‘Tis April – The Business end of the Premier League – MANCHESTER UNITED (2)


Edging closer to a Record 19..

Today we shall take a look at the fore runner and table topper Manchester United; their journey to the big month of April and what it takes to win the treble  double!

First Silverware - FA Community Shield

Rewind

  • 8/8: Wins first silverware of the season – Community Shield beating Chelsea 3-1
  • First 5 games: Set the pattern to consistently drawing games away from home.
  • 9/14: Champions League fixture vs Rangers proves costly – Valencia stretchered off with a fractured ankle – out for 6 months.
  • 9/19: Berbatov‘s hat trick helps beat Liverpool at home – marked the start of Goal scoring spurts for the Bulgarian.
  • 11/27: 7-1 mauling of Blackburn Rovers and Berbatov‘s Five goes into the history books.
  • 11/30: Hands off the Carling Cup after holding it dear for the last two years; by an emphatic 0-4 win for West Ham. Ended United’s unbeaten run of 29 games in all competitions
  • January: Loses in form Park to Asia Cup; SAF doesn’t indulge in the market; Rooney scores first goal of the season from Open play.
  • 1/22: 5-0 drubbing of Birmingham.. the nemesis is once again the Bulgarian joining an elite group of 3 or more hat tricks in a single season.
  • 2/12: United clinch the Manchester derby with a STUNNER GOAL from Wayne Rooney
  • March: 2 consecutive league defeats is a rarity. Controversial loss to Chelsea followed by a convincing defeat at Anfield.

April so far..


  • 4/2: Anti-climax when your highest paid forward returns to form with a hat-trick only to be banned for the subsequent two games for using obscene language.
  • 4/12: Removes Chelsea’s hopes of any silverware after advancing through to the semis.
  • 4/16: Treble talks put to bed after losing the FA Cup Semi final against the noisy neighbours.
Yaya puts in a brilliant performance

Road Ahead

  1. 4/19: Newcastle United (A)
  2. 4/23: Everton
  3. 4/26: Schalke (A) – UCL
  4. 5/1: Arsenal (A)
  5. 5/4: Schalke – UCL
  6. 5/8: Chelsea
  7. 5/14: Blackburn (A)
  8. 5/22: Blackpool

Table reads as of now..

Clubs Played Won Drawn Lost Goal Difference Points
Manchester United 32 20 9 3 +38 69
Arsenal 32 18 9 5 +32 63
Chelsea 32 18 7 7 +32 61
Manchester City 32 16 8 8 +20 56
Tottenham Hotspur 31 14 11 6 +8 53

Inference

  • Manchester United need a minimum of 13 points from a possible 18 to ensure they win the title.
  • Arsenal have to beat United in London and hope United drop points while taking on the Blues at home. I would rather bet my money on Arsenal slipping tomorrow against Spurs, effectively ending the title race 😛
  • United’s track record against German counterparts in Europe is abysmal. Schalke is in brilliant European form and will need some beating, but a final berth is only ours to lose.

Game No. 33 – Newcastle (A) 0015 IST 4|20


on the back of an FA cup defeat against City, United will mount a response against Pardew’s men, watch out for a rout.
Suspended: Kevin Nolan and Paul Scholes will miss the clash.
Injury update: Evans and Rafael return to action; Rooney returns after his 2 match ban.

Chelsea 0-1 Manchester United 1st leg Review 4/6


a Smiling Rooney clinches the precious away goal

With scorelines of 4 plus goals in all the other fixtures, a 0-1 defeat at home for Chelsea after 9 years by the title rivals may not seem to be as emphatic, but with a crucial away goal, the reds are favorites going home for the return leg.

Squads

Sir Alex opted for a 4-4-2 similar to the last encounter with Chelsea. Hernandez spearheading attack, Park and Carrick in centre, with Giggs and Valencia on the flanks. Rio returned to first team action after 2 months.

