Tuesday, 30 September 2008

United v Aalborg preview

I could go into detail about Aalborg here, but I'm not going to. If you'll excuse for sounding cocky and/or tempting fate, it really shouldn't matter. Whilst undoubtedly a worthy side, they are standard-issue Champions League minnows and we should wipe the floor with them.

Team news

So, who's going to do the wiping? Fergie has made it clear that he is going to play his strongest team to avoid the same sort of freak result that we suffered against Copenhagen, and this makes a lot of sense. 10 points is seen as the safety threshold for qualification, and you usually look to pick up at least 7 of those at home. Well, we're one home game down with only one point to show for it, and anything could happen in the cross-border games with Celtic, so we need to make sure of six points against the whipping boys - no excuses.

ut what is our strongest team? At the moment, that's anyone's guess. What we do know is that Neville and Hargreaves both join Carrick on the sidelines, with a thigh strain and (the increasingly concerning) tendinitis respectively. Brown will thankfully return at right back, and Fletcher should continue in central midfield alongside Anderson or Scholes. It's a toss-up between Nani, Park and Tevez to play on the opposite wing to Ronaldo, with Rooney returning behind Berbatov. Van der Sar is fit to continue in goal, especially with the injuries to Kuszczak and Foster.

Goals for the game

(As I mentioned before, for each game, I will set out a list of goals for the game. These will be things that are of particular importance for this game (on top of winning, of course!). They will give you a guide to what to look for when watching the game. I will also pick up on them in my match report to give us a framework for assessing each performance.)

Goal 1 -
I know this is a repeat from Saturday, but the integration of Berbatov is an important ongoing project.

Goal 2 - with Blackburn waiting at the weekend, we should be looking to wrap up victory quickly to conserve energy and to allow some younger players to get a taste of European football.

Goal 3 - with the goals hardly flowing in, a confidence booster scoreline would be really useful - Aalborg are the sort of team that we could put six past if we get going, and we would all feel a whole lot better for it.

Prediction - 3-0 United.

What are your predictions, and what are you looking for from our performance?

Coming up on the blog in the next few days: this week's United reader, the Aalborg match report, and a series of articles looking in detail at our central midfielders.


Monday, 29 September 2008

Player Ratings - United v Bolton

Following on from Part 1 of my report yesterday, Part 2 of the report is made up by detailed player-by-player ratings.

EVDS - 6 - didn't have anything difficult to do, but no howlers - and that's an improvement on performances so far. One particularly encouraging take from a corner.

Evra - 7 - won his on-going battle with Kevin Davies, proving he can handle physical as well as tricky opponents. Provided his usual energy going forwards, although he must still be careful not to be caught out high up the pitch, as he was for the move leading to Muamba's chance - he relies heavily on a midfielder being around to cover his tracks.

Rio - 8.5 - a rock as usual. Even with Neville back in the side, there can be no doubt who is the organiser-in-chief of the defence. He is increasingly getting himself into good spots at the other end - a goal can't be far away - and in a game where we had most of the ball his assured distribution from the back is another plus.

Vidic - 6.5 - a solid if unspectacular return from suspension. Seemed to have Elmander under control, but wasn't eye-catchingly dominant as he can be.

Neville - 6 - perfectly solid at the back, but offered little going forward (which was the chief criticism of Brown last year, and the area which Brown has improved most strongly). Wesley's continuing omission is baffling.

Park - 6 - energetic as usual, but without the extra helping of skill that has made him stand out in the past two games. A couple of disappointing crosses, and arguably could have done better from the rebound chance by lifting it back across goal.

Anderson - 6 - showed glimpses of everything he is capable of - incisive forward passing, skill on the ball, strength and tackling - but still seemed off the pace. He was too often chasing rather than being well positioned to start with. That said, he did a good job sitting deep and offering an easy pass outlet when we were going forward, something that we often lack when both Carrick and Scholes are missing. I still maintain he needs a break to recharge both mentally and physically. A goal would help, too!

