Friday, November 28, 2008

United-City: Derby Preview

Over the last week I thought about changing the name of my blog to get more viewers. Supposedly if you put "Manchester United Blog" at the beginning, you get zounds of results. Upon thinking about this, I wondered who my audience was. I don't think it's the average fan, and it's unlikely that a European or otherwise foreign language speaking person would find it scrutable. When I decided to start it, it was for my own records, to show later to whomever that I was being productive (along this vein) in history.

So, I continue... somewhat begrudgingly though, as my point of view is much changed, and greater in quality, to those currently prominently occupying Google search results.

Time and circumstance are working in perfect accord (Here I go...) for a United result over City on Sunday.

The red club are coming off consecutive unsavory results and performances, two weeks after losing tragically to Arsenal at Ashburton Grove. A nominal pounding of Stoke did little to quench United's boiling rapacity, nor did their hard-fought blank with Aston Villa or their customary, friendly nil-nil with Villareal.

When United themselves were tore up by Arsenal, it was largely along the Red's right flank. Gary Neville was left to handle both Nasri and Cliche as the right-sided midfielder, Ronaldo, was playing forward to link counter-attacks. Neville and United were exposed; the introduction of Rafael not only provided their only goal but served to finally stymy the Gunner's artillery.

Rafael and Evra would be ideal candidates to deal with City's two prodiguous wingers, the reborn Shaun Wright-Phillips and the ever-dancing Robinho. Despite scoring on his City debut against United last year, Benjani is unlikely to threaten an in-form Vidic. Stephen Ireland is another City player on song lately, and Fletcher would be expected to hamper his influence, with either Carrick or Anderson deployed to bring the attack forward.

Up front, the return of Berbatov inevitably adds several angles to United's attack with Rooney the likely benefactor. The Englishman is focused on the game, stating Friday: "It will be nice to show them who are the kings of Manchester. I missed both derbies last season and that was really frustrating..."

Rooney added quite certainly: "It doesn't irritate us that City are getting all this publicity. If they were winning trophies it would irritate me but while they are still lingering in mid-table I am not really too bothered about it."

A positive result portends elsewhere in the squad. Ronaldo, as ever, appears absolutely on the verge of maniacism if he doesn't score some goals fast. Ronaldo seems to prefer attacking down our left-side and, if in position Sunday, should have joy against City's young right-back Zabaleta, while Evra, Vidic, Fletcher, and Park Ji-Sung are also enjoying spells of form for United.

United will look to swashbuckle through a City defense sometimes found frail and lacking confidence, with Ben Haim and Richard Dunne each making clownish mistakes throughout their four consecutive losses prior to last weekend's win over Arsenal.

Man City are still basking in the afterglow of both the Arsenal victory and Thursday's unexpected 2-0 result at Schalke, guranteeing advacement from the UEFA Cup group stage. Robinho and Shaun Wright-Phillips are twin blue angels of tricks and pace, and each are likely to expose United's outside defense at least once. Elano and Stephen Ireland should both feature also.

It should be a high-scoring affair, with United having the clear impetus to defeat the side who overcome them quite heroically last year, as City did the double over their more illustrious, more succesful neighbors. Coupled with the past two weeks of indifferent results, United are focused to start a long run of attacking football, and its inevtiable results, starting Sunday against their despised rival.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

United-Villareal: Looking Back to See Forward, in'it.

If only for posterity.. that is, if only to prove later in hindsight how brilliant I am, let me speak on a few things.

There are people pining for the Rooney/Tevez partnership that supposedly fared so well for United last season. However, there is a hindsight bias involved; even though when won the great Double with the partnership, it was other players who were more influential in our title runs.

Ronaldo, of course, shouldered most of the burden, crafting a season of the most utter individual dominance seen this millenium in the English top teir.

However, United's success was founded on the solidarity of their defense, with Vidic and Evra each turning in consistent, world-class play from the back.

Arsene Wenger says "consistency is the first sign of quality," and it reigns true for each, as it is no coincidence United won its first of two consecutive Premier League titles the year Vidic and Evra arrived.

Rio Ferdinand also put in a yearlong shift of suprising consistency, enjoying, perhaps, his best year in a United shirt. For what it's worth, Wesley Brown also deputized outstandingly for the injured Neville throughout the long finale to the season.

In midfield, it was Hargreaves who shone on the European stage, and into the last legs of our Premiership campaign, even filling in at right-back at times to great effect.

