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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Always the victim

Ahead of our match at Anfield tomorrow it is worth reflecting on the media coverage over the past week. Since the early stages of the game against Wigan last Saturday when a section of the Stretford End sang 'Always the victim' there has been a great deal of teeth gnashing and vilification in the press. Although the chant, and the subsequent cry of 'murderers' was short lived and quickly hushed by and embarrassed majortiy, the storm that ensued has been impossible to quell.
For many reds, there is nothing wrong with the chant in its own right. 'Always the victim, it's never your fault' has been sung since the Suarez/Evra affair when most Liverpool fans found it impossible to accept that it was their man in the wrong. The chant is considered to be consise and perceptive, identifying the supposed 'victim mentality' of the merseysiders. Indeed, even the Everton fans sang it during the FA cup semi final at Wembley.
But there is no doubt that last Saturday's rendition was in poor tast. It was petulant. Having witnessed the ourpouring of affection toward Liverpool FC, many reds found the pro scouse sentiment hard to stomach, even in light of the horrible recent revelations. And no matter how much human sympathy or empathy an individual may feel toward a bereaved family, a United fan will never be able to sing 'You'll never walk alone' with any sincerity.
Reds have also found much of media comment unpalatable. Robbie Fowler's suggestion that Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra should be involved in some show of solidarity was particulary laughable. (Why should light be made of unrepentant racial abuse).
During the week, 'we're Man United, we'll sing what we want' rang out from the Stretford End. But pointedly, 'Always the victim' did not. And despite all of our instincts and inclinations, few of us would argue that tomorrow's commemoration should be marked with anything but deep respect and human dignity.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Kagawa Scores...

Shinji Kagawa scores his first goal in the red of United after great work down the left by Bebe...yes, Bebe... You can subscribe to OTmcr by entering your email address in the subscription box on the right of the page

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Kagawa: How he will fit in to United's XI

After weeks of speculation United today confirmed the first signing of the summer, Shinji Kagawa from Dortmund. There is little doubt that the signing represents good sense off of the pitch, helping to boost the reds profile in Asia, but there is a strong feeling that it is also a very good footballing decision too.
Kagawa has had an excellent season in the Bundesliga, winning the league and cup. And he played a prominent role in his team's success. In 29 league starts he scored 13 and contributed 8 assists (source: He is also in the frame for Bundesliga player of the year.
The question that United fans will be asking now is where exactlty will the Japanese play-maker fit in to Fergie's team?

There are several possibilities, all of them interesting.

Kagawa is an out and out attacking midfielder. His defensive contribution will be minimal. For this reason it is hard to envisage Sir Alex playing him in a straighforward 4-4-2 which would leave the reds defence exposed against the better sides. The likely alternative is perhaps 4-2-3-1.

Assuming Darren Fletcher's continued absence (until we are told otherwise) such a formation would see Michael Carrick continuing his excellent work in front of the back four with Scholes or perhaps Cleverley alongside. Ahead of them, Kagawa would play the advanced central role.

So far so good; but the major question mark would surround the role of Wayne Rooney in such a formation.
It is possible that he will revert to the out and out striker's position that he occupied so spectacularly in 2009/10 but should Danny Welbeck continue his rapid development, he would surely have strong claims to spearhead the attack.

If that was the case, Rooney may find himself alongside Kagawa, probably to the left, with Nani or Valencia on the right side of the advanced 3. In many games last season United's number 10 found himself occupying similar positions.

But of course Sir Alex may preserve the partnership of Rooney and Welbeck, given the excellent understanding the pair displayed last season. In this case a 4-1-3-2 might be preferred.

This formation would require defensive discipline from both Young and Valencia who would both have to support Carrick when United lose possession.

A third option would be to play a 4-3-3  as shown below

Of course, all of these formations are fluid and interchangeable which is one of the most exciting elements of Kagawa's signing. It allows the reds to play in several interesting and exciting ways while removing some the creativity burden from the shoulders of Rooney.
Key to the success of the new formation will be it's effect on Rooney. He is United's main man. Our best player. And any new formation will have to allow him to flourish.

