Is Benitez losing the Plot?

30/08/2007

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When Rafa Benitez first came to Liverpool he was a much respected man, the coach who had taken Valencia to the La Liga title ahead of Madrid and Barcelona, the coach who walked out on Valencia when he felt he deserved more support. In his first season he delivered the Champions League after that stunning comeback against Milan in Istanbul. He won the FA Cup the following season, and after that took Liverpool to another Champions League final against Milan, which they lost.

Those were simpler times, times when Benitez English was limited, and we all enjoyed his broken English charm. Those days are gone. With his ever improving language skills, and free spending, Rafa is now showing a pretentious side to match the goatee he now sports. Benitez it seems will find anything and everything to complain about.

He complained about the outcome of the Gabriel Heinze hearing, where the tribunal found in favour of Manchester United and blocked the Argentine defenders move to Liverpool.

“I would like to ask the Premier League a number of questions,” said Benitez. “How can a player with a signed agreement be treated like this? He has a document which is clear, but the Premier League prefers to believe the word of someone else who made a mistake.”

Anyone with even a limited knowledge of the case could see that there was no way Liverpool and Heinze were going to win this one. Heinze had a written agreement with United that he could leave if anyone made a bid of 6.8 million pounds for him, which Liverpool did. However it was made clear to Heinze that he would not be sold to any of the top 4 teams in England, Uniteds main rivals, and this was an oral agreement that the player and David Gil at United had, and an agreement that was recorded by Gil. So a contracted player was trying to break his contract and an agreement that he made with his employers. This was a case he could not win. How Liverpool could feel slighted is a mystery.

‘I know there were accusations made against Liverpool in the hearing which were unbelievable. How can this be allowed?

The role that Liverpool played in this case has got to be questioned. Firstly, and most obviously to have come up with the exact bid to match the release clause showed that they must have had contact with Heinze and his representatives without the permission or knowledge of United. In this case it could have been Heinze’s representatives who approached Liverpool. However the fact that Heinze was using Liverpool lawyers, was so adamant that he be allowed to join Liverpool, that Rafa was very outspoken about Heinze and his desire to join Liverpool, all suggests that in principle the move had been agreed, again suggesting that Liverpool had been meeting and talking to Heinze without Uniteds permission or knowledge. While there is no doubt that this happens all the time in football, it does not make it right. The most damning evidence came from Phil Alexander, the Chief Executive of Crystal Palace, who old the hearing how Palace had been approached by Heinze’s representatives about a scheme they came up with to get around United’s block on the Liverpool move. The proposal would have seen Palace buying Heinze from United, for the agreed upon fee, and Palace then selling him on to Liverpool. A scheme like that would not have been possible without Liverpool’s knowledge and as innocent as they proclaim to be in this whole nasty mess clearly they must have got, or been willing to, their hands dirty.

” Then I want to ask the Premier League why it was so difficult for Liverpool to sign Javier Mascherano, when we had to wait a long time for the paperwork, but it was so easy for Carlos Tevez to join Manchester United?”

This is perhaps the most ridiculous of his complaints. Firstly, when United initially moved for Tevez at the end of the season, they followed the blue print of Mascherano’s move to Liverpool, but having done exactly what Liverpool had, they were unable to bring Tevez to Old Trafford. The Tevez saga continued for 3 months before eventually an agreement between West Ham and the Premier League allowed Tevez to complete the move. So a more pertinent question must be why was it so easy for Liverpool to sign Mascherano?

Benitez then moved his rant on to the fixture schedule, taking another swipe at the Premier League.

“I would like to ask the Premier League why is it that Liverpool always play the most fixtures away from home in an early kick-off, following an international break?” he said. “We had more than the top clubs last season and we have four already to prepare for this season. It’s going to be very difficult for us to win the Premier League because the other teams are so strong, but I want our supporters to know that despite the disadvantages we have, we will fight all the way.

“We will fight to cope with our more difficult kick-off times and all the other decisions which are going against us.”

It seems that Benitez must be an anthiest, because were he a religious man he would surely be blaming god for whatever slight he feels next. He seems to be getting his excuses ready for failing to deliver the league title again, taking Liverpools draught to 18 years. United, Chelsea and Arsenal have all had to cope with the same problem over the last few seasons. It’s the price of being successful and popular. The fixtures are designed for TV coverage, and maybe Benitez should give back a fair piece of his TV rites money in exchange for kick off times with the teams that don’t get as much live TV coverage as the top four. Of course then he wouldn’t have Torres.

