Manchester United are this season going for an unprecedented fourth consecutive Premiership title. However, the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo would weaken any team bar Jossy’s Giants, and the general consensus this year is that Chelsea are in the driving seat for the major honours.
Ferguson has the majority of the £80million Ronaldo swag in the bank and could well strengthen in January, Micah Richards having been touted.
Honduran Antonio Valencia and erstwhile England striker, Michael Owen, have been his most notable purchases this year, Valencia contributing the goals you’d expect from a right-winger who isn’t an absolute freak, and Owen reduced to 158th-minute cameos, leaving him just the ten minutes to nab a winner.
After an efficient if not spectacular start to this campaign, United ominously hit form last week, putting four past Portsmouth at Fratton Park. Wayne Rooney’s hat-trick was complimented by a free-kick from the evergreen Ryan Giggs and the champions looked to be approaching their incisive best. Which is great.
With Ronaldo gone, Ferdinand suffering and Scholes, Giggs and Van Der Saar approaching pensionable age, United are certainly not the force they were.
Of their regulars, only Rooney, Vidic and Evra would likely command a place in most top European sides, and were it not for the underachievement of Arsenal and Liverpool, United could find an automatic 2nd place questionable.
They’ll obviously walk all over us, though.
2. World Cup Draw
Today sees the draw for next year’s World Cup groups, with England among the top seeds along with Spain, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina, Holland and hosts, South Africa.
This leaves Portugal and France (booooooo!*) in the second tier, along with other dangerous sides such as Mexico, Chile and the Ivory Coast.
‘Côte d’Ivoire’ in particular are a team best avoided, blessed as they are with Didier Drogba, Arsenal’s Emmanuel Eboué and the Toure brothers, Kolo and Yaya.
With Nigeria and Ghana also represented, this tournament could be the one where African nations finally emerge from long shadow cast by Cameroon’s Quarter-Final appearance at Italia ’90.
There is also the potential for the most lethal ‘Group of Death’ since Genghis Khan, Pol Pot and Hugo A-Go-Go got together in Kabul for H1N1 canapés. Imagine being drawn alongside France, Ivory Coast and Mexico?
Obviously, we’ll draw Australia and I’ll end up in prison.
*A shout out to my Irish brethren, particularly the Dublin Hammers, who must still be wounded by the travesty of their omission from the tournament after such a fine qualifying campaign. The H List and its Irish heritage is firmly in your corner.
May the once likeable Thierry Henry be forced to watch endless ‘Ally McBeal’ boxsets and have his gentleman’s area sautéed and scattered to the winds, banishing his dastardly seed from humanity.
Our home form against Man Utd since the inception of the Premier League is decent, considering their general dominance: we have won two, lost four and drawn seven.
Only one match has produced a winning margin of more than a single goal, the 5-3 defeat back in 2002 – a game where Paulo DiCanio memorably sank to his knees, pounding the ground in frustration having spurned a chance to level at 4-4, only to see United go straight up the other end and win a penalty.
Last season we made a good fist of it, but lost 1-0. Carlton Cole out-muscled Rio Ferdinand to go through on goal, only to elect an ill-advised chip from twenty yards instead of tonking it for all his worth. Lucas Neill took his eyes off his bank balance long enough to force a decent save from Edwin Van Der Saar and generally we were in contention.
Prior to kick-off, time-bending Glaswegian firebrand, Alex Ferguson, disclosed that this potential banana skin merited experienced heads, and it was Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs who made the difference.
Just after the hour, Scholes swept a cross-field pass to Giggs, who jinked his way into the area before firing right-footed through a forest of limbs and into the bottom corner.
4. Untimely Absenteeism
In games like this, you want your big players fit and firing. We therefore go into Saturday without our best defender and most effective attacking threat.
The loss of Matthew Upson and Carlton Cole all but kills off any glimmer of victory quicker than you can say, ‘The Top Gear presenter’s sickening and transparent attempts at ‘un-scripted’ comedy banter make me want to puke up my own arms’.
Recently, an unusual trend has occurred where the Club refuse to give an even vaguely quantifiable length of time that a player is expected to receive treatment.
Matthew Upson has a ‘hamstring strain’, nothing more. Carlton Cole will be out ‘for a number of weeks’. The abundant fuel supply of the Sun will last for ‘a number of weeks’, but that doesn’t tell the whole story, does it?
Leave it to whufc.com and the promotional literature for The Grand Canyon would read ‘slightly bigger, outdoorsy version of some pebbles and puddles in a skip’.
Cole’s injury is the more worrying, coming as it does just prior to the critical run of fixtures referred to last week (what do you mean you didn’t read it?)
We can expect him to be out until at least the New Year, meaning some serious slack has to be picked up by our remaining frontline and midfield.
Rumours of Luca Toni’s January arrival persist, but I’d rather have Cole upfront, and as they are a similar type of player, I don’t think that one would provide a foil for the other.
5. The Case For The Defence
What you don’t want heading into games like this, is a makeshift and nervy back four.
The absence of Matthew Upson leaves a lack of authority amid a defence who currently seem to be as familiar with each other as Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to the art of tact.
Last week’s bewildering attempt to throw away a 5-0 lead was overseen by Herita Ilunga, Manuel da Costa, Danny Gabbidon and Jonathan Spector, and it is likely that those four will again line up on Saturday.
You’d imagine that it would be Gabbidon who would take the lion’s share of responsibility, and we certainly need someone vocal to marshal the defence in unison. It’s in circumstances like these that we miss Lucas Neill - although generally he is only missed by local full-fat cheesecake vendors.
Our recent tally of 27 goals conceded in eleven games is already worrying, but particularly so in light of Saturday’s opponents.
The few positives this season stem from our attack barely managing to nullify our leaky defence, and while I think we’ll score on Saturday, I also think we’re likely to concede more than a French military defensive outpost.
6. Picture Book
'Against a team like United, you need five in midfield... to rout their Zionist agenda and crush Israel.'