Custom Search

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fletch eyes winning run

Darren Fletcher says the Reds are fully focused on getting back to winning ways in the league, starting against Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.

An encouraging draw at Stamford Bridge last weekend was followed by an impressive display against Middlesbrough in the Carling Cup in midweek culminating in a fully deserved 3-1 victory.

The Scottish midfielder is hoping the Reds can carry their improved form into Saturday's clash with the Trotters which will be United's first league game on home turf for nearly six weeks.

"It seems weird to be playing a game at home and at 3 o'clock!" he joked. "We've had a really difficult start to the season in terms of some tough away games, so it'll be good to get back to playing at home.

"We need to get back to winning ways and get some points on the board. Hopefully it's just a case of things falling into the place as they did at the start of last season.

"Even though we haven't been able to take all our chances, the important thing is we've been creating them. We'd be more worried if we weren't getting in the positions and creating opportunities. I'm sure the goals will eventually come because we've got top quality players."

A solitary victory over Portsmouth from their opening four league matches has left the Reds hovering around mid-table, seven points adrift of leaders Arsenal. Sir Alex's men do, however, have a game in hand against Fulham.

"The fact that we're one game behind means the points gap appears to be bigger than it could turn out to be," reasoned Fletcher.

"We're a few points behind at the moment, so it's important that we go on a winning run of five, six, seven games and maybe even more - the team is certainly capable of that.

"It's something we know we have to do and hopefully a win against Bolton will kick-start the run."

Ferguson finds new role for Giggs

Ryan Giggs will be used as a deep-lying striker or a central midfielder this season as Sir Alex Ferguson tries to best utilise the Welshman’s energies.

The sight of United’s no.11 tearing up and down the flanks at Old Trafford will, but for very few occasions, now be confined to memory.

The 34-year-old played in a more central role in the Reds' 3-1 win over Middlesbrough on Tuesday, and fans can get used to seeing Giggs perform there much more frequently this term.

“He’s been fantastic this season, absolutely brilliant,” beams Sir Alex. “But what we have to do is manage him. He is looking absolutely brilliant now, but we also want to have him nice and fresh at the end of the season. He can decide games for you, that’s the great quality he has.

“I see his role as a central player, where we played him the other night,” the boss adds. “The days of trampling up and down that touchline for Ryan, at 34 years of age, are gone. He can maybe do it occasionally, but I think that is beyond him now.”

Managing the players within his ample squad is arguably the toughest task facing Sir Alex this season. The sheer volume of talent at his fingertips makes the selection process potentially more testing than it has ever been before. But Sir Alex insists he is content to disappoint players every now and again for the sake of the team, and also the players themselves.

“When you have got a squad of players and everyone is fit, you have a problem,” he said. “You have a problem picking the substitutions, never mind the first eleven. It’s always the case that if you want to win something – and we always want to win something – you need to have a strong squad. That has paid dividends for this club. Other clubs have the same mentality now.”

The changing face of the modern game doesn’t soften the blow on a Saturday when Sir Alex informs a clutch of internationals that they have not made his 18-man matchday squad.

“The players understand it, but that doesn’t mean to say they accept it,” he says. “Some players realise the mechanics of the situation. But when it’s your turn to sit out, you don’t like it.

“That’s OK with me, I don’t mind that. It tells me that they all want to play. I’d rather that than some player saying, ‘It’s a tough game, I don’t fancy it today’. We don’t have players like that, and you never want players that are quite happy sitting on the bench.”

Fergie planning for the future with Evans

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson has assured Jonny Evans he has a big future as a Manchester United centre-half.

The Northern Ireland international excelled against Villarreal and Chelsea last week but is likely to find himself out of the side as United look to record their first home win of the campaign against Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.

With Nemanja Vidic back from suspension, Ferguson is expected to restore the Serbian's partnership with Rio Ferdinand, leaving Evans out in the cold once more.

But the Red Devils chief has assured Evans he has no need to worry.

After turning down a sizeable summer bid from Sunderland, Ferguson has no intention of losing the 20-year-old.

"Jonny will be a future centre-half for Manchester United, there is no doubt about that," Ferguson told Inside United.

"That is a vindication of our belief in the boy. It should also prove he can believe what we're saying to him.

"We had a lot of offers from clubs who wanted to buy him in the summer - three or four clubs were interested - but we stuck to our guns because we believe in him. He will play a lot of football at this club."

Evans had expected to be involved in the Carling Cup encounter with Middlesbrough on Tuesday, although at least United's victory ensures the Belfast-born youngster will have another match to play as United look to progress into the quarter-finals and beyond.

With so many important matches to play, Ferguson has little room to make changes for the sake of it, even though Evans, by subduing Didier Drogba at Stamford Bridge, proved he could take care of Kevin Davies if required on Saturday as well.

Realistically Evans knows he will be on the bench at best as the Old Trafford club start the long climb back to the Premier League summit.