Jose Mourinho has calmed down a lot this season, taking a more mellowed approach to his media responses, and it seems Benitez has taken his place. However while Mourinho had 2 successive league titles to back up his rants, Benitez has none. While he must be commended for delivering the Champions League, something Chelsea and Arsenal have as yet failed to do, and United’s win now almost a decade ago, and the FA Cup, making Liverpool a good cup team if not title challengers, we must remember one fact, while not taking away the winning of these two cups, both were won on penalty shoot outs, Liverpool did not out rightly beat their opponents in the final, they were merely luckier. To be that lucky you first have to get to the final, to get in the position to win it, and you Liverpool did that.

While Liverpool have made the best start to the season from the top teams, and Unite the worst, you cant help but feel that Rafa is starting to feel the pressure, and this may be a do or die season for both him and Liverpool.


United Legend Solskjaer Retires

28/08/2007

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After 11 years at Manchester United Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been forced to retire due to his persistent knee problems.

Solskjaer arrived at Old Trafford in 1996 from Molde in Norway and the player quickly dubbed the “baby face assasin” scored within 6mins of his debut, coming off the bench, against Blackburn in a 2-2 draw. Initially United wanted to wait until December of that season to give Solskjaer his first run out in a United shirt, wanting him condition him to English football having come from the less taxing Norwegian League. However Solskjaers early displays in training, where United players assumed on first sight that he was a youth player in the wrong place before seeing his extraordinary finishing skills, meant that Fergie threw him in ahead of schedule, in late August. Solskjaers first season saw him finish as Uniteds top league goal scorer with 18 goals, a head of Cantona and Cole.

The promise shown in his first season lead to Ole being rewarded with a 7 year deal, as the forward, costing just 1.5million pounds, was to become one of the best buys in United history. In 1999 United accepted an offer from Spurs of around 5million pounds for Solskjaer, and it was thought that Ole would leave Old Trafford in search of more first team starts, having spent much of the season coming off the bench behind Yorke, Cole and Sheringham. While many United fans would have been sad to see a player who had firmly established himself as a fans favourite leave, they would have understood the reasons behind it, and given him a standing reception whenever United came up against their ex player. However Solskjaer decided to stay and fight for his place, determined to show loyalty to the club and fans that he had come to adore, particularly when told by Sir Alex that he didn’t want Solskjaer to leave but would not stand in his way if he did. Such loyalty was the hallmark of a player who’s skills and success could have seen him forgiven for enjoying the huge ego that many lesser players possess. That just isn’t Solskjaer. The humble Norwegian, who looked 18 for all his 11 years at United, stayed and carved himself into United legend.

In that same season, 98/99, the season that would be Ole’s finest, the season where he came close to leaving United, Solskjaer became a living legend at United. In the FA Cup 4th round against Liverpool, with United behind to an early Michael Owen goal, United equalised just before full time. Rather then being grateful for a draw, and a replay, United won the tie with an injury time winner by Solskjaer. This sense of timing, and occasion, was only the start of things to come for the Baby Face Assassin. Against Nottingham Forrest United were 4-1 up with less then 20min to play. Yorke and Cole had each scored 2 and bets would have been taken as to which one would get his hat trick first. Enter, from the bench, Solskjaer, who scored the fastest hat-trick in Premier League history, and the most goals scored coming off the bench, as he banged in 4 goals in his brief time on the pitch. This from the player who was almost playing in the white of Spurs. The best was yet to come. In Barcelona against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final Solskjaer jabbed home a Sheringham flick in injury time to complete Uniteds great come back and clinch the Champions League and Treble for United. The Legend was complete.

Since those triumphant days Ole has endured a nightmare of injuries, particularly to his knees, and has spent more time in the treatment room then on the pitch. Each time he made a come back he was greeted with raptures applause and cries of “Ole Ole Ole” by the United faithful, for their idol. When he scored against Charlton last season it was his first league goal in 3 years. Another knee injury at the end of the season was the final straw, there were to be no more comebacks, Ole was finished.

His final goal for United came against Blackburn, in the 90th min, in a 4-1 victory, as Solskjaer goal scoring came full circle, his first ever goal for United and his last ever both against Blackburn. He currently holds the record for most goals scored in the Premier League coming off the bench with 14, and his behind Scholes, van Nistelrooy, Cole, and Giggs in Uniteds leading league goals chart with 92 goals. Solskjaer, a player unlike any the modern game has ever seen, nor will ever see, showing loyalty and patience that are unparalleled in a striker in the modern game, will be rewarded for all he has done for United with a coaching and ambassadorial role at the club. The legend that is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will live on at Old Trafford.


