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Friday, February 8, 2008

Reds have a duty to perform

In the week of the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster, and with United embroiled in an absorbing title race, Sir Alex Ferguson feels his players have a duty to perform in Sunday's Manchester derby.

The United manager is hopeful that his side can use what has been an emotional week as a source of inspiration, as Sven-Goran Eriksson's side make the short trip to Old Trafford.

"We hope it's a motivation, absolutely," Sir Alex told his pre-match press conference. "I think the players have got a responsibility on Sunday to do well. They always have, but the expectation levels may be a bit higher on Sunday.

"We have to be aware it's a derby game and stay focused on playing. Every game's a must-win. We're going for a league title, that makes every game a must-win, regardless of who we're playing."

Since Denis Law's matchwinning strike for the Blues in 1974, the Blues haven't won at Old Trafford in 27 attempts - but such stats only mask the fact that City invariably raise their game against United, and Sir Alex is wary that logic counts for nothing in derbies.

"It's an excellent record at home," he admitted. "We have a good home record in general, but it is particularly good against Manchester City.

"But we do know in derby games that anything can happen. The first game earlier this season was an amazing result. I'm saying to my players 'well done', when we've lost 1-0.

"City had one strike at goal that was deflected, but that's football. It can do these things to you. It can produce miracles and you just have to accept it can happen. Hopefully it doesn't happen Sunday." Read more...

Sir Alex appeals to City fans

Sir Alex Ferguson admits that Manchester City have done everything within their power to honour the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster. Now he hopes that the Blues' fans will follow suit.

City will sport a special one-off kit devoid of branding and sponsorship on Sunday, and have written to their fans travelling to Old Trafford imploring them to observe a pre-match minute of silence.

The anniversary's significance and the inevitable high emotions surrounding the match will undoubtedly prompt intense media scrutiny towards behaviour in the stands, and Sir Alex is hopeful that respect will prevail.

"There's been a lot of speculation about Manchester City fans and how they're going to behave," he told his pre-match press conference. "But I think the club themselves have done their very best to ensure that it's a peaceful day

"Hopefully we can enjoy a good game of football without any disruptions to it. I don't think there will be any problem with our fans, I just hope City fans listen to their own club and make it a game we all want to remember. I think that's very, very important."

Once the minute's silence has been completed on Sunday, attentions will quickly switch to the three points on offer and Manchester's bragging rights.

Sir Alex is hopeful that his side can take the points and the plaudits, courtesy of a display reminiscent of the great Sir Matt Busby side at the heart of the game's poignancy.

"I hope we win the game and I hope we put on a really good performance," he said. "The two go hand-in-hand on this occasion, given the history of the Munich disaster and the way the team played.

"I think we've got equally exciting players at our club at the moment, young players who are doing the same thing Manchester United have done in the past, tried to entertain and excite. We basically ask the same things these days, just go and play." Read more...

Fletch: I'm still improving

Scotland international Darren Fletcher insists he’s getting better all the time, despite a recent shortage of first-team football.

The arrival of midfielders Owen Hargreaves, Anderson and Nani last summer undoubtedly strengthened the Reds' squad. But it's also seen 24-year-old Fletcher restricted to just two league starts this season.

“That’s what you expect when you’re at United,” Fletcher told Manchester United Radio. “We’ve always had strong squads over the years. Right now I find myself on the outside looking in, but I’m working hard and keeping myself fit.

“I’m always ready for when the manager needs me and I have to be because the games are going to start coming thick and fast. To be honest though, with the quality of players we have at United, training is almost as good as playing in matches.”

It’s certainly hard to imagine a better education than playing alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand. But for all the squad’s talent, Fletcher says there’s still nobody like Paul Scholes.

“What a reception he got when he came back against Spurs,” he said. “And rightly so! The whole stadium errupted in appreciation of a world-class footballer.

“Sometimes I don’t think Paul gets the recognition he deserves, but he’s definitely one of the best midfielders in the world - he has been for the last 10 or 12 years.

“He’s a pleasure to play with… and a nightmare to play against in training! But you always want to test yourself against the best and every day I go up against one of the best players in the world. I'm lucky in that respect.” Read more...

Rip up the form book

Wes Brown has warned that form will count for nothing in this Sunday's Manchester derby.

Whenever United and City meet, there is invariably little football to savour as games descend into wars of attrition.

And Longsight-born Brown, who always relishes battles with the Reds' near-neighbours, says desire will be the telling factor come Sunday.

