Manchester United v Liverpool Rivalry #2

On the 17th January this month, English football’s most famous fixture will take centre stage at Anfield once again, and although the two most successful teams in the history of the English game might not be the forces they once were, the Manchester United v Liverpool derby has never lost it’s sensational thrill.

Although being located fairly close to each other, this game is so much bigger than a local derby. A rivalry built on success, it takes precedence over the respective derbies against Manchester City and Everton, and that takes some doing as there’s much more than three points at steak in those games.

As Ander Herrera said before United’s meeting with local rivals Man City earlier this season “This game is huge, but I know that for the fans, the game against Liverpool is bigger”.

In 1977, the two sides renewed rivalries in the FA Cup final, with title winners and European Cup finalists Liverpool going in as favourites, but, as we all know in the FA Cup, anything can happen, and it was Manchester United who prevailed 2-1 winners. Stuart Pearson put them ahead with a powerful near post finish, but that was cancelled out by Jimmy Case who showed terrific skill, agility and finishing as he made the score 1-1. The winning goal came due to a huge slice of luck as Lou Macari’s shot was deflected in by his own team-mate, Jimmy Greenhoff.

11 years later, United the underdogs again, clawed their way back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 after a last gasp equaliser from Gordon Strachan rescued an important point for the Red Devils. United skipper Bryan Robson had opened the scoring early on as he rounded off a well worked move, before Liverpool turned things around either side of the break, starting with a superb team goal scored by Peter Beardsley followed by goals from Gary Gillespie and Steve McMahon, the latter being a stunning strike from almost 30 yards out. But, United rallied in the form of a deflected Bryan Robson strike before Strachan finished with composure for the late equaliser.

More recently in 2009, the two sides were the two best teams in the English game, and despite an early penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo, goals from Fernando Torres and Andrea Dossena aswell as a Steven Gerrard penalty and a Fabio Aurelio free-kick turned the game on it’s head as Liverpool completed a shock 1-4 win at Old Trafford.

Two seasons later, despite a brace from Steven Gerrard, Dimitar Berbatov stole the headlines with a stunning hat-trick. His first was a clever header, before a sensational over-head kick was followed by another good header.

The most recent meeting was also a classic, as all eyes were on Manchester United’s new signing, Anthony Martial, the world’s most expensive teenager, costing around £36m. The Frenchman started on the bench, and watched his new side take a two nil lead after a well worked Daley Blind goal and a terrific penalty from Ander Herrera. Then Liverpool’s Cristian Benteke gave them a life-line with a superb over-head kick to make the score 2-1. Step up Anthony Martial. Just minutes into his debut, the 19 year- old waltzed around the Liverpool defence before slotting the ball into the far corner, displaying great skill and composure in the process.

No doubt in the calibre of Real Madrid vs Barcelona and Boca Juniors vs River Plate, Liverpool vs Manchester United rarely disappoints.

 

Ronaldo and Mourinho to PSG?

No, no, your eyes aren’t deceiving you, Cristiano Ronaldo could be leaving Real Madrid this summer, and sorry Manchester United fans, but it doesn’t look like he’ll be returning to England. His future may well lie with the French capital at Paris Saint Germain, in a possible £87m move.

So, let’s dissect the story. The incredible, magical, genius that is Cristiano Ronaldo is not having a great season with Real Madrid, and whilst 13 goals in 15 games is usually satisfactory for a top level striker, by Ronaldo’s standards, he isn’t in the best form in front of goal – but – his finishing isn’t the only problem. There are suggestions that he has fallen out with Real Madrid manager Rafa Benitez, and also possibly with his team-mates, he doesn’t appear to have the backing of the supporters either, and most importantly, he no longer feels like Madrid’s no.1, their iconic talisman. All in all, his time looks to be up in Spain, and with that being the case, most people would generally look towards the rumours that a move to either former club Manchester United, or to France with PSG is on the cards.

In terms of which club is more likely, Ronaldo’s heart is telling him that a reunion in Manchester would be perfect, whereas his undoubtedly intelligent brain is telling him that PSG suit his needs much better. While the Red Devils are a team Cr7 is fond of, everything has changed since his move in 2009. Firstly, United are no longer winning trophies and dominating England like they did before. Secondly, the great Sir Alex Ferguson has moved on, and the man currently occupying the throne – Louis Van Gaal – wouldn’t necessarily work as two egos in one team doesn’t often go down smoothly. Also, a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic is an ageing talent at 33 years of age, and is no longer seen as the man that can help PSG achieve their goal of winning the Champions League, so with the league title almost guaranteed every year and often the cup, Ronaldo could win trophies, whilst still having the challenge of conquering Europe with three different teams from three different leagues. Laurent Blanc could build his team around him, he could score loads more goals, break records – and he seems keen, too.

