Sir Alex Ferguson may have retired many months ago but he still continues to ruffle feathers and make headlines, as the fall out from his autobiography continues to give the newspapers something to write about.
The latest installment of the ‘Sir Alex Ferguson is wrong’ saga, concerns Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard who continues to try and prove the idea he is a ‘top top player’ by telling the tale of how when he was a kid, United tried to sign him.
“I went on trial at Manchester United when I was 13 and had a letter off them wanting to sign me on a seven-year-deal.”
It’s no surprise United coveted Gerrard as a youngster as under Sir Alex the network of scouts, connections and people keeping tabs on promising young players grew to one of the largest in Europe.
Gerrard isn’t the only player who became a legend at one of our rivals, that United have tried to sign as a youngster, as John Terry recounts:
“I met Alex Ferguson – great to meet. During the school holidays I would go up to Manchester and train with their boys for two weeks, play a few games and come home. But one thing that was really special about Man United was that Alex Ferguson took time out and invited me to one of their games and to have lunch with their players. So there we are – me, my mum and dad, my brother. He made me feel so special, autographs, my photo done with the Premiership trophy. I think it was hard for my dad to take that I was going to sign for Chelsea, but I had to sit him down and tell him it was definitely the right decision.”
With the Class of ’92 film released tomorrow, there could’ve been a class of ’98 – although not as good obviously- that played a big part in United’s success had Gerrard and Terry decided to take up Sir Alex’s offer. Ah well, with no titles to his name for Gerrard and THAT slip in Moscow, things didn’t exactly work out to badly for the Reds…..
I simply cannot make my mind up about this team of ours. For years this well oiled machine has in the majority performed seamlessly, cruising to title after title at 100 mph, avoiding speed bumps, potholes, traffic wardens and who/whatever else was put in our way to disrupt our journey.
Bar crazy events such as a ban for Eric Cantona for kicking racism out of football; a ban for Rio Ferdinand for not being able to give a urine sample because drug testers left early; a last minute throw away of two titles that were ours for the taking (1997 and 2012) and some DODGY refereeing decisions and non-offside calls (2010), we have won every title we should have since 1993.
This year our ride seems less than smooth; it seems that our prized possession is stop-starting more than the famous Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on a cold winter’s day. Every time I start to think we feel and look to be cruising comfortably, like the real Manchester United, something minor inevitably comes up to disrupt the journey.
A flat tire here or there; flat performances from individual players destabilise the team dynamic causes us to crash. Notable culprits need not be mentioned.
The wrong type of fuel, diesel being used when we clearly run on premium unleaded; the persistent use of 4-4-2 when we haven’t used that system since the 80s, just to satisfy the inclusion of certain personnel (you all know who I’m talking about).
Getting stuck in the mud early on in the journey; losing early leads in games against Liverpool (4th minute) and City (16th minute) resulted in two unrecoverable tragedies, only for some overrated “fortitude” to prevent the same against the struggling likes of Sunderland (5th minute) and Stoke City (4th minute).
Hitting an unexpected pothole hard; twice now we have been on the receiving end of what WE have been doing to teams for years, and conceded late goals in the ending moments of games we should have won and were cruising in (Southampton and Cardiff City).
This season so far cannot be considered like any of those failed campaigns in the past. Yes, we have had a difficult start to the season in terms of the fixture list, and we have lost the man who drove us to the Promised Land. Granted, there were a couple of dodgy penalty decisions early on that didn’t go our way in games against Liverpool and Chelsea that may have made the difference, however I feel that would have masked over the issues that we have seen. We have not had to overcome real adversity this year as in years gone by, other than the problems that we have by and large put on ourselves.
Prior to the Cardiff City game, I finally thought we were back on the road to success… we had just beaten high flyers of the Premier League Arsenal having previously won 4 games from 5 with the only draw being a rather undamaging 0-0 draw to Sociedad in the Champions League. To put a positive spin on things, we ARE eleven games unbeaten in all competitions, but that masks over the fact that in this league draws are as damaging as losses.
Prior to our 5-0 thumping of a poor Leverkusen side on Wednesday, it seems that we are always in tight games. Is it any wonder therefore why we have suffered so many losses and draws compared to seasons past? I can only see this being a result of our overly cautious attitude to games, because as we saw against Leverkusen, Norwich City and in the first half against Fulham, we CAN dismantle teams both at home and in Europe. Whether this comes from the manager or from the players, there are conflicting opinions, but it can only stem down to confidence. The ability is there on both sides. These are players who have been the course and won the race on many occasions, the management was hand selected for all the right reasons and as seen in Europe, can do the right thing.
Just like anybody who has ever bought a new car knows… in the early days you are so worried about scratching or bumping it, so you drive a little slower, think a little too much, push the breaks a little too hard and start to drive like a learner again… inevitably because you’re not driving the way you are used to, accidents occur. And man, has David Moyes has had his accidents!
All that said, I still think we have the right driver; he has had his mishaps in the shape of damaging defeats to City, Liverpool and West Brom, and failing to seize on opportunities against Chelsea, Southampton and Cardiff resulting in underwhelming draws.