Transfer Speculation From the Tabloids

27/08/2007

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NEWS OF THE WORLD:

# Arsenal have made a £9million move for Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins.

# Michael Owen has pledged his future to Newcastle by insisting: “I love it here”.

# Micah Richards will be made the highest paid player in Manchester City’s history to keep him out of Chelsea’s reach.

# Bayern Munich have targeted Blackburn winger Morten Gamst Pedersen.

# Birmingham are poised to move for Charlton star Amdy Faye.

# Liverpool defender Gabriel Paletta has signed for Boca Juniors – with the Reds firming up a deal for Emiliano Insua in return.

# Blackburn defender Chris Samba is a target for Sevilla.

# Sunderland are set to make a free transfer move for Middlesbrough striker Jason Euell.

# Newcastle are set to land Peter Luccin from Atletico Madrid in the next 48 hours.

# Luke Moore is poised to sign a new four-year contract at Aston Villa.

# Watford want Nathan Ellington to replace wantaway Darius Henderson.

# Cardiff and Sheffield United are ready to move for Oldham striker Craig Davies.

# Preston want Coventry marksman Dele Adebola before the transfer window closes.

THE PEOPLE:

# Newcastle owner Mike Ashley will listen to any offers that value the club at around £225 million.

# Sunderland will use Stern John as part of their deal to land Southampton striker Kenwyne Jones.

# Paul Jewell will replace Martin Allen as Leicester manager.

# Birmingham are looking to rush through a £2million deal for Marseille midfielder Modeste M’Bami.

# Tottenham and Everton are involved in a tug-of-war for Plymouth youngster Dan Gosling.

# Fulham are targeting giant Czech Republic hitman Jan Koller.

# Jason Euell is ready to snub a £500,000 move to Sheffield Wednesday.

# West Ham are ready to revive their interest in Ghanaian Stephen Appiah.

# Arsenal are trailing Ajax left-back Urby Emanuelson and Bolton youngster Kyle Bartley.

# Plymouth are chasing Kilmarnock left-winger Willie Gibson.

DAILY STAR SUNDAY:

# Portsmouth are in pole position to land Nicolas Anelka for £12million.

# Newcastle are close to a deal for Atletico Madrid midfielder Peter Luccin.

# Sunderland are set to move for Middlesbrough striker Jason Euell.

# Fulham are set to step up their bid to land Celtic midfielder Thomas Gravesen.

# Nathan Ellington is set to end his West Brom frustration by joining Watford for £3.5million.
DAILY MAIL

# Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has met with Ronaldinho’s brother and adviser in an audacious bid to lure the Brazilian star in an £85million deal before Friday’s transfer deadline.

# West Ham are preparing an £8million move for Blackburn striker Benni McCarthy.

# Sheffield United boss Bryan Robson has ruled out selling striker Rob Hulse to Wigan.

THE SUN

# Chelsea have been offered Barcelona star Ronaldinho in what is being viewed as a cynical attempt to gain a pay rise from the Spanish club.

# Everton were left reeling when Manuel Fernandes decided to join Valencia even though the Benfica midfielder had already agreed to sign for the Toffees.

# Fulham have made a £1.3million offer for Derby striker Steve Howard.

# LA Galaxy have lined up Jurgen Klinsmann as their new coach because Frank Yallop cannot handle the pressure of having David Beckham in the team.

# Ipswich midfielder George O’Callaghan is set to join Sheffield Wednesday.

# Southampton’s wantaway striker Kenwyne Jones will be fined if he does not return to training today.

DAILY MIRROR

# Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate has hit out at Newcastle fans after they taunted Egyptian striker Mido with sick chants.

# Newcastle have agreed a deal for Bolton defender Abdoulaye Faye which will see the Senegalese star earn £40,000 a-week.

# Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill has targeted Chelsea defender Glen Johnson in his search for a right-back.

# Everton, Fulham, Man City and Derby are battling it out to sign £3million-rated Celtic striker Kenny Miller.

# Watford are poised to make a £3.5million offer for West Brom striker Nathan Ellington.

# MK Dons boss Paul Ince is to hold signing talks with French striker Mikel Antoine Courier.

# Fulham have had a £250,000 bid for Port Vale goalkeeper Joe Anyon turned down.

DAILY STAR

# Sunderland boss Roy Keane will take his summer spending to over £30million this week by signing Kenwyne Jones from Southampton and Stoke defender Danny Higginbotham.


