Tag Archive | Manchester United

Old Trafford: a tough task, but not impossible

*brushes off keyboard, stretches fingers, logs into WordPress* It’s been a while. The last 11 posts on this site have been by Saurabh so I think I’d better pull my weight as well. And what better time to do it? Just off the back of a 12-goal thriller at the Madejski and we’re off to Old Trafford today – myself included for my first away game. If you’re feeling ambitious, there are some good odds on Betfair.

Obviously the almost unavoidable centre of attention is and will continue to be Robin van Persie. I’ll say this – I don’t think he deserves a respectful, appreciative reception from Arsenal fans (we’ll boo who we want, Ferguson), but let’s not bring those accusations from a few years ago into it. The ‘she said no’ chant is one which shows absolutely zero class, which isn’t something I’d like to associate with this great club and its fans, who were absolutely fantastic against Reading, as they have been for a while.

Onto the actual football, which is usually of top quality – although we seemed to forget that during our last visit to Old Trafford – and I don’t think it’s out of the question that we go home with three points. As pretty much everyone’s already highlighted, the left side does seem a worry – one of the league’s best wingers, Antonio Valencia, up against Andre Santos. Last season I was pleased with the Brazilian. His defensive contribution was actually better than most gave him credit for – his interceptions were often crucial, and his use of the ball helped us out of difficult situations and into attacks.

This season, having lost out to Kieran Gibbs in the battle to be first choice, he’s certainly regressed, and his stamina seems a big problem when going forward. He can’t commit too far forward because if he loses the ball then we’re susceptible to counters down that side – and when he does decide to amble forward in support of Podolski, it leaves us massively open to pacy wingers.

Valencia is exactly that, and would rip us apart if Santos did leave gaps in behind. People have suggested playing Sagna or Jenkinson, both of whom have played there before, at left back, but let’s remember that Valencia’s strong foot is his right, and his main threat is when he hugs the touchline and hooks in a cross with his right. If the winger on that side was left-footed and thus likely to cut in, it’d be wise playing one of the two right backs, as they could nullify that threat. While Antonio Valencia attacking Andre Santos isn’t exactly an attractive proposition for Arsenal, I can’t imagine a full back on their weaker side would do too much better against such an old-fashioned wide player in terms of positioning and runs.

On the plus side for us, it’s at home when Santos’ lack of stamina mostly contributes to the threat of counter attacks. It was most obvious against QPR at home, while at Old Trafford you can’t imagine they’ll be as willing to sit back and be so passive in their defending for so long. We certainly wouldn’t throw as many men forward in any case. In away games we usually see Podolski offer more cover to the full back – Liverpool away was the perfect example of this. We’re usually more of a compact, pragmatic side away from home – while we see something of a 4-2-1-3 at the Emirates, that usually becomes a more reserved 4-4-1-1 on our travels.

Defensive shape and organisation will be of pivotal importance to us, as during the you-know-what last time around, we were a shambles at times. It was an incredibly naive performance, and we’ll need the leaders that weren’t present/didn’t step up last time around to make themselves counted at Old Trafford this time.

In goal we’ll have Mannone again, and after Jenkinson and Koscielny played 120 minutes each at Reading, and not doing too well with their positioning, it’s likely that Sagna and Mertesacker will come in; Vermaelen and Santos completing the back-line. Koscielny often struggles when tasked with marking one striker through-out the game – Jason Roberts tormented him at the Madejski – so you sense that facing up against Rooney and Van Persie wouldn’t suit him. We’ll have to hope that Per ‘The Calming Influence’ Mertesacker is at his most calming influence-ness.

United are a threat from all over the pitch – we’ll have to watch out for intricate passing moves, long shots and devious crosses. Like their neighbours they’re a huge multiple threat, and it’s probably unrealistic to hope to restrict them in every aspect. Focus will be the key for us, and we’ll need to defend as a team more than ever.

Going forward it’ll all be about incisive passing and quick inter-play. Hopefully the side has been together long enough to be on roughly the same wave-length, as we’ll need to put together some quick passing moves in order to break quickly. United have shown vulnerability often this season, and quite a few times have left defending up to their back four alone, so if we want to exploit that we’ll have to get the ball forward quickly.

