Saturday, 10 September 2011

Four games. Four Wins: Just how good is this Manchester United team?

Four games, eighteen goals, twelve points.

That is the story, so far, of Manchester United's season.

It means they are top of the table, level on points and ahead on goal different with their city rivals, Manchester City.

Both teams have set a blistering pace to the start of the season, with the other usual contenders struggling to keep up.

Liverpool stuttered against Sunderland and lost against Stoke.

Chelsea have looked unconvincing.

And Arsenal? Well, the less said about them, the better.

United are traditionally slow starters to a season- normally kicking into gear after Christmas and powering on into May, claiming the title and any other silverware that happens to be lying around on the way.

This season however, they have started in fifth gear. A shaky opening performance against West Brom aside, a 5-0 victory against a talented Tottenham, 8-2 demolition of an under strength albeit equally aged Arsenal team and a 5-0 thrashing of a resiliant and vastly improved Bolton team, sounded a message to the rest of the league, and Europe beyond.

But how good are United?

I mean, really, how good are they?

Well, with the additions of Phil Jones and Ashley Young, they are certainly better than the championship winning team and Champions League finalists of last season.

David de Gea has had a slow start, but he will undoubtedly prove to be a great signing- people forget he is only twenty year old- young, especially for a goalkeeper.

Young, in particular has been in fine form- dragging United to a victory against West Brom, being equally impressive against Spurs and excellent against Arsenal.

Phil Jones though, shouldn't be overlooked- against Bolton, starting at the unfamiliar right back position, he ripped apart the far more experienced Paul Robinson, setting up two with a fantastic delivery and mazy run respectively, whilst also contributing to a clean sheet.

United seem to have a more youthful look about them this season- not only with De Gea (20) replacing Van Der Sar (40) and the addition of Jones (19). But academy players Cleverley (22) and Welbeck (20) back from loan periods have come straight into the first team and impressed. Not to mention Chris Smalling (21) doing so well at right back he earned two England caps.

I haven't even mentioned Wayne Rooney.

Two hat-tricks in his last two games- a goal in every Premier League game this season- need I say more?

The style of football United are playing is not only effective, but beautiful to watch- Nani's goal in the Community Shield was full of inter-play and passing Barcelona would have been proud of.

And so we come to it.

The elephant in the room.


Are they better than the European Champions?

Well first things first- United are better than City.

Despite City's impressive start to the season (and it has been incredibly impressive), I expect them to fall away at some point during the season.

Mental toughness is United's biggest weapon- and that has been earned through experience, not bought.

As the winter sets in, Sergio Aguero gets a taste of the English weather and Yaya Toure jets off for the African Cup of Nations, I can see City falling away- not by much- but I think points will be dropped.

So back to Barcelona.

The bane of Ferguson (and probably the reason he's staying on).

In last season's Champion's League final, United were schooled.

It was a performance that illustrated the gulf between the Catalan club and the best of the rest.

So now.

Have United closed the gap?

The short answer is yes, I believe they have- although Barcelona have undoubtedly strengthened, I think United have done slightly more- not to mention the gradual evolution of their youth players.

But still, I don't think United are as good as Barcelona.

United are good, Barca are better.

Despite throwing away of 2-0 lead today and coming away with a 2-2 draw, Barcelona just seem to be on another level to everyone else- even the seemingly unstoppable United.

The gulf in class so massive last season, it may take a few years before this crop of Fledglings can challenge Barcelona's dominance of Europe.

But challenge they will.

Experience is key, and I see a couple more lessons in Europe needed before Ferguson can get his hands on that famous trophy for the third time.

So how good is this Manchester United team?

They'll probably win the Premier League this season.

They're better than last year.

But they're still only the second best team in Europe.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

England: Dethroning the Golden Generation.

For over ten years the English public has talked of the "Golden Generation". A group of incredibly talented footballers, all the the pinnacle of not just the domestic, but the world game.

With the likes of Gerrard, Beckham, Ferdinand, Owen, Lampard, Terry and Cole; surely it would only be a matter of time before we had our hands on a major international trophy.

For over ten years we said this.

Ever since that night in Munich, which has been forgotten by everyone on earth except the English, we have expected success to fall at our feet.

But has it?

The short answer is, no.

The England national team with basically the exact same group of players, this "Golden Generation", has struggled to get past the quarter-final stages of any given tournament.

And now, as legs have become weary and minds slower, these ones are fading into the background, and a new crop is slowly emerging.

England's feeder club of the last twenty years (sorry West Ham), Manchester United, are leading the supply of fresh, talented faces.

The likes of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley are joined by Joe Hart (who some forget is still relatively new to all this), Adam Johnson (who I believe should start every game for club and country), Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll.

