Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Apologies for absence

Sorry for the lack of activity on the blog, I've been away for the past few days and my experiment with mobile blogging didn't go so well.

I'll do my best to get an article up today, and obviously a preview for the West Ham game - until then, thanks for your patience!

- Penguin


Friday, 24 October 2008

The Ronaldo Saga - Redux

The Ronaldo saga, possibly the most tedious bout of “will-he-won’t-he” transfer talk ever, was the bane of most United fans lives over the summer. Here we were, champions of England, champions of Europe, and all anyone wanted talk about was whether our Portuguese winker was going to join Real Madrid.

Two months into the new season, it is still a big theme amongst United fans, who still rarely sing Ronaldo’s song and are quick to criticise every slip and every piece of neutral body language. In doing so, those same fans are turning Ronaldo’s possible move to Real into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Before I explain in more detail, let’s look back and try to apply a bit of perspective. A lot of conflicts came to the fore during those two months of hell. United V Real Madrid, United v Marca (the Spanish newspaper acting as Real’s unofficial mouthpiece), United v Fifa, Fergie v Calderon, Fergie v Ronaldo…the list goes on and on, and very exciting and dramatic they all were at the time. Or something.

The most tragic, though, was the conflict that developed between Ronaldo and the Manchester United fans. Tragic because within two weeks of that glorious night in Moscow, those fans who had loved Ronaldo like a son, who had publically praised his every move, who had revelled in his meteoric ascent to the top of the game, suddenly hated him.

The adoration turned into bile, and that bile spilled over into every sort of football conversation, from the mainstream media to the pubs to the blogosphere. Looking back on it now, it seems like such a storm in a teacup - having won nearly every honour available with United, Ronaldo was offered fabulous wealth to go and do something he’d always dreamed of doing. The United fans may have hated it, but they should have understood it.

But disloyalty is the ultimate sin for United fans. With notable exceptions like Dennis Law, it is tough to go back and find another example of a leading player leaving United at the peak of his powers and against United’s will. It is essentially unprecedented under Fergie’s management, where whole rafts of players have given United the majority of their career, leaving only when close to retirement. Or, in the case of players like Giggs and Scholes, some have literally only played for one club.

Regardless of the rational motives put before them, many fans refuse to forgive Ronaldo for threatening to leave - it just doesn’t happen to us, they think. Well, it didn’t. Ronaldo stayed, in spite of everything. He gave a very frank, very honest press conference, where he admitted that he had considered leaving, but ultimately realised that it wasn’t the right thing to do. Where he promised to give his best for United, and apologised for contributing so much to the mayhem. He also apologised in private to the United players and staff, who in turn presented him with a Real Madrid kit as a joke - the players and the management have moved on.

Many fans accepted that on face value, but needed to be shown that he was prepared to do his best for the club, rather than just waiting it out a year and agitating for a move again. So, what evidence do we have so far? Ronaldo devoted himself entirely to recovering from his injury, and did so with such success that he returned a full month early to assist United’s misfiring attack. Despite being below his best, he is contributing goals and assists on a regular basis. In his rare interviews, he talks of regaining the fans’ love.

It seems, though, that the fans don’t want to love him anymore
. They talk of supporting him out of a sense of duty, as they would any other player who wears the red shirt, but nothing more. They will not sing his song unless he scores - and then only once - and they criticise him for things they previously were prepared to overlook. On Saturday, Ronaldo hardly smiled when he scored - and he was pilloried for it.

When Fergie talks of bringing Ronaldo back, he talks of a chance to leave Old Trafford as a United legend. I think this appeals to Ronaldo - I think it is the sort of goal he understands, and a masterstroke of man management by Fergie. But it will only work if the fans are prepared to be swayed again - no player, no matter how motivated or well managed, will stay for long at a club where the fans dislike him. If they only support him out of a sense of duty, he will only perform at the level required by professionalism - it’s a two way street.

Ironically, the justification for this lack of love is the assumption that Ronaldo will join Real Madrid next summer, come what may. We’ve seen nothing to back that up. But if the Stretford End want to ensure the best player in the world leaves United at the peak of his powers, they’re going the right way about it.

It’s two months on from the start of the season, and I think the appropriate level of displeasure has been conveyed. The fans need to give Ronaldo a second chance, to welcome him back into the fold, albeit on the condition that if he strays once more there will be no redemption. If the cold shouldering continues, at some point the relationship will be sundered for good and United will lose one of the best players ever to grace the Theatre of Dreams.

What do you make of Ronaldo’s continuing alienation? Can you forgive him, or would you prefer him to leave and end the pain? Let’s hear your views.


Wednesday, 22 October 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Excuse the break in normal service, but I would like to share with you all some thoughts about what this blog is and what I would like it to become. To start with, two requests of anyone who reads this blog:

1. If you read the post, please make some comment, however short - even one word makes me feel like the time I spent writing the post was worthwhile.

2. If people have commented, read the comments - and if anything springs to mind, then respond to the comments as well as (or instead of) commenting on my post.

Now, please read on...

- I started this blog because I thought that I had some things worth saying about United and I wanted to discuss them with other United fans.

- This is a not-for-profit blog, so the only motive for me doing what I'm doing is the enjoyment of discussing my posts and any other United-related or football-related topics with those who read them.

- So far, there's been an ok smattering of comments, with some posts ending up in double figures, but others have been met with a resounding silence - this makes me wonder why I bother.

- I may have strong opinions, but I'm not always right and I am more than happy for people to disagree with me.

- Equally, feel free to comment on the comments, often some really good discussions can get started that way.

- This is a newish blog, and therefore is a good chance for people to get in on the ground floor and really get involved. If you have any ideas or comments, please either put them in the comments to any post or email me using the link in the sidebar.

- I'd love to see this blog develop into a community of people who enjoy discussing United and football in general, and I'm prepared to put the work in to make that happen - but you, the readers, have got to do the same.

Finally, please feel free to give me feedback on what you think of the following post types:

  • previews
  • reports and ratings
  • analysis and comment pieces
  • "readers" of interesting articles
  • YouTube compilations
  • open discussion threads

That's all for the moment...normal service will resume tomorrow!


United 3-0 Celtic - Report and Player Ratings

Well, that was a lot easier than it could have been. For all the pre-match hype, Celtic were pretty docile and were hamstrung as an attacking threat by the absence of their first choice strikers. Admittedly our first two goals were both clearly offside, but given how dominant we were it was hard for Celtic to complain too much, especially when Rooney had one good goal disallowed for offside - the linesmen had a shocker.

