Manchester United, after all the rumours that have been disregarded, are after 19-year-old Lucas Moura. A €33 million bid was made and rejected. This week, a €38 million bid was made and, also, rejected. For a position that United do not need to strengthen on, it seems a bit peculiar that a risky bid would be put in.
Lucas is only 19-years-old, but has already established himself as a young prodigy. Ever since he made his debut for São Paulo in 2010, he has looked more and more confident with every game he has featured in – and has more importantly improved. He has electrifying pace, can more than easily beat his man one-on-one, great close control, good dribbling, and can score some great goals.
Whilst many – and I do not mean a minority – are formulating opinions based on footage they have viewed on YouTube, what these fans do not know is that Lucas is still very much raw and needs more time to improve. His decision making, for instance, has come under heavy criticism, which is justifiable. When he runs with the ball, he tends to cement his eyes on the ball and not look up, which subsequently results into chances being wasted. Another flaw is that he has never really made his mark in the big games.
Certainly, if I had to compare Lucas to another player, then it has to be Theo Walcott. Now you might think I am being absurd, but my explanation for this will win you over. What the former offers: more directness, tremendous amount of energy, close control, and better dribbling. Apart from that, both players have erratic decision making.
So, the important question: Do Manchester United need Lucas? No, they do not. The reason being is that United have other areas, which need to be reconstructed. Left back and central midfield are still weak areas, and it would be a very risky move to pay such an excessive amount. It is best for Lucas to stay put, and progress even further, where he will receive first-team action.
A very short piece, but that should clear things up. Follow @UtdWeekly for more updates.
The Sun (reliability is shockingly low, we all know) has reported that Mancheser United have had a bid accepted of £25 million for Tottenham’s midfield maestro, Luka Modric. Last summer, Daniel Levy, Tottenham’s chairman, made it clear that Modric would not be sold, and stood fairly firm. Modric claimed that a gentleman’s agreement had been broken, which would have allowed him to enter contract negotiations with a top club last summer.
Shinji Kagawa, United’s first summer signing and Bundesliga Payer of the Year, is not the answer to the midfield woes United have been suffering for a while now. He is best utilised when playing behind the lone striker, which brings about more questions because Wayne Rooney currently occupies this position, and can also play as a left winger, where he plays for Japan. He is an intelligent player who can pick a pass and his movement troubles the opposition. He lacks the matureness to play in central midfield, though only Sir Alex Ferguson knows where he will be employed. There will be room for experimentation in the summer.
There have been some parts of the season, where United have looked far from champions. Lacklustre performances because the midfield combination had to be tweaked far too often. The return of Paul Scholes evoked a solid midfield partnership alongside Michael Carrick. At 37-years-old, The Ginger Prince was one of United’s best players in the second half of the season. The quality is still there, and that was evident against most teams Scholes played against, where he successfully dictated play. However, Fergie knows that he needs to look for a long-term option sooner rather than later, with Scholes’ last ever season being next season. Look no further than Modric.
The sharpness of Modric’s turns and his low centre of gravity make it easy for him to bypass opponents, giving him the advantage. Do not be fooled by his small frame, he has plenty of strength to stop the opposition from knocking him off the ball easily. He is a player that demands the ball frequently and rarely gives the ball away. He has made the deep-lying playmaker role his own in England, forget about Tottenham. His vision is second to none, the weight of the pass is cleverly adjusted, he is a genuine dictator, and controls the tempo the majority of the time. In addition to this, he does not neglect midfield duties and positions himself smartly, unlike a number of prominent deep-lying playmakers in the current game.
Playing in central midfield requires more than just being able to attack and defend. It requires a player to demand the ball and make sure that the other players in the team play better. Modric seems like the perfect fit because he is everything United require, and there will not be any worries regarding his capabilities in the Premier League because he has played there for a few seasons now, and so is familiar with his surroundings.
