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

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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

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…

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

The Winner and Losers of Roy Hodgson’s England Apoointment

The Winners:

 

Roy Hodgson (obviously…)

Image

 

Though Hodgson was always viewed as a creditable dark horse in the race to land English football’s top job, it is more than safe to say that most people either thought Harry Redknapp was the right man for the job or that he was going to be the one chosen by the FA to take England forward.

 

Sadly for Hodgson, who as I mention was always a worthy candidate, there probably will always be a sense of lingering doubt amongst the England fan community given most people’s preference was Redknapp and that the FA seemingly didn’t see fit to formally approach the Spurs boss. As a result of the FA’s recruitment process and what we publicly know of it, it would be absolutely no surprise to hear fans moaning about Hodgson’s appointment and bemoaning Redknapp’s omission if things go a little pear-shaped at any point in Roy’s tenure.

 

My personal view is that Hodgson is a good manager with a solid track record. This isn’t exactly a gleaming review I know, but there are certainly a few question marks over his lack of success in a couple of his bigger roles which take away a little from the wealth of both club and international managerial experience he has accrued and the success he has enjoyed most notably in his time in Sweden and more recently with Fulham and West Brom.

 

There is certainly fuel in the argument against Hodgson’s record at the bigger clubs on his CV but it would be hard to argue against his knowledge and experience of the game. I would have preferred a more dynamic and exciting choice such as Mourinho or Pardew if the FA weren’t gunning for Harry but I can see why they have opted for Hodgson and I wish him all the best.

 

Everyone needs to cut him some slack and give him a decent crack at the job, it isn’t his fault the FA have chosen him so the players and fans alike just need to let him do the job he has always dreamed of doing and hopefully he will be a success.

 

Rio Ferdinand

 

Roy Hodgson is a very wise manager and has been around the block way too many times for him to not grasp the importance of experience and Rio is a player with a wealth of it.

 

He may not have featured in the side for quite some time due to form, fitness and perhaps more recently because of personal problems with a certain Chelsea and England centre-half but towards the back end of this season he has played a lot of football and appears to have come through it relatively unscathed whilst having produced some very decent performances.

 

For me, Ferdinand is a must for England’s Euros squad if his fitness stays in-tact up until the end of the domestic season and Hodgson’s first press conference a the national team manager suggested that he believes so too and that he must act in order to ascertain whether he and Terry can put aside any personal qualms they might have about playing with one another. Both men would make my England starting line-up still and I think Mr.Hodgson is on the same wavelength as me on this. If Rio is willing to be paired with JT then he will go, I’m not totally sure this would have been the case if other potential candidates for the job were appointed.

 

Bobby Zamora

 

He may be embroiled in a relegation dogfight with his new club QPR and he may be suffering a bit of a lean season in front of goal but Zamora, who Fabio Capello says only missed out on the World Cup squad in 2010 due to injury, may come into the selection reckoning now his former boss is in charge of assembling England’s squad.

 

England are looking bereft of out-and-out strikers in the absence of Rooney for their opening two games at the Euros and the potential absence of Darren Bent due to injury so there are definitely at least a couple of places up for grabs in that department.

 

Zamora is one of only a few options to fill such a void if Bent doesn’t make the plane and his record in Fulham’s outstanding Europa League campaign under Hodgson’s guidance a couple of years ago would certainly hold him in good stead. I don’t think many other managerial candidates for the England job would have given Zamora a second look but Roy certainly will and I would perhaps go as far as to say he has a good shout of bagging himself a place.

 

Ben Foster

 

Though there have been some reports to the contrary, Roy Hodgson’s appointment could well convince Ben Foster to change his mind and come out of international retirement at least for the forthcoming European Championships.

 

Foster is probably the second best English goalkeeper going at the moment and if Joe Hart were to suffer an injury then it is vital that England have the next best man available to step into the breach.

 

If anybody has a chance of getting him to come back then it is almost certainly Hodgson who has been his manager at West Brom this year and who has consistently picked Foster and praised his contributions between the sticks. I would be very surprised if Roy hasn’t already or isn’t planning on talking to Foster about a return to the international game.