It looks likely that Olivier Giroud will start up top, and that would work in our favour as we look to get forward quickly and in numbers while United are committed. He’ll be up against Ferdinand and Evans, both good defenders, but undoubtedly two which Giroud should dominate aerially. If we can get the ball forwards to Giroud and he can knock it down to a midfielder in support, that’ll give us a chance of opening United up quickly and directly, provided the wingers break quickly.

When we’re dominating the game and are camped in United’s half, I’d imagine our best bet would be crosses. With Giroud up front, quick through balls may not be the way to go, as he’s not the lightest on his feet and he’d have to cover a short distance very quickly to get on the end of a killer pass in front a likely deep United defence. He is, however, very adept at getting on the end of crosses and putting himself about amongst defenders. While Walcott and Podolski might manage to profit from being slipped in by Cazorla or Wilshere, the latter who is still not a cert to start, the full backs would be wise to get a variety of crosses in for Giroud, especially given De Gea’s vulnerability in the air. Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans and Evra isn’t exactly the most dominant of defences, and with Giroud full of confidence after a superb energetic performance against Reading, you’d fancy him to win any cross into United’s box.

So to sum up, it’ll be a difficult task keeping United out, and I’m sure we won’t manage to keep a clean sheet, but I think that if we’re focused, solid and compact at the back and purposeful going forward, we have a chance to out-score them. Put your money on a high-scoring game. And watch it end 0-0. Because that’s just how it goes.

Up the Arsenal.

Scouting Report: Manchester United vs Arsenal

It’s very tough to predict how big teams will play against us. When we faced Manchester City it was down to very talented squad who were capable of going beyond tactics. A team like United, who are limited in options behind their front line, constantly adapt to accomodate the players they can. That means seeing Danny Welbeck playing on the wing or drafting Michael Carrick in defence or Antonio Valencia at right back at the start of the season.

The Formation

United will likely stick with the lineup they played against Chelsea last weekend. This would make it a 4-4-1-1 or rather, a 4-2-3-1 since you’d expect them to be on the offensive for a majority of the match.

The Gameplan

We saw last weekend how easily United were able to attack down Chelsea’s left side. Their ability to exploit that sort of weakness has been a worry since Gibbs’ injury a few weeks ago. Last season, with Armand Traore at left back, United mercilessly took advantage of us down that wing. So Andre Santos will need to be a lot more defensive than he’s used to because Valencia will undoubtedly be a handful.

Rooney has dropped more into the withdrawn forward role with Persie’s (boooo) arrival, making him even more difficult to mark. Not having a proper defensive midfielder could make this difficult as you don’t want a defender to be pulled out of his line to close Rooney down. Arteta could well keep him at bay but you feel like a little more aggression will be needed to stop him. Inevitably, most attacks end up going through him so that’s the key to really locking down this United team.

United’s wingers also cut inside very often, leaving space for the overlapping fullback. We need to be able to not only stop it but use that space on the counter.

The Dangermen

It goes without saying what a danger Rooney and Persie (boooo) are. Both are capable of scoring good goals, but more worryingly both are capable of winning penalties that should never be given. Rooney has seemingly won a penalty in almost every match against us by knocking the ball out of play and falling on top of Lehmann, Almunia, Szczesny and if we fast forward another ten years, he’ll have conned another few generations of referees at the expense of Arsenal goalkeepers.

And as mentioned, Rooney’s deeper role will cause trouble by drawing in the defence and midfield, creating more space for the wingers and striker to get forward and that’s something to be very wary of.

The Weak Links

Patrice Evra has put in some questionable performances recently. It’s definitely an avenue we should look to exploit. Between Gervinho and Walcott running directly at him, it’s bound to force some mistakes. Against Newcastle about a month ago, United were in control for most of the game but Newcastle put together some meaningful counters through the space left by Evra on the right flank. If we show some better finishing than they did that day, we’ll be able to cause serious problems.

Also Rio Ferdinand struggles for pace on the best of days. With United most probably being on the front foot for most of the match, they’ll be playing a high line, leaving a lot of space to get in behind Evans and Ferdinand. I have never been more an advocate of starting Theo Walcott than this Saturday.

