Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “I’ve seen a few poor performances since I’ve been here but that will be up there with the worst of them. The performance was shocking. A team should fight from the first minute, not the 45th. It is up to the players to take responsibility but I take responsibility for the team I select. We could be dragged into a relegation fight – particularly because of the injuries and individual performances.” – David Moyes.
Runner-up: “I told you to watch out for him [CSKA keeper Igor Akinfeev] and he was fantastic as I expected. He is athletic, powerful and distributed well. Having said that, don’t go rushing to conclusions. I know there have been rumours that we are interested in trying to sign him but that is not true. He is a great goalkeeper but I am very happy with our goalkeeping strength – from the senior ranks down to some bright lads coming through.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.
Today’s overview: Manchester United’s shock home defeat to Turkish outfit Besiktas was not in the Old Trafford playbook and, unfortunately for poor Ben Foster, the stand-in keeper is again up for a bashing.
First to let rip was Daniel Taylor. “The damage is only superficial, with a place in the knockout phase already assured, but this was still a bad night for Sir Alex Ferguson’s experimental side and another difficult experience for Ben Foster, their struggling goalkeeper. As has happened more times than he would care to remember this season, Foster’s reliability as Edwin van der Sar’s understudy will come under intense scrutiny, after he was beaten by a speculative shot from Rodrigo Tello for the game’s decisive goal.”
Sticking the knife in further, James Ducker calls out Foster for conceding against the Turks. “It was not so wicked a deflection off the shoulder of Rafael Da Silva, the United defender, that it left Foster marooned. Sure, he was wrong-footed, but his hand was close enough to the ball the moment it passed him to think he could have done more. So add this to the blunders against Chelsea in the Community Shield and Arsenal, Manchester City and Sunderland in the Barclays Premier League and a theme is beginning to develop.”
Next to Foster-bash was Mark Ogden. “As Ferguson recalled only last week while attempting to defend Foster, Schmeichel had his moments… When Schmeichel made a mistake, though, he blamed somebody else. Always. No matter whether he was 100 per cent at fault, it was Steve Bruce or Gary Pallister, Jaap Stam or Ronny Johnsen who were subjected to the goalkeeperâ€™s fury. Foster is the polar opposite. When he commits an error that results in a goal, he just stares blankly into space, his eyes betraying the fear of a dressing down in the changing room.”
Taking a wider perspective, Paul Wilson focuses more generally on the new generation at United. “If these young players are going to grow up in the United tradition they will have to get used to chasing games, overcoming adversity and putting things right in the pitch. They are not the finished article yet. Obertan looked the most eye-catching.” Henry Winter drew similar conclusions writing “as reverses go, this was far from damaging and Ferguson will take pleasure from the performance of Obertan, whose pace and trickery down the right delighted Old Trafford.”
Slightly harsher in their analysis of United’s youngsters was Tim Rich, who barked “this was an opportunity for some young footballers to prove their worth to their manager and it was a chance they largely squandered. On this evidence, tomorrow does not belong to them.”
Scaremongering, James Ducker speculates how Besiktas’ victory could come back to haunt Ferguson. “United now have to draw away to Wolfsburg in 12 daysâ€™ time to guarantee top spot in group B, but if they do finish second, it could raise the prospect of a meeting with Barcelona or Real Madrid, both of whom top their respective groups, in the first knockout round.” That opinion contrasts with the laid-back analysis of Oliver Kay. “[United were] able to approach last nightâ€™s game as if it was a Carling Cup third-round tie and to shrug off the rare home defeat that followed for Sir Alex Fergusonâ€™s young team. They may be struggling to hit anything like top form, but Unitedâ€™s position is a source of envy not only to Liverpool, but to AC Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich and Juventus, all of whom go into the final round of group matches with their prospects in the balance.”
Liverpool’s Champions League exit today makes way for analysis of the Reds’ chances in the Europa League, whereis doubtful of the Meseysiders’ chances. “Among the teams involved are Benfica, Ajax, Valencia, Roma and Villarreal. Just to spice things up even more, Everton are in with a chance of joining them in the last 32, which will also feature AtlÃ©tico Madrid and could include Bayern Munich and Marseilles should they tumble out of the Champions League. Winning the competition, therefore, would be an achievement in itself and [Liverpool’s] form has been so poor that only a dramatic upturn in performance levels would give them a chance of doing so.”
It doesn’t take long though for talk to return to the Reds’ woes and, frothing at the mouth, Tony Cascarino snarls at Rafa Benitez’s apparent failings. “Benitez has built a squad that is not good enough to challenge and not determined enough to overachieve despite its limitations.”
