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Five Things We Learned From Manchester United vs. Arsenal

1. Defense is the best form of attack – Three defenders in a four man midfield? Such a team sheet reeks of negativity, but not in Manchester United’s case. Fergie proved once again he still knows best as John O’Shea had an effective performance alongside Darron Gibson while Fabio and Rafael Da Silva were dangerous all game long and at times uncontainable. With speed on the flanks and Rooney dropping deep, United were given the perfect platform to counter attack and continuously stretch Arsenal’s defense.

2. United have depth – Any honest United fan will tell you they probably cringed when they read the team sheets prior to kick-off. News circulated that Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher had joined Anderson on the injury list while Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs could only make the bench. United demonstrated the depth of their squad today as truth be told, that was probably Ferguson’s third choice midfield. You wouldn’t know it though.

3. Arsenal needs Fabregas and Song – You would know that Alex Song and Cesc Fabregas were absent, however. With Denilson having a quiet game in midfield and Diaby failing to make an impact, Wenger must have been cursing his luck to not have been able to call on his favored midfield pair. Song was missed in helping the Gunners close down United’s midfield and win back possession while the Arsenal captain could have made a difference in helping Arsenal maintain possession and use it effectively.

4. Van der Sar irreplaceable, Almunia capable – The most disappointing aspect of United’s win was that it was another reminder of how much they will miss the big Dutchman next season. An absolutely superb performance saw Van der Sar deny Arsenal time and time again, including a clutch save from Koscielny moments before Rooney doubled United’s advantage. The next United ‘keeper has some big, big shoes to fill. As for Arsenal, Almunia took another huge step in rebuilding his reputation with another assured performance in place of Fabianski and Scensny. Kept the score down with several vital saves.

5. The FA Cup still has its magic – Following Bolton’s dramatic last-gasp win earlier in the day, United and Arsenal didn’t fail to disappoint as both sides played their part in a highly entertaining match that sees United make the FA Cup semi-finals for the 10th time under Ferguson’s reign. With so much to lose after a dreadful week for both clubs, credit to Ferguson and Wenger for fielding their strongest teams possible and ensuring their players attacked rather than throw caution to the wind.

Written by: Jeff Harbert

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Feb. 28th – March 6th: Drugs, Knives and Guns

A round-up of all the latest headline-grabbing stories from this past  week…

Drugs, knives, record breakers, referee abuse, flying elbows and even flying bullets. This week had everything you could imagine. The beginning of the week consisted of the media using up column inch after column inch bashing Wayne Rooney for intentionally elbowing James McCarthy during Manchester United’s 4-0 win over Wigan. Referee Mark Clattenburg witnessed the incident but let Rooney off with a warning. By now the rest of the world has seen the incident and berated the Football Association for failing to ban the United striker, who later went on to score that game as well as against Chelsea three days later. By no coincidence, the infamous elbow was still being talked about in the press even after the defeat to Chelsea.

Staying on topic, Sir Alex Ferguson was not so lucky to escape punishment from the FA this week. His comments to MUTV about referee Martin Atkinson after his side’s 2-1 loss at Stamford Bridge gave the FA the opportunity to give him a fifth impoper conduct charge in as many years. Ferguson is no stranger to this type of controversy, however, and it is somewhat of a surprise that the newspapers chose to focus more on his punishment than Chelsea’s victory.

As for Chelsea, they too ended up in the headlines for the wrong reasons. Or at least a certain Ashley Cole did (not for the first time either). Reports surfaced early Saturday morning claiming that Cole shot and injured a club intern with an air rifle. And considering who the culprit was, who could really be surprised? Plenty of media outlets focused heavily on the incident and a few days later plenty of fans at Stamford Bridge were sarcastically yelling “Shoooooot” every time Cole had possession.

As if that hadn’t given us enough to talk about, Manchester City defender Kolo Toure went and got himself suspended by his club for testing positive for a “specified substance”. The length of his ban remains to be seen, although former manager Arsene Wenger has defended the Ivory Coast defender and claimed he took his wife’s dietary pills. Regardless of what the truth may be, Toure has probably forced his name into more newspapers than anyone else this week.

