Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Reds increase lead as Chelsea slip up

Despite second-placed Chelsea being held to a surprise 2-2 home draw by Reading in one of the early kick-offs, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson rested a number of big names against Latics.

One of those was Ronaldo but, after a goalless first half at Old Trafford, the wing wizard entered the fray.

Barely a minute later, a bullet header from Paul Scholes' corner gave United the lead.

And four minutes after that, the Portuguese star was taking a penalty after Ji-Sung Park was clipped by Gary Teale.

It was a poor effort and Chris Kirkland saved, but Ronaldo was on hand to net the rebound.

United went route one for their third, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer marking his first Premiership start for almost two months by flashing home Wayne Rooney's knockdown.

Leighton Baines scored a stoppage-time consolation from the spot after Mikael Silvestre felled David Wright - but United moved four points clear at the top of the Premiership.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Reds Beat Villa 3-0 To Stay On Top

Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice and Paul Scholes volleyed the other goal as United moved on to 47 points, five points clear of defending champions Chelsea, who needed an injury-time winner to clinch a 3-2 victory over Wigan Athletic Saturday night.

United were frustrated by Villa for the first half but once Ronaldo had opened the scoring in the 58th minute the result was never in doubt.

A stunning volley from Scholes doubled United's lead and Ronaldo rounded off the scoring five minutes from time as Sir Alex Ferguson's side bounced back from their defeat by West Ham last weekend.

'It's a big result after last week's disappointment when we controlled a game we should have won,' Ferguson said.

'But today the players got to grips with the game, played some great football and showed determination. Ronaldo was unbelievable, he was a revelation today and he is as good as anyone in the country.'

Friday, December 22, 2006

Mellberg Backs United For Title

Aston Villa defender Olof Mellberg believes Manchester United will hold off the challenge of Chelsea and win the Barclays Premiership as he prepares for the demanding task of trying to shackle Cristiano Ronaldo in Saturday's home clash.

Mellberg has been converted into a makeshift right-back in recent weeks and joked it might be an appropriate time to move back into central defence given the threat Ronaldo will pose.

But the Swedish international is also aware that a positive result for Villa will act as a massive lift after a six-game sequence without a win has seen them drop out of the top six.

It will be the first of three games in 21 days against United with Villa visiting Old Trafford for an FA Cup third round tie on January 7 and the return league meeting six days later.

Mellberg said: "It will be nice to face Ronaldo. It might be a good game to maybe move back into the centre - but we will see how it goes.

"He is a great player and United have got Ryan Giggs who can operate in that position as well. We need to be on top of our game against them.

"Ronaldo has done really well this season. I didn't really follow what happened in the World Cup too much when he seemed to come in for some criticism.

"But if you follow his performances, he is a top class player and he has shown that in previous seasons as well as during this one.

"He is really quick and skilful with the ball at his feet so he will probably get a lot of free-kicks as well. We have to be aware of him."

United have only a two point lead at the top after losing to West Ham at Upton Park.

But Mellberg insisted: "I think that United can hold off Chelsea. They look really strong. They have definitely been the strongest team so far this season.

"It is going to be between them and Chelsea for the title but Manchester United have looked really powerful so far."

Villa have collected four points from the last 18 and Mellberg admitted: "It will act as a really good lift if you can get a positive result out of this sort of game.

"Even though we need the points and we have got to get our home form going, I don't think there will be any pressure on winning these games coming up against Manchester United.

"But, if we can get good results there, it will give everyone a boost."

Villa midfielder Gavin McCann is battling to be fit after suffering a hamstring injury against Bolton. If he is ruled out, Craig Gardner may make his first start of the campaign.

Monday, December 18, 2006

United Loss Against The Hammers Dents Hopes

Team Pld Pts
Man Utd 18 44
Chelsea 18 42
Liverpool 18 31
Arsenal 18 30
Bolton 18 30
Portsmouth 18 29
Tottenham 18 28
Reading 18 26
Aston Villa 18 25
Everton 18 24
Wigan 18 22
Newcastle 18 22
Man City 18 20
Sheff Utd 18 20
Fulham 17 20
Blackburn 17 19
M'brough 17 17
West Ham 18 17
Charlton 18 12

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Owen Hargreaves still wants to go home and play for Manchester United

Bayern Munich midfielder Owen Hargreaves still wants to go home and play for Manchester United - even though he has never lived in England. The England international was linked with a move to Old Trafford in the summer and publicly declared his interest but a move never materialised.

