Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sir Alex Ferguson: Manchester United can repeat the Treble of 1999

Sir Alex Ferguson has spoken of his belief that Manchester United can emulate the Treble-winning team of 1999, but the manager also expressed his deep concerns that if they were to eliminate Chelsea from the Champions League it would almost certainly cost Carlo Ancelotti his job.
Ferguson is aware that Roman Abramovich is becoming increasingly frustrated by Chelsea's failure to win the European Cup, but he feels it would be unjust if the Russian were to sack Ancelotti.
"It's incredible for Carlo, he won the Double last season. How can Chelsea think of changing such a coach? Carlo is a fantastic guy, a really nice person. There's nothing really between our two teams. Both possess excellent footballers, both have international experience, experienced, good coaches. Really, I don't know where all the criticism comes from."
Ancelotti has won seven of his 11 encounters with Ferguson, and it is nine years since United last won at Stamford Bridge. Yet Ferguson is encouraged by an easing injury situation – Rio Ferdinand could feature at Stamford Bridge – and took the rare step of publicly setting his sights on the Treble as he reflected on the club's position seven points clear at the top of the Premier League, in the last eight of the Champions League and with an FA Cup semi-final to come against Manchester City. "It's 14 games in two months if everything goes our way and, at United, we are used to this kind of thing, which is to our advantage. In the past I have said many times that to win just one trophy would be great. But we have to take the chance of winning all three now. We can repeat the treble of 1999."
Ferguson also talked about José Mourinho's chances of succeeding him at Old Trafford, but the 69-year-old reiterated he had no plans to retire despite the Real Madrid and former Chelsea manager being viewed by many as his long-term successor. "I'm a great friend with José, we often speak of his future. I can understand his desire to come back to England because there is more freedom for a manager here. But it's difficult for me to tell him when this position [at United] will become available."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Youth Cup at Anfield

United’s youngsters will tread the Anfield turf on Sunday 13 March when the Under-18s meet Liverpool in the FA Youth Cup quarter-final.

The young Reds beat Newcastle 1-0 at Altrincham’s Moss Lane in the fifth round to set up a date with United’s biggest historical rivals. Liverpool, meanwhile, sealed their spot in the quarter-final with a resounding 9-0 victory over Southend.

Youth Cup ties are traditionally played in the evening during midweek, but the teams will kick off at Anfield at midday.

United fans are encouraged to attend the game and will be housed in the lower section of the Anfield Road stand. Supporters can pay on the gate: £4 adults, £1 concessions.

Playing this cup tie on Sunday 13 March means United's scheduled league game for Saturday 12 March, against Sunderland, has been postponed.

Marseille 0 United 0

United may not have followed the leads of Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs in the Champions League's last-16 ties, but the Reds remain favourites to reach the quarter-finals after holding a decent Marseille side to a reasonable draw.

Sir Alex Ferguson recalled eight big guns at the back and in attack, but he picked two thirds of the same midfield which laboured to victory over Crawley Town in the FA Cup – Darron Gibson and Michael Carrick – and retained John O’Shea in defence.

Marseille signalled their intent straight from the kick-off, with Gabriel Heinze lunging at Nani and Loic Remy firing the first wild shot across United’s bows, both inside the first 60 seconds. Nani was closer with his opening crack at goal when Dimitar Berbatov teed up him just outside the box, although again the goalkeeper wasn’t troubled.

Playing on the right of a front three, Nani was putting the home side on the rack in the early stages with his surges beyond Heinze. When one such streak drew a foul and Nani’s free-kick was only half cleared, Darren Fletcher drove a first-time shot through a ruck of players; Marseille keeper Steve Mandanda saw it late but pulled off a fine save.

After a lively opening, the game’s tempo dipped to a more typical level for a European match. Less characteristic was United’s use of the ball – or rather misuse with sloppy passes from central midfield handing Marseille opportunities they didn’t have the wherewithal to exploit.

Fortunately Rod Fanni’s right-flank delivery didn’t match the brilliance of his turn and surge past Rooney, while Brandao’s bicycle kick had style but insufficient substance to concern Edwin van der Sar.

The sides won a corner apiece in the closing moments of the first half, from their favoured right flanks. Remy whipped in a ball that Smalling had to repel from the six-yard line with a diving header; then O’Shea’s cross was blocked by Heinze.

The second period opened in similar fashion to the first, with Marseille and United doing enough in the right areas to suggest a decent half was in prospect. Brandao nodded a cross into the hands of van der Sar, while Heinze used his head at the other end to bale out Mandanda after Rooney’s centre left the keeper unusually stranded.

Smalling and Vidic had to be equally alert as Marseille’s attacks gathered some momentum, with both United centre-backs making timely blocks to thwart Remy and Lucho. In the same dangerous spell, a free-kick won by Heinze’s theatrics and a close call from Andre Ayew’s left foot stirred the biggest roars from the home fans – not that the incessantly noisy bunch, backed by a battery of drummers, needed any encouragement.

After weathering a brief storm, the Reds broke out with O’Shea reaching the byline and pulling the ball back for Nani. The Portuguese winger elected to flick it on rather than fire at goal and Berbatov’s shot found the bulk of Souleymane Diawara

Sir Alex made his first change with 18 minutes remaining, replacing Gibson with the most experienced player at his disposal, Paul Scholes. Keeping possession and staying composed were the key aims following his introduction – anything else would have been a bonus and it might have come had Mandanda not been quick off his line to stop Nani finishing off some fine interplay with Berbatov.