Fletcher - 6.5 - worked hard and prevented our four-man midfield being overrun by Bolton's five, but was consequently unable to indulge in those driving runs forward and late arrivals in the box which have caught the eye so far this season.

Ronaldo - 7 - it was never a penalty, but he didn't dive or appeal, which was good to see. Had an average game by his standards, but that level is so high that most wingers (Nani included) would have been delighted by their contribution. Good to see him linking up with Rooney for the second goal. So, two starts, two goals and an assist...surely not again...

Tevez - 5 - if this was an audition for the spot of Berbatov's partner, he failed it. Ineffectual for the most part despite his workrate, and I can't recall a single meaningful pass between him and Berba (in contrast to when Rooney arrived). I can still see a role for him raiding from the left in the 4-2-3-1 that I would love to see Fergie try, but he's behind Rooney once more in the support striker stakes.

Berbatov - 6.5 - largely anonymous in the first half, increasingly influential in the second. Proved that he will be very dangerous with the ball into his feet as well as the extra physical presence he offers. His workrate is of a different type to that of Rooney or Tevez, in that he's constantly trying to find space and make good runs (as opposed to chasing the ball like a loon) - the others need to start looking for his movement rather than assuming he's only relevant around the penalty area. That goal won't be far away now, nor will that big performance.

Rooney (sub) - 8 - just when we needed it, a reminder of why Rooney is a special player. Looked like a man with a big point to prove when he came on, taking the game by the scruff of the neck, terrorising Bolton and scoring a peach of a goal. I could watch that little shimmy on loop for hours, pure class.

Scholes (sub) - 7.5 - having struggled with his stamina when starting, this performance gave rise to an intriguing possibility - Scholesy the impact sub. With no need to conserve his energy, he made forward runs and generally buzzed about all over the pitch, in massive contrast to his usual intelligent, languid offerings. Watch this space.

Nani (sub) - 5 - continues to follow Ronaldo's career path, by having a second season characterised not only by moments of skill but enraging, beer-bottle-through-the-tv-screen decision making. Get your head up, son - it's a team game.


Sunday, 28 September 2008

United 2-0 Bolton - Report Part I

The result that we wanted, although nobody can deny that the breakthrough was "lucky" (read gifted to us by the ref). There are plenty of places where you can read a blow-by-blow account of the match, so instead I'm going to examine whether we met the goals I set out in my preview. Then, I will look at each player's performance in detail. This will be the usual format of match reports here - please let me know what you think in the comments.

Goal 1 - Attacking fluency - mixed success here. We had a lot of the ball in the first half, and whilst there was the odd nice move and some dangerous crosses that didn't quite find a head, we didn't look like carving apart a team with 10 men behind the ball. We improved a bit in the second half as Ronaldo started to get going, but there was a total sea-change when Rooney and Scholes came on. From that point, we ran Bolton ragged, moving the ball fast and intelligently, and looking a threat whenever we were in possession - and you couldn't ask for a better second goal.

Goal 2 - Sustained performance - well, we were at home and we ran the game for long periods of time. Again, we did move up and down the gears, but we kept knocking on the door and I was confident that the goal was going to arrive without a dodgy decision (read howler) from the ref. There was no sign from any of the players of flagging fitness levels, which has been a question mark in past performances. A step in the right direction, but there's further to go.

Goal 3 - Berbatov's integration - it is clear that the team needs to learn how to play with him as much as he needs to learn how to play for us. There were over ten occasions when he suddenly pulled back off his centre-back, wanting the ball to feet - he created a couple of yards for himself in a dangerous area, but his movement was rarely spotted. I think he will benefit greatly from Scholes or Carrick's presence in the team, since they are always on the lookout for - and are capable of playing - that precise forward pass into feet. Again, encouraging but with a way to go yet.

