Monday, September 23, 2013

Premier League Review: Manchester United 1-4 Manchester City


Daniel Meola

In all honesty, is there any need for a review? We all saw what transpired on Sunday, therefore, no recap is required. United were pasted at the Etihad by City on Sunday, the second time in three seasons they have suffered awful defeats to their neighbours. United, two seasons ago, suffered a 6-1 drubbing at home, and although the result was shocking, it felt as some of a one off; something that was not to be expected, nor repeated. While Sunday’s match wasn’t a total replication, it had been coming.


Yesterday marked the third time in just six matches that United have simply played not to lose. Home to Chelsea, away to Liverpool, and now away to City, United have come out playing incompetently and without any purpose. Perhaps, the draw with Chelsea can somewhat be forgiven, as it was David Moyes’ first ‘big game’ in charge at United. Still, Jose Mourinho played the game with zero strikers, a clear sign that he would have been happy with a draw should the result come to fruition. For Moyes, a Chelsea side lining up with no true goal scorer should have been an invitation to go for the kill. Apparently, it wasn’t.

At Anfield, United once again appeared to play a slow brand of football, knocking it about in the middle of the park, happy to keep possession. While the possession may have been with United more than it was with Liverpool, the Red Devils did little to nothing with the ball. No chances were taken mainly because no chances were created. Even when a glimpse of an opening appeared for United to draw level, the final product was either gone by the time they had realized it, or, lacking total overall quality. The lack of creativity led to calls for Shinji Kagawa, who was once again omitted at Eastlands. Had it not been for the early Daniel Sturridge goal, United would have had another droll one all draw.

Through Sergio Aguero, City took the lead after Antonio Valencia failed to track Aleksandar Kolarov, a mistake that proved costly. Chris Smalling, who played well enough to earn himself a second straight start at right back, was slow and out of position on many occasions. Against Bayer Leverkusen in midweek, it was somewhat simple for Smalling, who kept a more midfield minded side at bay. He had little to do on the wings with Heung Min-Son, who drifted inside more that he did wide. City has the trickery and pace in Samir Nasri, who destroyed Smalling all afternoon.

Until Yaya Toure scored what would eventually be a heartbreaking goal just before half time due to a rare Rio Ferdinand defensive error, City looked pretty basic. Sure they had created more chances, but those chances were simply long ranged efforts or poorly taken corners that did not trouble David De Gea. Much like they did at Anfield, United held the ball in midfield decently and occasionally passed the ball in neat triangles. What was the point? There was none. While the absence of Robin van Persie did not help matters in front of goal, the combination of Young, Rooney, Welbeck and Valencia created next to nothing.

In all honesty, aside from the opening game at Swansea and last week’s Champions League opener with Leverkusen, United have looked ordinary. Actually, ordinary may be putting it kindly. I firmly believe the Red Devils took Swansea by storm that afternoon because the Swans had played just days before in a Europa League qualifier. A boring draw with Chelsea, a loss at Anfield, a 2-0 victory over a Crystal Palace side that played the second half with 10 men. A victory over Leverkusen in which United looked impressive yet still allowed two sloppy goals, and now this. A 4-1 drubbing to our biggest title challengers. Unacceptable.

Perhaps what may be worse, Moyes made one change yesterday to get something from the game, the anemic Tom Cleverley for Ashley Young. No Kagawa, no Hernandez, Zaha and Januzaj unable to even make the bench. David Moyes has repeatedly said he wants to put his own stamp on the club. If this stamp means infuriating supporters and arguably the players, he has done so. While I won’t necessarily hit the panic button just yet, the mixed results for United have been alarming to say the least.

There is no reason why Ashley Young should be starting over Shinji Kagawa or Nani. Even Kagawa operating as a left winger has the ability to change the game in a manner that Young either won’t, or can’t. There is no reason a players with the talent of Januzaj and Zaha are totally omitted from the squad all together. Both are tricky and quick, players with no fear or disposition of playing against a bigger opponent such as City or Chelsea or Arsenal. If anything, these matchups will encourage them to prove to the world that the hype around them, isn’t hype at all, but fact. They can’t show that from the stands.

