Monday, 26 March 2012

Rooney's first half strike enough for United

A disjointed Manchester United edged out Fulham 1-0 thanks to a Wayne Rooney goal in the first half.

Despite not ever reaching top gear, Manchester United extended their lead to three points at the top of the table; however in typical United fashion they won without being brilliant.

Fulham came to Old Trafford on the back of successive defeats to Aston Villa and Swansea and had every right to feel aggrieved after Danny Murphy appeared to be fouled in the box by Michael Carrick; however Michael Oliver decided it wasn't a foul.

Sir Alex Ferguson's side dominated the early proceedings without ever threatening Mark Schwarzer in the Fulham goal, and in fact it was the visitors who went the closest early on, as twice Clint Dempsey was denied by good saves from David De Gea.

In fact in the first half United never looked like scoring until they actually did get the break through five minutes before half-time. A corner wasn't cleared properly and Young crossed to the back post where Riise failed to clear and Evans found Rooney who scored from a few yards out.

Half time came and went and the impressive Antonio Valencia should've done better after being put through by Ryan Giggs; however his shot was tame and easily dealt with by Schwarzer.

Manchester United stepped it up a notch in the second half and it wasn't long before they created another second chance through Ashley Young. The former Aston Villa winger did brilliantly as he cut inside Stephen Kelly and his curling effort was on target only for Schwarzer to deny him with a top save.

Somehow United didn't go two up as Young was denied brilliantly twice by Schwarzer and the follow up feel to Giggs whose shot was blocked by Brede Hangelaand on route to goal.

With time running out United looked nervous in attempting to hold on for a priceless three points and Dempsey nearly drew Fulham level, however he just couldn't reach a delightful through ball from Moussa Dembele.

As three minutes extra time was announced, Martin Jol's side were left feeling angered as Murphy was fouled by Carrick in the penalty area; however the close decision went in the home sides favour.

The full time whistle was met with palpable relief around Old Trafford as United held on for a massive 1-0 victory to ensure they moved three clear of their city rivals at the top of the Premier League.

A change of manager doesn't always mean survival and it wont for QPR and Wolves

What have QPR and Wolves got in common, yet Wigan, Bolton and Blackburn don't? That's right, they got rid of their manager in the middle (well in Wolves' case towards the end of the season), and because of it they are safe. Oh no sorry, down.

Here's a stat for you. Of all the managerial changes in the history of the Barclays Premier League, of those who have sacked their manager and been in the bottom three of the table at the turn of the year, only ONE in 20 years have survived. And for those interested, it was Bolton Wanderers who achieved survival despite this, when Owen Coyle took over from Gary Megson (whom was appointed manager of Bolton on the 8th January 2010 with the club 18th in the table.)

QPR decided to replace Neil Warnock, who had guided the club to promotion despite taking over the club in a dire stat and with the possibility of relegation to League One a real one, with Mark Hughes. Whilst Wolves, following a 5-1 home defeat to West Brom sacked Mick McCarthy, and after failing to agree terms with Alan Curbishley, opted to appoint McCarthy's assistant Terry Connor.

Both Hughes and Connor have seen their clubs form decrease under their stewardship (with both clubs in the bottom three of the table in league form since the turn of the year). I might have been a tad presumptuous at the start of this piece when I said both QPR and Wolves were down; however I can't see either team surviving.

QPR under Hughes have been an enigma and for every brilliant result there has been three poor ones. A combination of bad luck, indisicpline and poor form in the games against sides in and around them, have ensured that QPR are in the bottom three with easily the hardest run in of any of the relegation threatened sides.

Barton dismissed vs Norwich

Wolves on the other hand were very inconstant under McCarthy; however were capable of going anywhere and getting results (draws away to Tottenham and Arsenal this year, after winning at Anfield last season), and I suppose at least under Connor they've found consistency, I mean they are always losing now. A comeback point away to Newcastle in Connor's first match only papered over the cracks at the club which were oh so heavily exposed in their last four games.

