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.

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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

Premier League 2012/2013: Team by Team Preview

Arsenal

Key Player: For me, Alex Song was second only to Robin Van Persie in terms of Arsenal’s best players last season and I think that they must do absolutely everything in their power to keep him at the club amidst rumours that Barcelona are on the verge of a securing a move for the dynamic midfield player. I think that losing Song would represent a greater loss to Arsenal than losing Van Persie as the Dutchman’s departure was always expected and therefore planned for whereas Song’s departure would leave Arsenal requiring some quick-fire work in the latter stages of the transfer window.

Alex Song Barcelona

Signings: Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud

What they still need: If Arsenal are planning on offloading either Marouane Chamakh or Nicklas Bendtner then I think they need to invest in another striker but Arsene Wenger seems to think otherwise. They will also need to line up a very decent replacement for Alex Song if he is to be lured to the Nou Camp.

Prediction: 5th

Aston Villa

Key Player: Villa had a pretty dire season last year in almost every way but they certainly had their reasons. I can remember very few Premier League sides ever having endured such a terrible season of injury woe than Villa last year and the major loss of the bunch was Darren Bent who missed the most crucial part of the season as they were sucked into the relegation dogfight. With Bent back on the field they will stand a far greater chance of avoiding relegation worries this season as he remains their only major goal threat.

Bent Villa

Signings: Karim El Ahmadi, Brett Holman, Ron Vlaar, Matthew Lowton

What they still need: Villa could do with someone to help Bent out on the goal scoring front as Gabriel Agbonlahor’s contributions have never been consistent enough. Last season Villa also looked desperately short of creative sparks in their midfield and they would benefit from adding a creative player out wide. Someone like Matt Jarvis of Wolves or Gabriel Obertan of Newcastle would prove a decent addition to their squad and they are prbably both available at the right price.

Prediction: 13th

Chelsea

Key Player: Fernando Torres has struggled for form and fitness over the past few seasons but towards the end of last season there seemed to be a bit of an upturn in form for the once prolific Spaniard and this form followed him unto Spain’s successful Euro 2012 campaign where he won the Golden Boot. In the wake of Chelsea hero Didier Drogba’s departure Torres will need to step up to the plate and take on the bulk of their goal scoring burden and I think we will see something more like his old self in this campaign.

Torres Chelsea

Signings: Oscar, Marko Marin, Eden Hazard, Thorgan Hazard

What they still need: Chelsea need a right back to compete with Branislav Ivanovic and perhaps they could also do with another holding midfield player as Michael Essien seemed to struggle to reach his former heights last season. Don’t rule out a move for a striker either as they aren’t exactly over-stocked in that department.

Prediction: 3rd

Everton

Key Player: Everton are always brilliantly drilled and organised by their fantastic manager David Moyes but the only area in which they have truly struggled during his time at the club is in the goal-scoring department. Never before have they had a striker with such an eye for goal as Nikica Jelavic and if his first half season at the club is anything to go by then they may well have finally found themselves a 20 goal a season man.

Jelavic Everton

Signings: Steven Pienaar, Steven Naismith

What they still need: They were surprisingly active in the January transfer market and have already brought Steven Pienaar back to the club this summer so expect little more movement from Everton. Having said that though, I think a rumoured move for Michael Owen would represent the sort of low-risk move which might take David Moyes’ fancy and he could prove a decent addition if he can keep fit.

Prediction: 8th

Fulham

Key Player: Fulham’s star man is Clint Dempsey. He is far and away their best player and his ability to score a huge haul of goals from midfield has been the difference between them being a mid-table club rather than a side battling to avoid relegation in recent times and it is of paramount importance that they hold on to him if they are to have any chance of progressing. It does however sound like he is at the top of Liverpool’s wanted list and one would have to think that the move will probably go through.

Dempsey Fulham

Signings: Mladen Petric, Hugo Rodallega, Sascha Reither, George Williams

What they still need: If Dempsey decides to move to Liverpool then Fulham will need to either invest in a striker who can take on the task of replacing the void left by Dempsey’s departure in their goals tally or alternatively a midfielder in the Dempsey mould who can score and create goals on a regular basis.

Prediction: 12th

Liverpool

Key Player: He may well be the most, or at very least one of the most, maligned players in the league but Luis Suarez is undoubtedly Liverpool’s best offensive player and they will rely heavily upon him to try and re-assert themselves as a real Premier League force this season. In terms of his contribution in purely football terms Suarez has enjoyed a very decent first season and a half in English football but he needs to score a greater bulk of goals than he has done so far if he is to be truly regarded as one of the most highly revered strikers in world football.

Suarez Liverpool

Signings: Joe Allen, Fabio Borini

What they still need: If Daniel Agger moves to City then Liverpool will definitely have to replace him with someone like Steven Caulker and they could also do with adding more bite to their midfield. It sounds as if they are keen to secure a deal to sign Clint Dempsey and I don’t think there are many sides in the league who wouldn’t benefit from adding him to their squad. Christian Tello and Nuri Sahin are both very firmly on their radar also…

Prediction: 6th

Manchester City

Key Player: Yaya Toure had a sublime season last year and was  arguably the key component of their first ever Premier League winning side. He has adapted his game so easily since joining the club and he has transformed himself into one of the most dynamic roaming midfielders in world football. If City are to make it back-to-back titles then they will need Toure to keep fit and to reach the same levels as last season.

Toure Man City

Signings: Jack Rodwell

What they still need: Do City really need anyone? They could perhaps do with some more competition in central defence as replacement centre half Stefan Savic didn’t look up to the task last season and Daniel Agger would be a great signing if they could pull it off.

Prediction: 1st

Manchester United

Key Player: He may not seem the obvious choice but I think Michael Carrick could and should have a huge part to play in United’s season. At his best he is one of the Premier League’s finest distributors of the ball and he possesses the ability to relieve his defence of an enormous amount of pressure with his very efficient positioning and shielding of the back four. When he is high on confidence he is a totally different player than when he is in and out of the starting lineup and I think it is of little coincidence that United are at their best when Carrick is thriving in the heart of their midfield.

Carrick Man Utd

Signings: Robin Van Persie, Nick Powell, Shinji Kagawa

What they still need: Signing Van Persie has given their chances of gaining revenge on City a huge boost. They could however still do with some more defensive cover and perhaps a holding midfielder.

Prediction: 2nd

Newcastle

Key Player: Since joining Newcastle Cheik Tiote has become one of the most sought after midfield players in English football as his destructive and combative talents have proved completely vital to Newcastle’s successful return to top-flight football. It seems as though Newcastle have done a fantastic job of keeping him happy at the club as I’m sure there would be a whole host of suitors for one of the Premier League’s best holding midfield players if he was ever to declare anything other than his enormous affection for the club.

Tiote Newcastle

Signings: Curtis Good, Romain Amalfitano, Vurnon Anita, Gael Bigrimana

What they still need: Newcastle still need some defensive cover having looked threadbare at the back throughout the second half of last season, other than that though their squad is looking pretty well set for a challenge at securing European qualification for the second season running.

Prediction: 7th

Norwich

Key Player: Last season Grant Holt not only realised his dream of playing Premier League football but he also became perhaps the surprise success story of the entire Premier League season as he banged in the goals which kept Norwich clear of danger. If Norwich are to avoid danger again then Holt will surely again have to reach a similarly decent goals tally.