If Moyes continues this style of managing and opts to not use his entire personnel, United are endanger of forcing out the likes of Kagawa, Januzaj, and Javier Hernandez to name a few. This isn’t Everton, Mr. Moyes. You have a full squad, many of whom are full blown internationals, at your disposal. You need not to run your players ragged to earn points, as there is plenty of talent to form two starting elevens that could cause other sides trouble. Wednesday marks United’s seventh game of this season, a League Cup tie with Liverpool. Thus far, Kagawa, Hernandez and Januzaj have barely featured. Zaha, United’s most potent player on tour this summer aside from Adnan, has not been on the pitch for a competitive minute. Something’s got to give.

A loss on Wednesday to Liverpool, albeit in the League Cup, could be a clear indication that the third place finish I would have easily taken at the start of the season will be a stretch. Arsenal have looked a potent side, Chelsea, while not overly impressive, know how to get points when they need to. City will be flying after their dissection of United, and Tottenham Hotspur may have the strongest side, top to bottom, in the Premier League. In Moyes, we trust. I guess.



Friday, September 20, 2013

Premier League Preview: Manchester United v Manchester City


Daniel Meola

As if David Moyes’ baptism of fire as manager of Manchester United couldn’t get any more difficult, the Red Devils will travel across town to square off with Manchester City on Sunday. While Moyes may be no stranger to these types of encounters during his days on Merseyside, the mere fact that a title potentially hangs in the balance adds something. Of course the season is still young, and yes, the two sides may not even be winners or runners up come the end of May. But they very well should be, could be, and most likely will be challenging for the Premier League’s biggest prize until the end of the season.


League position was often not an issue when Moyes was in charge at Everton. Annually stuck around the lower half of the top ten, points lost would have stung the pride of Moyes, as a derby with Liverpool was always a game Evertonians would have given anything to win. At Manchester United, trophies are the only things that matter. While the title will not be decided on Sunday, later on in the season, perhaps sometime in mid April, one of these teams will look back at this fixture as one that would have given themselves breathing space over the other en route to a title or an automatic Champions League birth. Rarely, if at all was this the case on Merseyside.

In terms of form, both sides are coming off impressive wins in Champions League play. While City may have had the easier time dispatching of Viktoria Plzen 3-0, make no mistake that it was a statement win. Away from home, in Manuel Pellegrini’s first Champions League match as boss of City, the Blues wanted desperately to erase the memories of their prior European campaigns. A sound victory did just that, albeit temporarily. For Moyes, getting off on the right foot was crucial. A dangerous Bayer Leverkusen side that finished third in a strong Bundesliga represented the competition on a night where Moyes made his Champions League debut. A stronger case could not have been made as a 4-2 score line did little to show the true domination United dished out all evening.

Sunday, tactics and styles will undoubtedly be switched up for both clubs. Chris Smalling, who deputised at right back against Leverkusen, will almost certainly find his way back to the bench in favor of Phil Jones or Rafael. If both players are still unfit, Fabio will be the first choice to earn the call. Nani, who is still serving suspension in Europe following last year’s sending off against Real Madrid, could feature on the left in place of Shinji Kagawa. Kagawa, who made his first competitive appearance of the season on Tuesday night, looked a bright star in the first 45 minutes, before fading after half time. Despite his impressive display, Moyes may opt for a natural winger, and Ryan Giggs may even be called upon for his invaluable experience in these clashes.

Manchester City lined up a bit weaker as well on Wednesday, knowing both the opponent in Europe and the importance of Sunday’s game with United. Although he eventually made the breakthrough for City, Edin Dzeko could find himself making way for Alvaro Negredo. Pellegrini has seen the striker score a pair of powerful goals this season, a threat which may give United some trouble at the back. Stevan Jovetic made his first City start at Stoke last weekend, but failed to make the impact necessary to warrant a start on Sunday. Defender Vincent Kompany will more than likely be a game time decision for the derby, a hope that will cool many City nerves. Javi Garcia, who has filled in for the Belgian at centre back this season, has looked all types of out of sorts in defense following his poor game at Cardiff City.

Aside from a few lineup tweaks here and there, it will be much of the same for both United and City. For the Red Devils, Wayne Rooney is back among the goals and ace Robin van Persie has struck four times in the clubs first five games. Antonio Valencia looks to be picking up confidence after a tumultuous 2012/2013 campaign, while Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick are all shoe ins for this game barring a substantial training ground injury. City will turn to their magician Sergio Aguero who has already given United fits during his brief time in Blue. Yaya Toure is another key cog that has constantly caused the Red Devils a mound of trouble, although the presence of Marouane Fellaini may be able to counteract his qualities.



