England 0-1 Germany: Three Lions End 2013 With Disappointing Defeat to Old Enemies

England 0-1 GermanyEngland concluded their 2013 programme of internationals with back-to-back home defeats to Chile and Germany, with the latter coming courtesy of Per Mertesacker’s header at Wembley on Tuesday night. Despite not fielding Manuel Neuer, Mesut Özil, Philipp Lahm, or Mario Gomez (among many others), the visitors managed to restrict the Three Li0ns to zero shots on target, a statistic which will be worrying for Roy Hodgson having seen his charges so comprehensively beaten at home by the world number twelves only a few days before.

Germany could probably have fielded a whole other starting eleven from the players left out and still had a stronger team on paper than England, but it was the home team who started the brightest, attacking from the very first whistle. England’s plan was clear - exploit the wings - where Germany’s Heiko Westermann and Marcel Schmelzer were thought to be considerably weaker than their compatriots Mertesacker and Jérôme Boateng in the center.

Ashley Cole and Kyle Walker were getting at the full-backs and the pace of Sturridge and Townsend was causing problems, but England seemed unable to fully break down the German defence. Half-chances came and went, usually for Wayne Rooney, but there was never a real clear-cut opportunity. Germany were threatening on the break through Reus and Götze, but Mönchengladbach’s Max Kruse seemed a little over-awed by the whole occasion, making only his sixth international appearance.

In the end, Germany’s goal was inevitable. Following a period of English pressure, the green shirts streamed forward and won a corner, which was placed directly on to the head of the tallest man on the pitch, the only England-based German in the team, Per Mertesacker.

England 0-1 GermanyJoe Hart made an outstanding save to keep him out during his first appearance for three weeks, but the ball came back out to Bayern’s Toni Kroos, who clipped in a delicious cross on the half-volley. it unsurprisingly found the head of Mertesacker, who guided it past Hart just inside the far post. Typical English punditry about typical German efficiency and typical English wastefulness followed, but in all honesty England couldn’t have felt too hard done by, having threatened so little themselves.

In a word, England seemed hesitant. On the occasions when someone did manage to get in behind the German defense, they tried to do something fancy and promptly found themselves without the ball, or support took so long to arrive that the visitors had time to fill their box with defenders. Hodgson’s men were left licking their wounds at half-time while Joachim Löw decided he wasn’t playing fair, bringing on one of the world’s finest defenders in Dortmund’s Mats Hummels.

The second half started at a furious pace with all of the chances going Germany’s way, and although Hart was impressive between the sticks, Marco Reus was wasteful on more than one occasion, and Kruse blazed over with passing options left and right.

Townsend hit the post with an excellent effort from range, wrapping his boot round the ball when it seemed it was beyond him, and an outrageous Adam Lallana turn almost paid dividends, but ultimately Roman Weidenfeller had little to do on his international debut. There was a distinct lack of urgency, and although the game was billed as a friendly, the 85,000 who went to Wembley would have been left disappointed by the apparent lack of passion among the England players against the old enemy.

So where now for England? Both this and the Chile game were, of course, friendlies, but Hodgson fielded strong enough teams in both matches to expect at least a draw at home to Chile. The Three Lions had a fairly satisfactory 2013 all in all, with a win and a draw against Brazil, a strong conclusion to World Cup qualifying and a satisfying victory over Scotland, but the barmy army finally seem to have their expectations in check ahead of next year’s finals in Rio - England are not going to win the World Cup.

Written by Sam France

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England 2-0 Poland: Three Lions Pass Ultimate Test and Qualify for World Cup

England 2-0 PolandTuesday night saw thousands of England supporters tune in to one of the country’s most important international games of the year. After a convincing 4-1 win at Wembley against Montenegro, England received fair praise from plaudits and critics alike, however the job was far from completed. A win was a vital for the Three Lions, and it was going to come with exuberant hard work and determination from England’s part and of course Roy Hodgson, whose job was surely on the line after England’s qualification hopes were boiled down to the final game.

The out-of-form Hart maintained his place in the starting line-up, playing behind the center-back pairing of Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka, sided by Leighton Baines and Chris Smalling, who replaced the suspended Kyle Walker. Carrick and Gerrard were played deep in midfield behind the attacking trio of Welbeck, Rooney and Townsend, and ahead of them the vastly in-form Daniel Sturridge was chosen, quite unsurprisingly.

Poland came out fighting fiercely during the opening stages, forcing a deep two line of four from England whenever the Poles possession progressed into the final third. England recuperated quickly after regaining possession and were quite effective in transitions, with Welbeck often drifting in centrally, pulling the right-backs out of position and occupying the central defenders. This saw space being vastly exploited on the left wing from Baines, who regularly pushed forward and hugged the touchline.

This trained and often repeated maneuver seen England take a deserved lead in the 42nd minute after Rooney sent in a glancing header from Baines’ beautifully weighted cross. He did so with his forehead unadorned by the headband accessory protecting his scar, having briefly discarded it. This was business time for England, and they rose to the occasion.

