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In For Eden? Hazard potentially the man to reinvigorate Manchester United’s midfield

Belgian star on United radar as Ferguson’s midfield comes under further scrutiny in wake of derby defeat

Monday night saw Manchester United lose the Premiership title initiative to big-spending noisy neighbours City and consequently opened fresh debate on the need for investment at the heart of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.

The Old Trafford supremo stuck to his guns last summer, opting not to sign a midfielder as he waited for the right player to become available. Fergie entrusted his current charges and the decision seemed to be vindicated as United clawed their way to the league summit with the evergreen Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick on good form in the early part of 2012. Due to Darren Fletcher’s continued absence, Paul Scholes even made a shock return from retirement and has boosted the champions with a series of assured performances.

The narrow derby loss however, saw the trio along with Park Ji-Sung, overrun by the power in the engine room of rivals City, with Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry particularly impressive. Even though the title race is far from over, the manner of the defeat has left Sir Alex under fresh pressure to bolster the champions’ options in the middle of the park.

Across the channel meanwhile Lille star Eden Hazard continues to impress. The Belgian, regarded as one of the hottest properties in Europe, now has 17 goals and 19 assists in Ligue 1 this term.

The Red Devils manager went to watch the 21-year-old when Lille met Lyon back in March and clearly was impressed.

“He is a very good player who has many qualities.” – Sir Alex Ferguson after travelling to France to watch Eden Hazard.

Despite his impressive statistics this season, the fact that Hazard is playing in the French league rather than the Premiership or La Liga could indicate a need to prove himself at a higher level. Ferguson is sure to have noticed though, that unlike his United side in recent weeks, the Belgian playmaker is displaying consistency. He was instrumental in keeping the Lille title challenge alive, netting a penalty away to rivals Paris Saint-Germain and also playing a key role in the winning goal with a superb rabona style cross. Hazard also notched another assist as Rudy Garcia’s men won 1-0 at Nice in their most recent fixture.

Ferguson will surely have alternative options in mind and only he knows for sure who his top targets will be, as United continue to be linked with creative players around Europe. One certainty though, is that if the Scot does identify Hazard as his priority he will pursue the transfer with shrewd efficiency. He has an impressive record of getting his man and can be expected to act early in the window, as he did last year.

There will of course be competition for the Belgian’s signature, should Lille be willing to let him go. Due to Arsene Wenger’s preference for young slick players from Ligue 1, Hazard has continually been linked with a switch to the Emirates. Harry Redknapp is known to be another fan of the player. Competition could also come from within France in the form of big-spending PSG, Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, and possibly Manchester City and Chelsea too.

Hazard is rumoured to have indicated a desire to move to the Premier League and after being watched by Ferguson in March is quoted as being ‘flattered by the compliment coming from the top manager in world football.’ If United opt to move for the Lille man, Sir Alex will need the full financial backing of United’s American owners – it is believed the French club have a minimum release fee clause in the 21-year-old’s contract of €40 million.

By Francis Johnston

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Tottenham and Manchester United have it all to play for at White Hart Lane

Second host third in the Premier League on Sunday, as Tottenham welcome Manchester United to White Hart Lane. With the business end of the season upon us, both clubs need points to wrap up a successful campaign, and a defeat would leave each respective team facing a considerable setback. Spurs have seen their lead over the chasing pack reduced in the race for a top four place, whilst United need to keep pace with cross-town rivals and current division leaders Manchester City.

Tottenham’s excellent form this season hit a massive speed bump last weekend, as a 5-2 north London derby defeat to arch enemies Arsenal brought the side back down to earth. Harry Redknapp’s team missed the chance to all-but-guarantee Champions League qualification, as if they had beaten Arsenal a lead of 13 points between the rivals would have been opened. However, the loss means that the gap between Spurs and both the Gunners and Chelsea is down to seven points, and the White Hart Lane men’s confidence may have been shook.

Spurs’ showing at the Emirates Stadium was disappointing to say the least, as the side in white threw away a two-goal lead and looked a shadow of the team that has enthralled and captivated fans this term. Tottenham’s defence last Sunday was questionable at best, and will need to improve if they are to avoid consecutive defeats. Ledley King was not his usual assured self last weekend, and Redknapp will need to organise his troops to withstand the advances of the champions in this outing.

Redknapp admitted that his team selection was flawed in the derby, and Rafael van der Vaart needs to start this game, either as a second striker or on the right side of midfield. In attack Emmanuel Adebayor was isolated for large portions of the game at the Emirates, and to stand more of a chance this time round the likes of Gareth Bale and Van der Vaart must get closer to the Togolese marksman.

United are notorious for kicking into top gear at this time of the season, but as yet Sir Alex Ferguson’s team have not shown the performances we are accustomed to. A two-point gap at the top means the title race may well go down to the wire, but the game between the Manchester sides at the Etihad Stadium at the end of April could be the decider.

Ryan Giggs scored an injury-time winner against Norwich at Carrow Road last Sunday to mark his 900th appearance for the Red Devils, but it was widely acknowledged that the champions were lucky to escape with all three points against the newcomers. Wayne Rooney did not play against the Canaries and similarly missed England’s international friendly with Netherlands on Wednesday; United just do not look the same attacking force without his invention and energy, and the visitors’ potency going forward at the weekend will depend on the striker’s late fitness test.

The battle in the centre of the park will play a key part in deciding the eventual victor also, with both clubs having midfielders unavailable. Spurs will be without Scott Parker for the match-up, after the newly-appointed England captain was sent off to compound Tottenham’s misery against Arsenal, which will put an added weight of expectation on Sandro to fill the role of shield in front of the back four. Veterans Giggs and Paul Scholes continue to play a pivotal role for the Old Trafford side despite their age, and will look to use all their experience to steer their side home in the absence of Tom Cleverley, Anderson and Darren Fletcher.

This should be an exciting spectacle for the neutral, but both sets of fans will know the importance of the game. United have had the better of the London club in recent meetings, so this fixture will be a real tester to see just how far Harry Redknapp’s men have come.

Published – Soccerlens

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