Holt Norwich

Signings: Michael Turner, Robert Snodgrass, Jacob Butterfield, Javier Garrido, Steven Whittaker

What they still need: Norwich need to bring someone in who can share the goal scoring burden with Grant Holt and they would benefit from investing in a quality centre half.

Prediction: 20th

QPR

Key Player: One of the more interesting transfer deals of the summer has seen Park Ji-Sung leave Manchester United for Queens Park Rangers. Not satisfied anymore with life on the periphery of the United side Park decided to ‘up sticks’ and he signed for Rangers in what could prove to be a great bit of business for the West-Londoners. He became well renowned for his tremendous attitude and work ethic at United but when he was at his best he was more than just a dedicated squad member. He has terrific off the ball movement and if he can just make more of his uncanny ability to pop up in great areas then I’m sure he’ll prove to be a big hit at Loftus Road.

Signings: Park Ji-Sung, Fabio, Ryan Nelsen, Samba Diakite, Andy Johnson, Rob Green, Junior Hoilett

What they still need: QPR need to make improvements in defence having looked very leaky at the back last season and they would be wise to add further defensive recruits as they have the potential to become a top-ten side if only they can find a bit more stability throughout their squad.

Prediction: 10th

Reading

Key Player: Any new Premier League sides desperately need a striker who can reach at least double figures on the goals front and in signing Pavel Pogrebnyak Reading way well have found themselves one. Pogrebnyak’s arrival at the club appears to be a real coup as a couple of more established Premier League and European Clubs were after his services and if he can re-create his start whilst on loan at Fulham last season then he will prove to be a crucial part of Reading’s bid for survival.

Pogrebnyak Reading

Signings: Chris Gunter, Pavel Pogrebnyak, Danny Guthrie, Adrian Mariappa, Nicky Shorey, Gareth McCleary

What they still need: Reading have done pretty well in the transfer market so far having beaten more established sides to the signatures of Pogrebnyak and Guthrie but they could still do with adding some Premier League experience to their squad right across the board. Many are tipping them for the drop but I think they could have a pretty good season.

Prediction:15th

Southampton

Key Player: Rickie Lambert has proven himself to be a lethal marksman at football league and championship level but it remains to be seen whether he can emulate the likes of Grant Holt and make a success of himself in the Premier League. Southampton haven’t invested much in new signings so far this summer so if they are to re-establish themselves as a top-flight side then they will be reliant once again on Lambert finding the back of the net on a regular basis.

Lambert Southampton

Signings: Jay Rodriguez, Steven Davis, Nathaniel Clyne, Paolo Gazzaniga

What they still need: Southampton must add greater numbers and a greater amount of experience to their squad as they look a little lightweight in every department at the minute. The signings they have made so far have actually been pretty good but they definitely need to invest more if they are to have any hope of staying up.

Prediction:18th

Stoke

Key Player: Tony Pulis put a lot of faith in Peter Crouch last summer when he splashed over £10m on the ageing England international but his faith was repaid as Crouch led the line admirably for the Potters. Hopes will be high again for Crouch to deliver and if he scores ten to fifteen goals then Stoke should be in decent shape to avoid being lured into a relegation battle.

Crouch Stoke City

Signings: Michael Kightly, Geoff Cameron, Jamie Ness

What they still need: Stoke have done a great job establishing themselves as a Premier League club and now they need to ensure that this remains the case. If they are to steer clear of any flirtations with trouble then I think they need to sign a creative central midfield player as they are short of genuine playmakers.

Prediction: 14th

Sunderland

Key Player: Last season Stephane Sessegnon was far and away Sunderland’s best player. The diminutive midfielder is an elusive off the ball runner and he has the ability to unlock doors in any opposition’s defences so he will always be a major threat. If they can keep him sweet and team him up with a new front man then he could well continue to establish himself as one of the Premier League’s finest playmakers.

Sessegnon Sunderland

Signings: Louis Saha, Carlos Cuellar

What they still need: They may have added Saha to their ranks but they still desperately need another striker and it sounds as if they are trying their utmost to land Steven Fletcher from Wolves. They could also do with more cover across all positions at the back.

Prediction: 9th

Swansea

Key Player: In the wake of Joe Allen’s departure from the club, Swansea are left without arguably their best player from last season but up until now at least they have managed to hold on to Scott Sinclair who has also been fantastic for them over the past couple of seasons. In his attacking midfield role Michael Laudrup will need Sinclair, his star man, to contribute heavily both in terms of goals scored and assists made otherwise the Swans could struggle to remain a Premier League club come the end of the season.

Sinclair Swansea City

Signings: Michu, Jose Manuel Flores, Jonathan De Guzman, Itay Shechter

What they still need: Swansea could do with replacing the playmaking talents of the departed Joe Allen and it wouldn’t hurt them to try and sign a new striker to compete for a place with Danny Graham as well. If Scott Sinclair is tempted away in the coming weeks by Manchester City then it would also be of paramount importance that they find a suitable replacement.

Prediction: 17th

Tottenham

Key Player: New signing Jan Vertonghen has impressed greatly in his time at former club Ajax and Spurs will need to him to settle very quickly in London if they are seriously challenge for the top few places in the league. Now that their defensive rock Ledley King has finally had to call it a day for his injury-plagued career there is a huge void left in Tottenham’s defence which creaked at times last year and Vertonghen will be required to fill it.

Vertonghen Spurs

Signings: Jan Vertonghen, Gylfi Sigurdsson

What they still need: A replacement for Luka Modric is a must and they could do with a couple of strikers also. They will still be hoping they can make a deal for Emmannuel Adebayor work and they may also try to land either one of Loic Remy or Leandro Damaio who have both been on their radar for quite a while. Andy Carroll could also be an option…

Prediction: 4th

West Brom

Key Player: Ben Foster has proven himself to be a very decent Premier League goalkeeper at a few different clubs now and though he is a keeper with an error-prone streak in him he is also a keeper capable of match-winning performances. Sometimes there seems to be absolutely no way past Foster and West Brom will need him to have several of these days in the forthcoming season if they are to avoid a post-Roy Hodgson era hangover under new manager Steve Clarke.

Foster West Brom

Signings: Markus Rosenberg, Ben Foster, Yassine El Ghanassy, Claudio Yacob

What they still need: West Brom’s squad could do with the addition of a striker who could bag them 15-20 goals a season and a midfielder capable of providing the service necessary to make this possible. Matt Jarvis might be a good option as he is a proven creator and scorer of Premier League goals from wide positions.

Prediction: 19th

West Ham

Key Player: James Tomkins has already had a taste of Premier League action having featured regularly in West Ham’s relegation season but this time he will be hoping to prove that he has developed his game sufficiently to help West Ham avoid the drop this time around. He has been the recipient of a lot of praise since West Ham found themselves back in the Championship and he will be desperate to continue his strong rate of development at the highest level this season.

Tomkins West Ham

Signings: Modibo Maiga, James Collins, Alou Diarra, Mohamed Diame, Stephen Henderson, Jussi Jaaskelainen, George McCartney

What they still need: The Hammers have recruited very well so far this summer but if they have aspirations of doing more than just staying up then they could do with one or two more faces. Their midfield now looks packed with strength and combative players but they still look slightly lightweight in terms of creative forces.