Goals for the game

For newcomers, first off I'm going to analyse how the team lived up to the goals I set in my preview.

Goal 1 - control the tempo - we did this very well. Despite Celtic turning up with a five man midfield, and putting in a couple of rough challenges in the first fifteen minutes, we were able to control the match and not get knocked out of our stride.

Goal 2 - minimise set play opportunities - this, again, we broadly achieved. Nakamura had only two good chances to deliver from free kicks, and no real shooting opportunities. We also dealt with the corners well, apart from the mandatory O'Shea moment. 

Player Ratings

EVDS - 7 - his best performance of the season so far, making a couple of sharp saves, dominating his area well and distributing the ball quickly and accurately for the most part. Maybe what United's goalkeeping coach said is coming true.

O'Shea - 5 - was fairly solid defensively except for his attempt to score an own goal from a Celtic set play, but offered little going forward against a docile opposition. Sounds harsh to drop him a point for that, but he used to be capable of it and it is very much part of the remit of a United full back these days.

Vidic - 6 - a quiet night again, but nevertheless his return to the team after suspension has coincided with a run of five consecutive clean sheets, and it's no coincidence. Had McDonald in his pocket all night and seemed to have a good instinctive understanding with Evans.

Evans - 7 - very composed performance after being drafted in at the last minute. A couple of really impressive moments on the ball, including a turn inside his own area which allowed him to pass the ball out of defence rather than hoof it into touch. Looks to be a defender in the Rio mould rather than the Vidic, but that is no bad thing. With Rio passing 30, he defnintely has a big future.

Neville - 7 - really encouraging display, and for the first time I can see why Fergie has been pushing him to the fore. His overlapping runs showed good pace (something we worried he had lost) and were a genuine danger to Celtic, even if his final ball is still not quite at peak level. Totoally unworried defensively, and was frequently able to win the ball back high up the pitch.

Nani - 7.5 - this is the sort of performance we have been hoping for all season. I don't recall him making a bad piece of decision-making (which is the reverse of usual so far, where a right decision is a champagne moment). He regularly beat men, got to the byline and linking well with the other attackers around him. Should have done enough to keep his place on Saturday, and we can start hoping for a consistent run of performances now.

Fletcher - 7 - his energy levels have never been in question, but what has made the real difference is the intelligence which he is using to direct that energy. He is often in the right place ahead of time, rather than having to run like a headless chicken to catch up. Linked the play well, and outgunned Celtic even though outnumbered.

Anderson - 6.5 - a good showing, but in contrast to Fletcher he wanted to be everywhere all the time, and often ended up just following the ball. He needs to engage his brain (or have it engaged for him) and work out exactly what his role is and how best he can influence the game, rather than just charging around. As it is, we don't see enough of the skill we know he possesses.

Ronaldo - 7 - was a man on a mission in the first half, desperate to prove he wasn't tired or below par, and was the quick-slicing rapier to Berbatov's more languid katana (forgiven the elaborate metaphor). Brute of a free kick to set up Berbatov's second. Popped up both centrally and on either side to torment whoever he came across. Still, he misjudged an arrival into the box when a headed goal seemed on a plate, and did seem to fade later on in the game.

Rooney - 8.5 - his hot streak continues. One beautifully taken goal, drilled into the bottom corner from just outside the area, a far from easy finish and one which smacked of self-belief. Another good goal ruled out (that's the second in two games) for offside, and one absolutely staggering aerial scissor-kick (see inset) which was unwittingly blocked. And that's just his shots on goal, to say nothing of a couple of stunning cross-field passes and link play with Berba which makes one drool at the prospect of watching the partnership grow over the season. Just stay fit, son...just stay fit.

Berbatov - 9 - basically ran the game and won the game. Scored two real poacher's goals (admittedly both offside), bundling in from a rebound from Ronaldo's freekick and a scrappy corner. At the same time dropped off to play some sensational passes and through balls, seemed to have the ball glued to his feet and was undispossessable (if that's a work) regardless of how many players were around him. I've already touched on his partnership with Rooney, but he and Ronaldo seem to be on dangerously similar wavelengths as well. More, please.

Tevez (sub) - 7 - unbelievably energetic when he came on, he looked menacing and got into a number of dangerous positions. Seemed if anything too desperate to prove his value, and took on shots when a pass would have been a better option - he badly needs a couple of goals to reassure him that he hasn't lost his touch. Set up Rooney's goal with some intelligent link-up play.

What did you make of the performance? Do you agree with my ratings? Let's hear from you in the comments.


Tuesday, 21 October 2008

United v Celtic - Open Thread

Here's a thread for you all to discuss the game as it's going on, and to discuss anything arising from the game until I can get my match report and ratings out tomorrow.

Chat away.


Manchester United v Celtic - Preview

An English-Scottish derby game always has a good measure of spice in it, and this evening's game will be no different. Certainly, last time we drew Celtic in the group stages we were involved in two pulsating encounters - they took the lead at Old Trafford, Shunsuke Nakamura scored two unbelievable free kicks over the two legs, Louis Saha missed a 90th minute penalty in the away game, and that was just the start.

Still, it is important for us to secure three points - the easiest route to Fergie's magic 10 point figure is to win your three home games and take it from there. We dropped points against Villarreal, and although we compensated by strolling past Aalborg, Fergie will want us to take maximum points from the other two home games to relieve pressure on the away legs. Also, if we can wrap the group up early, it gives us a good chance to rest players in readiness for the fixture congestion that is December.

In team news, Anderson and Tevez are available for selection again, having return from South America too late to participate against West Brom. Anderson is expected to take Giggs' place in central midfield, and I would like to see Tevez replace Park to form the "fab four" strike force with Rooney, Berbatov and Ronaldo. However, Fergie revealed in an interesting interview about Ronaldo that the Portuguese may be struggling with two games a week as he recovers from his ankle injury, and that Nani might replace him tomorrow. Given that we're at home and needing to win, I expect to see 4-4-2 rather than 4-3-2-1.

Carrick and Hargreaves are still missing, although Fergie confirmed that Carrick is training and may be ready for next weekend. The reborn Fletcher should keep his place in central midfield. Evra has been ruled out, and so O'Shea will continue to fill in for him, unless the manager gives Jonny Evans a run in a position he played on occasion for Sunderland. Such a physical European night seems a step to far for Rafael, who will make way for either Neville or Brown.

