Friday, February 17, 2012

Ash and Chicharito sink Ajax

Young's first United goal since September set the Red Devils on their way to a comfortable victory in Amsterdam.

The last time the England winger found the net was a last-gasp face-saver against Basel at Old Trafford, in a match which Sir Alex Ferguson still looks back on as the draw that cost his team their place in the Champions League.

And, after a poor first-half, the visitors roused themselves after the break and Young's 59th-minute strike came at the end of their most threatening spell, the former Aston Villa man tucking home after Nani's cross had been deflected into his path.

Hernandez added a second five minutes from time to secure a result that will allow Ferguson to take a pragmatic approach to next week's second leg, which, unlike Thursday evening, will be followed four days later by a crucial Premier League game, against high-flying Norwich at Carrow Road.

As Tom Cleverley was handed his European debut after playing just twice since the beginning of September and not at all for over three months, Nani and Phil Jones back after four match absences and Young only just returned from a pre-Christmas injury, it was perhaps no surprise United were so far off the pace.

Too many first touches and passes went astray.

Crossing was a particularly bad area.

Nani sent one corner straight out for a goal kick, failed to pick out a team-mate with one obvious cross and then smashed a shot into the side-netting from an impossible angle as Wayne Rooney and Hernandez screamed for a pass.

On the other flank, Young fared only marginally better and though Cleverley flickered, he could not sustain his impact for any length of time.

As usual then, Rooney was the visitors' main threat, although his 25-yard effort lacked the venom to beat Kenneth Vermeer with the best chance of that tepid opening period.

Ajax played the kind of free-flowing passing football for which Holland is renowned.

Christian Eriksen may be a Dane but it was easy to see why he chose Holland to learn his trade rather than expose himself to the physicality of the Premier League.

Eriksen prodded and probed and tested David de Gea with a couple of pot shots.

Siem de Jong came closest to breaking the deadlock though, also from long-range.

The wide-man's shot was on target though and De Gea needed to stretch to keep it out.

When United last appeared in a European game outside the Champions League, goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel was amongst the scorers.

De Gea never contemplated emulating the great Dane. His stock is starting to rise though and Ajax refused to reduce themselves to pumping their opponents' box with crosses in an effort to expose the Spain star's weakeness under a high ball.

That there was no injury-time reflected a general lack of first-half excitement.

There as a talking point in the final minute though when Miralem Sulejmani went down under Rio Ferdinand's challenge.

Ajax were convinced it was a penalty. Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi decided otherwise, leaving Ferdinand to hobble down the tunnel for his break.

Stand-in skipper for the night in place of an emotionally drained Patrice Evra, Ferdinand was able to return for a second-half United began with far more zip than they had shown previously.

Jan Vertonghen was at full stretch to prevent Young's cross reaching Jones at the far post and Vermeer and Vurnon Anita combined to snuff out an opening that seemed to be presenting itself to Hernandez.

United were definitely turning the screw though and it was no surprise they broke the deadlock just before the hour.

So frustrating so often, Nani for once managed to find a team-mate with a cross that flicked off an Ajax defender.

Young steadied himself after beating Anita, eventually drilling a low shot through a crowd of bodies.

It was Young's fourth goal since his £18million summer move to United from Villa and was followed immediately by Cleverley's departure for Paul Scholes, in the absence of Ryan Giggs the only remaining member of that 1995 UEFA Cup team.

Antonio Valencia's introduction for Young provided the South American with enough time to begin a move that ended with Hernandez exchanging passes with Rooney before slotting home his third goal in as many games and ninth of the season.

Valencia was instantly replaced after taking a knock in the build-up, although it only appeared to be a precaution.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Winners and Losers is Back...

Did anyone have a better weekend than Harry Redknapp? Man City have been enjoying their time out of the spotlight while United and Liverpool must get back to football...

Last Updated: 13/02/12 at 12:29 Post Comment

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Harry Redknapp
Probably the greatest week in the career of the England manager-elect, Harry Redknapp dad-danced his way from his acquittal to overseeing Spurs' rampant victory over Newcastle. The ball is firmly in 'Arry's court; the FA want him, he's the darling of Fleet Street and whether you like him or not, he deserves a shot at the top, top job. Tottenham will not let him go without a fight, however, and as Nick Miller asked, why would Redknapp want to leave? Even for a manager who commands such collective fawning from the press, the England role could prove a poison chalice.

'Arry's preference will be to stay with Spurs, lead England to the Euros in the summer and take it from there. But will either party be satisfied with part-time commitment? There's plenty of questions and not many answers as we wait for Bernstein, Bevington and Brooking to make their move, which will happen as soon as they've drawn straws to see who'll face Daniel Levy in negotiations.