Although Modric’s stats (goals and assists) are not that great, it is the build up play which is essential. He is normally the one who is playing the ball to the wingers, you will find him starting attack after attack. Statistics for 2011/2012: 4 goals and 4 assists seems underwhelming for a player of his calibre, but as previously explained he does not have the final say, but he starts everything off. The Croat averages 2.7 key passes per game, having made 96 key passes. Accurate long balls per game stands at 7.6 (275/329). Accurate through balls per game: 0.5 (17/36). Thanks to WhoScored.
Despite all the speculation surrounding Modric’s future, he has maintained a great level of professionalism throughout. He has, in fact, put in some great performances and respect should be awarded, considering all the negativity that he must have felt when he was told he was not going to get his big club move. It is very to lazy assume that he is in it for the money. If that were the case, he would probably stay at Tottenham and receive a big money cheque.
Modric is undecided on his future. Well, he most certainly is: he sees himself at a bigger club. If he has a fantastic Euro 2012 campaign, then Tottenham will, without doubt, benefit off this, unless we see some stubbornness from Levy’s direction. The destination for the Croat is not visible. United are in need of him the most, for apparent reasons. Chelsea are also interested, but with Marin, Hazard, and potentially Hulk joining Chelsea, it seems unlikely that Roman Abramovich will want to spend a substantial amount of money. Manchester City seem to be interested, too, which has gone off the radar. If United do sign Modric, then that will put an end to the “lack of ambition” claims, and more importantly we will see better performances on the pitch.
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More than two seasons ago, Shinji Kagawa was not a familiar face in Europe, outside of Japan. That, however, did not take away anything from his quality, as he was viewed as a bright youngster with the potential to succeed in Europe. In 2012, Manchester United are rumoured to be on the verge of signing the 23-year-old, who has been successful since moving to Borussia Dortmund.
In Kagawa’s first season with Dortmund, he performed better than expected, and was part of the Bundesliga Best XI, despite missing most of the second half of the season because of a broken foot. Prior to this, he was on a hot run of form, having scored 8 goals in 18 appearances. Had he not received this injury, he would have flourished even further. This season, he has been directly responsible for 21 of Dortmund’s 80 goals in the Bundesliga (13 goals, 8 assists, in 31 appearances).
Jurgen Klopp deploys a 4-2-3-1 formation. Kagawa usually finds himself playing behind Robert Lewandowski, in the attacking midfielder or second striker role. He is an intelligent player, who is willing to work hard for the team, and that has been perfectly conveyed throughout his Dortmund career. For those of you who enjoy stats, although these stats do not highlight the full picture, they certainly show (partially) how good a player he is: he has made 55 key passes (1.8 every game) and has performed 61 successful dribbles (2 every game). In addition to this, he can also play in a wider role, he plays as a left winger for Japan. The only problem is that he tends to drift in centrally when utilised out wide, and does not really attempt to cross the ball. He is more of a player that likes to link up with team mates, as opposed to crossing the ball hoping for a player to get on the end of it.
There are a range of possibilities as to where he would fit into this current United system. Currently, United play a 4-4-1, with Wayne Rooney occupying Kagawa’s favoured position. Could we potentially see Danny Welbeck being dropped so that room can be made for the Japanese star? It seems highly unlikely that Welbeck will be dropped, after the great season he has had, developing into a key player. His link-up play, hold-up play, movement off the ball, one-touch passing, and his general awareness have made him a dominant force, displacing Javier Hernandez. If you are going to fault Welbeck for one thing, then it is his ability to not take easy chances, but he will only improve on that.
However, we could so easily see Kagawa sit next to Michael Carrick, when Paul Scholes is being rested. The last possibility is his inclusion in United’s 4-3-3 system, in Europe, which has been used on numerous occasions by Sir Alex Ferguson. He can play behind Rooney, in the advanced play maker role, doing a job that Park Ji-Sung has not quite accomplished: feeding United’s attackers with through balls and spraying the ball to the wings. Not only would it give The Red Devils a hard worker in midfield, but it would give them a dangerous player on the ball, who has the ability to create danger and nerve the opposition.
The deal could potentially fall through because Kagawa does not have the required number of caps for Japan to join United, according to various reports. Nonetheless, if he were to join, it would be a fantastic transfer. At 23-years-old, after playing an integral part in Dortmund’s domestic campaign in 2011-2012, it is only right to move to improve his ability. Where else, but a team that is experiencing problems in midfield. This could be the transfer that propels United forward.
