Between the Lines

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Archive for the ‘Previews’ Category

Arsenal begin to look a formidable obstacle

Posted by hakanrylander on February 21, 2011

Last week’s CL encounter between Arsenal and Barcelona was an absolute delight to watch for any neutral observer. It also confirmed that Arsenal in the last few months have developed into a more formidable obstacle to our domestic (and maybe even international) ambitions. There are three main reasons for this:

-Robin Van Persie is back to full form and fitness. That’s a big difference from last season.

-The squad is probably stronger than ever in depth, with players like Diaby, Rosicky, Arshavin and Chamakh not able to get into the first XI.

-And, most importantly, they seem to have acquired a steely quality that has often been missing. They kept going against Barcelona despite being played off the park in the first half, and came back to turn the game around.

We will face Arsenal in the FA-cup (if they overcome Leyton Orient) on Saturday 12 March and in the PL on Saturday 30 April. Two games that might define our season, and to really look forward to.

For in-depth analysis of Arsenal tactics and formations, look no further than Arsenal Column.

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Time to Administer the Last Rites

Posted by hakanrylander on October 24, 2009

After losing to Lyon in mid-week, Liverpool’s CL campaign is hanging by a thread and defeat against United at Anfield tomorrow would leave their hopes of a PL title dead and buried. It seems a timely moment for United to adminster the last rites to their rivals.

This could, however, prove tricky. Tomorrow’s game is much more crucial to Liverpool than to United, and more often than not the more motivated side tend to get the upper hand. My prediction is that Liverpool will dominate the first half after which a customary hairdryer will reinstate United to the driving seat.

It’s possible that injuries will play a major part in deciding the game. Torres, Gerrard, Rooney and Fletcher are all doubtful. These four player’s have arguably been the most influential for their respective clubs this season, and game plans will be affected quite significantly if some or all of them are absent. My guess is that both clubs are using smoke screens and that all four players will start tomorrow.

David Pleat makes a good point in today’s Guardian about the need for Liverpool to speed up their passing. This is easier said than done, but whatch out for the other point that Pleat is making, namely that Liverpool will use crosses from the left to the back post to try to exploit Evra’s weakness in the air.

One of Liverpool’s major failings this season has been their inability to defend set pieces. United could therefore go 4-5-1 to control the midfield and look to score mainly from free kicks and corners. The downside is that this risks leaving Rooney or Berbatov isolated up front. With Rooney and Berbatov in tandem we have a much better chance of putting Carragher under pressure, which is another obvious strategy given the number of uncharcteristic mistakes he’s making at the moment.

Finally. As penance is an important part of the last rites we can hopefully look forward to an act of contrition from Mr Benitez at the post-match press conference. Something along these lines: “Oh my God I am heartily sorry for ranting about ‘facts’, tinkering obsessively with line-ups etc etc…”.

Prediction: Liverpool 0 United 1, Owen to score in the 85th minute.

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Carling Cup: Step forward Danny and Kiko

Posted by hakanrylander on September 23, 2009

A Carling Cup tie against Wolves is unlikely to provide anything near the excitement of last Sunday. It’s not a trophy that too many fans care a lot about, but what makes it interesting is of course that it’s the main opportunity to see some up and coming stars in action.

Sir Alex might have a bit of a selection headache. He should pick some youngsters on the fringe of the first team and also some newcomers who are unlikely to start a single game in the PL this season. But he should also consider that some more established stars need games to keep sharp (Owen), find their form after an indifferent spell (Foster, Carrick, Nani, Tosic) or regain full fitness (Brown). Among these players the case for inclusion is strongest for Brown and Owen. Owen needs to play a bit more than just the last 20 minutes of big games while Brown is probably still our best right-back but need playing-time to get back to full fitness. Perhaps Tosic also deserves another chance to prove himself after being left out of the CL-squad.

Among the young fringe players Macheda, Welbeck, Fabio and Gibson virtually pick themselves, which leaves room for three more outfield players. My choice would be Corrie Evans in central defence, Magnus Eikrem in midfield and Ritchie de Laet (who improved beyond recognition towards the end of last season) at left back.

Ferguson has made some disturbing comments about Macheda and Welbeck lacking focus and forgetting “where their real place is” due to international commitments. Hopefully it’s just his way of stirring them into action tonight. Time to step forward for these two exceptionally promising youngsters.

