Sunday, 28 August 2005

Newcastle United 0 Manchester United 2

For their third league match of the season, Manchester United are away from home but taking the initiative right from the kick-off here at Newcastle United and the crowd is pumped.

The Newcastle fans, the Toon Army as they're known, are some of the best fans in the country. They love their football passionately at St James Park and expect their team to play similarly.

Quite like Manchester United in fact, who are determined to make up for a bitterly disappointing last season. Now the Red Devils are driving forward looking for an early advantage, leaving Newcastle only the occasional counter attack. Their first, in the 11th minute, sees new Spanish striker Alberto Luque, who only arrived in the North East on Thursday from Deportivo La Coruña, have a goal disallowed for offside.

This encourages Newcastle, who are starting to make a real fight of it now, but lose a little momentum when Turkish midfielder Emre takes a knock and is replaced by Jermaine Jenas.

Half an hour gone and things are starting to boil. Newcastle's main striker and captain, former England goal man Alan Shearer seems to have taken an accidental knock from United's Argentinian left back Gabriel Heinze. As he often does, Shearer sees red and swiftly clatters into first Silvestre and then Ronaldo. The heat is on!

United remain focussed however and keep pressing forward. The 37th minute brings a lovely flowing move ending with Ruud van Nistelrooy feeding a lovely pass to Ronaldo in the penalty area but the Portuguese winger shoots straight at Newcastle goalie Shay Given. A minute later he has another chance when Lee Bowyer attempts an insane back pass to Given and Ronaldo intercepts, but he hurries the shot and it's wide of the target.

Newcastle get another chance when Heinze fouls Shola Ameobi on the left corner of the United penalty area. Luque takes the free kick but shoots straight at United midfielder Paul Scholes and it goes for a corner. Luque takes it but United goalie Van der Sar punches clear. This is the home team's best spell of the match so far. They surge again in the last minute of the first half, Ameobi crossing from the left to Luque (again) lurking at the far post who tries to volley but can't control the ball.

It's half time and Luque has easily been the star of the show so far, he looks a great buy for Newcastle. Manchester United have been solid if not inspired and are going to have to do better in the second half.

After the break, United get the second half started looking for the first goal but get bogged down in midfield. Almost immediately there's a flowing passing move, crossing the pitch from left to right and O'Shea whips in a great cross which Van Nistelrooy meets with a header, but poor control lets him down and the ball flies wide of goal.

Around the hour mark and still no goals, maybe Sir Alex should be thinking of bringing on Giggs? Rooney hasn't been having much of a game but then suddenly bursts into life. Van der Sar collects a loose ball and clears it long; a million players completely miss the ball and suddenly Rooney bursts through the chaos, collects the ball off the toes of a Newcastle defender and slams it in the net! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLL! One-Nil to United!

Newcastle, to their credit, don't stop fighting but United are determined to win. In the 71st minute, Van Nistelrooy receives a forward pass from Rooney on the edge of the Toon box and is brought down by Given. Penalty! No!! The ref mistakenly thinks Ruud dived and gives him a yellow card. This cheers up both Newcastle and their fans and they keep pushing forward in search of an equalizer.

Ten minutes to go and Ronaldo skips down the right wing, feet moving like a tango dancer and completely confuses two Newcastle defenders, who haul him to the ground. The ref finally calls the foul, the first he's given but at least the tenth Ronaldo's received.

With a little over five minutes to go, Sir Alex tightens things up in midfield, replacing Ronaldo and Fletcher with Ji-Sung Park and Alan Smith respectively. Then, in the 91st minute, Rooney is helping out in defence, gets the ball from Van der Sar and hares off down the right wing, running the entire length of the pitch before whipping in a great cross to Van Nistelrooy who makes no mistake this time and shoots under the helpless Given. GOOOOOOOOOAAAAALLLL! Two-Nil United!!

This review is also cross-posted here at BlogCritics.

Wednesday, 24 August 2005

Debrecen 0 Manchester United 3

With Sir Alex Ferguson taking advantage of Manchester United's 3-0 lead from the first leg to try and rest team captain Roy Keane, a few changes are to be seen in tonight's line-up of Van der Sar, Neville-Ferdinand-Brown-Heinze, Fletcher-Smith-Scholes and upfront, Giggs-van Nistelrooy-Ronaldo. That's got to be one of the most unusual United sides of recent years. To say nothing of the subs: Howard, Pique, Miller, Park, Bardsley, Richardson and Rooney. And the team are wearing their rather different blue away strip. Wild!

A very soggy pitch in Budapest (and they say it's always raining in Manchester!) doesn't bode well for an exciting football match but United are sure to do their utmost to proceed into the group stage of the European Champions League.