Following a 2-1 home defeat to Bolton Wanderers, many expected Steve Kean to be out of a job after the huge amount of abuse he received; however to his credit since that defeat Blackburn have been superb. 18 points in those 13 games have seen Blackburn rise from the bottom of the league to 16th place and despite a couple of tricky fixtures, they run-in looks favourable.

I'll hold my hands up and admit I felt Blackburn were goners under Kean; however despite recieving a horrific amount of abuse he has handled it superbly, showing an incredible amount of dignity and if he were to lead them to safety then it would rank up there with any other managerial achievement this season in the Premier League. Despite not being the best defensively still, they are certainly a threat at the other end and in Yakubu they've an out and out goalscorer and I now feel they will survive comfortably.

Wigan are another side, who despite being in and around the bottom three for most of the season, have stuck with their manager who in turn has stuck with his attacking principles. Following a 2-0 defeat at home to Swansea, many wrote Wigan off; however five points from their last three games, including a famous 2-1 victory at Anfield, which has boosted their chances of maintaining Premier League status.

Apart from Liverpool, who have only sparingly used it, Wigan are the only Premier League side to use three central defenders in a 3-5-2 formation, something that is frequent in Italy and Spain. At home Wigan haven't been brilliant this year; however on their travels they've secured four priceless victories and have one of the better away records and after defying the odds last season to survive, Wigan will want to use their experience to keep them afloat this year.

The fifth and final side who are in trouble are Bolton Wanderers whom I feel will battle Wigan for the second most important place in the table 17th. After a dire start to the season Bolton have picked their form up over recent weeks and like the previous two sides stuck with their manager. The recent terrible incident involving Fabrice Muamba will in awful situation unite the club and they impressed in their first outing since Muamba's cardiac arrest.

Coyle has been brilliant in the loan market with previous additions of Jack Wilshere and Daniel Sturridge working well, with Ryo Miyaichi the third impressive loanee in same amount of years at the Reebok. Bolton have also been hit hard by big injuries, with the likes of Stuart Holden, Lee Chung-Yong and Tyrone Mears missing for the whole season. If them three, in particular the first two players had been available for Bolton for the whole year, then I've no doubts Bolton wouldn't be in a relegation fight.

My bottom five come the end of the season
16th. Blackburn
17th. Bolton
18th. Wigan
19th. QPR
20th. Wolves

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Blues revival means nothing yet, as comparisons between Chelsea and Inter mount up.

Since the sacking of Andre Vilas-Boas, Chelsea have won all four of their games, including an impressive 4-1 home win over Napoli in the last 16 of the Champions League; however the Blues need look no further then Inter Milan to show that a caretaker manager and a half decent run of results, can’t paper over the huge amount of cracks at the football club.

Since Jose Mourinho (with the exception of Carlo Ancelotti) the club has struggled to repeat the ‘Special One’s’ heights, something identical in Inter Milan. Chelsea have coped with the loss of Mourinho; however Inter are still mourning. In the summer of 2010 Inter Milan completed the treble; yet four managers and 20 months later the club find themselves 20 points behind their city rivals AC and out of both cup competitions. The month of February saw the Italian giants reach a new low as the club went on a run of six games without a win (which included five successive goalless defeats), which all but extinguished their top three aspirations.

The shadow of Mourinho still lurks over Chelsea and Inter Milan 

Roberto Di Matteo doesn’t have a managerial record to match his caretaker counterpart Claudio Ranieri, and despite being a club legend, many didn’t expect Chelsea to get the better of Napoli under his guidance, much in the same way not many were predicting an Inter Milan win away to their city rivals AC in the biggest match in Italian football. That win for Inter was in the middle of their best form of the season, as the club peaked at seven wins on the trot; however defeat to Leece and an incredible 4-4 draw with Palermo saw the clubs form nosedive (which is stated above).