"Both teams always step up for the occasion," he is quoted as saying in the Manchester Evening News. "It doesn't matter where they are in the league, it's 50-50 and down to whoever wants it most.

"We've got to show we want it more. They are a good team and we know what they can do. They've got some good new players and if we let them do what we did last time, they are capable of punishing us."

Brown should line up at right back against Sven-Goran Eriksson's side, and the converted central defender admits he is feeling comfortable patrolling the flanks.

Club captain Gary Neville is still out of the first-team picture after over a decade as first-choice right back, and Brown is keen to keep hold of the position when Neville does return.

"It definitely helps the more you can play in a regular position," he said. "I've been doing that and that's probably why I'm doing better than I have before.

"It's good playing regularly for your club. I'm playing right back mainly now, which has made a big difference, and filling in at centre back when needed.

"Gary is not having a good time at the moment with injuries. He is the captain of the club, but when he comes back I will battle it out with him for the position." Read more...

Owen: United eyeing vengeance

Owen Hargreaves admits revenge will be on United's mind going into this Sunday's Manchester derby at Old Trafford.

The midfielder made his Reds debut against Manchester City in August, an event that was tainted as the Blues staged an unlikely smash and grab victory at Eastlands. That defeat still rankles those in red, and Hargreaves admits it will provide added inspiration during this weekend's return match.

"We will definitely remember that they beat us in the last one," Owen is quoted as saying in the Manchester Evening News. "We played very well and were just unfortunate not to win the game.

"I still don't know how we didn't win. We will remember that and go into the game with confidence."

And, in the week Manchester commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Munich air crash, Hargreaves says the disaster will be a similar source of motivation to succeed.

"The most important thing is the Munich crash and I think everybody will have that at the front of their thoughts. It will be an emotional day and very special to be a part of," he said.

Having overcome long-term injury problems, Hargreaves and Paul Scholes have given Sir Alex Ferguson a welcome selection headache in the centre of midfield.

Michael Carrick is edging towards his best form week by week, while Brazilian youngster Anderson has been a revelation in his first season at the club. Hargreaves is unfazed, however, about competition for places.

"There is competition everywhere," he said. "If you want to play with the best then there is competition everywhere. It's good to have that - but the most important thing is that we are successful as a group.

"Whether I get to play is not down to me. I don't get paid to make those decisions, just to play and that's what I'll do." Read more...

Neville: Our debt to the Babes

For players and fans alike Sunday's match against Manchester City will be a hugely poignant occasion.

Reds' skipper Gary Neville will have to be content with a place in the stands because of injury, but he remains confident his team-mates will produce a performance the late Busby Babes would be proud of and one that ultimately leads to victory.

"Like any game we play at Old Trafford it’s important we win, but this one is particularly significant," he told Sunday's edition of United Review.

"As a group of players we wouldn’t want to come away from this game with anything other than a victory and hopefully a fantastic performance as well.

"As a United player you’re always reminded of the club’s history. We’ve, therefore, got to mark this occasion in the best way possible because we owe the lads that died an awful lot."

While Neville admits the day will be highly charged with emotion, the defender insists the players are more than capable of keeping their feelings in check and focusing on matters on the pitch.

"As players we’re always under pressure at this club. We’ve just got to go out there and do our job," he declared. "City will try and play on the fact that we might be distracted, but we know that won’t be the case.

"We’ll be really up for it, it’s a game that any footballer would want to play in and the atmosphere will be unbelievable. We’ve just got to make sure we go out there and do it, simple as that." Read more...

Going global

Premier League clubs shook English football yesterday with a radical plan to launch the competition on to a world tour and trigger a marathon weekend of 10 live back-to-back matches on television. The proposal is to introduce an extra round of Barclays Premier League games and play them in five different cities around the world, with the different time zones providing a UK audience with non-stop coverage. In less than three years' time, a Manchester derby may well be staged in New York, or West Ham and Tottenham could take their bitter London rivalry to a stadium in Hong Kong or Shanghai. The proposal represents the biggest potential change to England's top flight football since the Premier League broke ranks from the Football League in 1992. The 20 top flight clubs unanimously agreed yesterday to examine the idea further. Reaction from within the game was mainly positive, giving the move a feeling of unstoppable momentum but there was strong criticism from supporters' groups, who claimed it would damage the 'integrity' of the competition, and a word of caution from the Government.
Matt Barlow, Daily Mail