Prediction: 11th

Wigan

Key Player: New signing Arouna Kone notched an impressive 17 goals in 34 appearances for former club Levante last season and if Wigan are to steer clear of their now annual relegation battle then he will need to be similarly potent for his new club. Wigan have always struggled to find a consistent goal scorer in their years as a Premier League club but in Kone they may finally have found one. We’ll have to wait and see…

Kone Wigan

Signings: Arouna Kone, Fraser Fyvie, Ivan Ramis

What they still need: They could do with strengthening their defence and adding toughness to their midfield, they ideally would like to add players who already have Premier League experience. Another must for Wigan is either holding onto Victor Moses or alternatively spending the money made from any deal involving Moses wisely on a player or a couple of players who are capable of replacing his considerable talents.

Prediction: 16th

Beware of the Drog: Premier League Icon Seeks Pastures New

In the wake of Didier Drogba’s announcement that he is to leave Chelsea this summer I have pondered about just where the Ivorian ranks amongst the Premier League’s best ever front-men. 

Drogba

Drogba has been one of the true entertainers of the Premier League era

In eight years as a Chelsea player, Drogba’s record matches up with most and he is leaving Stamford Bridge having accumulated an impressive haul of 10 major trophies, the most hard-earned and most significant of the lot of course being last Saturday’s Champions League win.

From the moment he signed for a seemingly over-inflated fee of £24 million to the moment he slotted the decisive penalty in the Champions League final and momentarily appeared to be worth that money a hundred times over, Drogba has been a captivating footballer to watch and I would almost certainly rank him as the best signing of the Roman Abramovic era.

To be labelled such a success is hugely complimentary given the enormous sums of money that Abramovic has poured into transfers and the following players provide just a small sample of the high profile and high valued signings which I would rank him above in a list of Roman’s greatest captures at Chelsea:Arjen Robben, Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, Fernando Torres, Michael Essien, Florent Malouda, Nicholas Anelka… the list could go on….

Indeed, there are few more flattering things that you could say about Drogba’s time in England than to label him “the best Abramovic-era signing” and perhaps the only greater context in which he could be placed as a Premier League footballer would be to rank him amongst the finest front-men ever to grace our top flight.

The bad side of Drogba:

I am in no doubt as to whether or not he deserves to leave behind him such a lofty legacy from his time in England. He has been phenomenal for Chelsea and though I have not always been particularly fond of him I do and always have rated him very highly indeed.

Below is my list of the best strikers ever to grace the Premier League…

 

The Top 10 (Not in Order):

 

1. Thierry Henry: The classy Frenchman combined raw pace with great technical ability and lethal finishing.

  1. Didier Drogba: Drogba has proved himself a master in the art of playing as a lone striker.
  2. Wayne Rooney: Rooney is arguably the most technically gifted centre-forward ever in the PL.
  3. Alan Shearer: Goals by the bucket load and an inspiring and down-to-earth demeanour.
  4. Eric Cantona: Goals, creation, skill, arrogance beyond compare and an overwhelming presence.
  5. Ruud Van Nistelrooy: Probably the best goal-poacher the PL has ever seen.
  6. Denis Bergkamp: Rooney’s rival in the technical ability department, oozed class.
  7. Fernando Torres: Prolific for Liverpool, not so far Chelsea thus far but could still be.
  8. Andy Cole: Great movement, great finisher. Shame he couldn’t re-produce it at international level.
  9. Michael Owen: If it weren’t for a string of long-term injury problems then he would have broken records.

 

Honourable Mentions: Robbie Fowler, Dwight Yorke, Nicolas Anelka, Robin Van Persie, Gianfranco Zola, Jurgen Klinsmann, Teddy Sheringham

 

For me Drogba is definitely one of the top five strikers to have played Premier League football and his contributions for Chelsea have been unrivalled throughout his time at the club. He may not have endeared himself to all Premier League fans given his penchant for a manic outburst at officials and for an over-dramatic collapse to the deck but few can question the enormity of his contributions to Chelsea and to the Premier League as a whole.

The great side of Drogba:

It was entirely fitting that Drogba not only scored the decisive spot-kick in the Penalty Shoot-out triumph against Bayern but also the thumping header deep into the ninety pre-planned minutes of play, and though he hasn’t always been my cup of tea I was thrilled to see him contribute more than any other in Chelsea’s success.

I would argue that even at the age of 34 that there is still no better player in world football at playing as a lone striker than Drogba and though I never thought I would say this… I will miss you Didier.

The Key Head-to-Head battles in Munich

This evening’s Champions League final pits firm-favourites Bayern Munich against underdogs Chelsea both of whom have had to defy the gods en-route the final.

Heynckes Di Matteo

Bayern’s Manager and Chelsea’s Interim Manager will have a huge say in tonight’s final

Bayern Munich, who I tipped as my Champions League winners in a blog post at the start of the season, will have the huge advantage of playing the final of European football’s showpiece event on their own pitch, in front of a lot of their own fans and in the comfort of their own stadium.

As nice as it is for Bayern to be playing on home turf, if some were to level criticism at them for winning the trophy in favourable circumstances then that would be grossly unfair given that they have overcome the likes of Real Madrid en-route to the final.

Madrid who early in the second leg of their Semi-Final clash had a 3-2 aggregate lead and a 2-0 lead on the night, were eventually out-gritted and out-done by the kings of German football who somehow found the strength to claw their way back into the tie and win it on penalties.

It is also hard to estimate just how much of an advantage it will prove to be for the giants of German club football to be playing at the Allianz Arena given that their home fans will theoretically have a far smaller ticket allocation than they would usually have for matches in their own ground. However, given that Munich are hosting the final it is more than likely that the ‘neutral’ sections of the ground will be awash with the red shirts and this anticipated wealth of support should give them the edge if they didn’t already have that in terms of their arguably superior playing personnel.

Opponents and ‘visitors’ Chelsea have endured a very strange season indeed. They have already slumped to a pretty dismal sixth-placed finish in the Premier League but they have also managed to land themselves some silverware in the FA Cup.

The other major positive in Chelsea’s season of contrasting fortunes has been their rise from the ashes in this season’s Champions League which has seen them recover from 3-1 down against Napoli after the first leg of their Second Round tie and from 2-1 down and a man down half an hour into their Semi-Final against a much-vaunted Barcelona side.

The man who must receive the most credit for dragging Chelsea’s season up from the cusp of a crisis is undoubtedly their Interim Manger Roberto Di Matteo. The young Italian has led the side he once played for with admirable calmness and confidence and should he fulfil the Chelsea Owner, Roman Abramovic’s, dream of landing the Champions League then surely he will be named the full-time boss come next week.

The outcome of the final could well be result of the team selection’s which both of the manager’s make and the reason for this is that both of them will be without several key players due to suspension.

Bayern will be without youngsters Holger Badstuber, David Alaba and Luis Gustavo who all would have been probable starters and Chelsea are missing their captain, John Terry, the ever-reliable Branislav Ivanovic and energetic midfielders Raul Meireles and Ramires who performed brilliantly against Barcelona in the Semis.

The probable line-ups for tonight’s game are as follows:

FC Bayern: (4-2-3-1)

Neuer

Lahm

Tymoschuk

Boateng

Contento

Schweinsteiger

Kroos

Robben

Muller

Ribery

Gomez

 

Chelsea FC: (4-2-3-1)

Cech

Bosingwa

Luiz

Cahill

Cole

Mikel

Lampard

Kalou

Mata

Bertrand

Drogba

 

I think the key battles to look out for tonight at the Allianz Arena will be as follows:

 

Bosingwa Vs. Ribery

Chelsea’s probable selection at right-back will be Jose Bosingwa who isn’t exactly renowned for his exemplary defensive strength and discipline but in the absence of the suspended Ivanovic he has to play ahead of Paolo Ferreira as he has the pace to try and deal with the rampaging runs of Franck Ribery.

