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Man Utd v Middlesbrough: Preview

United play their second game of the Christmas programme after returning as ‘Champions of the World’ from Japan. Thankfully, our clear dominance was rewarded against the joke of a team that was Stoke City — cue, ‘brave Stoke’s hearts broken’, and more such tripe from the rags. It was just the sort of win we needed after returning from a gruelling schedule. And I would gladly take these kinds of wins right through this Christmas/New Year period. It’s like one of those bitter pills — you know it’s hard to swallow but you do so anyway because it’s going to be for the greater good. So I’ll be prepared to sit through periods of push, prod, huff and puff that my beloved team is offering for now with the hope that we’ll inch closer to Liverpool and, hopefully, ahead of Chelsea.

My premier league table tells me that we are currently 10 points off Liverpool having played 17 to their 20. Winning our games in hand would put us one point off the pace and two points ahead of Chelsea. That can only be good at this stage, and considering the underwhelming nature of most teams in the league this season, we still have a good chance if we can scrap through this difficult period.

So, in scrap we trust.

On to team news, Rio Ferdinand will continue to sit out due to his back injury. This should continue to be seen as a blessing for young Jonny Evans, who hasn’t done too badly whenever he’s been called up. Evra continues to serve his four match suspension, which would see John O’Shea get more game time. Speaking of left backs, it would be interesting to see how Fergie views this as an opportunity to blood Fabio at some point; I hear he’s making a comeback after recovering from his shoulder surgery.

Berbatov, who started on the bench against Stoke should start today, alongside — presumably — Rooney as Fergie looks to rotate (or play randomized musical chairs, going by how he’s picked his players this season)

Boro have had a history this season already when Pogatetz booted Possebon in a Carling Cup game. But this is a side that I don’t have much time for and considering our impressive home record over the past five games (we’ve won all five) I’d say we should comfortably win this one.

Prediction: 2-0 to United.

PS: For those wondering, I haven’t forgotten, and I will publish submitted entries for the writing competition. Those of you who haven’t submitted as yet, feel free to do so as the competition will continue to be open for the next few weeks. And for those who haven’t heard of it yet, feel free to read the rules of the competition here.

336 Comments

336 Comments

  1. Craig Mc

    30 December 2008 at 02:04

    @Fred The Red: Wow Fred, we did have a great engine room with those players you mentioned – for sure.

  2. Craig Mc

    30 December 2008 at 02:07

    Gotta go to bed folks – talk again tomoz πŸ˜† – night all.

  3. Grognard

    30 December 2008 at 06:28

    @RedDevilEddy: My nickname has been Grognard for years and years because I am a huge fan of military history, especially Napoleonics and I used to be an avid wargamer until the class and body odor of my fellow wargamers began to decline about a decade ago. Other than football my biggest hobby is military history and I as well as my recently departed friend George probably had combined the largest military movie collection on the planet. In inherited many of his films when he passed on but not all of them because I frankly never had the space. And I received my nickname because I always played the French in Napoleonic games and because I was a miserable grumpy opponent to those who hated to lose to my strategy and tactics. Many of you think I am a grumpy and miserable old bastard on this blog. At least you can say I am consistent.

  4. Grognard

    30 December 2008 at 06:31

    @Fred The Red: I don’t disagree with that. But it is nice when you have a player who plays that way and who does have that gift no matter what the position. Cantona certainly had it and van Nistelrooy certainly had it as a poacher. Who among our team has it now? Only Ronaldo and at present, his is out of order or it needs fresh batteries.

  5. Grognard

    30 December 2008 at 06:35

    @Craig Mc: I feel for him but unfortunately his selfishness and immaturity created all this and he has made his own bed, now he has to live with the consequences and lye in it. Hell with him the national hatred started with his first toe over move and got further enhanced with the winking/Rooney incident in the World Cup. He just has not learned how not to piss people off because it is in his cultural DNA to act like a petulant woman who needs to be put over ones knees and given a good hard spanking.. I love him but he does frustrate one so.

  6. frankie

    30 December 2008 at 10:43

    I can’t understand why people here slate Neville and Scholes. The team played much better when they were in. I have said it before: Rafael is a great prospect but he is currently a defensive liability and even an aged Scholes is much better than a young Fletcher. Our problem yesterday was that neither Berbatov (pace his goal) nor Ronaldo are playing near their potential and that leaves Rooney as the only in form forward. As for Park, I think he played quite well but he cannot score in a brothel.

