Monday, 28 November 2005

Premiership Roundup Week 14

On a weekend in which almost every ground in the country marked the sad passing of football legend George Best on Friday 25th November, some stirringly exciting football served as a fitting marker to his memory.

....................the late, great GEORGE BEST

Saturday saw Arsenal, as predicted, prove too strong for Blackburn Rovers and were worth their 3-0 victory. Aston Villa did very well to earn their second consecutive victory and hand visitors Charlton Athletic their second consecutive defeat; Manchester City should have beaten Liverpool but stuttered again and lost 0-1; whilst Sunderland lost the basement battle with Birmingham 0-1 and are starting to look doomed already.

The game of the day saw Wigan Athletic fall from second place, just being shaded 1-2 by an invigorated Tottenham Hotspur, whilst runaway leaders Chelsea had an easy evening's work brushing aside managerless Portsmouth 0-2.

Sunday offered a veritable marathon of football spanning almost six hours, starting with Everton v Newcastle United, which most years you'd fancy Everton to win and indeed they did, turning round their recent poor run with a 1-0 win over the subdued Geordies. Fulham were impressive against Bolton Wanderers, winning 2-1 thanks to two goals from American striker Brian McBride.

Steve McClaren's Middlesbrough were severely tested by Bryan Robson's West Bromwich Albion and were relieved to finish 2-2. Manchester United's moving appearance at West Ham ended happily for the Red Devils, winning 1-2 thanks to goals from Wayne Rooney and John O'Shea after going behind in the first minute.

A good weekend for Chelsea, United, Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool and Everton but bad news for Wigan, Bolton, Man City, West Ham and Charlton, who all tumble down the current Premiership League table.

This roundup is cross-posted here on the mighty BlogCritics site.

Sunday, 27 November 2005

West Ham United 1 Manchester United 2

West Ham's goalscorer Marlon Harewood

John O'Shea, unlikely matchwinner for Manchester United

West Ham goalkeeper Roy Carroll is expected to oust Shaka Hislop after recovering from a knee injury. Manager Alan Pardew is without captain Nigel Reo-Coker, who will be out for several weeks with an ankle problem. Manchester United will have Gary Neville and Louis Saha back in their squad after long-term injuries. The pair returned to appear as substitutes against Villarreal in the Champions League and also played in a reserve team game 24 hours later.

West Ham (from): Carroll, Hislop, Repka, Ferdinand, Gabbidon, Konchesky, Benayoun, Noble, Dailly, Newton, Mullins, Etherington, Sheringham, Harewood, Zamora, Bellion, Aliadiere, Bywater.

Man Utd (from): Van der Sar, Howard, Brown, Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O'Shea, Richardson, Scholes, Smith, Fletcher, Park, Rooney, Ronaldo, Van Nistelrooy, Saha, Rossi.

West Ham manager Alan Pardew, who is set to use defender Anton Ferdinand to mark brother Rio: "He is our dominant header, which he proved last Sunday with a great goal. He has to pick up the biggest player, which at United is his brother, so he has a huge responsibility for us."


WEST HAM UNITED will endeavour to maintain their best ever start to a Premiership campaign when going head-to-head with eight times Premiership champions Manchester United, who on Tuesday failed to score for the fourth time in five Champions League encounters this season. The point from the goalless draw with Villarreal leaves their ambitions of progressing in the competition hanging by a thread.

The Hammers are bidding for a third consecutive home League victory and need two goals to total 300 in home Premier League encounters. They're four short of totalling 5,000 regular League goals.

The Upton Park club have never beaten United at home in the Premier League, but seven of their 10 home meetings have been drawn. The Eastenders last managed a League maximum over the Red Devils at Upton Park on 22 April 1992, winning 1-0.

MANCHESTER UNITED go to Upton Park aiming to record three League victories on the spin for the first time since the opening trio of fixtures this season. They've lost only one of the last six in the highest League, and won more Premiership matches on the road this season than the Hammers have managed in front of their home faithful (five to four).

The Red Devils have netted three goals in three of the seven League outings since the goalless draw with Liverpool, and scored one in each of the other four games. The heavy 4-1 reverse at Middlesbrough was their only League defeat on the road this term, but the next loss home or away will be United's 600th post war League defeat.

United beat West Ham 6-0 in their most recent meeting in the fourth round of the FA Cup on 26 January 2003. Their last League win at Upton Park was 3-5 on 16 March 2002. Another of United's three Premiership victories at Upton Park was also high scoring - 2-4 on 18 December 1999. The Old Trafford club have also recorded a 7-1 home victory over the Hammers in the highest League, on April Fools Day, 2000.