Carlo Ancelotti played a similar 4-4-2 with surprise omission of both Anelka and Malouda, starting Zhirkov on the flank and Torres pairing with Drogba.

First 45′

Studs up Essien escapes caution

A few stray passes here and there, with a nervous start from both sides. There was no frenetic pace as the game began. A studs up tackle by Essien on Rooney as early as 5 min was not picked up by the ref and that set the tone to the manner in which Ref Mallenco was gonna let the play go on as far as possible. United slowly grew into a rhythm with Carrick orchestrating the midfield well.

Side tap into the inside of the far post

It took 25 min when a lovely long diagonal from Carrick picked Ryan Giggs on the left, who found Wayne Rooney making a late dash to the edge of the box to side foot the ball off the inside of the far post into the goal. The celebration was a total anticlimax – A smiling Rooney takes a tumble on the turf, points skyward and embracing his compatriots [The Mail will be disappointed that it is an orthodox goal celebration]. So much for all the hoo – haa over the ‘F’ word.

Ferdy is BACK!

At the other end, Drogba was finding it difficult to get beyond first touches. He was well marshalled by Evra and Vidic. Torres on the other hand was fairly successful in slithering this way and that way but his spiteful form continues. An attempted overhead kick was completely mistimed and failed to make more of a one on one with Vidic. His attempt to draw a penalty with a simulation went in vain but was very fortunate not to get booked, though Rio did give him a piece of his mind.

The best opportunity for Chelsea came in the dying moments of the half when a Lampard shot destined for the net was cleared in front of goal by Evra. There was not much to choose from both teams at half time but clearly the form of the United front men the difference in the scoreline.

Second 45′

I was disappointed that Malouda and Anelka did not start, anticipated a change at least at half time. Instead none happened. In the backdrop of how Chelsea bounced back last game, Ancelotti must have rallied the troops in a similar manner cause it took only 5 min for Drogba to whip in a brilliant ball into the box, where a sprinting Ramires missed from 5 yards – an open header. As glaring opportunities like this were being missed, one had to wonder if Chelsea will rue it.

Carrick was outstanding in the middle of the park!

Rafael departed in the first ten min with a body check on Drogba resulting in a knee injury. Sir Alex took a bold move in bringing Nani on and shifting Valencia to RB and boy did he revel. At the weekend we saw Ryan Giggs marshalling LB and yesterday Valencia. He did not disappoint one bit and was the most threatening full back in the second half.

Knee injury - Rafa stretchered off

Rooney and Chicharito’s dogged determination to track back and make life uncomfortable for both ramires and essien bore fruit with Giggs and Park having their work simplified.

A 70min substitution [Drogba, Zhirkov] – a little too late IMO, brought Malouda and Anelka. Chelsea reverted to a more familiar 4-3-3 and all of a sudden van der sar was the busiest of all United players. Pulled off a brilliant save on the stretch to deny Torres a well placed header. He seems to have done his hamstring a bit in that save and took no part in any further goal kicks.

Valencia marshalling RB ever so well

United were nervy and edgy towards the end with last ditch clearances; but with a lacklustre Chelsea forward force, never really threatened to score.  I felt Ramires was brilliant in the second half making a multitude of ‘Lampardish’ runs into the box. His second chance was when Evra mistimed his tackle [and my first reaction – penalty] though on seeing replays looked like the contact was just outside the box. None of the referees spotted the penalty claims and United were let off the hook.  A second simulation wherein Torres intentionally makes contact with Valencia to go down in the box earned him a well deserved yellow.