The Verdict

Realistically, I’d call this match a throwaway. But this is probably the most vulnerable United have been in a long time. Apart from their front four, there’s very little in terms of stand-out talent. With us going into the match as huge underdogs there’s definitely room for an upset. Probably a draw. Perhaps we could do with an alternative type of training – playing some of the football games at Ladbrokes.com, like Shoot and Soccer Safari. Or maybe have a few games of roulette to relieve the pressure a little.

The Robin van Persie situation

Hi there! Two blogs in as many days, I know, must be some sort of record for me. Nice choice of picture? What ever do you mean? Nope, sorry. No idea what you’re talking about…

So it seems as if Robin van Persie, our talisman of last season, will be sold if Manchester United meet the asking price, which they apparently have. I wrote about the situation a while ago, before he made the statement, insisting that we couldn’t afford to sell him, even if it meant he ran down his contract and went elsewhere. It’s important to mention that I assumed ‘elsewhere’ would be another league – I was sure he wouldn’t leave us for another English team.

Well, pretty much everything has changed since then. He made the statement, looks likely to go to one of the Manchester clubs with few other teams in for him, and we have signed Santi Cazorla. The situation is completely different, and for us it’s changed for the better.

Last season, we relied on van Persie for goals, and he duly supplied them, winning the Golden Boot and, let’s be honest, firing us into the Champions League. But the team was imbalanced – we relied on him far too heavily. There was a massive disproportion in our list of goal scorers – only Theo Walcott also reached double figures in all competitions.

What was clear as we entered the Robin van Persie saga was that any replacement would be under huge pressure to deliver – van Persie’s role was unique in its style and also importance. Whoever we signed to take his place, assuming we had to replace him, would be thrust into the headlights and would be required to hit the ground running. If not, we’d have another season of transition and if we fell further from our position of last season, we’d most likely miss out on the Champions League.

The statement changed things. It changed van Persie’s status at Arsenal from the king of the current crop to, in the eyes of some, a traitor. Money-grabber was a bit far, but he had let down everyone at the Emirates Stadium, from the fans all the way up to Arsene Wenger. Suddenly he became a bit more dispensable – he hadn’t become a worse player over night but his commitment could be openly questioned after the statement.

Still, on the pitch not much was different. We still had to replace him with a great player if he left, and even then his influence wouldn’t quite be replicated.

The signing of Santi Cazorla was a game-changer. All of last season we had lacked a player to define us – a playmaker. Cesc Fabregas was a massive loss, and we didn’t make up for the sale with a similar player. By all accounts, Arsene tried hard – the size of the bids it’s suggested he made for the likes of Cazorla and Juan Mata back that up – but in the end we were left to rely on Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey. Both good players, but not capable of running the team. Rosicky came into form in the second half of the season, but still didn’t quite do the job, while Ramsey suffered under the pressure of the role.

Cazorla, though, was a fantastic signing. Finally, we had someone to replace Fabregas in that playmaker role. The problem with van Persie being our talisman – the problem with any striker being a talisman – is that, no matter how good he is, he needs service to thrive. Van Persie often did so, with our suppliers focussing their passes and crosses in his direction, but it wasn’t always enough. Sometimes he was off form, and at those times we often struggled.

But when your key player is a central playmaker, like Cazorla, it’s a bit different. A playmaker, by definition, makes those around him play. Fabregas did exactly that, and at his best, goals came from all around the pitch. Whoever made a run would be found, and it would then be up to them to supply the finish. The goals weren’t shared around last season – all of the players knew that they just had to pass to van Persie.

This may have meant that they didn’t take responsibility themselves. Why try and score yourself when it’s so much easier to pass to your captain and best player? Besides, at the beginning of the season especially, we lacked confidence after a poor spell, so a lot of players played within themselves (or should I say with the hand-brake on Arsene?) and van Persie ended up having to rescue us on several occasions.

And don’t let van Persie’s massive goal total fool you – creatively Arsenal were lacking a lot last season. The majority of his goals weren’t simply down to good midfield play, but superb movement from the Dutch striker. Without that we suffered, although luckily we didn’t go without it too often during the season.

Having Cazorla will change things. Our wingers won’t have to focus on feeding the striker, and will instead be able to make more runs. Alex Song won’t have to bomb forwards as much because his passes won’t be so important. We’ll become far less predictable – the theory was that if you stopped van Persie, you stop Arsenal, and while this was a lot easier said than done, it was still managed. The game against Wigan is the best example – at the Emirates they took van Persie out of the game perfectly, and we looked as if we had no idea how to score in the second half.

