[PREVIEW] Real Madrid vs Manchester United

11 Feb

Competition: UEFA Champions League

Location: Santiago Bernabéu

Date: Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

TV: Sky Sports 2 HD

Betting: Real Madrid 8/13 Manchester United 9/2 Draw 10/3

 

Real Madrid versus Manchester United. Jose Mourinho versus Sir Alex Ferguson. Cristiano Ronaldo versus Robin van Persie. Karim Benzema versus Wayne Rooney. If any game had the potential to be a modern-day classic, it’s this one.

The world will be watching on Wednesday night, as two of the biggest clubs in the world take to the field at the Santiago Bernabeu. Despite the similarities between Real and United in terms of size, their seasons so far couldn’t be anymore different. Whilst Real Madrid trail fierce rivals Barcelona by sixteen points in La Liga, Manchester United sit at the top of the Premier League, with a twelve point lead. Madrid have endured huge amounts of criticism already this season, & Mourinho will be desperate to ease the pressure with a win against a club who have played in three Champions League finals in the last five years.

The Champions of Spain are low on confidence, just a couple of weeks after an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Getafe. Despite a stunning 4-1 over Sevilla at the weekend, Mourinho’s men are in relatively poor form, and United will surely feel this is the perfect time to play the nine-times Champions League winners.

Following a 2-0 win over Everton at the weekend, Manchester United sit twelve points in front of noisy neighbours Manchester City, and confidence at Old Trafford is sky-high. With the likes of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney scoring goals for fun, and defensive displays improving massively since the return of skipper Nemanja Vidic, you have to feel that United have much more of a chance than many are actually giving them.

A key factor on Wednesday will be Cristiano Ronaldo, and whether his former side can handle the Portuguese international. Ronaldo, unsurprisingly, is in fantastic form following yet another hat-trick at the weekend. United’s weaknesses at the back have been well-documented this season, and Ronaldo, Benzema and co will provide their biggest challenge of the campaign so far. Phil Jones has been utilised in midfield in recent weeks to counter the threats of Gareth Bale and Marouane Fellaini, and a similar role is possible for the game against Madrid, with one eye on Ronaldo.

This is, of course, entirely dependent on Jones’ fitness, which is in doubt after he limped off early in the second-half against Everton. If fit, there is no doubt in my mind that Jones should be one of the first names on the teamsheet, following another impressive display at the weekend. The same can be said for Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic, who were both imperious against Everton.

With a midfield pairing of Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley, you get a perfect combination of elegance and experience, along with infectious energy and agility. Add steel and sheer power to that midfield in the shape of Phil Jones, and you get a midfield that has everything needed to handle a Real Madrid midfield without the likes of Xabi Alonso.

On the right-wing, Antonio Valencia offers speed and strength, not only going forward, but also at the back, countering the man he replaced at Old Trafford. As for the left, Wayne Rooney’s hard work and natural desire to help his team would be invaluable to an aging Patrice Evra, who will need to be at his very best to handle one of the best front-lines in Europe. Up front, Robin van Persie will be in store for a frustrating evening, often isolated. However, a player of his class should be able to handle such circumstances, and could prove to be United’s match winner yet again. My predicted Manchester United XI: de Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Cleverley, Jones, Rooney; van Persie. My predicted Real Madrid XI: Lopez; Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos, Coentrao; Higuaín, Xabi Alonso, Modric, Ronaldo; Ozil; Benzema.

Make no mistake, this is going to be an incredibly difficult game for both sides, especially for Manchester United. However, looking at United’s away record this season, particularly in the big games, there is something about this team that makes me think they have a chance on Wednesday. Maybe predicting a United win is bordering on delusional, rather than optimistic, but a score-draw is absolutely possible with the attacking talent on show. Therefore, I’m going to predict a 2-2 draw, with Robin van Persie scoring both goals for Manchester United, and Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos netting for the home side.

Advertisements
Aside

Robin Van Persie – Will He Or Won’t He?