Reports suggest that the Portuguese international, after Real’s champions league meeting with PSG themselves, approached Blanc, and told him that he wanted the move to go ahead. Ronaldo was also seen winking at the president of the club, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, which is an action open to interpretation.

So surely it’s a done deal, then? All parties are keen, the deal would work, everything would be fine! Don’t be so sure. PSG also appear to have their eye on struggling Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, who also looks as if his time is coming to an end at Stamford Bridge. Also Portuguese, Mourinho didn’t get on well with Ronaldo in their time together at Real Madrid and that factor could harm the move. But, if they were both to move, it would surely be one of football’s most fascinating stories.

Well then, will Mourinho and Ronaldo move to PSG this summer – we’ll have to wait and see.

Mourinho misery! Round up #2

It was the weekend of Premier League football we’d all been waiting for, and despite not being quite the classic that many people had hoped, the situation is beginning to become much clearer, and what place better to start than the game at Upton Park on Saturday.

Mourinho’s Chelsea went into the game knowing that West Ham were no slouch – of course they had already beaten Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City this season, and key players such as Dmitri Payet & co were firing at all cylinders. But the game couldn’t have started any worse for Jose – they went behind after 17 minutes due to a powerful strike by Mauro Zarate.

And it got worse for the blues as holding midfielder Nemanja Matic was sent off for two yellow cards inside nine minutes going into the break. At that point, you what have been forgiven for thinking that the interval would do Chelsea good, but Mourinho didn’t help their cause, after he went to speak to referee John Moss, and was sent to the stands for the remainder of the match as a result.

But it didn’t seem to matter when defender Gary Cahill pounced on an opportunity to level the score after 55 minutes, and it looked like Chelsea could push on and go for the winner until the 79th minute, when substitute Andy Carroll, who has suffered from many injuries in the past, headed home the winner, to complete Mourinho’s misery.

Elsewhere this Saturday, Aston villa lost yet another match, this time at the hands of Swansea,when despite leading through Jordan Ayew , goals from Gylfi Siggurdson and Andre Ayew (Jordan’s brother) turned the game on it’s head, and this result eventually lead to the sacking of manager Tim Sherwood. The away team also prevailed at Carrow Road where Salomon Rondon bagged another three points for West Bromwich Albion, and goals from Troy Deeney and Almen Abdi secured a win for Watford at the hands of Stoke.

Also on Saturday, Premier League top scorer Jamie Vardy continued his hot streak for Leicester by making it ten goals for the season and seven games in a row in which he has scored, therefore resulting in a very good three points for the Foxes against a strong Crystal Palace side. Finishing 1-0, Leicester had finally pulled off a clean sheet for the first time this season, and they can now enjoy their pizza.

In the late kick-off, an impressive Arsenal side saw off Everton after goals from Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny gave them a 2-1 win, which temporarily resulted in them going top of the table, before the exciting Sunday fixtures took place.

We began with the Wear-Tyne derby, as Sam Allardyce incredibly carried  on a run of four Sunderland managers to face Newcastle in their second game in charge. What wasn’t set in stone though, was the fact that the other three managers had all won the derby in their second game in charge, but, after the disappointing defeat to West Brom last week, Big Sam didn’t let us down, with a comprehensive 3-0 win against their bitter rivals, just like when Paulo Di Canio took over. The big moment came in first half stoppage time when Fabricio Collocini fouled Steven Fletcher and therefore conceded a penalty and was sent off by referee Robert Madley. The decision to award a penalty for Collocini’s shoulder barge seemed fair, but Newcastle could argue that it did not warrant a sending off as it appeared that Steven Fletcher looked unlikely to win the ball ahead of goalkeeper Rob Elliot. Nevertheless, Newcastle were down to ten men and Adam Johnson confidently converted the penalty, making that his fourth goal in a Wear-Tyne derby. Later on in the second half, Billy Jones made sure of Yann M’Villa’s shot to extend their lead, before an exquisite pass by of all people, centre-back Younes Kaboul set up Steven Fletcher to seal the win.

