Sunday, February 18, 2007

Boss: Cup replay is no big issue

Sir Alex Ferguson insists his "terrific squad" can cope with an unplanned extra fixture following Saturday's surprise 1-1 draw with Reading at Old Trafford.

United must now journey south to the Madejski Stadium for an FA Cup replay, in the midweek between tricky Premiership trips to Fulham on 24 February and Liverpool on 3 March. But the Reds boss said: "The replay is not a big issue for us.

"We have not got a big backlog of fixtures and we have got a terrific squad. We rested six players today and those who came in have all proved their worth.

"I thought it was a good team performance, we played some fantastic football at times, and it was a fantastic cup tie."

Although he's far from dreading a replay, the United manager admitted he was disappointed not to knock-out Reading at the first attempt. Especially after seeing Solskjaer, Saha, Ronaldo and Park all go close - but not close enough - to joining Carrick on the scoresheet.

"We regret the chances we missed," conceded Sir Alex.

"I've always said 1-0 is nothing really. You can lose a goal in a second and we lost one from a corner kick when they had only five players in the box, we had 10, it's amazing.

"I thought the chances we missed were a big break for Reading. They got a bit of that luck you get in the cup, sometimes it goes that way.

"But you also have to give credit to Reading. They worked hard, kept fighting and they are an honest team."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Eric tells Ron: Be like Giggs

Cristiano Ronaldo has been told to use Ryan Giggs as inspiration and keep on playing at Old Trafford for years to come.

Since joining the Reds in 2003, the 22-year-old Portuguese winger has gone from being relatively unknown, though full of potential, to being considered the best player in the world by Sir Alex Ferguson.

There has been speculation of his future in recent weeks, but one of his friends, former Reds midfielder Eric Djemba-Djemba, says Ronaldo is enjoying his football.

"I speak to Ronaldo on the phone all the time and we meet up for a coffee and go out a lot in Manchester,” said the former Nantes midfielder, now on loan from Aston Villa with Championship side Burnley.

“I've been telling him to stay in England, not to go to Spain. I think he understands that, I know he does. He tells me he is not leaving. The manager at United likes him, the players like him and the fans like him. So why go?”

During Djemba-Djemba’s time at United following a £3.5million move to Old Trafford, the Cameroonian looked up to Giggs.

Just three matches off 700 appearances for United, the Welshman is an inspirational figure at the club.

“He should use Ryan Giggs as an example,” says Eric. “When United played against Villa this season I went into their dressing room and said to Giggs: 'You're 33 and you're still as quick as ever. How do you do it? You're amazing'."

Loans: Keepers on form

Two United goalkeepers helped their loan clubs to claim vital wins in the Premiership.

England's new no. 1 Ben Foster kept a clean sheet as Watford beat relegation rivals West Ham at Upton Park. The only goal was scored from the spot by Darius Henderson after he was fouled by Rio Ferdinand's brother Anton.

Foster later faced a penalty himself but Marlon Harewood hit it wide.

Tim Howard also had a blemish-free afternoon as Everton beat Blackburn in an important north-west derby.

The highlights of Howard's clean sheet were a brilliant save just before half-time to deny Zurab Khizanishvili and another excellent stop just after it to thwart Paul Gallagher. The 1-0 win means Everton are now just four points off a top-six spot and with it, qualification for the UEFA Cup.

Current holders of sixth place Reading bolstered their push for Europe with a 2-0 home win over Phil Bardsley's temporary employers Aston Villa. The Reds right-back completed 90 minutes but couldn’t prevent Steve Sidwell scoring a goal in each half.

Papers: Lille on the attack

We'll KO Fergie's Fat Cats
Manchester United have been branded a bunch of overpaid fat cats by Euro rivals Lille. Striker Peter Odemwingie has vowed to dump them out of the Champions League next week. He said: “We may not have the fat bank accounts like United players, but in order to show we deserve the money they are getting, we have to kick them out."
Gary Payne, The Sun

Elsewhere in Tuesday's tabloids, former Reds midfielder Eric Djemba-Djemba has urged his mate Cristiano Ronaldo to stay at Old Trafford, while Didier Drogba has claimed the "Chelsea hate" is growing and believes that neutrals want United to win the Premiership.

The Sun says David Beckham will make an emotional return to Old Trafford next month. The Real Madrid midfielder is set to play for a European XI against United on March 13.

And finally, The Sun reports that former United winger Andrei Kanchelskis has retired.

Competition: Win hospitality tickets reader Alex Beech had the time of his life at United's match against Charlton, courtesy of Lucozade Sport.

Avid fan Alex entered our competition to win a pair of hospitality tickets and was then selected at random from all correct entries. The excellent prize, as provided by Lucozade Sport, enabled Alex and his father David Beech to enjoy a great day at Old Trafford.

Not only did the Beech boys see the Reds beat Charlton 2-0, they also got to meet former United and England legend Bryan Robson whilst enjoying their three-course meal.

Now it's your turn...?

Lucozade Sport have given us another pair of hospitality tickets to give away, for this Saturday's FA Cup tie against Reading.