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Blackburn Rovers 0-2 Manchester United
Manchester United moved 5 points clear of Manchester City, after an unconvincing 0-2 win against Blackburn Rovers, which seen Antonio Valencia grab a goal and an assist in what was his 100th appearance for the Red Devils. It was a much needed win, the perfect opportunity to capitalise on City’s poor performance against Sunderland, which seen them draw 3-3, at the Etihad.
Now that there is a 5 point advantage over City, there is room for complacency. However, this does enable United to some breathing space, knowing that if they do slip up in these last games, they can rely on a two/three point cushion, depending on whether they draw or lose.
David de Gea produced another flawless performance. The Spaniard showcased how fine his reflexes are, making three great saves in the first half, two of which were made in the final stages when Blackburn had more of the momentum and looked like scoring. The first came in the 17th minute – Junior Hoilett was allowed to run in United’s half and take a curling shot, but de Gea spectacularly stopped with a one-hand save. In the 45th minute, Marcus Olsson hit a left-shoot which was heading into the top corner, and de Gea turned it from heading into the net, with another glorious save. The last was to deny Grant Hanley’s header, the last action of the first half.
Javier Hernández struggled as United’s lone striker. Hernandez was limited to just once clear chance on goal, but was unlucky that his header went off the post, in the first half. It was not fully his fault, though, as the service he received was not the best. Also, Wayne Rooney was not playing in his favoured false number 9 role, which is another explanation for the Mexican’s anonymous display. There is no doubt that he has found life difficult in his second season with the United, but he can make the game much easier for himself if he brushes up on essential attributes, such as first touch and hold up play. In essence, there has been a major improvement, since the start of the season.
For the majority of the game, United had much of the possession, but there was little penetration through the left wing and through the middle. It was another classic United performance, as they left the fans nervy.
Things changed, however, on 81 minutes, Valencia cut inside from the right win and his thunderous shot left Paul Robinson confused. Not too often we see Valencia smile after scoring, but the celebration conveys how much this title means to him and to the team. Ashley Young, who came on for Paul Scholes, sealed the game for United on 86 minutes, when he was allowed to turn outside the Blackburn box, and produce a precise shot which found its way to the inside of the left post.
After being written off time-and-time again, the Champions have proved that experience and grinding out wins is more vital than talent in abundance and playing attractive football. Fans were not impressed with the way the team played after the 1-6 loss to City, achieving quite a few solitary goal wins and not conceding, but winning is more important than anything else.
The season is not over yet; the title decider will be at the Etihad. However, there is this general consensus floating about, that if City draw or lose against Arsenal in their upcoming match, and United win, then it is game over.
1-0 Rooney 42′
Manchester United move three points clear of arch rivals, Manchester City, after beating Fulham by a solitary goal, which was scored by Wayne Rooney. This game furthermore emphasised that there are no easy fixtures in the league, regardless of whether you are playing at home or against a struggling side, it does not make a difference.
United started off as the better side. It was complete and utter domination, but it took quite some time to create a clear-cut chance. In the 11th minute, Rafael da Silva whipped in a cross to Ryan Giggs, who almost opened the scored using his head, but Mark Schwarzer made a comfortable save.
The Red Devils struggled to deal with Fulham’s tremendous defensive work. Moussa Dembélé was not holding back and his close control proved to be too much at times. After a shaky start to the game, Fulham managed to pick themselves up, and it was Clint Dempsey’s turn to cause problems for David de Gea, but the American’s shot was saved easily. Dempsey was on the end of another Fulham attack when he found himself outside the box, but his curling effort was saved by the Spaniard, showcasing how good his reflexes are.
There were few clear cut chances for either team. Patrice Evra went close with an audacious overhead-kick, which went wide of Schwarzer’s post. It was soon Rafael’s turn, but instead of opting to pass the ball to Rooney, who was in a better position, he decided to take a relatively weak hit, which was once again – saved by Schwarzer.