Club stats
Going into the weekend: 8th 19 points
(all statistics are ahead of this weekend's round of Premiership fixtures)

# The last three League matches have resulted in a loss, a win and a draw in that order.
# The previous best after the first 12 matches of a Premier League season was 19 points in 1998/99 and 1999/2000.
# Won two of the last four top tier skirmishes.
# Failed to score in two of the last seven Premiership matches, and kept clean sheets in two of those last seven.
# Gone eight games since winning by more than one goal (4-0 v Aston Villa on 12 September).
# Not scored earlier than the 25th minute in the Premiership this season.
# The only club not to have scored in the first quarter of a Premiership match.
# Netted more goals in the last five minutes of top division games than any other club - three of their four coming in stoppage time.
# Ahead at half time in only one Premiership game this season (home to Aston Villa - 2-0 at half time, 4-0 at full time).
# Hold the weakest form of any club in the first half of Premiership matches this season. Gone in at the break leading in one, drawing in six, and losing in five, with only two goals scored and five conceded.
# Won one game when behind at half time (3-1 home to Blackburn on the opening day - 0-1 down at the break).
# Completed eight top division tussles since a win by more than one (4-0, home to Aston Villa on 12 September).
# Boast the best disciplinary record in the Premiership (no red cards, 14 yellow).

# Picked up 10 points from the last 12 available at Upton Park.
# Lost only one home Premiership game this term (1-2 to Bolton on 27 August).
# Failed to score in only one home top tier encounter this term (0-0 with Arsenal on 24 September).
# Kept clean sheets in three of the last four home League matches, and conceded one goal in four at the Boleyn Ground.

Club stats
Going into the weekend: 3rd 24 points
(all statistics are ahead of this weekend's round of Premiership fixtures)

# Recorded six wins from the last 11 matches in all competitions.
# Not lost in three League and Champions League outings.
# Lost one of the last six Premiership outings, winning four of the sextet.
# Won every match in which Wayne Rooney has scored (17 so far - five this season).
# Failed to score just once in the Premiership this season (0-0 at Liverpool on 18 September).
# Only failed to penetrate the opponents goal line in one of the last 17 Premiership outings.
# Managed one clean sheet in seven Premiership skirmishes, and that the 1-0 home victory over Chelsea on 6 November.
# Six points better off than at this identical stage last season.

# Boast the best away form in the Premiership, with 16 points from a possible 21.
# Scored more away goals than any other club in the highest division (14).
# The heavy loss at Middlesbrough was United's first reverse in seven Premiership matches on the road this season, and in nine spanning last season.
# Won five of seven on the road in the top tier this term.
# Averaged two goals per League game away from Old Trafford.
# Scored three goals in each of three of the last four away League games.
# Not managed a clean sheet in four League games on the road, after block-outs in the first three.


Squad profiles

# Teddy SHERINGHAM will relish the chance of playing against his former club. The 39 year old made 153 appearances for the Red Devils and scored 46 goals.
# If he plays, Roy CARROLL will also be facing his former club.
# David BELLION is on loan to West Ham from Manchester United and therefore ineligible to play.

Squad profiles

# Ruud VAN NISTELROOY has scored 12 goals for Manchester United in all competitions and is the highest scoring Premiership player.
# The Dutchman leads the Barclays Golden Boot standings jointly with Frank Lampard of Chelsea. Both have scored 10 Premier League goals.
# VAN the Man scored three goals in three FA Cup and Premiership appearances against West Ham during the 2002/03 season.
# All four of Wayne ROONEY's Premiership goals this season have been scored away from home.
# Rio FERDINAND started his professional career with West Ham.

League: West Ham 34 wins, Man United 43, Draws 23
Prem: West Ham 2 wins, Man United 11, Draws 7

HEAD TO HEAD at West Ham
League: West Ham 13 wins, Man United 10, Draws 17
Prem: West Ham 0 wins, Man United 3, Draws 7

On Wednesday, Old Trafford will hosts its first game since Best’s death — United against West Brom, the fixture in which Best made his debut in 1963. Whether a minute’s silence is asked for, or one minute’s applause, is undecided.

... “It’s an interesting idea,” said Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager.

“I was at the funeral of Neil Midgeley (a former referee) and when they took the coffin out everybody clapped. I think that’s great.”

Best will be honoured at Upton Park today, where United play West Ham. In the coming weeks the club will decide upon a permanent memorial to a footballer who, though he left United aged 27, favoured them with 464 appearances and 178 goals, and countless moments of joy. Best was never a player who had fans sitting in silence but got them up on their feet giving applause.

1st min: GOAL - HAREWOOD: Fantastic goal from West Ham. The Hammers win the ball in midfield and Sheringham's clever ball releases Etherington on the left. His ball into the box is perfectly weighted for a calm sidefoot finish from Harewood just 52 seconds into the game.

