Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Cristiano Ronaldo feels that, having won all their Champions League fixtures so far this season, United are showing that they have the wherewithal to win the competition for a third time.
On Tuesday evening, the Portuguese winger hit an injury-time winner against Sporting Lisbon to give United 15 points from their opening five Group F games, and Ronaldo is already relishing next year's second round matches.
"It's fantastic, I think we're in a good way," he told MUTV. "We've won all our games and we're playing well. We play the way we like to see Manchester play and in the second round I hope we do the same job. I think we have the team, group and coaches, everything to win the Champions League."
Having deliberately failed to celebrate his winner on Matchday 1 against former side Sporting, Ronaldo couldn't let his dramatic free-kick go without recognition at Old Trafford.
"Anderson caught me and told me to do something for my mum, my family and I said ok," he said. "But my conscience is still the same and the people will understand.
"I always try to score, and I am happy to score again - but not just because it's Sporting. I said before, the people of Sporting respect me and I respect Sporting, but my colours now are red and I feel that's for good."
The Reds were heading towards defeat and therefore a difficult final group match in Rome until the Argentine striker entered the fray as a half-time substitute. Ryan Giggs also came on to help turn the tide against a Sporting Lisbon side fighting to stay in the competition.
"The substitutes brought better impetus, better rhythm and more speed to our game and we looked more like ourselves," Sir Alex told MUTV.
"I think Tevez made the difference. Ryan’s experience helps of course, and he showed great confidence and composure on the ball. But Tevez was the one who kept running at them, turning them and moving all the time. He became a handful for them."
Cristiano Ronaldo was also a handful against his former club - but only after Tevez and Giggs joined him on the pitch. The first half was forgettable for all those in red as Sporting took a shock lead through Abel's stunning shot from a crossing position on the right wing.
"If you don’t exert your influence at home in Europe then you can leave yourself open to embarrassment," said Sir Alex.
"The goal we lost was a bit bizarre - I think it was bad defending by us - and I think it gave them a real foot in the game. I just felt there was no impetus in our game, our possession of the ball wasn’t great and I felt I needed to make changes at half-time." Read more...
Cristiano Ronaldo was the match-winner against former side Sporting Lisbon for the second time this season, firing home a stunning injury-time free kick as United came from behind to maintain their 100 per cent record in this season's Champions League.
The Reds had seemed set to make do with a solitary point, having drawn level through Carlos Tevez's second-half strike after Sporting defender Abel had given the visitors a shock lead after 21 minutes.
The result means United are now guaranteed to progress to the knockout stages as Group F winners, regardless of the result in next month's group finale against second-placed Roma.
Although qualification was already ensured, Sir Alex Ferguson fielded a strong side, and started the match with a 4-3-3 formation with spearhead Louis Saha flanked by Nani and Ronaldo, both lining up for the second time this season against their former side.
It was the two Sporting old-boys who were involved in United’s early attacking passages, but both spurned half-openings when there were other more viable options.
Ronaldo impudently created an opening for Louis Saha with a delightful backheeled pass, but the Frenchman’s low right-footed shot arced wide of the far post. It was United’s clearest opening in the first half, and they would rue that miss just two minutes later as the visitors moved ahead.
Report: United 2 Sporting 1
Picking the ball up from Miguel Veloso – who, earlier this week, Carlos Queiroz admitted had featured on United’s scouting radar – right-back Abel advanced down the right wing.
Goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak, like everyone else inside the ground bar Abel, was expecting a cross and advanced from his line in anticipation. The Sporting right back took full advantage and blasted a shot inside the Pole’s near post from virtually on the touchline.
Old Trafford was stunned into silence. Even the small pocket of Sporting fans seemed hesitant to celebrate, so unexpected had been the opening goal. They were in far more vocal mood five minutes later when Brazilian striker Liedson turned in Veloso’s mishit shot, only for the celebrations to be cut short by a linesman’s flag.
United, with far less to play for than their qualification-chasing visitors, were looking second best and found it difficult to forge any clear-cut openings of their own.