And now, recovering from a broken leg sustained soon afterwards, the 25-year-old has reiterated his desire to move to the country of his forefathers.

"It's about the possibility to play in another league I haven't played in before, which is also the country I represent and where my family lives," Hargreaves told the Times newspaper.

"If people don't understand that, I don't expect them to. It's not their life. It's mine. But I don't think anyone in the football world is in the same situation as me."

Hargreaves' situation is unusual - born to an English father and a Welsh mother in Canada, he was raised across the Atlantic until his was 16, when he travelled to Germany to play for Bayern.

He has resided there ever since although feels that Britain is his spiritual - and ancestral - home.

"It's because it's England and Britain is where my family is," he continued. "My parents and my brothers are in Canada, but the whole of my Dad's side of the family is in Bolton and my mum's side is in Rhyl (north Wales)."

"I think some people don't realise that. They think I'm half-German or something, but I'm not."

"I was brought up by a British family - it just happened to be in Canada."

The combative, versatile player was one of England's few bright spots in a disappointing World Cup last summer, which led to United making a £17 million offer that Bayern promptly rejected.

He still harbours dreams of playing for United, not only because of their location but in view of the history and current form of a club leading the Premiership by eight points from champions Chelsea.

"Anybody who sees them play at the moment knows it's a very special team and they're in a great time," he enthused. "They've dominated this season in the Premier League, which is very difficult, and they've got players like Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes."

"Look at the goal difference of plus 29. They're not just winning games, they're winning them dramatically."

Hargreaves was, however, full of praise for his current side, despite having been fined and called a "prostitute" by Bayern general manager Uli Hoeness in the aftermath of stating his intention to go to England.

"I'm at a great club already," he said. "I don't think people in England realise what a huge club Bayern Munich is. I've never said a bad word about Bayern and I never would. It's not about that."

"It's not like I'm saying I want to go to Milan or Inter because they're offering me more money."

Hargreaves is expected to back in action next month, by which point the transfer window will be open. Having not played for Bayern in this season's Champions League he would be eligible to represent any other club in the competition on re-registration in January.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Chelsea draw good for the Red Devils

Any faint hopes Chelsea may have had of another comfortable run to the Premier League title look well and truly scuppered by their 1-1 draw with Arsenal.

By Dec. 12 in 2005, a buoyant Chelsea were 12 points clear at the top after a playing a game more and bookmakers had paid out three months earlier on bets they would retain the club's first title for 50 years.

Today, Jose Mourinho's men are eight points behind leaders Manchester United, albeit with a game in hand, and locked in what promises to be a protracted dogfight with Alex Ferguson's side.

The role reversal, which also raises the stakes for Wednesday's home game with Newcastle United, is all the more of a surprise as Chelsea were typically lavish in their close-season spending.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Man Utd 3-1 Man City

Manchester United extended their Premiership lead to nine points with a win over neighbours Manchester City.

Georgios Samaras then brought a fine save from Edwin van der Sar with a crisp volley.

As City attempted to battle their way into the game, Samaras stopped a goal-bound header from Richards virtually on the line, but was unable to turn it past Van der Sar.

City's frustration increased when United doubled their advantage on the stroke of half-time - a cruel reflection of the first-half play.

Trabelsi carelessly played Dunne into trouble, and when he was robbed by Rooney, Gabriel Heinze crossed for Saha to bundle past Weaver.

Weaver sustained a knee injury in the collision and was replaced at half-time by Andreas Isaksson, the Sweden keeper making his debut after a £2m summer move from Rennes.

Stephen Ireland also came on for the injured Claudio Reyna, and he swiftly brought another important save from Van der Sar.

Saha missed a glorious chance to add United's third after 52 minutes, but he shot wildly over the top after Isaksson could only block Rooney's shot.

Isaksson then turned over a rising drive from Giggs as United threatened to take advantage of City's need to push forward.

Uniyed had not been at their best, but Rooney was a constant threat, forcing a diving save from Isaksson with an instant left-foot shot on the run.

Sir Alex Ferguson made a tactical switch after 66 minutes, replacing Saha with John O'Shea, who was pushed into a protective role in front of the back four.

Isaksson was in action again two minutes later as United started to produce flashes of their trademark passing game, denying Rooney at point-blank range from Giggs' cross.

But City were refusing to give up and pulled a goal back in spectacular fashion, Trabelsi shooting high past Van der Sar with an angled drive from 18 yards.