Goal 4 - bossing central midfield - we didn't really achieve this. Another central midfield pairing, and another ok showing. But pairing is the word to stress - I really believe in the value of a consistent partnership, where one will know where the other is and what is expected of each. I think Fletcher and Andersonare a bit too all-action to play well together. Both like to cover ground and get involved in the play wherever it is, and the both did fine, but there wasn't much sign of the co-ordination necessary to run the game rather than just compete.

Goal 5 - no goalkeeping errors - fully achieved. Granted, EVDS didn't have much to do, but it has been the simple things that have been causing concern recently. One eye-catching take from a corner which must have given him confidence - that is the sort of dominance and sure-handedness that makes the whole defence feel better about life. Long may it continue.

What do you make of the performance? Do you agree with my assessments? Lets hear from you in the comments.


Friday, 26 September 2008

United v Bolton - YouTube compilation

To tide you over from yesterday's preview to this afternoon's game, here is a selection of YouTube links to past glories against Bolton:

THAT Rooney and Ronaldo goal

Remember when Ronaldo didn't come across as an egotistical wanker? This is his United debut five years ago, when he was unleashed on Bolton and we first realised we had something special on our hands...

Rooney's 2007 hat-trick

And each week we will feature a Classic YouTube link - this week, as a counterbalance to all those flashy youngsters in the clips above, here is a tribute to Brian "Choccy" McClair - a model professional and a United legend.

Roll on 3pm!

What do you make of these clips? Please post any YouTube links you would like to share in the comments - I'll publish the best in my next compilation.


Manchester United vs Bolton - Preview

Our first Premier League home game since the first day of the season, against a solid but uninspiring Bolton team. Should be a welcome relief after two rough games on the road and a rocky start to the campaign.

Team news - this is the closest we've had to a fully fit squad this season, with Carrick our only major absentee. Expect some of those who have were rushed back during the crisis to take a back seat for a game or two, notably Scholes and Anderson. It also wouldn't surprise me if Rooney doesn't start, since he has been going solid since shaking off that debilitating pre-season virus and hasn't looked his best.

Expect Ronaldo to start his first Premier League game of the season, and Park and Fletcher to retain their places after strong showings recently. Vidic returns from suspension. The Brown / Neville debate continues to have legs, and it is unclear who will start after Neville's surprise appearance against Chelsea. It is also uncertain whether van der Sar or Kuszczak will start in goal - EVDS has looked short of confidence recently, and Fergie's use of Ben Amos in the Carling Cup game suggests TK might start with EVDS rested from the matchday squad entirely.

EDIT: Kuszczak has picked up a groin injury and so won't be available, making it certain that van der Sar will play with Amos on the bench.

Goals for the game

For each game, I will set out a list of goals for the game. These will be things that are of particular importance for this game (on top of winning, of course!). They will give you a guide to what to look for when watching the game. I will also pick up on them in my match report to give us a framework for assessing each performance.

Goal 1 -
the fans (and the "goals for") column are crying out for some attacking fluency. Being at home and against weaker opposition should give the boys a good chance to express themselves, and a 2 or 3 goal margin would be welcome.

Goal 2 - after mixed displays on the road, I would like to see evidence of a sustained level of performance. We had good 20 minute spells against Liverpool and Chelsea, but we should look to dominate this game for at least 60 of the 90 minutes.

Goal 3 - continuing Berbatov's integration into the team. I'm looking for repeated involvement in passing moves and greater evidence of Berba knowing where his teammates are running and vice-versa.

Goal 4 - bossing central midfield after being outfought for large parts of the game in this area against both our rivals.

Goal 5 - The goalkeeping errors must be cut out, I want to see no errors or moments of dodginess from whoever plays. Nothing undermines a defence quicker than a lack of confidence in the keeper.

Predicted team

van der Sar
Brown - Vidic - Ferdinand - Evra
Ronaldo - Fletcher - Hargreaves - Park
Tevez - Berbatov

Predicted score

3-1 to United.

What are your predictions, and what are you looking for from our performance?


Thursday, 25 September 2008

Throw in the Youngsters - A Logical Fallacy

Two logical fallacies:

A cat has four legs. My dog has four legs. Therefore, my dog is a cat.