9 Aug

It’s been a summer’s dealings in the transfer market for Manchester United. Following the arrival of Japanese international Shinji Kagawa from Dortmund and Nick Powell from Crewe Alexandra, everything has seemingly gone wrong for the club. It all started when Belgian winger Eden Hazard snubbed us for Champions League winners Chelsea. This was seen as a huge failure among fans, especially after sir Alex went to the trouble of showing the youngster around Old Trafford to try and persuade him to agree to the 34 million pound deal. We moved on, however, namely to the likes of Luka Modric and Leighton Baines. Again, these pursuits did not end well for us, with both players staying at Spurs and Everton respectively. So now, following long term target Lucas Moura’s move to PSG, many fans, including myself, are wondering where do we we go from here? Well I suppose, in the typical United way, we go for another unrealistic yet exciting player we can find. Up step, Robin Van Persie.

Even six months ago, it would be unthinkable that Van Persie would even be linked with a move to United, let alone there being a good chance that it would actually happen. Regardless, it is now a distinct possibility, with rumours growing ever stronger that he has  agreed terms and that a medical is imminent. This has shocked the footballing world, with ‘RVP’ trending on Twitter for the past two days in the UK. So you would think that United fans would be ecstatic at the thought of last year’s Player of the Year forming a partnership up front with Wayne Rooney. Wrong. In fact, it has been the complete opposite reaction from 80% of fans on Twitter. ‘Injury prone’, ‘too old’ and/or ‘he’s inconsistent’ have been some of the reasons that these fans do not want him. On the other end of the spectrum, Arsenal fans have been, quite frankly, making a show of themselves. Death threats, talk of betrayal, and general unpleasantness has littered Twitter recently.  Despite all of this, Van Persie’s interest in a move to Old Trafford has remained, which is more than understandable at his age, and with the lack of winning medals he has at 29. I am sure that the hefty pay rise that he would be in store for is also a factor in his decision though.

 

Personally, I’d be delighted if we managed to secure the services of one of the best strikers around. It goes without saying. anybody that says otherwise is either stupid or simply overanalysing the situation.  Moreover, I strongly disagree with the common points people bring up whilst talking about how they don’t want to see him in a red and black shirt. He’s 29, yes, but does that mean he is beyond his peak? Of course not. He is playing the best football he has ever played. Need I remind people that Teddy Sheringham was 31 when we signed him, and he went on to be one of the best strikers we have had in the 15 years. He also played a pivotal role in the treble win of ’99, so what’s to say Robin Van Persie couldn’t be as successful? The deal would show ambition, as well as strike fear into opposition defenses both domestically and in Europe, which is something that we have been lacking since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo in June 2009.  ‘Fergie, Fergie sign him up!’

Be sure to follow me on Twitter @HammyMUFC for more opinion and news related to Manchester United!

Isco – The Cheaper Alternative.

7 Aug

 

It seemed a done deal on Saturday night, Lucas Moura was more or less a Manchester United player. All that was needed was a medical and a signature, according to Daily Mail writer Bob Cass. What a difference three days make. Lucas Moura is still nowhere near being a United player, quite the opposite in fact. With Paris Saint Germain looking set to complete a 45 million euro swoop for the Brazilian, we find ourselves wondering where it all went wrong. We had gone from signing one of the best young talents in the world to being left deflated at another potential failure in the transfer market. Whether it will still happen or not is something that nobody knows, but it is looking more unlikely by the day. So, where do we go from here?

If reports are to believed, Sir Alex Ferguson is planning a move for Malaga wonderkid Isco, one of the most highly regarded youngsters in Spanish football along with the likes of Iker Munian and Javi Martinez. He must be a big money target then, right? Wrong. In fact, Isco could be one of the best buys of the summer, with a release clause of just £16m. But it gets better for potential buyers. It’s well known now that Malaga are in a tough financial situation, trying to cash in on some of their best players to help balance their books. This has already been demonstrated by Arsenal’s capture of Santi Carzorla for a modest £16.5m. This means that Isco’s price could be even lower than the £16m stated in his contract. If Malaga are desperate enough for the money, which it’s thought that they are, they may settle for anything around the £10m mark.