Manchester City
Sunday's win against Aston Villa was without sparkle, but at the end of a weekend when the major talking points occurred elsewhere, City are still sitting pretty. Manchester United's ready acceptance of Liverpool's apologies (were they even the intended recipients?) and expressive desire to 'move on' points to an advantage City have held in recent weeks. Although far from their best, they have not been scrutinised in applicable detail because of the sh*tstorm down the road.

Indeed, Sir Alex Ferguson's suggestion that Liverpool is his team's most significant derby cannot have helped the media circus surrounding the Suarez/Evra affair.

The spotlight has a habit of causing clamminess and fatigue, and City must surely be relieved at their spell in the shade. A hard-fought win over Villa, a relatively resolute defensive performance and their main rivals distracted by handshakes; the only thing that could've gone better for the league leaders was if United had dropped points. Someone remind Roberto Mancini he'd be best resisting the temptation to recall Carlos Tevez.

Arsene Knows
After being derided by fans for his decision to withdraw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the FA Cup match with Aston Villa, Wenger's key changes against Sunderland showed why he can still be trusted. The three substitutes - Ramsey (equaliser), Arshavin (assist) and Henry (winner) - changed the game for the Gunners as they earned maximum points from one of the league's toughest fixtures at this stage.

A vital victory on a day when Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle all lost.

With a total of nine, Arsenal have snatched more points from losing positions away from home than any other team this season. So much for that missing mental strength.

The nucleus of a brilliant team, Spurs' real challenge now is to perform at their highest level against the other teams in the top four. No inhibitions now fellas, you're one of the big boys.

To consider that Jose Mourinho is one of the suggested candidates to replace Harry Redknapp, should he get the England job, is a measure of how far they've come.

First-Half Blackburn Rovers
Inspired by the return of loveable chubster Yakubu, Rovers were in buoyant mood during the first 45 minutes against QPR. Considering his mass, the Yak's turn for the first goal was as remarkable as it was exceptional, while his attempted chip that bounced back off the crossbar was as exceptional as it was remarkable. The striker has the best shots-to-goals conversion rate of any frequent starter in the Premier League, and with him in the side Blackburn look like survivors.

An imperative three points gained from a domineering first-half display, the 7-1 hammering by Arsenal is as good as forgotten. The belated sneak out of the relegation zone following Wolves' heavy defeat confirms Rovers as the weekend winners from the Premier League's sorry bunch.

Wayne Rooney
Two exquisite finishes, more goals (17) this season than Liverpool's starting XI on Saturday and a whole load of sense spoken - it's not often he sets such an example.

Still yet to receive a booking this season, Rooney is looking like England captain material.

Manchester United
A victory gained from the gums of a distracted bore draw. There weren't many winners at Old Trafford and given the club's statement on Sunday, it looks as though Kenny and Luis aren't the only ones to have been given a talking-to by the powers-that-be.

Sir Alex Ferguson explained Patrice Evra's foolish celebrations by claiming the United captain had been whipped up into a frenzy. But to excuse someone on these grounds requires you to retain a certain level of composure yourself, whereas Ferguson's handshake hyperbole only added more soundbite to an already explosive situation.

The points were secured and the apology accepted. It's time to get back to that title race.

Grant Holt
If loving him is a crime, then lock me up and throw away the key.

3pm Kick-Offs
21 goals - it meets the threshold for the obligatory 'Aren't 3pm kick-offs great?' comment.

West Brom
It wouldn't be a surprise to see season ticket sales at The Hawthorns plummet for the next campaign, while the demand for away matches increases.

Louis Saha
Two goals in 20 appearances for Everton this season, two in two for Tottenham. Saha owes Emmanuel 'second to David Silva in PL assists' Adebayor a shandy for providing the opportunity to show he can still finish.

Jonny Evans
If this is Evans' last-chance saloon, he's sat at the bar with his feet up sipping a large scotch.

The Manchester United defender has been vastly improved this season, epitomised by his composed performance against Liverpool. Evans has risen to the challenge of increased competition for places and his continued form could be crucial in the title run-in.

Three wins in four (including victories over Man City and Chelsea), the return of Steven Pienaar, and Stracq-attack learning where the back of the net is; Everton would be bigger winners if the story of their season wasn't all too predictable.

James McClean
Call him up, Trap.

Thierry Henry
FA Cup progression, three Premier League points and three goals - the legacy lives on.

Jamie Mackie
The striker could be seen bemoaning Blackburn's third goal from the bench and came on to change the game. His first strike was perfect attacking predation, the second an absolute belter into the top corner. Mackie banished the bad memories of his horrible leg-break at Ewood Park 13 months ago.