Carrick also supplanted the midfield decently while Paul Scholes turned back the clocks in the two legs against Barcelona with match-winning performances. Ji-Sung Park was the model of consistency, while Anderson featured and provided much more than ever was expected last term.

These things considered, Rooney and Tevez each had good years, namely Tevez, by this year's standard. Their strike-rate was consistent with the quality supplying them, and each had decent individual seasons with Tevez being better.

So, a nostalgic reversion to this strike partnership is not the answer to any woes United fans perceive. Berbatov has already proved to add the dynamic insight needed in attacking build-up when our opponents are behind the ball.

Otherwise, it will be another season relying on Ronaldo to counter-attack and manhandle opponents, with our rearguard offering the perfect backbone.

The last 270 minutes played between Manchester United and Villareal have yielded no goals; the forecast for today is not dissimilar, with the fog of imminent qualification likely to hinder the scoring of goals for each side.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ronaldo is the saddest player to ever dominate World Football

The signs for Cristiano Ronaldo to be rightfully enshrined as the best player in both Europe and abroad may have started to point in the wrong direction.

Nominations and short-listings for each reward invariably offer a few peculiar names, while sometimes the omission of a player—Del Piero—is most conspicuous.

The somewhat arbitrary nature of both the Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year nominations don't reassure against the possibility of Ronaldo being penalized due to the egregious immaturity he's displayed lately.

It was reported today that Ronaldo is doubtful for the midweek Villareal clash with a leg injury. Although, seeing him walk out of Villa Park—regrettably taunting fans, appearing near tears, in an unhappy, juvenile display of self-assurance—I wonder if his emotions are what really need healing.

After arrogantly demanding an offseason trade from Manchester United to Real Madrid—not for the first time—Ronaldo continues to recover from summer ankle surgery. Though not yet displaying his world-beating form, the attacking ace still has found twine nine times into the 2008-2009 season, but instead of enjoying the serendipity of scoring without playing well, Ronaldo has been impetuous on the pitch.

Each time he is felled, as is his wont, he makes faces and emotes his tragedy, complaining to line judges and referees, gesticulating yellow cards on and arguing with opposing players, and mocking opposing fans. It's not against his nature to be found complaining with teammates over lack of service, never appearing to take accountability for his own mistakes, much less acknowledging them.

He does it all with a foul air of conceit he may not ultimately deserve.

In fact, in exercising such levels of arrogance he is perhaps creating and fulfilling his own prophecy of shockingly missing out on an award he would otherwise deserve, were it not for his recalcitrant and childish behavior.

There are differences between self-esteem, confidence, and arrogance; the first being most crucial, which yields the second; the over-indulgence of which begets the third. He has an overabundance of the last, without the solid foundation on which to support it.

Does Sir Alex Ferguson take attitude from Ronaldo?

With the No.7 leveraging a move away from Old Trafford each offseason, it'd be no surprise if the United manager has trouble controlling the player. How can the gaffer discipline Ronaldo when he is the clear nucleus of United's success, especially when he hangs his future with the club so preciously over their heads?

Managing personalities is not foreign to Ferguson, having already watched names like Beckham, Cantona, Keane, and Ince come and go through the revolving door.

In fact, it is sharp, fatherly discipline that Ronaldo may need most; the proverbial flying boot. The winger simply appears on the outskirts of self-control, and he needs it back. Ferguson is the man to bring it to him, and not through softness or leniency, but through the omission on a line-up card and the tacit, forthright, hair-drying treatments that made the old Scot famous.

Ronaldo must grow to realize and accept, sooner than later, that his class demands underhanded defending; he must be fouled to be stopped. His reputation for diving doesn't help him getting calls, nor does it absolve referees the accountability of missing some calls, either.

Ronaldo's status as the world's best, or close to it, should be expressed in assured self-confidence (see: Zidane), not hubris.

Both the European and World Player of the Year trophies are given each winter to commerate the form of their recipients throughout the calendar year, without respect to the timing of European and domestic professional campaigns.

Ronaldo, despite enjoying such a historic finish to last season in June, might regret failing to realize that the world has still been watching him over the past several months that followed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

United: Stoke game lacks relevence

Despite perfunctorily dismantling Stoke City at Old Trafford on Saturday, Manchester United would be wise to avoid being too chuffed.

In a game where Carrick and Fletcher looked like Scholes and Keane, you have to question the opposition.