Our pristine machine has a few dents, scuff marks, scrapes and scratches now. Moyes has navigated the main question asked of him about how he will handle the Champions League and he has done it well. With that out of the way and a favourable run of games from now until mid January, when we play Chelsea away, it’s time for Moyes to push firmly down on the accelerator, drive naturally and freely, get the Red Devils back on that highway to hell, to our rightful destination, the place we belong, to the top of the Premier League division.
German football teams are renowned for their organisation, determination, efficiency, work-rate, and of course, expert penalty taking. Yet tonight in the BayArena, the only side offering any of the above traits were Manchester United.
On paper, it appeared to be a very tough away fixture against a side currently second in the Bundesliga – yet it turned out to be a walk in the park for a rampant United side who put in their most impressive performance since David Moyes took charge.
Manager Moyes opted for the same back line which started away at Cardiff over the weekend; and they were rarely tested by a lacklustre Leverkusen side who created nothing more than a half chance which was well defended by Jonny Evans.
United, still without captain, Nemanja Vidic, Michael Carrick and Robin Van Persie, saw a combination of Phil Jones and Ryan Giggs in the middle of the park, with Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa playing off of lone front man Wayne Rooney.
Going into the fixture there was a lot of pressure on Manchester United – on the back of a poor performance against Cardiff and if the game ended in defeat, there would have been question marks over qualification.
Gary Neville described Sami Hyypia’s men as having been bamboozled by United – and to be honest I cannot think of a more fitting way to put it.
From the word go, Valencia was tearing down the flank causing havoc amongst the Leverkusen back line, who were unable to deal with his pace and strength, and it was he who put United ahead after latching on to a Rooney cross.
United were 2-0 up going into half-time through and own goal from Emir Spahic who had a torrid time trying to deal with Rooney. At times with this Leverkusen defence, it was like watching a pub team trying to mark Maradonna.
Second half goals from Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Nani rounded off a great European night which see’s the Old Trafford side qualify for the knockout stage of the competition.
A thoroughly great display in all departments and five goals scored away from home – who said Moyes would struggle in Europe?
A clean sheet for a somewhat un-tested David De Gea. A solid performance from a recently shaky back four. A magnificent midfield display full of creativity, flair, pace and ideas; and Rooney leading the line well, linking up play and creating goals.
Despite all of the media plaudits going to Ryan Giggs, tonight I am awarding Man of the Match to Shinji Kagawa.
Back on his old turf, Kagawa looked extremely comfortable in his surroundings. Playing in his favoured central role, he looked to be enjoying himself and his link up play with Jones, Giggs and Rooney was at times outstanding. He always found pockets of space to work within, and makes passing seem easy.
The unfortunate thing for Kagawa is that when there is a fully fit squad, he is often put out on the left in order to allocate Rooney in that central role playing off of Van Persie.
If you believe rumours – Kagawa is set to be leaving Old Trafford in January. After a performance like that, I cannot see Moyes allowing it.
Follow me on Twitter: @NathonW
With the international break been and gone, and after a disappointing last minute draw away to Cardiff City, Manchester United made the trip to Germany to take on Bayer Leverkusen, contesting a group where progression was not a guarantee.
Victory for the visitors would see them progress to the last 16, defeat would make life far more difficult. For the crucial tie, David Moyes started De Gea in goal, with Ferdinand and Evans in the middle. Patrice Evra was positioned on the left and Chris Smalling was at right back. The midfield was made up of Phil Jones and Ryan Giggs with Shinji Kagawa in front of them, as Valencia and Nani occupied the wings. Leading the line on his own was Wayne Rooney. United began the game comfortable in possession as Leverkusen sat back. Passes connected and the team moved well. Nani went close a quarter of an hour in after being found by Giggs, his effort curling just over the bar. However, United would not wait long to open the scoring. With over 20 minutes played, Kagawa pushed forward, passing to Giggs who played to Rooney out wide, the striker played the ball over the defenders to the back post for Valencia to meet and finish well to give the visitors a 0-1 lead.
United would double the lead within minutes. Wayne Rooney was involved again, this time taking a free kick on the left, his delivery was contested by Smalling and defender, Spahic, but the Leverkusen man could only head it into his own net to make it 0-2. United looked comfortable, and although the hosts looked to pushed forward more towards half iimd, no clear cut chances would fall their way as the sides went in at half time, the score at 0-2.
United began the second half looking to continue the good work they had done in the first. Playing with a good pace, the visitors struggled to make any impact and with over an hour gone, United make it 0-3. A corner was headed by Evra, Rooney fired at goal and forced a save, but the ball was not collected and Jonny Evans pounced to score from close range. The first change came soon after as Patrice Evra made way for Buttner.
With over 10 minutes left to play, there was time to make the scoreline even more comfortable, as Kagawa played a perfect pass to Rooney, who then chipped a beautifully weighted ball over to the far post for Smalling to meet. With the result wrapped up, Rooney and Valencia made way for Anderson and Young. However, there was time for United to add a fifth, as Giggs played a pass to Nani down the left as he broke forward. The Portuguese winger controlled the ball well and took the ball past the goalkeeper before guiding the ball home with a delicate flick. And so United comfortably saw out the game without a hitch as they secured their played in the last 16 of the Champion’s League.