After about 10 minutes of fairly uninteresting football, mostly choppy midfield play, the first notable incident is a bad one for United, Neville's down under a bad tackle and can't go on. curiously, Sir Alex chooses to replace him with young midfielder Kieran Richardson with Fletcher moving into the back four.

Another bout of football not really going anywhere is brought to a halt when Van Nistelrooy wins a corner out on the right. Smartly taken by Paul Scholes (told you it was a weird night), the ball is met by Argentinian defender Gabriel Heinze at the far post and he heads the ball with power.
That's more like it, 1-0 to United!

The rest of the first half is pretty uneventful, the best footballing moment being a late Debrecen free kick which brings a great save from Edwin Van Der Saar, who is really starting to bring a lot of confidence to United at the back.

United start the second half with young Phillip Bardsley replacing Paul Scholes in midfield, presumably being rested for the tough English Premier League match at Newcastle this coming Sunday. The match is effectively over as a contest with United now leading 4-0 on aggregate and the Hungarian champions looking defeated.

However, United don't stop playing, with several players having something to prove to the manager. Just on the hour mark steady pressure leads to a foul on Ronaldo out on the left. Welsh winger Ryan Giggs takes the resultant free kick and Boom! There's that man Heinze risng at the far post again for an almost carbon copy of the first GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLL!
It's 2-0 to United and certainly all over now for Debrecen!!

Kieran Richardson

Sir Alex takes the opportunity to make his third permitted change of the night, bringing on Irish International Liam Miller for Fletcher. He has no time to settle in at all before United surge forward down the right with Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo combining before the Portuguese winger crosses to substitute Kieran Richardson on the edge of the penalty area. Taking one touch to control the ball, Richardson blast left-footed into the corner of the net and it's GGGOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAALLLLL!!!
3-0 to the Reds.

Debrecen are totally dispirited now and starting to play with less discipline and leaving the foot in more. Unsurprisingly this leads to more injury worries for United, this time to goalscorer Richardson, who is taken off after 70 minutes. Sir Alex has already used all his substitutes so there's no option but to play out the last 20 minutes with only 10 men. There are a couple of goal mouth scares and scrambles, at both ends, but no real danger to either goal and United are content to let the clock run down. Three minutes of extra time and it's all over; United are through to the vital group stages with an emphatic 6-0 aggregate victory, their 4th straight clean sheet.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson post match commented that he was happy with the team's performance.

"We don't care where the goals come from. I'm quite happy when anyone scores.

"I'm very pleased with the performance on a difficult pitch. We kept good discipline and passed the ball well.

"Winning 3-0 away is a very good scoreline. There was too much importance attached to this game to lose concentration and focus."

This review also appears here on the mighty BlogCritics site.

Saturday, 20 August 2005

Manchester United 1 Aston Villa 0

For Manchester United's first home fixture of the new season, Sir Alex Ferguson opts to go with the same starting line-up as last week at Everton.

Playing in his now preferred 4-3-3 formation are, in goal Edwin Van der Sar, a defensive line of Gary Neville-Rio Ferdinand-Mikael Silvestre-John O'Shea, a slightly unusual looking midfield of Darren Fletcher-Roy Keane-Paul Scholes (no Ronaldo, who's on the bench or the still unwell Ryan Giggs) and a front line comprising Wayne Rooney-Ruud van Nistelrooy-Ji-Sung Park. Joining Ronaldo as substitutes are USA goalkeeper Tim Howard, Argentinian left back Gabriel Heinze, Alan Smith and the young Kieran Richardson.

The entire first half mostly consists of a scrappy midfield battle as both teams look to their game plans; United's is mostly positive as they keep going forward in search of that vital first goal whilst Villa, somewhat predictably, just aim to keep things tight at the back and look for a chance to counter-attack. The absence of United's wingmen makes it an untidy and not particularly reassuring 45 minutes in which United's Korean midfielder Park is the unlikely standout player. Wayne Rooney is fairly muted, succeeding only in getting himself booked for a bad tackle on former Red Devil Eric Djemba-Djemba shortly before half-time.

The second half gets underway with United looking more forceful, presumably they've had a taste of the famous Ferguson hairdryer blast in the interval! It's all to no good however and just short of the hour mark Sir Alex makes a double substitution. John O'Shea is replaced in defence by Heinze whilst the industrious and impressive Park is replaced by Ronaldo.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy

United up the pace now and their increased workrate pays off when a Ronaldo cross is poorly cleared by Villa central defender Mellberg and Ruud Van Nistelrooy gets an easy tap-in from close range. GOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!

