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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

London 2012 Paralympics: My Top 10 Moments of The Games

1. Sarah Storey winning Team GB’s first gold of The Games:

Sarah Storey Paralympics

I can’t think of a person more deserving of four different stamps…well.. maybe David Weir…

You might ask why I have chosen to pick out just one of her astonishing haul of four gold medals but the first one for the host nation is always a bit special isn’t it! Super Sarah led the charge and broke records a plenty on course to cementing her place as one of GB’s greatest ever Paralympic athletes, if not the greatest.

2. Ellie Simmonds first gold of The Games:

Ellie Simmonds’ astonishing first gold medal victory of the Games wasn’t in her strongest event and wasn’t necessarily one she was expected to dominate but that she did. This triumph was akin to Jess Ennis’ win in the heptathlon in the Olympic Games as it relieved an enormous weight of pressure and expectation as Ellie Swim-monds went in as ‘The Face of the Games. She then went onto follow this success up with another gold and a silver and bronze to boot. Not a bad few days.

3. David Wetherill’s wonder shot:

It speaks for itself…

4. : The high-jump:

High-Jump London 2012 Paralympics

The high jump made for an incredible spectacle

I know every event was amazing in it’s own way but this was just ridiculous. The athletes competing were truly gobsmacking, how on earth a one-legged man can leap as high as these guys were is simply beyond me. I loved watching it though!

5. Mickey Bushell’s T53 100m win:

Mickey Bushell’s moment of glory was one of the more memorable of the Games from a Paralympics GB perspective. He was already a silver medalist in the World Championships and last time out at the Paralympics in Beijing and now he has finally become a gold medallist at the Games. The emotion displayed by him as he crossed the finish line was a pleasure to behold.

6. Hannah Cockroft romping to double sprint victory:

Our very own female and wheelchair riding Usain Bolt. She didn’t just win two sprint golds, she won them by a country-mile. She was supreme.

7. Jason Smyth’s 100m final win and new WR:

Smyth suffers from a 10% loss of sight and though that might not sound like the greatest impairment of the many we have seen at the Games, he was still competing in a field of similarly disabled athletes and he blew them all away. I haven’t checked to see whether he is or not but I suspect that he might not only be the fastest ever Paralympian but that he also might well be the quickest Irish sprinter ever, able bodied or disabled. If he isn’t the fastest ever Irishman then he must be bloody close!

8. David Millar’s Golden Fortnight:

Four events, four gold medals. What a hero! Not only did he win four golds but they were in entirely different disciplines; the 800m, the 1500m, the 5,000m and the marathon. The mind boggles!

9. Juan Jose Mendez, my favourite Paralympian:

Mendez Paralympics

The picture speaks for itself…

This guy is unreal. He may not have won a medal or even have got that close to winning one, but this veteran of the Spanish track cycling team truly amazed me. In spite of the Velodrome’s steep angled banking he manages to hurtle round the track in spite of missing an arm and leg both on the same side of the body. I quite simply don’t know how he stays on or how he moves the bike!

10. Alex Zannardi’s road to recovery:

45 year old former F1 driver Alex Zannardi brought an incredible story to a glorious conclusion at the Paralympic Games this week. Fifteen years on from his horror career-ending crash which left him having both of his legs amputated, he returned to the forefront of the sporting world in phenomenal fashion by becoming a double-gold medal winning hand-cyclist.

The man is an inspiration but in fairness that is true of every single Paralympian I have witnessed over the past couple of weeks, but sadly it is now all over!

Premier League Summer Transfer Window XI

(Formation: 3-2-3-2)

Hazard Chelsea

Hazard has been the biggest money move of the window at the time of writing this post but he is already looking worth every penny

Goalkeeper:

Ben Foster: (Undisclosed)

He may not come across as a new signing to many having been on loan to the Baggies last season but Ben Foster has now signed a permanent deal with West Brom and he looks set to play a huge part in West Brom’s attempts to avoid a hangover period in the wake of former manager Roy Hodgson’s departure from the club.