For a team that began the night fourth in a very average qualifying group, Poland moved the ball around with fantastic purpose. The prime example of this movement was on the 23′ when they broke the length of the pitch from an England corner, eventually playing Robert Lewandowski into that troublesome left channel where his left foot shot across Joe Hart was just wide of the goalkeeper’s far post.

England 2-0 PolandThese were tense times, indeed. In midfield, Michael Carrick, picked ahead of Frank Lampard, found himself closed down in those early stages, with Poland fielding a two man press and pushing England to the flanks by flooding midfield whenever the ball was lost with the thinking that England would be nowhere near as effective on the flanks. However, Carrick being Carrick, he can still pass the ball beautifully through the briefing shifting spaces of a modern game, but the United midfielder had to be at his pure best in order to do so.

After some worrying counterattacks that left England horribly exposed when committing players forward, Wayne Rooney’s goal was a huge morale boost to the side and fans alike, but at half time issues needed to be addressed by Hodgson. Baines’ aggressive movements down the left flank saw England be dangerously vulnerable to Poland counterattacks, as the lack of legs in midfield saw Lewandoski narrowly miss the post after escaping Smalling’s attempts to shackle the Dortmund strikers’ movements.

Townsend’s defensive contribution on the right was also admirable too, as often the Spurs man would be seen tracking back in defensive transitions and assist Smalling in 2v1 situations. He was also astoundingly effective going forward too, testing Szczęsny after a fantastic run saw him wrap his foot entirely around the ball, narrowly missing the top corner and ricocheting off the bar.

It was far from pretty during the second half, after Ukraine unsurprisingly clutching the victory leaving England with the task of a must-win situation, with 3 points against Poland being the only option to guarantee qualification. Poland played with sheer pride, even as if they had a World Cup place up for grabs, but a performance like that for a team ranked 65th in the world was remarkable. After the second half began, England began to sit far deeper than usual, neutralizing Poland’s counterattacking threat by switching to a 4-4-2 looking side whenever without possession, with Rooney dropping quite deep to keep tabs on the lively and vibrant Lewandoski, who was surprisingly missing a number of chances on the night.

Poland showed fear when England recycled possession at times, as they accumulated numbers on Polands right flank, which utilised Baines brilliantly to provide game-changing crosses into the box and cause sheer havoc among the Poles. Eventually Wilshere and Milner were brought on to suit the 4-4-2 when out of possession, with Milner providing much needed defensive aid for Smalling when Townsend lacked the stamina to do so in the late stages, and Wilshere’s active pressing provided much needed energy to the side in the late stages. With two minutes left in stoppage time, Gerrard stormed his way past the fatigued Poland defense, and with he ball set up for him, he stretched to poked it past Szczesny. The challenging task had been done completed, and a major test of character had been passed by Hodgson and his players.

Written by Sean McBride

England Look Set to Complete Final Stretch of World Cup Qualifying in Style

England vs MontenegroEngland will be under the microscope for the next week, with Roy Hodgson’s squad set to be firmly tested as they look to secure their place in the World Cup finals in Brazil next year. Last time out they secured four points in two qualifying matches against Moldova and Ukraine. The 0-0 draw in Ukraine was scrutinized, most notably by former England striker Gary Lineker, who was highly critical of England’s defensive approach. The criticism was perhaps harsh as the importance of getting some sort of result far outweighed the need for a win. It was a game that England could not afford to lose.

In the next two qualifying games England have vowed to go all out attack folowing the news that Leighton Baines will replace regular left back Ashley Cole in the lineup due to a rib injury Cole picked up in Chelsea’s recent win at Norwich. Former England international, Luther Blissett,emphasized the need for England to go out on the attack, telling TalkSport:

“I think you go for it all guns blazing with players in form, players on top of their game at the moment and who look like they’re hungry for goals and are ready to score goals.”

The England camp is in a buoyant mood ahead of the qualifiers, with Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge confident he can replicate his club from for his country, saying: “I feel I’m in the form of my life and hope to give the England boss a selection problem.” The 24-year-old has scored seven goals in six games, and has recently rekindled his partnership with Luis Suarez. Last time, England missed Sturridge dearly, particularly in Ukraine where England were forced to play Rickie Lambert up front on his own. The return of Daniel Sturridge will obviously leave Roy Hodgson with more room to attack. The likeliness of a display similar to that of played in Ukraine is slim. England captain Steven Gerrard has acknowledged that the Poland and Montenegro games will be a challenge, but feels England will have enough to overcome them:

“Every opposition will have their tricky players and Montengero and Poland with have their match winners as well, but we will have the better match winners - I tell you that!”