  7. ROOOOONEY

    30 December 2008 at 12:28

    i dont think anyone is slating scholes

  8. Matthew

    30 December 2008 at 12:30

    frankie, i dont think most people on here are slating scholes but i do think that definitely giggs and neville should retire b4 they tarnish their image. They are both legends yes and gotta say i love the guys for what they have done for us but in this business there is no room for being sentimental. It would be nice for these legends to keep playing until they are 40 but we know that they cannot do that and once their performances have started dropping to low levels so that they look shadows of their former selves you know it is time for them to go however painful and difficult that sounds.Look at arsenal for instance, they had the legends like vieira, pires, henry but saw tht these players were getting on in years and couldnt produce the form enough so they got rid of them. Vieira was a shadow of himself in his final season so they gave a young 17 year old called fabregas his chance and he has impressed ever since. If that was at our club that old player would still be playing despite poor performances just becos of his legendary status and this would hold back the development of a possible young world star. We have some extremely young talented stars that just need a couple of games. Neville has been shocking this year and for me rafael and brown are ahead of him so unless he likes being 3rd choice i feel he should retire. Possebon looks a great talent but he has hardly played even though in the games i have seen of giggs in CM he has been asful and if his name wasnt giggs he wouldnt be picked simple as. We also have wellbeck, fabio and campbell but we dont seem to play our youngsters even if the senior players arent deserving of a starting spot because of poor form. My point is i feel scholes still has something to offer us but i gotta say that although i love the guys, giggs and nev need to retire and let the talented under studies have their chance. I mean yesterday it was imbarrassing seeing us bring on all 3 oldies to try to change our match. Surely a young kid like possebon or wellbeck could have got a run out, but simply because of their names and their legendary status they were picked. Scholes was good yesterday and thats credit too him, he is still a good player. But neville and giggs arent needed any more and i just feel that any criticsm aimed at them is usually correct because some of their performances have been shocking but they get picked simply because of what they have achieved in the past. Its not their fault but we have to keep winning things and when players arent performing and are underperforming on a consistant basis maybe it is best that they leave and that is the point i and many others are trying to make about them.

  9. dan(u-ol)

    30 December 2008 at 13:31

    Steve Gerrard Gerrard

    What ever will be will be

    Detained by her majesty

    Steve Gerrard Gerrard

  10. RedAllTheWay

    30 December 2008 at 13:41

    just for people whu are slating berba for being Lazy and not getting enough goals and ronaldo for flopping. berba has go 7 assists, the second most in the EPL and he has played one of the least games. ROnaldo has 8 goals, and is number 4. he has also been injured and is not even on form yet!
    i cant wait till we are firing from all cyclinders. πŸ˜€

  11. Stevie G got f*cked in jail

    30 December 2008 at 13:46

    ronnie got 8 goals from 14 matches, not bad!

  12. Shyam

    30 December 2008 at 14:05

    @Matthew: Okay. First of all let me tell you that i am not a fan of G.Neville or his loyalty. But looking at the way he played against Stoke and his cameo performance yesterday against Boro, i dont think he deserves that kind of a comment from a football analyst like me…

    Against Stoke, he provided the aerial support required and also put in some good crosses and made some overlapping runs..If you havent noticed, yesterday all Boro’s long kicks and goal kicks where aimed at their left hand midfield where Tuncay was playing against Rafael because they found him as the weak link in our defense..most of the time he was caught upfield …This is nothing bad, it is the learning curve for the kid…

    G.Neville came on and provided the defensive solidity and also made some good runs most of them overlapping runs (which Rafael i feel has not done) which created couple of good scoring chances..He did what was expected from him..His performance dint warrant a sudden call for his retirement..

    Well, cant say the same with Giggs..

  13. Traverse

    30 December 2008 at 14:07

    If us playing well below par leads to us being third in the league with the possibility of being 1 point behind the leaders, who are having their best season for 20 years then things aren’t too bad.

    I think the biggest blow to our season and the cause of some of our current problems has been the loss of Hargreaves. All the talk pre season from Fergie was how hargo was over his knee problems once and for all and this would be his year, and I don’t think we had a serious back up plan to the Hargreaves/Carrick axis. If Hargreaves was fit then Giggs wouldn’t have got a game this season in CM, and Scholes would be the impact player that his years call for rather than a starter. Fletch is only getting as many games as he is because he is doing the Hargreaves job of providing grit in the Center, and Anderson would have got his games and been allowed to attack more with Hargreaves covering.