Rough idea of what goes on in the stands 😉
  • IMO, Carlo was wrong to play such an out of form forward just because his track record is good against united. Drogba was peaking, and Anelka has been brilliant in Europe. There should have been no second thoughts. Torres could have been introduced in the second half if the other two weren’t performing.
  • Chelsea had zero width in attack, couple of those rare moments when Bosingwa did manage to get past Evra, he disappointed with the crosses.
  • Lampard’s 500th seemed like he wasn’t around mainly because he was not playing his favorite position.
  • Rooney was simply outstanding covering lots of ground, helping out in midfield and defence, creative passing, complete package with his finishing.
  • Carrick impressed with his whole repertoire of passing; Valencia showed his adapatability; Rio’s return invariably means a clean sheet.
  • Rafael’s injury needs to be assessed [hectic month of April needs a fit squad]
  • Chicharito, Park – exemplary work rates.
  • Ryan Giggs – just never ceases to amaze. GIGGS will still TEAR YOU APART
  • I still consider Torres to be my favorite striker for the ability he possesses. The longer his barren spell continues, the less favorite he will be to Carlo and the fans. The only thing he seems to be learning at training there is from his buddy Drogba and the art of diving. Despicable and shameful!
  • Manchester United are firm favorites to win this time with the away goal in their locker. Carlo’s questionable comments on the refereeing probably will never seek any reprimand. After all he is not a United coach!

Player Ratings

Van der Sar 8.0, Evra 8.0 Vidic 8.5 Rio 8.5 Rafael 7.5 Giggs 8.0 Carrick 8.5 Park 8.0 Valencia 8.5 Rooney 9.0 Chicharito 8.0

Subs: Nani 7.5 Smalling 7.0

Highlights

Links

Chelsea Vs Manchester United Preview Mar 1


Kick off: March 2, 2011 0115 IST at Stamford Bridge, Live on ESPN
Match Referee: Martin Atkinson

Games played Won Drawn Lost Goal Difference Points
Manchester United 27 17 9 1 36 60
Arsenal 27 17 5 5 30 56
Manchester City 28 14 8 6 19 50
Tottenham Hotspur 27 13 8 6 7 47
Chelsea 26 13 6 7 24 45

 

When I had written a preview to this fixture which was scheduled to occur two months ago, United were in the ascendancy, while Chelsea in the beginning of a slump. When the fixture was controversially postponed, it was thought, it boded well for the Champions, and that come March, we would have a title deciding battle. Oh how things have changed in 8 weeks!

Bring it on!

The limelight to the buildup of this game has been stolen by Rooney’s elbow and Cole’s shooting extravaganza. While United fans argue Rooney’s act is getting unwarranted attention from the media, Anti United fans are of the opinion, Rooney always gets let off! Either way, IMO, it was a cynical act no matter what the reason and with the FA’s reputation for inconsistency accompanied by Clattenburg’s view of the incident, meant there was no way Rooney would get into any trouble. As for Cole, well God only knows what the hell he was doing with a rifle at work!

Cricket may be the sport of gentlemen, but in football, we somehow tend to look at only the footballer in the person and hence we move on to another exciting fixture.

Recent form

Manchester United: WWLWW
Chelsea: WWWLD

  • Trailing 15 points behind United, every fixture ahead is crucial for Chelsea to achieve a Champions League spot.

Head to Head

  • Chelsea has never been kind to United at home, well they used to hold an impeccable home record until this season where they have already seen 2 defeats in the league. [Sunderland 0-3, Liverpool 0-1]
  • United have a dismal scoring record and have failed to win a game in the last 9 visits. [last win in 2002]

statistically relevant, formwise.. doubt it

Heroes|Zeroes

  • Didier Drogba has been disappointing ever since he lost out to a bout of malaria. The arrival of Torres has not helped his mood much either. With Nico and Torres getting to enjoy each other’s company on the pitch, Drogs’ has to do the the 15 min fill up|super sub striker role henceforth.
  • Fernando Torres has a fantastic track record having scored 4 times in the last 3 meetings. He might be in an odd form right now in a new outfit, but he manages to bring out the best in him in the big fixtures. Watch out.
  • Vidic has to be spoken in the same wavelength as Torres. Keeping him quiet will be premier priority for the Captain and he needs to be at his best.
  • Nani – Cole will be a battle to watch. The Portugese is doing everything right this season and has been pivotal to United’s pole position, expect a show.
  • Wayne Rooney – has scored one out of the world goal already this season, add that to the elbow and we have an extreme package available; will have to wait and see which Wazza turns up.
watch out for Nani!