Montenegro

Ukraine vs EnglandMontenegro will be without their big names for the game at Wembley; Mirko Vucinic of Juventus will be missing as well as goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic, defender Marko Basa, and midfielder Miodrag Pekoivc. Manchester City’s Stevan Jovetic is also a doubt for the game, but despite this, defender Miodrag Dzudovic believes his side can upset England: “The most important thing will be to keep a clean sheet and I am sure our forwards will find a way through. With the right attitude and enough self-belief, we can finish in the top two and reach the play-offs.”

Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic has again echoed the need for belief in the Montenegro camp: “We will certainly try to play the best we can but we have a belief in ourselves and a belief that we can do it.” A performance similar to that of their gutsy draw against England in Euro 2012 qualifying wouldn’t go amiss for the visitors on Friday evening.

Poland

Poland still have slim chance of qualifying for the World Cup, who will need to win in both Ukraine and England and then hope for results elsewhere. It may seem a long shot, but arguably it should be achievable. Their strike-force of Robert Lewandowski and Artur Sobiech have scored a combined eight Bundesliga goals thus far, with both enjoying decent starts at their respective clubs. Poland have not beaten England since 1973, when they knocked England out of qualifying for the 1974 World Cup. If Poland get a result next Tuesday, expect there to be rants harking back to the two qualifiers from 40 years ago.

Previous Qualifying Games

England 5-1 Croatia (World Cup 2010 Qualifying) - A double from both Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and a goal from Wayne Rooney, secured England’s place in South Africa after a near perfect qualifying campaign. Wayne Rooney described it as an ‘amazing feeling’ to qualify for another World Cup following the way he had left the 2006 World Cup in shame.

England 2-3 Croatia (Euro 2008 Qualifying) - No one will forget that faithful day on the rain-sodden pitch at Wembley when Scott Carson forgot the art of goalkeeping and spilled Portsmouth midfielder Niko Kranjcar’s strike into his own net. England did manage to pull themselves level from 2-0 down, but Mladen Petric broke England’s hearts with a late goal to win the game for Croatia.

England 2-2 Greece (World Cup 2002 Qualifying) -  With Steven Gerrard jokingly suggesting that Leighton Baines will step up if England have a free-kick, it had me thinking back to the 2-2 draw with Greece at Old Trafford that secured England’s place in the 2002 World Cup. With seconds left, the inspirational captain stepped up to curl the ball past a stationary Antonios Nikopolidis to send England to the World Cup automatically. England may need a hero like Beckham if the going gets tough next Tuesday.

San Marino 1-7 England (World Cup 1994 Qualifying) - England may have won 7-1, but it was San Marino’s goal and England’s failure to qualify that was most documented. Davide Gualtieri, who now works as a computer sales man, opened the scoring in the first minute to show England up for what they really were under Graham Taylor. Taylor has admitted in the light of the upcoming games that he will take England’s failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup to the grave with him.

England 1-1 Poland (World Cup 1974 Qualifying) - England were left frustrated by Jan Tomaszewski who denied them on several occasions to earn Poland a very creditable draw at Wembley. Poland went to reach the Semi Finals of the 1974 World Cup, with football writer Brian Glanville claiming it was no shame to be knocked out by the Poles: “In retrospect, to be eliminated by a side so fine a side as Poland seems no disgrace.”

England should scrape through now that they have some of their better players back such as Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney, which gives them an edge in an attacking sense. The challenges of Montenegro and Poland have simmered down to some degree, and the formerly injury-crippled England should have enough to overcome them. While Poland have never got going in the qualifying, a home win seems the only thing likely. The games won’t be easy, but England will get through them unscathed.

Written by Jimmy Cartwright

Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man: A Look into the Future for Manchester United

Ferguson and MoyesCometh the hour, cometh the man: the words many reds will be hoping to murmur at recently appointed David Moyes’ first game, as well as his first opportunity for silverware.

The footballing world was thrown into shock when Sir Alex Ferguson announced he would retire at the end of the season. In the late hours of Tuesday, various different papers threw rumors around that the 71-year-old was considering retirement. As Wednesday slowly began, the Premier League Champions released a statement confirming that Ferguson would end his 26-year reign as manager of one of the greatest clubs in the world at the end of the season.

Manchester United quickly appointed a new manager, as was expected, and David Moyes took the burden. Succeeding someone who is thought to be the best manager in world is certainly a hard job to take on. We don’t know if he is the right man for the job, but her, I will look into what I think will happen at the Theatre of Dreams.

Transfers

This summer will be vital for David Moyes and United; the signings he accomplishes and the players he sells will show what kind of side he’ll want. There has been plenty of speculation around the United camp concerning who will stay and who will go. With Wayne Rooney supposedly handing in a transfer request and Sky Sports reporting that Anderson, Cleverley, Fletcher, and Nani could all be sold in a summer clear out, the change at Manchester United could be even bigger than expected.

There will also be a big summer signing according to Ferguson; the Scotsman will take a place on the board when he leaves his position as manager. With Moyes spending only £75 million in his 11 year reign at Everton, on this budget, the 50-year-old could produce some magic when it comes to transfers.