United finally managed to break the deadlock, a couple of minutes before the end of the half. Ashley Young produced a wonderfully lofted cross into the path of Jonny Evans, who cut it back for Rooney to score. Despite not playing to their capabilities, United went into the break a goal ahead.
In the second half, Antonio Valencia was gifted with a chance, after finding himself on the end of a fine Giggs pass, but the Ecuadorian could only drive his shot straight at Schwarzer. Young also tested the Australian international with a curling effort, but it was not enough. United could have sealed the game 15 minutes before the end, when Young volleyed the ball, which Schwarzer saved, then had a chance at the rebound, which Schwarzer saved as well, before Giggs seen his shot blocked by Brede Hangeland.
The tactical substitutions taken by Sir Alex Ferguson come into question, however. Rooney was taken off, only to be brought on by Paul Scholes, when essentially Giggs should have been off, after the poor performance he displayed. United lacked strong physical presence, and Javier Hernandez, who was brought on for Danny Welbeck, struggled, as he was left in isolation.
The game ended in controversial circumstances, as Danny Murphy found himself in United’s area, only to be taken down by Michael Carrick. In real time, you cannot blame the referee for not awarding a penalty as it does look like the ball changes direction. However, there is no doubt that this is going to have a significant effect on the title race. The same can be said about Ben Arfa, who won Newcastle a penalty at Old Trafford earlier this season, in the 1-1 draw. Or, when Barry should have conceded a penalty against Stoke City a few days ago, when the score was tied (1-1).
Much of this win is thanks to Evans. Had a hand in the goal, but it was his defensive duties that helped United in the end. Pogrebnyak was dominated all over the place. That last header of the game was Vidic-esque.
A crucial win at a crucial time. We didn’t play extremely well, but we achieved maximum points, which is what was required. It doesn’t matter whether you don’t play fancy football, the results are much more important. However, we struggled in midfield and this area needs to be sorted out in the summer.
Sir Alex Ferguson silenced Manchester City’s Patrick Vieira this morning, after the Frenchman had made claims that Manchester United were desperate when they brought back Paul Scholes. This is what Vieira had to say,
For him (Scholes) to come back just shows a little bit of weakness in United, because they had to bring a player back who was 37.
As for Fergie, well, just read the following,
Desperation? Paul Scholes is the best midfielder for the last 20 years. I think Vieira is programmed for that.
Roberto had a wee dig a couple of weeks back. We’re all going to play our hand that way. There will be plenty of ammunition for that.
If you talk about desperation, they played a player the other night who refused to go on the pitch. The manager said he’d never play again and he takes a five-month holiday in Argentina. What is that? Could that come under the description of desperation?
Fergie was referring to Carlos Tevez, who came off the bench against Chelsea to set up Samir Nasri for the winner. Let us be honest here, had Manchester City been in a much more dominant position, then there would be no need for Tevez. But, it is ironic and contradictory talking about desperation when City can be used to explain the definition.
Regarding Scholes’ return, Fergie knew that United needed more experience in the middle. Michael Carrick was fantastic prior to Scholes’ return (and still has been), but he is not programmed to lead United’s attacks and dictate play, hence the return of Scholes is justifiable.
You do get the sense now that City are starting to feel the pressure more and more. They may have the better squad, but what they do not have, and what money cannot buy, is the mentality and experience of winning the league title over and over again. These little digs portray the fear, in all honesty.
Manchester United can extend their lead to four points over rivals, Manchester City, on Sunday, against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Wolves have only achieved one win in their last 14 games. Ironically, United met Wolves after they crashed out of the Champions League, beating them 4-1. This time, United face Wolves after crashing out of the Europa League.
Wolves caretaker manager, Terry Connor, has found managing the team hard and has not been able to lead Wolves to a single win, having only picked up one point in the three games he has managed in. Playing in the Molineux has not exactly been United’s strong point: In the last two games away from home, United have won and lost once. However, Wolves are on a dire run. Mick McCarthy’s departure has done nothing to improve Wolves’ form.