United need to change something. Throwing promising youngsters into the team is a change. Therefore, we should do it.

We are in a situation now where a lot of otherwise rational United fans are demanding that experienced players be discarded in favour of the various exciting young prospects in our squad. It's easy to see how this came about. We've had a slow, difficult start to the season, and the usual suspects aren't producing the goods (I considered the reasons for this in more depth in my Red Rants column. Combined with that, some of our youngsters put in sparkly, shiny performances in pre-season which made us fall in love with them.

I am as excited as everyone else about the youth element in our current squad, and I am genuinely confident that more than a couple of them will have a big role to play for us in the future (I stress those last three words). Just so we can all glory in them, here's a provisional list of the best:

Jonny Evans
Rafael da Silva
Fabio da Silva
Rodrigo Possebon
Manucho Goncalves
Danny Welbeck

And that's not even including the guys out of loan or those slightly more on the fringe. If you want to follow these guys in detail, you can do so at United Youth.

However, to assume that any of these guys are the right people to dig us out of the hole we are currently in is wishful thinking. Jonny Evans has just proved himself against Villareal and Chelsea to be a more-than-capable reserve, but none of the others have played more than 18 minutes in a competitive game.

I have seen fans, understandably disillusioned by Gary Neville's performance on Sunday, totally forget Wes Brown and campaign for Rafael's inclusion at right back. Before the horror tackle, Possebon was being touted as the solution to our midfield creativity void, despite a current propensity to pass sideways. And I even saw people saying we didn't need to sign Berba because we have Manucho, at 25 year old who has yet to play in a major European league (even if he did look good for Angola).

These guys will be good, and will have a role to play. In five years time, they may be the core of the "next" United team. But for now, wake up and smell the coffee - they need to be eased in during less challenging fixtures and in the Carling Cup. We need to see if they can maintain their performance levels at senior level, and we need to let them develop without undue pressure.

So, as tempting as it is, I think we should trust our current squad to see us through this sticky patch. Of course, if you disagree, feel free to abuse me in the comments.


Wednesday, 24 September 2008

United Fans Should Read...

A selection of the best United links around the web at the moment:

Kevin McCarra gives a very balanced, thoughtful view of our current "crisis"

Stretty Rant in high praise of Ryan Giggs

Republik of Mancunia has the best assessment of Mike Riley's performance in the Chelsea game

Missing Men game for the 5-3 win over Spurs in 2001 - it took me 5 mins 42, can you beat that?

Feel free to post links to articles you've particularly enjoyed in the comments - any really good ones I'll include in my next Reader. Also, this blog is very new, and so any comments or feedback of any sort are greatly appreciated.


United v Chelsea Player Ratings

EVDS - 2 - his confidence looks totally shot, and I find myself wincing whenever the ball goes near him. He currently looks like an accident waiting to happen.

Kuscszak - 4 - decent enough most of the time, but split one shot in front of him and was at fault for the goal. The best keepers view any ball coming into their area as theirs unless there’s a good reason that it’s not - he’d prefer to stay on his line unless there is no choice. Nothing I’ve seen changes my mind that he’s a very good shot-stopper and a decent reserve, but without the presence or consistency of judgement to be our no. 1 in the long term. Let’s hope Foster gets fit soon…

Evra - 8 - very good game, both defensively and going forward. In particular, he made the goal with his sheer desire to get on the end of Rooney’s through-ball, and cleared up a couple of times at the back too.

Evans - 7 - solid game from the young lad in a presure-cooker scenario. Looked a bit nervy to start with, and I’m yet to be convinced about his ability to compete aerially with big centre-forwards, but it was an encouraging display.

Rio - 8 - a rock amongst the madness, and even had the drive to get into the Chelski area for his chance just before the goal.

Neville - 6 - fine for the most part, but had a twenty minute spell of misery where he could easily have got himself sent off. Offered nothing going forward, and I’m baffled as to why Brown was omitted.