In-Goal

David De Gea has now proved himself. Starting off the season as a debatable number 1, he has now established himself as one of the best in the league, and even being named in the PFA Team of the season. There’s no worry for Moyes there, with Anders Lindegaard as a strong back-up.

Defense

Manchester UnitedIn defense, the Champions have looked shaky at times. However, in recent matches, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Jonny Evans, and Phil Jones have been excellent. With the ever-improving Rafael Da Silva having a solid season on the right and Evra have another impressive season, Moyes doesn’t have much work to do regarding defense  Although he may not need to do much, reports say that he is interested in his current left-back at Everton, Leighton Baines. It would be a good purchase for United should they get him for £15-20 million. He is debatably the best full back in the league and could fill Patrice Evra‘s boots when the Frenchman tires.

Midfield

In midfield, Ferguson’s side have disappointed. Although they have one of the best midfielders in the world, Michael Carrick, they have not had another strong central player who can partner the Englishman. Cleverley showed promise at the start of the season, but slowly he got too big for his boots and was shoved onto the bench by a disapproving Ferguson. PSV Eindhoven’s Kevin Strootman has been strongly linked with the reds, and he would be the perfect buy for them; he is strong, powerful, level-headed and has a great footballing brain. Should he come, United could dominate in Europe again.

Darren Fletcher has been plagued with injury after suffering from a bowel condition and may be forced to hang up his boots early, like Stiliyan Petrov. Yesterday evening, the Daily Mail reported that another legend, Paul Scholes, will retire at the end of the season. With his pin-point passes adding to both the defensive and attacking efforts of United’s game, he will be sorely missed. In addition, Anderson is almost certain to leave; the Brazilian has made 18 appearances for the reds in six seasons, and his weight is a massive concern. Anderson could head back to Portugal and to FC Porto and avoid the screams of David Moyes.

Strike-Force

Wayne Rooney has had a difficult season with Robin van Persie taking most of the spotlight. Moyes will be looking to get the best out of him should he stay. The formidable four of Manchester United’s attack have been a key factor in them winning their 2oth title. With van Persie just missing out on Player of the Year and Welbeck and Hernandez improving by the minute, Moyes has three excellent strikers who can give him the boost to win a trophy next season.

Wayne RooneyThe only problem the former Preston North-Endmanager will have is will he have to sell Wayne Rooney twice? The English international has disappointed many United fans in recent weeks, putting in some dreadful performances against City, Arsenal, Chelsea and others. At 27 years of age, he should be hitting his peak, but at the moment, he is overweight and is not having magic matches like the old Wazza, matches where he’d score wonderful overhead kicks, beautiful volleys, lovely interchanging passes, and a screaming shot past the keeper.

It seems he’s handed in a second transfer request in only 3 years, it also seems he has decided to consider staying since his former manager at Everton, David Moyes, has been appointed. We all know he can be one the best strikers in the world, matching the likes of Lewandowski, Falcao, and others, but can Moyes get that magic out of the red? He knows how to, and if he can, there will be silverware for sure.

Predicted Tactics

When it comes to tactics, we cannot look at what Moyes has done at Everton. He is a man who can adapt to what he has, much like Ferguson. At Everton, he had a solid defense and midfield, that he created himself. But in recent years, he has slowly adapted his team to be an attacking side. In my opinion, Moyes will move one step further away from a defensive side into a counterattacking side with the best strike force in Europe. And after all, if he gets stuck, Ferguson’s sitting upstairs. That is why he was appointed: he hasn’t got the big head of Mourinho, and he knows that sometimes asking for help is best.

Projected Line-Up

When Sir Alex Ferguson mentioned he may be naming big signings, I automatically thought of Kevin Strootman, and that’s still what I think. Should he be signed, along with Leighton Baines, this is how I feel Moyes’ side will line up:

David De Gea | Rafael Da Silva, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Leighton Baines | Wilfired Zaha, Kevin Stootman, Michael Carrick, Danny Welbeck, Shingi Kagawa | Robin van Persie

Substitutes: Anders Lindegaard, Chris Smalling, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Wayne Rooney, and Javier Hernandez

Written by Harry Robinson

How Could Manchester United Win the 2013/14 UEFA Champions League?

Manchester UnitedSince they were formed in 1878 as Newton Heath LYR, Manchester United have won 3 European Cups, or as it is called in the modern-day game, Champions League titles. 2 such titles were won under the reign of none other than Sir Alex Ferguson: the treble winning season of 1999 and the double winning season of 2008 (see highlights below). And with Ferguson looking to win another in order to beat Bill Paisley’s record of 3 Champions League at one club, I look into the stats, the facts, and the opinions of others to see what the Reds need to do to win the trophy of dreams.

Goalkeepers

As the start of the season was approaching, United did not have a first choice keeper. Now though, David De Gea has firmly cemented his place as Manchester United’s first choice goalkeeper. He has been putting in some commanding display’s recently and looks to be the real deal. With second choice Anders Lindegaard a great backup option, United have no work to do in the goalkeeping department. Ben Amos is also another backup option for the future; he is developing well at the club and should be a top quality keeper in years to come.

