Custom Search

Friday, September 21, 2007

Evra's Red delight

When Patrice Evra walks onto the Old Trafford pitch on Sunday afternoon to commence battle with title rivals Chelsea, the Frenchman will do so secure in the knowledge that he has both the manager's and the home crowd's full support.

Following Gabriel Heinze's exit to Real Madrid and Mikael Silvestre's season-ending injury sustained in last weekend's 1-0 win over Everton, Evra is now Sir Alex Ferguson's undisputed first-choice left back. But it's hardly a case of victory by default.

Instead, over the last 18 months, the 26-year-old has risen to prominence on the back of a number of colossal displays on the left side of defence. Strong in the tackle, agile and surprisingly good in the air for someone who's just 5'8", Evra has all the necessary attributes of a top-class defender.

And yet it's his willingness to get forward and run at opposition defenders that's arguably won him more attention and endeared him to even the most critical match-going Reds. Speedy and direct, Evra also boasts a repertoire of tricks and flicks that regularly lures fans to their feet.

Rewind to early 2006, however, and Evra admits he was worried United supporters would never take to him. A bad mistake on his debut – against Manchester City, no less – was followed by a string of less-than-inspiring performances while he took time to adapt to the English game and settle in a new country.

"My first six months were very difficult," Evra told Manchester United Radio, "but the manager pulled me aside and told me that all the fans had been applauding me. I was concerned but he said he hadn't heard any fans say they were unhappy with me.

"That gave me lots of confidence and now I'm doing well. And that's why I think this is the best club in the world and we have the best fans in the world. Manchester United is not just a team – it's like a big family.

"In France I never played in front of fans like this. Walking out at Old Trafford is just unbelievable. It's a real privilege and I thank the Gods every day that I play for United. Every time I play I just try and respect the shirt and do my best for the club."

Evra's next challenge will come on Sunday when FA Cup winners Chelsea visit Old Trafford after a tumultuous week. Held to a home draw by Danish club Rosenborg in the Champions League on Tuesday, Blues fans woke on Thursday morning to news that manager Jose Mourinho had sensationally left the club.

Patrice is quick, however, to dismiss suggestions that United players may think the game's already won.

"I don't care if Chelsea have lost their boss or haven't played well recently. I'm focussing only on my own job and on Manchester United," he insisted.

"The papers are all talking about Mourinho but we're not taking any notice of that. This is a very important game and it's never easy to beat Chelsea. All I know is that we're at home and we need to win."

His focus is admirable, as is his stance on the relevance of Sunday's match to the 2007/08 title race.

"Yes, it's a big game, but in England you must play every game at 100 per cent. When we play against the likes of Blackburn, Portsmouth and Bolton, they are very difficult matches and we have to fight very hard to get a result. It's those teams you really need to beat if you want to be champions. Those games are often more important than the ones against the top four."

It's also essential, he says, that United continue keeping clean sheets. The Reds' last four matches have all ended in 1-0 victories and it's a statistic Evra takes great delight in.

"We're defending very well at the moment, but it's not just the back four doing the work. In Edwin van der Sar we have one of the best goalkeepers in the world and his confidence is sky-high at the moment.

"He has had a great start to the season, which stemmed from his three penalty saves against Chelsea in the Community Shield. Now the most important thing is that we keep picking up three points.

"I get on well with a lot of the Chelsea players – Florent Malouda, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien – but during the game we won't be friends. Maybe afterwards we'll have a drink... only water though, no alcohol!"

Nevermind. The pubs around Manchester will certainly be full on Sunday evening if United can further dint Chelsea's title ambitions. And don't bet against one or two fans raising a glass to Patrice Evra, committed Red and full-back extraordinaire. Read more...

Man Utd's Ronaldo to face fan 'stamp' probe

Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo is at the centre of an official police probe after an Everton fan claimed he was stamped on during a match.

Merseyside Police today confirmed they are speaking to witnesses and studying CCTV to establish precisely what happened during Saturday's match at Goodison Park when Everton faced Manchester United.

Carl Lloyd, 34, told the Daily Post newspaper that the Portuguese winger sank his studs into his right arm.

The joiner alleged the incident happened during the Premier League clash as he leaned over the advertising hoardings to retrieve the ball when it went out of play.

Mr Lloyd, of Wallasey, Merseyside, said he needed hospital treatment and said: 'I've been in excruciating pain.

'I don't know if I'll work again any time soon.

'I couldn't believe what happened.

'All I was doing was trying to retrieve the ball.'

A spokesman for Merseyside Police confirmed Mr Lloyd had made an official complaint and the investigation is ongoing. Read more...

Sir Alex will miss Mourinho

Sir Alex Ferguson paid a brief but glowing tribute to former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, and admits that he will miss the challenge of squaring up to his Portuguese counterpart.