West Ham started with a fantastic, rapid passing move to carve Manchester United open. Sheringham and Etherington were the creators with Harewood coolly providing the finishing touch. The home side then spent fifteen minutes chasing leather as Manchester United passed the ball around them with great authority, forcing Carroll into three top saves from Van Nistelrooy, Scholes and Rooney. Having weathered that storm, West Ham have grown in confidence and look threatening whenever they break, with Sheringham providing several neat touches and Etherington a constant threat on the left.

West Ham get the second half underway, looking to hold on to or better their 1-0 lead over Manchester United.

GOAL - ROONEY: Sloppy defending from Repka gives the ball to Park who slides the ball into the path of Rooney who beats Gabbidon before slotting the ball through Carroll's legs.
We've had a goal 52 seconds into the first half, and another just one minute and 59 seconds into the second.

56 mins: GOAL - O'SHEA: United turn the game around in the space of 11 minutes as O'Shea outjumps Carroll to bury a header from Rooney's pacy corner. Some refs may have given a free kick for the keeper, but he got it right on this occasion - O'Shea simply timed his leap better.

Just before the end, Van Nistelrooy is replaced by Richardson, and Neville takes the captain's armband. Could that be a long-term arrangement?

The full-time whistle blows and Manchester United probably just about deserved the points. West Ham started brilliantly with a goal in the first minute, but some of Manchester United's football in the early stages of both halves was breathtaking, but Pardew will be very annoyed to concede the winner from a corner as O'Shea outjumped Carroll to power home. Entertaining game, and West Ham are close to being a very fine side, with Etherington a menace on the left, giving first Brown and later Neville a number of problems.

Sunday Times on Roy Keane

Most of the media reporting on football can be quite superficial. This article from the Sunday Times Online about the departure of former Manchester United captain Roy Keane seemed more interesting than most.

Photos from Google Images

The Sunday Times November 20, 2005

End of the affair by DAVID WALSH

Both Roy Keane and Alex Ferguson were resigned to the end of their amazingly successful relationship

In the end, the exit happened with almost funereal solemnity. A meeting at Manchester United’s training ground between four men; Sir Alex Ferguson, United’s chairman David Gill, Roy Keane and his friend and adviser, Michael Kennedy. There wasn’t a word spoken in anger, not one raised voice during the last 30 minutes Keane would spend at Carrington.

................... Living Legend Roy Keane

Keane had sensed what was coming from two brief conversations two days before. Having recovered from injury and come through four training sessions, he expected to make his return for United’s reserves against West Bromwich Albion on Thursday. But the day before, one of the physios who works with the reserves told him he wasn’t in the team.

Surprised, Keane spoke with Ferguson and asked him why he wasn’t playing for the reserves. The manager told him he should speak with Kennedy. At that moment Keane sensed his United career was over. He spoke with Kennedy, who had already taken a call from Gill. It was agreed that all four men would meet at Carrington at 9am on Friday.

Kennedy travelled from London to Manchester on Thursday evening and was picked up Keane at eight o’clock the following morning. Though Keane believed the meeting would end in his departure from the club, Kennedy hoped things could again be patched up. They talked things over before heading on to Carrington.

The meeting began at nine and Ferguson quickly made clear he believed the time had come for the player to move on. Kennedy tried to say they had had their differences before and had always been able to continue working together, but it was different this time. Neither the manager nor the player had the stomach for reconciliation.

As the meeting progressed, it was clear the anger, the resentment and the recriminations had, temporarily at least, dissipated. In its place, an overwhelming sadness: like a father telling his favourite son he would have to leave the family home. Keane sat mostly in silence, knowing it was no time for argument. God knows, there had been enough of that. All he said was that he respected the manager’s decision.

....................It takes a worried man, Sir Alex Ferguson

Ferguson explained how he felt Keane was no longer good for the club. When United’s own supporters booed the team at the Stade de France, after the 1-0 Champions League loss to Lille two weeks ago, it greatly upset the manager and, in part, he blamed Keane for that. For years the skipper had challenged everybody at Old Trafford to raise their standards and always the challenge came leaden with accusation.

In the end, Ferguson felt Keane was challenging him and therein lay the reason for the Friday morning meeting. It lasted about 25 minutes, before Keane left, followed by Ferguson. Gill and Kennedy were to perform the last rituals and make sure Keane was given a decent burial.

What was clear was how much both men were upset by the extraordinary turn in the Ferguson/Keane relationship. Gill never wanted it to end like this and Kennedy didn’t believe it had to end as it did. Perhaps they were both reacting emotionally whereas Ferguson and Keane saw it differently. Yes, it was sad, but the time had come for departure.

....................Manchester United chairman David Gill

Kennedy is used to negotiating with Gill and though they enjoy a good relationship, they like to argue and bluff and say not a penny more when they don’t mean it. But not on this morning: the terms of Keane’s exit from Old Trafford were agreed without the usual haggling. He would be paid the full value of his contract and whatever Keane might earn by joining another club would not affect that.