That's about it in terms of goalmouth excitement and after 77 minutes United take off striker Wayne Rooney and replace him with Alan Smith, which obviously signals Sir Alex's desire to maintain a clean sheet. United nearly added a second just before the end when Van Nistelrooy gets past Villa goalkeeper Sorensen but Djemba-Djemba pops up to clear the ball off the goal line.

Gabriel Heinze

It's been a solid but mostly pedestrian performance by United but the important thing is the victory, another 3 points in the bank and no goals conceded. Major plus points are the return to the team of Ronaldo and Heinze, who both add a lot more flair and composure to the team. Manchester United, by virtue of the early kick off, are, temporarily at least, top of the table.

This review also appears here at the mighty BlogCritics site.

Friday, 19 August 2005

Manchester United to go unbeaten says Ronaldo

In an interview for tomorrow's United Review, the official match programme for all Manchester United home matches, Cristiano Ronaldo, easily one of the most exciting young footballers in the game anywhere, says: "Remaining unbeaten will obviously be our aim but naturally it can be a very difficult thing to do. Sometimes you play well and deserve to win but you end up losing. The most important thing for us is to make sure we're consistent throughout the season."

The 20-year old flying Portuguese winger also revealed that he had lost a bet with Sir Alex Ferguson that he would score at least 10 goals last season and that: "I was very disappointed to lose my bet with the boss. But we will be having another bet this season and I know I'm going to win this time. Scoring goals is a great feeling, but the most important thing to me is that the team is successful - it doesn't matter who scores the goals as long as we're winning."

Critics of the player's high skill levels and tricks are heartened by this demonstration of commitment to the team above all else and will doubtless be excited at the prospect of regular Ronaldo goal celebrations!

Attention now turns to tomorrow and the serious business of United's first home fixture of 2005-2006, as they play host to Aston Villa. Ronaldo will be hoping to make his first Premiership appearance and score, as he did in the corresponding fixture last season, against a team that hasn't won at Old Trafford since 1983 and have suffered the dread "double" for the last 2 seasons.

United's only injury worries appear to be with Ryan Giggs curiously persistent chest infection and the previously known recuperating trio of Wes Brown, Quinton Fortune and Louis Saha.

Wednesday, 17 August 2005

David Bellion goes on loan to West Ham United

Manchester United have just announced that they are loaning young French striker David Bellion to London's West Ham United for a year.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said: "David Bellion is only 22 and needs match experience. This year-long loan to West Ham, where he will be playing Premiership football, will be beneficial to him. I am sure he will come back a better player for Manchester United."

David Bellion

Bellion has had a difficult time at Old Trafford and struggled to break through into the first team. He also suffered a broken leg whilst playing for United's reserve team in May.

West Ham are delighted to be able to take Bellion on loan and Hammers manager Alan Pardew commented: "David will reinvigorate the right hand side of our attack and give me a whole new set of options. He is the sort of player that can break a deadlock with his pace as he is without question one of the quickest players in the Premiership. David Bellion was wanted by a number of Premier League clubs and I feel it is a great compliment to this club and its supporters that he wanted to come to West Ham. He has been troubled with injuries in the last two seasons but we are now satisfied those are cleared up and outside Manchester United, we have the best back room staff in the game so I am certain we can give him all the support he needs."

The first task is for Bellion to regain full fitness, with West Ham certain they will aid a speedy return to action for their new loan signing.

This news item is also cross-posted here on BlogCritics.

Wayne Rooney - growing up in Manchester

The big worry about Wayne Rooney last season, his first with the mighty Red Devils, was marked by some fabulous football and a worryingly large amount of petulance that seemed to get in the way of the football.

Many people were commenting as to whether Rooney could resist all the temptations of fame or be overwhelmed by it as so many, from Paul Gascoigne to Diego Maradona have been in the past. And now that referees' have the power to send people off for foul language, it could have meant that Wayne would pick up a lot of suspensions throughout the course of a 9 or 10 month season.

Fortunately, it looks as though the wonderkid is starting to mature nicely, as this article on Times Online, the "best of The Times and Sunday Times online in real time", shows.

If Rooney keeps up this level of development, then a lot of defenders throughout England, Europe, and next Summer, the World are going to start having nightmares about the latest great number 8.

Saturday, 13 August 2005

Everton 0 Manchester United 2

And the new season kicks off with the opening fixture featuring the resurgent blue power of Everton, with added Neville power, hosting the team with the most to prove this season, our very own Manchester United.

The teams lineup like this
Everton: Nigel Martyn, Tony Hibbert, David Weir, Joseph Yobo, Alessandro Pistone, Phil Neville, Simon Davies, Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill, Leon Osman, James Beattie

Manchester United: Edwin Van der Sar, Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Mikael Silvestre, John O'Shea, Darren Fletcher, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ji-Sung Park, Wayne Rooney, Ruud van Nistelrooy

It's a great opportunity for new Reds Edwin van der Sar and Ji-Sung Park, deputizing for the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, to make good impressions in their first Premiership games for United and neither one of them lets us down.