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United sign Kagawa (video)

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Praying for a miracle

It should never have come to this; but sadly it has. Goal difference; bloody goal difference. Or maybe Sunderland will get a result against us and it will be decided on points. Either way it seems unlikely that United fans will be celebrating this afternoon. City will beat QPR; no doubt - and I don't mind if I end up looking foolish for having said that.

I have heard many reds say that losing the title on goal diffence would be a nightmare but I don't quite see it like that. Of course when you lose by such a close margin you are left with a thousand 'what if's'.
But if I lose I want to lose by the smallest margin possible. Of course there will always be a million miles between 1st and 2nd in spite of the actual margin, but still.

The torture of hope remains in spite of it all however but realistically lets just hope United win in style.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Prediction Curve Latest

So far our prediction curve has been pretty close to the mark. City's actual and predicted curves have converged. We rightly predicted that they would have 80 points after 35 games. We had also expected United to be on 82. As it stands the reds have 83. Lets hope the rest of the season follows our expectations.

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The Manchester United way is best.

The shock elimination of Barcelona from the Champions League at the hands of Chelsea has prompted a variety of responses across the footballing spectrum. For some, Chelsea's defensive resolve was the the defining aspect of a remarkable contest. In other sections however, notably in the Catalan media, the result was seen as a viscous travesty. ''Unjust, cruel, horrible, unmerited. Any adjective is not enough to define the incredible elimination of Barca at the hands of Chelsea. Few times has a team done so much to deserve to reach the Champions League final as that of Guardiola's. And rarely has a rival, with so little, gained that very prize. The fact is that the Blues scored three goals from three chances in 180 minutes. And they advanced to Munich.''
This was the response of the Barcelona based 'Sport' newspaper. And outside of west London there are many who would share these sentiments. Chelsea's uber-defensive approach would have won few admirers among the purists. Indeed the very existence of 'the Chelsea project' is an anathema to many; an expensively assembled mob of over paid mercenaries dressed in the colours of a 'soulless' club that is no more than an oligarch's plaything. 
For the blues to take their place in the final at the expense of a club like Barcelona - a club that prides itself on doing things the right way - seems to many like a disgusting injustice. 
But is it? 
Much of the sympathy for Barcelona is based on what is seen to be 'morally' right. The Catalans, who only recently succumbed to shirt sponsorship, have always wanted to be seen as a 'more than a club' or 'mes que un club' as their motto goes. Home-grown players make up the bulk of the team; the playing style is defined by aesthetics and the attitude of those representing the club has always been one of respectful and gracious dignity. They are the great ambassadors.  
Indeed, that they have been so successful with their brand of tiki-taka football has led many to see them as the one shining light in football; the saviours of the game. If only everyone played football like Barcelona. 
Anyone questioning this idea is branded a heretic; banished to the temple of the anit-christ, Mourhinho and his arch demon Ronaldo. Because, it was said, Barcelona's football is wonderful and morally superior to everything else. 
And yet, over the past four years of Guardiola it is impossible to recall a truly great match involving the pass masters. There have been many truly great performances, but where are the great matches. All the great sides, down through the years, have been involved in great games. Games that ebbed and flowed; were packed with incident and saw heroes emerge in the most remarkable ways. Think of the FA cup semi final replay in 1999 between Manchester United and Arsenal. The match between England and Argentina at the 1998 world cup; Holland v Czech Republic 2004 or the 2005 Champions League Final. The two 3-3 draws between pre Guardiola Barcelona and Manchester United back in 1998 were amazing football matches. 
And yet such wonderful spectacles have been absent in the Guardiola era as his possession greedy philosophy has smothered opposition teams into impotence. 
For this reason it is hard to understand how fostering a style of play that seeks to obsessively hoard possession can be good for football. Football is about matches, not mis-matches. Neutrals want to see a balance between the two teams opposing one another; to see a balance between attack and defence and while we can't critisise Barcelona for playing in a way that works for them, we can question their supposed moral superiority. 