Park - 8 - great display from the little man, up and down the flank all afternoon, took up great positions and had the energy to follow Berba’s shot in just in case. Deserved to be our scorer and deserves a run in the team on his past two performances.

Fletcher - 8 - worked tirelessly, his work-rate really is amazing this season. He has been our most consistent midfielder, and should be one of the first names on the teamsheet at the moment. Closed down, harried, linked, and offered a threat at the other end - and barely committed a foul in a game where you only had to breath on an opponent to give away a free-kick.

Scholes - 7 - quiet but effective, was always there as an outlet and was integral to our fast start. It is obvious, though, that he can’t maintain his performance level over a whole game now and I don’t know how often he’ll start when Carrick is fit again.

Hargreaves - 7 - worked well on the right, and was fine in the centre for a while, but tired badly towards the end. I remain worried that he’ll never be fit for long enough to really get his match fitness up to scratch.

Rooney - 5 - did some very good things (like the through-ball for the goal and setting up Rio) and some bad things (a hospital back-pass to Rio, giving away the free kick for their goal). You can feel his frustration with himself at the moment, and it’s going to take all Fergie’s powers to get him back on track. He needs to remember that, first and foremost, he is a genius in the opponent’s half. Some signs of life in the partnership with Berba.

Berbatov - 6 - was reasonably influential until our goal, then faded as we lost control of the ball and so provided him with next to no service. Doesn’t seem entirely match-fit and doesn’t seem on everyone else’s wavelength yet, but it’s too early to make the sort of judgments some people want to.

Ronaldo (sub) - 6.5 - got involved a lot and engineered a few breaks which could have been devastating if any of our attackers were even remotely in form. Didn’t have time to influence the game much - looking forward to seeing him start again, as he surely well next game.

FERGIE - 8 - making the best of a bad lot. I like the continued reversion to 4-4-2, which is much easier for the players when you’re having to chop and change your line-up constantly. He got the flair/fight balance right in the midfield and attack.

I approved of the Ronaldo substitution, because it acknowledged that to hold out we were going to have to either (a) nick another on the break or (b) stir things up and get the ball back for a while - Ronaldo was the most effective way of doing that. Fergie could desperately have done with that third sub that he had to expend on EVDS/TK, either to replace Neville with Brown or Berba with Tevez - both of those had faded miserably with 20 mins to go, but Fergie could do nothing about it.


Thursday, 18 September 2008

United 0-0 Villareal

Player Ratings

EVDS - 6 - had little to do, but did that comfortably. No real basis for an opinion, and nothing to suggest either that a corner has been turned or that the crisis has deepened. Holding pattern (unlike their keeper who barely held anything all night).

Neville - 6.5 - good to see Gary back with the armband, and his performance was perfectly acceptable. Looked very rusty going forward, particularly his crossing (which used to be such a strength). Not his worst game ever, though - I’m prepared to stick my neck out and say I’d play him against Chelski instead of Evans on the grounds of experience of the big day.

Rio - 7 - As good as ever, including bringing the ball out of defence. Shame about the missed chance early on.

Evans - 6.5 - Looked fine, but didn’t seem to have much of a physical presence. It was the lad’s first proper game so I’m not judging him, but I didn’t see an imposing centre back there - not sure he’s ready for a game like Chelski away yet. Hit the post and had one other decent header from a set play.

Evra - 7 - Little to do defensively, but was very lively going forward and linking up with Nani then Ronaldo. I still worry that he occasionally gets caught too far upfield too often, but then given Villareal’s negative tactics we could easily cope with 3-at-the-back. Wouldn’t like to see Joe Cole in those acres of space behind him, though.

Park - 8 - very lively first half, working hard as usual but also with an added touch of skill (on lovely turn in particular). Made intelligent runs, and should have had two penalties - one in particular was stonewall. Let’s give up on him ever learnnig to shoot properly, though.