Predicted team: EVDS - O'Shea, Vidic, Rio, Neville - Tevez, Anderson, Fletcher, Ronaldo - Rooney, Berbatov

Goals for the game

Goal 1 -
Celtic know that they can't live with us in a technical match, and will come with the aim of being very physical and very energetic, looking to knock us off our game. With that in mind, it is essential that we control the tempo of the game, drawing their sting in the first half hour and looking to open them up as they tire.

Goal 2 - they will feel that their best chances of scoring will come from dead ball situations, so w have the twin aims of minimising free kicks conceded in shooting range and defending set plays effectively - the latter was a noticeable weakness in the first few games of the season, and cost us a win against Chelski.

Prediction: 3-1 United (Tevez, Rooney, Berbatov)

What are your predictions, and what will you be looking for from the game?


Monday, 20 October 2008

United 4-0 West Brom: Report and Player Ratings

A good, decisive result against a spirited West Brom side. Tony Mowbray's team defended a lot better than the 4-0 scoreline sugggests - they were well organised in midfield and defence, and were not cowed by the reputations of those facing them. Ultimately, though, they knew there was no way back once they conceded, and their heads noticeably dropped at that point.

Straight on, then, to looking at how the team matched up to the pre-match goals I suggested:

Goal 1 - finish the game within 60 minutes - well, it was the 68th minute before we went two up, so maybe we were slightly out. That said, Rooney scored a perfectly good "goal" after 24 minutes, and if that hadn't been ruled out for some phantom foul, we'd have been done sooner.

Goal 2 - Bolton level of performance - I think that's about where we were. At Blackburn, we absolutely shredded our opponents and deserved four or five, whereas against Bolton we were good value for our win without ever hitting top gear. I think the latter describes Saturday's game better.

Goal 3 - defensive dominance - absolutely achieved, West Brom could have played for another 90 minutes and not scored.

Player Ratings

EVDS - 6.5 - one good save near the end, but otherwise he could have brought his sleeping bag as there were no shots on target for a 60-minute stretch.

Evra - 6 - good but unspectacular until he was forced off with a hamstring injury. He is apparently doubtful for the Celtic game, but let's hope it's no more serious than that, since left back is the only position where our squad does not provide quality cover (however optimistic we are about Fabio, he hasn't played yet).

O'Shea (sub) - 6 - did nothing wrong (although there was a comedy drilled pass down the line to, um, the ballboy behind the corner flag), but contributed nothing offensively when he was hardly under pressure at the back. That will be the element we miss most if Evra is out for a few games.

Vidic - 6 - perfectly solid at the back, with the exception of one instance near the end where he over-committed himself on the halfway line and was beaten easily. Very little of substance to do, though, against a timid West Brom attack.

Rio - 6 - again, did everything asked of him at the back on a generally quiet afternoon. Didn't offer as much going forward as he has in recent games.

Rafael - 6 - a really valuable learning experience for him, this game must have highlighted how different the Premier League is from a civil night against Champions League minnows. He was encouraging and enthusiastic going forward, albeit without making an particularly telling contributions, but he was equally suspect defensively. He was caught ahead of the play on at least three occasions, and seemed overly keen to delegate tracking down the flanks to Park. Still, no harm came of it and the more games like this he can play, the faster he will improve.

Ronaldo - 7 - still not at his best, and his free kicks are currently just a waste, but even when he's not dominant he still pops up with a goal and various other threatening moments. Most wingers in the world would be delighted to have played as "badly" as he did on Saturday. Has also been criticised for not celebrating more after his goal, but scoring a second against a team that has clearly given up is hardly going to spark laps of honour - people are too keen to read things into his body language at the moment.

Giggs - 7 - would have been higher but for a woeful first 15 mins, where he was invariably out of position and gave the ball away repeatedly. After that, though, he was world class, showing both incisive passing and the ability to beat men with the ball. Made no attempt to get into the box, but rather held back and always offered an outlet then distributed with an intelligence that Scholes would have been proud of.

Fletcher - 8 - his later blooming continues with a barnstorming performance. He was everywhere in midfield - harrying in the centre, covering both Evra and Rafael when they ventured forward, hoovered up loose balls and found time to make runs forward. Seems to be thriving on the new responsibility given to him by cluband country, and should retain his place even when Carrick and Hargreaves return to fitness.

Park - 6 - displayed the work rate you would expect, and supported Rafael well defensively, but there was little spark going forward. To be fair, he had just flown halfway around the world, but it seemed a strange selection.

Nani (sub) - 6.5 - this is the sort of cameo we would like to see more of. Lively in possession, a bundle of energy off the ball, and most importants playing with his head up. Made a great chance for Rooney, and did so by getting into a good position and then looking to to choose a pass, rather than hitting a generic cross into a good area. Good run and cool finish for his goal. No extra marks for the acrobatics!

Rooney - 9 - scored one, had a good goal disallowed, made two more, and generally was a threat every time he touched the ball. Growing understanding with Berbatov complements his existing connection with Ronaldo, and he currently deserves the plaudits coming his way. The path to greatness - keep this up for a long stretch, preferably over the whole season; only then can we start saying things like"can claim to be the best player in the world".

Berbatov - 7 - quieter than against Blackburn, but scored another poacher's goal of the type we rarely saw last season. Made Rooney's goal with a perfectly weighted pass, and generally linked up well with those around him, without any of the breathtaking touches we saw against Blackburn. A couple of shots on target, but straight at the keeper. More to come, still.

Roll on Celtic tomorrow!

What did you make of the result and the performance? Do you agree with my player ratings?


Sunday, 19 October 2008

Sunday Open Thread

Here we are, the day after an encouraging 4-0 win against West Brom.

My match report and detailed player ratings will be published tomorrow morning, but in the meantime here's an open thread for you to:

  • discuss yesterday's match and other games
  • talk about anything else United or football related that is on your mind
  • ask me questions about anything you like
  • give me feedback about the blog

I'll do my best to reply to all comments when I can. Have a relaxing Sunday.


Friday, 17 October 2008

Manchester United v West Brom - Preview

After a seemingly interminable international break, we're back in business against West Brom at Old Trafford tomorrow evening. Whilst West Brom are an admirable side etc etc, this should be a nice easy game to get us going again.

