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Chelsea vs Manchester United: Preview

Stamford Bridge, Sunday 4pm.

Chelsea 2.50 Draw 3.30 Man United 2.87

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Manchester United will welcome back Nani, Phil Jones and Wayne Rooney, while David De Gea is likely to start in goal after Anders Lindegaard was ruled out for six weeks yesterday.

Chelsea will be without the suspended Ashley Cole, while Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou are still away with the Ivory Coast.

United come into this game with a bit of form, as the post-Derby Day blip seems to be a thing of the past. Paul Scholes(f/g) has brought some incisiveness to the midfield, while Michael Carrick seems a steadier presence with the ex-England international alongside him. Antonio Valencia is also starting to play really well, and he’ll fancy his chances against a Cole-less Chelsea.

Wayne Rooney(f/g) and Nani(f/g) returning are both obvious pluses, while Phil Jones will likely drop-in at right-back to provide some added security against Juan Mata(f/g).

Chelsea are a pale imitation of what they once where, but they still have enough quality to hurt any team. Michael Essien may well be only fit enough for a bench place on Sunday, but his presence would be an enormous boost if he starts. Fernando Torres is what he is at the moment, but has traditionally done very well against Manchester United – poor form or not, he usually scores when facing Sir Alex Ferguson’s team.

The defence is a worry for the hosts. John Terry(f/g) and David Luiz(f/g) will probably be preferred in the centre, with Branislav Ivanovic a more disciplined option at right-back – you can’t trust Jose Bosingwa to contain Nani over ninety minutes. Who plays left-back? God Knows at the moment, but it’s going to be a square peg in a round hole whoever is chosen – a toss-up between Paulo Ferreira and Bosingwa you would suspect.

A draw most likely, but one that will benefit neither of these two. Expect a bit of a midfield stalemate and the usual tentative and drab affair.

1-1.

Chelsea 2.50 Draw 3.30 Man United 2.87

Manchester United target Xherdan Shaqiri

Most of you will know this name, and rightly so; Xherdan Shaqiri is on that top rung of young European talent with Christian Eriksen and Eden Hazard. Like Hazard and Eriksen, Shaqiri is being continuously linked with all the major English clubs – especially Manchester United.

So, given that you’re going to see an awful lot of him in gossip columns over the next four months, you might as well have a bit of video…

Manchester United to beat Chelsea on Sunday? 2.90 with Bet365
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Premier League Live Text: Arsenal vs Manchester United

Must win, must win, must win – both sides, two different reasons. City have won, and now United have to answer – Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham have all dropped points, so can Arsenal regain lost ground?

All odds courtesy of Paddy Power – sign-up for your £20 welcome bonus.

17.57

And that’ll be that. Full-time, Arsenal 1 United 2.

17.53

United chewing the clock, inching towards three really important points. Very good response in the face of Arsenal pressure in the second half.

17.52

MOTM has gone to Patrice Evra. Yup, although amongst a cluster of good United performances: Giggs, Carrick, Nani.

17.51

On the verge of stoppage time (5 mins), Arsenal have a free-kick halfway inside United’s half.

17.47

Rosicky yellow-carded for a cynical lunge on Wayne Rooney.

17.45

Aaron Ramsey replaced by Park Chu-Young

17.44

Tell you what, that’s absolutely brilliant from Antonio Valencia. The Ecuadorian cuts in from the right, beats two men, stumbles through the challenge of a third, and squares for Welbeck to gleefully lash the ball into the net. Jubilant scenes in the far right hand corner.

2-1

17.42

Goal – Manchester United (Welbeck)

17.39

“Kick the ball out. Kick the fucking ball out”

Well done to the Sky Sports sound boom operators.

Theo Walcott is receiving treatment.

17.37

Rafael is replaced by Ji-Sung Park.

17.37

Bold prediction for you: Arshavin will do nothing, whilst also managing to be incredibly wasteful.

17.35

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is replaced by Andrey Arshavin. Why?

17.34

Goal – Arsenal (Robin Van Persie)

Lovely, lovely goal. That’s the value of AOC, driving at Man United, and then slipping a reverse pass into Robin Van Persie who shoots across Lindegaard and in, via the post.

1-1

17.27

Suddenly it’s all a bit end-to-end. Danny Welbeck races onto Michael Carrick’s long header and through on goal, he chips the call over Sczezcny, but Per Mertesacker races back to clear off the line.

17.24

Arsenal really threatening, AOC drives at the United box but drags his shot inches wide. United becoming a little bit passive in midfield. Paul Scholes imminent, Sir Alex Ferguson has control on his mind.

