Custom Search

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sir Alex ponders striker dilemma

Sir Alex Ferguson admits a lack of match fitness in his forward line has given him plenty to ponder ahead of United's Champions League opener in Portugal.

The side to start against Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday night will be announced following a "very tough choice" by the boss involving Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha and Carlos Tevez, none of whom he considers fully ready to play 90 minutes in Europe.

"Tevez has been doing exceptionally and is getting better and better, but on Saturday, in the last 20 minutes, he tired again," Sir Alex said.

"Louis Saha is someone we're gauging match to match – the plan is to ease him into games as we go. Remember, he's been out for eight months. As for Wayne Rooney, he's only played half a game, which was more than a month ago.

"I don't know if I'll start him, put him on the bench, start him with Carlos Tevez... maybe I'll do the same as we did at Goodison Park and play Tevez up front with Giggs. Do I bring Saha and Rooney on at half-time? We have to make sure we make the right team selection because we want to win."

No matter what happens, it certainly appears Rooney will make an appearance, unlike on Saturday where he travelled to Merseyside but was not named in the 16 that overcame Everton.

The manager's selection problems are not confined to the front line. Sir Alex conceded it was "very disappointing" not to have Owen Hargreaves on board when the squad flew out from Manchester on Tuesday.

"Owen Hargreaves didn't make the trip to Lisbon," the manager confirmed. "He hasn't fully recovered from his injury he sustained with England. Obviously it's a bit of a blow because one of the big reasons we bought Owen was his experience, particularly in Europe. In the games he's played for us so far he's showed his experience and I was looking forward to having him for tomorrow's game. Unfortunately he's not available."

The manager said United's opening Champions League fixture was a "very promising game" and comes against a club the Reds respect highly.

"As most people know, we have had a marvellous relationship with Sporting Lisbon for many years now. I think they have a fantastic youth programme and it's one I admire. Our coaches have been over to see their Academy and vice versa... we bought Cristiano Ronaldo some years ago and this year we bought Nani. Those two players are a great indication of how successful they are at youth level." Read more...

Sporting Liston Vs. Manchester United Preview

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson fears Cristiano Ronaldo is being targeted by referees because of his extreme talent. Ronaldo was only just returning from a three-match ban following his dismissal by Steve Bennett for headbutting Portsmouth's Richard Hughes when he was cautioned by Alan Wiley for diving during the Premier League win at Everton on Saturday.

Ferguson has reviewed both incidents on video and on each occasion, he feels the official clearly got it wrong. And, on the eve of Ronaldo's return to his former club Sporting Lisbon, the Red Devils chief has expressed his anxiety over the treatment his star man is receiving. ``It is a worry for us,'' said Ferguson.

``It is almost as though Cristiano is being punished for his success. ``There is no question in my mind there is an unfairness about it all. ``We have looked at the Portsmouth one from another angle and it was a quite ridiculous decision. Hughes said Cristiano never touched him, so he gets a three-match ban for that. ``And the one on Saturday was even more ludicrous.

Quite clearly, Cristiano was tripped on the edge of the area. Why would Cristiano go down when he can score? On that occasion, the referee reacted far too quickly.'' It is clearly an opinion Ronaldo concurs with, even though, sat two feet to his manager's right, the Portugal international opted not to enter the debate.

``What the boss says is true,'' said the 22-year-old. ``But I don't want to talk about referees. I only want to speak about them to my manager and my team-mates.'' Ferguson's concerns about tomorrow night's Champions League Group F opener at the Jose Alvalade Stadium in Lisbon were only heightened when he was informed excitable German referee Herbert Fandel was in charge.

It would be fair to conclude United have an unhappy history as far as Fandel is concerned. A trained pianist, Fandel has played all the wrong notes for Ferguson in the past, sending off Roy Keane during a stormy last 16 tussle with FC Porto three years ago before producing another red card to get rid of Paul Scholes in last season's quarter-final first leg against Roma.

Initially, Ferguson buried his head in his hands as Fandel's name was mentioned, before jokingly adding: ``We need a supply of mogadon.'' Whether he felt the calming drug was for Fandel or his own temper, Ferguson did not say. However, it is a fair bet he will settle for a similar performance from Ronaldo to the one he produced the last time the two sides met in 2003.

Even though it was a pre-season friendly, the then 17-year-old wide man was so impressive in Sporting's 3-1 win, no lesser figures than Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs spent time on the flight back to Manchester imploring Ferguson to sign the unknown youngster. Within weeks, the Scot had done just that, the £12million outlay now ranking among Ferguson's shrewdest investments.

``It is always difficult when you sign a boy of that age,'' he said. ``He has to grow and develop and also get used to living in another country, which is never easy. ``Under those circumstances, the rapidity of his rise has been absolutely amazing. ``Now we are seeing a maturity in his performance of someone in their mid-20s.''