Fletcher - 8 - Seems to be doing his best to turn into a box-to-box superman (well, super-Fletcher, anyway). Work rate was great all night, won and retained possession well, and was involved in some of our more intricate passing stuff upfield. Deserves a place against Chelski.

Hargreaves - 7.5 - controlled the midfield well, supporting either full-back when under pressure and using the ball quickly and simply. Sometimes got a bit over-enthusiastic and joined in attacks at the same time as Fletcher, leaving a yawning chasm behind; when you’re playing 4-4-2, one midfielder has to do some sitting to tidy up loose balls and co-ordinate the play.

Nani - 7 - Lively in possession, always looking to take people on and get balls into the box (where he’ll benefit from having Berba to aim at). Encouraging display, but didn’t actually create all that much or have any real shots on target. We’re definitely in Ronaldo season 2 territory - he still needs to learn how to make decent decisions; one particular example when he could have played Rooney in but instead carried the ball and then tried the wrong pass.

Rooney - 7.5 - What a difference. Roamed across the pitch, getting involved both deep and on the shoulder. This is what Rooney was made to do, and it was one of his better games. Put a goal on a plate for Tevez, whose shot was cleared off the line.

Tevez - 7 - Standard performance, but we’re still looking for a cutting edge to match all that industry. Rooney and Tevez currently look a million dollars out of the box, but just don’t get in the area often enough to net a heavy scoring tally. Highlighted why we bought Berba.

Ronaldo - 8 - the whole team was a different proposition when he was on. In his 30-minute cameo, he showed us glimpses of everything he can do except scoring, and god have we missed it. Most interesting, though, is the space that he creates for others - teams are inclined to double or treble up on him, leaving big holes for others to exploit. Great to have him back and I hope he’s fit enough to start against Chelski. Now is not the time for bitterness, now is the time ti kick-start our season.

Anderson - 7 - Lively in midfield, much better than against Liverpool, but like Nani needs to work on his decision-making in the final third. A couple of wild shots in good positions need to be shown to him in slow-motion so he gets the point. I like him as an impact sub at the moment, but the boy could also do with a proper break when we get Carrick back.

Fergie - 8 - back to 4-4-2, thank god. Everyone knew their role and played it, our midfield was much more effective and both Nani and Park ran their fullbacks around the block. I know the flexibility and fluidity of the 4-3-2-1 appeals greatly to Fergie, but when the going is rough he should keep it simple. I’m hoping for the same again against Chelsea, although away against one of the big four usually leads to a three-man central midfield.


Wednesday, 17 September 2008

United v Villareal - Preview

First European game as Champions, and we could certainly do with a boost.

Villareal are not to be underestimated, having finished 2nd in La Liga last season, but (as United have shown plenty of times over the last 15 years) European football is a different kettle of fish. This is particularly true away from home, and it will be a relief to be playing at home for the first time since the draw against Newcastle on the opening weekend of the season - which is something else we need to make amends for.

For Villareal, our former "next big thing" Guiseppe Rossi is missing, although Marcos Senna - who impressed at Euro 08 and nearly signed for us in the Carrick summer - is playing as a defensive shield.

We, of course, have plenty to worry about. Scholes is suspended, Evra may be out with concussion, Carrick has his fractured foot and Berba's knee is too sore (I thought we'd sold Saha?). Ronaldo, Park and Gary Neville have yet to step on the pitch this season proper, and Hargreaves has barely done more. All eyes will be on EVDS to improve on his shaky start to the season, and Anderson needs to quieten the (in my opinion ridiculous) flash-in-the-pan chatter.

So, it's all doom and gloom, right? Nah, I can see a half-full glass here. We're at home, so we can expect an attack-minded line-up, and definitely no Rooney the Right Winger. The boys will be desperate to get back out on the pitch after the Anfield debacle, and should be able to make an example of a relatively inexperienced Villareal team. An early goal would be great to settle us down, but I don't see another shock at OT on the cards.