17.21

Arsenal are 2.40 to score the next goal by the way.

17.20

And now it should be level. United bodies fling themselves across their own box as first Ramsey, and then Rosicky have shots blocked. Better from Arsenal.

17.18

It should be two. Nani – yet again – gets in behind Arsenal and drags the ball back to the penalty spot, only for Valencia to screw his half-volley at the corner flag.

17.16

Nico Yennaris picks up where Johan Djourou left off and is roasted by Nani – his cross evades Welbeck’s head by inches though. Still 1-0.

17.14

Until then. Chris Smalling does a Stefan Savic and gifts possession to Rosicky who in turns feeds the ball across the United box – only for Van Persie to drop a shoulder and blaze wide. Awful.

17.12

Lots of energy from Arsenal, very little penetration.

17.09

Not good, Robin Van Persie is limping. Fantasy Football Managers are getting nervous…

17.06

Mercy substitution from Arsenal – Djourou replaced by Yennaris.

16.56

Updated betting line. United 1.40 (steal) Draw 3.75 Arsenal 8.00 (optimistic)

16.55

“Giggs, Giggs will tear you apart…again”.

Very appropriate today, the ageless winger has been everywhere.

16.53

Johan Djourou might just need a bit of a lie down after that first-half. Not pretty, systematically abused by Ryan Giggs.

16.51

…and that’s that for the first half. United have been as good here as at any point in the season. Rhythm and creativity.

16.50

Goal. 1-0 Manchester United. Antonio Valencia

16.49

Told you…

Lovely ball in from Ryan Giggs, teases Sczeczny, and Antonio Valencia rises like a young salmon at the back post to nod United in front.

16.48

Phrase to sum up the first half? Matter of time.

16.43

Classic Nani. Too much time, too much self-indulgence. Goes past Djourou again, chooses to shoot from a silly angle instead of laying it off.

16.38

Good save from Sczeczny. Patrice Evra does brilliantly on the goal line, shrugging off Djourou and laying a pass back for Nani. The Portuguese produces a firm sidefoot into the near post, but Arsenal survive.

16.32

Rolling back the clock. Ryan Giggs runs forty yards with the ball, and ducks between Ramsey and Vermaelen on the edge of the box – chopped down by the Belgian.

16.30

I’m not convinced by Welbeck yet. He has good moments, but his touch and technique is very roulette. Another prematurely anointed English player.

16.29

Chance for Danny Welbeck. Gets in behind Arsenal after Rafael’s long ball, Koscielny covers well though. Good recovery pace.

16.27

There’s a whole lot more purpose about AOC compared to Theo Walcott. Doesn’t over-think it, just does it. Like it.

16.26

United starting to purr a bit now. Ball worked all the way across Arsenal’s box through Smalling and Valencia, until the latter drops a lovely ball in for Giggs. He crosses straight at the keeper though.

16.19

Not looking great for Phil Jones. Stretchered off with hands covering his face. #classicstretcherpose

16.17

I know Nani creates a lot of chances for United, but he doesn’t half waste promising positions. The same here – dances down the left touchline, stepover, stepover, failure to beat the first man.

16.16

…and on Koscielny, how improved is he? A David Luiz-style liability a year ago, now a credible asset to his side.

16.15

Laurent Koscielny now moping up as Giggs tries to play in Wayne Rooney. Good pace Arsenal defender.

16.14

..and now Theo Walcott cuts in off the left and has a swing. Straight down Lindegaard’s throat again.

16.12

Latest odds… Arsenal 2.75 United 2.50

16.11

Aaron Ramsey has the first shot on goal, on his left from twenty-five yards. The ball clipping Chris Smalling and losing it’s pace on the way through to Lindegaard

16.08

Some urgency and snap to Arsenal’s play early on. Players wanting the ball, always a good sign.

16.06

Arsenal looking vibrant. Rosicky zipping the ball about, Oxlade-Chamberlain with an early surge into United’s box. Game settling down.

16.05

This is exactly the kind of game that Arsenal will win, only to go and lose to Bolton next time out.

16.01

Good to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain starting, long overdue faith being shown by Wenger. Equally fantastic to see Arshavin on the bench.

15.59

Emotionally drained after that first game, but we’ll press on. Arsenal and Manchester United, you have the stage

Arsenal vs Manchester United: Preview

Sunday 4pm, Emirates Stadium

Arsenal 2.70 Draw 3.25 Man United 2.62

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Two sides with extensive injury lists, two clubs desperate for the points.

