The Manchester United Survival Pack: 5 Ways To Avoid The Slump Becoming A Crisis

With Manchester United currently suffering one of only a few sticky periods in the recent history of the club, things are veering dangerously towards the word crisis coming into play.

Here, therefore, is a five-pronged attack for United, as a football club, to avoid their early season slump becoming something far more serious, more lasting, and more worthy of that naughty C-word.

David Moyes Manchester United

Continue The In-Stadium Support Of David Moyes:

Though plenty of doubters are starting to loosen their jaws, and threatening to unleash on Moyes, the in-stadium support of the new manager at Old Trafford has so far been pretty decent given the lack of form being shown. If Moyes, and United are to succeed as a happy couple then this must continue.

Old Trafford has a nasty knack of becoming ghostly when things aren’t quite going to plan, but so rarely have things not gone to plan at the Theatre of Dreams over the past 20 years that this has never really escalated into a serious problem.

There have already been instances of awkward silence creeping in over the past few weeks, and a touch of booing and derision after the West Brom defeat, and it is essential that the home faithful avoid these and instead vocally back up their new man in the face of adversity.

Avoid All Media Outlets As And Where Possible:

Take a peek at the sports section of any website, of any magazine, of any newspaper, or at any sports television coverage at the moment and it won’t take you long to come across Manchester United and crisis in the same sentence.

Seeing is believing, so if you want to avoid convincing yourself that United are set firmly on the path to cataclysmic failure, then you’re probably well advised to fix your gaze elsewhere.

The media are a powerful tool in any high profile demise, and boy oh boy will Moyes be becoming painfully aware of that right now.

Bring In Support For Moyes And Woodward:

Most coverage of United’s mini-slump post-Sir Alex Ferguson has focused on the departure of the Scottish legend, but perhaps a greater loss though, given the circumstances, was that of David Gill from the role of Chairman.

Gill formed a formidable relationship with Sir Alex in so many respects during their time together at the club, and though both men still play a role at Old Trafford, their reigned-in prominence has had a telling effect.

This was never more painfully evident than in the transfer market during the summer, where many were expecting United to bring in a host of big name recruits to support Moyes’ settling in period.

Names such as Fabregas, Ozil, and Baines were linked to the club during a frenetic period, but ultimately United only made one high profile signing in the form of Moyes’ old Everton battering-ram Marouane Fellaini.

You’d have to think that the likes of Fabregas, Ozil, and Baines wouldn’t have all escaped the clutches of United had Gill and Ferguson still played the lead role in negotiations rather than the new double act of Moyes and the so far thoroughly disappointing Ed Woodward.

To that effect, perhaps the next big move for the club needs to be towards bringing someone in to help such negotiations, or perhaps even giving good ol’ Sir Alex a say in transfer dealings going forward.

Increased Trust In Youth And Creativity:

There are some names in the current United squad that simply can’t be ignored. The likes of Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, and Nemanja Vidic should be, and indeed are, the mainstays of any United team-sheet.

The support cast for the headline acts has however been shrouded in far greater doubt, and indecision so far under Moyes.

Injury, illness, and match fitness have a big say in the opening weeks of a league season, and shouldn’t be underestimated in any manager’s seeming indecision, but greater faith in the more youthful, exciting, and creative members of the United squad surely wouldn’t go amiss.

Moyes seems stuck in two minds as to whether he should stick or twist. Should he keep faith in United’s old heads, or should he take a more maverick approach? This is certainly up for debate, but in the short term he must get behind one of the two.

How much more positive and exciting does the following line-up sound than the slightly muddled sides that have featured so far this season for United?

(4-2-3-1) David De Gea, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Phil Jones, Rafael, Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, Shinji Kagawa, Wayne Rooney, Adnan Januzaj, Robin Van Persie

It’s easy to go all Championship Manager, but this doesn’t sound like a side that would lose at home to West Brom, or 4-1 away to Manchester City does it?

Win In Donetsk This Week, And Continue The Sound European Work So Far:

It sounds simple doesn’t it? Win their next game and all will be right with the world…

It isn’t exactly true, and it won’t exactly be easy, but it is essential for Moyes, his allies, and his players that they at the very least avoid defeat away to Shakhtar.

If United can avoid defeat then they’ll be very well placed in their developing Champions League group, and Moyes will be armed with an essential form of defence in the early stages of his tenure at United.

If he has to face up to criticism regarding their underwhelming league position as it stands, then he will need a fallback, and there is perhaps no better out there than to be able to refer to some encouraging form, and results on the continent. Win in Ukraine, and Moyes’ life will be a hell of a lot easier.

Ashes Countdown 2013: The Ashes Combined XI

With just a couple of days to go until the start of the Ashes series it seems that now is the perfect time to compare notes on the squads that are set to do battle over the next few gruelling weeks of test match cricket.

The Ashes 2013

Will England once again rule triumphant?

There is little doubting who the favourites are for the series, with England boasting a far stronger, and a far more stable test record of late than their visitors. Basically, they’re nailed on.

A wounded, battered, and bruised Australian side must not be taken lightly though, as newly appointed coach Darren Lehmann is seeking for a way to re-unite the troops, and is well equipped to do so as they still boast a couple of very experienced batsmen, and a young, and vibrant bowling line-up to boot.

As a means of comparing the merits of the two squads below I have come up with a combined Ashes XI. So… check it out, agree, disagree, and comment if you feel the need…

Alistair Cook (c)

No doubts about this selection whatsoever. Last time Cook faced up to an Aussie test attack, he tore them to shreds and amassed a monumental series average. This time around he’s the skipper, for the first time going into an Ashes series, and he will therefore have a far heavier weight, and burden upon his shoulders.