United also agreed that Keane would be given a testimonial game by United, an offer that he will consider when a little time has elapsed and the dust from his departure has settled. After leaving the meeting, Keane left Carrington for his home in Hale, south of Manchester. As is his way at the important moments, he rang his parents and family in Cork and told them what had taken place. Soon, there was word from Cork that Keane’s United career was over and before Gill and Kennedy had finalised their agreed statement, the news had filtered back to Manchester.

Ferguson conducted a press conference at 11am, during which he was relaxed and good-humoured. There was nothing about his demeanour that had hinted at what had taken place two hours earlier. Journalists left Carrington only to return almost immediately. Suddenly everybody knew and when it came, the press release was still warm. It began: “Manchester United has today reached agreement with Roy Keane for Roy to leave the Club with immediate effect.” It wasn’t the most thought-out or well-structured sentence but it perfectly reflected the nature of Keane’s exit.

After agreeing a settlement for his player that he felt was generous, Kennedy drove to Keane’s house. He was surprised by how relaxed the player seemed to be. If he was hurting, it did not show. For a while they watched coverage of the story on Sky News and it was obvious how gutted Kennedy was that the end had come. “It’s for the best, Michael,” Keane said, “it’s the right thing. Time to move on.”

By the time Kennedy got back to his office in London, it was five o’clock on Friday afternoon. Prospective new employers were already expressing their interest; Premiership clubs, a Serie A club, an offer from America and, most persistently, Celtic. Kennedy’s feeling was that Keane wanted to move on and quickly.

IN THE breakdown of the relationship between Keane and Ferguson, the key factor was the player’s disenchantment with what he saw as falling standards at Old Trafford. He felt many players were not working hard enough and not being made to work hard enough. He believed Ferguson had delegated too much responsibility to Carlos Queiroz and when Keane’s relationship with the Portuguese coach took a serious turn for the worse at an Algarve training camp last summer, that affected the player’s relationship with Ferguson.

The rift would not have ended in separation if it hadn’t been for the censored MUTV interview of two weeks ago. So many mistakes were made: Keane was allowed to do the piece even though it was certain he would speak his mind. Then Gill and Ferguson agreed the interview should not be broadcast and made a small problem much greater.

From there it temporarily got better before it worsened again. Keane explained what he had said to his fellow players and they were okay about it. Ferguson took a different view, less conciliatory view than his players. He felt Keane should apologise to the players, a request that was never going to be agreed. Nothing better reflected the gulf that now existed between manager and player because Keane felt let down by Ferguson’s reaction to the MUTV controversy. Ferguson had publicly criticised Keane for saying things that should have remained inside the dressing room.

Keane doesn’t do diplomacy and at the key Thursday morning meeting after the MUTV controversy, he couldn’t hold himself back when Queiroz spoke about the need for loyalty. From where Keane stood, Queiroz had left United for Real Madrid and had no right to lecture others on loyalty. That putting down of the assistant manager in front of the other players may well have been the final straw.

What is undisputable is that Keane saw the end coming. On the Thursday evening, two and a half weeks ago, the player rang Kennedy and said he felt the time had come for him to leave United. Kennedy tried to dissuade him, but Keane seemed adamant. He asked Kennedy to prepare a statement announcing his departure from the club. Kennedy agreed to prepare the statement on condition that Keane would sleep on it and confirm his attentions in the morning. There was no follow-up call in the morning and Kennedy believed another crisis had been averted. The reprieve would be shortlived.

They will remember Keane and they will miss him. There is a story told about the Monday after the Middlesbrough game, before Keane played the pundit on MUTV. It concerned a moment in the changing room at Carrington after Kieran Richardson told his teammates about ordering a Bentley Continental. Keane, it is said, heard the young player talk of his new car and related it to the 4-1 thrashing suffered by the team at the Riverside two days before. He then gave his teammate a severe dressing-down. Richardson, it is said, later cancelled his order for the new car.

Whether Richardson did or did not act on Keane’s stridently delivered advice, it is certain the former captain wielded enormous influence on his teammates. Now Keane is looking for a new club. He lost his last battle at the club, beaten by the man with the ultimate power. But if this turns out to be Ferguson’s last victory, it shall be no victory at all.

Friday, 25 November 2005

Premiership Preview Week 14

Winter's starting to bite in Blighty and so is the tension in The Premier League as the season unfolds but this week's fixtures are guaranteed to keep you warm.

With no lunchtime game this week there's five at three on Saturday as Arsenal host Blackburn Rovers and should win; Aston Villa will do well to avoid defeat by visitors Charlton Athletic; Manchester City should beat Liverpool if they play well but have stuttered recently; Sunderland are already looking marked for relegation and Birmingham City should take advantage.