 

 

The Losers:

 

Harry Redknapp (obviously…)

 

There is very little to say that hasn’t already been said about Harry missing out on the job so I’ll keep it brief.

 

I think Redknapp could have been a terrific manager for England but now he will never get the chance and he knows it. In typical Harry fashion he has taken the news in good grace and congratulated Hodgson on getting the job and wished him well in his future endeavours with the national side.

 

If you look at England’s two most successful managers of the modern-ish era (Bobby Robson and Terry Venables) and the way they handled the job and the players that came with it you would have to credit them for their fantastic people-skills and man-management. They were/are massive characters with a very honest and likeable persona and it would be more than fair to say that Harry Redknapp seems to be a man after their own hearts in this respect. His strengths might not lie in financial management or tactical plotting but it is arguable that the England job requires a more personal approach than such methodology. I am sure that Redknapp would have brought back some memories of the Venables era and that he could have had just as positive an effect on the squad as El Tel but now we’ll never know.

 

Paul Scholes and England

 

If Harry Redknapp had been given the job then I am near-certain that he would have approached Paul Scholes about returning for one last month of international football. I also, happen to think that Harry is one of a very small minority of people who could have worked their charm on Scholes and lured him back into the fold.

 

As it is though, Hodgson is a little more straight-laced than Harry (make that a lot…) and as such I can’t see him pleading with a 37 year old to come back and save his country and even if he does then I don’t think he will have the pulling power necessary to tempt United’s flame-haired playmaker into a return.

 

If Scholes doesn’t come back I can’t see England winning the Euros. With him in tow they are dark horses given their relative lack of international success which could see them go under the radar but without him I think they are big outsiders. If you are going to compete with the likes of Spain and Germany then possession and pass success percentages become utterly vital. I don’t think there is a single player in Britain who can still mix it with Scholes in this department when playing at the highest level and I don’t think there are many people out there who would disagree with me.

 

I’m not suggesting that he is a miracle cure. We could also bomb in the Euros even if he does get persuaded to join up with the squad but I think his inclusion would greatly enhance our prospects.

 

Andy Carroll, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Grant Holt and any other striker hoping to make the cut

 

As a direct result of Bobby Zamora’s likely rise up the pecking order in the wake of Roy’s appointment, I think that many other hopefuls in the striking department may have just dropped down the list of potential squad-members.

 

Each of the above have a decent argument in their favour and it will be interesting to see if Hodgson is tempted by the prospect of linking back up with his former Fulham star or whether he favours another option.

 

Spurs’ potential squad-members (Jermain Defoe, Aaron Lennon, Kyle Walker, Ledley King, Michael Dawson…)

 

With Harry Redknapp being the overwhelming favourite to land the job before the announcement that the FA had opened talks with Hodgson, all of Spurs’ England hopefuls will have been buoyed by the news that their club manager could take the England job as it would probably have raised their chances of making the Euros.

 

However, now Roy is in charge and not Harry it is far from clear as to whether any of these players will be a part of the new manager’s plans. The only player mentioned from Spurs’ long line of England hopefuls who is almost guaranteed of a place in the England squad is Kyle Walker and one would think even his hopes have been dealt a blow in that Redknapp would very possibly have given him a starting berth. Hodgson may also really rate Walker and his Spurs team-mates but this appointment makes things a little less clear for now at least.

Why Carroll’s signs of life might just have come at the right time for England

With about a month-and-a-half until the start of the Euros we are now well immersed in the stage of the domestic season where all England hopefuls will be having their form, fitness and availability being monitored by all the England back-room staff as well as all football fans up and down the country.

Such focus has recently been targeted at the likes of Jack Wilshere who is still yet to play a game of football this season due to injury, Paul Scholes who many would like to see convinced out of retirement, and young Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who’s increased involvement in Arsenal’s first team at the start of 2012 has prompted calls for his inclusion as something of a wildcard or joker in the pack.

Andy Carroll winning goal

Carroll has enjoyed a good week in stark contrast to the majority of his time on Merseyside

One man though whose name has featured very little in recent times in terms of his chances of making England’s squad is Andy Carroll.