My line-up: Kuszczak; Fabio, Brown, Corrie Evans, de Laet; Welbeck, Gibson, Eikrem, Tosic; Owen, Macheda.

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Prelude to a new golden era

Posted by hakanrylander on August 26, 2009

No, I’m not thinking of our first three games as a prelude to a golden season. In fact, I don’t think this season will be particularly successful when it comes to winning trophies. Even so I look forward to the next nine months with great expectations. Which might seem a bit peculiar considering that we’ve sold the best player in the world and lost another world class attacker to City, and failed to sign replacements of similar stature.

The reason for my optimism is that I believe that we will see a rapid positive development of several players, which might in a year or two create an even better team than we’ve had for the last couple of seasons.

Firstly, we have a group of hugely talented youngsters of a quality that might even be about to rival the peerless fledglings from the early 90’s; Giggs, Butt, Beckham, Gary, Phil and Scholes (below).

Rafael and Fabio da Silva have taken to the PL like ducks to water. I’ve been amazed by how unfazed they’ve seemed when playing for the first team at only 17. This indicates mental strength to add to their obvious football skills. Only the excellence of Patrice Evra can stop them from both being first-choices before long.

Sir Alex has predicted that Danny Welbeck will travel to South Africa with England next summer. I find this rather unrealistic, but the last time I remember thinking that Ferguson praised a youngster a bit too much he was talking about – Paul Scholes.

Federico Macheda needed only 20 minutes or so against Villa to make it onto most people’s short-lists for both Goal of the Season and Player of the Season. Nick at the excellent manunitedyouth describes Macheda as a mix of Van Nistelrooy and Berbatov. Sounds good enough to me.

I admit that i didn’t think that Darron Gibson would ever make it to the first team, but he keeps on improving and will do so again this season.

Apart from the youngsters I believe we’ll see continued development from some of the more established players. The obvious example from last season is Darren Fletcher. Rarely has a player’s reputation been so enhanced by not playing a game as when Fletcher was suspended for the CL-final against Barcelona. A year ago very few would have predicted that Fergie’s main selection problem in midfield would now be who to pick alongside Fletcher. I think we will see him move on to yet another level this season.

I hesitate to include Nani in this group. Perhaps I’d better not. I’ll get back to him in a seperate post.

Finally, to achieve greatness we need a catalyst, much like Eric Cantona was in the 90’s. Regular visitors to Between the Lines will be well aware that in my opinion “le prochain Cantona” is already present at the club. It’s just a question of Dimitar Berbatov fulfilling this potential, as I think he will begin to do this season. I re-use my favourite quote: “All strikers must be soloists when appropriate – but rare ones, like Berbatov and Cantona, can also conduct the orchestra.”

Those were the days

Those were the days

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Preview: United-Barcelona

Posted by hakanrylander on May 27, 2009

A very important, perhaps crucial, factor in tonight’s game is the fact that Barcelona are missing three of their first-choice defenders (Alves and Abidal are suspended and Marquez injured). Not only does it weaken Barcelona, but it might also influence the tactics of both teams. It will be interesting to see whether the percieved weakness at the back will cause Barcelona to be a little less adventurous going forward.

United have two alternative battle-plans. Plan A (“Nou Camp”) is to sit back, contain Xavi and Iniesta, leave as little room as possible for Messi, Henry and Eto’o and punish Barcelona on the break. This will be a little easier to achieve than it normally would because Barca will lack the attacking thrust that the fullbacks, Alves in particular, usually provides.

Plan B (“Old Trafford”) is to be all over Barcelona from the off, pressing the back-four and forcing Barcelona to defend. I hope Ferguson goes for Plan B and then reverts to Plan A after 20 minutes when we’re 2-0 up. 🙂

Whatever tactics we choose our main avenues of attack will be Ronaldo down the middle and Rooney and Evra on the left. This might just leave the occasional opening at the other end of the penalty area. My gut feeling is that tonight’s hero will be Park Ji-Sung.

2-0 United.

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Beauty or the Beast?

Posted by hakanrylander on May 6, 2009

Tonight Chelsea and Barcelona battle for the honour of taking on United in the CL Final in Rome. I belive that United’s chances of winning the trophy will be better if Chelsea reach the final, but I still hope for a Barcelona win for two main reasons:

-United vs Barcelona could be a classic game involving two attacking sides that are widely acknowledged as the best teams in the world.