PREDICTED STARTING XI’S AND BENCHES



MANCHESTER UNITED – De Gea, Evra, Vidic, Ferdinand, Jones, Giggs, Fellaini, Carrick, Valencia, Rooney, van Persie. BENCH – Lindegaard, Rafael, Smalling, Cleverley, Kagawa, Januzaj, Nani



MANCHESTER CITY – Hart, Clichy, Kompany, Nastasic, Zabaleta, Navas, Fernandinho, Toure, Navas, Aguero, Negredo. BENCH – Pantilimon, Lescott, Garcia, Rodwell, Milner, Dzeko, Jovetic



PLAYER WATCH



MANCHESTER UNITED – Wayne Rooney: Rooney bagged two more goals on Tuesday night’s victory over Leverkusen, his 199th and 200th with Manchester United. Now, the Englishman is once again front and center in the buildup to a Manchester Derby, just as he was when he asked for a possible transfer to the club a few seasons ago. The infamous Rooney bicycle kick would happen next. Wazza has a penchant for scoring against City, adding two more to his overall tally in last season’s match at the Etihad. For him, United couldn’t be playing City at a better time.



MANCHESTER CITY – Sergio Aguero: Not only has Aguero broke the hearts of United supporters with his injury time title winner against Queens Park Rangers two seasons ago, but he scores against them too. A season ago, it was Aguero’s winner at Old Trafford that temporarily piled pressure on the eventual title winners, as the Argentine has a habit of making himself a real nuisance. Fast on the ball and incredibly strong for his size, Aguero always finds his way into the opposing penalty area, making himself a danger for any team.



MATCH PREDICTION



Manchester City 1-2 Manchester United. United are in fine form at the moment, beating Crystal Palace and Bayer Leverkusen in successive games. City are coming off an European victory in midweek, but their last Premier League involvement was a flat 0-0 draw at Stoke. United are full of confidence after dismantling Leverkusen with slick passing, quality goals, and dominance in the midfield through Carrick and Fellaini. The same cannot be said for City, who seemingly follow a quality display with a poor one. If that trend is to continue, the Blues are due to lay an egg. Rooney and Fellaini for United, Toure for City.



Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Champions League Review: Manchester United 4-2 Bayer Leverkusen


Daniel Meola

Wounded warrior Wayne Rooney was impressive once again as Manchester United soundly beat Bayer Leverkusen in David Moyes’ Champions League bow. The 4-2 final score line was favorable to the German side, who added their last close to stoppage time. United looked solid all evening long, especially in midfield where Marouane Fellaini made his first Champions League appearance alongside Michael Carrick. It was a perfect response to critics who questioned Moyes’ ability to manage in Europe, and a precious three points were earned at the first time of asking.


Rooney was lively from the onset for the Red Devils, as the forward buzzed about Robin van Persie and linked well with Antonio Valencia. Shinji Kagawa, making his first competitive United appearance of the campaign, also fed off the former Everton man, looking spritely in the first 45 minutes. Nearly midway through the first half, United made their break through after a Patrice Evra cross eventually fell to Rooney who chopped the cross into the ground. Valencia, in an offside position, looked to be near on top of goalkeeper Bernd Leno when he attempted to save the ball, but the Bundesliga side were meant to look at each official after the ball lofted over Leno and into the net.

United took the 1-0 lead into the dressing rooms and upon the restart, were quickly knotted at one all. After Heung Min Son attempted a shot that ricocheted back to his feet, the former Hamburg star laid the ball off into the path of Simon Rolfes. The Leverkusen captain placed his ball around both Carrick and Rio Ferdinand, leaving David De Gea rooted to the spot and watching the finessed effort burrowed in the near post. Moyes’ reaction said it all, as the Scot was clearly disappointed no defenders reacted quick enough to prevent Rolfes from getting a clean strike on the ball. Nonetheless, it was an unstoppable drive off a broken play and it was all to play for at Old Trafford.

The one goal advantage was soon restored as the stadium let out a sigh of relief following a massive eruption after van Persie volleyed home just minutes later. Again, after a bit of skill and hard work from Valencia, the Dutchman adjusted his body to a chipped cross and was able to scissor kick the ball into the back of the goal. The hard work had been done by the Ecuadorian however, who seemed to have run out of space to cross the ball yet was still able to find the feet of RVP. Moyes once again delighted as Old Trafford was in rapture.

