Tom Cleverley a key man for Manchester United this season

All the transfer talk at Old Trafford this summer has been about Manchester United’s search for a new central midfielder, and rightly so. The Premier League champions are in dire need of a new energetic midfielder to get from box-to-box, score goals and link up play between the midfield and forwards.

Although the likes of Cesc Fabregas or Thiago Alcantara would have been excellent additions to the Red Devils’ starting line-up, Tom Cleverley has had a strong start to the new campaign. Against Chelsea the England international looked tenacious and kept the ball well.

Tom Cleverley

The former Wigan loanee has failed to consistently live up to his expectations in his career to date, but with United struggling to sign any new faces it could be his chance to shine alongside Michael Carrick.

United fans, and David Moyes to boot, obviously would like a new creative midfielder. But if it doesn’t happen it will give Cleverley a chance to progress this term.

Have Manchester United found their next Paul Scholes?

Much has been made of the lack of creativity in the centre of midfield for Manchester United since the ageing and initial retirement of Paul Scholes. An attempt to sign Wesley Sneijder was thought to have been made last summer, while countless deep-lying playmakers have been linked with a switch to Old Trafford since. However, could Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Gotze be the answer

The Germany international playmaker has been on the radar of top European clubs for a number of seasons now, but it appears that the wonderkid will be a major target for many this summer. Despite being tied down to a long-term contract to the Bundesliga champions currently, Gotze has recently admitted that a switch to a top European club, such as United, would be hard to resist.

“Clubs such as Real Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester United are attractive, other top leagues would dominate you and you could develop.”

United are by no means desperate for a central midfield maestro, given the passing ability of Michael Carrick and the clever footwork and industry of Tom Cleverley. That said, with Anderson ineffectual and seemingly on his way out of the club and continued doubts over Darren Fletcher’s fitness, Sir Alex Ferguson would be well advised to invest in someone to give the side a shot in the arm from the centre of the park.

Mario Gotze

Someone like Gotze would obviously provide that spark. At 20 years old the Memmingen-born player has the world at his feet, and is set to be an immense talent over the next decade, or longer. With 20 international caps in a top Germany team already under his belt it would be no surprise to see him make 100 appearances for his homeland before he finally hangs up his boots.

The fee to persuade Dortmund to sell would be considerable, plus the player has made no great shakes about leaving Signal Iduna Park. However, as good a side as Dortmund are, it is only natural that Gotze will want to play for one of Europe’s top historical sides if he progresses at his current rate, and the opportunity to move to Old Trafford would certainly appeal to him.

Real Madrid vs Manchester United: The game where anything can happen

According to Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho, this is ‘the match the world is waiting for’.  When you consider the talent on display, the numerous subplots and their history, it is hard to disagree. In short, when Manchester United face Real Madrid, anything can happen.

Just look at the sides’ eight previous meetings in Europe’s premier competition; 31 goals have been scored between them, 11 of which came in the epic quarter-final of 2003. Many are predicting a similar total this time round, but the tie could just as easily be a tense affair where goals are at a premium.

Much depends on how United cope with their former player Cristiano Ronaldo.  If they manage to shackle him, they will nullify Madrid’s most potent threat. But if they don’t, they may be torn apart by the Spanish side’s incisive counter-attack. Sir Alex Ferguson will hope his instructions are carried out to perfection, whilst being blessed with a little luck on the side.

Sir Alex Ferguson and José Mourinho

Phil Jones has found fitness and form at precisely the right time and he, along with Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley, will bring the regimented energy the Red Devils need to keep the likes of Angel Di Maria, Mesut Ozil and Ronaldo at bay.

In defence, Rafael will hope his man-of-the-match performance against Everton can be replicated in a competition where his rashness has proved most costly. While the rarely-spotted partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic will have to be at their very best.

At the other end, the likely attacking trio of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa will have chances they must take. It is games like this that Kagawa was bought for, and that van Persie has the ability to win with one movement.

Aside from Ronaldo, Madrid’s strike-force is out of form of late, but both Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema possess such natural ability that they can punish the smallest misjudgement. Meanwhile, even Kaka was hailed by Spanish newspaper Marca as being back to his best after a rare start in Saturday’s 4-1 win against Sevilla.

First legs of knockout competitions are too-often cagey affairs.  And don’t bet against the pressure on Madrid to perform – from a home crowd desperate for success in a season that is fast becoming a write-off – to have a bearing on the game. Already 16 points behind Barcelona in La Liga, and with a fight to stay in the Copa del Rey, the Champions League may be Mourinho’s only chance of a trophy this season; a trophy that would go down in history as the fabled Décima – their tenth European title.

Too often, pre-game hype is unjustified; but not this time. It may be the second leg that ultimately proves to be the one the world is waiting for, because it is then that a winner will be decided.  But this week’s match will be both clubs’ biggest challenge so far this season – for United to raise their game in a year when they have hardly needed to, and for Madrid to prevent theirs from ending three months too soon.

Manchester United don’t need a new playmaker – this is Tom Cleverley’s year

Manchester United have been active in the transfer market this summer, but despite bolstering the squad with a number of top attacking players, a new central midfield playmaker has not been purchased. With Paul Scholes ageing and surely in his last year in the game, a new creative talent in the engine room has reportedly been on Sir Alex Ferguson’s wishlist for quite some time. However, with Tom Cleverley fit and playing well, United may well have Scholes’ replacement in their ranks already.