Cook though has already proven his ability to handle the top job, and there is no reason to suspect that he will struggle this time around either, although the freshened up Aussie seam contingent might have something to say about that.

Shane Watson

This might seem like a little bit of a fortunate selection given the absence of any real recent form from Watson in an Aussie test jersey, but he has performed well against England at the top of the order before.

The main reason for the selection of Watson in this combined XI is in reality the lack of a real proven English contender for the slot. Nick Compton appears to have been ousted from his position in the side, and young Joe Root has never topped the English order in a test match. Root is an enormous talent in all forms of the game, and he has already proven his worth in the middle order, but he is yet to have had the opportunity to prove his worth as a test match opener. I suspect Root will deliver and prove that he is indeed worthy of selection in this XI, but for now it is hard to give him the nod.

Jonathan Trott

Trott’s is Perhaps the easiest selection of them all. Since he burst into the test match spotlight in the 2009 Ashes in England, with a match-winning hundred against the Aussies he has never looked back. Alongside Hashim Amla of South Africa he is arguably the best number three in the world, and this is an area of the Australian side, which looks bereft of any real security, or depth at the moment.

Kevin Pietersen

KP’s Ashes record is brilliant, and a recent unbeaten knock of 177 for Surrey in his first match back after a lengthy injury-enforced absence has done nothing to knock the confidence of perhaps the most head-strong batsman in world cricket. It will no doubt be intriguing to see whether the peacock of the English batting line-up will ruffle his feathers once again as he so often has in the past when the Aussies have rolled into town.

Michael Clarke

Clarke is another of the easiest picks in this side, and is arguably the only dead-cert Aussie on offer. Whilst skippering one of the most unsteady ships in world cricket over the past couple of years, Clarke has defied all the odds and somehow managed to play with the sort of confidence and ability that has singled him out as perhaps the finest batsman in the longest form of the international game. His form has defied logic as he has battled to keep the side afloat amidst a crisis period, and he deserves an enormous amount of credit.

Ian Bell

Had Joe Root not received a promotion to the very top of the English batting order in place of Nick Compton, then Ian Bell might well have had some stiff competition for this role in the combined XI. As it is though, there is no one who can rival Bell for this spot in the team, as the fluent, shot-making, lower-middle order batsman. When he’s at his best there is no one in the world who can match up to Bell in this department, and when he’s on top of his game you could place him pretty much anywhere in the order and rely on him to come up trumps.

Matt Prior (WK)

In spite of some fairly indifferent international, and indeed domestic, form in 2013 so far, Prior has set about establishing himself as the finest wicketkeeper-batsman in test cricket over the past couple of years. He will have to improve dramatically on his form of late if he is to maintain this position of superiority in the specialist role, but we have seen him perform brilliantly against the Aussies before and it would hardly be surprising if he were to do so again.

Graeme Swann

Graeme Swann remains arguably the most feared spinner in test cricket, and although he arguably hasn’t hit the heights of the 2011 Ashes series since then he could yet still prove to be the most lethal weapon in England’s armoury. Spin bowling is Australia’s very weakest area, and it is arguably England’s strongest. Therein lies the biggest miss-match between the two sides.

Stuart Broad

Broad is the only Englishman named in the bowling attack of this combined XI who there was any real doubt about regarding their selection. The man pushing him hardest for this selection is young Mitchell Starc of Australia who similarly to Broad offers pace, bounce, and a knack of bowling multiple wicket-taking spells with the ball. Like Broad too, Starc also provides the threat of some useful, brisk hitting down the order, but the Englishman gets the nod here on grounds of his greatly superior Ashes experience to date.

James Pattinson

I have decided to bestow upon Pattinson the honour of being the only Aussie bowler to have made the cut in this combined XI. In his 10 test match appearances to date, Pattinson has proven himself to be one of the shining lights in the world of test match cricket. He is bristling with intent, and energy. He is a chirper, a real throwback to Aussie seamers of yesteryear, and Darren Lehmann will no doubt try his utmost to best utilise the attitude that Pattinson brings to the table as he is certainly a force to be reckoned with.

James Anderson

Anderson forms part of a group of players including the likes of Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Clarke, Prior, and Swann, that are all absolute dead-certs in the combined line-up. Further to that Anderson would also be one of the first and most guaranteed names on a world test XI team-sheet too. Australia know all about the threat that he poses after his terrific displays in the 2011 Ashes series down-under, and it would be a real surprise if Jimmy doesn’t wind up coming very near the summit of the top wicket-takers list in this forthcoming series. If the conditions play into the hands of a man like Anderson who is so adept at swinging the ball both ways, then he could win the series pretty much single-handedly.

English players selected: 8
Australian players selected: 3

In summary, there is no surprise that England appear to have the better team on paper and if their superior number of selections in this combined XI is reflected on the scoreboard come the end of the series then they will have triumphed for a third consecutive time.

In-keeping with their dominance in this head-to-head selection, it seems only logical to predict that England will come out on top in the series by a score-line of something in the region of three tests to one. Only time will tell though…

How will Sunday at the Augusta National pan out?

Going into Sunday there are still plenty of guys in The Masters field who will believe they are in with a shout.

Bubba Watson Masters win

Who will succeed Bubba, and receive the green jacket from him tonight?

It seems unlikely that anyone will muster a round of any better than 66 under the weight of the pressure that comes with the territory of being in the dog-fight for the green jacket on a Sunday.

It is also unlikely that all of the top three will buckle, and you would have to expect at least one of them to get round in level par given the form they’ve shown so far this week.

By that logic then, the lowest the winning total will be, come later tonight, is six under par, and more likely at least seven under par.

