in football.When it comes to clear cut chances of goals, its fair to argue that United had the better ones to kill off the tie in the first leg. RVP had three chances to himself but somehow managed to miss all and then there was the chance that fell to Giggs at the death but the United legend opted to take another touch in lieu of thrashing it past Diego Lopez. It is hopped that those chances do not haunt us come the return leg.


Ultimately though you have to give it up to the boys for going to one of the most intimidating arenas in world football and getting an away goal as well as coming away with a draw. With the return leg on March 5th at home, you would have to say that we have put ourselves in a great position to advance to the last 8 against all odds.
Whether we take it is another matter altogether.

It's been great reading about De Gea getting all the praise that he finally does merit after he put up a world class show last night. Credit must also go to Welbeck, Jones and Ferdinand who put in amazing shifts all night. It has to be said that the manager got the team spot on as we were on point from start to finish. However, our falling back culture when not in possession could haunt us in the return leg. The amount of shots Madrid had at our goal is testament to the amount of space we afforded them. I'd like to see us press them a bit more.

It's sad that we've got to wait till Monday for the next fixture which turns out to be Reading at home in the FA Cup. Till then...

 ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!

Monday, 11 February 2013

UNITED TAKE A THRESHOLD OF TITLE!

So, in the end, it wasn't all nice and beautiful against Everton on Sunday but the job was yet again done by the winning machine that is Manchester United this season.

Admittedly, I could point out three Fergie sides that are technically better than the one we have this season. We're not even as easy on the eye as we were last season, but one thing the current side has over any Fergie  side in the EPL era, its the ability to rack up wins. I remember that in 1997, we won 21 games all season enroute to winning the league. Yesterday's victory over Everton was the 21st win we've racked up this season and we still have 12 games left.
We've never had this number of wins before and we've never had as many points at this stage of the season before.
I also think it was at the start of this century when we last had a 12 point lead at the top of the league.

All the above stats explain why a couple of bookmakers have paid out on their bets this season on United winning the league. City's loss at Southampton meant that yesterday's match was a 'free fixture' for United who could take anything out of the game as a bonus. We had all the reasons to be complacent and even lose the match, not least that we have a small matter of a Champions League fixture with Real Madrid on Wednesday, and yet the players went about their job as though it was us trailing the leaders by 9 points.

That dogged determination to win games has now ensured that we've taken a threshold of the EPL title. With 12 points clear and 12 games left, it means that we need to lose at least four games before City can take the initiative---and that is if City go on a blinding run of form. Our +7 goal difference also gives us that little bit of edge that effectively means we need an almighty collapse to throw it away from here.

We didn't play well yesterday but we got the job done, so I can only have few complaints about it. The worry though is that we cannot afford to play like that when we travel to Spain on Wednesday. The culture of retreating to our own box when we don't have the ball doesn't work in modern day football. What works is that you have to press and hurry the opposition into making mistakes and giving back the ball. Real Madrid will do just that to us, as did Barca, and Athletic Club Bilbao. If our philosophy is anything to go by, we shall most likely retreat and give Real the freedom of the pitch to thread passes through our defence in which case we will be lucky to come away from there still in the tie.

What I pray we do is hurry them and press them up the pitch as that presents our best chance of coming away still in the tie. Real Madrid also have the one player in world football that shoots on sight. Ronaldo is the kind of player that will thrive on the space we gave Everton yesterday infront of our goal so hopefully something happens between now and then to eliminate all the above weaknesses in our game.

As a United fan that subscribes to reality, I'm going into this game with limited expectations, but with high hopes of something spectacular happening.....


Monday, 4 February 2013

CHAMPIONS ELECT!

Brilliant! Absolutely Brilliant!

Those were the first words i uttered at the final whistle on Saturday evening. Manchester United have effectively held themselves out as Champions Elect going into the title run-in of March and April. Such was the reward for going to a usually tricky Craven Cottage and coming away with all three points to win yet another psychological battle against rivals City [who had to watch and pray that we do not make the gap 10 before Sunday].

There's not many times when I'll have no qualms about a United performance, and yes, there were aspects of our game to be worried about on Saturday, but as the gaffer said, the name of the game at this stage of the season is winning. There were many situations from which we could have lost a goal during the game, [including the fact that Fulham defaulted on one or two electricity bills] but our lads stuck to the task. We rode our luck when it came our way, but the players worked hard to make that luck count. They'll be talk of how many times Fulham were lucky to clear a ball off the line or be saved by the woodwork, but when it mattered, we also had a couple of players on the line that made goal saving clearances [including RVP for good measure].



Craven Cottage is one of the tiny venues in the EPL in terms of pitch size and that usually provides for a poisonous atmosphere and an intensity about games there. It makes winning 1-0 there remarkable. Whereas most of the team was on point yesterday, it has to be mentioned that Nani and Rooney had a marked improvement in their games compared to recent ones. I mean its hard not to say that the manner in which Rooney scored that goal told of a de ja vu moment as it was Ronaldo, cutting in from the same position at about the same angle shooting for the same far corner of the goal that Rooney found. Interestingly, it was also around the same time in the season. That goal at the time took us 6 points clear in the title race. On Saturday, Rooney's has eventually left us 9 points ahead of our nearest rivals. It's hard to imagine that United will throw it away from this position, but again, stranger things have happened.

I also thought Rio Ferdinand was immense at the back and still looks good for another year at the club.

Ultimately though, these 2 wins this week have if anything cemented our position as the elect-Champions come May and now its a matter of kicking on and taking a threshold of a title that we should have also won last season.

Next up is an International break, meaning its that time again when we sit and hope and pray that all our players return in rude health.
Everton provide the opposition in our next fixture---the one that arguably cost us the title last season. There's a bit of revenge to exact me thinks.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!