Finally the balance of the squad is a lot more even. The restructuring with the signings of Podolski and Giroud to shoulder the attacking burden and Cazorla to create have been excellent, especially for a reported total of £35 million (Andy Carroll yadah yadah yadah), but most importantly Cazorla fills the hole that’s been gaping since Cesc Fabregas went back home.

This vital puzzle piece being missing last season meant an increased reliance on our best player, but now, in theory at least, we won’t need to rely on a striker for all of our goals. They should be coming in from all angles now that we have a proper creator. Players don’t always have to be replaced like-for-like; simply their influence has to be replaced, and the signings of Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and, in particular, Santi Cazorla will surely do that for the apparently imminent departure of van Persie.

Kompany gives City the edge

While the Manchester derby was hardly going to live up to the gargantuan expectations that had been built up by the media in terms of quality, it was still an intriguing game.

Firstly Manchester United made some interesting decisions; Phil Jones came in for Rafael at right back and Park Ji-Sung played in midfield alongside Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes, with the champions going with a 4-3-3. Wayne Rooney played up front on his own – which most United fans maintain is his best position – flanked by Ryan Giggs and Nani.

One of the things that stood out was how close Phil Jones played to United’s centre backs in the right back position when United were defending. Partly this was probably natural on Jones’ part, as he’s primarily a central player, but it also meant that there were few gaps between him and the right centre back, meaning the likes of Samir Nasri and David Silva struggled to thread balls in between them for Aguero. Another effect of Jones’ narrow positioning was that it forced City wide, and with Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero not offering much in the air, not to mention United having a lot of players back to defend the crosses, this helped United limit the clear-cut chances afforded to their opponents.

Still, Alex Ferguson’s men couldn’t keep City out, conceding from a corner on the stroke of half time. Vincent Kompany got the goal, easily losing Chris Smalling to power home a header from Silva’s in-swinging corner. Kompany, along with the other centre back Joleon Lescott, is City’s main aerial threat (Yaya Toure is also tall but heading doesn’t seem to be his strong point) so you’d argue that United should have planned better with how to stop Kompany from getting on the end of corners. Ultimately though, it was Smalling’s lack of focus & experience that saw him dragged to the ball, leaving Kompany free to emphatically head home what turned out to be the winner.

To sum up the first half, Man United did well to limit the chances City had; other than Kompany’s header, the Blues registered one shot on target in the first half from a decent position near the penalty spot. There were three off target efforts, including a wayward, rushed volley from Aguero from a tight angle. City’s other three attempts were blocked before breaching the six-yard area in front of Joe Hart.

The eight attempts City had in the first half

City managing to break through during the first half despite United’s relatively good organisation in forcing them wide showed a good variety in their play, because while they were stopped from threading balls through they still managed to score from a set piece. Still, it highlighted a short-coming in their attack – neither Aguero or Tevez are particularly good in the air, shown by how City struggled when forced to cross the ball into the box; most of the crosses were low ones, which were mostly cut out easily.

Many teams have tall target men such as Peter Crouch at Stoke, but at City the technical demands are much higher, and they can’t simply sign a tall player who’s good in the air – there must be a good amount of skill there too. Firstly they tried for this type of player in Emmanuel Adebayor, but he failed to make the long-term impact they were hoping for. Edin Dzeko was a similar signing, but after a good start to the season finds himself struggling to get into the team. With Fernando Llorente making noise in Spain and Europe for Athletic Bilbao, it may be that City consider replacing Dzeko with the Spaniard.

In the second half, the game was much more end-to-end. City lived mainly off of counter attacks which eventually led to spells of tentative dominance in United’s half – Yaya Toure’s power was vital in starting off these counters. While City, as stated earlier, had few clear cut chances in the first half, they had more in the second half as United, pushing for an equaliser, left less players back and focussed less on defensive organisation and more on breaching City’s defence.

Vincent Kompany was man of the match, and he was excellent in defence alongside Joleon Lescott, with United also feeding off scraps up front. They had no answer to City’s defensive compactness, which was excellent especially as they managed to transition from resolute defending to free-flowing attack seamlessly. United had few runs in behind the defence, who as it were were playing close to Joe Hart, and first Barry then de Jong tracked Rooney whenever he dropped deep. That left the midfield battle as 2 v 2, but Scholes and Carrick couldn’t take advantage of this new numerical equality; perhaps not quite energetic enough to do so.