 

This would do two things. Firstly, it would make us as a club look a little less stupid for even contemplating paying £30m for an unproven Brazilian. Secondly, and more importantly, it would help save us up to £20m to spend elsewhere. This money could and probably should be used on a left-back, taking the burden off Patrice Evra on the left hand side of our aging defence. Leighton Baines has been talked about all summer long, and I think it’d be time to cough up the £15m that Everton are demanding. This is all, of course, dependent on our capture of Isco, which is admittedly a long way down the line, and that’s if Lucas Moura does indeed choose Paris over Manchester. I would be in favour of this, along with many others I’m sure. Isco, Robin Van Persie, Shinji Kagawa, Nick Powell and Leighton Baines would be a fantastic summer’s business.

Now, you may be wondering, who is Isco? Where does he play? I was asking people the same thing around about a week ago. Isco is actually very similar to Lucas Moura in many ways, just not as well known. He’s a versatile attacking midfielder who can play in a central role or on either wing. He has been on the verge of a full Spain cap for some time now, at just twenty years of age. In 2011-12, he scored five goals in thirty five games for Malaga. He is the type of player that Sir Alex loves, young, pace and has bags of potential. He could well become a star under the guidance of Sir Alex and his staff alike. Despite being an alternative to Lucas in my eyes, he could well end up being as good or even better than the Brazilian in the future.

Tom Cleverley – The Answer

1 Aug

It’s common knowledge among Manchester United fans that we’ve been on the lookout for a centre midfielder for several seasons now. Wesley Sneijder, Luka Modric and Jao Moutinho are just a few of the names linked with a move to Old Trafford. Big stars of the game I’m sure you’ll agree. But are they needed? All three of them would cost £30m+, a massive price tag for players entering their swansong years in the next couple of seasons. Not only this, but they would all take months to settle in, with the exception of maybe Luka Modric. Despite all of this, so many fans insist on us signing another central midfielder this summer. They say that Michael Carrick, Anderson and Paul Scholes do not possess the quality that they once did, and it’s time to stop placing our trust in ‘been there, done that’ type players. Whilst I agree that these players are not what they once were, I do not think it warrants effectively wasting millions of pounds on a player that we can do without. Besides, what if the answer to our midfield woes was right on our doorstep…

Tom Cleverley has been at Manchester United since he was twelve years of age. He knows the club like not many others do, seeing some of the best players to ever play for the club come and go before his very eyes. He has worked with the likes of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs from being a child. He has worked his way through the ranks at United, even captaining the reserves at one point. He has always been regarded as a player who would ‘do it’ at the top level, along with teammate Danny Welbeck. His ability has never once been questioned by United fans. Ever since he scored on his debut for the first team in 2009, he has consistently impressed everybody at the club. At the beginning of the 2011/12 season, he was in sparkling form, often starting in the centre of the United midfield. He was dubbed Paul Scholes’ replacement, running the show in some of United’s best performances of the season including the 3-2 win over Manchester City at Wembley, the 3-0 win over Spurs at Old Trafford and best of all the 8-2 win over Arsenal. He was delighting supporters who were still reeling from the failure of securing the signature of Wesley Sneijder. Then the inevitable occurred, Tom picked up a series of injuries which hindered his whole season, which never really took off the way it could of. This summer, we find ourselves in the same position as a year ago. Failing to secure the services of an out and out midfielder, we as fans find ourselves wondering where the dictation of play will come from. Sir Alex has openly admitted that Paul Scholes will not be able to play 40 to 50 games next season, so that rules him out. Up steps, Tom Cleverley. After a fantastic Olympic showing with Team GB, Cleverley is once again the name on fans lips, hoping that he can deliver on the big stage again for his club, as well as stay fit throughout.