Defense

Manchester United don’t lack strength in-depth in their current side. Defense is an area where they have plenty of promising young stars for the future, such as players that will one day have a chance of captaining their country, like Phil Jones. However, are those players good enough and experienced enough to challenge for Europe’s biggest trophy, the UEFA Champions League? And can the experienced Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, or Patrice Evra play every game in the League and in Europe? No, but how to solve it?

Manchester UnitedJonny Evans has had an excellent season and has progressed well since the start of 2012. Now Ferguson’s first choice center back and nearing his prime, he can play in almost every match and produce top quality performances. To win next years European Cup, United and Ferguson will need someone else in the center back position though. This brings me to the point of rotation; with Vidic and Ferdinand ever aging and not able to play game in, game out, the two will have to take turns with each other, with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones to partner Jonny Evans. Of course the Irishman cannot play every game and will need some rest, therefore, occasionally, Vidic and Ferdinand could play, or Jones and Smalling.

In left back position, the Reds have the experienced Patrice Evra. He still tears up defenses and makes important tackles, but he is getting older and will need more rest next season. Leighton Baines has been a target of the Reds for a few years now, and in my opinion, is the best full back in the league. Second choice left back Alexander Buttner is a good prospect but defensively has not shown enough quality to play regularly. Fabio Da Silva is returning from loan at QPR and is a great full left back, much like his twin, Rafael. What to do? It’s Ferguson’s choice, he can either buy Leighton Baines and have left back covered and extremely strong and challenge for the Champions league. Or the champions-elect could not purchase a solid new left-back and challenge for the Premier League and fail in Europe.

Midfield

Manchester United aren’t short of quality in midfield. With Michael Carrick recently being nominated for PFA Player of the Year, they have one of the best and most consistent midfielders in the world. Tom Cleverley has been ever improving recently and has been putting in some impressive displays. They have young players coming through the ranks such as Ryan Tunnicliffe, Nick Powell, Davide Petrucci, and Jesse Lingard.

Manchester UnitedAgain, the problem is whether the current midfield can they challenge the likes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona, or Real Madrid? And again, the answer is no. This time, what to do? There is no possible way of getting around the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side need a dominating midfielder. Someone like Danielle De Rossi, Yohan Cabaye, or Kevin Strootman. Those were the responses on Twitter when I asked “If you could have one new midfielder at United, who would it be? (Realistically).”

Out of those three options, 1 name stands out. Kevin Strootman. He is extremely young and powerful, much like treble-winning Manchester United legend Roy Keane. United fans drool over the prospect of signing such a player. He is also the most realistic signing for the Reds. Ferguson is a known admirer of him and Strootman will be looking to get some higher quality football than he gets at his current club (PSV Eindhoven).

Danielle De Rossi has always been a target for United but he is a loyal player who looks set to stay at Roma until he retires. Yohan Cabaye is a classy footballer but is not the quality of a more physical player like Strootman. All of this leads to Strootman being the perfect player for the Reds, the player to lead them to European glory once again. It’s only a question of whether there is enough money at Old Trafford.

Attack

Manchester UnitedWith the likes of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, wihout a doubt, Manchester United have the strongest attack in the league, and possibly the world. With players like Will Keane, Joshua King, and more ready to join up with them, Ferguson doesn’t need to worry about his strikers, despite rumors he was in for Radamel Falcao. There are still rumors linking United with Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski; although it would mean one of United’s strikers leaving the Theater Of Dreams, it would be an excellent buy for the Reds. He scores repeatedly, with an average rate of almost 1 a game. Should he come to Manchester, he would link up with old teammate Shinji Kagawa to form a formidable partnership.

Assisting Manchester United’s forwards will be the wingers. The new addition of Wilfried Zaha (bought in January, now on loan at Crystal Palace) will be a big bonus. The Premier League leaders’ wingers have struggled this season. Antonio Valencia has had a torrid season, Ashley Young has had plenty of injuries keeping him on the side-lines, and Luis Nani’s morale has been low after his controversial sending off in their Champions League Round of 16 match-up against Real Madrid. Danny Welbeck has adapted to a new role on the left flank, and we could see Zaha and Welbeck on the wings in future. Even though it looks as if United have many a winger, they may need to purchase another to strengthen their squad and show their quality, someone like James Rodriguez.

If all these things happen, it looks good for Manchester United. They could reach the promise land again, and win the UEFA Champions League.

Written by Harry Robinson

How Can Manchester United Win the Treble in the 2013/14 Season?

Manchester UnitedAn ‘average’ side according to some, but to others, it was Fergie’s 2012/13 treble winning side. The beginning of last week and Manchester United fans’ dreams were full of a possible treble glory after many a pundit had commented on what could’ve been a glorious year for the Reds.