Comedy quote for the game comes from West Brom manager Tony Mowbray: "They won't necessarily be all about stopping us. They will want it to be a football match."

Because Sir Alex seriously considered an eleven-men-behind-the-ball hope-to-score-on-the-break strategy at home to a promoted club. Yes, mate. Still, if they want to come and play an open game of football, if will make life easier on United and Setanta Sports will thank them for making the game a better spectacle.

Team News

Despite all the positive noises coming out of Old Trafford, the matchday squad doesn't reflect the "end of the injury crisis". No sign still of Carrick, Hargreaves, Foster or Kusczcak, which is disappointing. Equally, Tevez, Park Ji-Sung and Anderson had long commutes to their respective international games, and would not be expected to start.

Informal briefings suggest that Giggs is guaranteed a place, and with the absentees mentioned above Fletcher seems certain to continue in central midfield. Rooney, Ronaldo and Berbatov will look to build on the encouraging Blackburn display. In defence, I suspect Wes Brown will be rested in favour of Neville, who had no involvement with England.

Probable team: EVDS; Evra, Vidic, Rio, Neville; Nani, Fletcher, Giggs, Ronaldo; Rooney, Berbatov.

Goals for the game

Goal 1 -
with a lot of players just back from international duty, we must be looking to wrap the game up within 60 minutes, which would give Fergie free reign to use the subs bench to rest tired legs.

Goal 2 - the coaching staff have only had a couple of days to prepare the squad, so a performance level on a par with our win against Bolton (as opposed to Blackburn) would be fine.

Goal 3 - a dominant defensive display should be achievable. We are putting together a run of clean sheets, but the last couple have had as much to do with bad finishing by our opponents as flawless defensive play.

Prediction - 3-0 United (Ronaldo, Berbatov, Giggs)

What are your predictions for the score and team? What will you be looking for?


Thursday, 16 October 2008

The Tevez Saga and News Catch Up

The one genuine talking point that has been brewing over the last couple of weeks has been the Tevez situation. I wrote a detailed article on this subject at Red Rants, which I suggest you go and read, but in a nutshell decision time is fast approaching as to whether United want to make Tevez's loan deal permanent for a cost totalling above £30m.

Since my article, reports have emerged that the asking price is non-negotiable - on top of the money United have already paid towards the loan deal, Tevez will cost us a further £25m to keep.

Today, the plot has thickened further, with the following two stories:

- Tevez himself has come forward to say that he has lost his goal-scoring threat recently, but that he is determined to get it back again. This is both an acceptance and a vindication of Fergie's decision to place Rooney above Tevez in the pecking order for partnering Berbatov, and brings the question of whether or not he is worth £30m in total into even sharper focus.

- Real fucking Madrid (of whom more below) have stuck their oar in, via their rag Marca, saying that if United don't secure Tevez on a permanent basis by 30 January, they will step in and buy him from the sports company MSI (who "owns" him at present). It is impossible to tell whether they have done this to wind United and Fergie up or whether they are serious, but in either case, can someone please get them to shut the fuck up? Oh no, of course not - that would mean Sepp Blatter doing something useful for once in his life.

No doubt this has further to run, so watch this space.

If you've been hibernating during the international break, here is what you need to know to get up to speed with United news:

Wayne Rooney has an absolutely stellar pair of games for England, scoring four (yes, count them) and making another. Rio skippers the England side twice, and shows an increasingly assured touch and likeable face with the media - still baffles me why EBJT was chosen - and chips in with a goal. Brown is fairly solid in defence and contributes an assist for one of Rooney's goals.

United (via newly employed scout and former legend Jaap Stam) have been tracking the latest Brazilian wunderkind, Douglas - whose agent claims United are prepared to pay £20m for him.

As Real fucking Madrid start chattering again about signing Ronaldo next summer, our favourite winger says he's feeling the love from United fans. Can someone please make them shut the f....etc.

Despite not knowing his place in the pecking order for right back, Wes Brown makes a pitch for the utility man role by claiming he'd be happy to fill in in the centre.

United's injury crisis promises to be a distant memory as Michael Carrick, Owen Hargreaves, Ben Foster and Tomasz Kusczcak all return to fitness.

United are linked with Valencia and Palacios, both currently playing for Steve Bruce at Wigan, with extraordinary sums like £19m each being touted about. Cabin fever at the red tops, I reckon.

That's all for today. What do you make of the Tevez situation - do you want him to stay or go, and is he worth that type of money? What about the other goings on?

Also, a (fictitious) prize for the person who can come up with the most creative Real Madrid insult!


Thanks for the increased activity in the comments box yesterday - please, same again and more today, I want double figures! For those that missed my impassioned plea, here it is again:

I know there are a lot of you out there reading this blog - my nice little site stats box tells me that. Please do come and contribute in the comments - even a three-worder makes me feel like it has been worth the effort.

Also, don't be afraid to contradict me or even go off on a tangent - ultimately, why I and others make and read blogs like this is because we enjoy discussing United and football. So start discussing!


Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Only three more days....

until the end of the Ice Age that is the international break. Many of you excited by England against Belarus tonight? Nope, thought not. I think Scott at Republik of Mancunia summed my views up pretty well (with the qualification that I still get behind England in major tournaments, just not in these interminable qualifiers and friendlies).

It would be nice for Rio, Wes and Rooney to build on their good performances on Saturday. On the other hand, we don't want Rooney - who is becoming a notoriously streaky player, prone to scoring in 5 consecutive games and then hardly at all for a couple of months - to use up all of his hot streak for England.

The one thought I will leave you with today concerns Rio's comments yesterday that England pre-Capello was a circus.

We all know how Sven was prone to blurring the boundaries between business and pleasure, so the WAG culture seemed a logical adjunct to (a) his own character and (b) his deference to the human being now known only as Brand Beckham. But you would have expected Steve McClaren, a former pupil of Fergie, to have cracked down on all that sort of thing on taking over.

Not a bit of it, apparently - the circus was still in force, with people "more concerned about what they were wearing" than the game (shame nobody told Steve that umbrellas were out). And this is why it is very dangerous for assistant managers to be promoted to the big job.

There are so many examples of this failing and none (that I can call to mind) of it working. I was particularly vehement on this point when people were talking last season about Carlos Queiroz taking over when Fergie retires. Assistant managers as the players' mates - they are a filter to the manager, they can put an arm around the shoulder when necessary, they can be a confidante, a middle man. Changing that relationship to the more distant, authoritative position that a good manager needs is difficult bordering on the impossible.