The combination of someone a few shots back pulling a Sunday 66 out of the bag, and the potential winning total being around the seven under mark, would suggest that anyone who is starting the day any worse off than two under will not mount any serious challenge.

Two under then, appears to be the score which all players need as a minimum requirement going into this evening’s action if they are to have a realistic chance of winning within the regulation 72 holes of play.

This means then that Angel Cabrera, Brandt Snedeker, Adam Scott, Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Matt Kuchar, Tim Clark, Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Bernhard Langer and Rickie Fowler are the only players worth any serious consideration.

The following are only hunches, but it’ll be interesting to see how they pan out…

I personally can’t see Langer, Furyk or Stricker challenging at the last and neither can I see Tim Clark, who starts the day at three under, maintaining a serious challenge throughout. I will therefore discard them from consideration.

I have a feeling that Woods, Westwood, and Fowler all still have a good score in them. I’m going for Woods to shoot 68, Westwood a round of 70, and Fowler a 69.

I think Matt Kuchar will tickle along nicely, and that he will muster a useful 70, to see him finish on six under for the tournament.

Of the rest of the non-leaders I think Marc Leishman’s challenge will fall by the way-side with a battling 74, but I think that fellow Aussies Jason Day and Adam Scott will go under par. I think Scott will shoot 70 and Day a 69.

Now then, the leaders… It’s a tough call really, but I can’t quite see Angel Cabrera pull another round out of the bag. I wouldn’t be surprised if he came home one over for the day and six under for the tournament.

As for Snedeker, I think he will go under par. I think the shaggy-haired Nashville native will score a tidy 70, and will win the tournament by a single shot, bagging his first green jacket and a first major title of his career.

Given his early season form, and his form throughout 2012 there is no one out there who deserves to win The Masters more, and I think Brandt will do just that. I do though expect this evening to take both him, all other competitors, the patrons at Augusta and us, the viewers, through the full ringer of emotions.

If the scores go the way I’ve predicted, the leaderboard will look a little like this come midnight tonight (it is Sunday at the Augusta National though so forgive me if they wind up being horrifically inaccurate!):

1. Snedeker -9

T2. Scott -8

T2. Day -8

4. Woods -7

T5. Cabrera -6

T5. Kuchar -6

7. Fowler -5

T8. Westwood -4

T8. Clark -4

T8. Olesen-4

T11. Leishman -3

T.11 Furyk -3

T.11 Haas -3

Manchester XI

I will begin by stating on record for those that don’t know, that I am a Manchester United fan.

Sure, it is easy therefore for my judgement on this particular line-up to become a little clouded. I have though tried my utmost to keep my bias under control and have tried to deliver here what I honestly believe to have been the best Manchester XI up to now this season based on a combination of form and statistics.

Manchester United Manchester City

City’s fans may be on top in this picture, but…

In order to counter those who think this will be based purely on a huge bias towards United, I will remind you that I predicted that City would win the title this year and that I believe that one to eleven that they have just as good a side as United.

I would also hasten to add that I would have picked a similar imbalance of City and United players this time last year, but the imbalance would have been in favour of City and the team would have included the likes of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, and Sergio Aguero along with the City representatives who have also made the cut this time around.

My selection is as follows:

(4-2-3-1)

David De Gea

Joe Hart my have out-statted De Gea in terms of clean-sheets, 14 to nine, but he has also been far more error-prone and cost his side more points than De Gea has. The fluffy-lipped Spaniard has come one leaps and bounds this year and has arguably been the best keeper in the league.

Pablo Zabaleta

Zabaleta is probably the only must-pick from City in this entire XI. His form has been so steady all year and he has continued from where he left off last season where he became the bedrock of City’s title push. He has been outstanding this term, and that can’t be said for a single other City player.

Rio Ferdinand

He may not be in favour with most English football fans after his recent antics, but he has had a great season, of that there is no doubt. I have always been a huge admirer of what Rio offers, but even I had thought that we had seen the best of him before this season, but he has had a bit of a renaissance and has been terrific.

Jonny Evans

I never thought I’d say this, but Mr.Evans has grown in to a cracking centre-half. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I have always found it hard to put much faith in Evans until this season. He and Rio have gelled superbly and this has helped David De Gea no end.

Patrice Evra

One of the easiest selections of the lot. City haven’t contributed a great deal in the left back department this year, Patrice Evra of United on the other hand has been outstanding. As well as sharpening up his defensive game, which had waned a little last year, Evra has also chipped in with four league goals, and five league assists, a fantastic and well deserved return for the Frenchman.

Yaya Toure

He hasn’t been quite as good as last year when I would have rated him as my player of the year, but Yaya is a huge asset for City and has still contributed five goals and three assists despite his lengthy absence caused by the African Cup of Nations. It will be a great relief to City fans that his contractual wranglings appear to have been sorted out, as they desperately need him in the heart of their midfield.

Michael Carrick

He may not have scored a single goal this season, but that is almost the only criticism you could target at Michael Carrick this season. He has been consistently brilliant all year, and the four assists to his name don’t do him any justice. The number of important interventions he has made this season, and the number of goal-scoring moves that he has started or played a big part in must be through the roof. First name on this particular team-sheet.

David Silva

Silva, like Toure, hasn’t quite been at his best this year but he has still been a vital cog in City’s attacking machine and not many have played better in sky blue this term. Four goals and seven assists certainly doesn’t make for bad reading.

Wayne Rooney

Many have targeted a lot of criticism at Mr. Rooney this season, and have indeed suggested that this is to be his last at Old Trafford, but I can’t see why. He has only managed 21 appearances this season, but in these appearances he has scored twelve times (as many as any of City’s players), and has notched an impressive haul of 9 assists (more than any City player). He hasn’t been as good as last season, but his role has changed since RVP’s arrival and he has had some injury bother. Nevertheless his contribution has still been sizeable and I think we are slowly seeing his transition into one of the best attacking mids in world football rather than an out and out striker.