A couple of late corners raised the home fans’ hopes but in the end they – and United – had to be content with 0-0 and no damage done at half-time in this tie.

Gimme 5: Goals in France

We recall five Champions League goals from the Reds across the channel...

From the left-hand side of the box, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer unleashes a superb, arcing strike high into the corner of the Lille net to earn a point for United.

Ruud van Nistelrooy adjusts well to head hom

e Cristiano Ronaldo's cross for his 29th European goal, breaking Denis Law's club record.

Ruud latches on to a mis-hit Ronaldo shot to bag his second in four minutes as United come from two behind on Matchday 1 in Lyon.

Quick-witted Ryan Giggs catches Lille keeper Tony Sylva napping with a quick free-kick from the edge of the box in this second-round tie.

Carlos Tevez smashes home a loose ball to hand the Reds a vital late away goal against Lyon in the first knockout round.

we mark United's trip to Marseille by showing five other Champions League goals by the Reds on French soil from the last decade...

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer v Lille, 31/10/2001
Ruud van Nistelrooy (2) v Lyon, 15/09/20

Ryan Giggs v Lille, 20/02/2007
Carlos Tevez v Lyon, 20/02/2008

Ferguson: We will rule in Europe

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson would not be surprised if English clubs dominated the Champions League this season.

After supplying three semi-finalists for three successive seasons, the Premier League endured a miserable time last term, when all four representatives bowed out before the last four stage.

With this year's final taking place at Wembley, the pressure is on to deliver. And so far the omens look good.

Tottenham and Arsenal both recorded outstanding first leg wins against AC Milan and Barcelona in the last 16 last week, while Chelsea followed suit last night with a comfortable 2-0 success over Copenhagen.

Now Ferguson's Manchester United go into battle with Marseille in the Stade Velodrome, with the Red Devils chief optimistic about the chances of English glory on May 28.

"I am not sure you could call it domination at the moment because we are only just into the last 16," said Ferguson.

"But in the last four years English teams have been very powerful. The success rate for getting through to the latter stages is very good and it could happen again.

"The Premier League is very tough, with a lot of talented players. That has created a level over the last seven or eight years that is very difficult to match."

United's chances of success tonight are not helped by the absence of seven senior players though.

Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs are among that number, which will mean a central defensive berth for Chris Smalling and a wide role for Wayne Rooney as Ferguson sticks to a preference for a lone striker in European games.

Giggs' absence means Paul Scholes will assume the mantel of old stager, with Ferguson insisting the 36-year-old is worthy of a new contract, even if the player himself is not entirely convinced.

"I am more than hopeful about Paul signing another contract," said Ferguson.

"I think he should. His fitness isn't in question. I think Paul feels he has to play all the games.

"It is not a bad thing to be that way but at his age, that is impossible. But he can still play a big part for Manchester United, this season and next."

Tonight's game marks the start of an intense period for United.

Between the first and second legs they must tackle Wigan, Chelsea and Liverpool away from home in successive games before entertaining either Arsenal or Leyton Orient in the FA Cup on March 12.

"We have an important few weeks coming, there is no question about that," said Ferguson.

"We are just starting four away games on the run, which is a great challenge for us.

"They are all fantastic matches but it is a time we should enjoy. They are big games and in that situation, the players don't let us down often."

Fergie urges Scholes to stay

Sir Alex Ferguson has called on Paul Scholes to swallow his pride and extend his Manchester United career by another season. The 36-year-old has seen old friend Gary Neville retire and Giggs sign a one-year deal in the past couple of weeks but has yet to decide what to do himself. Scholes is dubious about the impact he has at Old Trafford, given his dwindling number of appearances. However, Ferguson has no reservations about the feisty midfielder's contribution to the United cause. "I am more than hopeful about Paul signing another contract," said Ferguson. "I think he should. His fitness isn't in question. I think Paul feels he has to play all the games. It is not a bad thing to be that way but, at his age, that is impossible. He can still play a big part for Manchester United, this season and next."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Seven to miss Marseille trip

United return to Champions League action on Wednesday night without a number of experienced players.

Ryan Giggs and Anderson joined Jonny Evans, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen, Ji-sung Park and long-term absentee Antonio Valencia in missing the flight to France. Further details are likely when Sir Alex Ferguson holds his pre-match press conference in Marseille later this afternoon (Tuesday).

Meanwhile, new goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard is travelling into Europe for the first time with United, although Edwin van der Sar is expected to reclaim his place in the side after being rested from Saturday's FA Cup win over Crawley Town.

The 22-man party also includes two teenagers in Norwegian striker Joshua King and Bury-born midfielder Ryan Tunnicliffe. The young pair were in knock-out action last week, helping the Reds to reach the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals, and were registered with Premier League squad numbers on Friday.

The Reds' squad to take on Olympique Marseille is as follows:

Goalkeepers: van der Sar, Kuszczak, Lindegaard
Defenders: Vidic, O'Shea, Brown, Rafael, Fabio, Evra, Smalling
Midfielders: Scholes, Gibson, Nani, Carrick, Fletcher, Bebe, Obertan, Tunnicliffe
Strikers: Rooney, Berbatov, Hernandez, King.