But, at the manager’s pre-match press conference ahead of Sunday’s fixture between the two teams, this was no lingering farewell, nor was it a nostalgic trip down memory lane. Sir Alex was to the point, clearly determined not to let the goings-on at Stamford Bridge overshadow the need for three points at Old Trafford.

“Jose leaving is a disappointment for the game,” he said genuinely. “I think that he was terrific for football and, of course, for Chelsea. I enjoyed the competition with him and I think he brought something fresh and new to our game. I just don’t know what I’m going to do with my wine now!

“What has he done? He’s been fantastic and brought unparalleled success,” he added. “It’s certainly a challenge for the man that replaces him. At the moment it’s Avram Grant, and it’s a big test for him.

“I wish Jose well, but that’s as far as I want to put it,” he said, before declining to take any more questions on the matter. “What happens at Chelsea doesn’t matter to us, we’ve got to focus on our game because it’s still the same set of players that we will be facing. And that’s a challenge enough for us.

“When you play Chelsea it’s always a big game. I don’t think it will be a defining moment, but it’s important.

“If you look at the record between the two teams over the last three or four years there is nothing in it. Very few goals are scored. It’s always a tight, tight game.” Read more...

Sunday too soon for Reds duo

Thigh injuries have ruled Owen Hargreaves and Gary Neville out of Sunday's clash with Chelsea at Old Trafford.

The pair have both trained this week, but Sir Alex Ferguson expects them to return either side of next Wednesday's Carling Cup tie with Coventry City.

"Owen Hargreaves is in training and improving all the time, he's in contention for Coventry," Sir Alex told his pre-match press conference.

"Gary Neville has joined first team training, but the Coventry game will be too early for him. We'll be looking at 7-10 days. For Sunday's game against Chelsea we'll be relying mainly on Wednesday's squad."

No new injuries were collected in United's win over Sporting Lisbon, giving Sir Alex a bulging squad for the visit of the Blues, who face their first game since the departure of manager Jose Mourinho. Read more...

Warrior Vidic set goals target

Nemanja Vidic has quickly become a cult hero among United supporters not only for his classy yet no-nonsense style of defending, but also for the threat he poses in the opposition box.

Vidic will once again be an integral part of United's defence as the Reds aim for a fifth clean sheet in a row on Sunday against Chelsea.

The 25-year-old Serbian centre-half scored the winning goal in an outstanding performance last weekend against Everton at Goodison Park. He followed it up with another commanding display in Lisbon on Wednesday, prompting praise from his manager.

"Nemanja always asks a question of defenders," said Sir Alex. "He wants to know whether they have the courage to put their head in front of his.

"He is a throw back to the old style of defender, but there's no question he can play, there is not a doubt about that. He doesn't mess about in terms of clearing the ball. He acts like a defender and that's a real asset to this squad."

Belgrade-born Vidic, a £7million signing from Spartak Moscow in January 2006, scored four goals in 38 games last season, and having got off the mark against Everton, Sir Alex has challenged the all-action defender to not only maintain his high standards as part of United's back four but also to beat his goals tally of 2006/07.

"He got me four goals last season and has already got one this year," said Ferguson. "I think he can easily get between five and 10 because he has got just the right qualities." Read more...

Giggs: Sunday is no title-decider

Ryan Giggs believes the result of Sunday's United-Chelsea clash at Old Trafford will have little bearing on the eventual outcome on this season's title race.

The Blues will pitch up at Old Trafford with a new manager following the shock departure of Jose Mourinho on Thursday.

Avram Grant, formerly the club's director of football, will take charge of his first match as Blues boss on Sunday, with Steve Clarke assisting.

Giggs is expecting a tough encounter and says United are determined to come out of the game with a positive result. But the stand-in skipper insists the match is by no means a title decider.

"Whether we win or lose the game, I don't think it'll have too much bearing on where the championship goes," he told this month's Inside United Magazine. "It's all about being consistent across the entire season.

"Chelsea are a solid team with good experience. They have great discipline so it's hard to create chances against them, but we've done all right in the last few years.

"They're normally tight affairs so you like to try and score the first goal. But it's all about having consistency against all the teams you have to play against. Hopefully we can get the result we want." Read more...

Fergie amazed by Jose's exit

Sir Alex Ferguson claims that Chelsea had put ridiculous pressure on Jose Mourinho. The Blues announced this week they wanted Mourinho to win two Champions League titles in six years. United manager Fergie admitted: “It is amazing to put pressure on the lad to win two European Cups.” Meanwhile, United No 2 Carlos Queiroz reckons an ‘attitude problem’ could have cost Mourinho his job. Queiroz said: “Maybe the attitude he brought to the club created some obstacles. Maybe his attitude to the new policy of the club made it easier to take this option to leave.” And Queiroz believes that fellow Portuguese Mourinho will now head for Spain. He added: “I don’t think he will stay in England because the biggest clubs are all stable. Spain seems like a league that would better suit him.”
Staff reporter, The Sun