For Arsenal, Andre Santos, Carl Jenkinson, Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs all remain sidelined, while Thomas Vermaelen retains an outside hope of taking part.

Manchester United are without Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher for the rest of the season, while Tom Cleverly is still some weeks away from a return. Anders Lindegaard retains his place in goal as David De Gea considers eye surgery.

This is always a difficult fixture to call. Manchester United will doubtless arrive in London seeking a victory, and as such you can expect Wayne Rooney to be partnered up front by Javier Hernandez – likewise, Paul Scholes will probably start; possession at the Emirates is key.

On the basis the Ignasi Miquel will continue as a makeshift left-back, his battle with Nani will be key. The Portuguese likes this fixture, and will fancy his chances on that right-hand side. Miquel doesn’t need to nullify his opposite man, merely delay him long enough for a teammate to provide assistance and to encourage the more over-indulgent aspects of Nani’s game. The Manchester United winger is at his best when he’s able to deliver quickly, stopping that supply line is crucial to Arsenal chances. Don’t let him duck in field, don’t let him get in behind – simple objectives.

Since Ashley Young’s form evaporated, United have been short of a left-sided attacking threat. Yes, Nani can be deployed there when Antonio Valencia is preferred on the right, but by and large there’s not been any natural width on that flank. With the pacey threat of Theo Walcott, you’d imagine that Alex Ferguson will favour Ji-Sung Park(f/g) because of the defensive assistance he can give to Patrice Evra. Who knows though, Ferguson loves to spring a surprise.

Having watched Arsenal against Swansea last week, the frailty of the side is hard to ignore. Defensively, still, this is a team lacking in confidence – and also ill-equipped to deal with movement between the midfield and forward lines. Worrying, considering Wayne Rooney’s(f/g) fondness for drifting into those kind of positions. That may be the difference between the two teams – Rooney’s link-play versus the comparative isolation of Robin Van Persie(f/g).

Manchester United 2-1.

Paul Scholes’ return may be cause for concern for Manchester United fans

Manchester United to be beating Bolton at half-time and full-time – 1.44. Sign-up to Paddy Power today for your £20 welcome bonus.

Now that the novelty of seeing Paul Scholes in a United shirt again has worn off, there’s a nagging doubt that needs to be addressed.

Is Scholes’ reactivation a sign that Sir Alex Ferguson has no real intention of doing any business this month?

This is a Manchester United squad that looks very stale. Ferguson may well have raged against their second-half inefficiencies, but really that anger is better directed at his own stubborness in failing to recruit any real midfield specialty. A failure to keep the ball and take the sting out of a game? Nearly always born out of midfield inadequacy.

If the player now wearing United’s number 22 shirt was the pre-2005 version of Scholes, then great – he would be offering a full-time solution, but that’s just not the case. Bringing the player out of retirement offers little more than a feel good factor – that’s not to diminish Scholes’ status or his contribution to the game, but be realistic, he hasn’t played for 8 months and still looked off the pace last season.

This just has the feel of a gesture, a move designed to add numbers rather than originality. United, if they are to be the team that we all recognise, need to become more forthright in the transfer market, otherwise results like yesterday – i.e. positive outcomes against top-tier opposition – are going to become scarce. Take Wayne Rooney and Nani out of that team, and it’s actually very average, even with them it’s sometimes underwhelming.

The team needs a ball-winner, a firebrand, a leader, and it needs someone with creativity in the middle of the pitch. Unfortunately, Scholes is neither of those anymore, and his reappearance suggests that Ferguson is still not ready to embrace the future.

Spend some money.

Things we’ve learned – Arsenal, Man United, Everton.

Manchester United are a shambles

Manchester United to beat Manchester City? 3.50 with Paddy Power – claim your £20 welcome bonus today

Forwards being fined for poor training performances, no midfield to speak of, part-time full-backs, and no clear first-choice goalkeeper.

Sir Alex Ferguson is rightly given a lot of credit for adapting and evolving his team over the years, but all of a sudden this is a side that looks increasingly rudderless. Rather than just being a knee-jerk reaction to the chaos at St James’ Park, this is the long-term product of United being able to trade off their own success and the complacency that has brought with it. You can’t win a Premier League title without a properly defined midfield – and in United’s case, that area has become worryingly makeshift.

Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Park Ji-Sung, Anderson; these are players that are being deployed in the middle of the pitch, but without any clear role – nobody seems to have any responsibility in that part of United’s team. There’s no ball-winner, there’s no creativity, and there’s a chasm between that bank of four and United’s forwards. There’s no specialisation.

