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Monday, April 28, 2008

Manchester United Vs. Barcelona Match Preview

Manchester United duo Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic are both doubts for the Champions League semi-final second leg against Barcelona at Old Trafford after missing training on Monday morning.

Rooney took a knock to his hip before scoring the equaliser in the 2-1 defeat to Chelsea on Saturday, while Vidic suffered a facial injury.

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has scoffed at suggestions his team could be on the wane entering the most crucial phase of the season.

Instead, he maintains they are still well on course for a Barclays Premier League and Champions League double.

However, they go into the match on the back of a defeat against Chelsea, which saw their rivals move level at the top with two games to go.

But with matches to come at home to West Ham and away to Wigan, Ferguson is convinced they can achieve their goals.

Asked if he was worried, he said: "Not at all. We should be sitting here as champions of the league.

"I think decisions, bad decisions have gone against us. But it does not matter about those decisions now.

"When we signed on in August, it was to play 38 league matches and we need to win the last two to win the league. So be it.

"No matter what has happened, terrible performances or great performances, bad decisions, that's in the past.

"We have a semi-final, then a home game on Saturday (against West Ham) and a game against Wigan away... disaster.''

United hold the Champions League record for straight home victories and Ferguson has spoken of his pride in his players as they aim to extend that run to 12 games.

He said: "There was a lot of disappointment in the dressing room at the time up at Chelsea, especially in the manner which we lost.

"But we have the incentive of a big game, so you put that behind you quickly. A training session will reflect that.

"I trust these players. I am a lucky manager to have such good lads.

"Character-wise, they are fantastic. You saw that in the second half on Saturday, they were absolutely magnificent.

"That character is also a part of Manchester United. It epitomises the kind of player you have to be to play for the club.

"I am proud of those players representing me and the club.''

Barcelona boss Frank Rijkaard has pledged to stay true to his side's attacking philosophy.

Following last week's goalless first-leg draw at the Nou Camp, Barca could have opted for a safety-first attitude for Tuesday's return meeting and look to sneak an away goal.

However, that would be a break from tradition for a side famed for their forward play, and Rijkaard believes it would be wrong to switch to more defensive tactics for the game with United.

"I think that we have always maintained our style of play wherever we have been, with only one exception, which was when we went to play at Chelsea's ground,'' Rijkaard said, recalling the 1-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge in October 2006.

"There we played much more defensively than we are used to because at that point Chelsea were a very well-armed, organised and hard-working team, who were very dangerous on the counter-attack.

"But against Manchester United we have to play strong. To defend is not the correct course of action in this case. We have to play with aggression and by putting them under pressure.''

Rijkaard knows it is unlikely to be easy at Old Trafford, but is adamant his side can put aside their poor domestic form and make it through to the Champions League final.

"It is a difficult ground and a strong team, but I think that we can get through,'' said the Dutchman, who side have won just one of their last nine league matches while on Saturday they lost 2-0 at Deportivo La Coruna - a result that ultimately ended their chances of catching Primera Liga leaders Real Madrid.

Rijkaard added: "United are a team that have no fear. They play how they know, with a good attitude, with a lot of individual talent and without complicating things.

"On Tuesday I am sure they will come out more to attack than at the Nou Camp and we must take advantage of our chances. The keys to the tie? To be aggressive and put them under a lot of pressure so as to make life difficult for them.

"To defend the result is not our style. We need to worry only about our play.''

Testimonial tribute for Ole

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Testimonial Committee are delighted to announce they have agreed in principle with Manchester United that a testimonial match for the Norwegian against Spanish side Espanyol will be played at Old Trafford on Saturday 2 August 2008.

The former United striker was forced to retire from the game at the end of the August after a long battle with injuries.

Solskjaer has since joined the Reds' coaching staff and is looking forward to sharing his big day with the Old Trafford faithful.

“I am delighted to be given this game by the club," he told "It will be a very emotional day for me, to play one last time at Old Trafford in front of our amazing fans.

"I am going to savour every moment and I hope the fans and Manchester United can also share in my special day.”

Sir Alex Ferguson gave his backing to the match, adding: “Ole is a loyal servant of Manchester United and I can not think of a more fitting tribute than the club to honour Ole in this way.