It was clearly with that in mind that Ryan Giggs and Tevez were introduced as half-time substitutes, replacing Darren Fletcher and Nani respectively. The fresh legs certainly injected new vigour into United’s approach.
Within 15 minutes of the restart, Ronaldo and Nemanja Vidic had both headed Giggs set-pieces wide, while Saha had dallied on Tevez’s through-ball and allowed Sporting to clear.
It was of little surprise that United’s dominance yielded an equaliser just after the hour. Even less shock value could be attributed to the fact that the livewire Tevez was the scorer.
A blazing run from Patrice Evra rescued a loose ball and his cross was deflected to Ronaldo via Saha. The Portuguese winger somewhat skewed his shot, but it clipped first Marian Had and then Tevez en route to the back of the net.
There was a touch of fortune and bewilderment about the equaliser, but no doubting United’s credentials for parity. It was almost short-lived, however, as Veloso sent a scorching drive onto the roof of Kuszczak’s net from 30 yards just two minutes later.
Although victory was far from imperative in a consequential sense, it was clear that United were intent on posting an eighth straight home victory in Europe. The Reds’ attacking play continued apace, and Ronaldo was twice within inches of putting the hosts ahead.
First he sent a diving header into the side netting, having thrown himself full-length at a Tevez cross, before sending a clipped effort past the top corner from just inside the area.
Sir Alex then sent on Owen Hargreaves at the expense of Louis Saha, and the England midfielder’s first contribution was to force Patricio into saving with his legs, having latched onto a clipped through-ball from Anderson.
It was that boy Ronaldo,
however, who had the final say once more against his former side. With two of four alotted injury time minutes up, the winger stepped up to fire one of his trademark swerving, dipping set-pieces past the helpless Patricio and into the net.
United: Kuszczak; O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Fletcher (Giggs, 46), Carrick, Anderson, Nani (Tevez, 46); Ronaldo, Saha (Hargreaves, 79).
Subs not used: Van der Sar, Brown, Pique, Simpson.
Sporting Lisbon: Patricio; Abel, Tonel, Polga, Had; Veloso, Moutinho, Izmailov (Pereirinha, 81), Romagnoli (Vukcevic, 68); Purovic (Farnerud, 80), Liedson.
Subs not used: Tiago, Silva, Gladstone, Paez.
Sir Alex Ferguson is targeting a Champions League win over Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday to give Manchester United a smooth run to their Premier League crunch with Liverpool. Having seen his side slip to a shock defeat at Bolton on Saturday and fall three points adrift of Arsenal, who also have a game in hand, Ferguson knows United cannot afford to make any more mistakes in the foreseeable future.
While home games against Fulham next Monday and Derby immediately afterwards should allow the Red Devils to recover the winning habit, the trip to Anfield on December 16 now takes on huge significance. Although Ferguson still expects Liverpool to qualify for the latter stages of Europe's major competition, the Scot knows it will require two big wins over Porto and Marseille to get there.
In contrast, his own side are already through and if they beat Sporting will confirm top spot in Group F, rendering their trip to Roma, immediately before the Liverpool showdown, meaningless. ``The Liverpool game is one thing we have looked at,'' admitted Ferguson. ``We know Sporting Lisbon need to get a result as well which is why I am not playing too many younger players.
``It indicates our desire to make sure we win to give us the opportunity to play the way we want to against Roma.'' Ferguson took the unusual step of confirming ``two Portuguese players'' will play, which means Cristiano Ronaldo - the matchwinner on the previous meeting in Lisbon - and Nani will feature against their former club.
Meanwhile, furious Sporting Lisbon coach Paulo Bento ruled Miguel Veloso's future a topic of non-discussion ahead of Tuesday's encounter. The 21-year-old Portugal international has been heavily linked with a move to Old Trafford recently. With Ronaldo, Nani and former Sporting coach Carlos Queiroz already part of the United set-up, links between the two clubs are well established.