Danny Welbeck

Stats may well be the best indicator around for form and contributions made, but in this case ignore them. He hasn’t been banging in the goals, and he hasn’t been a prolific assist maker either but his work ethic has been immense. So rarely has Welbeck failed to contribute this season, so much so that Ferguson has picked him in most of the big games this year and Welbeck has never let him down. This may just be a personal preference pick, but I think he has had a very decent season in spite of what the stats might tell you.

Robin Van Persie versus Manchester City

Robin ruled triumphant at the Etihad

Robin Van Persie

If Michael Carrick wins the nod for the ‘first name on the team-sheet’ in this line-up, then RVP runs him a close second. He has scored 19 goals in the league and made 8 assists, a brilliant contribution and the sort that must irk Roberto Mancini beyond belief as he tried to sign the prolific Dutchman last summer before United beat them to their target. The brilliant thing about Van Persie’s season has been that most of his goal have been important. Many have been winners or goals that turned the tide in matches. He has been off the boil of late, but don’t hold that against him.

United 8 -3 City

Giggs

Just how good is Ryan Giggs? I could keep this piece brief and very straightforward and merely say: “Very!”

999 games and counting...

999 games and counting…

That though wouldn’t do justice to the man who arguably has the right to think of himself as the greatest footballer of his generation, that is if you can actually work out which generation of footballers is his seeing as he has seemingly played so consistently brilliantly throughout endless ‘generations’ of footballers.

To put things in perspective, the player who most people rate as the world’s best player at the moment and perhaps of all time is Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.

Messi is a man who is constantly compared with his compatriot Diego Maradona who, before the likes of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo came along, was thought by most to have been the greatest player ever to have graced a football field.

However, a common sticking point in the ‘best player of all time’ debate is that you cannot compare the likes of Maradona and Messi because they never played in the same ‘era’ and things were ‘so different back then…’

Maradona though was still playing top-flight professional football up until the late nineties and by then Ryan Giggs (getting back to the point finally, I appreciate how convoluted this may have seemed!) had already been playing top flight football for almost a decade himself with Manchester United. 16 years on from Maradona’s retirement Ryan Giggs remains a regular in one of the world’s greatest club sides.

The point of raking up the past and mentioning such greats as Maradona and Messi was to demonstrate just how long Ryan Giggs has been around for, and more to the point just how long he has been around at the very pinnacle of football for.

From the moment Giggs broke into the first team at Manchester United under the early guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, who lest we forget was only a fledgling name himself on the global footballing agenda at the time, he looked an enormous talent and he quickly became a key player in a developing and hugely successful side.

It is hard to believe now that United had before the early nineties endured a lengthy baron spell in terms of wining major trophies, but if their return to winning ways and worldwide prominence in the early nineties is mainly attributable to the brilliance of Sir Alex Ferguson, then surely the next greatest reason for this still ongoing golden era for the club has been the constant presence and genius of a certain Mr. Giggs.

In his club career Giggs has remained loyal to the club that gave him his big break and boy has he been rewarded for doing so.

His career to date has lasted longer than two decades which has brought us up to this point in time where he stands on the verge of his 1000th match, which is likely to take place on Saturday the 2nd March with Norwich City his likely opponents for this landmark outing.

Giggs' Manchester United yearbook photo

Giggs’ Manchester United yearbook photo

Remarkably though, in spite of his advancing years and the toll of having appeared in 999 top class football games for club and country, Giggs is continuing to demonstrate his genuine world-class ability and huge worth to the club that have served him so well.

He may be set to turn 40 in the near future but the past six weeks have served as a timely reminder of just why Giggs is still considered a major asset to his club.

His recent form has been logic defying and it has seen him continue his phenomenal run of having scored a league goal for United in each and every season since the Premier League’s inception. His form has been so good in fact that few of his peers, including the likes of Nemanja Vidic, Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, have matched up to him over the past few games and now the great man has signed on the dotted line on yet another contract extension.

This new deal will see Giggs continue his playing time with United at the very least until the end of next season and almost up until his 41st Birthday.

People will of course continue to consign him to the scrapheap as they have done for a decade now, but I have no doubt that he will again feature heavily next season for the Premier League champions-elect and I wouldn’t even rule out the possibility of bagging himself another contract come this time next year.

Though there is an awful lot for Giggs to celebrate there have of course been a few blotches on his record along the way, perhaps most famously his farcical public humiliation following the airing of the dirty laundry in his personal life, but also regarding his records and achievements on the football field.

The major source of disappointment for him in this sense must surely be that he has never once had the opportunity to play in a major international tournament. It is staggering that a talent such as he who has been such a force in the game and for such a long time has never been blessed with the opportunity to play in a World Cup or even just in a European Championship with his native country, Wales.

As sad as this is though it does little to dampen the huge impression that the Welsh wizard has left on the English and global game.

Ryan Giggs has always been my footballing hero and has been my favourite player for as long as I can remember. Plenty of geniuses have come along during his time at the top such as Maradona, Figo, Zidane, Beckham, Scholes, Gerrard, Ronaldo, Henry, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to name a few, but most have of them have also disappeared while he has still remained.

Ryan Giggs, you are an inspiration and to this day still a wonderful player.

I know you’re not reading this but I can’t help gushing. You’ve been that good.

After today it will be 1,000 games and counting, the mind boggles…

Real Madrid Vs Manchester United – How the sides compare

With United set to take on fellow European giants Real Madrid tonight in the first leg of their Champions League second round clash at the Santiago Bernabeau, here is a look at how the teams match up.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho

Which of these two great friends and managerial giants will come out on top at the Bernabeau?