From here out, as it had been for most of the match despite a moment of brilliance from Rolfes, United were in total control. Fellaini won header after header and Kagawa, although not as sharp in the second half as he was in the first, surely must have proved something to his new boss. The defense was sharp as well, with Chris Smalling starting at right back. De Gea, who had little to do in terms of shots on goal for the evening, made his biggest contribution when he sent out a long punt to Rooney. The ball traveled close to three quarters of the field when a defensive miscue put Rooney in on goal. Leno came out to try and put off the England man, but Rooney remained calm and composed, finished at Leno’s near post to double the United advantage. The second goal of the evening also marked his 2ooth in a United shirt, placing him in the company of Denis Law and Bobby Charlton.

Antonio Valencia would later add United’s fourth after a good bit of play from their attack force. When Ashley Young collected the ball, the winger played it to a streaking Rooney. After a few dribbles, a weighted through ball from Rooney fell to the feet of the sprinting Valencia, who patiently waited for the ball to arrive on his right foot before smashing the ball at the near post. Valencia was undoubtedly overcome with emotion, as he flashed and kissed his tattoo tribute to friend and former Ecuador teammate Chucho Benitez who died just over a month ago. Only a consolation goal by Omer Toprak off a Leverkusen corner kick made the final outcome a bit more respectable, but on the evening, the German side were never really in it. Although the Scot downplayed the victory and alluded that there is still much work to do, it was a massive night for Moyes and his staff, the player and the fans.



MAN OF THE MATCH

Wayne Rooney: Once again Rooney was at his best, not just scoring two goals but causing havoc all over the pitch. While his summer of torment and status with the club may not yet be fully resolved, Rooney is back to playing the game he loves and doing so in a manner worth taking note of. He is back among the goals and has scored in his last two United starts, a definite worry for the rest of the Premier League and Europe. Up next is the Manchester Derby at Eastlands, a game in which Rooney scored the opening two goals in just a season ago.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Champions League Preview: Manchester United v Bayer Leverkusen


Daniel Meola


Old Trafford will be abuzz on Tuesday night when David Moyes takes charge of his first Champions League match. Not only will Moyes be making his European debut with Manchester United, but the Scot will be running the show in the coveted competition for the first time in his managerial career. A mixed batch of emotions from nervousness to sheer excitement must be running through the veins of each and every supporter as the Red Devils welcome Bayer Leverkusen. Expectations remain high for Moyes, despite this being his first rodeo, meaning a positive performance ending in points taken on Tuesday night will be the only thing that matters.


Opposite Moyes in the German dugout will be former United foe Sami Hyypia. Hyypia, long known for his time at Liverpool guided Leverkusen to a surprising third place finish last season. The Fin nearly overtook Borussia Dortmund toward the end of the season to really put his stamp on the Bundesliga side, and now has a chance to prove himself on the world stage. Fittingly his first opponents are United, a club he played against a hatful of times during his career on Merseyside. Boasting a very good midfield and goal scorer extraordinaire Stefan Kiessling, Leverkusen will be a tough out in this competition.

For United, a narrow 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace was enough to earn three points at the weekend. Wayne Rooney returned from his head injury ahead of schedule, wearing a protective headband to prevent the gash from worsening. Marouane Fellaini made his United debut but once again, Shinji Kagawa was fully omitted from the squad with flu. Wilfried Zaha failed to feature against his old club as well, leaving the door open for a drastically different lineup than the one that started the game at Old Trafford on Saturday. With the Manchester Derby coming this Sunday, United will have four days after clashing with Leverkusen to prepare for the Blues. While a good start in the Champions League is vital, Sunday’s derby is already a potential league changer, with both clubs on seven points after four games.

It will be interesting to see what type of lineup Moyes opts to use on Tuesday. Surely the Scot is peering ahead towards Sunday already, hopefully without looking past his Champions League debut. Danny Welbeck has most recently missed training, while Ryan Giggs and Tom Cleverley did not feature against Palace. Moyes may decide to use Giggs on Tuesday night for more than half of the game, knowing that experience in this competition is invaluable. Wilfried Zaha could get the chance to make his competitive United debut this season, although Adnan Januzaj is unavailable until the third group game due to UEFA regulations. The Belgian performed brightly on Saturday and has already begun to endear himself to supporters at every corner of Old Trafford.