Jack Wilshere is now established in midfield.

Not to mention slightly older players but who have been brought in to produce a fresh look to a stale team sheet- the Gary Cahills, Ashley Youngs and Scott Parkers.

In the past, the English arrogance of expecting to be the best has had a very detrimental effect on the English team.

Whereas other nations look at us as a country who are not quite in the elite, we view ourselves are leading the world game.

Sure, our domestic competition is without rival, but this does not translate into a top class International team, are slowly, very slowly, we are beginning to realise this.

We seem to think being in the final eight of a competition is a poor result when, in reality, that is probably exactly where we deserve to be.

It is true that for a long time, the best players in our best domestic teams were English: Beckham, Lampard, Owen. But that is not enough- England needs to be a team, not a group of spice boys attempting to inflate their own ego every time they step across the whitewash.

It seems that for a long time, the English players were basically taking part in an elaborate game of one-upmanship with each other; their club careers more important to them, so they used the international area as a way of showing the world why they are better than their club rivals.

With this new influx of players though, although from the best clubs in England, they seem to be more about the team. There doesn't seem to be any big time Charlies- they look to be a group of young players who want to do one thing: Win.

I'm not saying the "Golden Generation" didn't want this.

But it was clear they wanted a lot of other things, too.

WAGS, wages, sponsorship deals anyone?

Without lunging into the stereotypical England fan's speech of "this could be our year", it will say this: this new generation, may not ever win the World Cup, but they could well but a bit of heart and meaning back into the England shirt.

I would settle for a semi final slot in the European Championships next year- we certainly won't win it- Germany, Holland and of course, Spain we see to that.

But as long as we don't fold like lambs to the slaughter instead of the Lions England players should be, I'll be satisfied.

The team of the next ten years will more than likely have a very distinct Ferguson spine running through it; Smalling and Jones at the back, Wilshere, Cleverley in the middle and Welbeck, Young up top supporting the best player of the last fifteen years in Wayne Rooney. This should only mean one thing: victories.

But for now, be content. And let's just see what happens.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Why Scott Parker must start for England against Wales

There have been many players who have distinguished themselves in the Premier League this season.

Nasri has shone for Arsenal, Vidic has dominated for United. but Scott Parker has done everything for West Ham.

This man embodies everything that is right with football.

He is a leader in the best sense of the word.

He leads by example, he leads verbally, he leads emotionally.

I've watched him a few times this season. His performance in the victory over Liverpool was particularly memorable.

He has it all- drive, determination and even an eye for goal.

Why he isn't West Ham captain is something I do not understand, but that is a debate for another day.

I think everyone knows now about he speech in the dressing room when the Hammers overturned a halftime deficit to come from behind and beat West Brom at the Hawthorns.

That typifies Parker.

It shows how respected he is and it shows how much he cares.

This something England, as a team, has being crying out for.

When was the last time England had someone like this?

A team apparently full of leaders looked decidedly leaderless in South Africa in the summer.

Parker could change this.

If it was up to me, I'd probably give the armband to Parker, but that won't happen.

One step at a time- and the first is for him to start against Wales on Saturday.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Can Arsenal and Tottenham go through to the next round of the Champions League?

On the morning of Thursday March 10th 2011, football fans across London will be hoping their club have made it into the Quarter Finals of the Champions League: the greatest prize in the European game.

Arsenal play Barcelona at the Nou Camp while Spurs take on AC Milan at White Hart Lane.

Two great teams, one goal.

Both clubs hold a one goal advantage heading into the second leg- Arsenal came from behind to defeat Barca 2-1 while Tottenham left it late to earn a deserved 1-0 victory through Peter Crouch after sterling play by Aaron Lennon.

Come Thursday afternoon though, will both be through to the next round?

Well to put it bluntly, no. I don't think both will.

Tottenham, with their away goal already have a foot in the next round. I can see them at least drawing with AC, if not, putting in the required performance to take the win against the aging Italian side.

I am one of these people who just doesn't see "it" in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Sure, he is a good player, but I don't see him as a 'great' player- I struggle to put him in the top echelon of world players.

AC are also without Renato Gattuso, their leader, talisman and thug which will be a huge loss for them and with Spurs scoring freely, (they scored 3 at the weekend), coupled with a rousing home support, I just can't look past them for this one.

Arsenal, on the other hand will be in the cauldron of noise that is the Nou Camp. The stage where they choked last year, although they were not quite in as good a position as they are now.

Barcelona also have an away goal, and it would be unthinkable that they will not score at home, and against a suspect Arsenal defense.

