Tag Archives: Sir Alex Ferguson

History Could Repeat Itself Between Manchester United and Arsenal

Consecutive defeats to rivals Chelsea and Liverpool in the space of a week has diminished Manchester United’s lead at the top of the table to three points and suddenly thrown the title race wide open. Arsenal suffered an equally miserable week, drawing at home to Sunderland before a morale crushing defeat to Barcelona in midweek left the Gunners with only the League and FA Cup to play for. With United’s lead narrowed and Arsenal possessing a game in hand, Arsene Wenger and his players will still be confident of capturing their first piece of silverware in six years.  

After a winless week for both clubs, it goes without saying the next match will make or break both team’s seasons. Coincidentally, the table toppers go head-to-head on Saturday in a titanic FA Cup clash at Old Trafford, a match that brings back memories of an unforgettable and extraordinary semi-final replay between both clubs almost 11 years ago during United’s treble winning season. A certain Ryan Giggs was the hero (or one of several) that day, scoring one of the most incredible goals ever seen in extra time as United eliminated Arsenal and set themselves on the road to further glory before the season’s end.

When the draw for the quarter-finals was made on February 20th it was that remarkable game at Villa Park that emerged in my mind. But as Arsenal continued to edge closer to United in the standings, it was no longer the epic replay in 1999 that came to mind. Well aware that a win could give either side the boost required to go on a winning run and simultaneously derail the other’s title challenge, all I could think about was another historic but more recent match between both clubs in February 2008.

With United chasing league leaders Arsenal, a Darren Fletcher inspired Manchester United sent out a huge statement of intent to the North Londoners and the rest of the league. Playing as a lone striker, Wayne Rooney was in fine form and opened the scoring before two headers by Fletcher sandwiched a delightful finish by Nani to give United a monumental 4-0 win. Arsenal were crushed. United’s win was more than just a sharp riposte for those who doubted their title credentials, but was the fuel they needed to overtake Arsenal in the standings and end the season in a flourish. After a failed attempt to blame the pitch, Wenger painfully admitted United were the superior side, by far. The ‘Professor’ particularly singled out Rooney for praise.

“Against us I thought Rooney was fantastic. He was sharp, mobile, quick, aggressive, even good in the air. He did everything.”

What United supporters would give for a similar performance on Saturday from their number 10. And oh how Manchester United would give anything to have history repeat itself. Following the win, Rooney and co. went on to win seven out of their next eight league games and would eventually clinch back-to-back Premier League titles.

Speaking on the performance against Arsenal, which came just a week after an agonizing home defeat to Manchester City, Sir Alex Ferguson said: “They (his players) have made amends for that (City defeat) with a marvelous performance.”

Strange that United find themselves in the exact same predicament. Another marvelous performance by United on Saturday will go a long way in helping United overcome its disappointing loss to Liverpool last weekend and spur them on for the remainder of the season. The Red Devils may have exited the FA Cup the following round after beating Arsenal in 2008, but United gained the ultimate prize by advancing all the way to the final of the Champions League and beating Chelsea in penalties. Prior the cup win over Arsenal, United had drawn Tottenham before suffering the painful defeat at home to Manchester City on the day marking the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster. With United in a dip of form and losing ground in the title race, it’s amazing what a big win over your title challengers can do.

And in Arsenal’s case, it is incredible how a monumental loss can completely derail your season. After being outplayed and humiliated at Old Trafford, Arsenal failed to record a win in their next five league matches. Wenger’s side would only win two out of their next 10 games, including a 2-1 loss to United in April which effectively ended their chances of winning the title. Favorites for the title in February and trophyless in May, Arsenal’s season fell apart after their FA Cup humiliation, paving the way for a miserable end to the season.

Fast forward three years later and although Arsenal are not necessarily favorites for the title, they are certainly in the running, and according to Samir Nasiri have ‘one hand on the trophy’. If history should repeat itself on Saturday and Arsenal suffer another defeat against Manchester United, Arsenal may slowly drift further and further away from the title while United storm forward in pursuit of their record 19th league title. And as every supporter is most likely well aware of, the two clubs will go head-to-head again in a potential title decider on May 1st at the Emirates.

If ever history needed a platform to repeat itself, this is it. Will Arsenal allow themselves to suffer the same fate as 2008 while United claim an unprecedented and highly sought 19th league title? Saturday could tell us just that…

Written by: Jeff Harbert

United 4-0 Arsenal highlights (2008)

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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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Carrick Criticism Unwarranted

Following the news of Michael Carrick signing a three-year contract extension for Manchester United, a substantial amount of criticism has been directed towards the former West Ham and Tottenham midfielder. But why? ‘He doesn’t score enough goals’ or ‘he only passes sideways and backwards’ are some of the complaints I’ve heard, mainly from Manchester United supporters.

Purchased for 16 million pounds from Tottenham in July 2006, I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say he has justified his price tag. I’m also willing to somewhat boldly claim that Carrick has been a key figure in helping United win three consecutive Premier League titles, a Champions League and World Club Championship title, as well as a League Cup trophy. He also has a pivotal role to play if United are to finish the season with another trophy or two in their cabinet. Carrick may never end being considered a world-class midfielder, but he certainly deserves credit for being a reliable figure in United’s midfield. If you don’t believe me and prefer to think of Carrick as an unnecessary member of the United squad and a midfielder incapable of having an influence on games, let the statistics tell you otherwise.

Carrick has completed 830 out of 959 attempted passes this season for a pass success rate of 86.5%. He also has the highest amount of interceptions for a midfielder in the Premier League with an average of 4.38 interceptions per game. These two statistics alone indicate that he can pass and he can win back possession, two key traits of any center midfielder. His ability to win back possession is even more remarkable when you consider that the player at Manchester United with the second highest interception rate is Anderson with 1.9 interceptions per game.

United’s style of play depends so much on retaining possession and being able to pass the ball. Carrick may lack speed in his game and he may not be a goal scoring threat, but he gets the job done in his assigned position. After all, he’s not an attacking midfielder but plays more as a defensive midfielder. You never saw Claude Makalele banging in the goals, did you? What you did see in Makalele was a tendency to pass the ball sideways and backwards more than forward, similarly to Carrick. And for a player whose role is to retain possession and protect the back four, nothing is wrong with having to pass the ball back. I can already picture Sir Alex jumping out of his seat if Carrick was to constantly attempt the type of long ball we are accustomed to seeing from Paul Scholes.

The truth is, Carrick does his job and he does it effectively. In his 15 league starts this season, United have only conceded 10 goals. In the other 13 matches he didn’t start, United have conceded 15 goals. Ferguson sees Carrick as an ideal cover for the back four and it shows in the position Carrick has played this season. He’s the perfect man for the job, too, especially when considering he has had a tackle success rate of 70% this season.

Ferguson is well aware of the quality Carrick brings to his squad and it shows in his decision to keep him at the club until at least 2014. We all know that Carrick lacks the flair and aptitude of Xavi and Iniesta, but it has been somewhat strange to hear the criticism surrounding the deal. After all, wasn’t Carrick partly responsible for keeping those two players at bay in United’s Champions League semi-final victory in 2008? Also, how often has Ferguson been in the wrong when it comes to extending a player’s contract? Sure, he’s had a few miscues, but don’t expect Carrick to be one.

Written by: Jeff Harbert

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