Henry Winter chooses to hurl a host of difficult questions at the fallen Anfield giants. “Why is BenÃtez so cautious with Alberto Aquilani? How can the Italian acquire the match fitness he needs if he is used only a minute here and there? Can Martin Skrtel deal with zonal marking? Can Liverpool hold on to Javier Mascherano next year? Can BenÃtez bring through more home-grown players, stiffening the teamâ€™s resolve? Why has Ryan Babel got the hump? Are the finances so bad that Sotiris Kyrgiakos is the best centre-half BenÃtez could draft in? Does he really believe â€œ100 per centâ€™â€™ that Liverpool can finish in the top four when Manchester City have more money and Tottenham Hotspur more goals? Is Lucas really good enough? Does he regret selling Stephen Warnock? Did he alienate Xabi Alonso by going for Gareth Barry? Would he jump ship to Real Madrid if Manuel Pellegrini gets the Bernabeu bullet?”
John Edwards is left wondering “just how much longer can Gerrardâ€™s fierce sense of loyalty outweigh his longing to finish a domestic campaign in top place?… Sporting anything other than Liverpool colours may seem unthinkable for the England midfielder, but time is running out if he is to avoid being remembered as one of the greatest players never to win the League.”
Yet, there is good news for the Scousers as Rory Smith announces “Ruud van Nistelrooy is prepared to turn down the chance to join Arsenal in the January transfer window in an attempt to secure a move to Liverpool, his preferred destination – if he is allowed to leave Real Madrid.”
Portsmouth are closing in on the appointment of Avram Grant as their new manager, yet questions still remain over whether the South Coasters where right in sacking Paul Hart.
Dishing out some tough-love, Jamie Jackson has little sympathy for the axed manager. “Football is the ultimate results business. A manager is precisely that: a man charged with succeeding in whatever circumstances he finds a club. Hart got his opportunity at Portsmouth in what were extremely difficult circumstances. And, in the final analysis, he was unable to manage the dire situation at Fratton Park, indicating he was not quite up to the job.”
That view is countered by Harry Reknapp. “It is widely acknowledged that Hart did a fantastic job with the resources he had but just didn’t get the breaks. Kevin-Prince Boateng’s penalty miss at Stoke on Saturday now looks pivotal but Pompey have not had good luck for ages. They battered Everton and lost. They gave my Tottenham a real game, we won. That’s how it goes in football sometimes.”
Taking a step back, Lawrence Donegan bemoans the usual names who always get touted when a managerial vacancy opens up. “Looking at some of the other names supposedly in the running to take over at Fratton Park it was hard not to weep: Alan Curbishley, Gary McAllister, David O’Leary, Steve Coppell. God preserve us all. Is English football really suffering from such a dearth of homegrown talent that the principal attribute required by any candidate for a managerial position is a weary familiarity? One hopes the answer is no, but one fears that it could be yes.”
We close out with the transfers.
Neil Moxley gets the ball rolling farting “Sir Alex Ferguson has identified Denmark international Simon Kjaer as the replacement for Manchester Unitedâ€™s unsettled defender Nemanja Vidic… The 20-year-old has an Â£11million buy-out clause in his contract with the Italian club.”
The Sun then go into overdrive.
Vic Holly has the big scoop reporting “Chelsea are poised to beat West Ham to the capture of new Italy star Antonio Candreva… Candreva, 22, could plug a gap with Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel heading to the Africa Cup of Nations in January.” Staying with the Hammers, Roger Hannah scribbles “West Ham are ready to launch a Â£4million swoop for Rangers star Allan McGregor. Hammers gaffer Gianfranco Zola wants the keeper to replace England No1 Robert Green.” Steve Goodman claims “West Brom and Middlesbrough are both competing to sign Manchester United’s Rodrigo Possebon,” before a nameless article chimes “Everton and Birmingham will battle it out to sign giant Serbian striker Nikola Zigic in January.”
And there’s more, as another faceless article links Sunderland with “a January move for Athletic Bilbao midfielder Fran Yeste,” “Hull are eyeing up a Â£2million swoop for Club Brugge defender Antolin Alcaraz,” and “Stoke are ready to complete a swoop for Sweden defender Markus Jonsson.”
Over in The Mirror Darren Lewis is found spluttering, “Tottenham want to sign Micah Richards in the January transfer window… Spurs believe they can beat Aston Villa to Richardsâ€™ signature, with City boss Mark Hughes widely expected to sacrifice the youngster for more experience in the January transfer window.”
Lastly, Richard Aikman delivers the never-gonna-happen rumour that “former Italy goalkeeper Walter Zenga is being lined up as a replacement for beleaguered Bolton manager Gary Megson.”