Second-Half QPR
It must have been one hell of a half-time b*llocking. QPR had more shots (29) than any other team over the weekend, with the second half consisting of one-way traffic against Blackburn.

As Mark Hughes said after the match, it gives them a little bit of encouragement.

Michael Vorm
As much as I hate the word, I can't think of any other definition than 'ridonculous' for his save from Kyle Naughton.


Steven Pienaar
You have an admirer. It's Phil Neville.

Gary Lineker
His intonation and attempts at gravitas rile me more than they probably should. And I'm not sure why Alan Hansen was squirming so much before being asked about Luis Suarez, surely he knows by now that Gary Lineker is never going to dish out a Geoff Shreeves-style grilling.

Danny Graham's Goal Celebration
The most sickening sight of the weekend. I'd rather Luis Suarez never shook another hand again than see a repeat of Graham's gawkish face.

Second-Half Steve Kean
For half-time odds of 50-1 to be so bloody tempting shows the absurd vulnerability of this Blackburn team. They have conceded more points from winning positions than anyone else in the league and almost made a royal balls-up of their 3-0 advantage.

If Steve Kean doesn't know how to make substitutions that will see a game out after 53 matches as manager, he never will. Bringing on an extra striker was odd, but putting a teenage left-back on the right wing was inexplicable, especially to Montenegrin international Simon Vukcevic, who was left on the bench despite it being his natural position.

First-Half QPR
They don't do honeymoon periods.

Davide Santon
The left-back has outstanding pedigree, but is yet to convince in the step-up from Serie A to the Premier League. Emmanuel Adebayor isn't renowned for his willingness to run into the channels - usually preferring to receive the ball in the centre - but was given encouragement by Santon's susceptibility. Adebayor should never be beating the young Italian for pace, so it's a question of desire and confidence as to why Santon was repeatedly bullied into mistakes.

Alan Pardew
The ironic 'Pardew for England' chants from Spurs fans can't have been any fun.

Tony Pulis
Life's not fair, Tony.

Any team can have an occasional off-day, but Chelsea are having far too many this season. The defeat at Goodison was typified by a worryingly careless immaturity. Sloppy passes, sloppy positioning; they may have given up on the title, but unless they want to miss out on Champions League qualification as well, the Blues had better buck up their ideas.

David Luiz's flat refusal to defend Ashley Cole's suicidal pass was embarrassing. It's that sort of attitude that has seen Chelsea muster their lowest points total after 25 games since the 2000/01 season.

Andre Villas-Boas
Goaded by his own fans with chants of 'You don't know what you're doing', Villas-Boas now has a huge task on his hands to convince the doubters that he's the right man for the job.

The Chelsea manager's future is increasingly resting on the outcome of the Champions League tie against Napoli. What's more likely; that Roman Abramovich will wipe off a full season or €15million?

Aston Villa
Now on their longest run of Premier League home matches (7) without a win and a thoroughly joyless team to watch.

Aston Villa Protestors
100 people! Is that all?

Owen Coyle
He's started to show a Steve Kean level of optimism. Focusing on Bolton's second-half improvement was expected, but Coyle is fooling no one - his team are abysmal at the moment. The need to make three early substitutions points to a poor initial selection and time is running out for Coyle to get it right. And Mick McCarthy's exit piles on more pressure - nothing makes a chairman's trigger finger twitchier than other bosses getting the sack.

Liverpool FC
According to F365's Paul Little, there's an old saying in politics and PR - if you're explaining, you're losing.

An apology of sorts, but Saturday brought another defeat and insipid performance. For top four to remain a legitimate target, it really is important that the club concentrates on football matters.

Kenny Dalglish
The game changed in his absence.

Mick McCarthy
If Steve Morgan was making his feelings known in the dressing room after the 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool, what must his reaction have been to the 5-1 pummelling by West Brom?

Wolves should have been buoyed by the massive three points they bagged at QPR but were completely outplayed by a team who were on the cusp of being fellow strugglers. McCarthy ensured his team capitalised on Djibril Cisse's sending-off last time out; it was his responsibility to gain further advantage from that result on Sunday.

He's now paid the ultimate price. Well, maybe not the ultimate price.

Luis Suarez
He lied to Kenny Dalglish. Is there a greater sin?

The Premier League
Happy to talk about a 39th game but conspicuous in absence of position on the recent events that are damaging their product. "All that's happened in the last few weeks has been dealt with," Richard Scudamore was reported as saying in The Daily Mail on January 12. Wakey wakey!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Barca title dreams suffer blow

Real Madrid can move 10 points clear at the summit if they triumph against Levante on Sunday evening as Pep Guardiola was left to rue leaving Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas on the bench ahead of Tuesday's Champions League trip to Bayer Leverkusen.