Richards was injured in the build up and was stretchered away, to be replaced by Damarcus Beasley.

City's hopes of a comeback were snuffed out six minutes from time when Dunne missed Rooney's cross and Ronaldo turned home.

And to round off City's misery striker Corradi, who had already been booked, was sent off by referee Graham Poll after a ridiculous and unnecessary dive.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

United win 3-1 takes them to the top

Wayne Rooney celebrates

UNITED just can't help themselves as once again they managed to squeeze more drama out of a European group that should have been over a month ago.

Publicly, Sir Alex Ferguson laughs it off as an endearing trait.

Privately, he must be sick to death of it. How he is still managing to cope with it with his 65th birthday coming up on New Year's Eve heaven only knows.

Twelve months ago in Lisbon the Reds threw away an early advantage to shatter their Euro dreams and last night they generously allowed the Portuguese side a goal start.

This so-called charming peculiarity has become wearing and might once again be their comeuppance in the knockout stages when Europe's elite are pitched into the last 16. It is hard to imagine a Barcelona or Milan passing up a goal start.

If they could just get this irritating characteristic out of the system once and for all then the knockout rounds might just be a shade more trouble-free for the Group F winners.

The wounds from Lisbon last December are still so raw that a strangling tension gripped Old Trafford both on and off the field. The players seemed so numbed with anxiety that they could barely find a red shirt with a pass. Even experienced campaigners like Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand were struck by the crippling stress.

Sir Alex had appealed to United fans for a replica of the Chelsea atmosphere but the roar wasn't forthcoming as the fans appeared overcome by the strain of such an unexpected knife edge night.

Cristiano Ronaldo was the only United player who seemed relatively unaffected and he unleashed numerous efforts on goal but either keeper Quim or his wayward boots stumped him.

If anyone thought that lightning couldn't strike twice and the Estadioda Luz shocker 12 months ago was unrepeatable on home territory they were in for the fright of their lives after 27 minutes.

Simao's raid down the right saw the Benfica skipper square to the marauding right back Nelson.

Criminally there was not a soul intercepting, and the defender made hay with the freedom, unleashing a thunderbolt that even Edwin Van der Sar couldn't get anywhere near.

If anything, the astonishing jolt woke United up and the nerves dissipated to be replaced by a fierce determination and a more fervent support had the Reds surging forward. It was desperately frantic stuff at times rather than the fluency of United's Premiership football but at least they looked more and more dangerous.

Even the blow of not being awarded a rescuing penalty three minutes after the Benfica goal could divert the Reds from their quest.

Goalscorer Nelson was the culprit when a fumbled save by Quim from Saha's far post header was on its way back into the danger area and he stuck out an arm and deflected the ball back to his keeper.

The Portuguese outfit tried to disrupt United's growing momentum when they brought down Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes as they powered through in separate incidents.

United clearly needed a breakthrough before half-time to avoid a return of frayed nerves and they got it through Nemanja Vidic.

The barnstorming Serb scored his first United Champions League goal when his marker Nuno Gomes fell in the box as Vidic went to meet Ryan Giggs' free-kick. Nothing was going to stop the powerful defender thumping home the equaliser.

It was difficult to see another scare blowing up in United's face again but you couldn't have imagined Copenhagen scoring in Denmark or Celtic snatching a winner in Glasgow.

You can never relax with the Reds.

However, there was a more comfortable feeling about the place when on-fire Ronaldo kept the party tricks on ice to fire a superb cross onto Giggs' head. The Welshman is not usually the recipient of such deliveries but he sure knew how to put it away, directing his header powerfully into the net after 61 minutes.

The relief was tangible when United finally decided the fans had been put through the wringer for far too long and Saha put the match beyond Benfica with another powerful header from a set-piece.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Man United against Benfica - We Mustn`t Lose!

Manchester United host Benfica in Champions League Group F tonight still needing a point to be assured of their place in the last 16.

Consecutive defeats against FC Copenhagen and Celtic dented the Red Devils’ European ambitions, leaving them to sweat right down to the last group game. Adding to the nervousness will be the fact that Benfica provide the opposition, following the part the Portuguese outfit played in United’s traumas in last season’s competition.

On that occasion defeat in Lisbon condemned Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to an embarrassing early exit, with Benfica joining the tournament’s surprise package Villarreal in the knock-out stages. Yet this year’s United vintage seems of an altogether higher quality than that of a year ago, with Ferguson already on the cusp of masterminding a genuine challenge in the Premiership.