Gabby Shipped off to Madrid

24/08/2007

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Gabriel Heinze has cried off to Spain after Manchester United sold him to Real Madrid 24 hours after a tribunal ruled in favour of United, blocking his move to Liverpool. He joins Real for around 8 million pounds, and becomes the 3rd United player to be sold to Real in the last 4 seasons, following David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Heinze joined United from PSG 3 seasons ago and quickly became a fan favourite after a very promising debut season in England where he proved to be the best left back in the league. However he suffered cruciate ligament damage the following season and on his return a year later found his place taken by Patrice Evra. With Heinze looking for more first team action rumours began to fly around about moves to Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona, while United fans hoped the popular Argentine would fight for his place and stay with the new English champions.

Then the story toured sour for all United supporters. Rumours of Liverpool’s interest had been laughed off, there was no way a United player of any quality would be sold to their biggest rivals. Then Heinze said he wanted to go to Liverpool and had an agreement with United that he could go if a price was met, which Liverpool were more than willing to meet. United stood firm, maintaining that the agreement did not include any of their main rivals, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, and that there was no way they would let Heinze move to Anfield. Heinze and his representatives stood firm, having been assured by Liverpool that United couldn’t block his move and the matter went to a Premier League tribunal. The tribunal ruled in United’s favour and Heinze, having made his position at United untenable, had no choice but to leave at the earliest opportunity, and Real moved in at the right time.

Through the entire matter Heinze has acted with no real understanding of being at United, or even in English football. When people go to United they are immediately immersed in the history of the club, the Busby Babes, the Munich air crash, Bobby Charlton, Matt Busby, Sir Alex, they get to know what being at United means. Even players who have had fall outs with the manager and been forced out, Yorke and Beckham recently, never have a bad word to say about the club or the fans. Diego Forlan, who endured a goal free period at United, still talks fondly of his time at Old Trafford. They all understood it. Heinze clearly has not. He has been adamant that United allow him to go to Liverpool and has shown disdain for the club and fans who have treated him with nothing but respect and adoration. When Gabby was out for a year with his injury United stood by him, even allowing him to go to Spain to get the treatment and recuperation he wanted. And this is how he paid that loyalty back.

One does have to wonder about his motives though. It’s not as if he is joining a better team. Liverpool, although with Torres they will improve, have not been close to wining the league for 17 years now. They are a good cup side, but not a consistent enough team to compete for the league title. So Heinze would be taking a backward step. He would be guaranteed a start, but he would be guaranteed that at a number of other clubs who were after him, Real, Lyon and Juventus amongst them. It had to either be about money or Liverpool have elicit photographs of him he doesn’t want coming out! For whatever reason the stance Heinze took does not make sense.

More evidence of the underhand nature of Heinze and his representatives came out at the tribunal hearing. Phil Alexander, the chief executive at Crystal Palace, told the hearing how Palace had been approached by Heinze’s representatives about a scheme they came up with to get around United’s block on the Liverpool move. The proposal would have seen Palace buying Heinze from United, for the agreed upon fee, and Palace then selling him on to Liverpool. A scheme like that would not have been possible without Liverpool’s knowledge and as innocent as they proclaim to be in this whole nasty mess clearly they must have got, or been willing to, their hands dirty.

At the end of the day Heinze has failed in his bid to engineer a move to Anfield and Real have benefited by getting a replacement for the departed Roborto Carlos. They have acquired for themselves a very good player, one of the best in his position in the world, but one of very dubious character and morals.


South Africa beat Zimbabwe by 5 wickets

23/08/2007

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South Africa laboured to a 5 wicket victory over Zimbabwe in the first of three ODI matches being used as a warm up to next T20 World Cup.

Although South African never looked like doing anything but winning this match, the manner in which they did told of a side that hadn’t played much cricket in months. The bowling was solid, the fielding very good, and the batting did the job required, but it all lacked inspiration. Although many will argue that the laboured performance was worrying, it was actually exactly what these matches in Zimbabwe were pencilled in for – to rid the team of any cob webs, allowing them to be ready for the T20 show piece.