The game of the day must be Wigan Athletic versus Tottenham Hotspur, with both these attacking teams looking to keep pace with runaway leaders Chelsea, who have an evening out at struggling Portsmouth.

Sunday offers a veritable marathon of football spanning almost six hours, starting with Everton v Newcastle United, which most years you'd fancy Everton to win, but not this season - Newcastle to pick up valuable away points is my call. Fulham will be looking to make progress against Bolton Wanderers but I predict more disappointment for The Cottagers.

Former Alex Ferguson assistant Steve McClaren's Middlesbrough will be severely tested by the visit of United ex-captain Bryan Robson's West Bromwich Albion but should just edge a tight game. The pupils' former boss takes Manchester United to London's East End to visit West Ham United for a stern test of both teams resources, including Rio Ferdinand facing younger brother Anton, but I expect the phoenix to fly for the Red Devils tonight.

This article is cross-posted here at BlogCritics.

Farewell George Best

One of the greatest footballers of all time, the legendary GEORGE BEST, died today at the age of 59 after a long illness.

My father was killed in a car accident in 1963 and my grandfather, my mother's dad, took on a lot of the parental role. One of the first things he did was start taking me to Old Trafford regularly, when the first team was away, we'd go and see the reserves together. It was the start of one of the most important and lasting relationships in my life, my love affair with Manchester United, the bright shining light of my home town.

The early 60s were a fantastic time, with great changes in social activity, fashion, music, sport; all were throwing off the depressing early years of a century mired in war, industry and repression in favour of excitement, passion and openness.

The amazing ball control, goalscoring and creating skills of a quality and variety never seen before or bettered since, ably supported by the other genuine superstars of their day, Bobby Charlton, Dennis Law, Nobby Stiles and Paddy Crerand, the sheer vitality of George Best; all this and more helped this wide eyed and vulnerable little boy develop a love for individual style and personal expression that would never leave him.

In this sense, George Best was my father too, someone to look up to and admire, someone to want to be like. For this I will always love him, even though we never met.

The following is the official statement from Manchester United.

"United legend George Best has died, aged 59, following a long spell in hospital.

The sad news was confirmed on Friday by doctors at the Cromwell Hospital in west London, where George had been receiving treatment as an in-patient since 1 October.

George had appeared to be making a recovery in recent weeks; seven days ago, he was reported to be "relatively stable" on a general ward. But he was re-admitted to intensive care last Friday after developing a lung infection.

His condition deteriorated further on Tuesday. Complications caused by internal bleeding in the early hours of Thursday put him in a position from which he could not recover.

Professor Roger Williams said at lunch-time today, "It (the bleeding) has affected his lungs and other parts. There really is no return from that situation."

George Best was arguably the most talented British footballer of all time. He made his professional debut for United in 1963, at the age of 17. He was named Footballer of the Year in England and in Europe in 1968 after helping the Reds to win the European Cup.

Report by Ben Hibbs and Adam Bostock"

This story also appears here on the BlogCritics site.

Tuesday, 22 November 2005

Manchester United 0 Villarreal 0

We were boring, they were boring, the match was boring.

Now we MUST win away to Benfica, of all teams, on Wednesday 7 December, in order to go through to the next stage...

Monday, 21 November 2005

Premiership Roundup Week 13

A third of the way into the season and things are starting to get serious as teams look to grasp the glittering prizes and/or start struggling desperately to avoid the abyss of relegation.

First match of the weekend seems form team of the moment Wigan Athletic brought back down to earth 2-3 by a resurgent Arsenal to claim their first away victory of the season and climb to fourth place.

Leaders Chelsea, rebuilding Manchester United and schizophrenic Liverpool all scored three goals each to mark routine victories against Newcastle United, Charlton Athletic and Portsmouth respectively with only Charlton's Darren Ambrose scoring for the losers.

Elsewhere Manchester City were held 0-0 by visitors Blackburn Rovers and Sunderland's stadium shone no light on their miserable season, going down 1-3 to the not-much-better Aston Villa. In the evening match, the gradually-getting-the-hang-of-it new boys of West Bromwich Albion were far too good for the been-here-so-long-we've-forgotten-what-to-do men of Everton, running out easy 4-0 winners.

The Sunday games saw Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United fail to settle which of them is the third best team in London in a 1-1 draw whilst Middlesbrough proved some North Eastern cheer, holding off visitors Fulham 3-2. That turned out to be the last football of the weekend as the Monday night game between Birmingham City and Bolton Wanderers was postponed due to persistent dense fog.

Here's the link for the current Premiership League Table.

This article is cross-posted on the mighty BlogCritics site.

Saturday, 19 November 2005

Charlton Athletic 1 Manchester United 3

I wasn't able to see this game for a variety of little reasons that ganged up to overwhelm me, but here's all the important news that matters.