For Leverkusen, a 3-1 victory over Wolfsburg was the perfect way to prepare themselves in England. Winger Sidney Sam scored for the Germans and Stefan Kiessling added a pair for good measure. Kiessling, a curious case in German, is arguably the danger man for Bayer. Having been among the league leaders in goals just about each season since he became a first team regular, Kiessling has never made a proper contribution to the German National Team. A longstanding problem with Joachim Low has forced Kiessling to retire internationally, prompting him to admit that as long as Low remained the coach of Die Mannschaft, Kiessling would not play a part. For club, the tall forward can head and score with both feet, a real handful for any team.

Like most German sides, the midfield is perhaps where Leverkusen are strongest. Formerly home to now Juventus ace Arturo Vidal, Leverkusen now operate with Gonzalo Castro, Simon Rolfes and Stefan Reinartz. The midfield trio have every bit of tackling, passing and deceptiveness in them, and often prove to be very tough to match up with tactically. Speedster Sidney Sam and Korean import Heung-Min Son usually operate on the flanks, providing service for the dangerous Kiessling. Son, a former Hamburg player, was tipped to possibly ply his trade in the Premier League this season, with Arsenal most interested. A young gifted player, Son can operate as a second striker or winger, showing his versatility. Perhaps Leverkusen’s Achilles heel is their defense, and although it isn’t bad, it isn’t great either, often failing to get truly tested due to their dominant midfield.

Tuesday will mark a joyous occasion for Moyes, but one that could turn sour if his United fail to take care of business at home in the Champions League. A point will be a good start for Moyes, especially with some managerial jitters sure to be present on the evening. All three, however, would be a statement of intent, proof that despite Sir Alex’s absence, United can remain one of the more dangerous sides in Europe.



PREDICTED STARTING XI’S AND BENCHES



Manchester United - De Gea, Evra, Vidic, Ferdinand, Fabio, Giggs, Fellaini, Carrick, Valencia, Rooney, van Persie. BENCH – Lindegaard, Smalling, Buttner, Cleverley, Young, Kagawa, Hernandez



Bayer Leverkusen – Leno, Wollscheid, Spahic, Hilbert, Boenisch, Reinartz, Rolfes, Castro, Son, Sam, Kiessling. BENCH – Palop, Donati, Toprak, Hegeler, Can, Kruse, Derdiyok



PLAYER WATCH



Manchester United – Marouane Fellaini. Fellaini has finally arrived on the world’s stage and is ready to impress for former boss Moyes in the Champions League. Players who come from lesser clubs often find the competition to be a galvanizing experience, one that reflects a different level of play in many cases. Fellaini already has the quality in abundance that earned him the move to Old Trafford and his opportunity to become a world beater is knocking right at his front door.



Bayer Leverkusen – Stefan Kiessling. The German is every defenders nightmare, as he is big, strong, and still reasonably quick for his size. He has scored a multitude of goals, and despite his stature isn’t your typical fox in the box. Kiessling can beat opponents on the dribble and strike from distance, making him a true threat. If Vidic and Ferdinand make a mistake, Kiessling will be the man to step up and take a chance.



MATCH PREDICTION



Manchester United 2-2 Bayer Leverkusen: Moyes’ men get off to a good start and score first, but Sidney Sam is there with a bit of brilliance to equalise. Kiessling gives the visitors the lead late on in the match but a Javier Hernandez rescue act spares Moyes’ blushes on his Champions League debut.













Premier League Review: Manchester United 2-0 Crystal Palace



Daniel Meola

In a game that was marred by first half controversy and second half debuts, Manchester United eventually put away Crystal Palace 2-0 at the weekend. Robin van Persie and surprise inclusion Wayne Rooney were on target for United, who just couldn’t seem to put the ten men Eagles to the sword in the second half. It was a first Old Trafford victory for David Moyes, and with Sir Alex Ferguson watching from the stands it was a perfect time to do so. For Ian Holloway, also watching from the stands due to a two match touch-line ban, a third loss in four for his newly promoted side, a clear sign of the difficulty in the English top tier.


Early on, United created little in front of the Palace goal to trouble ‘keeper Julian Speroni. Fabio started at right back due to injuries to twin Rafael and Phil Jones. The Brazilian surged forward at seemingly every opportunity, linking well with Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney. The Red Devils unsurprisingly kept the lion’s share of the possession, passing the ball as Arsenal would have at the peak of their talents. Almost too often, United looked for the killer ball or perfect pass to try and walk the ball into the net. It was a bit foreign from United, but, something one might come to expect with Moyes in charge. The players have frequently stated the while the Scot manages a similar game to Sir Alex, it is a more passing game than they were used to. Perhaps, the reason for a recent goal drought.

