Wednesday, 3 December 2008

This Week's United Reader

I've been away for a while, and have therefore been having to feed my United addiction by means only of my RSS reader. Here, then, is an extended list of the things that I have enjoyed reading the most recently, and which I urge you to go off and peruse for yourselves.

EDIT: Please also note the new "You should read" box in the sidebar, which will serve as an ongoing, constantly updated way for me to point you in the direction of the best United and other football content I come across on the web. More detail to follow in a separate post shortly.

1. Enjoy a fortifying dose of Schadenfreude by reading this Chelsea fan's lament about why Fergie was right. I particularly want to compliment the measured, objective tone of the author - these are qualities which I really value in the often unbearably tribal world of football blogs and forums, and when I want an opinion on something Chelsea I will look there first in future. (Hat tip: Scott at RoM)

2. It appears I am not alone in championing Michael Carrick - Stretty Rant is of the same view.

3. Against my better judgment, the game of "what will happen when Fergie goes" is one of my favourites. So I particularly enjoyed this piece, again from Stretty Rant about whether he should stay in an upstairs capacity.

4. Ronaldo wins Ballon d'Or special:

a) Barney Ronay at the Guardian summarises my view of Ronaldo perfectly, and should be read even by those who are less than impressed by his antics.

b) I also detected some welcome thawing towards Ronaldo from two other presitigious United bloggers, Scott and Red Ranter.

On a personal note, I have made my position on Ronaldo clear before (here and here) and I am delighted for the boy - on the field, he was without question the best player in the world last season, and it would have been a scandal if anyone else had won this award.

I also happen to agree entirely with Ronaldo's comments, quoted in Scott's post, about the effect of the media - as always, it has been build 'em up, tear 'em down, and stamp on them harder if they're foreign. Although I also agree that, by teasing the media and trying to use them for his own ends over the summer, Ronaldo has brought a lot of this on himself. A truism of dealing with the media is that the media hate being manipulated - no matter how clever you are, if you try to use them they will have their revenge, redoubled in spades.

5. Finally, Danny Taylor (also at the Guardian, which happens to have been on good form recently) gives some very welcome press coverage to the way the City fans (who exceeded all expectations at the Munich anniversary game last season) reverted disgustingly to type at the weekend.


United v Blackburn: Preview

I usually find it hard to get that excited about the Carling Cup. It is a great place to try out our youngsters and give them experience of first team action, but ultimately it is not a priority in the context of the season.

However, certain factors are combining this season to make me much more bothered about tonight's game and the competition as a whole:

1. As soon as people start using the phrases quarter-finals and semi-finals, it brings it home that we're within three games of a trophy. I like trophies, regardless of their status - I like some more than others, obviously, but I'm always keen for us to get our hands on some silverware. Further, if we beat Blackburn tonight, the only other Premiership side left will be Spurs (assuming they can beat Watford - the others are Burnley and Derby), which gives us an even greater chance of success.

2. This is a particularly promising group of youngsters, so there are a much larger number of players whose development I want to see accelerated and also who have a genuine chance of competing against top opposition. I'm thinking of Foster, Rafael, Evans, Possebon, Welbeck and Manucho and to a lesser extent Gibson and Cleverley (particularly in the latter's case, I place them in a separate group because I think they're unlikely to start and we have many others in their position).

3. Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal are all out, which gives us a chance to steal a march on our rivals and, in Arsenal's case, show that we're better than them in their last remaining supposed field of strength - developing youngsters.

4. If we win the Carling Cup, we're on for the Quadruple...................(I'll leave that piece of outrageous optimism hanging for now).

So, having established that I care and that you should too, onto the team news.

Team news

There will be no big guns on the bench to bail us out, as EVDS, Rio, Evra, Carrick, Ronaldo, Rooney and Berbatov left out of the matchday squad of 19 and therefore ineligible.

Ben Foster will come in for his second first team appearance of the season, with the promise of a fairly busy night ahead of him. Blackburn will have seen the glint of silver in the same way I set out above, and they will be putting out a near full-strength side and will be really up for it. Rafael is guaranteed a chance to build on his well-reviewed performance against Robinho and City, and O'Shea likely to play at left back. Evans will definitely start in the centre, with Vidic likely to be preferred to Neville alongside him given the quality of Blackburn's forwards.

The midfield is anyone's guess: Nani will expect a run out; Possebon will hope to feature in the centre, but may be disappointed with Anderson, Fletcher and Giggs also in the squad;  Welbeck could be given a chance to play from the right in preference to Park, since Tevez and Manucho are likely to be paired up front.

Predicted team: Foster; O'Shea, Vidic, Evans, Rafael; Nani, Anderson, Giggs, Welbeck; Tevez, Manucho. Subs: Kusczcak, Neville, Possebon, Park, Gibson, Cleverley, Fletcher.

Predicted score: 2-1 to United, after extra time (Nani, Tevez)