In fact, there was no player on United who performed poorly, which asks whether is more likely: Each United player being individually in the best form of the season, or Stoke City sucking absolute bollocks?

The answer here is the latter.

Stoke City are a team comprised to attack singularly using long-throw gimmicks, with every position player looking like he should be playing Rugby. It's a matter of size, not tactics, in defending against the direct throw, and United were always prepared with Vidic in the rearguard.

It's not often Nemanja Vidic faces up against attacking players who are both slower and weaker than he is, and the Serbian made one mistake all game in a laughingly comfortable performance.

The same could be said for young back Johnny Evans who simply outclassed what feeble talent Stoke had arranged for him.

Patty Evra might as well have urinated on the left touch-line because it belonged to him.

Edwin van der Sar made a brilliant save on Delap's first long-throw, only for the deflection to be credited to the crossbar by the commentary duo.

Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick sprayed the ball around like they were on serious hallucinogens, intuitively and mostly inch-perfect; the clear effect of time and space in abundance.

The great form Fletcher has found himself in recently is exemplified in having already appeared more for United this season than all of last.

Displays like these from Carrick are few and far between, often in direct, proportional correlation to the shite teams United happen to be playing at the time.

Tevez, often dropping deep in detriment, ran around to his heart's content, with some good touches and great work-rate. Berbatov danced around the pitch absently, still managing to outclass any defender, and scoring clinically after an ingenious touch while surely musing over his dinner plans.

Ronaldo probably enjoyed the least joy of any United outfield player. Despite scoring twice on wicked free kicks, he was often frustrated, going to ground too easily, and often complaining to the referee.

Hopefully his penchant for whining is more a sign of immaturity than a desire to be playing in Madrid. Ronaldo must realize and accept, sooner than later, that his class demands such underhanded defending; he must be fouled to be stopped.

A victory over Stoke City in this manner should not relegate the loss to Arsenal any deeper in memory. Games against these bottom-feeders demand three points, but Ferguson would know better than to think his squad is walking on sunshine at the moment.

Despite stating "Ronaldo's on fire" in the post-game notes, Ferguson must know it's merely lip-service; Stoke offered more than enough space, but not enough competition for United to truly gauge their current state.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

United: The Rooney Cure-All

Manchester United's current plight, which, for the record, is not a plight, can easily be solved by the gaffer.

Right now the problem lies in the heart of the United midfield, with arguably the two preferred players, Scholes and Hargreaves, out injured for some time.

It was Hargreaves who did so much for United throughout the conclusion of last season, getting a great run late in the season and hammering influence into many crucial European and domestic matches.

Anderson, just 19, is already quite capable to burden the mantle; however, his true utility lies in the next decade for the club, not necessarily the present. It can't be expected of him to fulfill a dominating, influential role for each game, in his youth.

His midfield partner, against Arsenal and likely for much of the coming months, is Michael Carrick.

The expensive Englishmen featured on the team-sheet for much of last two years, without having much statistical impact other than to be mercifully substituted.

Carrick has scored nine goals in 97 appearances for United, which is certainly not a large number. Of course, he is not a striker, and often lies deep to spray passes around, while, in theory, tracking and getting stuck in midfield during transitions.

His defensive ability lacks, though, for the lanky former West Ham prodigy can often be found being out-muscled for possession, or simply breezed off the ball, even as he possesses it, as the case may be.

All players have certain areas they are assumed more adept at, so to be defensively liable is understandable for a player who gets forward, scores, assists, and influences play.

However Carrick's derth of work-rate is not complemented by great attacking vim. His niche is passing, something he does well, but not outstanding or consistently enough to earn his starting birth on a world-class side.

With the shortage in the center, United have a well-documented surfeit of attacking options, a misnomer, in fact, as the squad only has three top class, Premier League strikers. It so happens that all three are quite famous, and healthy at the moment, which creates the illusion of of overabundance.

Should one of the strikers get injured, no one would be complaining anymore about tactical shifts, or which star has more the right to play any given match day.

Of course, while they are healthy, the situation could easily be manipulated to the side's advantage, but it requires a break from dogma for the Scottish manager.

Ferguson's parochial approach to playing Rooney at the expense of Tevez must be shifted to slotting Rooney behind both Tevez and Berbatov in an attacking midfield role.

Paul Scholes used to play an attacking midfield position, when his legs allowed, throughout his glorious career, which in large part resulted in the historic success the club has enjoyed over the past decade.