"It also gives the fans the opportunity to show their admiration and appreciation for such a well loved player. It will be a fantastic day for everyone."

“Ole is one of Manchester United’s true professionals," continued chief executive David Gill. "We look forward to hosting the first pre-season game at Old Trafford in honour of Ole’s illustrious career.”

Ticket Information will follow shortly. Please keep an eye on for more information. United will be selling the tickets on behalf of Ole’s Testimonial Committee.

Ticket sales in Norway will be managed through Travel Partner AS. Please contact for more details.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been a long term servant as a Unicef Ambassador and the Committee will employ this opportunity to promote Ole’s Unicef Project Schools of Africa.

PFA Players Awards 2008 - Ronaldo


Tevez: Evra insult prompted Bridge brawl

Manchester United players have accused Chelsea staff of provoking a brawl at Stamford Bridge by abusing defender Patrice Evra.

The aftermath of the Blues' 2-1 win on Saturday saw scuffles between United substitutes and ground staff and stewards.

United stars Evra, Paul Scholes, John O'Shea, Gerard Pique and Gary Neville were taking part in a warm-down on the pitch when they were asked to move by ground staff.

A scuffle erupted, in which fellow substitute Carlos Tevez also became embroiled.

The Argentina striker said in The Guardian: 'Patrice received a grave insult from a member of Chelsea's staff.

'He demanded an explanation and, from that moment, these men just wanted to attack Patrice.

'Obviously it's normal that we tried to defend our team-mate but within a few seconds all of the United players were surrounded by stewards.'

Chelsea are to examine CCTV footage of the incident, which the Football Association have asked to see before 'considering the appropriate course of action'.

Tevez said: 'I think that the security cameras will show the provocation we received. I have never seen anything like this in my career... if the FA opens an investigation, we will cooperate and happily give our version of what happened.'

Defender Pique added: 'Basically, this came about because of the provocation of somebody who works for Chelsea.

'Patrice wanted an explanation but these men were very aggressive. All we were doing was finishing our work-out after the game.

'Even now, I just do not understand the reaction of these people. I have seen the photos and, if the images are stored in the CCTV cameras then it will be impossible for them to say that the players were not provoked.'

Tevez added: 'We noticed a hostile atmosphere during the match. That is normal but never did I believe these incidents would happen afterwards without any spectators in the ground.'

Since confirming they would look into the incident, Chelsea have not commented on the matter but one of the men allegedly involved in the fracas, groundsman Sam Bethell, played it down.

'It was handbags really,' he said in The Sun. 'It was not as bad as it appeared.

'I've been told not to say anything about what actually happened.'

Saturday's referee, Alan Wiley, has confirmed he only became aware of the trouble when he watched highlights of the game later that evening.

He said in the Daily Mail: 'With me being in the changing room, I didn't know anything about what might have happened after the match until I saw `Match of the Day'.

'The security people said they had nothing to report to me. The players from both teams worked really well with me.'

Wiley came under fire from United boss Sir Alex Ferguson for awarding Chelsea the late penalty which won them the game.

Ferguson branded the decision to penalise Michael Carrick for handball 'diabolical'.

But Wiley said: 'If there is a penalty shout, the team on the receiving end will be disappointed.

'But if they sit down and look at it, they'll accept that it was a penalty.'

Fletcher upbeat over title

Darren Fletcher looked at the positives after United's defeat at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea drew level at the top after their 2-1 win, but a vastly superior goal difference means the Reds will be champions with victories over West Ham and Wigan.

The midfielder told MUTV: “It was a disappointing result and it puts a bit of pressure on us.

"But the positive we must take is that it’s still in our hands, and if we concentrate and win our last two games, we will win the league.”

Fletcher’s appearance at Stamford Bridge was his first since picking up a knee injury on international duty with Scotland in March.

"In the last couple of minutes I was blowing a little bit, but that’s natural when you’ve not played for a month. My knee's still a bit painful but at a bearable level so I can play.”

Fletcher is looking forward to Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Barcelona and is confident that an electric atmosphere will help the Reds reach the final in Moscow.

“We’re coming back to Old Trafford knowing we have to win to qualify,” he said.

“It’s going to be a great night and the fans will get behind us. If you can’t get lifted for a Champions League semi-final in front of your own fans, what can you get lifted for?”