After a tight opening spell in which Manchester United try to take the attack to the Toffeemen, first damage is done when James Beattie goes off injured and poor Leon Osman gets hit right in the groin by the football but eventually recovers.

United keep up the pressure on the Everton defence and just before half time, after a cracking buildup, Rooney passes wide to John O'Shea whose accurate pass finds Ruud van Nistelrooy who makes no mistake from about 8 metres out and cracks the ball into the top left corner.


The second half kicks off with United looking to consolidate their lead and it happens straightaway. Everton's defence gets into a muddle and an attempted backpass by defender Yobo is intercepted by United's ex Everton star Wayne Rooney, who makes no mistake and simply rolls the ball into the net.


That's 2-0 to United and surely there's no way back for Everton now. Indeed they seem to lose interest in the game now and United simply keep things tight to wrap up their first victory of the season. And as they are playing the midday fixture, United also top the Premiership table. Let's hope it stays that way all season long.

This review is cross-posted here at the mighty BlogCritics.

Wednesday, 10 August 2005

Manchester United 3 Debrecen 0

So the shadow dancing of pre-season is over and The Reds get down to business with an impressive 3-0 victory over the reigning Hungarian champions Debrecen.

Wayne Rooney

I expected a slow beginning but Wayne Rooney put paid to that idea with a well taken if scrappy goal in the 7th minute. Debrecen didn't threaten much beyond the occasional speculative counter but did have a goal disallowed right at the start of the second half.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy

United tidied things up, playing with a lot of pace and looking sharp and added goals from Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo, both courtesy of excellent Rooney passes so, barring unexpected disasters during the away leg in Hungary on Wednesday August 24th, we should be able to get through to the Champions League proper, the group stage.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Now we can concentrate on the opening Premiership fixture, away to Phil Neville's new team, Everton, on Saturday lunchtime.

Cross-posted here on BlogCritics

Monday, 8 August 2005

Sir Alex Ferguson gets grumpy

I watched the press conference given by Fergie today and, it has to be said, he may be one of the greatest football managers in the world, but he sure doesn't have much of a way with the press.

Seldom have the media bods been treated so contemptuously and, well, rudely frankly! Sir Alex certainly has never bothered to learn the fine art of media management. Now, I'm not saying that the media are the good guys here, most of them do seem to resent us Reds on some level for sure, but to personalize it the way Fergie does just isn't right.

You'd think a man of his achievements, all the way from the tenement back streets of Glasgow to Buckingham Palace, would have learned a little sense of ease with the important, if occasionally inconvenient, job of briefing the world's media on the latest developments at the world's greatest football club. Sir Ferguson may be the man at the Theatre of Dreams but he definitely falls short in the black arts of the Dream Theatre that is the media.

Thursday, 4 August 2005

Manchester United Sell Neville to Everton

The BBC Sport website is reporting that Everton have returned some of the Rooney fee to Old Trafford in the shape of a 4.3 million Euro deal to buy our homegrown kid, Phil Neville.

Personally, I'm sad to see him go, he was always rather under-rated by many of the Old Trafford "faithful", but I have always thought that his versatility made him an ideal squad member.

Whether filling in at the back or up one of the flanks he was never less than reliable and, on those rare chances he got to play in central midfield, proved a steely stand-in for Keano or whoever. However, footballers like to play and with only 12 starts last season - and now an even bigger crowd of midfielders at Old Trafford - he must have been keen to avoid the Nicky Butt experience...

Wednesday, 3 August 2005

Not long to go now...

It seems to be taking forever for the new season to get started and we're still none the wiser about who might be joining the squad.

Will it be Owen? That's starting to seem increasingly unlikely now, though I thought it was a done deal on Monday. How about Ballack? These rumours keep bubbling to the surface which seems to indicate that there are some level of negotiations going on between Manchester United and Bayern Munich but I guess it is in both teams' interest to keep it quiet.

I'd prefer Ballack of the two, the need for some commanding midfield presence seems the most urgent, assuming that Ruud van Nistelrooy is going to get back to something like his best that is. If Ruud's dry spell goes on, and he still seemed out of sorts on the Asian tour to me, then Owen would be good to have around but if Ruud is back, it would be one striker too many. I'd hate to see Owen playing against us though. Even if it was in a Newcastle shirt!

At this stage it's hard to believe that we are properly prepared for a serious title challenge this season, what with the rows, the tantrums, the injuries and the unsettled squad, to say nothing of the continuing doubts about the Glazers. Let's hope that Sir Alex will prove me wrong - it wouldn't be the first time...