    I also think this is one of the reasons we aren’t as marauding as last season, because Carrick is having to play a more measured game because of his defensive duties rather than having the time and space to ping a 40 yard lob onto an on running Rooney’s laces.

    That or we’re just playing badly πŸ™‚

  14. Shyam

    30 December 2008 at 14:11

    @RedAllTheWay: I am a fan of Berbatov’s touches and passes. In fact i am trying to play much like him on the field nowadays…But one thing is still missing from his game…aggression. No 50-50 headers, he is not trying to get to the box when rooney makes those runs towards the wings..Ronaldo and Park has made better runs than him into the box..

    For once i think Fergie is playing Berba behind rooney because of his runs off the ball or lack of it rather..

    He certainly can play with the aggressive frame of mind because we saw him do that against tottenham probably charged by the taunting of his former teammates..

  15. Liam

    30 December 2008 at 14:22

    Just thinking of the game again and Berbatov’s main problem has become clear. He gets it between midfield and the box, and then makes a 5 yard through ball to the wings. Then he sees that as his job being done, he never calls for it back and I know if Rooney or Ronaldo passed the ball out wide they would either follow it to help the wide players or be breaking their backs to get into the box. Berbatov makes his pass and then just stands there. He might start jogging slowly or walking towards goal but without any purpose. I honestly can’t think of any other player we could have gotten for 30m who would be this bad. Why didn’t we just sign Eto’o when he was available? our attack wouldn’t have skipped a beat with him in it.

    Also Craig, Ronaldo is a grown man. We shouldn’t have to worry about hurting his feelings. I know if I had a girl who i’d been making think I was in love with her for 5 years but as soon as I’d gotten everything I wanted out of her and just dumped her for some continental girl who’s mother really liked me but my father persuaded me to come back to her, then she isn’t going to be over the moon at me. I haven’t seen a hunger to do well from Ronaldo this season and until I do I will be skeptical of him

    Btw weak analogy I know but I did my best πŸ™‚

  16. dan(u-ol)

    30 December 2008 at 14:34

    @Liam: and yet, it was berbatov that scored and not rooney or ronaldo 😐

    Mate, it seems with you, players you like can do no wrong and players you dont like can do no right…

  17. Beachryan

    30 December 2008 at 15:18

    Wow, few things are very clear from that reaction:
    1. There are some that just aren’t easily pleased. This is a very hard time in the season, multiplied by our visit to Japan. It’s at time when big teams drop points. And we haven’t.
    2. Park can do no right to some people. He was the most productive United player on the pitch yesterday, and his shooting was no worse than Ronaldo’s. I’ve doubted his quality, but you have to hold your hands up after a good performance and call it what it was.
    3. You can’t call Fergie senile and mad for giving the young players a holiday if he felt they needed it. We won the games without them, they should be rested and happy. Everyone wins.
    4. Our defense barely got a mention. That’s 7 league clean sheets in a row, with a 20 year old and John O’Shea featuring in several of them.
    5. While I have a sneaky feeling we won’t win both games in hand, we’re still in the reckoning for a title, after the most ridiculous first half schedule I’ve ever seen. We’re still in contention for every title there is. So we haven’t managed quite as many one-touch passing moves and a lot less goals. We’re winning despite struggling. It’s not supposed to be easy.
    6. Where the hell is Ronaldo’s rabbit foot or whatever he was using last year. My lord. He can barely play a 5 yard pass now with the right weight. Needs a serious injection of confidence.

  18. Liam

    30 December 2008 at 15:18

    @dan(u-ol): Berbatov scoring the goal doesn’t change the fact that his overall game was atrocious. He constantly lost the ball, the only times he didn’t were on 5 yard passes to the wide players. Our 30m striker takes 1 shot a game if we are lucky. Rooney now has to play basically a lone striker role. There were a number of occasions when Rooney was bearing down on goal and it was Fletcher getting forward to support him. Why wasn’t Berbatov there?

  19. Liam

    30 December 2008 at 15:25

    @Beachryan: thank you I was beginning to believe I was the only one who noticed that Park played well. If he had a bit more luck on his side he would have had a hat-trick. That miss was a freak event and has happened to many better players. If Park was Portuguese then maybe people would rate him

  20. JB

    30 December 2008 at 15:44

    @dan(u-ol): I would say most of the commentators on the blog suffer from bias on players (be it positive or negative).