Ribery Robben

Ribery and Robben will give Chelsea a lot of problem’s down each flank

Ribery is one of the the most talented players in the Bayern side and although he has failed to truly prove himself on the very biggest stages of world football thus far, maybe tonight will provide him with the chance to shine. Going up against Bosingwa will have it’s difficulties in terms of Bosingwa’s speed which should help him keep with the Frenchman but Ribery’s craft and dribbling ability could cause the Portugese full-back to have a torrid evening. If Bosingwa keeps Ribery in his pocket then much of  Bayern’s threat will be negated.

Boateng Vs Drogba

In the absence of first-choice centre-halves, the versatile German international Jerome Boateng provide’s Bayern with their only obvious option to command the central area of their back-line and the task ahead of him could hardly be more difficult than having to deal with Drogba.

Drogba Boateng

Drogba looks to have the beating of Boateng but the young German could emerge as the star for Bayern if he keeps Drogba quiet

There is arguably still no better player on the planet than Drogba when it comes to playing up top as a solitary front-man and if he is at his best then I would be surprised if Boateng and co keep him quiet for long. If Boateng is partnered at centre-back by an out of position and perhaps more importantly rather short Anatoliy Tymoschuk then much of the defensive burden may fall on his shoulders and he could be almost solely reliant for taming the undoubted threat which Drogba poses.

Schweinsteiger Vs. Lampard

Two of this final’s veteran players could have a huge say in the outcome of the match as both of them hold the key to their side’s passing games.

Lampard Schweinsteiger

Could these two decide the outcome of the final with their possession-play in midfield

Both Lampard and Schweinsteiger are seen as their side’s dictators of play and much will rest on each of their shoulders as they seek to win the possession battle which could prove very significant on the night.

Cahill Vs. Gomez

Having played very little football over the past few weeks due to injury, tonight could go one of two ways for Chelsea’s January recruit Gary Cahill. One possibility is that this short-term absence has kept him fresh and ready to take on Bayern tonight, but the other possibility is that he may be under-cooked which he simply cannot afford to be when taking on the likes of Mario Gomez who has already scored 41 goals this season in all competitions.

David Luiz

Gary Cahill will need to be at his very best after a brief injury lay-off

Gomez has some similarities with Chelsea’s target-man Didier Drogba in that they are both part of a rare-breed of tall and strong strikers who aren’t merely physical presences but who are also very mobile and very technically sound footballers. If Gomez performs to something like the best of his abilities then Cahill will have to produce an epic performance to try and keep him under wraps as his likely parter at centre-back will be David Luiz who in spite of an improving level of awareness still represents something of a liability.

 

My Prediction:

I think that both sides will provide a threat due to their respective absences of key players in key positions but I think Bayern will come out on top and deny Chelsea from winning a first Champions League title.

Score: Bayern 2 – 1 Chelsea:

Scorers (In order) : Gomez (First Half), Robben  (Early Second Half), Drogba (15 minutes to go)

 

 

Could Milan teach Barca a Nou Lesson?

We all know too well that Barcelona can be a force of nature and that for now they are without question the Kings of European football. They have elevated football to a new level and founded upon the strong and composed defensive unit they have put together their more attacking options have become the envy of all clubs in world football.

Pep Guardiola has fashioned a side worthy of enormous praise and adulation not just for the results that his side have achieved but also for the way they that they have played their football en route to becoming the continent’s and in fact the world’s most feared side.

Barcelona Milan

Magical Messi couldn't quite force a way through at the San Siro

As it stands though, Barca have come away from the first leg of their Champions League quarter final in a position of genuine precariousness, as for the third time in this season’s competition they have failed to beat Milan.

Sure they still managed to get a draw out of their away leg, and sure Milan looked a totally different side when travelling to Arsenal in the previous round when compared with the ruthlessness and discipline they showed at home to the Londoners but Barcelona’s inability to find the net at the San Siro could well be a cause for significant concern and could yet cost them dear.

Barcelona’s dominance has been such over the past few years that they have at times seemed untouchable. When you think back to Wembley last year in the final of the Champions League and how they totally overwhelmed Manchester United for 80 of the 90 minutes and matched them for the other 10 you can’t help but heap praise on the side that Pep Guardiola has built and nurtured at the Nou Camp but this season has perhaps exposed a few chinks in their armoury.

The three successive draws against Milan aside, they have struggled to keep pace with Real Madrid in La Liga and at present they look set to lose their crown as Spain’s number one side even if they do overcome the Italians and go on to land another European success. They have been  too sloppy and too often against grossly inferior opposition at times this season and perhaps there is fuel in the argument that complacency has creeped into a side, who have after all, been repeatedly told by almost everybody that they are invincible.

You could hardly level any suggestions of complacency at Barcelona on the night though against Milan, as they continually switched the play from flank to flank and probed in and around the opposition’s penalty area in a persistent attempt to find the elusive away goal which would surely have made them overwhelming favourites to progress.

There was no lack of effort and no lack of ideas but Milan were just about as good as any side have been at negating the threat of the Catalan’s undying thirst for stringing passes together and building pressure.

Time and time again, Milan made the right intervention, the crucial intervention, at the perfect moment. Whether it was an interception, a tackle, a save, or a block, the Rossoneri just seemed to come up with the goods every time and never more so than  when Luca Antoinini demonstrated an exemplary bit of last ditch defending which thwarted one of Barcelona’s unusually low count of genuine clean breakthrough’s in the match.

Not only did they demonstrate phenomenal commitment and composure at the back but it would also be fair to say that Milan could even have won the game.

They too produced  a couple of potentially match-winning chances and had it been for some more convincing efforts when the opportunity knocked then they could feasibly have been heading to the Nou Camp buoyed by a hard-earned victory rather than just the clean-sheet which, in itself, is more than admirable.

Though it may feel to them as if they could have nicked the tie and be going to Spain with the goals-advantage the Rossoneri must surely be satisfied with their efforts on the night.

Throughout the vast majority of the 90 minutes Milan were oh so organised in defence and proved to themselves as much as anyone else that it is possible to shut out their much vaunted opposite numbers. The chances they did manage to create must too be a sign of great encouragement for them as they head to the Nou Camp on a mission to de-throne the kings of Europe and they must believe that a fourth draw in a row against Barcelona is possible and with the shut-out on home turf already achieved they now know that a draw might well be all they need.

I personally still fancy the Catalans to progress but I only think they will manage to do so by a very fine margin and if I were a betting man then I would back Barca to come out as 2-1 winners at the Camp Nou but I do still harbour the belief that Milan are well set up to try and cause a massive shock.

They are blessed with having some very experienced players through the core of their side, which is crucial when taking on a side like Barcelona who play with such intelligence and cunning but they too have younger, stronger and more offensively able players amidst their ranks.

The likes of Robinho, Kevin-Prince Boateng and the enigmatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic may at times seem withdrawn or off-colour but their maverick and mercurial nature provides such a threat that they could really harm Barcelona just as they probably could any side in world football.