Barcelona found themselves 2-0 down in the space of 22 minutes as Dejan Lekic bagged a brace and, even though Alexis Sanchez reduced the deficit early in the second period, Raul Garcia immediately responded for the home side.

Cristian Tello brought Barca back into the contest in the 73rd minute, but they could not find an equaliser, with Lionel Messi seeing a goal ruled out for offside and Fabregas sending a late header straight at goalkeeper Andres.

Elsewhere Real Betis snatched a last-gasp winner against 10-man Athletic Bilbao as Nelson drilled home from the edge of the box in added time to claim three vital points for the relegation battlers.

Ruben Castro produced a sublime finish to fire the hosts in front with only 10 minutes on the clock as he curled a first-time effort beyond Gorka Iraizoz from a tight angle on the left of the area.

Bilbao were back on terms midway through the first period, with Javi Martinez heading home, only for the midfielder to be given his marching orders in the second period for a second bookable offence, with Nelson then emerging as the hero.

Atletico Madrid passed up a host of good opportunities as Racing Santander clung on to claim a Primera Division point at El Sardinero.

The visitors had the best of a largely uneventful first half but Adrian Lopez missed their best chance as he fired straight at Tono Ramirez.

The Racing keeper was busier after the break as he repelled efforts from Felipe Luis and Diego, while the latter and Radamel Falcao also struck the post.

Fergie blasts 'disgraceful' Suarez

Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson called Luis Suarez a "disgrace to Liverpool Football Club", adding he should never play for them again.

Ferguson's blast came after Suarez's refusal to to shake Patrice Evra's hand ahead of Saturday's Premier League clash at Old Trafford.

The Red Devils captain offered his hand to the Uruguay international, who was banned for eight matches for racially abusing the defender, but he bypassed the Frenchman and went straight to goalkeeper David de Gea.

Evra did not accept that and attempted to grab Suarez's arm to complete the formalities, but the striker shrugged him off.

Both sets of players reportedly clashed in the tunnel at half-time and again on the pitch as United celebrated their 2-1 victory.

On Suarez's refusal to shake Evra's hand, Ferguson said: "I could not believe it, I just could not believe it.

"He's a disgrace to Liverpool Football Club, that certain player should not be allowed to play for Liverpool again.

"The history that club's got and he does that and in a situation like today could have caused a riot.

"I was really disappointed in that guy, it was terrible what he did."

Ferguson added on Sky Sports 2: "It created a tension, you've seen the referee didn't know what to do about it.

"It caught him off guard. It was a terrible start to the game, a terrible atmosphere it created."

Asked if the pre-match handshakes should have been scrapped for the game as it was last month when John Terry and Anton Ferdinand faced each other, he said: "That's a different issue altogether.

"It's never been a problem really up until this situation regarding racism, it's never been a problem.

"We've got to get our house in order in terms of fighting racism. It's an important issue in this country.

"Football's come a long way from the days of John Barnes when they were throwing bananas at him to where we are today. We can't go back. We have to go forward in a positive way and ban it altogether."

Evra enthusiastically celebrated the win in front of Suarez at the end.

"He shouldn't have done that," Ferguson said.

Rio Ferdinand, who was next in line to De Gea at the pre-match handshakes, refused to shake Suarez's hand.

Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish launched a furious defence of his player following the match.

The Scot, who has backed his player throughout the whole saga, told Sky Sports 2: "I never knew he never shook his hand.

"I don't know, I wasn't there, I never saw it. We haven't looked at the handshakes, but that's contrary to what I was told."

When told Suarez had refused to shake Evra's hand, he added: "We'll ask him and we'll take it from there."

When pressed further by tunnel interviewer Geoff Shreeves whether he would have to look seriously at the refusal to shake hands in light of the confrontations that followed at half-time and full-time, Dalglish said: "I think you're very severe and I think you're bang out of order to blame Luis Suarez for anything that happened here today.

"I think predominantly both sets of fans behaved really well, they had a bit of banter between each other, no problem. How many bookings were there?"

Wayne Rooney, who scored twice for United, was unwilling to get involved in the row.

When asked about it he told Sky Sports 2: "We are all professionals, we have to go and do our jobs on the pitch. We have to concentrate on that.

"I think that's between the two individuals, it's not for us to get involved in."

Evra, as United captain, had led out the side, and as Suarez, playing his first match since returning from his ban, emerged from the tunnel next to last in Liverpool's line-up he was immediately booed.

The Premier League had deemed there was no reason to cancel the handshakes, as they had done between QPR and Chelsea last month in an effort to ease tensions due to Terry's charge of racially abusing Rangers defender Ferdinand, an allegation the Chelsea captain denies.