Halfhearted penalty appeals were muted by referee John Moss after Ashely Young was ‘taken down’ in the penalty area. Kagisho Dikgacoi briefly stuck out a flailing leg, a leg which the United winger tried to make contact with rather than avoid. Unimpressed, Moss didn’t hesitate to show Young a yellow card, further enhancing his reputation as a con. Warning signs were fired later in the half when a Robin van Persie effort looped past Speroni and thundered off the crossbar. Rooney, playing the game with a protective headband to prevent further damage to his gashed head, sent an over the top through ball for van Persie to latch onto. Shades of the title winning game at home to Aston Villa last season flashed, as the Dutchman eagerly awaited to take his chance. He touched the ball into his path before unleashing a furious drive that beat Speroni, but not the woodwork.

Palace were eventually left to pay dearly for a flurry of defensive miscues. As Palace failed to clear some danger, a broken back pass was eventually intercepted by Ashley Young. Young drove into the Palace penalty area and once more fell over the challenge of Dikgacoi. This time, a foul was the correct call, until confusion ensued. Young appeared to have been fouled on the edge of the area, rather than inside it. What’s more, is that Moss awarded United a penalty and subsequently sent off Dikgacoi. The Palace midfielder didn’t look as if he was the last man, and while the questions over the spot of the foul may be varied the fact remained that a sending off was harsh. After van Persie waited for Dikgacoi to make the long walk to the showers, the Dutchman slotted home a cool penalty for a 1-0 lead going into the half.

Now down to ten men, it was assumed that United would begin to add to their goal tally and pad goal difference albeit so early in the season. Too many goals is never a bad thing. However with Holloway in the stands, directing orders via mobile phone earpiece to his assistant Keith Millen, the London outfit remained composed at kept the Red Devils at bay. It was with about a half hour remaining when United introduced their summer signing Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian was greeted with cheers from the Old Trafford faithful and was given an ovation as he replaced a poor Anderson. It didn’t take long for Fellaini to introduce himself to the Stretford End, as his half volley dipped and forced a good save from Speroni. On corners, Fellaini asserted himself and diverted much attention towards him, freeing up the likes of Nemanja Vidic and making him an instant asset.

Fellow Belgian Adnan Januzaj came on for the sheepish Young a few moments later to the delight of the fans. Much has been made about the 18 year old playmaker, a starlet who Moyes later revealed he considered starting. It was his first Premier League experience and Adnan did not disappoint. His dribbling and ability briefly opened the door for van Persie and it was his trickery which earned United a free kick. Rooney was the man to step up to the ball and a dipping effort found the bottom near post in style. The spot kick had doubled United’s advantage and put the game out of reach. While the stat line reflected a dominating performance in terms of possession, United were made to work for all three points.



MAN OF THE MATCH

Wayne Rooney – After missing the match against Liverpool and the entire international break through injury to his gashed forehead, Rooney had a typical Rooney performance. Putting in a bulldog type display and discomforting Palace’s defenders, Wazza showed that his remaining with the club may be the most important bit of business United had done all summer. He played quality passes to his wingers and gave van Persie a gem of a ball that begged for conversion. Adding a goal to the performance was a fitting way for United’s number ten to mark his return to action as he was easily the most influential Red Devil on the day.



Friday, September 13, 2013

Premier League Preview: Manchester United v Crystal Palace


Daniel Meola

Despite playing host to new boys Crystal Palace at lunch time Saturday, more questions surround Manchester United at this juncture than at any point this season. With transfer misfires regarding Ander Herrera, Sami Khedira and Fabio Coentrao, the signing of Marouane Fellaini from Everton, a new deal for Nani and the ever present Kagawa question, David Moyes may be facing his most difficult patch in his short United career. While Palace pose a feel good game after a stalemate with Chelsea and poor play at Anfield, all the attention this week will be focused on line-ups, benches, and substitutions, maybe even more so than the pending result itself.