An inept batting performance by the Zimbabwe top and middle order saw them at 72-7 and in danger of losing the match before lunch. But a spirited lower orde fightback by Chigumbura and Brent helped them past 200, and a degree of respectability. The innings began with some impressive stroke play by Sibanda, but like the rest of the top order he got out just when he started to look like he would give the South Africans something to think about. He edged a ball from Pollock to Smith, who took a brilliant catch low to his right. After that the wickets fell regularly, with an alarming 5 run outs, much to do with the Zimbabwean indecision as with the South African fielding. Taibu, on his return to Zimbabwean cricket, offered a brief glimmer of hope, but that was snuffed out as he fell for 22 to the impressive Morne Morkel, making his South African ODI debut. It was left to Chigumbura and Brent to rescue the Zimbabwe innings, and each batted carefully at first and then opened up a bit, both reaching half centuries, Brent being undefeated as the innings closed on 206. Chigumbura, who batted well in the Afro Asia series, has shown enough to suggest that he needs to move up the order if Zimbabwe are to be competitive in the future. He is able to grind out runs as well as find the boundary, and it is with him that the Zimbabwe future lies.

For South Africa, Pollock was his steady self, and nothing less can be expected of the old pro, finishing with 1/25 in 8 overs. However it was the bowling of debutant Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, playing his third ODI, that will have pleased the selectors the most. Morkel, bowling at first change, has the type of controlled aggression that usually comes with experience. He is able to bowl quick while remaining economical at the same time. A weapon that will surely be utilised much more in the future. Giving South Africa a strike bowler who does not leak runs. Philander, who impressed in his first two games against Ireland and India in May, and who was named player of the tournament at the emerging players tournament in Australia recently, topping both the batting and bowling tables, continued to suggest he may be a leading player for South Africa in the present and not just the future. He picked up 2 early wickets in his spell, and was bowling when Zimbabwe slipped from 67-2 to 72-7. His economical bowling saw his figures after his first spell read 2/4 from 6 overs. He returned to bowl at the death where he conceded 11 runs in 2 overs.

On the batting side, there were half centuries from Smith, debutant Bodi, and de Villiers, who slipped down the order to four. Smith rarely looked comfortable, seeming to be under the weather, yet still managed to score his 50 off just 57 balls. Bodi, although far from the fluid, boundary hitting, batsman of domestic cricket, played some elegant flicks and lofted shots, and will be pleased with his debut performance. De Villiers looked the most comfortable at the crease and until he ran himself out never looked in any trouble against the Zimbabwean attack. It was left to Pollock and Philander to see South Africa home, winning with 2 boundaries in succession from Philander with 22 balls and 5 wickets to spare.

Although the performances of Morkel, Philander, Bodi and de Villiers will have pleased the South Africans, there is much they need to do to improve, to reach the higher standard that they aim for, and build momentum to next months tournament. They have two more matches this weekend to iron out any kinks and to give time out in the middle to their squad. For Zimbabwe, they’ll just be hoping to remain competitive.


Jol on Way Out

21/08/2007

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It appears Martin Jol’s days at Spurs are numbered. A lot of money spent in the off season, two losses to open the season, an influx of betting on him being the first manager to lose his job this season, and photo’s of Spurs directors meeting other managers all seem to point to Jol being jobless in the not to distant future.

It seems the real reason for the imminent sacking of Jol would be a strained relationship between the manager and sporting director Damien Comolli, who has, in chairman Daniel Levy, a close ally. With Comolli being almost fire proof it seems the axe will fall on Jol’s head.

Spurs are believed to have drawn up a short list of potential new managers, a list that includes Mark Hughes, Harry Redknapp, Italian World Cup Winning manager Marcelo Lippi, and Sevilla’s Juande Ramos. Romas is believed to be at the top of the wish list and it is he who was photographed with John Alexander, Spurs club secretary, at a Spanish hotel last week. Both parties have denied any sinister reasons for the meeting and maintain it was just coincidence.

Ramos is believed to want more power and respect at Sevilla and could be tempted to join Spurs, given that he will surely be allowed some money to spend, and he has always suggested that he would love to manage in England. However have guided Sevilla to the UEFA Cup, the Spanish Kings Cup, 3rd place in La Liga and with it Sevilla’s first appearance in the Champions League, and recently a very convincing victory over Real Madrid in the two legged Spanish Super Cup, he could be tempted to stay and make history with Sevilla. The imminent sale of Dani Alves could bring in the money he craves for a new forward to partner Freddie Kanoute. Another good season as Sevilla would give him bargaining powers over his next contract, the present one running out at the end of the season, or put him in a position to move to a bigger club than Spurs, Barcelona, Madrid, Milan or Chelsea could prove tempting.