Defence:

Nathaniel Clyne (Crystal Palace to Southampton – Compensation Not Yet Agreed)

He is very much a raw talent at present but Nathaniel Clyne has great potential. He burst onto the scene with Palace last year and I am surprised that a bigger club than Southampton weren’t tempted to have a punt on Clyne as he seems to have the strength, physique, speed and technical ability necessary to drive him on to become one the best full-backs in the country.

Jan Vertonghen: (Ajax to Spurs £10 million)

Vertonghen Tottenham

Can Jan be the perfect heir to Ledley’s throne?

It is early days for Vertonghen as a Premier League player but there was a great amount of interest in him from some very big clubs over the summer and Andre-Vilas Boas and Tottenham did very well to secure the signature of the Belgian in what appears to be a great bit of business. £10 million isn’t a great deal to pay for a top-class centre-half in the modern game and Spurs will hope that he can quickly become a very able replacement for Ledley King who sadly had to retire over the summer as a result of years of injury woe.

Jose Manuel Flores: (Genoa to Swansea £2 million)

Swansea’s charismatic new centre-half is well known to their new manager Michael Laudrup from their time together at Mallorca and his start at the club has been a very good one. Since his £2 million arrival he has been involved in back-to-back clean-sheets and has been a major part of the Swans’ great start to the campaign as they look to continue their reputation from last season as one of the Premier League’s meanest defences.

Midifeld:

Oscar: (Internacional to Chelsea £25 million)

A lot of South American players have struggled to adapt to life in the Premier League but given time and sufficient guidance I think Oscar will prove himself to be a huge hit for Chelsea. I don’t necessarily think he will get a huge amount of game time in the short-term but as a long-term prospect there are few better talents plying their trade in the Premier League. He has great movement on and off the ball and has a tremendous eye for a pass as his performances in the Olympic Games demonstrated and I think he’ll shine over the next few years if Chelsea can settle him into Premier League life.

Santi Cazorla: (Malaga to Arsenal £16 million)

He might not quite have come up with the necessary goods to land Arsenal their first win of the season in their opening two games but Cazorla already looks like he could be their best player this season as he possesses many of the qualities that they have been lacking since the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri last summer. It is only because Spain have been blessed with probably the greatest group of midfielders that one country has ever possessed at one time that Cazorla hasn’t become a bigger name by now but he has still managed to amass a total of 46 international caps to date as well as 7 goals for his country and I think we will see this season why he is so highly thought of back in Spain.

Attacking Midfield:

Eden Hazard: (Lille to Chelsea £32 million)

He may only have made three Premier League appearances since moving to the Bridge but Chelsea’s new boy has already made six assists and scored a goal from the penalty spot. Having seen him struggle to assert himself in Belgium’s friendly against England before the start of Euro 2012 and then again in Chelsea’s Community Shield loss to Manchester City, many thought that in spite of his undoubted technical qualities that it might take Hazard a little while to settle into English football but he has firmly quashed any such thoughts with three outstanding displays straight off the bat in the Premier League. He looks like one hell of a player and Chelsea could be propelled back into title contention this season if his current form continues.

Shinji Kagawa: (Dortmund to Man Utd £12 million)

He might not have had quite the impact of Eden Hazard at Chelsea but Kagawa who operates in a similar position to the Belgian has already looked very assured as a Premier League player in his first couple of outings and in addition to having already opened his scoring account against Fulham at the weekend he has also been right at the heart of nearly all of United’s best forward play in their opening two games. Like I say, he might not have matched Hazard’s blistering form thus far but he did cost United £20 million less than the Belgian set Chelsea back and he too looks a great attacking midfield prospect.

Adam Johnson; (Man City to Sunderland £10 million)

I think this signing represents a fantastic bit of business for Sunderland. Not only is Johnson immensely talented but he already has a Premier League winners medal to his name, a smattering of England caps and already a couple of international goals to boot, so at £10 million he looks an absolute bargain by today’s premium on English talent. He is versatile and can operate strongly on either flank and with his combination of speed, skill, trickery, decent two-footed delivery and an eye for goal I expect him to play a huge part in Martin O’Neill’s plans this season. If Steven Fletcher is even half as lethal in front of goal as Martin O’Neill thinks he is then he will score a hat full this season with the likes of Johnson, Stephane Sessegnon and James McClean providing him with great servie from all angles.