Neymar Lights Up Old Trafford.

29 Jul

He’s been dubbed the modern Pele, the new Ronaldinho. Neymar is already a superstar of the game at the tender age of 20, and with good reason. Playing in his native country, Brazil, Neymar has blown every other South American player of of the water, scoring an incredible 110 goals in 186 appearances for Santos. So naturally, excitement was at fever pitch on Sunday as Neymar came to the Theatre of Dreams with Brazil as part of the 2012 Olympic Games. Despite playing in a team full of the world’s best young talent, Neymar was still the man that excited everybody. Even Manchester United target Lucas Moura couldn’t steal the limelight in the full 6 minutes that he was on the field.

Neymar did not disappoint, playing a pivotal role in Brazil’s 3-1 win over Belarus, scoring one and assisting two. With the score at 1-1, and Brazil running out of ideas, they won a free-kick on the edge of the Belarus box. Up stepped Neymar to curl in a Beckham-esque free-kick toward the Stretford end. That was Neymar, alright. He’s one of the few players in world football that can live up to the hype. Many consider him to be as good as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, but some don’t. They feel he needs to prove himself on the bigger stage, in the Champions League for example. Interest from Barcelona and Real Madrid has been well documented, but the boy wonder has so far stayed loyal to Santos, who payed Neymar’s family £300k when he was 14 just to prevent him from joining Real Madrid. It was £300k well spent, as Neymar has become one of their greatest player ever.

I don’t doubt that one day, Neymar will leave Santos for bigger and better things in Europe. Barcelona are naturally favourites for his signiture, but interest from Chelsea has also been noted, so who knows. All I know is that in the not so distant future, Neymar will indeed be the very best, alongside the likes of an aging Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Who knows, he may well be hitting free-kicks in at the Stretford End again one day…

Life without the Gaffer.

27 Jul

It’s unthinkable to many, life at Manchester United without Sir Alex Ferguson. This is because for so many, including myself, he is the only United manager that any of us can remember. We never witnessed the genius of another Scot, one Sir Matt Busby, or suffered through the days of Ron Atkinson and co. Sir Alex has always been there, leading United to trophy upon trophy. He has nurtured some of the finest footballers to ever live, including Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Cristiano Ronaldo. The list goes on. After winning an incredible twelve league titles, two Champions Leagues, and a Club World Cup among others, he has been there, done that and bought the t-shirt as they say. He is undoubtedly the greatest manager of all time. His achievements may never be matched by anybody.

There is one thing that has and always will elude Sir Alex Ferguson, however. Immortality. It is no secret that Fergie is coming to the end of his innings, and the end of his time at Old Trafford. There will be a time when he will not be sitting in that famous dugout week after week. The question is, who will be? There have been dozens of names linked with the job, some of which you may of heard of. Today I’m going to go through some of those names and try and decide whether they’re worthy. So, without further ado:

Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho, or the self proclaimed ‘Special One’ has never tied to hide his admiration of both Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson. He thrived on the rivalry between his Chelsea side and United. His friendship with Sir Alex grew stronger over the few years that he was in England, and he was by far the greatest challenger that Ferige has ever faced at Old Trafford. Ferguson has publicly praised Mourinho on several occasions, therefore Mourinho would certainly be one of Sir Alex’s picks for the job.

Mourinho’s record speaks for itself. He has won league titles in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain. This success in multiple countries is something that differentiates him from the rest. Give him a team, give him some cash to splash and he will bring you success. His finest moment came in 2010 when his Inter side won the historic treble (Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League). Now, after knocking Barcelona off the top spot in Spain, he has to be considered as perhaps the best manager in the world. His name has been linked with Manchester United for years, and one day he may very well be our Special One.