If Jol does go, and no clear explanations of why come out, it could be seen that the Spurs boards’ eyes are too big for their plates. Terry Venables guided Spurs to third place in 1990. Since then, in the Premiership years Spurs have failed to finish above 7th, until Martin Jol took charge. Under Jol they have finished 5th in both his seasons, narrowly, and unluckily, missing out on 4th place, and Champions League football. Jol has also brought some of the best young talent to White Hart Lane, and bought British too. He is the core of a very good team, one that is perhaps a defender or two shy of breaking into the top four. Like Sir Alex needed when he came to Manchester United, Jol needs time, time to get his players playing together, time to allow them to grow and fill their undoubted potential, time to achieve the miracle of breaking into the monopolised top four.

Spurs it seems see things differently. Jol will have until the international break at the beginning of September before he starts looking for a new job. And the new Spurs managers first game in charge? Arsenal.


City Not United Top Table

20/08/2007

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After 3 rounds of the new Premiership season a team from Manchester sits top of the table. That Manchester is represented at the top of the table is not unusual, that the team wears sky blue and not red, and plays at Eastlands and not Old Trafford is.

After Sundays 1-0 derby victory over United, City’s third straight win at the City of Manchester stadium over their more illustrious city rivals, has left Sven Goran Eriksons Manchester City top of the table with 3 straight wins and no goals conceded. So City’s Thai money infused revolution has taken off from the start, after many had predicted that they would need time to get so many expensive new players to gel, yet after this start, and particularly Sundays win, has left all in the blue half of Manchester fearing no one.

In truth Sundays win had more to do with United’s impotence in front of goal then City’s new brand of football, but on derby day no one will care how they won. Bianchi, Geovanni, Bojinov, Elano, Corluka, Gelson Fernandes, Garrido and Petrov have all come in with the new owners money, but it was two survivors of the old City, the City that couldn’t score at home last season, captain Richard Dunne and centre back partner Micah Richards, that won the Manchester derby for City.

The two at the back were immense all match, stopping every United attack, wave after wave, and protecting young Kasper Schmeicle in goal. The young keeper, son of United legend Peter, produced some fine saves, but looked nervous coming for crosses and trying to impose himself in the box. Dunne and Richards produced the type of performance that will give City fans optimism for the future of their club, that once the honeymoon is over, once City are no longer a surprise package with their newly bought team, once the new foreigners legs tire from the frenetic pace of the English game, they will still be able to grind out results. Micah Richards is perhaps the best defender at 19 the England have seen in a long time, better then John Terry was at 19, and if City can hold on to him, which perhaps may be easier considering the current investment, they may have the best defender in the Europe in the future. As brilliant as the two at the back were, and Richards, still on 19, showed strength and timing that no one of his age should possess, the truth is that in order for the defence or keeper to shine so brightly in a game the other team must be on top for long periods of the game. So it was on Sunday, when United, just as they did in their opening game against Reading, and on Wednesday against Portsmouth, dominated the game from start to finish, and couldn’t win.

United put their championship win last season down to their great start to the season, staying out on top for the entire season, while Chelsea faltered in December, and so will be worried about taking only 2 points from the available 9, their worst start to a Premiership season. While United will take heart from the fact that their 2 previous bad starts, in 1992 and 1998, ended with the league title in ’92, the inaugural Premier League season, and the treble in ’99. United have always been a team that starts slowly and takes control after January. However times are different now in that they may find themselves to far behind Chelsea, and unable to catch them. What United can perhaps look to, after the initial 3 games anyway, is that this season may be one of the most competitive in a long time. Liverpool have improved their squad, Arsenals young team have a years more experience then they did last year, Spurs have spent a lot to catch the top four, and the likes of Newcastle, West Ham, Aston Villa, Blackburn and City, all look capable of taking points from the top teams. Even the weaker teams in Fulham, Sunderland and Birmingham have spent a lot of money to try and ensure Premiership survival. Reading and Wigan, the two teams I picked to go down this season, along with Derby, who look way out of their depth and should go straight back down, have looked good in games to suggest that they will make a battle of it. So while Sir Alex stated that the 90 point mark is what should be aimed at to win the title, in truth the competitiveness of this season may bring that mark down a lot lower. That’s the sort of straw United will be clutching to. They’ve made things hard for themselves, but interesting for everyone else.

For now at least the blue half of Manchester can enjoy sitting on top the table, ahead of Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, and most importantly Manchester United. Come the end of the season, they may not be quite so lucky.