First and foremost will Fellaini start? My gut is telling me he has to. After a long summer of negotiating (or lack thereof) with the Belgian, United were finally able to bring in a long term target in the dying hour of Deadline Day. Surely, Moyes doesn’t intend to keep his new toy on the bench, meaning Tom Cleverly will more than likely make way. Michael Carrick is a player whose name is one of the first on the team sheet, so it hard to imagine the Scot replacing him unless unfit. Fellaini will bring a steel to the midfield that hasn’t been seen in some years, while his ability to charge forward and aid United on set pieces, both offensively and defensively, will be invaluable.

Shinji Kagawa remains another piece to the puzzle. Having not featured at all for United this Premier League campaign, the two week International break has given the media plenty of time to conjure up stories on why the Japan star has not played his part. Always relentless in their pursuit to create a firestorm, the flurry of reports eventually led to Kagawa telling reporters that only David Moyes knows why he hasn’t played yet. For my own sake, I can’t figure out why he hasn’t either. United have been held to nothing their previous two games on the trot. While Danny Welbeck is a viable option behind Robin van Persie, Kagawa showed when healthy that his unlocking of defenses and interchanging of play makes him a real gem. His talents are not to be wasted on the left side of midfield either. Having done the most traveling of any United player on this current break, Moyes may once again use his “fatigue” as a reason to keep him grounded.

Just where is Wilfried Zaha? A player who thrives on taking on players one on one is surely a sparkplug United may need to create a few goals. Given their recent anemic endeavours in front of goal, why not bring on the former Palace man for pace and trickery. Albeit some lesser opponents, Zaha was incredibly impressive while on tour with the Red Devils, and also played well in the Community Shield victory over Wigan. Now, he can’t get a minute. With all due respect to Sir Ryan Giggs, Zaha offers more going forward and that is obvious. While the two players operate in different positions, the option to start a game with Giggs or bring Giggs on rather than Zaha is something that just doesn’t make sense at this point. In danger of slipping further behind rival clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City, game changers are needed on the pitch. Get Zaha a run in, Moyesy.

As for Crystal Palace, Ian Holloway is coming off a high after defeating Sunderland 3-1 for the Eagles’ first points of this season. In his first season in the Premier League with Blackpool, Holloway almost turned in the upset of the season at Bloomfield Road. A late United show gave the Reds a 3-2 win over the Seasiders, and Holloway will come in to Old Trafford with similar belief. After losing their most talented player in Zaha to United, Dwight Gayle remains the most likely scoring option for Palace. The youngster cost over 8 million pounds from Peterborough this off season, and has so far looked lively, impressing despite a 1-0 defeat on opening weekend to Tottenham. Jason Puncheon, a favorite of Holloway’s who performed well for him at Blackpool, is also a goal threat. Last season with Southampton, it was two Puncheon crosses that led to goals from Rickie Lambert and Morgan Schneiderlin. He would also go on to hit the post on a close range effort.

If United aren’t careful on Saturday, a game that will be filled with excitement in abundance to see Marouane Fellaini wear a United shirt may end with disappointment. Palace will look to take the game to United, as an Ian Holloway team is one that likes to attack regardless of their opponent and their own talent levels. Wayne Rooney looks set to miss out again as he allows the gash on his forehead to heal. Rooney also looks ready to miss out on United’s first Champions League involvement under Moyes on Tuesday, and remains 50/50 for next Sunday’s Manchester Derby.



PREDICTED STARTING XI’S AND BENCHES

MANCHESTER UNITED – De Gea, Evra, Vidic, Ferdinand, Rafael, Nani, Fellaini, Carrick, Valencia, Welbeck, van Persie. BENCH – Lindegaard, Smalling, Buttner, Cleverley, Young, Kagawa, Hernandez



CRYSTAL PALACE – Speroni, Ward, Gabbidon, Mariappa, Delaney, Campana, Dikgacoi, Puncheon, Jedinak, Gayle, Chamakh. BENCH – Alexander, Moxey, O’Keefe, Guedioura, Phillips, Jerome, Wilbraham





PLAYERS TO WATCH

MANCHESTER UNITED – Marouane Fellaini. After a full summer of playing ‘Chase Fellaini’, Manchester United eventually brought the giant midfielder to Old Trafford. After enjoying successful years under David Moyes at Everton, Fellaini is reunited with his former employer but on a bigger stage. As a strong, powerful player, Fellaini brings something to the United fold that has been neglected since the absence of Roy Keane. With the calls from the terraces already signaling the demise of Ed Woodward, Moyes can’t afford to begin the game with the Belgian on the bench.

