Dimitar Berbatov or Thierry Henry?

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the Day: “We have one or two options we’re looking at and it’s possible we’ll sign someone this week. The striker’s position is something that’s been pressing since the end of last season but now there is some light at the end of the tunnel. There is nothing at all to say about Berbatov. We’re looking at options elsewhere. We’d like to add to our squad and we’re making moves in that direction. We’re trying. There’s an issue with scoring goals at the moment but if you’re making as many chances as we are, we shouldn’t worry about it because players will come back and we will eventually add to the squad.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.

Runner-up: “This is not about questioning the manager’s judgment or the ability of a particular player, the owners have clearly demonstrated throughout the year they are willing to back Rafa in the transfer market and will continue to do so. It is obviously the selling club’s prerogative to put whatever price they want on the player – on this occasion Liverpool think the price quoted is too high.” – Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry.

Today’s overview: Following yesterday’s dull Community Shield, in which Manchester United were unable to find a goal, the papers today clamour around stories that Sir Alex is targeting a striker. The frontrunners for the lead striker role at Old Trafford appear to be Dimitar Berbatov and Thierry Henry.

Mark Irwin (The Sun) and James Ducker (The Times) both suggest that United are using their interest in Henry to make “Spurs sweat.” Martin Lipton adds to the chorus, arguing that during the Community Shield “Dimitar Berbatov’s asking price was probably rising.”

Sam Wallace in The Independent takes a slightly different angle, blaming United’s lack of a cutting edge on the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo. “Take the man with 42 goals last season out the team – and remove Wayne Rooney, too – and this is still United, but not as we remember the European champions.”

Other threads on the Wembley showpiece are also chewed over. Alan Smith looks at the contribution of Nani and Sachin Nakrani and Tom Dart both review the effectiveness of the Crouch-Defoe partnership.

There are a number of Premier League themes reported on today. George Caulkin (The Times) fires off rounds of questions as he attempts to understand the situation at St. James’ Park. James Ducker in The Times reports Everton will finally start to spend some money this week.

And dark clouds are hovering over Mark Hughes and Manchester City. Ian Ladyman suggests there may not be too much money for Sparky to spend and Alan Nixon in the Daily Mirror claims Vedran Corluka and Stephen Ireland will now be on their way out of Eastlands.

Finally the article of the day comes from Martin Samuel (The Game) who writes of Portsmouth and analyses the gap between the big four and the rest.

According to Dominic Fifield (Guardian) Sir Alex wants Dimitar Berbatov but he may settle for Thierry Herny. “Berbatov remains the primary target – Spurs are seeking around £30m, but would rather sell him to another club – though relations will have to improve between two clubs before a deal could be thrashed out. With that in mind, and perhaps to prompt Spurs into relaxing their stance, Ferguson claimed he may look elsewhere. Reports yesterday linked him with a move for Thierry Henry, now at Barcelona.”

Mark Irwin in The Sun also goes with a similar line, how Ferguson is using Henry to make “Spurs sweat.” “Alex Ferguson has taunted Spurs by refusing to rule out a move for former Arsenal ace Thierry Henry. Fergie is running out of patience over £30million Dimitar Berbatov and asked about the possibility of a £20million move for Barcelona hitman Henry, 30, admitted: ‘We have one or two options we’re looking at and it’s possible we’ll sign someone this week.'”

James Ducker wonders how intense Sir Alex’s pursuit of Thierry Henry actually is in The Times. “Whether reports of United’s apparent interest in Henry are merely intended to make Tottenham sweat – especially because the North London club are likely to need the money from Berbatov to sign another striker – is unclear, but Ferguson has long been an admirer of the Barcelona forward. Asked whether he was trying to sign Henry, Ferguson said: ‘I can’t answer it because I’ve not got a direct answer.'”

Martin Lipton also analyses United’s “lack of firepower” in the Daily Mirror. “That United were destined to win yesterday was never really in doubt. Taking it to penalties was Portsmouth’s only half prospect of stealing the trophy. However, as the chances came and went, with a rapidity which bore testament to United’s intelligence as much as Portsmouth’s defensive limitation, there was the feeling Dimitar Berbatov’s asking price was probably rising in tandem.”