Another thing which was worth nothing was the similarity of United’s wide players – Young, Valencia and Nani are all good players (although Valencia is the only one who has been consistent this season) but they’re all mainly speed & trickery based. Valencia is a good team player, but none of them are particularly renowned for their passing or playmaking skills. With Scholes and Carrick sitting relatively deep, United had no playmaker in advanced areas, which limited them when it came to breaking City down and unlocking the stubborn blue walls of defence.

United’s 4-3-3 was set up largely to contain, as they would have taken a draw while a loss would have been disastrous to them. However, with Scholes and Carrick their sitting midfielders, they had no naturally defensive holding midfielder to protect the defence properly a la Gareth Barry. While Scholes and Carrick do well at keeping possession against the likes of QPR at home, they were somewhat overrun by City and didn’t offer enough offensively between them.

In the end City’s discipline defensively having gone 1-0 up was commendable, and they were fully content to hold onto their lead – they knew fully well that they could frustrate United due to a lack of creativity against a stubborn, well-organised defence, and that’s how it panned out.

Taking the positives

There would be little point in going over the same negative critiques as everybody else – it would add little to the debate and be very repetitive, not to mention rather detrimental. So instead, this post will discuss some of the positives that can be taken from the Arsenal – Manchester United game.

Let’s start with Laurent Koscielny, a player I (among several others) have long been championing. All season long (and before that too) he has been absolutely superb, barely putting a foot wrong. He kept that up on Sunday, with his immaculate defensive play one of the highlights for Arsenal. As always his tackles were precise and clean, and he was dominant in the air.

Indeed, he was the one who started the attack for Robin van Persie’s goal. He robbed Rafael of the ball expertly, and having carried it out of defence, fired a pass into Tomas Rosicky. Rosicky played a lovely ball to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who set up van Persie to fire home. Koscielny loves to come out of defence with the ball and it is one of the many things that endears him to Arsene Wenger. He loves a ball-playing centre back, and appears to have found a superb one in Koscielny. I’d say he’s quite easily the best defender at the club. There aren’t many better in England right now either.

The manner of Arsenal’s goal was unsurprising and perhaps telling, as it was made by the three stand-out players of the game for the Gunners. After the contribution of Laurent Koscielny came Tomas Rosicky‘s. He found himself in acres of space when found by Koscielny, and lobbed an excellent pass into the path of Oxlade-Chamberlain. Rosicky was easily the best out of Arsenal’s midfield trio, constantly looking for space and helping keep the ball. His dynamic runs on the ball were a great help in starting attacks for the home side, and filled in well for Mikel Arteta.

There have been many times when Rosicky has been written off by most but once again he’s come back and shown his true colours. If he could gain some more consistency in his performances (which are in fairness not very consistent themselves numbers-wise; he often gets thrown in due to injury, instead of being played in a rotation system, something which would probably decrease Arsenal’s injuries as they wouldn’t be relying on players so heavily) he would be seen as a very valuable member of Arsene Wenger’s squad. For now he should be seen as a great fill-in for Mikel Arteta – it is just a shame that Aaron Ramsey is also filling in for Jack Wilshere and is suffering from that reliance on him. It’s never easy when a team is forced to play two second choice midfielders, especially for Arsenal as it’s where the majority of their play comes from.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the third player involved in the goal before the finishing touch from Robin van Persie and had been having an eye-catching game. His buzzing runs and powerful play created a few openings for Arsenal; a chance spurned by Theo Walcott and one narrowly missed by Aaron Ramsey were both set up by Oxlade-Chamberlain. He finally got the assist he had been working for when captain van Persie drilled home after great work from the youngster.

He repeatedly turned United’s full backs and covering players inside out, and did so again for the goal. Any worries about him not being mentally ready for the big-time seem to have been soothed. Physically he may not be ready 100% as was shown by Wenger bringing him off (although his critics will argue against that point) but that will be easy to improve on.