Tuesday night came around, built up to be the match made in heaven, the legendary match, but it was not to be. Ronaldo returning, Ferguson versus Mourinho; it was all there, all the beauty, the romance of the game. However, the romance was not played out by a certain referee, sending Nani off after 56 minutes and as a result turning a genius tactical plan from Ferguson into an easy opportunity for ‘the Special One’ to come and take the win and progress into the Quarter-Finals.

Quarter-Finals? That’s where we head now, Manchester United vs. Chelsea, the FA Cup Quarter Final. A win expected for United, and it looked like happening too. 5 minutes gone; Carrrrrrick, Chicaritooooooooooo! BOOM! 1-0! Hernandez heads past Cech. 6 minutes on from then: “Rooney lines the free kick up, players jostling in the area, Rooney! It’s curling through, GOALL! No one could get there, Luiz is nowhere! BOOM! 2-0!”

All is looking plush for the Reds, a two goal advantage; they have the momentum, every player full of happiness and confidence. Nothing could go wrong. And then it did.

Manchester United 2-2 ChelseaA shambles of a second half; usually the period in the game where United excel and players are falling over their feet watching Hazard strut his stuff. To cut a long story short, Chelsea score two and earn themselves a replay. This is something United definitely don’t need as they look to secure the Premier League without any embarrassing results. So, United’s treble dream cut short and their double chances hanging by a thread. The only good thing about that week for the Reds? They’re still 12 points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier league table. A brilliant feat.

What I’ve been thinking is that although it was not likely this year and it was quite possible, what about next year, the 2013/14 season? So, here I have compiled my guide to winning the treble:

Don’t Rotate Goalkeepers

Now, I’m not saying we’re never allowed to give David De Gea a rest, but come on, what good is putting Lindegaard of Amos on instead of him in an important game like in the FA Cup? Play him and only him, and when the lad asks for a rest give him it in the smaller games.

Do Rotate Defenders

Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja VidicWe have one of the best selection headaches in the world at United. We have the solid highly defensive partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, the always available Jonny Evans can go with anyone at any time, Phil Jones is undoubtedly one of the best CDM’s in the league who must not be sold, and then there’s good old Chris Smalling who has been plagued with injury but is England’s number 2 center back. This season, we have not had the gracious chance to see Jones and Smalling keep the goals out, but Fergie knows they are there and I’m sure that if he brings them into the rotation system of Ferdinand, Vidic, and Evans, United will have the best defense in the league.

Get Antonio Valencia Back

This is not one I can give advice on. He used to be brilliant and one day he changed, and this season he has been dreadful, nothing like ‘Antonio Valenica, Number 25, dreaded by every fan in the league.’ Ferguson is a master and it will be one of his greatest challenges, and if he completes it, the Manchester club have a good chance of treble glory next season.

Keep Wayne Rooney and Everyone Else

This is one of the most important points of my plan. Keeping every single player is key to winning the treble, considering this side will have been together for a whole year, probably winning the Premier League and becoming a tight unit. The players from the year before will be even closer because of the tragic loss of the Premier League on the final day, and together, they will be unstoppable. All this along with the fact that every single player is brilliant enough to be in a Manchester United shirt. Should someone come in, it could be an amazing impact buy like a certain Robin Van Persie, or it could be a horrible flop and disrupt the team from a treble like Diego Forlan. In my view, we don’t need to buy anyone apart from my next point.

Buy a Backup Central Midfielder

Tom CleverleyThe key word here is backup. What I am trying to say is not ‘Carrick and Cleverley aren’t good enough blah blah blah.’ I’m saying, ‘Carrick and Cleverley are brilliant, but they need some rest.’ You saw a perfect example of it on Sunday against Chelsea; Carrick and Cleverley had a great first half, making nice play, and then in the second, all their work went down the drain. They got tired, made some sloppy errors and conceding 2 goals. So, my thinking was buy another good midfielder for not too much cash so that (especially Cleverley as he is young) Cleverley and Carrick don’t get fatigue after too many games in a row, especially at the end of the season or in winter when the games start to build up. The only other player we should buy if they’re available is of course none other than Portuguese International Cristiano Ronaldo.

Make a List for the Following Season

A list, you may ask? By ‘list,’ I mean who we will sign when the season has drawn to a close. This season, we do not need to do that as we have no one player we specifically need to buy. Next season, we definitely will need to purchase new players. We will need a new left-back, as Patrice Evra will be slower, older, and all in all less good. We will need a new midfielder, as Scholes and Giggs will have left, and Carrick will be growing older by the second while slowing and losing his ability. We will also need a striker to give Rooney and Van Persie some rest while giving Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck their deserved weekly run out. I think you get the point, we’ll need players and what I’m saying is we need to plan for these players to get the best out of the side in the future.

Keep Playing the United Way

Yes, I am talking about the way to play. But not just the way of playing, attacking, nice football. Oh no, I’m talking about the way of coming back in every game no matter what he circumstances are. They fight till the very end and that is what has helped them this year in their bid for the Premier League.