Charlton Athletic
S Andersen, L Young, T El Karkouri, H Hreidarsson, C Powell, D Rommedahl, D Murphy, R Kishishev, A Smertin, D Ambrose, D Bent Subs: C Perry, J Thomas, B Hughes, T Myhre, J Bothroyd

Manchester United
E Van der Sar, J O'Shea, R Ferdinand, W Brown, M Silvestre, D Fletcher, A Smith, P Scholes, C Ronaldo, W Rooney, R van Nistelrooy Subs: T Howard, J Park, K Richardson, P Bardsley, G Rossi

It's 4-5-1 versus 4-4-2 today as United stick with the same starting lineup that beat Chelsea. United, in their weird blue away kit get things underway in another crucial game that they simply can not afford to lose.

Great play from Darren Fletcher in the Charlton 18-yard box as he squares the ball to Alan Smith who slams the ball into the net to give Manchester United a 1-0 lead at the Valley.
36:25 GOAL - Alan Smith Charlton 0 - Man Utd 1 Goal by Alan Smith (Man Utd) drilled right-footed (bottom-left of goal) from right channel (18 yards).Charlton 0-1 Man Utd. Assist (pass) by Darren Fletcher (Man Utd) from centre of penalty area.

64:10 GOAL - Darren Ambrose Charlton 1 - Man Utd 1 Goal by Darren Ambrose (Charlton) left-footed (top-left of goal) from left channel (25 yards).Charlton 1-1 Man Utd.

69:06 GOAL - Ruud van Nistelrooy Charlton 1 - Man Utd 2 Goal by Ruud van Nistelrooy (Man Utd) volleyed right-footed (top-left of goal) from centre of penalty area (12 yards).Charlton 1-2 Man Utd. Assist by Wayne Rooney (Man Utd) from left side of penalty area.

84:09 GOAL - Ruud van Nistelrooy Charlton 1 - Man Utd 3 Goal by Ruud van Nistelrooy (Man Utd) right-footed (bottom-right of goal) from left channel (20 yards).Charlton 1-3 Man Utd.

Premiership Preview Week 13

There is no detailed Premiership Football preview this week due to a foul combination of flu and technical incompetence, but here's the fixture list at least.

Hopefully something resembling normal service will be resumed soon.

Saturday, 19 November 2005

Wigan Athletic v Arsenal, 12:45

Charlton Athletic v Manchester United, 15:00
Chelsea v Newcastle United, 15:00
Liverpool v Portsmouth, 15:00
Manchester City v Blackburn Rovers, 15:00
Sunderland v Aston Villa, 15:00

West Bromwich Albion v Everton, 17:15

Sunday, 20 November 2005

Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United, 13:00
Middlesbrough v Fulham, 16:00

Monday, 21 November 2005

Birmingham City v Bolton Wanderers, 20:00

Friday, 18 November 2005

Farewell Roy Keane

One of the greatest footballers of the modern era, Manchester United captain ROY KEANE, has left the club today by mutual agreement.

It'll be some time before all the full story be told but things had clearly been building to a head for some time and the clear sighted United captain was clearly in a mood to be uncompromising about the problems the Red Devils have been facing on the pitch for the last couple of seasons and felt the time had come to go.

Thanks for twelve years of glory Roy, you certainly did it your way.

Career stats
Date of birth: 10 August, 1971
Nationality: Rep of Ireland
Position: Midfielder
Height: 1.75 metres

Manchester United

................Apps As sub Goals Yellow Red
Total (Club) 479 19 51 88 13
League 326 17 33 65 9
FA Cup 46 1 2 9 2
League Cup 14 0 0 1 0
Euro/Others 93 1 16 13 2

International career

Rep of Ireland 67 1 9 9 1

Overall career record

Apps As sub Goals Yellow Red
Total (Club) 630 19 87 95 13
League 440 17 55 72 9
FA Cup 64 1 5 9 2
League Cup 31 0 6 1 0
Euro/Other 95 1 21 13 2

Tuesday, 8 November 2005

Premiership Roundup Week 12

Bonfire Weekend in England didn't disappoint with a sensational victory by Manchester United over leaders Chelsea; Blackburn's demolition of the previously unbeaten away Charlton and Bolton edging Spurs.

Arsenal's captain Thierry Henry scored twice for The Gunners

The fireworks started at Saturday lunchtime as Liverpool thumped two late rockets through the soggy Aston Villa defence and continued with Thierry Henry leading by example as always, scoring two of Arsenal's three against the already seemingly doomed Sunderland; Blackburn Rovers continued their recent habit of turning over "better" teams with a 4-1 destruction of Charlton Athletic, and Fulham surprisingly eclipsed the sky blue of Manchester City.

