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Which Premier League manager will get fired first

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Competition

The Champions League has a strong Quarter Final line up this season and the draw has produced some intriguing ties that may provide some surprising results with no easy route of passage to the final.

Whilst Barcelona seem to have got the easiest draw with Shakhtar Donetsk they have struggled against Rubin Kazan and Dynamo Kiev in recent seasons so the Ukranians may not prove the easy passage that some Barcelona fans anticipate. If they do negotiate the cold of the ex-Soviet city they could well come unstuck against Real Madrid who will have a point to prove following their thrashing in the El Classico match earlier in the season.

Whilst Tottenham have done extremely well in this year's Champions League I expect Cristiano Ronaldo to prove the difference between the two sides as he has played against Spurs on several occasions whilst at Manchester United and while Van Der Vaart will want to prove a point against his ex-employers and Gareth Bale will force them to defend deep Sergio Ramos has a good goal threat as well and may well force Bale to start deeper than he would like. The two matches between Spurs and Madrid will be exciting and entertaining but I think the Spaniards will produce one or two moments of special skill that will ultimately turn the tie in their favour.

Spurs will be a side that Inter Milan will be glad to have avoided and the defending champions will (with some justification) really fancy their chances against Schalke but while the Germans have struggled in the league this is a competition that Raul loves and will want to win again before retirement but I think it will be Milan who progress.

The tie that stands-out though is Chelsea vs Manchester United simply because of the rivalry between the teams and the controversy surrounding refereeing decisions within recent meetings between the two at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea will want revenge against United for their defeat in Moscow whilst United will want to ensure that Chelsea remain without any silverware this season.

The key in this match will be the battle between Didier Drogba and Nemanja Vidic. Whilst Torres has historically been a difficult opponent for Vidic he seems to have forgotten where the goal is and turned the tide of the league match at the Bridge when he came on as United were in cruise control at that point. That is not to say that Chelsea are a one-man team but for all the skill of Essien, Lampard, Malouda and Cole, Drogba is the natural outlet and a player that causes every opponent problems. United need to get a grip on their midfield which will be helped if they can get Fletcher and Ferdinand fit. If so I fully expect a 4-5-1 line up with a midfield of Nani, Giggs, Fletcher, Scholes and Valencia with Rooney leading the line on his own.

As a United fan I am going to be biased and say that United can reach the final as they do have the ability to see off either Inter or Schalke, but it is Real Madrid not Barcelona who I think will ultimately stand between Sir Alex Ferguson and a 3rd Champions league triumph at Wembley.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Kuyt Flying

Yesterday was possibly the worst day as a United supporter that I have endured for a long time. Dirk Kuyt scored what is likely the easiest hat-trick he will ever get as United's defence fell over themselves to gift 3 points to their bitterest rivals. After the manner of their midweek defeat against Chelsea they needed to shake off the cobwebs and get back to winning ways and unfortunately failed to do either. Missing both 1st choice centre-backs Ferguson selected an attacking line-up hoping to extend their lead at the top of the table after Arsenal had been held by Sunderland but it was not to be. Liverpool were full of industry, pressing and harrying their opponents all over the pitch forcing 2 defensive errors out of their opponents back four. Luis Suarez showed the skills that convinced Liverpool to pay over £20M for his services and that Andy Carroll is grossly over-priced at £35M. In fact after an hour we were left wondering whether he was actually needed as the shadow of Fernando Torres was swept away in the run that set up the opening goal. It left people asking why Kuyt has been shunted out to the wing for so long. He was full of hustle and bustle and his fortune was in stark contrast to those of Dimitar Berbatov who hit the post and had a chance cleared off the line by Suarez. Apart from letting Jamie Carragher and Rafael stay on the pitch after a couple of shocking challenges there was not much controversy for Phil Dowd to deal with.

There will be an inquest into what went wrong for United and people will point to probably 3 areas.

Formation, Midfield and Personnel.

It is unusual to criticise a manager for setting out his stall and going for the jugular and if United had won I wouldn't be but given that Wes Brown and Chris Smalling are not 1st choice for United a 4-5-1 may have been better utilised to stifle Liverpool and then switch to 4-4-2 later in the game to take advantage of that.

This game was one that really needed Darren Fletcher rather than Carrick in Midfield and the Scots' presence on the bench as Carrick and Scholes were overrun underlined how much they are missing Owen Hargreaves and Anderson. The midfield did not perform and when Nani went off they had to move Rooney to the left as Valencia is still unavailable through injury. The United engine room needs an overhaul in the summer before it conks out.

This brings us to personnel and there will need to a be a lot of changes in the summer. Van Der Sar will likely be followed into retirement by Paul Scholes, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen as the persistent injury problems to the two Owens may mean they have to call it a day and Scholes will probably recognise as did Gary Neville that he is starting to decline.

Also needing to be cleared out are Kusczak, Wes Brown, Jonny Evans, Michael Carrick, Darron Gibson, Federico Macheda and Gabriel Obertan and replaced by higher quality players. Danny Welbeck may provide some striking options when he returns from Sunderland but the following signings would help United dominate the Premier League further: -

Manuel Neuer, Brede Hangeland, Lassana Diarra, Romelo Lukaku and Bastian Schweinsteiger would be good replacements for them and wouldn't cost a fortune although a winger to replace Ryan Giggs has to be high on the agenda with Gareth Bale a natural target along with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

High-profile signings like Kaka, Ribery or Benzema would certainly be interesting and welcome but are not very likely.

United will probably still win the title despite this result, especially if they overcome Arsenal and Chelsea in their upcoming matches, but if they want to stay at the top the Glazers are going to have to spend big in the summer.