Despite this, Wolves still posses a couple of dangerous players, mostly notably – Steven Fletcher. You could make a case that, without Fletcher’s meaningful contribution of 10 goals in 22 appearances, they would be finding life in the Premier League much harder. Fletcher, though, is on a goal drought: he has scored one goal in his last 7 games. Matt Jarvis is only another threat, but he has been inconsistent. Nonetheless, they should not be written off, regardless of what the statistics, and performances, may say.
Sir Alex Ferguson essentially said that there are no easy games,
We always take teams seriously. That is the one quality we have had for years and years. We don’t take anything for granted. It is a year on but it is the same scenario. We were top of the league then, they were towards the bottom part. We have to perform.
When complacency creeps in, that is when you should be extremely worried. In 2012, United have played some tremendous football, but their play has dipped at times, leaving the opposition to take advantage.
United have no fresh injury concerns. Rio Ferdinand, who went off after what seemed to be a calf injury, is fit to play, and Wayne Rooney, who looked in discomfort after Jon Aurtenetxe’s challenge last Thursday in the Europa League, against Athletic Bilbao.
David de Gea will start in between the sticks, with Ferdinand and Jonny Evans starting as the main centre-back pairing. Rafael da Silva may be given a rest due to the height advantage Wolves possess; in his place will be Chris Smalling. Phil Jones is still recovering from flu. Despite Evra’s poor showing in the Europa League, he will probably be given the go-ahead.
The return of Paul Scholes is a boost, he has been nothing short of tremendous since coming back from retirement. No one expected him to start as many games as he has, and certainly not many predicted that he would have a significant influence in the middle of the park. Michael Carrick will sit next to him; the partnership has been The Red Devil’s best this season. Another boost is the return of Antonio Valencia, but Nani is rumoured to not be in contention and is still out injured. There should be no change on the left, Ashley Young should continue.
The line up I want to see:
De Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Scholes, Carrick, Young; Rooney, Hernandez
A win will increase the pressure on City, who have bottled it, let us all be honest. At one point, it did look that they could not be hunted down, but their away form has been poor, considering they have a squad full of great players, it does leave you confused.
I hope everyone enjoys this game, wherever you are watching it
Manchester United 2-0 West Bromwich Albion
Rooney 71′ (pen.)
United fought their way to the top of the Premier League, after beating West Bromwich Albion 2-0. Meanwhile, neighbours, Manchester City, struggled to deal with Swansea City, with the Welsh club’s style proving to be too much, as they won the game by a solitary goal. It is great credit to this United side that they find themselves top of the table, considering the amount of criticism they have received.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad selection last Thursday confused many, he rested Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Danny Welbeck, but it all made sense. Top priority is clearly still, and always has been, the Premier League title. Each one of those figures played an integral role, with Carrick and Scholes dominating midfielder for almost the entirety of the game and Welbeck’s neat interplay causing havoc.
It was a decent start for the visitors – Liam Ridgewell doing well to cross the ball into the path of Keith Andrews, who wasted a glorious chance to put the Baggies ahead. Andrews almost went close again, but was denied by David de Gea, who picked up his first clean sheet this year in the league. Subsequently, they were limited to one genuine chance, which fell to Shane Long, but de Gea dealt with the danger easily. Taking your chances against the big teams cannot be furthermore emphasised.
After an uncertain start, United regained control. Carrick and Scholes dictated play, the Baggies failed to close down quickly enough, letting the pair have too much freedom.
Ashley Young shone, something that we have not said for a while, since the start of the season. He has not had fantastic performances, where he stands out, for a while, but against West Brom, he was excellent. Certainly his best game in the league, after the 1-6 loss to Manchester City. Young looked more confident in his ability, and attacked West Brom’s defence with pace and unpredictability. His performance was summed up towards the end, when he played about with Andrews, who fouled him, which subsequently led to United being awarded a penalty, which Wayne Rooney scored. An encouraging performance.
Javier Hernández had a decent game, after his horror show against Athletic Bilbao. The Mexican was unlucky not to score in the second half, with one of his shots which found the post, but did assist Rooney for his first goal with a teasing shot. He is finding life hard in his second season in England, but in essence it has been a stop and start season.