    @Shyam: Well said. Neville played some woeful games earlier in the season and got rightly criticised for it. But by the same token he deserves some praise after putting in a couple of good performances recently instead of more abuse.

    @Liam: I think people would rate him more if he could actually finish. It is a huge problem with is game but he has a number of other attributes. His off the ball movement is the best at the club, his discipline and his workrate are excellent and his sheer persistence make things happen. There are a number of more highly rated players at the club that could gain a lot from having a look at Park’s movement. However this notion that he is a marketing gimmick or a completely talentless player is complete and utter rubbish IMO. Anyone who saw his performances against AC Milan before he joined us should know that.

    @Craig Mc: I would say that Anderson and Nani’s form started regressing well before the start of this season. Thankfully Anderson seems to be coming around from it lately. As for Nani, looks like a case of second season syndrome to me.

  21. antsBoy

    30 December 2008 at 16:25

    It’s simple..it’s VERY HARD for some people who’ve engraved their opinions about our players in stone, to change what they think about the player.

    Park has been in our top-3 best performers for the last 4-5 matches. This is a FACT and it’s there for all to see. Similarly, Gary Neville has been doing a lot of good stuff in the last 2 matches. Especially yesterday, Gary looked really up for it..maybe he should be a regular sub around 60-70min.

    Anyway, my point is it’s hard to change opinions in some cases, so we should just get along with it.

  22. colver

    30 December 2008 at 16:50

    Yeah Berbatov just isn’t doing it for us yet. While he has contributed a fair amount of assists we’ve created less chances than we did with Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo working in tandem last season. Also three goals in the league is a poor return considering the number of games Berbatov has played. You can argue we didn’t buy Berbatov to score goals, but that begs the question who was supposed to score the goals then? Ronaldo could not be expected to repeat the scoring feats of last season, Rooney has always been streaky and Tevez was benched the moment Berbatov arrived.

    Earlier someone said that when Ferguson fancies a player he pulls all stops to buy them without considering how they fit into the team. I’m inclined to agree. Veron and Berbatov are prime examples. Fabulous players but caused us to change a system that was working really well. We seem a slower team than last season and our movement is not as good and I think Berbatov is partly responsible for that.

  23. dan(u-ol)

    30 December 2008 at 17:13

    @colver: 25 chances yesterday, 25. we ARE creating, we are NOT taking the chances.

  24. frankie

    30 December 2008 at 17:32

    All the talk about our attacking problems have overlooked the strength of our defence, and particularly of the consitantly high performances of Vidic. Player of the season so far imo.

  25. Matthew

    30 December 2008 at 17:40

    Shyam comment 312, well yes neville was good against stoke but to be honest i would have done well against stoke they hardly had an attack all game, and when they did it was usually on the other side so i dont really feel that his performance was against world beaters. And as for yesterday well i watched the game and again cant say that i noticed him having a particluarly good even decent game, but maybe that was because the stream quality i had was so bad so maybe that was it. I dont wanna slate the guy cos hes a legend and that but if he isnt good enough then we should get rid and i personally feel he is finished at the highest level now so maybe he should call it a day. Just my opinion though.

  26. Grognard

    30 December 2008 at 18:30

    @Traverse: I’d agree with you if it weren’t for the fact that Hargo missed a lot of games last year too. Hargo does not help players hit the back of the net instead of shooting high or wide. But I would have preferred him for free kicks and corners.

  27. Liam

    30 December 2008 at 18:33

    @Matthew: Neville is still king of the overlap, this is something Rafael is struggling to grasp IMO. He does have pace and a half decent cross but he tends to go inside of just hang back a bit when he needs to overlap. Neville, even in his bad games this season has shown that he can still get into those positions it’s just his crossing was rusty, that happens when you’ve been out for a season and not played much. People have been saying Ronaldo’s drop in form is down to his injury at the start of the season and we should give him time to recover. Well how come Neville is expected to return at 100%? Neville has a better football brain than Rafael and people seem to treat the old players as scapegoats despite the fact they’ve been as good as the foreign imports. Look at the NBA, older players can play a pivotal role in big teams. The Boston Celtics right now are the best team in the NBA and yet 3 of their best players are over 30. People don’t give age a chance these days in football. Look at the level of performance a 35 year old Henrik Larsson produced for us.