French foes falter again

United's Champions League opponents LOSC Lille slumped to a 1-0 defeat away to Toulouse at the weekend.

The result keeps Claude Puel's side in third place in France's Ligue 1 as their nearest challengers Marseille also lost 1-0 to Bordeaux.

Lille have now failed to score in their last three games and have the daunting task of a visit from the runaway league leaders Lyon on Friday evening, before United travel to France for the first leg on Tuesday 20 February.

Lyon are also on Champions League duty next week when they face Roma away.

Tickets for the crucial home leg against Lille on Wednesday 7 March are being sold online - for the latest availability and prices, please read the story in Ticket News.

Jones joins Tykes on loan

Barnsley have completed the loan signing of United midfielder Ritchie Jones.

The 20-year-old midfielder, who embarked on an emergency loan with Colchester United earlier this season, will join the Tykes until 6 May, 2007.

Stockport-born Jones has made five first team appearances at United, but has not featured for Sir Alex Ferguson's senior squad since October's Carling Cup win at Crewe.

Jones links up with United team-mate Adam Eckersley, who has been on loan at Oakwell since the turn of the year.

United now have 15 players out on loan across England, Italy, Spain and Belgium.

Park glad to contribute

Ji-sung Park may not be the biggest player in United's squad, but he capped an impressive display against Charlton with his first headed goal for the Reds.

Park rose above Addicks defender Ben Thatcher to head in from Patrice Evra's cross.

The Korean midfielder's goal, his fourth in two years for the Reds, put United in front and on the way to a 2-0 victory at Old Trafford.

"I just tried not to miss the chance when Charlton's defenders were struggling to clear the ball. Fortunately for me it went in," Park told Yonhap news agency.

The 25-year-old is not renowned for his height nor his aerial presence, but now he is back fit after injury problems earlier in the season, Park wants to improve in all aspects of his game.

"Although I am 100 percent in shape," he said, "I always try to find something to improve in every match. I have to try to be perfect."

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Reds seek capital gain

Results for the Reds in London could prove pivotal if United are to successfully de-throne Chelsea as Premiership champions this season.

Sir Alex’s men take on Tottenham on Sunday, the first of three visits to the capital before the end of the season. The Reds usually enjoy trips to White Hart Lane, having taken maximum points from the last five trips there. Continuing that record is imperative.

United have lost only three times this term in the Premiership, all of which have come against London-based opposition (Arsenal twice, and West Ham). And two of those defeats have come in the capital.

In the last six league visits to London, the Reds’ results have been indifferent. Defeats to Arsenal and West Ham were preceded with a 3-0 win over Charlton in August, while the Reds lost 3-0 to Chelsea, beat Spurs 2-1 and drew 0-0 with the Gunners in the second half of last season.

Every game from here on in could have a significant bearing on the title, but with almost half of United's remaining away games being in the capital, results in London could make all the difference.

Trips to London have been vital in seasons past. The last time United lifted the title in 2002/03, a 2-2 draw against Arsenal in April 2003 with goals from Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ryan Giggs was a huge result. And eleven days later, a 2-0 win over Spurs all but secured title success.

No January regrets for Reds

The January transfer deadline passed without any major incomings for the Reds, but Sir Alex Ferguson says he is comfortable with the squad he has.

There were attempts to bring in Bayern Munich midfielder Owen Hargreaves and Southampton's Gareth Bale during the mid-season transfer market, but Sir Alex will have to wait until the summer if he is to land the two long-term targets.

However, the United boss remains confident he has the depth of quality needed as the Reds continue to challenge for the Premiership, Champions League and FA Cup.

"We are happy with the squad we have," he said after watching his side defeat Watford 4-0.

"We have a terrific bunch of lads. There is a good spirit among them, so we will just get on with it."

United did, of course, strengthen in attacking areas with the loan signing of Henrik Larsson from Swedish club Helsingborg.

The 35-year-old has now scored two in four games since arriving at the start of January, and has significantly enhanced Sir Alex's striking options at a crucial time of the year.

No cop-out from Rooney

Wayne Rooney’s return to form could prove very timely for the Reds as the title run-in gathers pace.

The 21-year-old has emerged from a barren spell of just one goal in 13 matches to score four goals in the last three games for United.

Former United star Lou Macari says the Reds striker is showing all the signs of player on top form.

“He’s playing with confidence now,” Macari told MUTV. “I think his confidence had deserted him a little bit. Not just in goalscoring terms, but his touch as well. His touch and passing ability is superb, but it had deserted him.”

However, ex-United defender Gary Pallister praised Rooney for battling through what was generally perceived as a lull in his performances.

“Nobody could question his work-rate during that spell,” said Pallister. “What impressed me most was that he didn’t hide or shirk responsibility. He still battled away and wanted to get on the ball."

In the 4-0 win over Watford, Rooney was influential in almost every United attack scoring one and making another for Henrik Larsson.

Pallister added: “At the moment Wayne is scoring goals and it has given a real boost, which you can see in his performances.”