Real Madrid likely line-up:

(4-2-3-1)

Diego Lopez

Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Fabio Coentrao

Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso

Mesut Ozil, Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria

Karim Benzema

 

Manchester United likely line-up:

(4-3-2-1)

David De Gea

Rafael Da Silva, Nemanj Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra

Michael Carrick, Phil Jones

Antonio Valencia, Tom Cleverley, Wayne Rooney

Robin Van Persie

 

The Goalkeepers:

David De gea hasn’t exactly been in sparkling form of late for Manchester United but he has continued to demonstrate and underline his undoubted shot-stopping ability. He is still vulnerable when under attack from crosses but he has arguably been the recipient of some unfair criticism recently as he is still young and still will make mistakes and particularly in the Premier League which is renowned as being one of the most physical in world football.

At the other end of the field to De Gea will be Diego Lopez who has recently made a January return to the Santiago Bernabeau. Having spent the vast majority of this season warming the bench he has found himself thrown into the limelight back in Madrid having been signed following the broken hand which Iker Casillas suffered shortly before the close of the transfer window.

He may not have played a great deal of football this season but he has built a fine reputation throughout his career in Spain and he has impressed since his return and the lack of high pressure action doesn’t seem to have had too much of an effect on him.

 

Player Rating:

De Gea: 8/10

Lopez: 8/10

 

Form Rating:

De Gea: 8/10

Lopez: 8/10

 

The Defences:

Manchester United started the season looking incredibly shaky at the back and this wasn’t helped by the number of injuries they suffered in the heart of their defence. Now though they have a full compliment of centre-halves back in action and with all their options returning they have gradually steadied the ship. They have picked up a few more clean sheets of late and they will be particularly pleased with the increased maturity of right back Rafael this season as well as the return to prominence of Patrice Evra who has been back to his best after a shaky 2011/12 season.

Madrid too have struggled defensively this term and have yet to work out exactly what is their best four man combination at the back. Amidst the gloom though, Sergio Ramos has emerged as the shining light of the Madrid defensive unit and young starlet Raphael Varane is coming along nicely in Ramos’ company, so much so in fact that he might ge the nod ahead of the more experienced Pepe this evening.

 

Defence Rating:

Manchester United: 9/10

Real Madrid: 8/10

 

Defence Form Rating:

Manchester United: 8/10

Real Madrid: 7/10

 

The Defensive Midfield Area:

Though this area of the field isn’t exactly United’s strongest department, they have been strengthened by Michael Carrick who has had a fantastic season and the recent return to fitness and form of defender-come-midfielder Phil Jones who has done a fantastic job of man-marking the likes of Luis Suarez and Marouane Fellaini in recent weeks. The trouble for United in this area though is that tonight they will be faced with the task of trying to nullify the potent threat of Cristiano Ronaldo whilst not ignoring the other attacking talents that Madrid possess.

Madrid, like United, are not deeply stocked in this area of the field but fortunately for them their two best operators in these positions, Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso, are both available tonight. This pair will have to be at their very best tonight to cut off the creative source from Wayne Rooney who I think Jose Mourinho will earmark as the greatest threat to his defenders this evening.

 

Player Ratings:

Michael Carrick: 8/10, Phil Jones 7.5/10

Sami Khedira: 8/10, Xabi Alonso 9/10

 

Form Rating:

Michael Carrick 9/10, Phil Jones 8/10

Sami Khedira: 8/10, Xabi Alonso: 8/10

 

Attacking Midfield:

This is the area of the field in which both of the sides are most capable.

So strong indeed that there is only one must-pick for each side in this area of the field and those are Wayne Rooney for United and obviously Cristiano Ronaldo for Madrid.

The way the rest of the line-ups will look in this area of the field though is less predictable as United have Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Nani, Ryan Giggs, Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa to pick from and Madrid have the likes of Angel Di Maria, Mesut Ozil, Luka Modric and Jose Callejon to choose between.

 

Player Ratings:

Antonio Valencia: 8.5/10, Tom Cleverley: 8/10, Wayne Rooney: 9.5/10

Mesut Ozil: 9/10, Angel Di Maria: 8.5/10, Cristiano Ronaldo: 10/10

 

Form Ratings:

Valencia: 7/10, Cleverley: 8/10, Rooney: 9/10

Ozil: 7/10, Di Maria: 7/10, Ronaldo: 9.5/10

 

Up Top:

Manchester United capture of Robin Van Persie in the summer has improved the look of their squad no end. He has carried on his stunning form from last season at Arsenal and he has boosted the United squad to the point where it looks the best it has since they last won the Champions League and since the departure of Ronaldo to Madrid.

Leading the line for Madrid is Karim Benzema who has as many natural attributes as a centre forward could ever wish to have but it is hard not to feel as if he still hasn’t fully realised his potential. He has played against United before in his days at Lyon and has caused them a lot of problems so he will likely get the nod ahead of Gonzal0 Higuain.

 

Player Rating:

Robin Van Persie: 9.5/10

Karim Benzema: 8.5/10

 

Form Rating:

Van Persie: 9/10

Benzema: 7/10

 

The Totals:

 

Player Ratings (out of a total of 80):

 

Real Madrid:

69/80

Machester United:

68/80

 

Form Ratings (out of 80):

Real Madrid:

61.5/80

Machester United:

66/80

 

Score Prediction for tonight’s game:

Real Madrid 3-2 Manchester United

6 Nations: : Lions Watch

After a few Blog-less months (caused by the stresses and strains of a journalism course which has somewhat taken over my life the past few months…), I am pleased to make my return and what better excuse to do so than the 6 Nations and the forthcoming Lions tour.