You can argue that the future of the midfield is for it be fluid and the positions to be interchangeable, but then if so, you really need to possess multi-occupational players with the requisite talent level. United don’t have that, and in any case, the 4-4-2 that Ferguson persists with doesn’t really allow for it.

Ferguson needs to address the personnel at Old Trafford now, or he’s going to spend the rest of the season worrying about Tottenham rather than Manchester City.

David Moyes’ special status is under-threat

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How often are we told about the ‘incredible job’ that David Moyes is doing at Everton? Yes, I know, the club has no money etc, but at some point that has to stop providing immunity from criticism.

Why do Everton always start the season badly? Why do they so frequently fail to beat poor teams at Goodison Park? Why are talented players(Rodwell/Drenthe) misused? And why do previously influential players(Cahill) have such lengthy slumps in form?

These are not questions for Bill Kenwright’s Bank Manager, they’re questions for Moyes. I understand the limitations on what he can bring into the club, but that doesn’t excuse the apparent mismanagement of what’s already there.

Arsenal can have no complaints over Johan Djourou’s sending off, or their defeat at Fulham

Arsenal to be leading at half-time and full-time against Leeds? 1.70 with Paddy Power – claim your £20 welcome bonus today

From Arsene Wenger’s post-match press conference:

“When Djourou got the first yellow card, they tried every time to get him a second yellow and the referee was naive enough to give it,”

I like Arsene Wenger, and I have the utmost respect for what he’s achieved in the game, but his excuses are beginning to grate.

Firstly, Arsenal lost the game – not because of the referee – but because they played so passively in the second half at Craven Cottage that concession was inevitable. Fulham deserved their equaliser, but only because the away side had spent the second forty-five minutes inviting their hosts on to them and allowing momentum to gradually build.

The sending off. It is a second yellow-card, and in fact Djourou was lucky not to receive it earlier for a foul higher-up the pitch on Kerim Frei. As for the incident that convinced Lee Probert to actually dismiss the Swiss defender? It’s more the product of Djourou finding himself in a bad position than any over-zealous refereeing – sorry Arsene, but that’s what happens when you play a centre-defender at full-back.

“We lost the game because we were down to 10 men.”

No, you didn’t, you lost the game because you were profligate in front of goal, Theo Walcott has no final ball, your goalkeeper dropped a cross, and your left-back gave Bobby Zamora the freedom of South West London to score the winner.

Newcastle vs Manchester United: Preview

Wednesday 8pm, St James’ Park.

Newcastle 5.00 Draw 3.60 Manchester United 1.72

Reprieved by Manchester City’s loss to Sunderland, there’s no such margin for error tonight for Manchester United. I think if Sir Alex Ferguson was honest with himself, he’d accept that he and his players took Blackburn a bit lightly on New Year’s Day.

Newcastle will be without Danny Guthrie and Peter Lovenkrands, but Gabriel Obertan(f/g) should be fit to face his old club. Manchester United could include Rio Ferdinand and Chris Smalling for the trip to the North East, while Wayne Rooney will likely be reinstated following his ‘resting’ last time out.

The victory against Bolton aside, Newcastle have had a mixture of bad luck and poor performances stretching back to November. In all fairness, Alan Pardew’s side have endured a tricky run of fixtures too; Manchester United, Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool, and Norwich away were always going to be a stern examination. Last time out they were well-beaten by a fairly average Liverpool team, and it was a disappointing surrender given what they’ve already shown themselves to be capable of.

Pardew will hopefully twin Leon Best with Demba Ba(f/g) up front tonight, as that clearly gives them the best chance of maintaining possession in the opposition’s half – Ba, for all his qualities, doesn’t look quite fit at the moment, and could do with a willing runner alongside him. Chiek Tiote’s return to the side is a big plus, and he’ll look to dominate the midfield – where United are clearly weakened at the moment.

With Wayne Rooney(f/g) back in the side, expect Dimitar Berbatov to drop to the bench – and I don’t think anyone will expect a repeat of the Rafael midfield experiment. If fit, Chris Smalling and Rio Ferdinand will take their places at centre and right-back, with Antonio Valencia moving into his more natural wide-midfield habitat. Anderson and Michael Carrick will likely start in the centre of midfield.

Manchester United are vulnerable at the moment, and this game will be decided by how much belief Newcastle have in their own ability to get at the Champions. A good atmosphere, a good work-rate, and a good level of discipline, and the hosts should make this a very awkward evening. I expect Manchester United to start well, with their manager’s ire still lingering in their ears, but the weight of Newcastle’s desire should be enough over 90 minutes. United are there for the taking at the moment, the reputation with which the beat so many teams wont be enough tonight.