Because Barcelona do not play in the way they do in order to benefit football as a whole. No club does that. Barcelona play to win and like all great clubs they play in a way that is compatible with their identity. It is a style that is designed to benefit Barcelona and only Barcelona. No club could be as successful as they have been without being single minded and having an uncompromising winners mentality.
The Catalan's hoarding of possession was a fascination to behold at first as we marveled at their hypnotic control of the football but after a while it became boring. Once you've seen them do it a few times you've seen enough and, as a neutral, you long for a competitive football match to break out. 
For this reason, critism of Chelsea is unjustified. Chelsea cannot play like Barcelona. Had they attempted to do so they would have been pulled apart. Roberto Di Matteo has a responsibility to set his team up to get a result. In the grander scheme he had a responsibility to football to make a match of it. Therefore he adopted the style of play that he did out of necessity. If Barca had wanted a more open game they should have ceeded some possession to the Londoners. After all, you can't play if you don't have the ball. 
By way of contrast, last Sunday I was at Old Trafford to witness the 4-4 draw between United and Everton. It was an extraordinary contest full of exceptional attacking football. United had 52.5 percent of the ball. It was enough to score four goals against an Everton team that are not too far behind Chelsea in the league. 
At Camp Nou, Barca had 82 percent of the ball against Chelsea's 10 men. They only scored two goals. Two years ago they had 70 percent of the ball at the Emirates and drew 2-2. Both of these matches were one-sided and boring in the extreme with the only excitement occurring when the inferior teams managed to break out and score. If Barca had scored a bag full against either Chelsea or Arsenal it would be hard to argue a lack of entertainment. Goals are goals after all and Messi's five-fer in the round of 16 was a pleasure to watch. But in the average Barca match they spend so much time knocking the ball around that the viewer switches off. 
It can be infuriating. 82 percent and you only score 2 goals? You feel like screaming 'give the opposition a few touches if you are not going to make the most of your possession. Let us see a contest.' 
That Chelsea survived the onslaught was a miracle. Had Messi scored his penalty the game would have been yet another one sided drab encounter. The high excitement levels were generated solely because it was knock out tie and Barca had to score again. Had the penalty been converted Torres would not have had the space to score the second and Barca would probably go on to win another Champions League without letting the opposition have a kick. As a neutral hoping to watch a contest it is infuriating to see them hounding their opponents like possession crazed zombies. 'Let us see the other team attacking too' we scream at the television. 'We came to see a match.' 
So forgive us for not lamenting the exit of the great Barcelona on this occasion. We have the utmost admiration for them and their ethos. They are the best team on the planet. But we do not share the view that they are morally superior. Manchester United, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are easily their equals in terms of history, prestige and contribution to football. The great Italian sides gave as much to the art of defending. 
Watching the semi final between Real and Bayern last night it was hard not to feel a warm sensation that this was the kind of football we know and love. Two teams, both flawed and brilliant, playing a match that either could have won. It was exactly what we had tuned in for. How inspiring to see Ronaldo, Robben, Ribery, Kaka and Higuain charging at defenses with the match on a knife edge.
This is the way that Manchester United play football. We always do it the hard way; always give the opposition a sniff. As former England cricketer Michael Vaughan said of Shane Warne 'You always fancy scoring off of him which is what makes him so dangerous.' And United are similiar. Perhaps - along with jealousy - that is why have so many critics; we are always fallible but isn't that what makes us human. You attack/ We attack is the United way. 
So for now we've had enough of the suffocating blanket possession of Barcelona. Let 'matches' prevail for a while. We watch football to see our teams win of course. But we also watch it to see contests. That is why the Manchester United way will always be more exciting and romantic than Guardiola's possession fetish football. 

