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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Rio Gets Skipper Reward

I was as critical of Rio Ferdinand as anybody when he missed a drugs test. I’ve been critical of him since then, too. But I’m glad he’s been given his turn at the England captaincy. I think he deserves his chance. The missed drugs test was five years ago. He served his punishment for that and has move on. He’s also in the form of his life for Manchester United. His display against Fernando Torres on Sunday was breathtakingly good. John Terry would still be my choice as permanent skipper, but giving Rio a shot at the captaincy is a fair reward for his recent consistent excellence.
Oliver Holt, The Mirror

Reds love the pressure

John O'Shea insists United are revelling in yet another Premier League title chase with perennial rivals Chelsea and Arsenal.

Sir Alex Ferguson's reigning champions head the chasing pack by five points with just seven games remaining, and O'Shea says experience allows the Reds to savour the ongoing battle.

"Experience really helps," he told Manchester United Radio. "Even the coaching staff, the experience they have in leading or chasing points. This is the time of the season we really enjoy.

"This is when the pressure comes, when medals are decided and when the players stand up and be counted. Those teams (Chelsea and Arsenal) will know that any slip-up is going to be huge at this stage."

A spate of injuries hampered United's Treble ambitions last term and, with the Premier League and Champions League on the Reds' radar, O'Shea admits going into April with an almost empty treatment room is a welcome change this season.

"You need a bit of luck along the way as well, with injuries, and we’ve had that," he said. "The manager has some really difficult choices when it comes to picking the team.

"That was a scenario we didn’t have towards the end of last season and it probably cost us in the Champions League. Fingers crossed we can make up for that this season.

"You look at all the squads in the top leagues in Europe and there are almost 20 internationals in these squads. That’s what’s needed for success these days."

Rio hails Reds rearguard

Rio Ferdinand says United's defensive solidarity is down to consistent selection of a settled back four.

The Reds have earned 25 clean sheets from 45 matches in all competitions so far this season. And it's no coincidence that Wes Brown, Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra have started 22 games as a complete unit.

"I said when I first signed for United that when we got a settled back four we would see the benefits as individuals and collectively. That's what we're seeing at the moment."

United's defence once again proved impassable against Liverpool on Sunday, and Ferdinand and Vidic in particular were outstanding. The pair silenced Fernando Torres, who arrived at Old Trafford having scored nine goals in six games.

It was the continuation of one of the most formidable central defensive alliances in the Premier League, and Ferdinand says their understanding happened completely naturally.

"It takes time to get used to playing alongside some players, but myself and Vida hit it off quite quickly. Our styles just gelled, it's as simple as that," he told MUTV. "There are some players that happens with, and long may it continue."

Skipper remains patient

Gary Neville is itching for first-team football but admits he may have to wait until next season for his chance.

The United skipper has eased his way back from injury with a handful of appearances for the Reserves, most recently in last Thursday’s 4-1 win over Manchester City.

“I’ve played three times for the Reserves since the turn of the year and this is the longest run I’ve been on in terms of training and playing games,” Neville told Manchester United Radio.

“It’s going to take time for me to get back to full match sharpness after being out for so long (it’s now more than 12 months since Neville played for the first team). I’m probably a little bit away from first-team sharpness but the only way I’ll get that is by continuing to train with the first team.

“Hopefully I’ll get a game somewhere but that could prove difficult with the significance of the matches we have over the next few weeks. I just have to hope and pray that I get my chance at some point.

“Usually when you’re coming back from injury there’s an opportunity to throw you back into the side – maybe in one of the cup competitions – but every game’s so important now.”

Anderson Interview

Brazilian midfielder Anderson could already lay claim to an unforgettable debut season. But, as he told United Review, there's more he can do to make it even better...

How would you sum up your first season at Old Trafford?
I feel I’ve improved my performances both in matches and in training. At first, it took me time to get used to the way things work at United, but from then on I’ve just tried to improve step-by-step and give my best for the team. I’m very happy with everything about my life at Old Trafford.

Which do you feel has been your best performance so far?
If I had to pick one I’d say the 4-0 win over Wigan [in October]. It was only my fifth appearance for the club and I came on after [Nemanja] Vidic got injured. It was a great win for the team and I felt I was the best player on the pitch that day [laughs]!

You’re a big favourite with the fans already, does that mean a lot to you?
I love it – we all sing each other’s songs in the dressing room when we’re joking around. I find it difficult to describe how it feels to hear the fans sing my name – it’s amazing. It gives me extra strength on the pitch and makes me want to do my best to repay the fans for the fantastic support they have shown me since I joined. They’ve all made me feel very welcome.

The words of the song describe you as a midfield magician and we’ve seen you play in a number of midfield positions – where do you feel your best position is?
I don’t have a preference, to be honest. I just want to play in as many games as possible. Even if I have to play in goal, I’ll do it! I’ve enjoyed every match I’ve been involved in this season and the different positions I’ve taken up. In the long term, I’m sure the manager will play me wherever
he feels I will be most effective.

Are you pleased to have avoided Liverpool in the Champions League draw and how much are you looking forward to facing Roma again?
To be honest I didn’t really have a preference as to who we were drawn with in the quarter-finals because at this stage of the competition every game is a tough one, no matter who you play. It’ll be a little strange to play Roma again so soon after the group matches, but I’m really looking forward to the tie. We all want to win the trophy and we know we’ll have to fight very hard to do that. But we have a great chance.

Aside from helping the team win trophies, presumably you’re looking to add goals to your game sometime soon…
I’m literally praying for goals [laughs]! I’m hopeful that when I start scoring I will score some important goals in important games. I’ve certainly got some good celebrations planned!

The fixture schedule is going to be very busy between now and the end of the season – are you looking forward to the challenge?
It’s a beautiful thing to be involved in a finale to a season such as this one. We’re in a good position in the Premier League and the Champions League and we are focused on winning both trophies. Do I get nervous? [Puts on his sunglasses and reclines in his chair, grinning] No, never. I’m always happy! And I hope I will be even happier come the end of the season.