That was one of my main arguments against CQ being next in line, and one of the many arguments against Steve McClaren for England.

If you want to read a very good piece on the dynamic between manager, assistant and players should work, read this interview with Mark Hughes and his assistant.

See you tomorrow for the last part of the Progress Report series.


I know there are a lot of you out there reading this blog - my nice little site stats box tells me that. Please do come and contribute in the comments - even a three-worder makes me feel like it has been worth the effort.

Also, don't be afraid to contradict me or even go off on a tangent - ultimately, why I and others make and read blogs like this is because we enjoy discussing United and football. So start discussing!

With that in mind, how have you coped with the international break? What did you make of Rio's comments? And do you agree with my views on assistant managers?


Tuesday, 14 October 2008

United's Next No. 1

It was interesting to read today the comments of United's recently-appointed goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele. He was discussing an issue which is coming very sharply into focus - who is going to be United's next number 1?

"One or two will talk about Fabien Barthez and his contribution here but mainly people talk about Schmeichel and Van der Sar as being the best and in-between was a difficult time."

Whist I am one of those who looks back on Barthez's first year with fondness (some of the saves he made were just out of this world), "difficult time" doesn't begin to sum it up:

  • the two years of Tim Howard (that mistake against Mourinho's Porto) and Roy Carroll (Pedro Mendes' "goal" from the halfway line) make United fans hide under the table;
  • Barthez's second year was chock-full of comical errors in important games;
  • Mark Bosnich was woeful, and in particular his kicking and distribution were an embarrassment - have you ever known a professional footballer unable to kick a ball?
On that note, it is interesting how Steele describes United's ideal keeper:

"Edwin is a very, very experienced goalkeeper. He has been one of the finest in the world in terms of the sweeper-keeper role that this club needs...He will now be remembered for the famous save in the shoot-out in the Champions League final but I think it had been noted by the purists in the game that he was one of the finest in terms of playing out from the back.

"His distribution skills are tremendous and ideally what you look for now. He has been, and still is, one of the best. It is a joy having viewed him from a distance to now work with him. He has raised the bar."

This, of course, was something that Schmeichel also excelled at. But these comments could be mis-interpreted. I don't think that Steele is saying that the first criterion is distribution - more that this is the criterion which will separate the men from the boys. We must take all the necessary skills in the areas of shot-stopping and dominance of the penalty area as read before considering this point.

It is good to know that someone is personally taking on the job of transitioning us to our next keeper:

"When the time comes that Sir Alex Ferguson says 'who is going to replace Edwin?' I have to have an answer and reasons for the answer. My job is to give the manager as many options as I can.

"We have to get all the goalkeepers fit and competing and throw the gauntlet down to Tomasz Kuszczak and Ben Foster and say who is going to take over the mantle of the No 1 we have now. This is the time for Tomasz and Ben. This is what they were brought here for. "

I've set out my thoughts fairly clearly on Foster and Kusczcak here. And it's a bit too early to start looking at outside candidates, although there will be a question of whether we need an interim experienced signing/back-up like Brad Freidel and whether we can poach an existing top keeper from another club for a sensible sum.

Finally, Steele's comments on why the standard of keeping so far this season have been low are worth noting:

"I have been here 10 weeks but I missed the nucleus of what I believe is the mainstay of your season and that is the pre- season. Edwin came back late because of his involvement in Euro 2008. Ben was injured in South Africa. All of a sudden you are looking at players who have missed the conditioning work. We have been playing catch-up and have used the international breaks to get them up to speed.

"We have sat down with Tony Strudwick, who is head of sports science at United, and his team and set about doing sessions to bring them up to speed. The keepers needed that. We have caught up and it is only in the last two or three weeks they are at the level I would have wanted them at in August. It is about preparation. They You have to monitor where, when and how much work to give them."

And some good news to sign off on:

"They [Foster and Kusczcak] are both back from injury. Both are fully fit now to accept the challenge and Edwin knows it is there."

Good - well let's hope for a noticeable improvement from here on in. And I, for one, want to see Foster getting a lot of opportunities.

What are your views on the goalkeeping situation? Do you think Foster and Kusczcak are up to the job?


Soccerlens Writing Competition

Soccerlens is running its annual writing competition. I think this is a great idea, and something that deserves as much support as possible - there can never be too much quality football writing on the web for my liking.

Why don't you head over there and give it a go - and check out my entry while you're over there!


Monday, 13 October 2008

Progress Report - Part III: The Midfield

I have been taking advantage of the international break to review the performance of different elements of the season so far (see an overview and my assessment of the defence).

Today it's the midfield's turn. By midfield, I mean central midfield - the wingers are much more a part of the attacking line-up, and I will look at those next.


The midfield has performed passably in very difficult circumstances. The injuries that have beset our central midfielders have been well documented, but they can be summed up by saying that the only midfielder who has been available for selection for each of the first ten games has been Darren Fletcher. A combination of virus (Carrick), injury (Carrick, Hargreaves, Scholes, Possebon) and Olympics (Anderson) has ensured that our midfield has been a foundation of shifting sands as yet.

Thankfully, this seems about to change, as Carrick and Hargreaves return to fitness. This should allow the fatigued Anderson to finally get a rest, and Fletcher to have a breather after his early-season Atlas (take the world on my shoulders) act.

Player ratings

Scholes - 6.5 - a real mixed bag. At times, he has touched the heights of his latter day career, with all the intuitive passing and effortless ball-retention that we have come to expect. At times, though, his standards have slipped. Even playing his new reduced-energy game, he has struggled to remain an influence for more than 60 minutes of a match, and has only completed one match that he started. The sending off against Zenit was a low, too. Intriguingly, though, against Bolton we were given a glimpse of what his future could look like - Scholesy the 70th0min impact sub, complete with his (formerly trademark) late runs into the box, bursts forward and constant movement.

Fletcher - 8.5 - we needed someone to step up, and good god has Fletcher done that. Dismissed last season by many (including me) as no better than a squad player, he has been top class so far this season, earning the right to be one of the first names on the team sheet. His all-action style has found an extra dimension, that of linking in with attacks and making intelligent appearances in the box - runs which have netted him two vital goals. As a further reward, he was made captain of the Scottish national team last week. Interesting to see if he can retain his place under increased competition.