And, if recent speculation is to be believed, Veloso - a star performer at last summer's UEFA Under-21 Championships - will soon be on his way to the Premier League. However, the player's off-field moves are clearly a subject of irritation for Bento judging by the way he handled the debate on Monday evening.
Whereas Ferguson had earlier dismissed the rumours with a curt ``we look at a lot of people'', Bento reacted with much more aggression and at one stage looked ready to storm out of his pre-match media commitment. ``I don't want to talk about Miguel,'' he said. ``The more we talk about him, the less good it will be for him.``Some of our good players have left us before, that is obvious. But if I was to take any notice of how many clubs are supposed to want him, there wouldn't be any more clubs left. ``I can't do anything about that. All I can do is pledge myself to helping Miguel on the pitch in the best way I can. ``I don't want to be negative. You have to think of Miguel's age and his overall welfare.'' Read more...
Ian Ladyman, Daily Mail Read more...
Sir Alex Ferguson recently claimed that he now presides over the strongest squad he has ever had at Old Trafford, and Fletcher says the players are keen to live up to the United manager’s expectations.
“The club has a great tradition of winning trophies and the players in this group want to make sure we show we’re capable of doing it again,” Fletcher said.
“That’s the great thing about being at United. There are huge expectations to win the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup. That’s what the players are here for, that’s certainly why I’m here.”
The Reds went agonisingly close to adding the FA Cup to last season’s Premiership title. United were also one step away from reaching the Champions League final, only to be stopped by the eventual winners, AC Milan, who geared all the efforts on that one competition.
“Last year we were very unlucky,” admits Fletcher. “We lost in the FA Cup final and against Milan in the Champions League semi final. With a little bit of luck it could have gone differently. Now we’re looking to use the experience of last year – with the addition of some new players – to push on this season. There are exciting times ahead at this club.”
Personally, Fletcher has endured a tough season so far. His only two starts this term have come in the Champions League, and he looks set for a third against Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday. In a squad game, however, patience is prerequisite.
“My two starts have come in the Champions League, it’s a great stage to play on. I want to play in every game, but we’ve got some great midfielders at this club and their form has been good. The manager has had a lot of decisions to make. You can’t take out players that are in good form. I’ve also had one or two injuries at the wrong time, perhaps when I’d have been given chances. Fair play to the likes of Anderson, he has been fantastic for someone so young and so new to the club.
“But it’s a long season and I just have to keep myself fit and take every chance I get. We saw last season that injuries and suspensions take their toll. We got to a point where we had 12 or 13 players in a team going for three trophies. I know my time will come. Hopefully we’ll be going for those three trophies again this season and I’ll play my part.”
It could be a daunting task trying to force your way into two central midfield positions with Owen Hargreaves, Michael Carrick, Anderson – and soon – Paul Scholes all vying for places. But it’s a challenge that Darren relishes.
“You expect that challenge,” he adds. “It’s competitive every day in training. We’re all striving to start matches, it brings out the best in everyone. Competition is good for, you need to know there’s somebody on the bench that desperately wants to take your place. And that can only be good for Manchester United.” Read more...
"I'll make one or two changes," the Reds' manager told Manchester United Radio ahead of the game. "Players like Darren Fletcher and John O'Shea need some minutes on the clock but my biggest concern is what to do up front.
"Louis Saha played a full game on Saturday, his first full 90 minutes since last December. That was a big test for him. It was an awful lot to ask of him but we're delighted he got through the game."
Ferguson must now decide whether to call upon the Frenchman for a second time in four days. The only other fit first-choice striker, Carlos Tevez, has also been put through a punishing schedule in the last week, travelling to South America and back for Argentina's World Cup qualifiers.
At this stage, Sir Alex may not be sure who'll play up front on Tuesday night, but he does know Sporting Lisbon will be tough opponents.
"Sporting will come to win," Sir Alex said. "They have to win in order to catch Roma. We have to make sure we're on top of our game and use the atmosphere we know we can generate at Old Trafford. We have an opportunity to ensure we finish top of the group so we must take that chance." Read more...