Over in Spain, Jose Mourinho managed to escape a knife attack that saw his body guard stabbed in an effort to attack the ‘special one’. Apparently this man has a huge adhorrence for the Real Madrid boss… either that or he just wanted Spain to grab a few headlines of its own this week too.

Controversy aside, plenty of media focused on Ryan Giggs, who on Wednesday marked his 20th season playing for the Manchester United first team. The night before also saw him equal Bobby Charlton’s club record of 606 league appearances. Lastly, Birmingham City stole the headlines with their unlikely 2-1 triumph over Arsenal in the League Cup final.

So… quite an uneventful week, eh? One can only wonder what the upcoming week can possibly have in store for us!

Written by: Jeff Harbert

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Chelsea Comeback Halts Manchester United

Another Chelsea and Manchester United match at Stamford Bridge, another big occasion between these two sides marred in controversy. Wayne Rooney fired United ahead midway through the first half, but a first Chelsea goal by David Luiz and a Frank Lampard penalty, courtesy of a questionable decision by referee Martin Atkinson, gave the home side a 2-1 win to propel Chelsea into fourth place ahead of Tottenham and leave United four points clear of Arsenal with an extra game played.

United will feel hard done by the result after an impressive first half display which saw Rooney score in his third successive league game. The Reds dominated much of the half’s proceedings and could have been 2-0 up had John Terry not gone unpunished for what appeared to be a hand ball in his own penalty box off a rasping shot by Nani.

United failed to build on their lead, however, and Chelsea started the second half determined to level proceedings. They did just that on 53 minutes when Luiz volleyed home at the far post. Buoyed by the equaliser, the home side continued to threaten and with 13 minutes remaining Stamford Bridge was in ecstasy. Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot after Chelsea substitute Yuri Zhirkov went down under a seemingly soft Chris Smalling challenge, leaving Lampard to step up and smash Chelsea into the lead from 12 yards out. United provided little response and from then on only one team looked like being a winner.

To make matters worse for United, Nemanja Vidic was sent off for a second yellow card in the dying minutes and will now miss United’s next big match against Liverpool on Sunday. His suspension, and particularly the loss, will come as a big blow for Sir Alex Ferguson – who was adamant Luiz should have also been sent to the showers for an off the ball foul on Rooney with the score still locked at 1-1.

Controversy aside, it was a thrilling match that involved plenty of end-to-end football. All too often big matches fail to live up to the hype but the latest crunch meeting between these two sides was a pulsating match and a spectacle that even the neutrals could appreciate. Despite the controversy, United only have themselves to blame for not building on their solid first half performance and instead allowing the reigning champions back into the game. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team still sit on top of the table and you can be assured that the fiery scot will be the last one to press the panic button. United played well for large portions of the match but will need to translate that over 90 minutes it they hope to keep Arsenal at bay. Chelsea, meanwhile, will be confident of building on this result and earning a top-four finish after leapfrogging Spurs in the standings.

Man of the Match: David Luiz

Big time stats:

  • Chelsea extended their unbeaten record against United at Stamford Bridge to nine games (6 wins, 3 draws).
  • Seven of Chelsea’s league goals this season have been scored by defenders (3rd highest in EPL)
  • Wayne Rooney became the first United player – barring Nani – to score from outside the box in 23 league games.
  • The loss snaps a 33 game streak in which Manchester United have won every time Rooney has scored.
  • Ryan Giggs equaled Bobby Chalrton’s record of 606 league appearances for Manchester United when he came on as a substitute in the second half. Ironically, Giggs surpassed Charlton’s record of overall appearances for Manchester United in the 2008 Champions League Final against Chelsea.
  • Sir Alex Ferguson fielded an unchanged side in consecutive games
  • Martin Atkinson has awarded the most penalties in the Premier League this season (11) and given out the most red cards (10)

Written by: Jeff Harbert

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Chelsea vs. Man United: Five Things to Watch for

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fernando Torres vs. Nemanja Vidic

Following his £50 million transfer from Liverpool, Fernando Torres has yet to find greener pastures at Stamford Bridge. The Spaniard has misfired so far for the reigning champions but still finds himself ahead of Didier Drogba in Carlo Ancelotti’s pecking order. Due to his successful history against Nemanja Vidic – and his manager’s determination to justify his price tag – it will come as no surprise if the Ivorian finds himself on the bench once again on Tuesday. Torres will hope he can conjure up some of the same magic that has caused the United captain to be sent off twice when pitted against each other. Vidic has been outstanding at the heart of United’s defense this season, however, and will look to ensure Torres’ disappointing start to life in London continues.