                 

Pep Guardiola

Hailed for the style of play he has introduced at Barcelona over his four years at the club, Pep Guardiola has already established himself as one of the most successful managers the Spanish game has ever seen. After a long playing career with Barca, Guardiola was named as the manager of Barcelona in 2008. Straight away, he started putting in place his plans for his team. By selling former World Player of the Year Ronaldinho and Deco, he stunned the football world. But he also sent out a resounding message to everybody; he was not to be messed with, and he knew what he wanted to do. This determination and fearlessness has allowed him to be an instant success, winning the treble in his very first season in management. This included a Champions League final victory over United, in which his new look Barcelona gave a classic Manchester United team a footballing masterclass. This feat was to be repeated two years later, at the same stage no less. Sir Alex didn’t and still doesn’t know how to get the better of the Spaniard.

Guardiola comes with inexperience. Then again, so did Sir Alex in ’86. That was a risk, just like an appointment of Guardiola would be. His name, along with Mourinho, has been heavily linked with Old Trafford.  Now, as he takes his year long break from the game, rumours of his interest with the job are rife. Could he be waiting out for Ferguson’s retirement? It’s very likely. As well as his inexperience, he brings success. Winning three La Liga titles, two Champions Leagues and two Club World cups, he has enjoyed the same success in Europe as Sir Alex in a much shorter space of time. Make of it what you will, but that is quite something.

          

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

‘Beckham, into Sheringham, and Solskjaer has won it!’ That line of commentary will forever be associated with Manchester United and, in turn, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. A true United legend, he will always be adored by fans for what he did for so many years on the pitch. But what so many United fans may not know is that he has turned into quite the manager. After a sensational eleven years at United, he hung up his boots to take charge of the Manchester United Reserves in 2008. It may not be the most high profile start to management like Guardiola or Mourinho enjoyed, but it is as close to United as you can get, which is crucial. The instant support of the Old Trafford faithful is something that only a couple of potential managers would have. Ole did a fantastic job with the reserves, winning the Reserves Premier League in 2009-10. This team even included Mr. Danny Welbeck, who worked well with one of his footballing heroes.

Solskjaer has also experienced success at a higher level, back in his homeland Norway. He joined former team Molde in 2010. His Molde side won the Norwegian Premier League in 2011, giving Ole his first taste of first team silverware. Ole may not seem a viable option for Manchester United, not compared with Guardiola or Mourinho anyway, but Ole has been recognised by other Premier League clubs recently. When Aston Villa sacked Alex McLeish, one of the first managers they approached was Ole. This says to me that he is Premier League quality, after just a year and a half in full management. There is no doubt Solskjaer would be a popular choice with the United fans, even if he does lack experience at the highest level.

              

Ryan Giggs

Ryan Giggs is Manchester United. Often regarded as the best player to ever wear the famous red shirt, Giggs is the most decorated player in British history. Even today, with younger, faster players around him, his class and ability still shows. Many believe his phenomenal football brain can easily be transitioned into management. He has been linked, along with the other three, heavily. This is perhaps less serious though. I can’t help thinking it’s more of a case of wanting Giggs as manager because he’s Ryan Giggs, and not because he is/could be a good manager.

Ryan has obviously never managed, as he is still going at the age of 38. This is simply too inexperienced to take the United job for me. The fact that the likes of Gurardiola and Mourinho are reportedly interested in the job just scupper Giggs’ chances in my eyes. The perfect solution; Mourinho or Guardiola take the United job for a year or two, build a team worthy of dominating Europe whilst Ryan or Ole gain more experience with other clubs. Then, when Guardiola/Mourinho decide to leave, transition Giggs/Solskjaer into the job with as little pressure possible.

                  

It will certainly be emotional when Sir Alex leaves United, whether it’s his choice or not. But what us as fans must do is look to the future and demand the very best out there to replace the Scotsman. No matter how much our hearts tell us that Giggs or Solskjaer are the best choices for the job, they simply aren’t, not yet anyway. We need a proven manager, who has won the biggest and best trophies. Mourinho has done it in multiple countries, one of which being England. He knows the domestic game ad he knows how to win it, and win it well. This is why he is my choice for Sir Alex’s replacement when that time eventually comes.