The Gunner's attack has also left much to the imagination in recent games and they really must pray Fabregas is fit if they are to have a chance of walking away still in the competition.

I find it hard when thinking about this game, to not see Messi and company stepping it up a gear and cruising past the English side.

Their football is just too fluid and too attacking to roll over and go out of the competition at this stage. I think the last game may well come as a wake up call to them.

Despite this, Arsenal are not without a chance.

They are in the superior position at this point and only need a draw to go through.

With players like Fabregas too, you should never rule out the Arsenal.

All in all though, I think Tottenham will go through and Arsenal will crash out, valiant losers once more.

I will be a close call though, and I've been wrong before.

What do you think?
Let me know.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Liverpool vs. Manchester United: What will happen?

After my poor attempt at predicting the Chelsea vs. United match (see Predictions for Chelsea vs. Manchester United) I thought I'd give it another go.

Now, contrary to what I predicted for Tuesday's game, I see this as a fast, end to end affair with Liverpool pushing on more and trying to take advantage of the makeshift United defense.

The back four of Sir Alex's side will likely be O'Shea, Brown, Smalling and Evra- the latter being the only first choice of the four.

It is possible Rafael will replace O'Shea, but with the aerial threat of Liverpool and their lack of out and out winger, that seems to be unlikely.

The rumored inclusion of Andy Carroll will spice things up even more and make the prospect of Edwin Van Der Sar keeping a clean sheet seem even more unlikely.

I expect Berbatov to return, given his incredible performance in the mirroring fixture earlier in the season. This will give United added potency compared with Tuesday- Hernandez did not get much of the ball and may not be quite ready for games of this magnitude.

Suarez will add some attacking flair to the Liverpool offence and although without the excellent Kelly, Liverpool will have a very strong side.

I think, providing Johnson can deal with the threat of United's best player this season, Nani, Liverpool will have a great chance to snatch a win and hand the advantage of this year's title race back into Arsenal's hands.

I therefore can see this being a 2-1 victory for Liverpool.

If Carroll plays, I see him scoring on his debut, but even if he doesn't, I think the injury hit defense will affect United badly.

With the fire power United have, I think they will score- but I can't see them coming from what will be an amped up Anfield, with a victory.

What do you think?

Any predictions?

Friday, 4 March 2011

Carrick signs new United deal.

er Michael Carrick has signed a new three year contract to keep him at the Theatre of Dreams until 2014.

Now, I know I'm not the only person to ask this but: Why?

United fans have been lobbying for him to be left out of the first team, never mind be offered a new deal.

It is common knowledge that over the last two seasons, and this one in particular, Carrick has been far from his best. In fact, he seems to be on the decline and as he is approaching thirty years old, that may not be far off the mark.

His passing has been abject at best and his tackling not much better.

United fans were hoping, that with Carrick's contract running out at the end of the season, Sir Alex Ferguson would use this as a time to re-shape the midfield and bring in some new, fresh and exciting faces.

This is looking increasingly unlikely.

So should Carrick have been given a new contract?

Does this mean new faces will not be brought in this summer?

What do you think?

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Celtic vs. Rangers show why I love football.

Tonight's Old Firm replay did not break the record for goals- it ended with Celtic winning 1-0.

It did not serve up thrill a minute football (although it wasn't a bad game).

But it did have something which the game feeds on:
Pure Passion.

To say the match had extra "spice" was an understatement. In fact, by the time the players were walking down the tunnel, Ranger were down to eight men. Whittaker, Bougherra and Diouf (after the final whistle) all receiving their marching orders.

Some would call it ugly. I would call it entertainment.

There were tackles flying everywhere, arguments, handbags and that was just between Ally McCoist and Neil Lennon!

El-Hadji Diouf was at his pantomime villain best and I loved every second.

Not many like Diouf, and I am one of those- but he does provide a comedy factor to proceedings which no other player can.

He was constantly in the Celtic players' faces, always playing up to the crowd...and the referee.

He even went after Neil Lennon on one occasion which result in a caution and Ally McCoist being pulled away by his soon to be predecessor, Walter Smith.

The Celtic Park crowd was phenomenal. It is not Anfield which has the best fans in Britain on this evidence.

You'll never walk alone rang out around the ground before the kick off of both the first and second halves.

(If you don't believe me about the Celtic Park atmosphere, YouTube it.)

All in all, Celtic thoroughly deserved to win, and it was only down to some decent goalkeeping and suicidal defending which kept it at 1-0.

I'm by no means an SPL watcher, but on this evidence, I may subscribe more to the beautiful game north of the border.

I'm more than happy I chose this over City vs, Villa.

It's all about the passion.

Let me know what you think.