The British and Irish Lions have a mouthwatering summer tour of Australia lying in wait and as is always the case in a 6 Nations tournament in the lead-up to a Lions tour, competition for places is starting to hot up.

Gatland has much to consider after the first weekend of action

The opening weekend had all British rugby fans wishing that the likes of Martin Castrogiovanni and Sergio Parisse were not Italian and were English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish dynamos instead as they helped inspire Italy to a stunning victory over France.

The opening weekend also saw a rejuvenated Ireland conquer Wales who are continuing their free-fall from their Grandslam-winning pedestal, and England demonstrating the sort of attacking verve en-route to victory against Scotland that helped them defeat world champions New Zealand in the Autumn.

As is nearly always the case in a Lions year, the opening weekend provided a fascinating insight into who might make the trip and who might not.

It threw up the usual blend of ‘dead-certs’ confirming their status as being such (e.g Dan Cole, Rory Best, Johnny Sexton, Brian O’Driscoll, Chris Ashton), former favourites for selection on the wane (Sam Warburton and Jonathan Davies, the latter seemed to just have an off-day) , and young unexpected contenders throwing their hats into the ring for selection (e.g Joe Launchberry, Billy Twelvetrees.

Anyway, now that the dust has settled on the wonderful opening round of this year’s tournament it is time to look ahead to this weekend’s action and I have decided to highlight some of the key British and Irish players and clashes to look out for this weekend.

Cian Healey Vs. Dan Cole:

Come the first test match against Australia this summer these two could well be partnered as the first-choice tight-head and loose-head props for the Lions but this Saturday they will be head-to-head and it promises to be a snarling battle. Both were true to form on the opening weekend and proved why they are both regarded amongst the very best in the world in their respective positions.

Ben Youngs Vs. Danny Care:

This is an ‘in-house’ battle within the England setup and one which seems to drive both players on rather than inhibiting their performances. They are both world-class, both exciting, both energising, but unfortunately both are still pretty young and each have a tendency to undo some of their fantastic work with some clumsy errors. They are however both in the running for a spot in the Lions squad as well as being locked in a battle to wrestle the number 9 England shirt from one another. Hopefully this battle can continue to inspire the pair of them and we can look forward to a big 60 minutes from Ben Youngs this weekend and an exciting cameo from Care in the last 20.

Justin Tipuric:

 

Justin TipuricLess than a year ago it seemed that Sam Warburton could do nothing wrong. He had performed and led the Welsh side superbly at the World Cup in late 2011 and then he flourished again as skipper as Wales went on to Grandslam glory in 2012. He has however been a steep downwards slide since then and so have Wales as a collective unit. Captain Sam is missing this weekend though and at the moment this actually seems to be a positive for the Welsh as it opens up a space for the dynamic Justin Tipuric. Prior to last weekend I had heard an awful lot about him but hadn’t seen much of him myself, however, his performance after coming off the bench against Ireland made me sit up and take note. Could he be the answer to Wales’ desperate prayers of late? Could he even be Lions material? We might just find out against the French this weekend…

Brad Barritt Vs. Brian O’Driscoll:

Brian O' Driscoll 6 Nations 2013This week Sir Clive Woodward conceded that in England’s last Grandslam winning year in 2003, when Brian O’Driscoll was at his dazzling best, that he earmarked no less than three England players to nullify the Irish master’s threat. If last weekend is anything to go by then Stuart Lancaster may have to follow Woodward’s lead in his team instructions as O’Driscoll returned from injury in stunning fashion. Barritt playing alongside Billy Twelvetrees in the England midfield will surely be charged with such a task this weekend at the Aviva Stadium and the whole game could well hinge on this battle.

Other things to look out for this weekend:

The Irish back-three (even without the absent Tommy Bowe), the battle of the two fly-half Lions front-runners Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell and the development of Scotland flyer and Lions full-back hopeful Stuart Hogg who made a great impression at Twickenham last Saturday.

My Soundtrack to a Year of Gigging

Having had the pleasure of seeing both Bon Iver and Matt Corby live in the past couple of weeks I have found myself reflecting on twelve months of gig-going and the best live tracks I’ve seen during that time.

Matt Corby SCALA

In that period I have seen James Vincent McMorrow at the Queen’s Hall Edinburgh supported by Lindi Ortega, Ben Howard at the Riverside in Newcastle supported by Lucy Rose, Matt Corby topping the bill at one of Communion record label’s host evenings at the Notting Hill Arts Club, Bon Iver at Wembley supported by The Staves and then Matt Corby again, this time at a headline show supported by Lucy Mason and Bear’s Den.

Within these shows there have been special moments by the barrel-load and all-in-all very little to complain about. I have in the past been to a few underwhelming gigs but those which I have been to over the last year haven’t let me down in the slightest and if anything have far exceeded expectations.

So, in tribute, to I have put together a little album/playlist of the best live tracks I have seen at the shows I’ve been to over the year…

Bon Iver – Perth

This opened their Wembley set and the live performance gave a whole new dimension to their prog-rock inspired second album, the self titled Bon Iver.

Ben Howard – The Wolves

This is perhaps Ben’s most well-known and well-loved single and it didn’t disappoint live and had the entire crowd howling back at him.

James Vincent McMorrow – From the Woods

Before seeing him live From the Woods was far from being one of my favourite songs from James’ debut album but after seeing him and his brilliant band playing it in Edinburgh it soon became a firm favourite.

Matt Corby – Made of Stone

I have now had the pleasure of seeing Matt play this liver twice and on each occasion he played a totally different version. The second time I saw him play it was at SCALA and he played it with the accompaniment of the band but the first time he played it he performed alone with just his piano for company and it was stunning.

