“Have we hit rock bottom” was the question on Rene Meulensteen’s lips after Fulham’s midweek cup exit. The question now is whether United have hit rock bottom too.
A 2-2 draw was the best that United could muster this afternoon on a characteristically rainy Manchester afternoon, against a Fulham side rooted to the bottom of the table. It was a game in which United played 81 crosses (a dubious tactic) and dominated from the start, yet failed to produce more than a handful of clear-cut chances. Read more…
Welcome to the 73rd episode of the Can They Score podcast. During this week’s show we will be looking back at our 3-1 victory against Fulham and 0-0 draw against Sociedad, before moving onto the small matter of Arsenal’s visit on Sunday. Providing a detailed and holistic review of Manchester United’s ramblings over the last week, be sure to listen in to the podcast now!
Bounjour and welcome to the 72nd episode of the Can They Score podcast as we celebrate a successful week on the field of play (relative to the rest of the season) and ponder the impact of Sir Alex Ferguson’s latest money making scheme. Including previews of next week’s game, listen in to the latest podcast now!
Dimitar Berbatov – the right player at the wrong club. Prodigiously talented, languid and with a playing style that made you feel like you were watching the only player on the pitch. Everyone else was just on the periphery for Berba. It is a shame to see him leave but it is the right decision for all parties as that much talent is wasted on the bench.
We will remember the highs (Liverpool hat trick) and also the lows (penalty vs Everton) but above all we will remember that the Bulgarian simply got what it meant to be a United player. Whether left out or on the bench there was no complaints whereas lesser players would be on the phone to their agent before the day was finished.
I wish him well at Fulham where he will quickly become the main man and the fulcrum of the team. Whatever happens, it won’t be dull and who knows, in a few years that shocking statue of Michael Jackson will be replaced with one of a certain Bulgarian casually smoking a cigarette seemingly in a world of his own. Thanks for the memories.
The Godfather. That is how I will remember Dimitar Berbatov. Not because he used the film to learn English, but because every time I saw him on the pitch, I couldn’t help but think “That might as well be Michael Corleone”. The way his hair was slicked back, the slickness he managed to portray on and off the pitch but also the cigarettes and the wine. Especially those.
When watching Berbatov play, you couldn’t help but notice that the man is a connoisseur. Not of wines (he probably is) but of football. He didn’t run around like Park or track back like Wayne Rooney. With Berbatov, it all happenened once the ball was in his feet. Whether it was a ball magically plucked out of the air or a flick over a player’s tackle, once Berbatov received the ball, he owned it.
He will always be remembered for that hat trick against Liverpool at Old Trafford with a performance that will forever engrave his name in Manchester United folklore. However, Dimitar should first and foremost be thanked not for a majestic display over bitter rivals, but for a 19th title which allowed Ferguson to knock Liverpool off their f***ing perch.
Some will always complain about his inconsistent displays in previous seasons or the fact that he was lazy, but really, who cares? He was Manchester United’s Godfather. He was Dimitar Berbatov.
What can you say about Berbatov that has not been said already? He’s an artist, a magician, a maestro which treats the ball as his orchestra. Players become mere peasants as he dances across them with a touch so delicate it would’ve scored three stars on the Michelin Guide.
The hattrick against Liverpool and the five goals against Blackburn will forever be remembered between United fans. So will his rejection to Manchester City on deadline day in the summer of ’08. A man who never complained and was dedicated and motivated to do a job for the club hhe described as his dream when he joined. However, he just didn’t fit in. United wanted pace, attacking on the counters. To all his qualities, Berbatov lacked the essential speed to cope. A genius who just did not fit into our club anymore.
I wish him all the best and I hope he gets an absolute awesome reaction from the Old Trafford faithful should he return in a cupgame this season. Or perhaps next season if he’s still at Fulham when they visit Old Trafford.
Ahead of United’s second Premier League match of the season, we talked to Kyle from Fulham’s Finest about their summer business, early form and the 90 minutes ahead.
Sitting in a slightly artificial second place, how do you expect Fulham to fare at Old Trafford?