Liverpool’s number 9 has become a bit of a forgotten man in terms of his short-term England prospects and instead the focus of many back pages throughout his fifteen months at Liverpool has sadly, for him and for England, been on him lacking fitness, sharpness and the previously witnessed potency and threat in front of goal.

However, if the past week is anything to go by then maybe, just maybe Carroll’s confidence is on the up and we may have witnessed his long-term return to goalscoring form. I don’t intend to get carried away about a man who has indeed missed golden chances as well as scoring the winning goals in the last couple of games for Liverpool but it will certainly have done a world of good for him to have gone out and grabbed a couple of positive headlines for a change.

If this is to be the case and Carroll’s fortunes do take a long-overdue upturn then not only is it great news for Liverpool and himself but it could also be a major plus for the national side who at the moment are left bereft of any certain-picks for their striking department at the Euros.

Generally speaking, England tend to take four strikers out of a complete squad of twenty three players for major tournaments and at present it is very unclear just who will or who can force their way in.

Wayne Rooney is the pick of the English strikers but is suspended for the first two games of the tournament and Darren Bent who would be a near certainty if fit is out with a broken ankle and it seems as though he will miss out. So, what this means for England and those with the responsibility of assembling their squad for this summer’s tournament is that they are left with one hell of a selection dilemma.

Assuming that Rooney will be taken in spite of his suspension and that Bent will probably not recover from injury in time, there is three slots to fill in England’s striking contingent and it seems likely that the young, lively and versatile pair of Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge will both make the cut off the back of their strong seasons and their recent inclusion in England squads.

If the predictable happens and the aforementioned three players make the grade then that would leave just the one remaining spot to fill but one would argue that nobody else has really demanded selection for this final place.

The remaining contenders for selection are probably Peter “I have a great International goal-scoring record” Crouch, Jermain “I too have a half-decent International record” Defoe, Bobby ‘currently experiencing a goal-drought’ Zamora, Grant “Am I really in with a shout?” Holt and the big man himself, Andy ‘Hasn’t been able to hit a cow’s backside with a banjo for over a year’ Carroll.

Each of the above have a decent argument in their favour; Crouch really does have a fantastic International goal-scoring reputation and has been leading the line pretty well for Stoke. Defoe has a good amount of International experience and has managed 10 Premier League goals so far this season in spite of a lack of game-time.  Zamora was unlucky to miss out with injury at the 2010 World Cup when Fabio Capello says he would have taken him if he were fit and has scored a decent amount of European and Premier League goals prior to his rather baron past couple of months at new club QPR. Holt, who would be a real wildcard choice, has forced himself into some people’s favour for selection with an impressive goals return in his first season as a Premier League striker, and though he may not be experienced at the very highest level of football it is arguable that no one would be more appreciative of being selected.

And finally there is my point of focus, Andy Carroll, who is England’s only real ‘classic centre-forward’ who has experienced and looked comfortable in his tastes of full-International football and throughout his apprenticeship in the under-21’s setup.

In the absence of a line-leader for the first two games at the Euros while Rooney is left to stew on his petulance on ‘that night in Montenegro’ I think the squad is calling out for a Carroll-esque figure and if he can build on his two match-winning goals this past week in the red of Liverpool then surely he must be back on the radar.

His major competition if the powers-that-be decide to take a ‘big man’ is Peter Crouch and if I were charged with the decision of who to take to Poland and Ukraine then I think I would certainly consider opting for Carroll as I think he is a more rounded talent.

Crouch has experience and goals at the highest level on his side but Carroll has added strength, youth and the motivation of quashing those in the media and in the stands at Premier League grounds country-wide that have been baying for his blood over the past year.

Alternatively, it might even be worth considering taking both on the grounds that England are likely to go into the tournament having selected an initially suspended striker and two other strikers in Welbeck and Sturridge who would be able to provide cover out wide if the option of extra wide-men was turned down in favour of bolstering the strike-force.

One thing that is certain is that with little time remaining there is certainly still plenty to ponder for whoever is going to take England out on the continent this summer and there is still time to stake a claim for a place in the final 23. Andy Carroll is one of many with much still to prove but he is definitely still worth a second-look.