There was time at the end for young French midfielder, Paul Pogba, to make an appearance. There have been rumours which suggest that he signed for Juventus, but he is still clearly at Manchester, and is still a Manchester United player. Fergie did admit, though, that he is still to make his mind up on his future. Encouraging nevertheless.
When United lost 1-6 to City, the critics had their say and said that they would never recover. The same applied when they got knocked out of the Champions League. The same applied when they lost to Newcastle and Blackburn respectively. You can never doubt the Red Devils, no matter what the circumstances may be. It is great credit to Fergie who has done, once again, a fantastic job with the squad at his disposal.
Top of the table, with what seems to be an easier fixture list than City’s. We all know that there are no easy fixtures in the Premier League, but on paper you would favour United. You do wonder, though, that had City not had Vincent Kompany for a few months, where would they be in the league. It is United’s to lose now.
Manchester United 2-3 Athletic Bilbao
1-0 Rooney 22′
1-1 Llorente 44′
1-2 De Marcos 72′
1-3 Munian 90′
2-3 Rooney 90′ (pen.)
Manchester United fans were left somewhat shocked, as Athletic Bilbao managed to exploit the frailties within the side, successfully beating them. United were outplayed for the majority of the game; much of that has to do with Marcelo Bielsa’s tactics. But it was the manner in which United were defeated that was worrying, to say the least.
Biesla has revolutionised the side, since taking over the summer. He has adopted a Barcelona-esque approach, not something that was expected considering that prior to him joining Athletic; they were more known for their direct, long ball approach.
Sir Alex Ferguson did say that he was going to field out his strongest line up, but it was far from that. United’s strongest line up contained Ryan Giggs and Phil Jones as central midfielders, and Park Ji-Sung as a left winger. Michael Carrick and Nani would have added more ammunition and self-discipline, a factor that was clearly lacking.
The side from Bilbao started off as the brighter team, with Fernando Llorente causing all sorts of trouble, and was unlucky to see his shot travel wide early on. However, it was United who stunned Athletic, after great link up play between Giggs and Javier Hernández, whose shot was palmed at by Gorka Iraizoz, but he did not get enough on it, as Wayne Rooney scored from the rebound.
It was against the run of play. However, this did not change the approach Athletic’s players took, and continued to knock the ball about with ease. Iker Muniain was finding it easy, one of the main reasons being that there was a clear lack of determination from United’s end. The sheer persistence paid off, just before the half, as Fernano Llorente, who had troubled Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans all half, scored a powerful header. Question marks were raised over the defending, though, as Jones left Llorente to go past him, without tracking him. This set the tone for the rest of the game.
United were allowed to cool down and get their acts sorted out. It was an opportunity to brush up on school boy defending and inject a bit of liveliness into the team. However, nothing changed in the second half, if anything, United got worse.
The Spanish side were still allowed to knock the ball back and forth, and looked assured throughout the second half. It was the same performance they put in, but United’s players backed off even more. David de Gea is to be thanked for the score line remaining a bit more respectable. The Spaniard produced two fine saves to deny Athletic the opportunity to lead the game early on in the second half. First, from Iker Munian, and the second was world class, to deny Llorente.
Chris Smalling could not continue and so, was replaced by Michael Carrick. Jones dropped to centre-back. Subsequently, Anderson was brought on for Park Ji-Sung, with Giggs switching to the left flank. It was not really what United needed.
The game looked to be done and dusted 20 minutes from time, when Ander Herrera found De Marcos, with a scrumptious ball, to score in emphatic fashion past de Gea. Although replays do suggest he was offside, it was nothing less than the Spanish side deserved, after outplaying United for the majority of the second half.
Nani was brought on late for Giggs, but it was too little too late, although he did do more than Park. More question marks were raised over the squad selection and why Nani was not included. His dynamic style would have caused more damage to Athletic’s defence.
The final nail of the coffin, or so we thought, was put in place when Munian scored in the last minute, after Rafael da Silva was unaware of the danger, it was a comedy error, one that you would expect your friends to make, but not a professional football. Of course, this all came after a controversial decision, which was the wrong one, but you have to be fully alert.