I don’t expect us to fare too well, although it definitely will be brighter than the past few times, I do think that. With United losing to Everton to open the season, the LEAST likely result possible would be two straight losses to start the year for Sir Alex Ferguson. That alone causes me to feel great fear.
I’m a very big realist, and as much as our demolition of Norwich was a ton of fun, I believe in taking one game at a time. This is still a side that may struggle at times to score goals against the top sides.
At Old Trafford, after a United loss, knowing Fulham’s away record, all things considered I’m not too optimistic about this fixture alone, but that’s not to say I’m not optimistic about Fulham’s ability to get results throughout the season against top sides.
Fulham have failed to score in their last five trips to Old Trafford, do you think they will fare any better this season?
I don’t believe in the end they’ll fare any better, although they have a better chance this year than in the past, given United’s defensive situation and Fulham’s ability to start the season strong.
Who do you expect to most successfully target our make shift defence?
If anyone’s going to score, it’s going to be Petric, can’t go wrong picking him as he’s been nothing but stellar this year in preseason and the Norwich match. More on him later. Also, don’t sleep on Moussa Dembele to put on a show for one of his biggest fans, Sir Alex.
Where do you expect your top scorer last season, Clint Dempsey, to be when the transfer window closes?
I’ve been saying all along he will be with Fulham and sold in January. I still hold to that. I could absolutely see him sold last-minute in this window, but it will probably go down to the wire if it does. Here’s why: If I’m a club, I want to take advantage of his unrest with Fulham. Here’s the perfect strategy if you’re, say, Liverpool. You know he wants to leave. Bad. So you do the following: with 3 hours left in the window, or as little time as you feel safe to get a deal done, make one bid. That’s it. Fulham have no time to negotiate, no time to make a counter offer. Fulham know they need to offload him if they can. Therefore, they’ll be forced to take your bid or wait until January. Can’t-lose situation.
Have you been pleased by Martin Jol’s purchases this summer?
I am pleased, but it’s an unfinished job. We haven’t spent a pound on transfers yet as they’ve all been free to this point, and Martin Jol has said multiple times he wants 3-5 more players before the window closes, including, according to him, two more strikers and a center mid. However, that aside, the opener against Norwich showed Jol’s shrewd dealing with the three men he has brought in. Petric is a much more complete target man than Pogrebnyak ever was with us, which gives me lots of confidence that he won’t fall off his early season success as sharply as the Pog did. Petric doesn’t rely as much on strength as the big Russian, and his ball skills should help him be a great goalscoring option throughout the season. We haven’t seen much of Rodallega yet, but what we have is promising. He was constrained in his final year at Wigan, and is still young. Finally, Riether was solid, as was the entire back line, in the opener. All-in-all it’s promising, but depth is still an issue, and one match won’t expose that. I’m confident Jol has targets and a plan, but all my anxiety won’t go away until the club officially announces a few more players.
What about Sir Alex’s purchases?
I’m a huge fan of Kagawa’s, and I think he proved that against Everton. Expect more of the same from him this season. I’m not so sure about Buttner, as he was linked with many lesser clubs (like Fulham) before going to United, so I’m interested to know what they see in him. Probably just depth. RVP is RVP, but his age does speak a little. He obviously won’t have the season he did last year just as a by-product of not being “the guy” anymore, and he needs to be up front rather than on the wing. If he accepts a lesser role and SAF puts him in a spot to succeed, he’ll produce, barring injury.
Wayne Rooney has scored 4 in his last 3 against the Cottagers, how afraid of him are you despite his off season bulge?
It’s Wayne Rooney. I’m very afraid of him. All the talk about him being not as good as he used to be is crap, in my opinion. He’ll turn it on, don’t you worry. Hopefully not against us, but yes, I’m afraid.
How will Fulham approach the game?
Fulham will approach it in the way they have in the past and they have to: defensive. A draw is a great result. They always say “fortune favors the bold” but I don’t see that applying here. Fulham need to frustrate United, then take advantage of weaknesses. Coming out all-out attack will do no good.
Predicted Line Up & Score?
Don’t see any reason to change the successful lineup. Lineup: Schwarzer; Riether, Hangeland, Hughes, Riise; Diarra, Dembele; Frei, Ruiz, Duff; Petric. Could see Kacaniklic get another start but he only was in because of Frei’s injury, so expect to see Kerim Frei back in there. Also could see Rodallega get more of a role in this match.