Hargreaves - 6 - has done what was expected of him - no more, no less - when he has been fit enough to play. However, it was clear from the period at the end of last season where he was playing regularly that he needs to bit match-fit for a decent stretch of games for us to get the best out of him. The tendinitis is worrying because it is recurring, and he is a bit young to be wrapped in cotton wool like Scholes and only brought out for certain games. If he can't manage that, he'll never rise above the level of squad player.

Carrick - n/a - rushed back into the team, then sold short by an EVDS throw and injured in the resultant challenge. We've badly missed his incisive forward passing, and I really think he will play as big a role as anyone in servicing and extracting the best of Berbatov. Looking forward to seeing him back in the colours.

Anderson - 6 - pressed into service almost immediately after his return from the Olympics, he is struggling to reproduce the dynamic form that shot him to recognition last year. My view is that he is badly in need of a break, since his style of play is very energy and strength intensive. His performances have been consequently patchy, with glimpses of his best mixed with periods of anonymity. Don't write him off, though.

Giggs - 7 - apparently now best suited to a central role, hence why he is included here. A low point was the error which led to Liverpool's winner, but he has been one of our better players in that second half going forward. A masterful display against Aalborg, followed by a lively one against Blackburn, suggests there's life in the old dog yet. As I said at the time, ten games a season at Aalborg levels will more than justify his place in the squad.

Possebon - n/a - a couple of tidy substitute appearances, and a decent showing in the Carling Cup before being clattered by a nasty, dangerous piece of thuggery from Pogatetz. Thankfully suffered limited damage from that challenge, and I look forward to seeing more of him soon so
I can make a proper assessment.

O'Shea - 5 - was quietly effective against Portsmouth in the second match of the season, but it's been pretty much all downhill since then, culminating in an embarrassingly inept performance against Aalborg. He used to be a genuine reserve option in this position, but I think those days are past. And with Rafael and Fabio to back up at either full-back slot, and Evans in the centre, are O'Shea's days past now too?

What do you make of my ratings? How do you think the midfield has performed to date?


Thursday, 9 October 2008

You should read....

Taking a break from the review of the season so far, here is a selection of the best articles from around the web for you to read:

A transcript of Joe Kinnear's first press conference as interim manager of Newcastle - never mind what you think about the Comedy Club, this is a must-read if you missed it.

Martin Samuel in fantastic form slating Blatter's attack on foreign owners.

The Independent's Nick Harris takes apart Blatter and Platini's other pet project of punishing clubs who are in debt.

And as the Tevez deal comes back to the front of United fans' minds, an interview with Kia Joorabchian


Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Progress Report - Part II: The Defence

Following on from my overview of our season so far, today I will look at the performance of our defence to date. I'll give an overall view and then marks out of ten for each player.

At the end, let me know what you think of my assessments and my ratings...


The performance of our defence has, in some ways, been more disappointing than the lack of spark up front. Whereas the injury situation at times induced near-paralysis going forward, the defence has been unaffected by injuries - the only enforced selection change was as a result of Vidic's red card against Liverpool.

Odd, then, that "Fergie's best ever defence" should have become a bit leaky - although not inexplicable, as the player ratings will make clear. Equally, no need to panic, with five clean sheets from the first ten games, including the last three in a row.

Player ratings

EVDS - 3 - not much good to say about the big Dutchman, unfortunately. I cannot call to mind a single outstanding save (ie one which the average keeper wouldn't expect to make), whilst being able to recall numerous errors and occasions of dodginess. His extraordinary mistake against Liverpool was solely responsible for turning the tide of the game against us, and he was going to same way against Chelsea before injuring himself and being subbed. His command of the area, usually so dominant, has been suspect - I find myself watching through my fingers. I fear our most reliable keeper since Schmeichel is on his way out.

Kuszczak - 5.5 - has to start taking his chances if he harbours realistic hopes of taking over from van der Sar in the long run. Had just the one shot before he got injured, so it may seem harsh to mark him, but it was the same old story. He looked a good shot stopper, but his presence in the area is non-existent. The floated free-kick which resulted in Chelsea's goal should have been his all day, every day - but whilst some keepers need a reason to stay on their line, TK won't leave it without a cast-iron guarantee. OK, but not good enough.

Foster - n/a - "Saha with gloves" is the current nickname doing the rounds, and I pray it's not true. Perhaps a more apt comparison would be Chris Kirkland, who had all the attributes to be one of the best in the world (seriously) but missed at least 2/3 of every season with a serious injury. I'm not claiming Ben could be the best in the world, but in contrast to TK he has all attributes necessary to be a huge success, and I hope he stays fit long enough to fulfil his potential.

Amos - n/a - one of the quietest, most relaxing nights a keeper could ask for against Middlesbrough, so hard to make a judgement.

Evra - 7 - one of our most consistent performers, he has been especially effective raiding up the left flank. He also proved that he can win improbably defensive duels by facing down Kevin Davies. One thing he must work on, though, is his judgment about when to go forward. Too often he has bombed on without cover and been caught out - his strategy of joining every attack only works when either only one man is left up top by the opposition or (as against Pompey, where O'Shea covered marvellously) one of the central midfielders is prepared to play auxiliary left back.

Vidic - 7 - a good if unspectacular start to the season, marred of course by that silly red card against Liverpool. Given that he lines up on the left of the centre back pair, he has been most affected by Evra's indiscipline, as he has been forced to cover out wide more than I would like to see. Whilst facing up to players with the ball at their feet isn't exactly a weakness, it isn't his most strong area (he prefers to dominant aerially and with crunching tackles), and he has done too much of it.

Rio - 9 - sensational first ten games. He has been a rock in the defence even when it has been troubled, not only with his actual interventions but also with his leadership. The sight of Rio turning to berate a team-mate is taking on Keane-esque regularity, and the team is the better for it. He still works the ball around in a cultured way, and has been a threat at the other end too. A goal or two would have bumped this up to a ten, but it's hard to see what more he can do.

Evans - 7 - promising signs from the young lad, in particular his start against Chelsea where he looked more in his depth than anyone could have hoped. My only concern is that he looks a little lightweight in the air, and as such is not at all a like-for-like Vidic replacement. He will obviously have to wait for his chances, since he's never going to force Rio or Vidic out when fit - but I hope he does wait around until he gets his shot.