Injuries

Manchester United: Twitter pro Rio Ferdy continues to enjoy tweeting on the sidelines [calf] while slowly but steadily Chris Smalling takes over his slot with some standout performances. Valencia has returned to first team training, while Park [hamstring], Anderson [knee] and Evans – unavailable.

Chelsea: Fitness isn’t Carlo’s worry, form is, and having had a relieving performance in Europe, the blues will look to regain control.

Squads and Prediction

Manchester United: Van der Sar, Evra, Vidic, Smalling, Rafael, Giggs, Scholes, Carrick, Fletcher, Nani, Rooney

Chelsea: Cech, Cole, Terry, Luiz, Ivanovic, Malouda, Essien, Lampard, Anelka, Kalou, Torres

I go for a scored draw 11

Wigan 0 – 4 Manchester United Feb 26


Returning from Europe after a tough game, Sir Alex still had some injuries to contend with. He resorted to a full strength attacking squad with Chicharito getting one of those rare starts. He opted for a 4-4-2 clearly indicating nothing below 3 points will be entertained

0-45

Wigan started bright, in fact as always the bottom 3 teams play with a lot of vigor against United. United were struggling to get hold of the game when a string of opportunities from Moses and Mc Carthy were beautifully denied by Van der Sar who just doesn’t seem to age.

An off the ball incident in the middle of the park where Rooney elbowed Mc Carthy in the face , was a blatant red, which even as a MUFC fan, I find it appalling how Mark Clattenberg could award JUST a free kick. This incident marked the start to a multitude of poor decisions in the first half for the referee who didn’t do his reputation any good amongst the home or away fans.

A brilliant back flick at 12’ released Mc Carthy one on one on the right wing, but VdS was alert and quick to smother an attempt which surely should have been in the back of the net. A couple of careless passing by Scholes and Smalling exposed VdS but he was the pick of the United players in the first half.

At 17’, United broke forward with Rooney and Nani on the left exchanging a 1-2, which released Nani to the edge of the box from where he sent a nice low cross for Chicharito to slot in at the near post. As always, Chicharito’s composure in front of goal is fantastic and he made the goal look a stroll in the park.

Nani continued to revel in the latter stages of the first half creating few opportunities, once finding the keeper, the side netting and the upright!

46’- 90’ +3min

The game ebbed and flowed with equal possession, both teams playing open football, the irony where was Wigan all this season.. if they continue to play like this they will survive.

As we neared the final quarter, the closing stages of the game – I was biting my nails with NZogbia’s drives and Rodallega’s energy always a threat! However a wonderful 1-2 between Rooney and Chicharito released him one on one with the keeper with only one outcome.

This goal opened the floodgates as Gibson who came on for Scholes, sent a long ball to find Berbatov running in open ground behind Alcaraz, sending a soft cross for a tap in for Wazza. The icing on the cake was for Fabio, who came on in the final few min and managed to get himself at the end of a Fletcher cross, totally unmarked, and slotting well past Al Habsi – making it a rout eventually.

FINAL VERDICT

  • Turning point: Red card for Rooney – didn’t happen, so the turning point is Van der Sar’s brilliant block of Mc Carthy’s 12’ attempt which would have turned the game on its head.
  • FA wont take any action considering Mark already dished out a freekick and didn’t deem it a foul worthy of even a yellow.
  • Spirited performance from Wigan is what is needed for them to survive and ofcourse a bit of luck.
  • Crucial win for United with 2 big fixtures away at Stamford and Anfield. 3 points at the former will mount immense pressure on Arsenal to fight back.