Ashley Cole

Undoubtedly one of the best left-backs in the world, Ashley Cole has struggled to keep himself out of the headlines for the wrong reasons. His latest incident saw him injure an intern by shooting him with an air rifle. Cole has escaped punishment for the training ground incident but all eyes will be focused on how he performs in his first game since the incident took place.

Wayne Rooney

Also grabbing the headlines this week for the wrong reasons – and for large portions of this season – was Wayne Rooney. Despite scoring in United’s 4-0 win at Wigan on Saturday, most of the media fixated its attention on the forward’s intentional elbow on James McCarthy in the opening minutes of the match. Rooney has escaped punishment from the FA and will therefore be available for selection against the reigning champions, but his lack of goals this season may spell a start for Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez following his brace against Wigan. If selected, however, Rooney will need to stay out of trouble and exact the same type of influence for his side as he had against City a few weeks ago.

Chelsea’s Defense

Despite sitting in fifth place in the league, Chelsea boast the best defensive record in the top flight with a total of 22 conceded. United, meanwhile, are the league’s top scorers with 61 goals thus far. Chelsea have invariably conceded more goals in the last five minutes of each half at any other time in matches and face a side notorious for snatching late goals. Chelsea have won just two of its last five home games but will take heart from United’s poor away form this season (4 wins from 13). Chelsea’s defense, which have found themselves unlocked much too casually at home this season at times, will have to be at their best to contain the threat of Berbatov and Nani – coincidently the league’s leading goal scorer and assist earner.

Martin Atkinson

Both of last season’s fixtures between these two clubs were marred in controversy as United particularly felt hard-done by a John Terry goal at Stamford Bridge that was allowed to stand despite numerous infringements on the play. Martin Atkinson takes charge on Tuesday after originally being set to referee the game in December and will be looking to ensure this match steers clear of controversy. Interestingly, Atkinson has awarded the most penalties (10) and red cards (nine) out of any Premier League officials this season.

 

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Top 10 Greatest Manchester United Quotes

1.   “It never rains in Manchester, but it pours” — Kevin Keegan

This quote isn’t directly related to Manchester United, but any knowledgeable United supporter knows the heavens like to open up above Manchester. Now although City and United receive equal amounts of rain, United seem to have received the majority of the blessings. Right, Keegan?  

 2.   “In all modesty, my summing up of 1955-6 and 1956-7 must be that no club in the country could live with Manchester United.” — Matt Busby

Coming from the mouth of a true United legend and one who knew the Busby Babes better than anyone, it makes the Munich Disaster even more devastating.

 3.   “I didn’t do myself justice after joining Manchester City but, having said that, I shared a house with George Best for two years so it had its compensations!” — Mick Horswill

The English midfielder hints that sharing a house with a United legend was as good as playing for Manchester City…

 4.  “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.” — Eric Cantona

Only Eric Cantona could possibly come up with a quote like this one. It is certainly one of the most memorable quotes from one of the most memorable Premier League players to this day.

 5.   “I never comment on referees and I’m not going to break the habit of a lifetime for that prat.” — Ron Atkinson

 The former Manchester United manager sure knew how to be subtle when getting his points across.

 6.  “Cole should be scoring from those distances, but I’m not going to single him out.” — Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex must have learned from his predecessor about how to be subtle in order to get his points across.

 7.   “As long as we are successful on the pitch, then I will be here—unless Manchester United put in a call. But I don’t think Sir Alex Ferguson is planning to step down just yet!” — Paul Ince

 More than a decade later and I guess the current Notts County manager was right!

 8.  “Fergie said I was a Manchester United player in the wrong shirt—I said he was an Arsenal manager in the wrong blazer.” — Tony Adams

 This one is just downright amusing.