Neville - 6 - whilst it has been great to see Red Nev leading the team out once more, his performances have yet to suggest that he can get back to his best. Sluggish going forward, where he's struggling to make the ground he used to and his fabled crossing has been erratic. Inconsistent defensively, with solidity intermingled with moments of madness like his lunges on Anelka and Ballack which could have earned him red. Needs to do more to justify Fergie's faith.

Brown - 6.5 - inexplicably dropped for Neville for the Chelsea game, and then left out for Rafael against Aalborg, Wes showed his character to score and be involved in a clean sheet against Blackburn. I think he has improved his game going forward out of sight over the summer, and deserved to be first choice, and I'd be fascinated to know the real reason for his omissions. Loyalty to the skipper is admirable, but Wes should be playing.

Rafael - 7 - has the makings of a real prodigy, he has whipped fans up into a fever pitch of excitement whenever he has been seen. A full back in the true Brazilian mould - both in a good sense (that he is a genuine danger going forward, not just a supporting player) and a bad sense (his defensive skills look more suited to a winger). Once we start to refine this raw diamond, though we could have a sensation on our hands in seasons to come.

Over to you - what are your views on our defence so far?


Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Progress Report - Part I: Overview

With the tedious international break upon us, I would like to take the opportunity to run a series of articles reviewing the season so far. They will be broken down as follows:

Part I: Overview
Part II: The Defence
Part III: The Midfield
Part IV: The Attack
Part V: Our Rivals

With no further ado, let's crack on.


These are the 10 games we have played so far:

(PL in red, CL in blue, others in green)

v Newcastle (h), draw 1-1 (Fletcher)
v Portsmouth (a), WIN 1-0 (Fletcher)
v Zenit (n), lose 2-1 (Vidic)
v Liverpool (a), lose 1-2 (Tevez)
v Villareal (h), draw 0-0
v Chelsea (a), draw 1-1 (Park)
v Middlesbrough (h), WIN 3-1 (Ronaldo, Giggs, Nani)
v Bolton (h), WIN 2-0 (Ronaldo, Rooney)
v Aalborg (a), WIN 3-0 (Rooney, Berbatov 2)
v Blackburn (a), WIN 2-0 (Brown, Rooney)

Looking back

Running your eyes down that list of fixtures, there are a few patterns that leap out:

  • We only won once in our first six competitive games, which is on first glance an appalling start to the season. In fact, if you look closer, it's still below par - if the games against Liverpool and Chelski had finished 15 minutes early, we would have taken 4 points from our two hardest away games rather than 1. Equally, we could have beaten Villareal 2-0 if even the totally uncontroversial decisions had gone our way.
  • That's a tough set of fixtures by anyone's standards. Playing Liverpool and Chelsea at their own places; starting off our CL campaign against the hardest team in our group; away at Pompey and Blackburn, two games we have struggled in over the last two seasons.
  • Neither our attack nor our defence has been up to last season's standards, something we will look at in more detail later on this this series. Suffice to say that we conceded too many goals and too many easy goals, whilst failing to find any fluency going forward (the last two games excepted).
  • The trend is upwards in the last few games, with our forwards making onto the scoresheet more often and clean sheets starting to arrive.
In addition to this, there were two problems dragging us down throughout this time, the injury crisis and the Berbatov saga. I should hardly need to remind you of the horrific details of either of these - we struggled to put out a matchday squad against Newcastle, and even once Berba finally arrived his integration into the team has been difficult.

The signs are, though, that these problems are easing. In both defence and attack, Fergie has selection headaches that must be worse than many a hangover - it is only in midfield that we are really struggling, with Carrick and Scholes out with serious injuries and Hergreaves still struggling with his tendinitis. Equally positively, Berba has broken his scoring duck and is starting to find the wavelength of his teammates.

And ther realy positive - despite all this, if we win our game in hand against Fulham, we are only three points off the pace in the PL, through to the next round of the Carling Cup and decently placed in our CL group. So, to quote Eric Idle, always look on the bright side of life...

Looking forward

In the next articles of the series, I will set out "goals" for each of the units (defence, midfield and attack), but here I'm going to stick to giving you a flavour of what is to come. Here are the upcoming 10 fixtures:

v West Brom (h)
v Celtic (h)
v Everton (a)
v West Ham (h)
v Hull (h)
v Celtic (a)
v Arsenal (a)
v QPR (h)
v Stoke (h)
v Aston Villa (a)

Not quite so scary, are they? Six games at home, including all three of the promoted teams. Away at Everton, whose confidence is shot and whose defence is leaking horribly. Even the harder games have causes for optimism - away at Arsenal, who are showing the same inconsistency as at the back end of last season; and away at Villa, who maintain their poor record against the top four.

At the same time, we can expect Ronaldo to get closer to his best form and Berbatov to show us why he was worth the money; Rooney to continue his recent hot streak, and Tevez to fight for a place; Carrick to return from injury to pull the strings, and our defence to build back up it's formidable steeliness.

I can seriously imagine looking down that list in 7 weeks time and writing WIN next to every fixture. Here's hoping.


Monday, 6 October 2008

Apologies for Absence

I have been out of town for the last few days and unable to write. Apologies for the lack of posts - my thoughts on United's impressive win at Blackburn will follow later in the day.


Thursday, 2 October 2008

Wes Brown v Sir Alex Ferguson

One of the most baffling situations in our squad so far this season has been the dropping of Wes Brown.

First, Wes was a shock omission from the Chelsea game. Next, he didn't even make the matchday squad against Blackburn. Finally, he was left out of the starting line-up against Aalborg in favour of Rafael. Wes was a key member of the best defence we've ever had last season, and at the start of this season looked to have improved his attacking game.

So what could have caused this. Here's my theory below (and bear in mind this is entirely constructed be me as the only logical explanation, not based on any sources):

Wes Brown: Um, Boss, I see that I'm not playing against Chelsea. Can I ask why?

Sir Alex: Sorry, son, but the team defended horribly against Liverpool and I had to make some changes.

WB: But surely you can't blame me for the own goal? Surely there were others who were just as bad?

SAF: You're right about both. To be honest, on top of that, I promised Gary when he was injured that once he was fit I'd give him a run of games. It's only fair to our captain, he's earned that right over the years. (mutters) And he didn't threaten to slope off to Newcastle if he didn't get more money...(laughs darkly at the thought of anyone half-decent going to Newcastle)

WB: And you're giving Jonny the spot in the centre, even though he's barely played any games for us.