A tale of two diminutive Spaniards

As we all know too well, English football is deprived of creative attacking midfielders with superb craft and much sought after ‘end product’. One particular area of the world though is thriving in this department and you may not be surprised to hear that this is Spain.

Silva and Mata

Silva and Mata are amongst a wealth of creative talent at Spain's disposal

Think Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Juan Mata, Thiago Alcantara, Sergio Canales and Javi Martinez and on the basis of the weekend’s performance Mikel Arteta and you arguably have a list of 8 or 9 experienced and/or enormously talented individuals capable of unlocking defensive doors, playing the killer pass and even getting themselves in the mix for plenty of goalscoring opportunities themselves.

In England on the other hand we are really limited in this crucial area. Gerrard and Lampard still have their moments but it would be hard to deny that they are past their best, Paul Scholes is re-emerging since his brief retirement period as arguably England’s best ball-playing midfielder but he too his way beyond the wrong the side of 30 and beyond this I’m struggling to think of any match-winning playmakers that we have at our disposal.

Jack Wilshere is probably England’s up and coming force in this role but he has already been on the receiving end of a string of injury concerns and may miss out on the Euros this summer and even putting such issues aside is he really better than the likes of Thiago, Canales, Mata and Martinez the emergent midfield forces in and around the Spanish squad? I personally don’t think so.

The other hope for England in this sort of role is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but it is very unclear just where he will end up being best utilised in the future for club and country as he is very much in the developmental and fledgling stage of his career at present.

The lack of current and emerging options in this pivotal attacking role is alarming and perhaps why the major English forces in the Premier League have turned to Spain to find their diminutive playmakers.

Manchester City have David Silva operating ‘in the hole’ behind the forwards as their most trusted playmaker, Chelsea have Juan Mata fulfilling much the same role in their line-up and Vicente Del Bosque must be licking his lips when thinking about how two of his dead-certs for the Euros have plied their trade in the Premier League this season.

Juan Mata Chelsea

Silva and Mata have been two of the most impressive playmakers in the Premier League this season

At times, both Spanish attacking central midfield players have been the driving forces behind their team’s runs of form and when they have been at their best they have been almost impossible to handle.

Silva may have looked a little ‘burnt out’ in the latter stages of this season, which of course will be of concern to the Spanish management as well as Manchester City’s but perhaps this is just a knock-on effect of his fellow team-mates’ slumps in form? Even if it is just a personal form issue, one good thing for Spain to come out of Silva’s stuggles to light up the Premier League in the second half of the season is that City have been lost without him, which suggests that he is a hugely influential and instrumental player when he is at his best.

This theory might be for those of a sunnier, glass-half-full disposition but it is a theory that I’m sticking too. I think that as soon as Silva is re-united with his international team-mates before the Euros that he will feel refreshed and will have a new lease of life not often seen in City’s recent struggles.

While City have struggled in the absence of Silva’s best form, Chelsea have begun to flourish as a result of Mata’s rise to prominence.

Perhaps it is the way that Mata was being deployed by Andre Vilas-Boas that was slightly inhibiting the Spaniard’s form in his first few months at the Bridge or perhaps it is just a case of him taking a while to settle in but one thing is for sure and that is that Mata has now begun to express himself as we know he can and that Chelsea are reaping huge benefits as a result.

Mata has far outdone David Silva’s efforts of late and it is little coincidence that their two sides have had coinciding contrasting fortunes, so much so that Chelsea could yet be contesting a Champions League and an FA Cup final whereas Manchester City now look like ending the season trophy-less and dejected.

One might even go as far as to argue that Mata’s recent efforts mean that he deserves to jump Silva in the queue to be part of Spain’s starting play-making unit at the Euros. Whether this will be the case or not though, it is clear that Spain’s finest ball-players are a step ahead of England’s at present and that they have an embarrassment of riches in this role which could well drive them to a third consecutive major tournament win this summer.