 9.   “Paul Jewell’s sides are always hard to break down, although Manchester United have a habit of breaking his sides down pretty easily.” — Charlie Nicholas

Great insight from the Sky Sports pundit…  

  10.  “When Manchester United are at their best I am close to orgasm.” — Gianluca Vialli

The former Italian striker and manager was one of only six Italian footballers to ever win the three main European club competitions (European Cup, Cup Winners’ Cup, and UEFA Cup). Judging by this quote, I suppose that’s just further proof why football is called the ‘beautiful game’.

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EPL: Shaping Lives Everywhere

Deep in the heart of poverty-stricken countries in Africa, the crest of some of England’s biggest clubs can be seen on worn, tattered and faded t-shirts and jerseys. For some, the shirt on their back is worth more to them than any amount of money they could earn by selling their shirt in the second-hand market.

Even in places where people would do almost anything to earn enough money to be able to afford one meal a day, the crest of clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea are valued as much as the food necessary for survival.

The crest of clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea represent a hope and optimism that nothing else can even come close to matching. It goes to show just how much the English Premier League has grown and the impact it has had and continues to have in our world.

In war torn countries such as the Ivory Coast, seeing their countryman Didier Drogba playing for one of the world’s biggest clubs in some of the world’s most prestigious competitions provides people with a renewed hope and inspiration needed to continue with their lives.

Thousands gather every week around a small television in a bar or house to catch a glimpse of their favorite heroes. Players like Didier Drogba, Obafemi Martins, and Yakabu Ayegbeni are what keep the dream alive in their countries. Little kids with absolutely nothing for footwear run around the dusty streets of town kicking a football ball made out of plastic bags, hoping they can one day follow in their hero’s footsteps.

And for people like this, it is their idols in the world’s biggest league that keep their dream alive. Without players like Kolo Toure, Didier Drogba, or Michael Essien flourishing in the English Premier League, some people would have nothing to cling on to in life.

It’s a sad truth, but a large portion of the continent of Africa is overwhelmed with poverty. After being born and living in Kenya for fourteen out of the first eighteen years of my life, I have witnessed such poverty first hand.

I can still recall walking through the streets of the town I lived in and hearing homeless people yell at me, “Man United!” Being one of the few white people in my town in a large town in Kenya, I was known by most people for two things: Being white and being a Manchester United supporter.

Even when I wasn’t sporting a Manchester United jersey or shirt, people who knew I was a United fan would still shout things at me about the club. Sometimes their remarks were affirmative and sometimes they were negative, but no matter what they were always said in a friendly manner.

And whenever I was seen donning a United jersey I would lose track of the vast amount of comments I received from people, most of who I didn’t even know. Even homeless kids on the side of the street without a shirt of their own chimed in with their own comments at times. My little brother, a die-hard Chelsea supporter, experienced much of the same whenever he wore his Chelsea jersey in public.

I learned that, even in the midst of despair and hopelessness, people were still able to find hope in the English Premier League. It may be hard to grasp if you haven’t actually experienced it first hand, but England’s biggest clubs have, in a sense, become a shining light in a dark world.

People’s hopes stretch far beyond their own countries’ football stars in England, but even in some of the big club’s star players in England’s top flight.

Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas are some of the most popular players in Africa, and they too are able to inspire anyone, from the poor man who struggles to earn enough money to be able to go to a bar and watch his favorite team to the rich business man who sits comfortably in the luxury of his home as he cheers on his beloved club.

Football and specifically the English Premier League give a lot of people something to live for. After all, when your job generates less than a dollar a day and you live in a hut made out of mud, sometimes the only happiness you get is from watching your favorite football club win.

The English Premier League is the world’s biggest and most popular league but its thriving popularity is seen in many places besides Africa. But after living in Africa for 14 years, I have discovered first hand just how big of an influence the English Premier League has across the world.

Whether it’s in the heart of big cities or the fringes of mid-size towns, the English Premier League is undoubtedly making a difference. And whether it’s in the center of small villages or the borders of the poorest of slums, England’s top flight is clearly having an influence.

The most important part of all is the fact that this influence is a positive one and one that will continue to shape and inspire our world in a beneficial way.

Written by: Jeff Harbert

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