PLAYER RATINGS

  • Van der Sar 9.0 Evra 8.5 Vidic 8.5 Smalling 8.5 O’Shea 8.5 Nani 8.75 Scholes 8.5 Carrick 8.75 Fletcher 8.5 Rooney 9.5 Chicharito 9.25
  • Subs: Fabio 8.5 Gibson 8.5 Berbatov 8.5

Manchester United 2 – 1 Manchester City Feb 12 ’11


After an embarrassing defeat at the hands of a bottom 3 team at the Molineux last weekend, a performance which Sir Alex described as ‘pathetic’, Manchester United had to bounce back immediately and to try and do that in the derby is a challenge. At the end of 90 + 4 min, It was a challenge accepted and a victory well deserved, built on some outstanding defending by the new recruit Chris Smalling and the most reliable player for United this season Luis Nani scoring the first and setting up the second for Rooney to add to the list of classics in the ‘overhead’ category.

Both teams set out with an understandably 4-5-1 ‘play it safe’ formation and Sir Alex decided to pick the not so much in form Wayne ahead of Berbatov. His decision to play John O’Shea at full back was also a surprise, but Mancini too opted to play with Tevez as the lone man up front.

As the first half grew on, weirdly the visitors were having a fair share of the possession, which was unnerving but a hefty touch from Giggsy to find a driving Nani into the box, resulted in 2 wonderful touches to drag the ball away from the defender and a third to slide the ball past the arms of Hart. Nani’s elation and celebration was typically characteristic with the Back Flip™ and rightly took United ahead with a 1-0 lead at half time.

15 min into the second half, Tevez continuing to be isolated and with no evidence suggestive of City to trouble the scorers, Mancini switched to a 4-4-2 bringing Dzeko on for Milner.  The result was almost evident when Dzeko found space from a SWP cross to try and curl it goalwards, however a fortuitous deflection off Silva’s back gave VDS no chance and the noisy neighbours were really turning the tone up.

Sir Alex refused to sit back and wait. Instead he also swapped to a 4-4-2 with the inform Berbatov coming on for Anderson. United’s persistence and grit through the ageless Giggs, the tenacious Fletcher, the rock solid Vidic finding an able ally in the young Chris Smalling, were able to conjure some good momentum goalwards.

And soon enough, an ensuing cross from Nani, took a deflection of Zabaleta falling kind for Rooney, who had no second thoughts on immediately improvising to catch the ball right in the middle with a beauty of an overhead finding the top corner of Hart’s far post. Of such high quality was the strike that for a moment, you could feel the entire crowds’ AWE turning into a rapturous celebration.  Wayne Rooney put his arms outstretched, acknowledging the unbelievable feat he had just achieved, a strike worthy any day of being the goal of the season.

United showed no signs of faltering in the remaining 10-15 min to cap off a wonderful way to bounce back after an embarrassing defeat last weekend which ended their unbeaten run.

To sum up

  • Rooney’s goal was a pleasure to witness, and it had CLASS written all over it. It augurs well for him to have scored what could very much be the record breaking 19th title winning goal.
  • Chris Smalling’s performance was no doubt top notch, one which even Rio sitting in the dugout would be proud of. Supporting the ever reliable captain, he ensured one too many a times that City dint test VdS.
  • Nani, has been, by a long distance the player of the season for united. Berbatov may be the one scoring the goals, but Nani is no doubt responsible for every crucial win which United have had so far. And how he has matured this season, holds good for the team.
  • IMO, its all over for city, and I would like to be outright co**y  and say ‘this title is ours to lose

Player Ratings

Van der Sar 8.0 Evra 8.0 Vidic 8.5 Smalling 9.0 O’Shea 8.0 Giggs 8.5 Scholes 8.0 Anderson 8.5 Fletcher 8.5 Nani 9.5 Rooney 9.5

Subs: Berbatov 8.5 Carrick 8.0

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