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Premier League team of the last 20 years

Any Premier League XI of the past twenty years is bound to feature plenty of United players. Having won 12 out of 19 (with a chance of making it 13 out of 20) the reds have been the defining team of the Premier League years. To celebrate the twenty seasons of PL football have invited fans to vote for their XI of the last two decades and we couldn't resist contributing to the debate. Here are our selections.
In goal we chose Peter Schmeichel, and frankly if Schmeichel does not make the final team the whole exercise will have been a farce. There is no doubt that the Dane, in his prime, was the best keeper to play in the league and his 5 titles, including 2 doubles and a treble attest to his winning mentality. The difficulties United had in replacing the Great Dane are well documented and only the calm brilliance of Edwin Van Der Saar (4 league titles) came close to matching Schmeichel's influence between the sticks in the Premier League era. David Seaman won the title in 1998 and 2002; Peter Cech won 3 between 2005 and 2010; and each were fine 'keepers in their own right but its a no brainer that Schmeichel deserves the crown.
Gary Neville gets the nod at right back in the absence of any serious opposition. The former United captain held down his position in the United team from the mid 90's until injury struck in 2007. Lee Dixon was the only other right back of real and enduring quality in all of that time. Of course Neville was never the most naturally gifted footballer but his determination and application stood to him over the years and his position in both the United and England starting line ups was never really threatened for the best part of decade.
Denis Irwin was an equally obvious selection at left back and he was a footballer of supreme style and quality. His free-kicks and fierce long range drives were legendary, as were his ice cool penalty kicks. Defensively he was as solid and dependable a player as there has ever been. In fact, in all of his time he only ever cost United one goal, a bad back pass that allowed Denis Bergkamp to score at Highbury. The rest of the time he was faultless. It was a travesty when David Elleray harshly sent him off at Anfield in 1999, costing the Irishman a place in the FA cup final.
It was harder to choose a centre back pairing. It has always been our opinion that Vidic and Stam had been United's best centre backs in the Fergie era but the criteria for selection here was overall performance over the Premier League years. Stam played for just 3 seasons in England - albeit 3 title winning seasons - but over the Premier League Rio edges out the big Dutchman. Since his emergence at West Ham and his time at Leeds, Rio has been one of the most elegant and effective defenders in the English game. Having won the title in 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011 he is far more decorated than any of his contemporaries. Of course the Bruce and Pallister combination also won multiple titles but Rio cemented his position in the best XI by proving himself at European level and forming an equally formidable partnership with Nemanja Vidic.
Which brings us to Vidic himself; a defender well worthy of his place in the XI. Having arrived in England midway through the 2005/06 season Nemanja made his mark the following year in a title winning defence. Subsequent titles in 2008, 2009 and 2011 have confirmed his reputation and even though Carragher, Adams, Terry and Keown all have claims, between them they cannot boast as many titles as the United pair of Rio and Vidic.
Which brings us to midfield. And frankly, choosing the Midfield was easy. Ronaldo, Scholes, Keane, Giggs walk into any team - no debate.
Playing on the right wing Ronaldo was named  as the best player in the world in 2008 and scored a silly amount of goals in his last three seasons at United. Since then he has been a phenomenon, only bettered by Lionel Messi in recent times. The Portugal international is probably the greatest player to have played in the Premier League although his very best form has been seen in Spain. Viva Ronaldo Stretford End sang; and what a pleasure it was to have a genuine great of the game spend several of his prime years in our League.
In the centre of the park meanwhile, Paul Scholes has been the best midfielder in England over the past twenty years and the best in Europe if you believe the likes of Xavi, Zidane, Marcello Lippi, Gary Neville and Sir Alex Ferguson, all of whom have spoken of Scholes in the most adoring terms. And why wouldn't they? There is something poetic about the way the the Salford man plays his football. He was an inspiration to Barcelona maestro Xavi with the Spaniard saying ''In the last 15 to 20 years the best central midfielder that I have seen — the most complete — is Scholes. I have spoken with Xabi Alonso about this many times. Scholes is a spectacular player who has everything''
Alongside Scholes, Keane was the defining midfield general of the Premier League era; Bryan Robson having been past his best by the time the league was launched. But Keano was so similiar to Robbo in so many ways. At the time of his transfer to United Keane commanded a record fee. He was wanted by every top team in the land but thankfully Fergie got his man and Keane was to provide the engine for 7 title winning United sides.
And then there was Giggs. What can we say about the Welsh legend. He has played and scored in every single Premier League season. He is undoubtedly THE player of the Premier League era. 12 titles (so far) and hundreds of appearances. He has rarely been out of the top two in the league. But it's not just the medals. There has not been a better left winger over the last twenty years.
Choosing the strikers was the most difficult task. Having said that, for any United fan Cantona is a must. In the early years of the Premier League, Cantona was the man. There was simply no other player in England who could do the things that he could. He was the catalyst for Manchester United's  1990's success; the inspiration to the emerging generation of Beckham, Scholes, Giggs and as such he has defined the league in a way that only Sir Alex Ferguson can surpass. In short, Fergie's signing of Eric made THE difference. It was perhaps the most beautiful meeting of minds that Football has ever known. Eric was the king.
As for Cantona's partner in this fantasy XI, Alan Shearer, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Andy Cole and Denis Bergkamp were all brilliant and must be considered, with Shearer having the record number of PL goals (even if he only managed 1 title). But we have gone for Rooney; possibly the greatest English talent to emerge in the Premier League era. From the moment he exploded on to scene with that wonder goal against Arsenal Rooney has captured the imagination of the fans in a way that few others have managed. His goal against City in the derby back in February 2011 ranks among the greatest ever scored and to date he has won 4 Premier League titles.
So it's an all United team for us; surprise surprise; biased perhaps but the only serious non United contenders were Tony Adams, Jamie Carragher, Alan Shearer, Steven Gerrard and Denis Bergkamp. Viera, Zola and Petit were worthy of a mention too but ultimately only 11 can be picked and United have been the best.
So to recap, here is the team of the last 20 years. Schmeichel, Neville, Irwin, Ferdinand, Vidic, Keane, Scholes, Ronaldo, Cantona, Rooney and Giggs.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Get off Ashley Young's back