Of the few players who are fit, I would assume that O'Shea will get the nod at left back, rather than Fergie taking a punt on Jonny Evans or Fabio. Equally, if Hargo isn't fit enough to start I would expect Fletcher, not Possebon, to fill in in midfield. It wouldn't surprise me if another stalwart, Giggsy, starts with a view to being subbed for Ronaldo after 60 mins. Nani on the other wing with Rooney and Tevez up top should complete the line-up.

As for all the talk of Manucho, I imagine he'll get a spot on the bench and maybe a runaround for the last ten minutes. I'm all for new players and seeing what they can do, but I'm going to wait longer than some others before declaring him to be better than Drogba. Does make me look forward to the Carling Cup this year, though!

As a final thought, I wonder whether Fergie will rest Brown or Vida and let Gary Neville have a run at right back today ahead of the Chelsea match? It would seem a bit unfair on anyone to throw them cold into that sort of a pressure match - although if anyone could cope, it'd be our club captain. Would be quite a lift for the fans to be able to cheer him onto the pitch with the armband, so who knows...what do you reckon?

Prediction: 3-1 United.


Berba, Heskey, Ronaldo and a Wet Hen

Check out my latest column on Red Rants.


Monday, 15 September 2008

The Aftermath of the Anfield Defeat

Well, for what they're worth, here are my views now the dust has settled:

1) Keeper I don’t yet think the time is right to throw EVDS out, but I think he is becoming too error-prone to say he will definitely be our no. 1 for the whole season. I can accept a few errors towards the end of a gruelling season, but to be making them at the start of a campaign after a lot of rest is concerning.

We need to start giving Foster games in lesser fixtures (and in training) to let him build up a rapport with the back four - and also to see if he is good enough. The signs are positive for him, and this needs to be a transition season. I hope, by the way, that Foster not Kuscszak is seen as next in line. TK signed an extended contract today, but I haven’t yet seen enough quality from him to convince.

2) Defending Let’s put this down as an aberration. I don’t think the best defence in the country has gone schoolboy overnight, and I think they were put under a lot of pressure by the midfielders’ inability to obtain and retain possession, particularly in our own half.

3) Central midfield There seems to be a bizarre dichotomy developing here. It seems that Scholes can play naturally with Carrick, and Hargreaves can play naturally with Anderson. Once you mix and match, you seem to end up with a disconnect so that you have two independent midfielders rather than a partnership. I have no idea what Anderson’s role in the first half of the Liverpool game was, in just the same was that I had no idea where Giggs was supposed to be playing in the second half.

I don’t think that three in the middle has worked very often for us, and I don’t think it should continue to be used.

As for Possebon, I’m sure he’ll get games this season, but nobody in their right minds could be advocating him as a starter against Liverpool or Chelsea away.

4) Up front My view is that we should play Berba right up, with three players interchangably playing behind him. 4-2-3-1 should be the order of the day. Ronaldo - Rooney/Tevez - Nani looks the most balanced to me, but I can see the first choice being Ronaldo - Rooney - Tevez.

That being said, we know enough to know that Fergie is not going to do that away from home against big sides. In those instances, though, I’d like to see us reverting to a traditional 4-4-2 rather than a 4-3-2-1. I’m thinking Ronaldo and Nani / Park on the wings, with Rooney / Tevez behind Berbatov.

This isn’t the first time that an embarrassment of riches has caused some temporary disruption (Seba Veron, anyone?) - Fergie needs to develop a clear plan for playing these guys together. Training sessions will obviously help that process.

5) Some starting line-ups

Against Villareal on Wednesday:

Brown - Vidic - Rio - Evra
Nani - Hargreaves - Anderson - Park
Rooney - Berbatov

(Ronaldo for Nani/Park and Tevez for Rooney as impact subs)

Against Chelski on Sunday:

G Neville - Rio - Brown - Evra
Ronaldo / Park - Hargreaves - Scholes - Nani
Rooney - Berbatov

(Tevez for Rooney and Anderson for Scholes as impact subs)