After torrid returns to his homeland against Porto and, twice, Benfica, Ronaldo is expecting a more positive reception tomorrow. Madeira-born, Ronaldo claims Sporting is his `second' home and is even still to decide whether to celebrate should he find the net for a fourth time in Champions League combat tomorrow. However, he has also warned Sporting his fondness does not translate into any willingness to go easy on his old club.

``I played here for seven years, I have a lot of friends here and I have always wanted to come back,'' he said. ``I know people like me here. At Benfica they barrack me, here my reception will be good. ``I am very excited about the game and am looking forward to it so much. ``But however much I like the club, my first colours now are red and I hope to win with Manchester United.'' Read more...

Nani facing emotional return trip

Reds' winger Nani is relishing his return to former club Sporting Lisbon for the Reds' opening Champions League group game. "It's going to be emotional going back," said the winger, who is likely to be among the substitutes. "My heart is in Lisbon but, as a pro, I want nothing other than a United win. I've spoken to Cristiano and we both feel there could be a few early nerves about returning home. But if we can score first the pressure will be on Sporting." As Nani waited for word of whether he will face his old club, he welcomed the availability of Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, who had been suspended. "Having Wayne and Cristiano back gives us an extra edge. Wayne's recovery is a real positive, particularly with two huge battles coming up against Sporting and then Chelsea on Sunday."
John Edwards, Daily Mail

Carlos errs on the side of caution

Assistant boss Carlos Queiroz says United will take a cautious approach in their opening Champions League Group F match in Lisbon on Wednesday evening.

The Reds flew out to Portugal on Tuesday morning, minus Owen Hargreaves and Gary Neville, but boosted by the return of Wayne Rooney to full fitness after recovering from a broken foot.

Queiroz is expecting a tough encounter against his former club, for whom he was a coach, but is hopeful of a positive outcome for the Reds.

"We are going to play a cautious game because we respect Sporting," he told "However, we will play with ambition because we want to collect the three points at the Alvalade.

"This is not the best time to face Sporting. This is not our best moment and this is also the first group stage match. But hopefully we can get the result we want."

Queiroz is not the only United representative returning to face their former team. Both Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani are ex-Sporting graduates and Queiroz says it will be an important occasion for the Reds' Portuguese clan.

"Of course it will be a special feeling playing against Sporting, as it will be for Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo," he insisted.

"But we are all professionals and I am sure we will do our best. I hope we can play a tremendous game and I'm sure the Sporting fans are expecting this." Read more...

Duo sit out Lisbon trip

Owen Hargreaves and Gary Neville have failed to recover from injury in time for Wednesday's Champions League opener against Sporting Lisbon.

The England internationals, both sidelined with thigh strains, were missing from United's travelling party as it left Manchester Airport on Tuesday morning.

Wayne Rooney, however, was on board, having made a startling recovery from the broken foot he sustained on the opening day of the season.

The England striker is likely to play some part against Sporting, although with Sunday's clash with Chelsea looming large, Sir Alex Ferguson may use him sparingly.

Mikael Silvestre, Darren Fletcher, John O'Shea, Ji-sung Park and Ben Foster are United's other senior absentees. Read more...

Reds land in Lisbon

United touched down in sunny Portugal at midday on Tuesday for the Reds' opening Group H Champions League qualifier against Sporting Lisbon.

The match, which kicks off on Wednesday night at 19:45 BST, pits United against Portuguese opposition in the group stage for the third consecutive year and sees Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani return to their former club.

United attract attention wherever they go, but scenes at Lisbon's Portela airport were feverish as local press jostled in the arrivals lounge for glimpses of the players before a police escort whisked the United party to its headquarters.

The last time the Reds were in Portugal, a Louis Saha goal was enough to give United a 1-0 win over Benfica in the Estadio da Luz. Sir Alex will undoubtedly be pleased with a similar result tomorrow as the Reds seek a positive start in Group F. Read more...

Rooney to be let off the leash

Wayne Rooney has been itching to get back to action following his fractured metatarsal injury, and now he's ready to take out his frustration on Sporting Lisbon.

The 21-year-old Reds striker flew out to Lisbon with the rest of the United squad on Tuesday morning as the Reds prepare for the opening Champions League Group F match on Wednesday.

Typical of Rooney's enthusiasm and hunger for football, he feels he could have played before now, but understands the caution taken by Sir Alex Ferguson and United's medical staff.

"I'm fine," he told MUTV. "I feel I could have played a few weeks ago and I'm a bit disappointed I haven't. But it was probably best in the long run.

"I've been dying to play. I wanted to make sure the manager knew I was ready to come back. The manager and physios have been a bit cautious and rightly so - it's a long season. Hopefully, I can get a run-out on Wednesday and get back playing."

For Rooney it was frustrating to endure the same type of injury he has suffered on two previous occasions, but he denied that it has anything to do with the Nike boots he wears.

"It's the third time I've had this injury and it was disappointing it happened so early in the season," he added. "I know there has been a lot of talk about the boots but they are fine. If you have a lad like Michael Duberry stamp on your foot, it is quite likely to break." Read more...