I can’t see the second leg of this tie doing anything other than exciting and perhaps even shocking a few people out there but whatever the outcome I am looking forward to the fourth instalment of the Barca-Milan battle this season with great anticipation. It is beautifully poised and that is what knock-out football is all about.

 

Tactical Breakdown: United found wanting in all departments en-route to embarrassing exit

Below is my breakdown of United’s major failings in the Champions League this season and my analysis of just why the varying frailties have caused them to fall so humiliatingly from grace.

1) Lack of fire power up-front:

Throughout the group stages United didn’t exactly set the world alight in terms of either their chance creation or chance conversion and as such they failed to ever really impose themselves on their opposition. When you think of United in their pomp you think of their devastating counter attacks and spells of unrelenting pressure that yield a couple of goals a time but these has been very thin on the ground. I am struggling to recall a time when they have looked less likely to turn their pressure into the priceless commodity of goals.

Last night 90 minutes of majority possession and territory was rewarded with just a single goal, and quite a fortunate goal at that! But this lack of productivity has been the story of their group campaign and wasn’t just limited to last night’s disappointing display. Even against Otelul Galati they struggled to provide a major goal threat, relying on two penalties in Galati and then one horribly deflected strike on home turf against the whipping boys of the group en-route to achieving just four goals from two games against the minnows.

There are several contributing factors to the lack of a genuine goal threat but the most significant has been that no one has stepped up and taken on the responsibility of being chief goal-getter. Rooney has scored a few in the group, though as mentioned two were spot kicks, Hernandez has failed to accumulate a strong tally, Berbatov has found his opportunities severely limited and Danny Wellbeck has spent too long on the sidleines with niggles to have a serious impact. Just like in international football, you simply must take the limited golden chances that come your way and United simply haven’t.

2) Limited creation and no natural holding player in central midfield:

It was reported all summer that Sir Alex was flirting with a pricey move for Wesley Sneijder and boy how they could’ve done with him throughout the group stage. United’s ability to unlock the door with the midfield has always been a strong-suit of theirs with the likes of Paul Scholes providing the creative instinct, but, since Scholes’ retirement United have struggled to find a suitable replacement from within the camp and haven’t brought anybody else in to fill the void.

Against Basle last night it soon became clear that United are desperately lacking in terms of central creators and as such they were only having joy out on the flanks. In the first half Nani was in electric form and was being given plenty of the ball due to United’s inability to create chances through the middle, but as soon as Basle cottoned onto this they were able to swamp Nani and provide extra cover out wide, thus negating his previously constant threat. The angle of attack, as it has been in several games, was far too predictable and it all stems from their inability to emulate the likes of Barcelona and create from the central areas of the pitch.

Another worry for must be their absence of a natural holding midfield player. Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher are both decent at playing from deep and can both be fairly combative but they don’t quite fulfil the sort of role that Sergio Busquets or Xabi Alonso do for Barcelona and Real Madrid. We even saw Chelsea’s fortunes dramatically improve in their Champions League tie on Tuesday night courtesy of Oriol Romeu’s very successful inclusion in the defensive midfield role. United must act quickly to find their greatest fit to this role, and with Nemanja Vidic’s potentially very serious injury it appears that Phil Jones is going to be needed in defence and therefore won’t be a particularly viable option.

3) Defensive fragility:

United’s inability to keep clean sheets in the group has been a major theme in their downfall. It is very unlike one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s sides to be so fragile at the back and arguably the two games against Basle provided the greatest examples of this weakness. In the home game against Basle they managed to slump from two nil ahead to a losing position within the space of about 20 minutes and in this period the defending was horrific. Last night witnessed Basle very much on the back foot throughout, but every time they did venture forwards United looked unstable. Xerdan Shaquiri’s strong running on the flanks and through the centre struck fear into the United defence and they continuously backed off from him allowing to roam further. Very rarely did Basle muster up a goal scoring opportunity in the game, but they still somehow managed to net twice and come out on top, this speaks volumes about the uncertainty in United’s defensive ranks at present.

It is worth mentioning that injury problems have compounded the defensive issues with the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and the Da Silva twins all having spent periods of the group stages on the sidelines. The spate of short term absences in United’s defence have led to great levels of unavoidable inconsistency in selection and as such the performances at the back have tended to follow suit.

4) Problems in goal:

Another contributing factor to United’s defensive uncertainty has been the unconvincing displays in goal of David De Gea. In the opening game of the group United faced Benfica and Sir Alex opted to play Anders Lindegaard in goal ahead of De Gea and he impressed in this outing. Since though, Ferguson has tended to go with his number one De Gea and has been left a little let down by his young Spanish stopper.

Last night’s problems began with United conceding the early goal and De Gea was certainly partially at fault for this. When Shaquiri fired in his stinging cross De Gea opted to deal with it using his legs when getting his upper body in the way probably would have been more appropriate, and this hasn’t been his only blunder of the group stages. Against Benfica he over-estimated his undoubted ability when it comes to playing and distributing the ball and attempted the sort of cute delivery that you might see Xavi and Andres Iniesta attempt in the attacking third for Barcelona. Needless to say this ball was cut out and led to the equaliser which killed United’s momentum and effectively lost them two points, which of course would have seen them avoid their embarrassing early exit from the competition.

In essence, Manchester United spent far too much time failing to make the most of their possession and territory in attack and then looked incredibly vulnerable when defending against the opposition’s counter-attacks, and it has cost them their place at European football’s top table. Sir Alex Ferguson must take serious note of his side’s weaknesses and must act quickly to try and remedy the many frailties that have been so damagingly exposed on the continent thus far this season. At least the Europa League will be fun… my mistake…

English Super-Powers preparing to save their European lives

Who would have thought that going into the last round of group stage fixtures that the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea would be in serious danger of falling at the first hurdle? Not many I can assure you, but alas this is the case and arguably England’s three strongest sides are right up against the metaphorical ‘it’.

Of these three giants the side in the most grave danger of failing to progress are Manchester City which is rather unbelievable given their contrastingly magnificent league form. Week after week they are continuing to churn out formidable domestic displays, which, have seen them race five points clear of their Manchester rivals at the top of the Premier League, whilst also seeing themselves through to the last four of the League Cup. However, their stunning form outside of Europe has been belittled by their lacking performances on the continent so far this season and it has left them in an incredibly precarious position.

Manager Roberto Mancini is usually an enormously confident man and has already this season said that he believes that he is in charge of a side that are on a par with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid. City’s fairly dismal European form has  seriously contradicted their manager’s assessment of their standing in world football though, to the point where going into Wednesday’s game against Bayern Munich he has conceded that they have a “60% chance” of an early exit.

Mancini’s concession that his side are facing an unenviable task must have been a really bitter pill to swallow. Having guided them to their first piece of silverware in their wealthy new-era and their first ever qualification to the Champions League, Mancini will have no doubt dreamt that his charges would venture out into the unknown and lay down a serious marker. Along with their passionate fans he will have let his mind wander freely to thoughts of making the Etihad Stadium one of European football’s most feared fortresses whilst moulding his squad into ferocious battlers when travelling away on the continent. Sadly, the blue side of Manchester have seen little of these dreams becoming a reality and their team have looked every bit a rookie side in this year’s competition.