Fulham's Steed Malbranque, whose goals rocket the struggling Londoners closer to safety

Routine and unremarkable results in the last three of the day as the Uniteds of Newcastle and West Ham banked three points against Midlands duo Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion respectively. In the late game, Wigan Athletic continued their remarkable run to second place in the table with an easy 2-0 victory at strugglers Portsmouth.

Manchester United's match winner Darren Fletcher

Sunday's matches sparkled into life with the return to form of Everton being just too much for the disappointing Middlesbrough for their first home victory of the season before, in the weekend's star fixture, Manchester United finally stop Chelsea with a rare Darren Fletcher goal.

Bolton captain Kevin Nolan leads his side to victory and third place

The fiery weekend is brought to a close with the Monday night thriller between Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur, with the Northerners nicking it 1-0 thanks to another great goal from captain Kevin Nolan, his fifth in six games, to go above neighbours Manchester United into third place in the Premiership table as we break for two weeks for International matches.

This roundup is cross-posted here at BlogCritics.

Sunday, 6 November 2005

Manchester United 1 Chelsea 0

Even though Chelsea start this match as clear favourites, Manchester United, for the first time in ages, come out like a team that does believe in itself and take the fight to the reigning champions.

A fierce battle for midfield control sees the Red Devils compete on more than equal terms with the more physically imposing Chelsea; every one of them looks huge compared to the shorter guys in red.

Thirty minutes in, United's combativeness pays off when a sweeping fluid cross park ball is swung back in from the left by Ronaldo and Darren Fletcher, of all people, sends a looping header over Cech and a despairing Chelsea captain John Terry into the top right hand corner of the Chelsea net and it's a GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLL for United to take a deserved early lead. Now we'll see how good Chelsea really are at coming back from behind, as manager Jose Mourinho has been boasting recently.

Manchester United's unlikely matchwinner Darren Fletcher

The atmosphere is electric as the momentum switches back and forth, with half chances at both ends in a high-paced festival of open attacking football as both sides compete fiercely and mostly fairly.

On the stroke of half time Chelsea win a threatening free kick and the comparatively subdued Frank Lampard strides purposefully forward but Chelsea blow the setup and the ball flies harmlessly wide.

So that's it for the first half, a thrillingly competitive forty-five minutes with United worth their lead. Is this the start of another classic United recovery or will the sleek Chelsea machine purr into life in the second half.

Fifteen minutes later United get the second half started but Chelsea have clearly come out a lot more highly motivated than in the first half and the home side is penned in under the ferocious attacking pressure of the most expensive football team in the world.

Ten minutes later there has been little to show for all the Chelsea wealth of riches. Manager Mourinho, clearly starting to worry about Chelsea's failure to impose themselves over the physically smaller United, feels forced to try a different approach, bringing on the Icelandic warrior Eidur Gudjohnsen for for midfielder Michael Essien.

The aded firepower almost pays off straight away as the Iceman, wide on the left, whips in a low fast cross which is met first time by Didier Drogba, big, fast and skillful but Mikael Silvestre blocks what looked a certain goal.

The added urgency of passing time is starting to be felt by all and there's a flurry of yellow cards as Silvestre, Smith, van Nistelrooy, Paolo Ferreira and Darren Fletcher all offend the ref within the space of five minutes.

Jose Mourinho finds out what it feels like to lose three games out of four at Chelsea

Still frustrated with only fifteen minutes remaining Mourinho ups the stakes and makes another tactical move, bringing on the speedy Shaun Wright-Phillips for the mostly anonymous Joe Cole and three minutes later raises again, sending on Carlton Cole for defender Asier del Horno.

With only eight minutes remaining, Manchester manager Sir Alex Ferguson makes his first change, bringing on the assertive South Korean midfielder Ji-sung Park for van Nistelrooy to protect the lead, whilst Mourinho can only stand and scowl.

As well as defending like heroes, United are also looking to seal this crucial victory, repeatedly counterattacking at speed and only just failing to double the lead thanks to some outstanding goalkeeping heroics by Cech.

Four minutes of extra time provide no relief for the Londoners and United hold on in style to clinch a massive victory, bring an end to Chelsea's 40-match unbeaten run and bring some hope to the rest of the chasing pack, with the Blues lead at the top down to only six points and United up to third.

This match report is cross-posted here at BlogCritics.

Saturday, 5 November 2005

Premiership Preview Week 12

There's some great fixtures in the Premiership this English Bonfire Night weekend, starting with a bang in the Saturday lunchtime fixture when Aston Villa, whose midterm fadeout has started early this season, entertain a resurgent Liverpool.

The traditional three o'clock kickoffs feature some real firecrackers, not least when Arsenal host the demoralised Sunderland for what should be an easy win, however Blackburn versus Charlton looks a bit of a possible damp squib and a probable 0-0 draw.