One interesting point which I will make though is that England have no one closer to such talents and such attacking influence than Paul Scholes and that his contributions since returning to United this season mean that whoever takes the England to the Euros this summer simply must try again to persuade him out of retirement. If Scholes isn’t a part of the England squad then do we really have anybody who can compete with Xavi, Alonso, Iniesta, Fabregas, Silva and Mata not to mention a couple of other huge talents?

 

 

Manchester’s El Classico: The Breakdown

With the dust settling on today’s epic Manchester derby I have broken this rollercoaster of a game down into bite size chunks and run the rule over the key moments.

The first ten minutes and Rooney’s deadlock breaker:

Having come strongly out of the blocks it must have been a huge blow to City to have conceded so early and to have done so completely against the run of play.

The first few minutes were territorially dominated by the hosts and they too had the lion’s share of the early possession, but Rooney’s moment of magic came as a sucker punch. Having dropped smartly into the hole he received the ball into feet and shifted it swiftly onto Luis Antonio Valencia whose measured first time cross was met with a towering header from Rooney. All jokes aside about Rooney’s hair transplant and a consequent boost in aerial ability, this was a magnificent finish. He quite literally put his neck on the line and bravely rose to divert the ball home from the penalty spot, beating his own team mate Nani to the ball. This fine opening goal set the tone for a romping first half from United.

The red card:

For me the referee got it right. Some might accuse me of seeing this through red-tinted glasses, but I honestly believe that this was the right decision according to the rule-book.

I wish that tackles like that of Kompany’s weren’t red card offences, but if you go in two-footed like he did then you run the risk of an early bath. The rules of the modern game are designed to bring greater control and Kompany was naiive to raise both sets of studs when really there was little need for such a committed challenge. A simple block tackle would have sufficed but Kompany’s slide gave the illusion of a lack of control when it simply wasn’t necessary, and now we’ll never know how City might have fared with 11 men over the whole 90 minutes.

Kolarov’s brilliant strike and the shift in momentum:

To even have the slightest chance of an unlikely fightback from 3-0 down at half time, City desperately needed a moment of inspiration. Fortunately for Mancini’s men, Aleksandar Kolarov duly provided this with a brilliantly accurate, dipping free kick.

As is so often the case, City’s fans were lifted by the wonder goal and got back on side. Their renewed support picked up the mood at the Etihad amidst the miserable lashing rain in Manchester, and for the next 20 to 30 minutes City were undeniably brilliant. Throughout this period they strained to get behind the ball when not in possession, and when they managed to steal the ball they looked forwards quickly and brought the outstanding Sergio Aguero back into the game. This period culminated in Aguero prodding in the rebound to his own saved shot and giving City what at half time seemed the unlikeliest glimmer of hope.

Paul Scholes’ return:

United’s little, ginger magician returned today and played a significant role in letting City get back in with a sniff. Soon after his return to action, his sloppy short pass was intercepted in a move that led to Aguero’s goal and consequently City’s renewed hope of getting back into the match.

However, from that moment on Scholes recovered and reminded us of his great strengths. His pass completion percentage in the match was 97%, which is indicative of the calm he brought to United’s attempts to keep hold of possession in the last 20 minutes of the game. He may have contributed to City’s revival attempts, but he also played a key role in diffusing their late onslaughts.

Whether you are a United fan or not, it is hard to deny that Scholes has been one of the greatest players of the Premier League era and that his return to action is a welcome one. He may not have the legs of old but his distribution and touch were still top notch towards the end of last season and I can see little reason why this would have deteriorated since then given his continued training with United ‘s reserves.

His chid like grin as he stepped over the white line suggested he was more than just a little happy to be back in the thick of it, and most football purists will be equally as pleased to have him back.

The victors, and their reward for their efforts…

So… after all the mayhem at the Etihad, United eventually came out as narrow victors. Sir Alex Ferguson is rightly bemused by his side’s defensive fragility in the second half, but when he wakes up tomorrow he will surely just be glad to have brought a triumphant end to a poor couple of games.

United’s reward for the win is a tasty encounter with Liverpool at Anfield. Lets hope this equally brutal rivalry will manifest itself in a similar manner to today, because if this is the case we are in for another cracking cup tie.