It is quite often the case that one of England’s teams struggle en route to first round qualification but this year has provided us with two additional strugglers in the form of Manchester United and Chelsea, who in recent years have established themselves as two of the most consistently strong European performers. Manchester United must go away to Basle on Wednesday and get a point to secure qualification and though this would usually be run of the mill for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, this season has seen them repetitively stuttering through their group matches to the point where they have only achieved victory over whipping boys Otelul Galati.

Though they will undoubtedly go into Wednesday evening’s game as big favourites to progress, their Swiss opponents have already proven their ability to compete with United in their thrilling 3-3 draw at Old Trafford. This game saw United cruising as a result of a first half brace from Danny Wellbeck, but then they suffered a dramatic second half collapse nearly losing all three points only to be saved by Ashley Young’s most crucial United goal to date in the dying embers of the game. Maybe the fact that they know not to be complacent against their inferior opponents will aid them in their quest to secure qualification, but win, lose or draw Sir Alex will know that his team have drastically under performed throughout a group which they should have topped with some spare left in the tank.

The third English offering on this year’s list of under-achievers in the Champions League groups are Chelsea whose struggles have extended to all competitions under new boss Andre Vilas-Boas. Having raced to seven points from their first three games Chelsea looked to set to win the group with comfort, but since then they have suffered a major dip in European success that has coincided with a rotten run of results in the Premier League. Their previous two games have seen them play out a stale draw against Belgian minnows Genk and an immensely disappointing defeat away to Leverkusen having taken the lead in Germany. These equally damaging results have seen them slump to a position in the group where they must either achieve victory or a scoreless draw against a very decent Valencia side. They, like Manchester United, will be expected to make their class and experience show on a huge night for the club but there are perhaps greater doubts about their ability to do so than United’s when taking into account their poor recent form and their manager’s limited experience of facing up to serious adversity.

If all three of the aforementioned sides fail to qualify for the knockout stages then it would probably make for just about the greatest shock in the history of the competition given each of their standings in world football. Though Manchester City are in their rookie year in the competition they are fast establishing themselves as one of England’s strongest outfits, and the quality and depth of their squad is well in line with their lofty ambitions. For some reason though they, along with United and Chelsea, are performing with a lack of resolve and at times a complete lack of imagination in this year’s competition and as such have found themselves on the verge of an embarrassing early exit.

The fallout from the these three sides’ potential failure to progress could be enormous in terms of their finances and their reputations and if the rumour mill is to be trusted then it could even cost them the services of their managers. If Chelsea were to fail this evening then it is entirely feasible that Andre Vilas-Boas could be given his marching orders just months after taking the reigns at the club. Mancini too, in spite of his domestic success thus far this season, could face serious scrutiny if City don’t qualify for the next round. Probably the most strongly positioned manager of the three is Sir Alex Ferguson given that he has twenty five years of great success at United, but even he may have to re-consider his remaining value to the club if they were to be knocked out on Wednesday.

As it stands things look fairly dire for three of our major forces in European football, but just what will be the outcome of this week’s huge matches? We await the results with enormous anxiety and anticipation and soon we will know if  English club football is set for a crisis of confidence on the European stage.

 

My Predictions:

Chelsea win and take second place, United win and take second place, City draw at home to Munich but are eliminated as a result of Napoli defeating Villareal.

 

Ferguson’s 25 Golden Moments from 25 years at United

As a United fan I am in awe of Sir Alex. What he has given to the football club is unbelievable and the job he has done over such a long period of time will surely never be matched by anyone in English football. If any criticism is to be aimed at United’s main man then maybe it could be argued that he hasn’t brought an enormous amount of European glory to the club. Given the length of time over which he has consistently guided United into European football’s premiere competition, the Champions League, he has by his own admission come up a little short. However, Ferguson has more than made up for the slight European disappointments with an enormous amount of domestic success in his tenure at the ‘Theatre of Dreams.


 

Over his 25 year period at the helm he has weighed in with 12 Premier League titles, 5 FA Cup wins, 4 League Cup successes, 10 Community Shields, 2 Champions League victories, 1 Super Cup, 1 Cup Winner’s Cup, 1 Intercontinental Cup and 1 Fifa Club World Cup win. For me this enormous amount of silverware marks him down as the greatest football manager of all time. Though I have only been in existence for 22 of his 25 years at United I have many special memories of his time in charge and below are my 25 golden memories of his reign (or at least those that I have been alive long enough to recall). The selected highlights aren’t necessarily all about the great man himself but they have all happened in his time at the club and in truth probably wouldn’t ever have occurred if it weren’t for him. So United fans, sit back and enjoy…

1. That win against Forest and the consequent Cup run that ‘saved Fergie’s career’:

This was the season where Ferguson overcame his critics by overcoming an awful start to their league season with survival and a first piece of major silverware as manager of the club. The win over Nottingham Forest early in their run has gone on the record as the “win that saved Fergie’s career”. Though it has since been voiced that he was never in danger of the sack, few are convinced and this remains arguably the most important result of his career and United’s recent history.

2.Fergie’s first league win – The winners of the Inaugural Premier League title in 1992-1993:

The moment Sir Alex led United to the first Premier League title was the moment the world really sat up and took note of what could be about to unfold. No one would have imagined that he could still be at the club 20 years on having amassed a shedload of silverware, but it was clear that Ferguson was a man of enormous resilience and that he had a young squad capable of great things. The writing was now on the wall…

3.The Double Win 1993-1994:

Inspired by King Eric United followed up their first league win under Sir Alex with a their first League and Cup double under his guidance. On reflection, maybe this was the moment the world really sat up and took note of what Ferguson could achieve at the club.

4.Eric Cantona’s Kung-Fu kick:

Without a doubt this is one of the most memorable moments of Sir Alex’s period in charge. It is in fact one of the more remarkable things that I have ever witnessed on a football pitch and one more regularly seen on youtube as part of a shoddy recording of an Argentinian third division match. Though he undoubtedly shouldn’t have done what he did, it is a moment which added to the legend that is Cantona and in a sadistic sort of way just endears him further into the hearts of football fans over the world. There was always the slimmest of lines to cross between footballing genius and sheer insanity when it came to King Eric, and Sir Alex was always on watch to oversee plenty of both the former and the latter from one of the best players he has ever had the privilege of managing. 

5.Eric Cantona’s triumphant return from the Kung-Fu kick and the fireman’s pole celebration:

You can’t keep a good man down. One of Ferguson’s finest achievements as a manager was the management of the Cantona-debacle. Sir Alex stuck with his star man through his suspension from the game and was rewarded with the glorious moment that Cantona returned to score against bitter-rivals Liverpool, prompting his infamous ‘fireman’s pole’ celebration.

6.The Golden Generation (The Neville’s, Butt, Scholes, Beckham and Giggs…):

Almost all gone, but certainly not forgotten. The ultimate proof of Sir Alex’s brilliant youth development skills and of the value of producing a consistent line of young talent rather than always investing heavily in the transfer market.

7.”You can’t win anything with kids” Part I:

Hang your head in shame Alan Hansen… Having written off United’s chances of success with this infamous quote, the former Liverpool player and Scotland International was left feeling rather smug when Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle were flying high at the top of the table come Christmas. However, Fergie’s written off young-guns found their very best form in the new year and charged to the title in arguably the most exciting season in the history of the Premier League. The fierce rivalry between the two managers was epitomised by Keegan’s infamous on-air rant directed at Ferguson on Sky Sports where he yelled “I would love it if we beat them!” in rather maniacal fashion.