On the other hand, Fulham v Manchester City looks a real sparkler and could go either way; Newcastle should rocket against a struggling Birmingham; and West Ham should have too much gunpowder for those other Westies, West Brom.

The late afternoon fixture will be played after dark, so expect Portsmouth to be outshone by the high flying rocket that is Wigan Athletic.

The biggest explosions are reserved for Sunday when the twisted firestarters of Middlesbrough head for the obstinately soggy fuse we know as Everton. Literally anything could happen with these two unpredictable shooting stars in this late lunchtime game.

Without a doubt, the biggest bangs of all will emanate from Old Trafford, when the unpredictable catherine wheel that is Manchester United will be hoping to raise their game for the visit of the giant roman candle that is league leaders Chelsea at 4pm.

The week winds down with a Monday night barbecue when the crackers at Bolton Wanderers are visited by the giant thunderflash of Tottenham Hotspur. Stand well back for your own safety - sparks are surely going to fly between two ambitious teams currently locked together in joint third place.

Due to technical problems on the part of the hugely inept Telefonica of Spain, this article could not be cross-posted here on BlogCritics until Monday 7th November.

Wednesday, 2 November 2005

Lille 1 Manchester United 0

With Saturday's humiliating thrashing at Middlesbrough still hurting, Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United have a lot to prove in their UEFA Champions League fixture in Paris tonight.

Yes, that's right, Paris; opponents LOSC Lille M├ętropole's stadium needs upgrading so tonight they call the Stade de France home. The giant stadium at St-Denis near Paris played host to the 1998 FIFA World Cup final and will also play host to this season's Champions League Final on July 13th next year.

Paul Scholes was sent off in the corresponding fixture a fortnight ago so misses the game along with the continuing long list of injury victims Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, Gabriel Heinze, Gary Neville, Quinton Fortune, Louis Saha and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

United line up with a cautious 4-5-1 with Edwin van der Sar looking nervous in goal; another new back four of of club captain Roy Keane favourites John O'Shea and Rio Ferdinand with fit again Wes Brown easing Mikael Silvestre out to left back. The five chosen to establish some degree of midfield control are Cristiano Ronaldo and Kieran Richardson down the wings with Fletcher and Smith as the holding men behind Wayne Rooney, back from his ban, and Ruud van Nistelrooy, who will captain Manchester United for the first time.

Manchester United captain for the night Ruud van Nistelrooy

Lille, who lie sixth in the French league, are still without injured captain Stephane Dumont but otherwise have a full squad to choose from and are playing a more positive 4-4-2. Lille coach Claude Puel has opted for stability in his team selection, keeping faith with ten of the players who drew against Olympique de Marseille at the weekend.

United get the match started in the pouring Parisian rain, knowing only a victory will do against a team that have yet to score in the group stage but it's Lille that make the first tentative attacking moves, albeit to no avail.

Twenty minutes in and United are really struggling to get through a very comfortable looking home defence whilst Lille just look happy to counter so it's all dancing but precious little singing in the packed arena. There's so little ambition on display here Donald Trump would sack the lot of them.

Suddenly, out of nowhere in this sodden snoozefest, a sharp forward run in the 38th minute by Lille left back Gregory Tafforeau catches the Reds' defence sleeping and a pass across the park is met by Slovenian striker Milenko Acimovic and, with no sign of opposition, he has all the time in the world to slam the ball into the roof of the net and it's the first European GOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLL this season for Lille who lead 1-0.

...............Lille goal scorer Milenki Acimovic

The French team have already proven their deep defensive skills and that's all we see for the rest of the first half. United are clearly bewildered and don't seem to have any idea beyond sheer persistence as to how to crack the code and the German referee Markus Merk brings a depressing first half to a soggy end.

Fifteen minutes later Lille get the second half started, knowing that another unlikely defeat of the increasingly shambolic Manchester United is on the cards. Amazingly though, it is the home side that goes on the offensive, the half time break only seems to have given United more time to rot, so poorly are they playing.

The most positive thing Sir Alex comes up with is to replace the largely ineffective Richardson with the bustle of the Korean midfielder Ji-sung Park but even his energy fails to lift the team. Little Lille are playing out of their skins, creating more chances and, in the 70th minute have the best chance of the match yet, but somehow striker Matt Moussilou sends a free header over the bar.

There's precious little else to report; Lille had a couple more half chances whereas United only produced two shots on goal in the whole match, a sad statistic that reveals the truly devastatingly poor grasp of football basics on display by Manchester United these days.

Mercifully the referee only adds two minutes of injury time and the suffering is over, leaving Lille delighted with their famous victory and the once mighty United as flat and ragged as a burst balloon, in serious danger of failing to even qualify out of the group stages again.

This review is cross-posted here at BlogCritics.