Written by Harry Robinson

Manchester United 2-2 Chelsea: Blues Fight Back to Earn FA Cup Replay

Manchester United 2-2 Chelsea Old Trafford was the venue for the fourth and last FA Cup quarter final tie of the week, where league giants Manchester United hosted defending champions Chelsea.

Manchester United, having bowed out of the UEFA Champions League last Tuesday night, were more than determined to get back to winning ways and get closer to Wembley. Chelsea, in the same manner, having had an overall poor season until now, were looking to get as much as they could from this competition and defend their title. That said, this match was expected to be a very interesting one.

Both managers lined up strong squads, knowing how dangerous their opponents would be.

Manchester United kicked off the game with an aim to take advantage of Chelsea’s bad form and do what they do best, but Chelsea looked stronger and more focused at the beginning of this game than they had looked in Romania last Thursday evening.

The Mancunians were faster than the Londoners for the majority of the first half, making better passes between themselves and confident with playing at home. Chelsea started their game on a weak note, however, and their lack of consistency at the back allowed the hosts to go ahead as early as the 4th minute. A bad decision from Petr Cech allowed a Javier Hernandez looping header to get into the net.

Unable to correct their mistakes soon enough, Chelsea conceded a second goal just 7 minutes later, when a Wayne Rooney free-kick got past all the Chelsea defenders and Petr Cech, landing straight into the net. Chelsea’s David Luiz seemed to have gotten a slight touch to it, but it wasn’t enough to save his goalkeeper. Just 12 minutes into the game, the defending champions were down two-nil.

Manchester United 2-2 Chelsea Realizing they’d fooled around against a strong team for too long, Chelsea immediately picked up their pace and improved their game. We started seeing better passes from the Blues, more possession, and certainly better organization. All this work almost went to waste when Manchester United almost got their third through a bad David Luiz header towards his own goalkeeper while attempting to stop Wayne Rooney from getting his second. Cech managed to redeem himself by preventing both attempts from going in, however, to the delight of the away fans. Unfortunately for the home side, Luis Nani had to come off at the end of the first half due to an injury. Antonio Valencia was the man to replace him.

At the end of the half, Manchester United had no doubt been the better team. Chelsea had to make some serious changes for the second half if they were to make a comeback and prove themselves.

No changes were made by Rafael Benitez or Sir Alex Ferguson at the half. This only lasted for 7 minutes, however, as Chelsea made a double substitution 52 minutes in. Frank Lampard and Victor Moses made way for John Obi Mikel and Eden Hazard in that order. With some fresh legs, Chelsea improved their game and United were starting to feel threatened. Chelsea were, at this point, more hungry for goals than their hosts.

Eden Hazard proved to be a great substitution when he, after just 7 minutes in, collected a pass from Mata, found space in the United defense, and got one past David De Gea in the Manchester United goal. And what a strong one that was from the edge of the area! 2-1. Manchester United tried to restore their 2-goal cushion by introducing Robin Van Persie soon after, but Gary Cahill & co. prevented him from shining.

Chelsea seemed to have woken up in the second half, with Manchester United slowly running out of ideas. Just 11 minutes later, Chelsea got their equalizer from a left-footed strike into the far corner of the United net, courtesy of Ramires. Once again, there had been a gap in the United defense.

Manchester United 2-2 ChelseaChelsea weren’t done fighting yet, though. They continued to dominate the game and try to get a winner, but United were desperate to keep that from happening. Fernando Torres was introduced for Demba Ba right after Shinji Kagawa made way for Danny Welbeck.

United’s hopes of reaching the semi-finals were almost cut short just a few seconds from full time when Juan Mata seemed to have done it right for Chelsea, but David De Gea saved the day for his club by diverting Mata’s shot out for a corner. Both clubs desperately searched for a winner in the 4 minutes that were added on after normal time, but a replay seemed more likely.

Statistic-wise, Chelsea had a total of 14 shots, while United had 7. Chelsea had more possession (57% against 43%).  Howard Webb issued a total of 3 yellow cards during this game, with Chelsea picking up all 3. No players were sent off during this game.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafael Benitez lined up the following squads:

Manchester United Starting XI

De Gea, Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Nani, Carrick, Cleverley, Kagawa, Rooney, Hernandez

Subs: Amos, Vidic, Anderson, Valencia, Young, Van Persie, and Welbeck

Chelsea Starting XI

Cech, Azpilicueta, Cahill, David Luiz, Cole, Moses, Lampard, Mata, Ramires, Oscar, Ba

Subs: Turnbull, Bertrand, Ivanovic, Terry, Hazard, Mikel, and Torres

Final Score: Manchester United 2-2 Chelsea

Hernandez 4’, Rooney 11’; Hazard 57’, Ramires 68’

Semi-Finals

Chelsea will host Manchester United for a replay of this match at the Stamford Bridge in London. The winner of that match will face Manchester City at home on April 14th.