With that in mind, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) United’s best performance of the season
It is probably a unanimous opinion that Wednesday night represented the finest performance of David Moyes’ tenure so far. From start to finish United played with a fluidity and understanding that left Leverkusen with little chance of finding their feet in the game. United always looked comfortable both at the back and going forward. Passes found their mark, the side played with positivity and everybody contributed to the cause. There were notable performances within the side but the efforts of all involved should not be discounted. Even when comfortably in the lead, it was clear United were not trying to sit back and see the game out as they added to their first half total. The goals and the moves to set them up were impressive and ensured that the visitors progressed to the next round emphatically.
2) Wayne Rooney in fine form
The importance of United keeping Rooney over the summer has been stated many times before and his performance on Wednesday night demonstrated the talismanic quality he holds within the side. In a masterful performance that saw him assist all four goals and departing before a fifth was added, he was energetic and attack minded in his role up front. He did his part defensively as well and could be found in various areas throughout the night. He linked up well with another notable player from the night in Kagawa, the two exhibiting an understanding for each other that made for fascinating viewing and exhilarating play.
3) Shinji Kagawa’s qualities in the middle becoming harder to ignore
If Kagawa has provided glimpses of what he can do at times this season, he made a big statement Wednesday night when he played in a central role behind Rooney. Throughout the night the midfielder was a constant threat in orchestrating attacks and helping to produce Untied’s best moments. His passes were slick and accurate and, as stated, his link up play with Rooney was something to behold. Provided with the chance, he seized the opportunity and showed exactly what he is capable. Of course, this came on a night when United’s other strikers were not used as Rooney spearheaded the attack, but with performances like that Kagawa is surely becoming harder to ignore.
4) Doubts about the midfield quickly subsided
A central midfield pairing of Ryan Giggs and Phil Jones may have drawn some concerns from some fans. However, it was anything but as the two combined well and allowed Kagawa the freedom to push forward ahead of them as they controlled proceedings. Giggs for his part played great passes forward and looked to roll back the year, completing 57 of his 62 attempted passes. His best moment came when he passed for Nani who did well to finish for the fifth goal. The Welsh midfielder was involved throughout though as he joined in the United attack. Phil Jones on the other hand looked to play a more defensive role, successfully doing his part further back as he looked to break up play and provide another wall for the Leverkusen forwards to get through. As a combination it worked as the defence looked comfortable throughout and United played with a freedom not often seen this season. The wingers too, played their part, Antonio Valencia, in particular, impressing on the night as he caused many problems down the right hand side.
5) Getting it right in Europe, now to improve in the League
Last weekend’s setback at Cardiff was another frustration for Moyes in the League, in a season where he has adapted well to European football, in contrast to the hiccups suffered at home. That said, it is likely a reflection of the difficulty of the Premier League as a whole this season, where the supposed big names have struggled at times, with points being dropped with greater regularity. With progression in Europe, David Moyes has managed to get through a big hurdle. Admittedly, there have been more difficult groups, but the successful passage through the group should not be diminished and if United secure top spot it will be a further boost to their chances of progression into the latter stages.
What remains now is to go on a winning run in the league. Although it could have been worse, conceding so late to drop two points will have frustrated massive and naturally, such errors will have to be prevented if United are to sustain a challenge towards the top.
De Gea – Called upon a few times and reacted brilliantly when needed. Finally added another deserved clean sheet to his record. 7
Smalling – Fantastic in defence all game. His physical presence was constantly highlighted as he won countless challenges. Contributed to our attack too, surprisingly. 8
Evans – Delighted to see him grab a goal. More importantly however, he’s starting to show Moyes why he should be the fixed centre back in the team with others rotating around him. A commanding display. 8
Ferdinand – It seems he’s finding his feet again after a worrying start to the season. His performance was mostly mature and professional. 7
Evra – A solid defensive performance which allowed the team the luxury of throwing multiple men forward. This restricted his attacking influence but the results were fruitful. 7
Valencia – It’s been a while since we’ve seen Antonio perform the way he did today. His was electrifying as he ran at players, covered defensively and even got himself into the box, from which he scored. 8
Giggs – Surreal. 9
Jones – Like Evra, he also played a crucial role in offering the “flair” players more freedom by sacrificing his game and concentrating on defensive responsibilities. He was essentially a shield for our defence. 7
Nani – Genuinely relieved to see him score. I can’t remember the last time we had two wingers playing well so his positive display today was more than welcomed. Let’s hope for more in the near future. 7
Kagawa – It’s a crime that we don’t get to see him play this role more often because he’s truly a revelation here. Everything positive that happened today went through him as he was finally able to dictate our play to his liking. 8
Rooney – Fantastic. Even I can’t have a bad word to say about him after a performance like that. Thoroughly involved in all our attacks and finally looked his worth. Well done, Wayne. You’re still a fat Scouse t*** though. 8
Büttner - Had a little cameo which never really resulted in much. 5
Anderson – I really, really wanted him to score after a brilliant run which he somehow still ballsed up. 6
Young – Didn’t dive. 5