Talking about the game as a whole, 2-1 is a completely respectable score-line. Arsenal were poor in the first half, but the second half saw them take control. It was a very promising display; they seized upon mistakes (see Rosicky robbing Smalling) and despite missing chances it would have pleased Arsene Wenger, despite the direction the game took in the end. His side have lost by the same score to Manchester United many a time before, and there certainly wasn’t as much hysteria then.

Clearly Arsenal are suffering from injuries to key players; Bacary Sagna, Andre Santos, Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta would all have started, and Gervinho is also missing. Not only that but the replacements for those players aren’t all fit – Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs are both on the sidelines too. 2-1 against the champions is hardly a terrible result. It could have gone either way too – if Arsenal had made more of their period of dominance they could have easily gone ahead.

The point is not that the negatives are irrelevant or even not there. Just that they aren’t all that there is.

Tactical analysis – Arsenal and United

Cometh the hour, cometh the Man United.

For a lot of this season I’ve subscribed to the notion that Manchester United are a comparitively average side. While individually they may not have an outstanding player who wins games for them on their own – although Wayne Rooney does that at times – I realised today that as a team they’re very, very good.

My rose-tinted glasses were the only thing stopping me from doing so. Only now that they’ve effectively sealed the title can I look at things from a more realistic standing point, as I’m a very optimistic supporter in the long term. It also helped me to open my eyes to Man United’s collective effectiveness by watching Arsenal and Manchester United back-to-back. The performances were from completely different ends of the football spectrum.

While we played a slow, even dull passing game which failed to break Stoke down, United were dynamic and powerful in attack, exchanging quick-fire passes and sprinting up the pitch. As much as it pained me to say it, their style of play reminding me of that of the Invincibles. Not obsessed with keeping possession like we are, but patient. They don’t force the opposition back with pressing and a high defensive line, making it difficult to break down the other team’s defence. They play a deep defensive line, making attacks easier to deal with and defences easier to break down.

The way that we set out our stall is just asking teams to sit back and defend – if they don’t, it’s pretty much suicide, as Blackpool have found out. Arguably our biggest problem is of our own doing. One of the only teams to not sit back due to our high pressing has been Tottenham at White Hart Lane. They were able to do so because they managed to match us in attack – not because they’re on the same level as us going forward, but more because of the fact that it was a derby, and anything can happen in derbies. West Brom also succeeded in playing attacking football against us, exposing our poor defence with excellent counter attacks, just like Man United do to us and other teams regularly.

Our high defensive line and the knock-on effects of it are what make beating us usually so easy for them to beat us. It also explains why so many of their goals against us are on the counter attack – we press so high up the pitch that when they get the ball, they find it so easy to break against us due to our limited numbers in defence.

We try to emulate Barcelona with our high line and so on, seeing as they’ve had a lot of success in La Liga and the Champions League, but they’re completely different competitions to the Premier League. Barcelona also have far superior attackers to us, not to mention the incompetence of oppositions in La Liga. Their Champions League success is more about the former.

I really feel that Theo Walcott is wasted at Arsenal in our current system. As a right winger, he struggles to use his main asset, his pace, because to beat his man he needs to go to the right and run – usually this would mean he went over the touchline and gave away a throw. Furthermore, he would absolutely thrive in Hernandez’s role at Man United, in my opinion. Hernandez’s goal against Chelsea was an absolute carbon copy of Theo’s against Tottenham, and I think he could do it far more often if played centrally like Hernandez, with Man United’s tactics.

The reason he managed to do it against Tottenham was because, like I said, they tried to match us in attack stride for stride, instead of focussing on defending, like most teams sensibly do due to their attacking strengths/weaknesses. Theo will probably only thrive in our current system against sides who play attacking football – Blackpool, Tottenham, Barcelona etc. That’s why I think we should play like United. In my opinion, that would make Walcott so much more effective.

Chants from Stoke fans accused us of being boring, and if I said I was entertained by the football we played I’d be lying. It was slow, indirect and dull. We lacked a change of pace, another problem created perhaps by our tactics, but also the personnel. I can’t blame Stoke fans for calling us boring – sometimes I find Barcelona boring. When it’s not your team in possession, it gets seriously boring when it’s pass after pass with no directness. Even when it is your team, it can get boring, especially when you’re used to it or need a goal, two things that applied today.