Deco: Reds fear away goal

Deco feels United will be fearful of Barcelona's attacking capabilities in Tuesday's Champions League semi-final settler at Old Trafford.

A goalless draw in last week's first leg in the Nou Camp means United's aim is simple - win in Manchester. Conversely, Barca know a scoring draw will be enough to take them to Moscow next month.

While the Catalans' form has been far from inspirational, their unquestioned attacking thrust will have nerves jangling in Sir Alex Ferguson's side, according to Barca's Portuguese playmaker.

"The fear is with them now," Deco is quoted as saying in the News of the World. "They know if they concede at home they will have to score twice to win the semi-final. I'm optimistic."

United are widely tipped to adopt a more offensive strategy than in last week's first leg, and Deco is confident that Barca star Lionel Messi will revel in the extra space he will subsequently be afforded.

"In the first leg Messi had a lot of players on top of him when he received the ball, but he still caused problems," said Deco. "Now they have to attack us more and they will not be able to concentrate so much on covering Messi.

"When I saw that Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo were all starting on Wednesday, I thought they would pressure us high up the pitch. But they defended quite deep and can't do that at home."

Doubts remain over Reds duo

Sir Alex Ferguson will wait until the final moment before deciding whether his injured warriors Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic can face Barcelona.

Both players were substituted during Saturday's defeat at Chelsea and there is concern that Tuesday night will come too soon for the pair as they recover from facial (Vidic) and hip problems (Rooney).

"Obviously for such an important game, we’ve got to give them every chance," said Sir Alex, at Monday's pre-match press conference.

"Nemanja didn’t train yesterday or today, neither did Wayne. It’s a difficult one. We think both could make it but I can’t be dead certain.”

What does seem certain is that Cristiano Ronaldo will return to the starting line-up, fresh from being a sub on Saturday and being crowned PFA Player of the Year on Sunday.

Patrice Evra could also come back in, despite being one booking away from missing the final. Mikael Silvestre performed impressively in Evra's absence at left-back but has only just returned to the fold after a lengthy spell out with injury.

Ronaldo retains PFA award

Cristiano Ronaldo received a timely tonic on Sunday evening when he was confirmed as PFA Player of the Year for the second successive season.

After a week in which he missed a penalty in Barcelona and suffered defeat at Chelsea, the award reminds us how rare these occasional lows are in Cristiano's high-flying career.

Ronaldo's fellow professionals voted him the top performer in English football, ahead of Liverpool duo Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, Arsenal pair Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor and Portsmouth goalkeeper David James. All six were shortlisted for the award but few people gave the other five a prayer of pipping the Portuguese ace.

Cristiano was again nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year - which he also won in 2007 - but this time the gong went to Fabregas of Arsenal. The awards were presented at London's Grosvenor House Hotel but Ronaldo did not attend, given the Champions League semi-final second leg against Barcelona is just two days away.

In a pre-recorded acceptance speech, Ronaldo said:

"I feel very happy. When you work all season to do something for the team, and then at the end the PFA give you this award, it is a great moment.

"It is an honour, a pleasure and a great motivation to carry on, to work more and get better.

"This is a good moment for me but it is not just my award, my team-mates have helped me a lot this season. They give me good passes to score goals - and I score.''

Cristiano's remarkable tally of 38 goals so far this season include his first hat-trick for United - against Newcastle in January - and a run of eight strikes in seven consecutive games from 15 March to 13 April. The winger has also set up numerous goals for his team-mates as the Reds close in on a possible Premier League and Champions League double.

Ronaldo is only the second player to win the PFA award in two successive years since its inception in 1974. Ironically, he'll come face to face with the first man to do it on Tuesday when Thierry Henry (2003, 2004, then of Arsenal) lines up for Barcelona.

Cristiano wasn't the only Red to be heralded at the PFA awards - Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were also named in the Premier League Team of the Year:

David James (Portsmouth); Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Ferdinand, Vidic, Gael Clichy (Arsenal); Ronaldo, Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal), Ashley Young (Aston Villa); Emmanuel Adebayor (Arsenal), Fernando Torres (Liverpool).

Fanzone Poll: If you could sign one player for United from the PFA Team of the Year, who would it be? Cast your vote at