8.”You can’t win anything with kids” Part II: The FA Cup

Again… Alan Hansen hang your head son… For a man that is usually so brilliantly insightful in his punditry this was a rare moment of blindness, but what a moment of blindness! As well as humiliating Hansen with their Premier League recovery, they also compounded his misery by making it a double with an FA Cup final win over his beloved Liverpool. The moment that King Eric retreated in the penalty area late on against our fierce rivals to fire home a magnificent scissor kick was right up there with my favourite moments as a United fan and I imagine it ranks pretty highly in Ferguson’s favourite career moments as well.

9.Beckham’s 60 Yarder:

This was the moment where the star in waiting burst onto the scene with an outrageous exhibition of his ability, lobbing Neil Sullivan with a pinpoint drive from inside his own half. Sullivan was hardly a mile out of his goal, but such was the accuracy of the attempt it might even have troubled him had he been rooted to his goal-line. The confidence and vision exhibited by Beckham in this magic moment was typical of the confidence and technical ability of Ferguson’s golden generation emerging from the academy at this time. 

10.Roy Keane’s night of sacrifice:

Cometh the hour cometh the man. This game epitomised everything that was brilliant about Roy Keane and everything that has been brilliant about the many United sides led by Ferguson. In one of the biggest challenges of Ferguson’s era they had to go to Turin and win but things initially seemed to be going awfully. 2-0 down to the Italian giants and skipper Keane booked and suspended from the final, their backs were well and truly against the wall but Roy Keane was on a mission and he inspired his side to one of the most glorious evenings of Sir Alex’s managerial career. With this brilliant performance he also inspired one of the most famous pieces of commentary of the modern era of English football; “FULL STEAM AHEAD BARCELONA!”.

11.Winning the Champion’s League against Bayern:

“Can Manchester United Score?… They always score”, “Giggs with the shot….SHEEERRRRIIINGGGGHHHAAAAMMM!”, “AND SOLSKJAER HAS WON IT!!!”. Three famous moments of commentary that sum up the best couple of minutes of Sir Alex’s managerial career. That night in Barcelona was agony from the very start, but ultimately ecstasy won out and Ferguson was a Champions League winner for the first time. 

12.Winning the Treble:

Couple this first Champions League triumph with success in the FA Cup and winning the Premier League and you get Ferguson’s finest hour as a manager. Inspired by his golden generation of youth academy products and a couple of his best ever signings, he had managed to win all three of the most prestigious pieces of silverware available in one fell swoop. This was the greatest year to be a United supporter, hands down.

13.Yorke and Cole:

Probably more a personal favourite than one of the real highlights of his tenure, but Ferguson’s decision to bring Yorke to the club worked an absolute treat. Some questioned the move initially given Yorke’s lack of experience at the pinnacle of European football, but the partnership forged by him and Andy Cole fired Manchester United all the way to their treble winning success. It became as enjoyable to watch their clear friendship as it was to see them banging it in the net time and again.

14.The Comeback:

It is hard to believe now that Ferguson was meant to retire a long, long time ago but that really was the case. Perish the thought! What would we have done without the old codger?

The Signings….

15.Signing Roy Keane:

Ferguson had been monitoring the progress of Nottingham Forest’s fiery young Irish midfielder closely for some time and knew from the moment he signed him that he could be the man to lead his golden generation. As it turned out his decision to sign him was utterly vindicated and once upon a time Ferguson went as far as to say he was “the best player [he] ever managed”. Quite the compliment…

16.Signing Eric Cantona:

In his time he has made some controversial signings and Cantona was right up there with the best of them. Big talent coupled with an even bigger personality is often a concoction set for disaster but Ferguson knew exactly what he was taking on and made him one of the best players ever to wear the red shirt.

17.Signing Cristiano Ronaldo:

The decision to let Beckham join Real Madrid in 2003 rocked the club, but little did they know the spaghetti-haired Ronaldo would go on to surpass to individual achievements of their former poster-boy. Impressed by his showing in a friendly against United, Ferguson was hot on the heels of Ronaldo II with immediate effect and landed his man shortly after parting company with Becks. Not only had United lost one of their all-time greats that summer but they had also come agonisingly close to landing the world’s best player in waiting Ronaldinho. Had they not landed the world’s best player in waiting-in waiting then this summer could have been a mini crisis, as it turns out though Sir Alex had pulled off yet another masterstroke.

18.Signing Wayne Rooney:

From the moment he curled the ball sweetly around the best efforts of David Seaman in the Arsenal goal as a teenager he was set for stardom. The only thing left unclear in the world of Rooney at this time was which club he would become a star at, but Ferguson worked his magic and landed his man, the rest as they say is history.

The Rivalries….

19.Fergie Vs. Mourinho:

Enormous respect for each other on and off the field. One of Fergie’s greatest managerial rivals and in private very close ‘friends’, I hesitate with the use of ‘friends’ as you sense that really they have been in too direct a competition to establish a real friendship, but they certainly appreciate each other’s talents and achievements to the maximum. As stubborn as each other, as controversial as each other and in a scaled down sort of way as successful as each other. It all made for a brilliant rivalry which could potentially manifest itself in the form of Mourinho returning to English football as Ferguson’s successor.

20.Fergie Vs. Wenger:

Probably the greatest rivalry of Fergie’s managerial career and like the men involved it has matured greatly with time. Once upon a time Wenger was the new-boy striving to emulate Ferguson’s achievements and every now and then he has looked capable of doing so. Though he hasn’t quite matched the master, they are now both too old, wise, and frankly in awe of each other to quibble too publicly. Having said that, they are still partial to the odd war of words and a spot of the old mind games.

21.The Bust-Ups:

Jaap Stam, David Beckham, Roy Keane, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, the BBC, Kevin Keegan, Arsene Wenger, Carlos Tevez, and Rafael Benitez to name a few… he sure knows how to pick ’em doesn’t he! He simply wouldn’t be the Sir Alex we know, love and in some cases hate if weren’t for his high profile bust-ups.

22.7-1 win over Roma:

This may not have been the most significant result of Ferguson’s tenure, but to come back from losing the first leg of a Champions League quarter final and win the second leg by such a remarkable margin was incredible. It was one of those brilliant evenings at Old Trafford which went right from the word go, the passing was super-slick and the finishing clinical. One of Ferguson’s less celebrated signings Michael Carrick had the best game of his career and played a major part in many of the goals including two fantastic strikes himself. Alan Smith’s magnificent team goal that night spoke volumes about the counter attacking genius of Ferguson’s sides through the years and is probably one of the finest goals scored by one of his United lineups.

23.Winning the Champions League against Chelsea:

Ferguson’s second triumph was more about his brilliant young signings than it was about youth products but it was hardly any less satisfying. After almost a decade without European success United were back at the summit of European football courtesy of a penalty shootout success against modern-era title rivals Chelsea. Inspired by the likes of Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez this was a United side full to the brim with attacking quality and though it did take a shootout, this was a side that played their football the right way and they had also overcome the threat of a Barcelona side on the edge of greatness. This was an outstanding achievement and Sir Alex himself would tell you that this was right up there with his greatest successes as he has always regretted what he regards as a lack of European glory.

24.Holding on to Rooney:

Just about as good an exhibition in man-management as you will ever see from a football manager. Ill-advised, disillusioned and ashamed of himself, Wayne Rooney was on a crash-course with Sir Alex and the upper-echelons of United’s hierarchy which seemed certain to result in him leaving the club. Rarely has Ferguson seemed so defeated as the day Rooney told him he wanted to leave the club, but somehow he managed to work wonders and keep his star man. No one knows just how he did it, but hats off nonetheless.