Darren Fletcher scored the winner in their latest domestic success, a 2-1 triumph over Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium. Yet the Scottish international could miss out against the Lisbon outfit here, with Michael Carrick expected to be restored to the starting line-up. The former Tottenham man is set to once again partner Paul Scholes in central midfield, as Ferguson reverts to his strongest 11 for what is by far the biggest game of the season so far.

The visitors need a win to progress, but coach Fernando Santos also has a full-strength squad to choose from for the task. Strikers Fabrizio Miccoli and Nuno Gomes are available, while defender Luisao and midfielder Konstantinos Katsouranis have both overcome minor knocks and will be fit to start at the Theatre of Dreams.

Last season’s game in Lisbon was the only time United have been defeated by Benfica competitively, with the two teams having met on six previous occasions. Most famously, they met at Wembley in the final of the 1968 European Cup competition, with the English side earning a 4-1 win after extra-time. In so doing, they became the first English club to win Europe’s top prize, and added a second European title in 1999 when they edged Bayern Munich after a dramatic climax in Barcelona.

Despite their poor record against United Benfica are not without their own European pedigree. Winners of the competition in 1961 and 1962, they also reached the final in 1963, 1965, 1988 and 1990. After seeing off United last season they went on to beat Liverpool in the last 16, only to succumb to eventual champions Barcelona in the quarter finals.

Both sides come into this one on the back of some decent domestic form. Benfica are lying fourth in the Portuguese league following a fine 2-0 win at the home of fierce city rivals Sporting Lisbon, their first away win of the season but their third league win in succession. United’s three point haul against Boro opened up a six-point lead at the top of the Premiership, with main challengers Chelsea not in action at the weekend.

The most recent meeting between United and Benfica came on Matchday Two of this season‘s competition, when a Louis Saha goal earned United what now looks a vital win in Portugal. A repeat of that is not unlikely given that United now have the home advantage. With Benfica needing all three points to progress they will have to open up at some stage, giving United a little more room to breathe than is often available at European level. With this in mind, the home side should be able to pick off their opponents at will, and it would be a major surprise if the ghosts of Champions League past were to strike United down.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

United go six point clear

United`s win over Middlesbrough puts them 6 points clear of their nearest competition, Chelsea, who didn`t play today.

After the derby next week when the Reds take on their Manchester City rivals United could be 9 points clear of Chelsea, who will have 2 games in hand.

Fergie gets Larsson at last

Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted he had tried in the past to sign Henrik Larsson, who will join Manchester United on loan from Helsingborg on January 1.

The 35-year-old former Barcelona and Celtic forward will come to England to watch United's match against West Ham at Upton Park on December 17 and will then train for a week, go back to Sweden for Christmas and be eligible to play for the Red Devils after January 1.

Ferguson said: "I have always admired him. I made a move for him when he was at Celtic but then they managed to persuade him to stay.

"He is a great player. It is a terrific bit of business for us. We are bringing someone in who can change a game. When you think back to the Champions League final he was the one who won it for Barcelona when he came on.

"He can play wide right, wide left or up front. I am really happy we have got him. I would have liked to have signed him long ago but I knew he wanted to go to Barcelona and then he went home."

Larsson told a press conference at Helsingborg: "It's a very fun thing to contribute at such a late stage in my career.

"Alex Ferguson called me last night and greeted me to Manchester United. We spoke a little about a match and how it looked like with Christmas and the new year.

"They have been after me before - after the first or second season with Celtic. It feels nice to come and play for such a big club.

"I probably won't play every match from the start, but for me it feels like a very fun thing to contribute at such a late stage in my career. My family are okay with it."

Larsson added: "I know the players [at Manchester United]. They are really good players. I have played against many of them, so it's not a new thing. I hope the situation will be easier, knowing the faces and names.

"I will go over there to play as much as possible - but I have no idea of how Ferguson wants to use me.

"We will see how much playing time there will be. Am I a back-up? Yes, at the beginning. Then you will see what I can contribute and how things are going. We have not discussed a jersey number at all. We will see what it will be.

"The length of the contract is neither too long nor too short, so that is perfect. It will be yet another long season - but it is better to be there than to have a long pre-season with Helsingborg."

Ferguson is light on strikers, with Wayne Rooney and Louis Saha supported by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.