Attack:

Robin Van Persie: (Arsenal to Man Utd £24 million)

RVP United

RVP has settled quickly into the OT limelight and is looking forward to proving any doubters wrong

Many have had their say on Van Persie’s summer move to Old Trafford and though some thought the £24 million transfer fee looked a little too grand for a player nearing his thirties and with only one year remaining on his contract at Arsenal but if anybody needed convincing that his acquisition was a great one for United then last weekend should have been sufficient. In a game which saw United’s talisman Wayne Rooney suffer a nasty injury which looks set to keep him out of the side for at least a month, Van Persie came up trumps netting a fine finish for his first goal for United in a narrow 3-2 win. The finish was exquisite and it was Van Persie’s very first shot in a United shirt. One shot, one goal, he is a lethal finisher and his signing puts United in great stead to challenge Manchester rivals City for the title.

Emmanuel Adebayor: (Man City to Spurs £5 million)

This comes within the the same bracket as Ben Foster’s move to West Brom in that this deal was a conversion from loan signing last season to a permanent transfer this summer and at a cost of just £5 million and with his hefty wages being subsidised by his former club this deal looks like a cracking bit of work by Daniel Levy. Adebayor is a proven scorer and assist-maker over several years at Premier League and Champions League level and if he can re-create anything like his contribution to Spurs’ cause last season then AVB will be delighted that they now have him as a more permanent fixture on their books.

Subs:

Cesar Azpilcueta: Chelsea’s punt on the young Spanish full-back looks like a good one as he has impressed in the French Ligue 1 and also with the Spanish youth side.

Joe Allen: £15 million seemed an inflated fee at the time and in spite of an MOTM performance against City it does still look a little hefty but Rodgers knew full-well what he was getting when he signed Allen and he has the potential to grow into one of Europe’s best possession-players. He could be the long overdue replacement for Xabi Alonso in Liverpool’s engine room.

Michu: Three goals in his first two Premier League starts means he has as good as repaid his £2 million fee already. The midfielder-come-striker looks well designed for the rigours and physicality of the Premier League and has shown that he is a quality finisher.

Moussa Dembele: The ex-Fulham man endured an injury blighted first few months in English football but since finding his feet he has grown ever stronger. He has gradually become accustomed to a deeper role in Fulham’s side having originally been signed as a front-man and the now midfielder has looked every bit worth his suspected £15 million transfer fee throughout the past year.

Matt Jarvis: Though I think his transfer fee is a little high for a man only about seventh or eighth in England’s pecking order of wide-men and for a man coming from a Championship side, Jarvis has demonstrated over the past couple of seasons just how decent a Premier League player he is. Last season he stood out from the crowd on Wolves’ sinking ship and he more than deserved his immediate return to the big-time, I’m sure he’ll be a big asset to West Ham.

Kevin Mirallas: He may only have been making his debut against lower-league opposition but he bagged his first two Everton goals with no time wasted at all and he looks an exciting prospect. I think Moyes might have pulled yet another managerial masterstroke with this lad.

Pavel Pogrebnyak: He is far from a glamour-signing in terms of his style of play but he is such a huge presence on the field and he has genuine goal-scoring ability at the highest levels of football. I think his signing was a major coup for Reading given the interest in him from all around Europe and I think his contributions could be the difference between Reading staying up and going down.

 

The best completed and potential deadline day signings:

Stephen M’Bia (QPR), Charlie Adam (Stoke), Maicon (Man City), Scott Sinclair (Man City), Joao Moutinho (Spurs), Clint Dempsey (Liverpool), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Andre Shurlle (Chelsea), Michael Owen (Stoke/Everton), Dimitar Berbtov (Fulham), Michel Bastos (Fulham), Keiran Richardson (Fulham)…