CRYSTAL PALACE – Jason Puncheon. Puncheon is most notorious around the English game as a journeyman who never quite reached the heights expected of him so early in his career. Still, Puncheon always finds himself a team and proves a valuable asset, especially for first year Premier League sides. Having previously played for Blackpool and Southampton on their arrivals in the top flight, Puncheon has always found himself in the fold and contributing. As aforementioned, the Englishman was the main reason United escaped St. Mary’s last season riding on the coat tails of one Robin van Persie. Despite years of world class experience in Patrice Evra, Puncheon is a player who shouldn’t be ignored.



MATCH PREDICTION

Manchester United 5 – 0 Crystal Palace: Despite beating Sunderland in sound fashion their last time out, Palace just don’t have the goal threats to worry United. Sure the Red Devils have had their struggles in front of goal in their last two matches, but a back four with little Premier League experience should cure that. The club will be galvanized by Fellaini’s presence, and with a Robin van Persie who scored twice in his last game for Holland leading the line, United should walk to victory Saturday. Anything less will raise serious flags. Bearing in mind the Bayer Leverkusen Champions League fixture, the likes of Wilfried Zaha could play a part. Nani starts the party before van Persie adds two more. Fellaini gets a debut goal and RVP signs off in style.



Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Premier League Review: Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea



Daniel Meola

Despite a pre-match build up that made headlined the fixture like some Ali-Frazier bout, Manchester United and Chelsea walked off the pitch without a real heavyweight emerging. The goalless draw did provide some moments of controversy however, with an obvious Frank Lampard handball being turned away by referee Martin Atkinson. David Moyes and Jose Mourinho met afterwards like old friends, both silently conceding to each other that this season’s title race will be decided by the games in between.


With Wayne Rooney starting and earning a more than generous reception from the supporters around the ground, the prospect of an enthralling game looked all but certain. Chelsea, who have been identified by Mourinho as having ‘no world class forwards’, lined up without one entirely, with the Portugese boss deciding to use Eden Hazard, Oscar and Andre Schurrle as attacking threats. With Demba Ba, Fernando Torres and Romelu Lukaku all on the bench, this could have been the Special One’s way of enticing Rooney with an open spot he would certainly occupy.

United held the ball well and dominated the first half of the game. Cutting out simple passes and intercepting almost every long ball Chelsea hit gave the Red Devils the lion’s share of the possession. Chelsea over hit seemingly every other pass as if there were a target man to aim for, giving the ball away with ease and looking futile in attack. The endless running by Hazard and Schurrle seemed for naught as Phil Jones and Patrice Evra bottled up the makeshift front men.

In the final third of the Chelsea half United found it difficult to break through. A few weak shots on target was followed by a blazing effort by Tom Cleverley that was always rising. Wayne Rooney often tried to find Robin van Persie with the killer ball, which was constantly cut out by John Terry or Gary Cahill. Antonio Valencia played brilliantly on the right wing, making Ashley Cole look like a shadow of his former self. However the Ecuadorian could never pick out the perfect pass to lead to the United breakthrough.

After the break much of the same ensued. United saw most of the ball while Chelsea tried to counter. Danny Welbeck found space in the United to put the hosts in front, but failed to do so without even forcing a save from Petr Cech. The biggest moment of the game came when Cleverely laced a shot towards goal from outside the area. The ball struck the arm of Lampard, which was not outstretched nor at his side. The midfielder’s arm was at about a 90 degree angle when the ball met his hand, undoubtedly in an unnatural position. Atkinson immediately turned down the appeals from the United players, looking as if he had entered the game with the mindset of not allowing a penalty to decide it.

Eventually, Ashley Young and Ryan Giggs replaced Valenica and Welbeck respectively, although their arrivals did little to change United’s fortunes. The Red Devils pressed on but the Blues defense remained good enough on the evening to deny Moyes a victory in his Old Trafford debut. A valuable point was earned by both clubs, and had you asked United supporters if four points from the opening two fixtures would be acceptable, I am sure that almost all would agree.



MAN OF THE MATCH: Wayne Rooney – The Englishman was full of running and outshone everyone on the pitch in what was a very important game for him individually. Amidst the transfer speculation and with the possibility of a hostile reception looming, Wazza timed his tackles perfect and was always in the thick of it. While his future still remains cloudy, Wayne did what he does best by leaving all he had on the field.