Ryan Taylor has branded Ashley Young 'a disgrace' and has described the United winger as 'the biggest cheat in the league' in a hot headed twitter rant after Young won a penalty for United against Aston Villa yesterday. It was the second controversial penalty the former Villa man has won for United in a week, having earned a similiarly contentious award on Easter Sunday against QPR.
Taylor's comments came shortly after ref Mark Halsey pointed to spot yesterday and he quickly deleted the offending tweet but by the time he did, the damage had been done. And frankly, the tweet was a disgrace.
Nobody associated with Manchester United condones cheating - and Sir Alex Ferguson has always discouraged diving in his teams - but what Taylor, and millions of others, fail to understand is that diving is only one form of cheating and it is far from the worst form of rule breaking that occours in football today.
Watch any premier league match and witness the array of cheats that exist in the modern English game. Defenders who pull shirts are cheats. Players who take free kicks from incorrect postions are cheats. Time wasters are cheats. Any player who commits a foul is a cheat.
Yesterday, John Terry celebrated Chelsea's second goal even though he knew quite well that the ball had not crossed the line. That is another form cheating. And yet all of these things are tolerated. When Terry leans across a striker or grabs him to prevent him from winning a header in the box, he is cheating. But you will never hear an outcry from the public because that is a form of cheating that is accepted.
Every week skillful, artistic players are thwarted by cheating defenders who, unable to match them for ability, resort to every underhanded trick in the book to prevent the audience from enjoying the spectacle of their skills. A tap on the ankles is accepted; a cynical foul. Conceed a free kick...' yellow card...round of applause for the big defender who pulled down the striker knowing he would get a red card; sacrificed himself for the team.
Strikers who dive are cheats too - of course they are - but they are far from the worst kind of cheats. If a defender can call upon a litany of illegal to tricks to support his game why can't an attacker do likewise? When your opponent fights dirty you have every right to respond in kind...some may say that you have a duty to do so. In such an enviornment strikers have every right to dive. And good luck to them. Football is about goals. When we debate who is the best player in the world it is nearly always an attacker or a midfielder we talk about. Defenders do not capture the imagination in the same way. And yet we allow defenders to cheat our favourites all the time whilst expecting attackers to be whiter than white.
Fairness is a difficult concept to grasp at times; indeed some would say that it is a double edged sword and that sometimes to be fair you have to be unfair, but to go around accusing one man of cheating while ignoring the cheating of another is cleary inequitable and could be described as a form of cheating in itself.
This is a lesson that Ryan Taylor must learn before he goes around slandering his fellow pros. If all cheating was punished it is the forwards who would benefit the most. It therefore stands to reason that as things stand it is forwards who are suffering the most. Once in a while it is okay to allow the sinned againt to commit a sin of his own? Is that fair? Sure, this may be a general argument that is not related entirely to the specific event that inspired it but nevertheless, let's get off Ashley Young's back...or least condemn all cheating equally if we want to ride the high horse.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Win the next two and we'll be fine