Written by Ange Marline

Champions League Round of 16 Preview: Part 4

Porto vs. Malaga

James RodriguezLikewise to the Valencia-PSG tie, this fixture seems to be outshone by the other dazzling fixtures ahead, but with an array of talent on display, it would be rude not to watch.

Porto have been going neck and neck with Benfica for many years now, and yet again we see the two Portuguese toe to toe. Only the goal difference separates the two. With this in mind, will Porto give a high importance towards Europe?

Malaga on the other hand have been the surprise package in Spain, others tipped them to fail what with their financial trouble, but I’m going to tip them as the team to watch in this tournament. Most definitely the dark horse this year.

Key Players

Throughout the years, Porto have lost and found world class strikers, such as Falcao and Hulk, but they have also managed to replace these quality attackers with players such as Martinez and Rodriguez. A Columbian theme certainly runs through this club. That’s why I believe the key players for Porto will be none other than Jackson Martinez and James Rodriguez.

Malaga’s threat will be well known throughout the football world. That threat is 2012 Tuttosport’s Golden Boy Isco. The Spanish playmaker has been the catalyst of Malaga’s threat so far this season, having scored two goals in the Champions League  already. I feel that if Isco steps up to the occasion, Malaga will advance.

Prediction

Malaga are the team to watch in this competition. Yes, they may be cash strapped at the moment but I believe they have enough quality to advance to next round. I’m going for a Porto win in the first leg and a Malaga win in the second which will see them advance on goal difference.

1st Leg: Porto 1-0 Malaga
2nd Leg: Malaga 2-0 Porto

Real Madrid vs. Manchester United

Robin van PersieI have saved the best for last. Arguably the most mouth-watering of ties in the round of 16. It’s Ferguson vs. Mourinho, Rooney vs. Ronaldo, Los Galatictico’s vs. The Red Devils. A true clash of the titans.

I can see Mourinho putting his all into this game. His side sit 3rd in La Liga with no hope of catching the rampant Barcelona. The Champions League is perhaps Mourinho’s only chance of keeping his job in the Bernabeu hot seat.

Madrid and United have some history against each other, the most recent being the thriller of a Champions League quarter final 2003 in which Real Madrid advanced 6-5 on aggregate. This game is must watch, no doubt about it.

Key Players

Real Madrid have a whole host of threats that could hurt Manchester United, their main one coming from a player who is well known to United: none other than Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo is one of the best players in the world at the moment, having tallied up an impressive 24 goals in 22 starting appearances. He may have Sir Alex Ferguson ruing the day he once let him go.

£24 million pounds? Injury prone? Past his day at 29? All these questions where thrown about the day Manchester United got their man Robin Van Persie. It was a gamble but my God did it pay off! Having already scored 18 goals in 22 games in his debut season, RVP  has been seen as the man to guide United to their 20th title. He will certainly have a say in both legs.

Prediction

Being a Manchester United fan, I’m finding it hard to predict this one. My heart says United, but my head says Real. If the Reds can manage a score draw or even a 2-1 loss in the first leg, they will have a big chance of advancement. I really couldn’t call this game, but what I will say is that if Real Madrid advance to the next round, they will go on to win the Champions League. You heard it here first.

1st Leg: Real Madrid ?-? Manchester United
2nd Leg: Manchester United ?-? Real Madrid

Written by TheFootballSupplement

England vs. Italy Recap

The Italians secure their win after Alessandro Diamanti whips the final penalty into the goal as Joe Hart dives in the other direction.

Probably one of the most bizarre and funny games in the Euro Cup thus far has been the quarter-final between England and Italy. Although both teams had some good chances, neither team was able to place the ball in the net (without being offside!) by the end of extra time. Though both sides were fairly even in the beginning of the game, Italy soon took complete ownership of the game, having a 64% possession of the ball. Italy had 35 shots in all (20 on target) and England had only 9 (4 on target). On the 5th minute, England created a great set-up for a goal, but Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon got his hand up there to block the shot from going in. After that moment, England did not have any significant breakaways or shots, and Wayne Rooney looked all but ineffective. On the other hand, the Italians shot balls from every angle and distance, but they also could not seem to make a goal. On the 3rd minute, Daniele De Rossi kicked a ball from 25 yards away that shot past English goalkeeper Joe Hart and hit the left-hand post. Later, Mario Balotelli got many chances inside the box to make a shot, but they were often off-target or they were deflected by English defenders. I feel that he should have been substituted toward the end of the second half, for his shots were getting less and less accurate. The surprise goal made by Italy in the 115 minute was found to be offside, so the joy of the Italians died down in a moment of seconds. The first Euro 2012 0-0 game moved on to penalty kicks. Although England was ahead, Ashley Young and Ashley Cole couldn’t make their shots, giving Italy the win which they so rightfully deserved. Italy now advances to the semi-finals and will play Germany on June 28th.

Written by FutbolPulse