Newcastle 2-1.

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Manchester United’s David De Gea – worth every bit of his transfer fee

The press and rival fans will always be quick to criticise any new player that arrives at Old Trafford – and that only intensifies when it’s a goalkeeper.

Unless you’re actually a Manchester United fan, the chances are you’ll take a lot of pleasure in seeing Sir Alex Ferguson making a costly transfer market-blunder.

Anyway, David De Gea. It’s very easy to be critical of the young Spaniard’s start; he’s vulnerable under the high-ball, he’s let in a few soft goals, and he doesn’t seem to inspire much confidence in his defenders. But he will turn one of the top-5 goalkeepers in the world.

It’s not that De Gea is good, it’s that he’s extraordinary. He’s very Southern European in his approach to the position, and the unorthodox nature of his technique is doubtless prejudicing British commentators and pundits against him. But as and when he marries his shot-stopping ability with more physical resilience, everyone’s going to see exactly why United paid as much as they did for him. Just as we tolerate an adjustment period for foreign outfield players, there’s also a steep learning curve for goalkeepers too; the decision-making requirement is different and the physical demands are greater.

He’s a 21-year-old boy who’s had a meteoric rise from third-choice at Atletico Madrid in 2009 to first-choice at Manchester United by August 2011. That’s a quantum leap in the game, and everyone needs to show an appropriate amount of patience – he won’t disappoint. He may not offer the same level of security that Edwin Van der Sar did, but the Dutchman had spent over 15-years in the game by the time he arrived at Old Trafford. It’s an unfortunate juxtaposition for De Gea, but he’s a long-term project, and one that will bear fruit before too long.

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Angered by Phil Dowd’s decision during Manchester United vs Wigan

Phil Dowd’s decision to dismiss Connor Sammon angered me, it was so symptomatic of the way the game is refereed in this country.

Sometimes officials have to accept that contact between two players is incidental, and not malicious. Anybody that has played the game – to any standard – will tell you that sometimes contact occurs and that it’s perfectly plausible for it to be accidental. Given the pace with which the game is played, there has to be more common sense applied.

There’s too much of this in the Premier League, there are too many referees who see contact during an aerial battle and feel the need to get the red card out. It’s irritating; they must learn to distinguish between a fair contest and serious foul play. It’s not actually that difficult, because very rarely do you see a Premier League player deliberately swing an elbow into his opponent’s face.

There are no mitigating circumstances for Dowd either. He has a direct line of sight to the incident, neither Michael Carrick nor any other Manchester United player is demanding retribution, the crowd is unmoved, and the incident doesn’t take place at any great speed. It’s just inadequate refereeing.

“I’m at Old Trafford and I think I’ve seen a swinging arm – maybe it’s best just to send the player off. It’s only Wigan.”

I’m someone that’s reluctant to slag off referees, because the ‘conspiracy culture’ in our game is too prominent already – but when the officials are consistently making incorrect decisions, every week now, that change the course of a game, it’s hard to ignore. It’s so, so boring.

Manchester United circling Christian Eriksen

Manchester United to beat Fulham? 8/11 with Paddy Power.

I wrote a couple of days ago about the suitability of Daniele De Rossi to Manchester United’s midfield – and while I stand by that, the Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen probably belonged in that conversation too.

An interesting story in the Daily Mail this morning – yes, I know – has United Assistant Coach Rene Meulensteen discussing the attacking midfielder:

‘This is a player that is on our radar.

But that is to be expected. If people weren’t looking, no-one would ever have an opinion on these players.

It is true that a player like Eriksen would fit our transfer policy.

He is being strongly linked with us, but to suggest that we are about to make a move is not true.’

While it would never be fair to compare anyone to Paul Scholes, this is the kind of player that can go a long way to filling the void left by recently-retired England International. Eriksen’s a hell of a player – brilliant on the ball, a good passing range, and a goal threat from anywhere within thirty-yards. Remind you of anyone?

He’ll be costly, but it looks as if United are on the verge of accepting the need for investment in their midfield – and the £25m or so that Ajax would want for their crown jewel would be well-worth it.

Even at 19, Eriksen has been courted by Europe’s elite for some time now, and you find it hard to believe that he’ll still be an Ajax player at the beginning of 2012/2013 – if United want him, they’ll have to win a pretty fierce multi-club ruck for his signature.

One for the Summer probably, but a transfer scramble United seemingly intend to be fully-involved in.