Rooney is a workhorse. His penchant for tracking back is actually maligned when he is playing striker; slot him into a supporting role, and it would be glorified.

In addition to his work-rate, Rooney is a brilliant, creative passer and a team leader. He is quicker and stronger than Carrick, and might even be better in the air. The energy he harbors playing forward, which, as said, is often expressed rashly and impudently, could easily be displaced throughout the midfield.

There he can win balls and orchestrate forward movements: passing, firing long range shots, and making late runs trademarked by the ginger-haired master.

Ferguson has never experimented with Rooney in this role, and it's hard to see why the Scot doesn't fathom it. His experience and intuition should never be questioned, such is the success he has brought to our now famous club.

However, a departure from the status quo would seem to benefit both United and Rooney now, and Tevez certainly wouldn't be bothered with the idea, either.

Having all three on the pitch, without getting in each-other's way, would give United more attacking impetus, as well as providing needed fire and heart in our squad's center.

It would help to quell the frustration visible on the faces of all three strikers, and make Carrick compete for the sole position he is suited to playing, which is a motivation he appears to need as he floats around the pitch absentmindedly.

Friday, November 7, 2008

United: Quarter Review

The season is well underway, enough for propositions and speculation to have some foundation; certainly enough to argue over trends and forecasts.

The table is set for an exciting season on all fronts. Liverpool have achieved above expectation, Arsenal (mainly their fans) are floundering comically, while Chelsea are somewhat of a powerhouse. It is the London club, the blue variety, that is the bookie's favorite this season to lift the same famous brace of trophies United did last campaign.

United themselves started off this season ambivalently. It's understandable; the competitive blaze in each belly was surely soaked with celebratory glasses of champagne throughout what small sections of the summer such undertakings were convenient.

Sure, several United players didn't have a chance to celebrate at length, having to compete in Euro 2008 after a grueling club season. Even without an arbitrary tour or tournament throughout the summer, any player on a club competing in Europe and domestically can't expect then more than two months break out of twelve.

So, as the new season began, you could forgive some players for being tired; some others being unfocused. But as soon as the normal routine resumes, eventually so do the results.

The first two league games of the season were quite dreadful: United ended a dire home draw against Newcastle with Rafael, Possebon, and O'Shea comprising our hopes for a winner. Darren Fletcher twice paid overdue fees for his sometimes aimless run in the club, scoring twice in two league games for four points.

United fans waited patiently for Sept. 1st and the arrival of Dmitar Berbatov. It was then, although not immediately, that their side began to play with flowing enthusiasm.

Looking back on last season it's hard to fathom how United won with Rooney and Tevez up front, such is their dysfunctionality so far this season.

The problem is likely more so Tevez, who affects a frustrated visage during his sparse playing time, overcompensating for the pressure; trying a little too hard.

In either event, Rooney started slow but had a huge October for club and country. Berbatov, no stranger to European nights, plucked four goals in four games in Champions League play, casually dishing out numerous assists along the way, almost for nothing.

United's midfield has been misshapen and patchwork at times. Though, with vindicating, consistent performances from Fletcher, and Ji-Sung Park with, bless him, Ryan Giggs slotting in appropriately during times of need, United worked hard enough to usually get satisfactory results.

Anderson, however, has yet to show the form this season that made him the most underrated talent on United's squad in 2007-2008. His best form lies in the future, and the young Brazilian should play another monstrous role this season.

Young winger Nani is still maturing, with a tendency to dwell on the ball too much.

Carrick spent most of the season thus out injured, playing unremarkably when able. The Englishman has his fans, but it's a wonder where they come from when he feigns so flimsy in midfield so often. He appears to play with squeaky boots.

Ronaldo has taken a month to play through the final stages of the ankle injury sustained at Euro 2008. He still has a penchant for complaining, which is too evident, and hopefully more a sign of his frustration than his actual personality.

For what it's worth, away to Celtic midweek Ronaldo parted the seas of class between the two teams and ran, on water, over Celtic for the second half, producing a wondrous 45 minutes—and a solid Biblical metaphor—as United ultimately equalized.

Backwards again to United's defense, where two of its most consistent players reside.

Patrice Evra has had one definitively poor game for United; his first. Since then and into this season, Evra has balanced defense and offense humbly and effectively. Every month he reminds us over interview how much he loves the club and wants to remain at United for his career.