Bon Iver (feat. The Staves) – RE: Stacks

This has always been my favourite track from their first album and hearing Justin Vernon play it live was a pretty special moment for me and having support act The Staves on backing vocals made it even better still.

The Staves – Facing West

A three-piece female, folk-harmony group doesn’t exactly sound like a formula for filling an arena as huge as Wembley but their performance was surprisingly brilliant.

Lucy Rose – Shiver

Like The Staves at Wembley little Lucy Rose didn’t exactly seem suited to the venue she was playing, The Riverside in Newcastle, but this track stood out in her stint supporting Ben Howard.

Ben Howard – Black Flies

Easily dismissed as “just another bloke with a guitar”, Black Flies proves exactly why Ben Howard is so much more than that. Dark, intense and evocative, this was a song that came to life on the stage.

Bon Iver – Creature Fear

This song is an understated effort from their first album but at Wembley the arena-filling chorus contrasted brilliantly with the low-key verses and proved a great link between their first and second albums.

Matt Corby – Brother

His most celebrated work to date. This track is tinged with regret and harks back to masters of the genre, namely Jeff Buckley, and there are also comparisons in the vocal delivery to be made to Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon fame.

James Vincent McMorrow – Higher Love

Just prior to this song bursting into prominence courtesy of the LOVEfilm advert, I saw James play this in solo mode at the Queen’s Hall Edinburgh and it was at the time a startling version of Steve Winwood’s cheesy 80′s pop hit.

Alexander Wolfe – Stuck in September

Playing as part of the bill at Communion record label’s regular slot at the Notting Hill Arts Club, Alexander Wolfe lulled the crowd into a mild stupor with this gentle and somewhat haunting offering. Granted, his sets will never be thrill a minute but he certainly has his appeal.

Matt Corby – Kings, Queens, Beggars and Thieves

This makes the cut purely on grounds that it is a personal favourite of mine. I wasn’t expecting it to be on the set-list but it was and it would be fair to say I was pretty chuffed.

James Vincent McMorrow – Wicked Game (Chris Isaak’s cover)

Stunning. Need I say more?

Bon Iver – The Wolves (Acts I and III)

This first-album-favourite from the Wisconsin folk-sters formed part of their encore and it provided the sort of stunning and dramatic ending the brilliant show deserved.

Was Zlatan’s the best goal ever?

With only the odd speck of archive footage to rely on it would hardly be fair for me to judge on whether Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s stunning effort last night was the best goal of all time.

It wouldn’t however be too much of a stretch of the imagination to say that it was one of the very best of my lifetime.

Ibrahimovic

Zlatan’s performance and his wonder-strike last night were a shot in the eye for all his doubters

 

So, in honour of his outrageous effort in Sweden’s 4-2 win over England at their brand new Friends Arena I have put together a selection of clips of the best goals that I have ever witnessed.

So, sit back, relax, enjoy and make up your mind as to which you think is best…

First of all…. Here’s Zlatan!

Next up…. Wazza!

The next contender… Scholesy!

Carrrrloooossssss!!!

Don’t forget… Ronaldinho!

Zidaaaaannneee!!!

Can’t forget D-Becks!

Messsssiiiii!

Rooonnnnaaaalllddddoooooo (‘s goal that wasnn’t…)

and another from Ronny which did count…

Best penner ever?

Thierry Henryyyy!!!

Bergkamp!!

and another…

Giggsy!

Gus Poyet!!!

Neymarrrr!

Finally, some bloke from Glentoran…

The Ryder Cup 2012: How the teams match up…

Europe may be the holders going into golf’s bi-annual fun-fair but home advantage tends to prove a huge factor amidst the most dramatic atmosphere that the sport is capable of serving up.

So then, who will prove triumphant at the Medinah Country Club this week?

Ryder Cup 2010Team Europe will be looking to hold onto their crown but the USA will offer a greater challenge this time around

The US are looking as strong as they have done in years with the likes of Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler and Nick Watney having not even made the cut and Europe too can boast about their chances with three of the world’s top fou ranked players hailing from the continent.

It seems then that things will be very tight in Chicago so in order to try and assess the two sides’ respective chances I have produced a guide to the teams and a run down of their world rankings, form and Ryder Cup records.

Rory McIlroy:

Europe’s top dog is Northern Ireland’s super-talent who has bagged his second major title this year at the PGA as well as a second placed finish in the FedEx Cup series.

World Ranking: 1

Form: 10/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 2 points.

Luke Donald:

‘Luuuuuuuuuuuukkkkkkeeeeee’ as he is affectionately known has had a fantastic couple of years but the past few months haven’t quite hit the heights of the 18 months preceding them. However, a third placed finish at the Tour Championships at the weekend will have provided a timely boost to his confidence.

World Ranking: 3

Form: 7/10

Record: 3 appearances; 11 matches, 8 1/2 points.

Lee Westwood:

Westwood has been one of Europe’s most consitent performers over the past decade and he has tremendous Ryder Cup experience, however, he has really struggled for form in recent months in spite of his world ranking.

World Ranking: 4

Form: 5/10

Record: 7 appearances; 33 matches, 19 points.

Justin Rose:

He is in the form of his life and he is as ready as anybody in Team Europe to face-off against the formidable looking Team USA.

World Ranking: 5

Form: 9/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 3 points.

Martin Kaymer:

He has struggled over the past couple of years since having reached the top of the world rankings but he just about achieved automatic selection to the team and will be hoping to find his best form once again.