But, having shown his ability at the top level in two loan spells at Sunderland, Evans is aware patience will prove to be a virtue at United.

"I do not know how much I am going to play," he said. "I might have to wait on injuries or play in cup games.

"With Gerard Pique moving on you think there is an opening but then Gary Neville is coming back from injury.

"We just have so many good players who can fit into different positions.

"But even if I am not playing, I will be looking to improve and gain experience. I have felt a bigger part of things this year.

"The manager has told me to be patient and I will get a chance."

Sir Alex: Step it up

Sir Alex Ferguson expects United’s form to really pick up – starting with the target of three points against Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.

United’s performances have steadily improved since the start of the season – or more crucially since the desperately disappointing 2-1 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield.

However, promising draws against Villarreal and Chelsea were followed up by a 3-1 victory over Middlesbrough in the Carling Cup. The recent performances have certainly buoyed the Reds boss.

“The form of the team has started to come good,” he said on Friday. “We expected that. I said last week that, by October, I think we will be back to normal.

"There have been a lot of encouraging signs in the last two games. Some of the football on Tuesday was excellent, as was the performance in the first half against Chelsea.

“In the second half the players who needed a game showed that. Gary Neville, Owen Hargreaves, Ji-sung Park and Dimitar Berbatov showed that they really only had one game behind them going into such an important match. But it was a satisfactory performance at Stamford Bridge.”

Fitness – or, more importantly, match-fitness – is he key to even the slightest changes in United’s form. “The form comes naturally as you gain sharpness and fitness,” added Sir Alex. “Match fitness is really important. You can train as much as you like, but playing in matches gives you edge, timing and better breathing.”

In midweek there were goals, too. Sir Alex will be keen for that to translate to the league, where the Reds have found the net just three times in four games – although that figure is certainly skewed by the fact that two of those matches involved away ties against top teams.

“The win on Tuesday sends us on our way in that respect,” the United boss opined. “It’s been a tough start. We had three away games in a row in the league. Comparing it to last season, we actually have more points after four games (five, compared to four last season).

"We drew with Portsmouth last season but won this time. We won at Liverpool last year, but lost this time, and we got beat by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge but got a draw this time. It’s balanced itself out.

“Our start has not been emphatic, but it’s not decisive. I think we can expect better now, and I would hope for three points against Bolton.”

Edwin fit to face Bolton

Veteran goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar will be available to face Bolton Wanderers this weekend, according to Sir Alex Ferguson, who will use young shot-stopper Ben Amos as cover.

The Dutchman injured his knee against Chelsea last weekend, and deputies Ben Foster and Tomasz Kuszczak are both currently injured, prompting suggestions that Reserves goalkeeper Ben Amos would make his Premier League debut on Saturday.

However, Sir Alex confirmed Edwin's recovery at his pre-match press conference. “Everyone is OK from last Sunday’s games against Chelsea and Tuesday’s match against Middlesbrough,” the Reds boss said at his pre-match press conference. “Apart from Rodrigo Possebon, of course."

It is astonishing that the 19-year-old Brazilian midfielder escaped Emanuel Pogatetz's tackle without a broken leg or even ligament damage to his knee.

“We’re delighted that Rodrigo’s injury is not more serious," added the boss. "There wasn’t even ligament damage. It’s amazing, really. At the time I feared the worst. You saw the reaction from Nani when it happened, he turned away in horror. It was the same reaction when Eduardo got injured, or even David Busst for Coventry.

“We had to keep Rodrigo in hospital overnight because of the risk of infection in the wound. It cut him to the bone. He’ll have to go back in to get it closed up. But we’re quite happy with it.”

The manager will use Amos on the bench as cover for van der Sar on Saturday as a groin injury has sidelined Tomasz Kuszczak until next weekend’s trip to Blackburn, while Michael Carrick will return to training after October's international break.

“I won’t risk Tomasz before the Blackburn game. But young Ben Amos came in and did well [against Middlesbrough], he looked comfortable and had the right temperament. So we’re OK in that position. Michael [Carrick] is nowhere near football training yet. I think by the end of the international break he should be back training with us."

Giggs could quit to become a manager

Ryan Giggs claims he may retire at the end of this season and become Sir Alex Ferguson's next managerial protege. The Welshman is in the final year of his deal at Manchester United and does not want to stay if he will only be a bit-part player. Giggs is not prepared to move to another club to prolong his playing career and has decided to quit when he loses his first-team place. "I'm relaxed about my future," said the 34-year-old. "I've this year left on my contract. I'm feeling good at the moment and as long as I feel healthy, I'm getting picked and I still enjoy it, then I'll carry on. If any of those things change, I'll have to consider when I retire and it will be sooner rather than later. Coaching would then be an option and it is a natural progression for a lot of footballers."
David Anderson, Daily Mirror