Returning to the topic of Manchester United, Alex Ferguson has been excellent for them this year in particular. His tactical calls, like using Park instead of Nani for the big games, and signings, namely Hernandez, have been masterstrokes. As much as we’d like it to be Arsene, the manager of the decade has to be Ferguson. I’d nominate him for manager of the year too, despite how well Holloway has done, or Hodgson and Dalglish in the second half of the season. He’s got every last drop that he could possibly get out of this Manchester United team, and no matter what you say about them, they’re a pretty effective machine.

Berbatov beats Bolton as United go five clear: top tier round-up

Premier League

Having slipped up against West Brom, we needed Bolton to have at least held Manchester United at Old Trafford for it to be a point gained. This was not the case; a rare Jussi Jaaskelainen mistake saw Dimitar Berbatov bundle home in the 88th minute to win all three points for the Red Devils.

To make matters worse, Chelsea beat Manchester City 2-0 at Stamford Bridge to power their way back into contention for the title. Second half goals from David Luiz and Ramires gave the Blues a win in a tightly contested game in London.
There was a result to put smirks on our faces in Saturday’s lunch time kick-off, a 0-0 draw between Sp*rs and West Ham at White Hart Lane. Defoe in particular, who had his “100 Goals” shirt ready to be revealed, missed a hatful of chances, with Rob Green in top form.

Liverpool continued to rebuild their season with an impressive, hard-fought win at the Stadium of Light. Dirk Kuyt scored a debatable – to say the least – penalty, before Luis Suarez kept up his excellent form, finishing off a good run with a sensational shot. John Mensah was given his marching orders late on for a second bookable offence.

Elsewhere, Wigan came back to beat Birmingham 2-1 with a strike from Maynor Figueroa winning it at the death, while Everton overcame Fulham by the same scoreline at Goodison Park. Stoke thrashed Newcastle 4-0 at the Britannia, and a Matt Jarvis stunner was enough for Wolves to beat Aston Villa – and drag their rivals into a relegation battle.

Finally, Blackburn came back to force a draw with relegation rivals Blackpool at Ewood Park. A ridiculous penalty was slotted home by Charlie Adam, who bent a beautiful free kick right into the “postage stamp” five minutes later to make it 2-0. A goal from Chris Samba got the home side back in it, before Junior Hoilett snatched a point at the death.

La Liga

Real Madrid kept up with Barcelona with a 2-1 derby win over Atletico Madrid. Karim Benzema kept up his wonderful form, opening the scoring with a deft finish past David de Gea, before Mesut Ozil made it two. Sergio Aguero grabbed a late goal for Atleti, but it turned out only to be a consolation for los Rojiblancos.

Barca beat Getafe to stay five points clear of Real having played the same amount of games. Goals in each half from Dani Alves and Bojan put the league leaders 2-0 up, and Manu’s 88th minute goal didn’t change the outcome of the game.
Bottom of the table Malaga got a huge win at home to fifth placed Espanyol, winning 2-0 to jump two places to 18th. Levante scored a last-gasp winner to pull away from opponents Deportivo la Coruna, who remain in trouble at the bottom. Racing Santander gained on Real Sociedad by beating them 2-1.

Mid-table Osasuna thrashed Hercules 4-0 away from home, and the losers find themselves propping up the table with nine games to play. Sporting Gijon climbed to 15th with a 1-0 win over Almeria, while Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal are currently at half time, with the score 0-0. Sevilla are due to play Valencia later tonight.

Serie A

Inter Milan closed the gap on AC Milan to two points at the top, with Giampaolo Pazzini scoring the winner on 52 minutes. His cool finish was the only thing that could separate Inter and opponents Lecce, who put up a good fight. Milan were undone by a 10th minute goal from Palermo’s Goian in a tough away clash, and now face a real battle with rivals Inter for the title.

A double from Francesco Totti helped Roma to a 2-2 draw at Fiorentina, leaving his side 6 points behind 4th placed Napoli, who play Cagliari at 7:45pm. Juventus kept their Europa League dreams alive, with club legend Alessandro del Piero getting the winner against Brescia. Udinese saw off Catania 2-0, Gokhan Inler and Di Natale scoring.

Parma beat Sampdoria 1-0 thanks to Zaccardo, leaving their opponents in a bad position near the bottom of the table. Chievo beat bottom side Bari 2-1, while Bologna and Genoa played out a 1-1 draw.