SAF: Yep - the lad's got bags of talent, and I want to see how he copes.

WB: So even though I played as well as I did all last year, even though I was part of your best defence ever, you're just going to put me aside? And for a game like Chelsea away?

SAF: Careful, Wes - this isn't the sort of reaction I like to see from lads who I drop.

WB: (sarcastically) So you want me to go and play my guts out on the training ground to prove I'm worth my place back? What difference will that make? You're dropping me on sentimental grounds not on form grounds anyway.

SAF: You're a valuable member of this squad, but I've made my decision and I don't want to hear any more about it from you now.

WB: (angrily) Fine. You're the boss.

[Wes Brown exits Sir Alex's office, slamming door behind him and resolving to sulk all through training next week to register his frustration]

SAF: Oh, he'll regret that. Hasn't he been around long enough to know that I won't stand for behaviour like that? It's a few weeks on the subs bench for you, son, if you're lucky.


Frankly, I can't see any other way that Wes could have ended up in the position he's currently in - can you?


United Fans Should Read...

This week's instalment of things to read on the web:

Scott at Republik of Mancunia was on top form with this heartfelt discussion of his feelings towards Ronaldo - I think many of us can empathise with his dilemma.

The Guardian (without too much sanctimonious leftiness) compares the relative merits Ryan Giggs and a Nobel prize winner!

For the conspiracy theorists and Glazer-haters amongst you, why the credit crunch is going to bankrupt United - but don't worry, it's only in the Independent.

Red Rants has a superb analysis of the subtexts of the Aalborg game.

Soccerlens makes you feel better about Scholes' knee injury.

What do you make of these articles, and are then any you feel I've missed?


Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Aalborg 0-3 United - Match report and ratings

On the face of it, last night was a good result for us. 3 goals, including two for Berbatov, a clean sheet and a win at a canter. On the other hand, we should have scored six, we were sloppy defensively and all three substitutions were forced by injury.

I'm not too fussed about the lack of more goals or the defensive performance, but the injuries could be a problem. Knee ligament damage for Scholes, which will keep him out for weeks even in its mildest form. An unknown ankle problem (it just "gave way") for Rooney, just as he was starting to hit his straps. Not so sure that Rafael's injury was a biggie, though.

On that slightly sour note, let's review how we measured up to my pre-match targets, and get into the player ratings.

Goal 1 - integration of Berbatov - improving, in a word. He saw a lot more of the ball into his feet, which suggests that his teammates are starting to work out what he's looking for. He had plenty of opportunities to play key passes (more on his personal performance in the ratings). The goals can only help.

Goal 2 - quick victory - well, quick-ish. We bossed the game from the moment we scored, and after the second went in we had 30 mins to play exhibition football. Still, hardly as though the boys were required to tear around for 90 minutes, so got to be happy there.

Goal 3 - confidence booster - three goals away from home is always a decent result, and it could have been more. The boys should feel better knowing that they scored three without being clinical and having taken their foot off the gas after the second.

Player Ratings

EVDS - 5.5 - didn't have much to do, and did it all well apart from a dodgy punch in the first half when under no pressure - for that he loses half a point.

Evra - 6 - not his best game. He was the most slack defensively, with most of Aalborg's opportunities originating from his wing. He also got beaten to a header at the back post. Unusually, didn't make that much of an impact going forward to compensate. Not disastrous, but we've seen better.

Vidic - 6 - also not his usual dominating self, partly because there wasn't much to dominate. Still managed to put his head in where it hurts, and got a kick on the head for his troubles - the man's a nutter.

Rio - 8 - awesome defensively, particularly with a last-ditch challenge in the first half. Organised the others, looked after Rafael and brought the ball out of defence well. Only a matter of time until one of those far post chances from a corner goes in - his positioning there is starting to look like a consistent strategy.

Rafael - 7 - bags of confidence and great going forward, a really good first start. He does look to have, as Fergie says, a special talent. Will need to toughen up defensively before he can be a force in the Premier League, but very encouraging.

Nani - 5 - saw lots of the ball, but didn't really do much with it, always trying to beat the extra man or dallying too long before picking a pass. Should be persevered with, of course - we know how good he can be on his day, and once he gets his head right the frustration will turn into joy. Good dead ball delivery is a real asset.

Scholes - n/a - not on long enough, and I just hope the injury isn't serious. A bad knee injury at his age could well be curtains, and nobody would want to see it end like that.

Giggs - 8 -
anyone who sniggered when Fergie said his main role now is through the centre was laughing on the other side of their face last night. He single-handedly ran midfield, picking intelligent passes - not least the peach for Rooney's goal - and carrying the ball effectively. If he plays even ten games a season at this level he'll be more than worth his spot in the squad. A pleasure to watch.

O'Shea - 4 - really, what was the point? He gave the ball away on at least four occasions when under no pressure, he was beaten embarrassingly easily 25 yards from goal and didn't contribute anything in Aalborg's half. Just as Giggs was reminding everyone why he held down a central midfield spot for the second half of the 05/06 season, O'Shea was asking never to be played there ever again. Please...

Ronaldo - 7 - lively, involved in everything, and seems to be on a smooth road back to his best. Also seems to be making a conscious effort to involve Berbatov and develop and understanding with him - if Ronaldo thinks Berba is capable of playing on his level, then that's high praise in my book.

Rooney - 7.5 - good, decisive finish for his goal. Full of (well-directed) energy and purpose, balancing dropping deep or wide with making incisive runs forward. Shame about the injury, hope it's not too serious.

Berbatov - 7 - two goals, both good finishes but the speed he got himself into position for the scissor-kick second was eye-catching. One gem of a pass to put Ronaldo through. On the flip-side, he missed a sitter at the start of the game and wasted a few passes when he had runners to aim for and time to get his head up, hence why I've only given a 7.

Brown (sub) - 5.5 - confidence looks shot, understandably having been relegated from first choice to third choice in a matter of weeks. God knows what he's done to upset Fergie (if I had to guess, maybe he didn't take being dropped against Chelsea too well), but I hope it sorts itself out soon because Wes should have a big role to play this season.

Tevez (sub) - 6 - reminded us why we can cope with an injury to Rooney - only that will alleviate what promises to be an ongoing selection headache for Fergie.

What did you make of the performance, and do you agree with my ratings?