Sam Wallace in the Independent writes of United’s lack of a “cutting edge,” but blames it more on the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo than an out-and-out striker. “It came down, quite simply, to goals. On their way to their 13th Community Shield victory, Manchester United were slick in their passing, lively in their movement and dominant in every department over Portsmouth. Not only that, they won 10 corners to their opponents’ one, they clipped the bar and they demanded the very best of David James. Their problem was that they failed to express their advantage in goals, which is the commodity in which Ronaldo deals most effectively. Take the man with 42 goals last season out the team – and remove Wayne Rooney, too – and this is still United, but not as we remember the European champions. Yes, it might only have been the Community Shield game but in many respects it told us a great deal about United.”

And Phil McNulty (BBC) weighs in on Manchester United’s “striking dilemma.” “United can afford to miss chances in the Community Shield. They could even have afforded to miss their penalties in the grand scheme of things – but a finisher might make the difference to the fine margins that operate in the Premier League. Missed chances could prove the difference between a good start and a great start, which is why Ferguson made his priority clear. He does not want to offer the slightest piece of daylight to his closest rivals from day one – it is not in his nature.”

Alan Smith (Daily Telegraph) ponders the performance of Nani at Wembley yesterday. “So if Ronaldo had fulfilled his ‘dream’ with a move to Spain, the obvious successor would probably have been asked to fill the void. The situation now, of course, isn’t quite so extreme, much to the relief of everyone concerned, maybe even Nani, who showed in his second Community Shield outing that while he possesses bags of skill he isn’t quite ready to fill the boots of his compatriot. Very much like Ronaldo, in fact, during his early days, a propensity to overdramatise sometimes let Nani down. Clearly, 12 months under Ferguson’s guidance hasn’t been enough to iron out some of the less endearing aspects of the lad’s game.”

Sachin Nakrani (Guardian) looks at the effectiveness of the Crouch-Defoe partnership in the Community Shield. “Would [Crouch] link up well with Jermain Defoe? Could the Portsmouth pair trouble Manchester United’s usually imperturbable defence? Should Fabio Capello, who was in attendance at Wembley, pick them for the friendly against the Czech Republic later this month? Sadly for the forwards, the only answers which could be expressed with any real honesty after the final whistle here were no, no and no. When Defoe scored for Portsmouth in the penalty shoot-out, it represented the first time either he or Crouch had troubled Edwin van der Sar in the United goal.”

Tom Dart (The Times) also focuses his attention on the Pompey forward-line, believing “Harry Redknapp faces sizeable task trying not to typecast Crouch and Defoe.” “The notion that a little and large double act is a formula for success may owe more to fond memories of Laurel and Hardy and Morecambe and Wise than the realities of modern football. Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch played together for Portsmouth in a significant match for the first time yesterday and their most assured piece of link-up play came when they stood in the centre circle and kicked off in the second half.”

Dave Ward in The Sun repeats quotes made by Jose Mourinho on Arsenal. The Special One: “I saw Arsenal. They have a good team but have a small group of experienced players. The second group is full of boys. They have talent but maybe Arsenal are without the depth needed to win the title.”

Paul Joyce in the Daily Express has an update on the situation at Liverpool. “Rafa Benitez’s anger at the collapse of Gareth Barry’s proposed move to Anfield shows little sign of subsiding despite attempts to defuse his latest fall-out with the club’s hierarchy. Liverpool manager Benitez is still fuming at the U-turn by owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, who have refused to sanction an £18million deal a week after agreeing to it.”

In almost of frenzied panic, George Caulkin (The Times) fires off rounds of questions as he attempts to understand the situation at St. James’ Park. “Keegan is the right manager to reenergise the club, but why is there distance between him and the acquisition department? Does that really play to his strengths? Are Keegan and Dennis Wise, the executive director (football), pulling in the same direction? Who is making the decisions? Why has football’s greatest communicator not been encouraged to deliver a more upbeat message? Injuries are already a concern… Is there momentum? And in which direction is it propelling the club?”