Nemanja Vidic came quickly from obscurity into dominance in his short United career, and his form has continued into this still nascent season, as the Serbian has been customarily strong in the air and generally unyielding.

Elsewhere, Rio Ferdinand has lost the plot on several occasions recently, despite coming into this season on the heels of perhaps his best in United colors. Brown, Neville, O'Shea, and Rafael have deputized at right back.

In goal Van der Sar inspires particularly no-one, while Ben Foster inches sideways closer into the spotlight.

Individual performances have varied, consistent with the physical and emotional range of each player, but collectively United have put themselves in an attractive, offensive posture for the rest of the season.

In Champions League play, United are level on points with Villareal and will be fighting for top spot in the group next game away to the Yellow Submarine's tiny stadium.

In the Premiership, United are third on 21 points with a game in hand, five points behind both Liverpool and Chelsea.

For United fans, those always expecting to compete for football's greatest trophies—being quite accustomed to winning, this season is as primed as many others.

Ferguson's side has put the club's perfunctory bad start, which wasn't horrible, already into hindsight, with a long season ahead of them, motivated at the prospect of repeating as European champions: a feat never before accomplished.

Although unfavored to win either competition, with new signing Berbatov, they are a better side than they were last year.

The same can be said of other European giants: Real Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan, and Chelsea.

But having the right emotion from which to draw focus, bolstered by their own success last season, led by Ferguson and feeding off the climate and culture of the most successful club in the last decade, Manchester United surely will compete on multiple fronts into Spring, as is expected, with results they nor we can ever expect, only hope.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

AS Roma show rare class against Chelsea

AS Roma managed to seem like they had some class today against Chelsea.

It was a rare occurrence of such a display thus far this season for the men from the capital.

Perhaps inspired by captain Totti, perhaps not, several Roma players finally expressed their form and potential in beating Chelsea 3-1.

Highly-rated winger Vucinic, who spent much of last year covering well for often injured captain Totti, earned a double with two goals of undoubted quality.

Both of the strikes exuded class.

The first culminated build-up starting with Vucinic between both Totti and Brighi, before Vucinic nimbly drove the returned drop pass, toe-down, into the interior side netting.

The second goal will surely prove a rather famous run, as the Montenegrin robbed Mikel, summarily pulled his pants down, bursting past him for 40 yards before beating the Nigerian again to lastly slot past goalkeeper Cech. The winger has deceptive speed, as the Chelsea midfielder was flattered to realize.

Vucinic scored 14 times in 47 appearances last season for the club. His combination of creative skill and speed beg wondering why he is not rated higher amongst the echelons of European football. If the Montenegrin continues to improve, if last year is any indication, he should become a real force for the Italian club.

Future club captain De Rossi strapped on his helmet and built fox-holes in midfield, constantly sabotaging Chelsea's established central stars. His balance between passing creativity and puritan work-ethic makes him of a mold rivalling Stephen Gerrard for type and class.

The Roman will hoist the entire club upon his shoulders inevitably when aging talisman Totti retires, which seems closer every month.

Perhaps it was Totti himself who inspired AS Roma today, although his influence now exists more in legend than in application for his beloved club, and at least his tangible effect on today's match was again missing.

His return was overdue as the captain has already missed much of the season through injury. The number 10 was in ambivalent form for much of last year until he drastically sprained his knee late in the season, an injury from which he is still recovering.

Regardless of the source, AS Roma expressed style today suggesting, or at least reminding, of the form last season where they challenged Inter Milan for the scudetto until the final match-day.

Hopes for any real success this season though are unrealistic as progression in the Champions League is not yet assured, and the strength and depth of the squad is in doubt.

Obvious flaws exist in their defense, with Mexes gaining more reputation for being a clown than a reliable force. His often partner, Juan, is probably the more promising of the two, although it is the former who has a larger profile, unearned from any recent performances.

The prescence of aging stalwart Panucci offers some comfort to the Roman rearguard, and though his legs surely number his days, the sometimes captain still scores important goals and often leads by example.

Roma will have to impove their activity next offseason in the transfer market where their failures most recently have largely contributed to their poor domestic form this season.

They currently sit just above the relegation zone in the Italian top flight.

However, Vucinic and De Rossi, both 25, provide a sound foundation for a club that is belatedly transferring from reliance on an aging talisman into the trusting of their emerging greats.

It appears though that Totti's weary shoulders will be burdened again by the sadly unrealistic ambitions for silverware, at least for one more season.