World Ranking: 32

Form: 6/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 2 1/2 points

Graeme McDowell:

He was the hero for Team Europe at Celtic Manor in 2010 and he will be chomping at the bit to return to golf’s premiere team event. He is a man built for matchplay in terms of his attitude and demeanour and he will undoubtedly play a huge part in proceedings.

World Ranking: 18

Form: 7/10

Record: 2 appearances; 8 matches, 5 points.

Sergio Garcia:

Having returned to the top table of European golf Sergio Garcia is set to thrill in Ryder Cup golf once again and he has as much to prove as anybody at Medinah.

World Ranking: 19

Form: 7/10

Record: 5 appearances; 24 matches, 16 points

Francesco Molinari:

Molinari lined up alongside his brother Edoardo in Team Europe for the 2010 Ryder Cup but this time he is going it alone and is hoping to end on the winning side once again.

World Ranking: 31

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearance; 3 matches, 1/2 a point.

Peter Hanson:

He is one of the European Tour’s most consistent forces and he also shot into the consciousness of global golf fans with a valiant shot at winning the Masters earlier this season having led going into the final round.

World Ranking: 25

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearance; 3 matches, 1 point.

Paul Lawrie:

Lawrie’s return to the forefront of the global game has been as stunning as it has been unlikely but the ultimate reward for his efforts is his place in Team Europe in a competition he loves playing in.

World Ranking: 28

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearce; 5 matches, 3 1/2 points.

Ian Poulter:

Poulter might not have been at his best this year and may not be the best player in Team Europe on paper but he remains one of the most confident and flamboyant characters in the game and he has a fantastic Ryder Cup record and will expect to be as involved and as successful as anybody in the team.

World Ranking: 26

Form: 7/10

Record: 3 appearances; 11 matches, 8 points.

Nicolas Colsaerts:

Colsaerts has had a really good couple of years off the back of several disappointing campaigns and his rise in fortunes has resulted in a wildcard pick for Team Europe, which will surely rank as his proudest achievement to date.

World Ranking: 35

Form: 7/10

Record: Rookie

Team USA:

Tiger Woods:

He’s back. He might not have won a major since his fall from grace but he has come very close on a couple of occasions this year and his PGA Tour form has been stunning throughout 2012. The Ryder Cup hasn’t been his happiest hunting ground in the past but I wouldn’t be surprised if he bags a few crucial points for his team this time around.

World Ranking: 2

Form: 9/10

Record: 6 appearances; 29 matches, 14 points.

Phil Mickleson: 

‘Lefty’ has been painfully inconsistent over the past couple of seasons but he is still capable of the sublime and he performed strongly throughout the FedEx cup series.

World Ranking: 16

Form: 7/10

Record: 8 appearances; 34 macthes, 14 points.

Bubba Watson:

Having landed his first major title at Augusta people have started to take Bubba a little more seriously and as unconventional as he is he deserves no less than to be regarded as one of world golf’s finest players.

World Ranking: 7

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 1 point.

Webb Simpson:

Having landed his maiden major title many would have expected Simpson to have cemented his place amongst the world’s best players but the past few months since this success have been tough for Simpson as he has struggled to produce his best on a regular basis.

World Ranking: 8

Form: 6/10

Record: Rookie

Jason Dufner:

Jason Dufner has proven over the past two seasons that he can be a regular challenger in major events and now he will be hoping to prove his match-playing talents also.

World Ranking: 9

Form: 7/10

Record: Rookie

Matt Kuchar:

Kuchar is one of world golf’s most solid competitors and possesses very few weaknesses. He could play a huge part if chosen to play alongside one of Team USA’s more flamboyant players.

World Ranking: 15

Form: 6/10

Record:

Keegan Bradley:

Bradley’s stunning victory in the PGA Championship last year, his maiden major tournament appearance, was one of the more extraordinary moments in golf’s rich history and he has proven himself not to be a one hit wonder with a year of consistently competing well on the PGA Tour and by establishing himself in the world’s top 20.

World Ranking: 14

Form: 7/10

Record: Rookie

Zach Johnson:

Johnson has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance over the past couple of years and he has re-established himself as a regular contender in the majors and will be hoping to take this form into the USA’s fight to steal the Ryder Cup from Europe’s grasp.

World Ranking: 17

Form: 7/10

Record: 2 appearances; 7 matches, 2 1/2 points.

Brandt Snedeker:

Has there been anyone who has enjoyed as good a year as Snedeker in 2012? Well, if there is they are few and far between as Snedeker has won the Farmer’s Insurance Open, tied for third at the Open and then won the FedEx Cup in style after triumphing in the Tour Championships as the weekend and bagging himself a double jackpot of over $11 million.

Just to top it off he has been selected as a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup and there will be no player higher on confidence than him going into his rookie appearance in the famous competition.

World Ranking: 10

Form: 10/10

Record: Rookie

Steve Stricker:

It is great testament to Stricker that he has managed to maintain such a high world ranking in what has seemed like a fairly quiet year for the veteran. Even when his long game is letting him down his putting remains immaculate and that could again prove to be a huge asset to Team USA.

World Ranking: 12

Form: 7/10

Record:

Dustin Johnson:

The Medinah Club is theoretically a big-hitter’s paradise and Johnson certainly fits the bill. He may not have achieved automatic qualification but his length of the tee made him impossible to ignore in terms of Davis Love III’s captain’s picks.

World Ranking: 13

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 1 point.

Jim Furyk:

Furyk hasn’t played anywhere near as consistently well in recent times as he has become renowned for throughout a great career but he has enormous experience both as a PGA Tour player and as a Ryder Cup competitor and that is exactly why he was chosen in spite of failing to make the team by way of automatic selection.

World Ranking: 23

Form: 6/10

Record: 7 appearances; 27 matches, 10 points.