Can we get our title back?

21 Jul

It’s over two months since Sergio Aguero rifled in his last minute winner against QPR to send the title to Eastlands. But still, few of us can bare to talk about it at all. It was the cruelest way to lose a title, especially to your inner city rivals. However, I think that we can all agree that over the course of the season, Manchester City deserved it. They played some amazing football at times, as did we. They just had that strength in depth that we sometimes lacked, in particular the midfield. They had the money to splash in the summer beforehand, and boy did they splash it. We also splashed the cash a bit, signing David De Gea, Phil Jones and Ashley Young. But we didn’t address our biggest problem, midfield. We can only imagine how last season could have gone for us, both domestically and in Europe, if we had signed Wesley Sneijder or Luka Modric. It was a hinder throughout last season, even following Paul Scholes’ return in early January, and something Manchester City exploited in both Premier League derbies. Thankfully, Sir Alex has finally recognized the problem, signing Japanese international Shinji Kagawa and Crewe wonderkid Nick Powell. With constant reports linking us with the likes of Modric, Moutinho and Lucas, it seems Sir Alex wants to improve our midfield further. I believe any one of those three could make our midfield match Manchester City’s and Chelsea’s, therefore giving us a much better chance at winning back the Premier League. Without signing another midfielder, which is also very likely, I still think that we would have a better chance this time around, but would still be lacking enough quality in the middle of the park. Compare Michael Carrick, a good, holding midfielder that can’t get a game for England, to the power and pace of Yaya Toure or the skill and creativity of Eden Hazard. He just doesn’t match up.

I do think that Shinji Kagawa is going to be huge for us this year, though. He was very impressive against Ajax Cape Town in pre-season recently, and he will make a massive difference going forward this season. The problem last season was scoring goals, however, it was keeping them out at the other end. We missed our skipper, Nemanja Vidic, beyong belief last season. It is no coincidence that we were playing such amazing football at the start of the season when he was fighting fit. Him returning will strengthen the side on on whole instantly, and make us much more secure at the back. Our chances next season do not just relay on us, though. A huge factor will be how Manchester City and Chelsea strengthen also. City will undoubtedly buy players. They have been linked with last season’s top scorer Robin Van Persie and Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel so far this summer. Surprisingly, it is not Manchester City who worry me, it’s Chelsea. Coming off the back of a Champions League and FA Cup win last season, they will be brimming with confidence. After a fantastic showing at EURO 2012, Fernando Torres will also be ready to score some goals too. With a rock solid defence, creative midfield and top class attack including the EURO 2012 golden boot winner, only a fool would begrudge Chelsea the chance to be seen as title contenders. Coupled with the fact that they have already signed two of Europe’s hottest properties in Eden Hazard and Marko Marin, as well as Brazilian wonderkid Oscar, they will certainly not be lacking up front.Perhaps my biggest worry is that our current side lacks confidence. Shinji Kagawa, despite a successful time in Germany, has never played in the Premier League and will surely take time to reach his full potential in our game. But Nick Powell, who Sir Alex has confirmed will be part of his first team plans for the upcoming season, has only ever played in League Two. No matter how much the boy gets compared with Cristiano Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney, they both came from respectable leagues and teams, Nick hasn’t. I feel that he will take a lot longer to develop in his first year than most people realise.

Overall, I think that we should probably be classed as joint favourites for the league this season, along with Manchester City. If we can keep Vidic fit for the majority, then I don’t believe there’s a team in the country better than us. With a Wayne Rooney at his peak, Antonio Valencia’s speed and power down the right, Shinji Kagawa’s creativity and skill in the middle, and Nemanja Vidic’s no nonsense defending at the back, I think that we can not only challenge for the Premier League, but the Champions League and FA Cup too! #GGMU