The blue half of Merseyside may finally see their club bring in some new faces in the next day or so, with James Ducker reporting on several new signings for Everton in The Times. “Everton have agreed a deal with CSKA Moscow for Vágner Love, the Brazil striker, who is expected to join on a season-long loan with a view to a permanent £13 million move that would smash the club’s transfer record… Love’s arrival will not necessarily signal the end of Moyes’s interest in Diego Milito, the Real Zaragoza and Argentina striker. Stéphane M’Bia… is also expected to arrive as a replacement for Lee Carsley after the French club accepted a £6 million bid. Alan Smith should sign from Newcastle United for about £2 million this week, despite Kevin Keegan, the manager, insisting the opposite yesterday. Everton’s spending could reach nearly £40 million if Moyes succeeds in his efforts to sign João Moutinho.”

And the blue half of Manchester may also be seeing some new faces in the coming weeks. Ian Whittell reports in the Daily Telegraph: Mark Hughes: “I’m excited by what’s ahead of us, we have a group of players who are determined to be successful this year and we have just beaten Milan, in case you didn’t notice! I know which direction the club is going, I’m trying to push things forward and trying to be successful. That hasn’t changed since I walked through the door. We showed notice of intent with the players we have brought in already, we have made significant investments and are looking to add players. We are working to that end. There is not that much of the window left but you can do business right until the last minute and that is what we will try and do.”

But Ian Ladyman in the Daily Mail is not so certain, linking Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai trial with how much money Sparky Hughes will have to spend. “Manchester City owner Thaksin Shinawatra was back in London last night after refusing to return to Thailand to face trial on corruption charges – further harming his chances of ever releasing £800million of frozen assets in his home country. With City manager Mark Hughes desperate for funds to strengthen his squad, Thaksin’s refusal to head to Bangkok from Beijing yesterday could have drastic knock-on effects for the new Eastlands boss.”

And Alan Nixon in the Daily Mirror claims Vedran Corluka and Stephen Ireland will now be on their way out of Eastlands. “Manchester City are on the verge of meltdown – with boss Mark Hughes facing the sale of more stars by owner Thaksin Shinawatra this week. Hughes is already fuming about Vedran Corluka’s move to Tottenham and only found out that Stephen Ireland was being sold behind his back hours before the 1-0 win AC Milan on Saturday when he was told the news by the media. Midfield schemer Ireland was advised by senior official Paul Aldridge not to play in case he picked up an injury and would miss out on a move to Sunderland, with Bolton also interested in him.”

The excellent Martin Samuel (The Times) considers whether any teams can break into the Big Four. “When Bill Kenwright, the Everton chairman, spoke of needing the wealth of a billionaire to make his team truly competitive, he nailed the truth about the Premier League. What clubs such as Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa aspire to costs more than just about any owner is prepared to gamble. It took Roman Abramovich’s wealth to make Chelsea a fixture at the top and even if Arsenal, or Liverpool, look vulnerable to some eyes, what hope is there that a team eyeing their status can maintain the level of investment needed to avoid being a flash in the plan, like Everton, in fourth? Tottenham, for all their ambition, still lose their best players – Michael Carrick, Robbie Keane and maybe Dimitar Berbatov – to the bigger clubs. Villa would be without Gareth Barry now if Liverpool could get their act together.”

Daniel Neilson (FourFourTwo) looks at how Argentina’s football teams have started the Olympics. “Stood amongst the spectacular fireworks of the Olympic opening ceremony was one Lionel Messi. After weeks of wrangling that involved FIFA, the highest levels of the clubs and a sports arbitration board, Barcelona finally let Messi play. In their opening game, before the ceremony, Argentina beat the Ivory Coast 2-1. Defending their gold medal, Argentina showed more cohesion than in many of their recent games, thanks largely to Riquelme’s intelligent leadership.”

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