-If, Eric forbid, we should loose the final I would find it easier to stomach that Barcelona rather than Chelsea beat us, because of their entertaining football.

It’s a difficult game to call. Chelsea were accused of negative tactics in the first leg, but I can’t see how they could have chosen any other strategy at Nou Camp. I don’t think Hiddink will play it much differently tonight. He’ll probably be quite happy to contain Barcelona and hope that a single goal will be enough, and Drogba may well provide it against Barcelona’s makeshift central defence with both Marquez and Puyol sidelined.

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The game is on again

Posted by hakanrylander on March 19, 2009

The draw for the quarter-finals of the Champions League takes place tomorrow. Most United-fans will hope that we’re drawn against either Porto or Villareal who appear to be the weakest sides, even though the prospect of another couple of scoreless draws against Villareal isn’t too exciting. This is how I rank our seven potential opponents, starting with the one I would most prefer to meet in the quarter-final:

  1. Porto
  2. Villareal
  3. Arsenal
  4. Bayern
  5. Chelsea
  6. Liverpool
  7. Barcelona

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United – Inter: What’s past is prologue

Posted by hakanrylander on March 9, 2009

Over the last few months United have put themselves in a great position. The World Club Championship and the Carling Cup are in the bag,  Chelsea and Liverpool are seven points and a game in hand adrift in the PL and Everton await in the semi-final of the FA-cup.  The quintuple is within sight, if not reach. And still I’m nervous!

For all the success so far it feels as though Wednesday’s game against Inter could somehow make or break the season. It would be a bitter disappointment to get knocked out of the CL at this stage. But in a one-off game anything could happen, and what’s already occured this season merely sets the scene for the really important stuff. What’s past is prologue.

I have to admit that I don’t particularly fancy facing Mourinho and Ibrahimovic at this stage. Ibrahimovic was less than impressive in the first leg, but certainly has the quality to make that all-important away-goal out of nothing. And no other manager has anything near Mourinho’s record against Sir Alex.

The team and substitutions against Fulham at the weekend, when Giggs, Ronaldo and Berbatov were rested, gave some strong indications as to the starting line-up against Inter. Provided that Rio is fit my choice would be: Van der Sar; O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Ronaldo, Carrick, Giggs, Park; Rooney, Berbatov.

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Preview: Carling Cup Final

Posted by hakanrylander on February 28, 2009

Alex Ferguson is expected to keep faith in the players that got us into this final. But as both Evans and O’Shea played with minor injuries in Milan I don’t think they will feature at Wembley. This means that Ferdinand and Vidic should provide a strong foundation. In midfield and attack some of the regulars of the CC campaign (but not in the PL first XI) will start, such as Gibson, Welbeck, Tevez and Nani. Ferguson is likely to stock his bench with stars, meaning that Ronaldo as well as Spurs oldboys Carrick and Berbatov could be sent on to turn the game around in the last half-hour if necessary.

Spurs is an enigma this season. Individually their players are a lot better than their position in the table suggests. When playing for their national teams both Modric and Pavlychenko have proved that they are among the top players in Europe, and Palacios (ineligible tomorrow) is one of the best midfielders in the PL. In a one-off game at Wembley they could prove very difficult opponents.

My line-up: Foster; Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Fabio; Welbeck, Gibson, Scholes, Nani; Rooney, Tevez.  Subs: Kuszczak, Evra, Evans, Carrick, Possebon, Ronaldo, Berbatov

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It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle

Posted by hakanrylander on February 18, 2009

…than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Even so, The Times today publishes 25 simple steps for United to reach heaven. Which in this context is to win five titles: the World Club Championship, the Carling Cup, the FA-cup, the Premier League and the Champions League. I still consider this to be just about impossible, but presented in this way it can look a deceptively simple task.

The WCC is already in the bag and both the Carling Cup and the PL look within reach. But United are still a very long way away from repeating last year’s CL triumph, with Inter Milan as the first, very difficult, obstacle. It’s a nice dream, though.

The first step on the ladder is tonight against Fulham, who have not yet won away from home in the league this season. Several United stars are expeted to return after being rested against Derby, such as Van der Sar, Vidic, Carrick, Scholes, Berbatov and Tevez. Rooney might be on the bench.

Please also note that the Bible doesn’t specifically mention rich football clubs.

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