United were handed a lifeline though towards the end, as Rooney scored from the penalty spot. It was a bit unfortunate for Athletic and lucky for United, at the same time. It does provide United with a chance to score two goals, as opposed to three, but if Athletic score first in the second leg, then it will be lights out.
This season has been a sloppy European campaign for Champions League finalists. It is ironic that they find themselves struggling in the Europa League, less than a year ago, they found themselves playing against the best team in the world, Barcelona.
The only positive to take from this is de Gea’s performance. He really has found his feet now, and is displaying the quality we all expected from him when he arrived at the club. He made some great saves and, in essence, was the sole reason for the score being a bit more respectable.
The players are capable of much more. My main concern is that, if we do continue in the Europa League, it could potentially have a significant impact on our title campaign. In other words, it could ruin the team spirit and morale. We will soon find out.
They’ve got different qualities from a lot of Spanish teams. They press the ball very well and they’re not afraid to flood players forward in attack. They’re very positive and have no hesitation in committing themselves to attack at any point, with a number of players. It’s the best Athletic Bilbao team I’ve seen for some years.
Sir Alex Ferguson, March 2012
Athletic Bilbao visit Old Trafford on Thursday. Bilbao have overachieved this season, and this is as a result of Marcelo Bielsa’s fantastic work, which has seen them reach the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona and are currently standing at fifth place in La Liga. Fernando Llorente will have licked himself at the delight of facing a Manchester United side who have degraded in quality in Europe. If United are not alert, Llorente can so easily make his presence felt. The Spaniard has scored an impressive 13 goals in 22 appearances this season.
United have been far from convincing in Europe this season, whether they play in the Champions League or the Europa League – they have failed to make tasks easy for them, which is partially down to complacency. In the first leg of their first Europa League match, United beat Ajax convincingly 2-0, but struggled in the second leg, despite a fantastic start which seen Javier Hernández score a well-taken goal. After that, United gifted Ajax possession and made the game essentially much easier for the Dutch side. Subsequently, this led to Ajax winning 1-2, at Old Trafford as well, an achievement in itself.
In the league, United have had a great couple of months. They have picked up ten points from a potential twelve, against Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham, showing that they can deal with the pressure when it matters. However, regardless of how how well they have played in the league, the European competitions have seen them stumble badly, and one of the main reasons is that it is a different format and league bears no real significance.
Midfield duo Tom Cleverley and Anderson will be hoping to return from recent absences when Manchester United take on Athletic Bilbao in their Europa League last-16 first-leg clash at Old Trafford. Cleverley has been missing for a fortnight with an ankle injury that ended his hopes of an England debut against Holland, whilst Anderson has not started for four months after suffering a knee problem. Paul Scholes is set to miss out after starring in Sunday’s win over Tottenham and Chris Smalling could also be recalled after having stitches inserted into a head wound.
Midfield duo, Tom Cleverley and Anderson, are expected to start. Anderson is certainly expected to start, he has been back from injury for a couple of weeks and this is the best game to reintroduce him. Cleverley though, should not be rushed. As we have seen in the past, rushing him back from an injury has done him no favours, but has seen the Englishman pick up more injuries. Chris Smalling could also feature, after recovering from the head wound he received whilst on international duty with England.
Ashley Young and Nani are expected to start as United’s two wide men, with both blowing hot and cold. Young had a poor game against Tottenham, but still managed to contribute by assisting a goal and scoring two. Nani has not been the same player, since the injury he picked up against Arsenal, in the 1-3 win at the Emirates, and will be hoping to change that.
Javier Hernández and Dimitar Berbatov are expected to take over from Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, although you would expect Rooney to be an automatic starter, since it is a crucial game. Hernández has proved to be effective when partnered alongside Berbatov.
The line up I want to see:
De Gea; Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand Evra; Nani, Anderson, Carrick, Young; Rooney, Hernández
I would love to see Fábio in place of Evra, but Sir Alex Ferguson has, and will continue to, shown too much faith towards Evra, despite his erratic form. In that case, well will see the Brazilian on the bench – and even if we do, at least there is a possibility he might get given a chance.
I hope all you United fans enjoy the game.