25.The renewed United-City rivalry:

Maybe this a golden moment still waiting to happen really, but the prospect of City and United battling it out as England’s big-two with Ferguson still at the helm is mouth-watering. Though nothing would hurt Sir Alex more than falling narrowly short of City in a title race, nothing would satisfy him more than narrowly edging them in a title race. Let the renewed rivalry commence…

 

What an awesome 25 years it has been then. No matter whether you like him or not, I think it is fair to assume that everyone respects his longevity in the game and the achievements which have enabled him to stick around for so long at United. Just as a final little ode to the great man, below is my United XI from Ferguson’s era:

 

My Ferguson First XI:

Schmeichel, Neville, Pallister, Ferdinand, Irwin, Beckham, Scholes, Keane, Giggs, Ronaldo, Cantona

City hit sorry United for 6, As the big-boys continue the goal-glut

Once upon a time there were four managers and their names were Ferguson, Mourinho, Wenger and Benitez. These four super-powers of the game were in charge of the top four sides from England’s premiere football division and they were the envy of most managers in the world. There stay of success in English football meant that year on year they were qualifying for the Champion’s League and winning domestic trophies accumulating precious money along the way. Whilst many clubs in England and around the world were struggling financially, these four clubs were thriving and as a result they were empowered with the ability to buy the best talent from around the world in the quest to assemble the strongest squad’s in world football.

Aside from the domestic and European domination that these clubs enjoyed the other enduring memory for me from this era of the Premier League is that of the four club’s head-to-head fixtures. The excitement and tension surrounding the build-up to these fixtures were tangible. The fans knew full well that the sides were all well matched and immensely competitive and with this came the knowledge that their sides were just as likely (if not more) to lose or draw the match as they were to win.

With their respective club’s being so well matched the manager’s developed fierce rivalries. Their underlying mutual respect for one another fired their ambitions and hopes of getting one over on each other and not one of them shirked the challenge. Not one of them were short on confidence. Each of them were immensely confident in their team’s and their own ability and it made for a brilliant side show to the main attraction of the matches themselves.

This burning desire not to be embarrassed by their challengers was perhaps what led to the matches being so tight and generally low-scoring. It seemed that the managers’ intense rivalries rubbed off on their players and as such the matches bristled with tension, mind-games and a fierce undertone. Where the players could get away with small niggling indisciplines they did and more often than not the games were fractious affairs. Perhaps it is arguable that the nature of these games detracted not from the defensive qualities of the club’s but their attacking brilliance, which was such a factor in their overwhelming of lesser sides.

I don’t mean to dumb down the magic in these fixtures with stories of negativity, but in these years the big games were captivating rather than thrilling. They were based far more on ebbs and flows than they were upon roller coaster rides, but they were brilliant nonetheless. Maybe not beautiful, but brillant, and more often than not decided by moments of inspiration. Sure it would have been nice to get the odd 4-3 thriller and maybe there were a few too many 0-0 and 1-1 draws but that just served to demonstrate the equality of effort and strain being put into these games by all the sides.

The reason for such nostalgia is this current season’s own take on the big matches and the stark contrast to the aforementioned era of Premier League football. This season’s head-to-heads between the so called ‘title contenders’ have been a world away from the older days with goals galore caused by an amalgomation of brilliant, fluid attacking play and some quite frankly rotten defending.

The latest example in the series of open games between the Premier League’s finest was that of Manchester City’s romping 6-1 victory over Champions Manchester United in their own backyard. Though full credit must go to City for their attitude towards at first eleven United players and then later the ten remaining opponents following Jonny Evans’ dismissal. Mario Ballotelli, as frustrating as he can sometimes be, was terrific. His combination of strength, pace and self-belief scared United into submission at times and for me he was the focal point of City’s glorious day, the sort of day that may well have made Sir Alex question why he is still managing a football team.

This isn’t to say that Sir Alex should have packed it in, he is still a marvellous manager, but it really was a horror show and one which would have made any self-respecting Manager question them self. United’s early territory threatened to overwhelm City and Ashley Young looked set to further endear himself to the Old Trafford faithful with a buccaneering wing display but as soon as Ballotelli bagged the opener with great craft United’s challenge fizzled out. Scoring so simply against the run of play inspired City to drive on knowing that they had safely navigated their way through the early torment and come out on top. From this point on City were unrelenting and United pathetic. Few occasions in Sir Alex’s epically long tenure have been so hideous. A few games come to mind though namely the 5-0 defeat to Newcastle (which is celebrating it’s anniversary in Geordie-land this week), the 5-0 loss to Chelsea about a decade ago, and the humiliating 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough that sparked Roy Keane’s acrimonious departure from the club. It is a staggering scoreline reflective of United’s suicidal attitude throughout the match, and was just the latest feather in the Premier League’s goal-rush cap when it comes to the top of the table clashes.

Accompanying this unthinkable result have been United’s comical 8-2 win over Arsenal, United’s 3-1 win over Chelsea (which Ferguson said could honestly have finished “13-12”), United’s 4-0 thrashing of Spurs and City’s own thrashing of Spurs by 5 goals to 1. It is incredible to think that this Premier League season still hasn’t even seen November and that it has already produced so many title-contending clashes played out like basketball matches.

Maybe it is just the new breed of manager’s at the top clubs that are responsible for such results, after all the likes of Harry Redknapp in charge of Spurs are famed for playing football in the spirit of “avin’ a go”. I believe thought that there are two equally if not more significant factors. The first of these maybe that the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United have had the honour of facing up to the current Barcelona side and have realised that their only chance of unsettling them is to attack them and put them out of their comfort zone. Last season alone both Arsenal and Manchester United were denied the opportunity of European glory by Barca, and the pick of the confrontations was Arsenal’s gutsy fightback to beat Barca 2-1 at the Emirates.

Having begun the game on the back foot and trying to soak up the Catalan pressure they found themselves trailing by a goal to nil and being run ragged. However, the second half saw Wenger’s men take Barcelona on at their own game and they managed to reap huge rewards for their courageousness. Though they failed to back the win up with progression to the next round, they provided the greatest indication yet that the way to stop the seemingly irrepressible Catalan’s is to play on the front foot and take the game to them. Perhaps then this is the motivation for the top English clubs’ seeming desire to express themselves in big matches, perhaps they are honing in on tactics that they believe could return them to the peak of the European game.

The second, and arguably most logical reason is that the goal-glut has been caused by the increased competition for places at the top of the Premier League. With 6 teams realistically vying for Champions League qualification there are now fewer ‘easy’ games. As a result the big teams are no longer able to store up their fitness, composure and defensive strength for stand-out ties whilst cutting loose in the less demanding fixtures. More games are tough games now, and more games are able to have a genuine say in the title shake up and as such the teams are encouraged to play with similar freedom regardless of the opposition.

Whatever the reason, I certainly hope that the gluttony for goalscoring is a recurring theme in the Premier League’s glamour ties (though as a United fan I’d probably rather avoid 6-1 home defeats to our fiercest rivals). The old days of the Premier League were just as great, but not quite as hair-raising and exciting. The new breed of title-chasing sides are geared to continue in the same vein as they have done thus far this season, and if they do then we could be in for a hell of a ride!