Chelsea have to avoid falling into the same trap as Inter and if the club have a similar off the field pattern as Inter Milan, then their squad is also in a similar shape: Big centre forwards transfers have flopped as neither Fernando Torres nor Diego Forlan have gone close to justifying their moves; both squads have had their doubters over the amount of genuine quality in the side; both have a high amount of players reaching the end of their careers; both have spent big an attempt to regain domestic control.

I’m not saying Chelsea will fall so heavily from grace like Inter have; however if Chelsea hadn’t overcome Napoli (saying that I expect Benfica to edge out Chelsea in the quarter finals) then their seasons wouldn’t be too dissimilar. Chelsea, unlike Inter Milan, for a surprise change in this piece, were fortunate in the sense they got a favourable domestic cup draw meaning an FA Cup run has just covered over how far the Blues are behind both the Manchester clubs. The Chelsea dressing room is easily the hardest to control, with a number of huge egos at the club; and if Chelsea slip up soon I wouldn’t be surprised to see the wheels really fall of the Di Matteo bandwagon.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Vermaelen caps another Arsenal late show

An added time Thomas Vermaelen winner saw Arsenal edge out a strong Newcastle side 2-1 at the Emirates last night.

The late winner meant Arsenal not only extended their lead over Chelsea, but closed the gap on their city rivals Tottenham to one point in the race for third.

Hatem Ben Arfa gave Newcastle an early lead; however Arsenal drew level barely a minute after, in the form of Robin Van Persie. With the game looking set to finish all square Vermaelen popped up to create a Premier League record for Arsenal, who have now come from behind to win their last four games, a feat never before achieved in the English top flight.

Arsenal made one change from their epic encounter with AC Milan, with Mikel Arteta returning to add a bit of flair to the Arsenal midfield, whilst Newcastle made two changes with Pape Cisse and Ryan Taylor replaced with Gabriel Obertain and Ben Arfa.

Newcastle opened the scoring in the thirteenth minute through the returning Ben Arfa. Cheick Tiote won the ball back in Arsenal’s half, after a poor Laurent Koscielny pass, who found Obertan, whose first time pass was clever and Ben Arfa, who cut inside Kieran Gibbs too easily, smashed home inside Wojciech Szczesny’s front post.

Literally seconds latter Arsenal levelled through their likeliest of sources. Walcott did well to engineer a brilliant cross, which Van Persie controlled exquisitely, in doing so taking Mike Williamson out of the game, and the Premier League’s leading scorer comfortably slotted past his Dutch counterpart Tim Krul to equalise.

Walcott, who looked dangerous in the early proceedings, came the closest to a third goal in the first half; however his shot was cleared of the line by Danny Simpson.

Half time came and went and Davide Santon, who was given the run around by the improving Walcott, didn’t come out for the second half, as the former Nottingham Forest man James Perch came on for the Italian.
Arsenal came out in the second half stronger and dominated possession as well as increasing their threat in the Newcastle half, as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin, who wasn’t having the best of evenings, came close twice in quick succession.

Tomas Rosicky, who signed a contract extension with the club earlier in the day, was again fantastic and the Czech captain was behind Arsenal’s best moments in the early stages of the second half.

Gervinho, a second half replacement for Oxlade-Chamberlin, really should’ve given Arsenal the lead, only to screw wide with the goal at his mercy inside the six yard box.

With five minutes extra time announced, it looked like Arsenal were set to drop points, only for the rampaging Vermaelen to win it for the Gunners. With Newcastle in possession deep in the Arsenal half, Alan Pardew’s side should’ve seen the game out; however Arsenal broke in the shape of Alex Song, who found Walcott, and the England internationals cross feel perfectly for Vermaelen who beat Krul to ball and gave Arsenal the all important win.