  28. Grognard

    30 December 2008 at 18:37

    @Liam: More like if he had an ounce of skill he would have had a hattrick. He was useless and if you and a few others can’t see it, that’s fine, but don’t keep telling the majority who believe he was worthless that they were all blind because frankly, they weren’t. And my mother who is an invalid in bed would not have missed that net from two yards. But Stumpy did. He does offer work rate and defensive help though.

  29. Liam

    30 December 2008 at 18:43

    Looking at Sky Sports and their viewer polls are just bullshit. Carragher won defender of the year yesterday and the current one is midfielder of the year which includes CR, Fabregas, Lampard and Carrick. Runaway winner with 62% of the votes: Steven Gerrard. Either most English people are stupid or … Well you can make your own reasons. Oh well it’s the only thing they’ve won in 2008. I loved that European capital of trophies jibe yesterday.

  30. Grognard

    30 December 2008 at 18:47

    @colver: First off, we never changed the system to accommodate Berbatov. We were playing with the same style and pace before he played his first game and we played exactly like that when he was not in the lineup. Don’t lay the team malaise and lack of imagination and pace on the shoulders of one player. Bottom line is Berbatov is trying to fit in to a system that is asking him to track back more and play farther back than he has ever played in his career. And frankly it is cramping his style as a player. Berbatov is a classy player with exceptional skills but he must be used properly in order for the best in him to come out. I seriously doubt that all of a sudden he has lost his skill as a striker and we have ended up with a dud. When Veron left he found his mojo again too. It’s Fergie and his inflexible system that is at blame here and it’s also his stubborn demand to bring square pegs into a team full of round ones that has caused the problem. I’d like to say that Berba needs more time, but with this system in place and it’s lack modularization, I have my doubts if we will ever see the real Berbatov stand and deliver.

  31. Grognard

    30 December 2008 at 18:49

    @dan(u-ol): 25 chances and an amazing 15 that were clear cut goal scoring chances and not just half chances. The ratio for those types of chances is 3 to 1. We should have scored at least 5 goals based on that statistic alone. Even 3 would have justified the effort.

  32. Grognard

    30 December 2008 at 18:57

    @Liam: That’s not true at all. I counted no fewer than five times yesterday when Rafael went on a beautiful overlap run only to not get the ball in return and when he did Ronaldo got him the ball far too late. Overlaps, or should I say the lack of overlaps this season is because players have their heads down and are instinctively receiving a pass and then looking inside rather than the the outside option. This has been one of the points I have written about in the past is the fact that our midfielders never look out wards for an overlap and a quick 1,2 with a fullback. It’s very frustrating. And the only time they ever look for it is with Evra but even then, not as much as they should. On the other hand when one watches Barcelona and Bayern Munich the use of overlaps and 1,2’s is amazing. Lahm and Oddo constantly make runs but the midfielders are always cognizant of their presence. Same thing in Barca with Alves and Abidal. But then those teams utilize their pace and skilled players in a way to bring the best out of them. They never force them in a slow plodding ball control style that doesn’t allow pace and skill to create openings.

  33. Grognard

    30 December 2008 at 18:58

    @Liam: Carragher I laugh at but who amongst our midfielders would you nominate? None of them deserve to be on there. Oh let me guess, JS Park perhaps? πŸ˜€

  34. Fred The Red

    30 December 2008 at 19:22

    @Grognard: Cantona definately had that gift that were talking about, Scholesy at his peak had it to and Sheringham to a certain degree.
    Not sure about Ronaldo, his main attributes are quick feet and amazing athletic ability.
    Rooney shows flashes of it at times, but the one player we have at the minute who definately oozes it, and this should divide opinion, is Berbatov.
    I was at the Hull game at OT and the ball was bouncing out towards the sideline and Berbs gave chase with George Boatang in hot pursuit, in one movement and with his back to him he flicked it over Boatangs head, spun, and played an inch perfect pass down the line for Nani, it was pure class, and as a connosiuer of brilliance I took that memory more than any that day home with me.
    I can understand why some have negative thoughts about him, but I am a fan, and I honestly believe that he is stamped with genius and is a wonderfully talented footballer.

  35. Liam

    30 December 2008 at 19:23

    @Grognard: Read my comment again. ‘which includes CR’ =Cristiano Ronaldo who was nominated but has recieved 15% of the votes (2nd overall). Laughing yet πŸ˜‰

  36. Shyam

    30 December 2008 at 20:26

    @Matthew: I totally agree that he is past his prime..but he still can contribute considering the hectic fixture we have this season..No need to call for his retirement.

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