French poet and historian Voltaire once wrote; “Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes”. He didn’t know it at the time, but when it comes to football, he may have had a point. United’s opening round defeat to Everton has prompted discussion in all quarters, with every critic, journalist and punter clamouring to offer their own opinion on the state of affairs at Old Trafford. Views range from the somewhat overconfident declaration that we have a team capable of immediate domestic and European dominance, to the cynical belief that we may as well pack up and go home now; such are our slim chances of success this year. The truth is perhaps somewhere between these extremes. The signing of Robin Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa will undoubtedly strengthen a team that missed out on the league title last season by goal difference alone, but a period of adjustment is inevitable as the team discovers how best to utilize these player’s talents. Add to this the fact the injury crisis ravaging our defence and the fragmented nature of our preseason and it’s easier to see why the Reds didn’t have the best of games against Everton. This is a team that will undoubtedly improve as the season goes on and players return to full fitness. Most detractors predictably aim the bulk of their criticisms towards our midfield. Another summer is almost gone and Sir Alex has yet to sign the midfield enforcer craved by so many. It has also become clear he has no intention of doing so.
“We’ve never had a holding player…I’ve not had it for 25 years. Why should I think about it now?” (May 2012).
This sentiment will no doubt frustrate many Reds supporters but such is the gaffer’s unwavering loyalty to Michael Carrick it is unlikely we will see a defensive midfielder added anytime soon. Add to this the re-emergence of Tom Cleverley and the signing of Kagawa and it becomes clear that Sir Alex has his own ideas of how best to move the team forward. Whether it will ultimately pay off remains to be seen, but as the Scot moves into his 26th season at the club, he is probably entitled to a little faith. It is, however, shaping up to be a career defining season for many of our players. Tom Cleverley will be looking to rediscover the form that saw Sir Alex prepared to build the team around him last year before injury curtailed his season. Impressing both in the Olympics and in pre-season the Basingstoke born midfielder will hope to build upon the promising relationship developing with Kagawa, and firmly stamp his name on the Gaffer’s team sheet. Alongside him in the centre, Anderson will be attempting to finally realize some of the form and potential that he has been on the brink of realizing for some years now. Now entering into his sixth season at the club, the charismatic Brazilian may be quickly running out of opportunities to show that he is capable of being a player for this club; a reality that is not lost on him.
“I need to prove what I can do. I know the boss and my team mates believe in me. I have just had bad luck. I need to improve…” (July 2012).
The form of Wayne Rooney was often scrutinized last season. Remarkable when you consider the sheer number of goals he scored. It is a testament to the lofty expectations placed on the former Evertonian that despite racking up a career best 35 goals in all competitions neither the fans nor indeed the player himself were pleased with his form. Over the last three or four seasons Sir Alex has successfully converted the striker into a highly functional goal scorer, capable of hitting the net even on bad days. The arrival of Robin Van Persie will hopefully breathe new life into Rooney, both lifting the burden of being United’s main man and introducing a bit of healthy competition. It would do the forward no harm to realize he is no longer immune to being dropped. The striker looked abject at time’s last season and a few games short of match fitness against Everton. Improvement is inevitable as the player embarks upon what should be his peak years. If the thought of playing up front along side Van Persie and Kagawa doesn’t whet his appetite, nothing will. In truth the Everton game may have come too soon for the Reds. International commitments saw a great number of senior players miss the opening games of pre-season. When coupled with the copious injuries wreaking havoc on our defence it is little wonder Sir Alex’s men were shy of form in the opening fixture. As players return and new signings settle in the team is certain to improve. Midfield frailties considered, it would be foolish to expect anything other than a competitive Manchester United when Sir Alex Ferguson is in charge. Though as always, he will do things in his own indomitable way with a clear idea of how he wants the team to form and progress. American Philosopher Elbert Hubbard once said “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing”. This is one thing the unconquerable Scot will never be guilty of.
Kevin Levingston is a freelance writer and blogger. You can follow him on twitter here: @KevinLevingston
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