Following this game was an even bigger game that everyone had been waiting for, but unfortunately it didn’t live up to the billing as a good defensive display from both teams resulted in the game finishing 0-0, and Manchester City regaining their spot at the top of the table in the derby with Man United. Due to David Silva and Sergio Aguero’s absence, Pellegrini deployed Wilfried Bony as striker and Yaya Toure ahead of Fernando and Fernandinho, with Raheem Sterling on the left and Kevin De Bruyne on the right. One of the possible reasons why this game finished 0-0 (other than the solid defensive performances) was that neither of their inform  players shone, De Bruyne unable to get much success against Marcus Rojo and likewise with Sterling against Antonio Valencia. It seemed as if the pair were crying out to be swapped, as Rojo’s intelligence allowed him to deal with De Bruyne, and Valencia was just as quick as Sterling, but Valencia isn’t as intelligent and therefore would have struggled to deal with the classy Belgian and Rojo lacks as much pace, and also wouldn’t have to been able to deal with Sterling. Pellegrini acted on this and sent De Bruyne out to the left and brought on the fresh legs and pace of Jesus Navas, but while the out of form Spanish winger struggled on the right, Louis Van Gaal countered the threat of De Bruyne by replacing Valencia with Matteo Darmian.

Going forward themselves United lacked creativity, but Anthony Martial had a positive performance on the left, and substitute Jesse Lingard hit the bar late on as the biggest chance of the game went begging.

Finishing off the weekend were Liverpool at home to Southampton, and Bournemouth vs Tottenham. In the game at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp’s men drew once again with the score 1-1, and the point for each team at the end of the game seemed fair. Christian Benteke looked to have given Klopp his first win as Liverpool boss with a superb header from James Milner’s cross, but their lead was cancelled out when Sadio Mane bundled the ball across the line after Gaston Ramirez’s header. Mane was later sent off for two quickfire yellow cards and will miss Southampton’s game against Bournemouth this Sunday as the match finished 1-1.

Finally in the game down on the South coast, despite taking an early lead through Matt Richie after just 49 seconds, goals from Moussa Dembele, Erik Lamela and a much needed hat-trick for Harry Kane eventually saw the game finish 1-5 to the visitors.

So, there you have it- City are still top of the table but Arsenal are following closely behind, things are getting worse for Jose Mourinho and Chelsea, and the two sons of Abedi Pele scored against each other at Villa Park as Tim Sherwood became the third managerial casualty of the season!

Biggest Top Four Race in Years

After the recent midweek matches, the top end of the table makes for interesting reading. And I’m not talking about Chelsea and Manchester City. I’m talking about how there is a 5 point gap between 3rd place and 7th. This means that, in theory, in two weeks time, Liverpool, who haven’t been near the top four position-wise all season, could jump from 7th to 3rd. That is how tight things are in the race for the Champions League at the moment. 5 or 6 teams are all vying for a spot in the biggest competition in Europe, and every single team has a chance. No team ever seems to be safe when they have reached the top four this season though, with West Ham being a classic example. Not so long ago this season, the hammers were in the top four and things were looking very cosy, but, within just 2 or 3 defeats, they were down to 8th, 4 points away from 7th place. That shows how if you want to be a top team you’ve got to keep on winning, which is what teams like Arsenal and Manchester United are capable of doing. But that doesn’t mean we should rule out Southampton.

They have shown that when the team is fit and firing at all cylinders, they can beat anyone on their day, but injuries and key players not performing at times this season has lead to them sliding down the table very quickly. But one, credit to them for one getting this far, and two showing that they will only be satisfied with European football, and even 6th place will be a disappointment. But, their midweek draw once again proves that even  the tiniest of slip ups, like missing one good chance (in their midweek game against West Ham) can affect your season massively.

In terms of Manchester United, they are the favourites to come 3rd, and will be tough to beat, so a good run of games could put them in a great position and leave it to the rest of the teams to battle for 4th. But they need to be wary of the other sides, as one or two slip ups could cost them, and Arsenal, Southampton, Tottenham and Liverpool will be ready to pounce.

All 5 teams have their strengths and weaknesses,  and Harry Kane is definitely one of Tottenham Hotspur’s strengths. The 21 year-old is likely to be selected for England the next time the chance comes, and in 2015, has scored as many league goals as Lionel Messi (8), and double as many as Cristiano Ronaldo (4). He has also already in this year won the January player of the month, and won the North London derby with two goals to beat Arsenal.

So, with 13 games left this season, it is still all to play for. But, the question is, who do you think will make the top four?