The goal was harsh on Newcastle, who had defended brilliantly through out the game. Captain Fabricio Coloccini was again superb at the heart of Newcastle’s defence; however for a second successive Premier League game, Arsenal sealed the three points with an added time winner.

Man of the match – Tomas Rosicky.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Spurs 1 Manchester United 3 – The Autopsy

Yesterday was another perfect example of Manchester United winning when not at their best. For long periods of the match, predominately the opening hour, Spurs dominated; however lacked a clinical threat that United had in abundance.

Team Selection
Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad selection had no surprise element about it, with Wayne Rooney returning after missing the last two United games. Jonny Evans partnered Rio Ferdinand in the heart of the defence, which meant Phil Jones was again shafted out to right back, which I’m sure was a much more attractive role given the fact Gareth Bale missed the match.

Young follows United trend of not being at their best but producing the goods.
Like United, Ashley Young failed to exert himself on the game in the early proceedings; however in the second half the former Villa man took his two goals excellently, with the second in particular a brilliant finish.

Though Kyle Walker didn’t cover himself in glory for any of the United goals; during the match he kept Young quiet out on the wing. For me Young is at his best in the middle, just of the striker; however when you’ve got a certain Rooney whose up there with the best in the world in the number 10 role, Young will, in all likelihood, always have to settle for a place on the wing, meaning he is less effective. The goal that put the game to bed illustrated perfectly how good Young is given space in the middle of the park, with his curling effort giving Brad Friedel no chance in the Spurs goal.

Having dipped in form over the last few months, United fans will hope his two goals at White Hart Lane can help Young reproduce the form he showed at the start of the season.

Fortune favoured the Reds.
I’m going to come out and say it, yesterday we were a little fortunate. Numerous things combined to ensure we won the match. Tottenham were without three key players in Scott Parker, Rafael Van Der Vaart and Bale, all of whom would’ve made keeping Spurs at bay a harder task. Secondly Emmaneul Adebayor was perhaps unfortunate to see his strike, at 0-0 and a key stage of the game, ruled out as the former City striker couldn’t really get out of the way. Harry Redknapp’s side did dominate the first half, and despite playing their best player in Luka Modric out wide, Tottenham controlled the ball well and despite falling to create a host of chances were the better side, and for us to head in at half time ahead was very much a case of daylight robbery.

Rooney goal return in the big games
Yet again in a game against the top sides Rooney produced the goods with the all important opening goal. Against the other six of the top seven sides this season (not including the two goals he scored in the FA Cup win at Manchester City) Rooney has scored a brilliant 10 goals in 11 games. (2 vs. Spurs, 3 vs. Arsenal, 3 vs. Chelsea and 2 vs. Liverpool)

Rooney scored the all important opening goal in the win on Sunday and was a consistent threat throughout the match, dropping deep as ever and finding space in between the Tottenham defence and midfield with ease. Manchester United and Rooney in particular benefited from Scott Parker’s absence.

Improvement on the road.
Due to our rivals’ inability to sustain the pressure on us last year, we were allowed to only pick up a pitiful 25 points on our travels the whole year. This season however has been in complete contrast to last year, with our away form the best in the Premier League, with 33 points and just the one defeat to our name.

Last season we conceded goals for fun, and despite the injured Nemanja Vidic, we’ve improved incredibly and have only leaked 12 goals away from Old Trafford. Those doubting Ferdinand’s form at the start of the season have quietened over recent weeks as the former England captain has more then stepped up to the responsibility of being the leader at the back due to the absence of the aforementioned Vidic.

Run in
Manchester United have now picked up an impressive 19 points from 21 since the 3-0 defeat away to Newcastle, and when you consider the fact we’ve travelled to Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Norwich in that run, the points tally is a fantastic achievement.
Having played all the sides towards the top of the table, bar the derby at Eastlands on the 22nd April, our run in on paper looks slightly favourable then Manchester City’s, with Roberto Mancini’s side set to face Arsenal and Chelsea in the next few weeks.