It would be easy to panic after City closed our 8 point lead down to just 2 points today - and in such emphatic style that should it come to goal difference the title will not be heading to Old Trafford - but looking at the fixtures there is no reason for the reds to worry just yet.
Wins against Villa tomorrow and Everton next Sunday should be enough to secure title number twenty. Not mathematically of course, but if United arrive at the Etihad on April 30th 5 points ahead the hard work will have been done.
For City, the Derby represents one last chance to reel in the reds. United on the other hand will be hoping to make it an irrelevance. Just as in 2007/08  when United went to Stamford Bridge late in the season with a deliberately weakened team, Sir Alex will be hoping that come Derby day his team have the required points cushion to absorb a defeat. 4 points would be enough. Wins against Everton and Villa would ensure a 5 point cushion at least.
Not to be disrespectful to either Swansea or Sunderland - who United face after the Derby - but if any of us were told at the start of the season that we'd have to beat those two to win the title we'd have been delighted. As it stands we can afford to lose the Derby. 6-1 or 10-1; any score they like as long as we win the league.
Of course I don't want to sound over confident - I am not - and I still fear that Everton at home may yet be a tricky match, but 6 points over the next week will go a long way to putting our nerves as ease.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Small news but good news

Today's results put United 19 points ahead of 3rd placed Arsenal with 18 points left to play for...which means United have today qualified for next season's champions league.
Now for the title!!!!

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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Video of a rare win at Ewood Park

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City going as well as expected.

Unaware, as I was, that City had been 3-1 down to Sunderland until late in the game today, the discovery that the blues had drawn 3-3 with Sunderland drew a yelp of satisfaction when I finally saw the results, shortly after five O'Clock. Even when I later became aware of the full nature of the match at Eastlands it was hard to surpress the feeling of glee that had been my first emotion in reaction to the scoreline.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Viera mouths off again; implying that premier league refs are biased

Undeterred by Sir Alex Ferguson's withering riposte last week, City 'ambassador' and Arsenal legend Patrick Viera has had another go this week claiming that refs favour United
'' When United play at home they get some advantage that other teams don't get," Vieira told BBC Sport.
"I think when you go to United, Madrid, Barcelona, or Milan, when the referees referee these kind of games, it's always difficult to go against these kind of teams'' the Frenchman said.
"This is the way it is.
"It's something the teams who are used to winning get all the time, so we need to win games so we have this advantage in the future."