After impressing on loan at Wigan in 2010-11, Cleverley returned to Old Trafford the following summer, and came out of the blocks at the start of last term, surprisingly starting the vast majority of games for the Red Devils early on. International recognition was set to follow after a good first month of the campaign for the box-to-box man, but injuries meant that the remainder of 2011-12 was a cause of frustration for the Basingstoke-born man.

However, it now appears that Cleverley has shaken off the niggles that blighted his chances last term, and is set to play a key role for United this term. The 23-year-old has started all three of United’s Premier League fixtures this season, and looks to have cemented his place in the team straight away with industrious performances.

Scholes came off the bench against Southampton to inspire the side to victory, but it feels that now is the time that Cleverley is ready to step into the club legend’s sizeable shoes. If he can stay injury-free and maintain the promise that he has shown to date this season, Cleverley may prove himself as an important fixture for both club and country in 2012-13.

Team GB: What are their chances at the Olympics?

With the current campaign over, all eyes are turning to the summer’s international tournaments to fill the off-season void. Euro 2012 comes first in June, before the exciting prospect of Team GB competing for gold at the Olympics. With some of the traditionally bigger nations not present at the competition in London, the home representation will be one of the favourites to claim gold medals, but who will be playing and can they go all the way?

Firstly it should be stated that Team GB manager Stuart Pearce has been in contact with potential players about their interest in competing at the games, with a shortlist of a whopping 80 players being compiled. The squad must be completely 23 years old or under, with leeway for three overage players. Team GB will be comprised of athletes from England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, and any player who represents England at Euro 2012 will not be considered.

With such a wide span of players to pick from, predicting the Team GB squad is difficult, but there are a number of players who have been mentioned and are seemingly eager to compete. David Beckham has been a high-profile name mentioned as a possible captain, however Pearce recently admitted that the LA Galaxy midfielder’s inclusion will be decided on form and fitness. Welsh midfielders Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey have both been raised as possible candidates for inclusion, and the north London duo would add much-needed quality to the side. From Northern Ireland, Manchester United defender Jonny Evans had been touted to be included but this has been ruled out by the Red Devils, whilst the likes of Barry Bannan and Grant Hanley are potential Scottish inclusions.

The majority of the squad will be comprised of English players, with youngsters on the verge of the senior squad for Euro 2012 potentially taking part. Jack Wilshere has not been ruled out by Pearce in playing, despite the Arsenal man’s long-term injury concerns. The likes of Daniel Sturridge, Kyle Walker, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tom Cleverley will wait to see if they are needed in Ukraine and Poland, and if not could feature. Finally, Jack Rodwell has been ruled out of Euro 2012 through injury, but could well play in the games as part of his rehabilitation and recovery. With Pearce as manager, former or current England under-21 players could make up a bulk of the 18-man squad.

But can they lift the gold? One of he factors working against the side will be lack of preparation time, and the fact that most of the players will never have played together. However, along with Spain and Brazil, Team GB will be one of the frontrunners for victory, as the rest of the 16 teams seem beatable on paper. Team GB have been drawn in Group A alongside Senegal, Uruguay and the United Arab Emirates, with their first game against the African nation on July 26th.

All-in-all, glory for Team GB at the Olympics would be a real milestone for the game in the United Kingdom, and an excellent collective and personal achievement for the players. With a raft of Premier League talent likely to make up the squad, there is no reason why the hosts will not celebrate glory in the final on August 11th.

Published – 2012 Olympics Blog

London 2012: Should the Olympics be higher on a footballer’s priority list?

With an exciting end to the Premier League campaign, the Champions League last four and the upcoming Euro 2012 championships in Poland and Ukraine this summer, football fans can be forgiven for forgetting about the Olympic Games and football’s involvement at the London event.

Attitudes in football to the Olympics are in stark contrast to how modern sports in general perceive the Olympics; they are the moment for professional sportmen and athletes to compete and prove yourself at the highest level possible. For many sports the Olympics are a defining showcase moment, and for many sportspeople they are the ultimate test.

Football, however, is different. Club football has changed the dynamic to the extent that international football seems like an unnecessary luxury, reserved only for countries who lack a strong domestic league. You can even argue that the best football club could easily beat the best football team in the world.

For track and field athletes the Olympics, held every four years, are of a similar importance as the football World Cup or Champions League (or indeed, Premier League survival). Football however is spoilt with one important game after the next, challenges spread out throughout the season and with more opportunities to succeed. As such, the Olympics has been tagged as just another tournament and from a club football perspective, lacking any benefits in an already- packed football calendar.

There is no doubt that the sheer amount of football played by the professional footballer in the modern day is startling, with their domestic leagues, cup competitions, European football, international friendlies and competitive national fixtures all taking their toll physically and mentally. More than the quantity of football is the intensity – playing at full tilt for 90 minutes 50 times a season will take it’s toll on you (just ask David Silva).

For most other sports the Olympics, held every four years, is the pinnacle and the culmination of countless hours on the training ground and gym. Modern-day players are as professional as the game has ever seen, and therefore should want to play at the highest level possible, strive for victory and be the best that they can be. This attitude will be adopted by other sports represented at the Games, and should be treated as such by football.

The age limit on participants in Olympic football ensures that young players – whose footballing output needs to be managed far better than the case of Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere – get an early chance to appear in a major tournament and hone their skills against competitors of the same age group, if not always the same technical level.

A raft of leading Premier League players such as Jack Rodwell and Gareth Bale have been rumoured to be keen to represent Team GB this summer with clubs fuming over the possibility of losing star players in pre-season. The FA has had to assure Premier League clubs that players who take part in the Euros will not take part in the Olympics, there will undoubtedly be athletes who prioritise Euro 2012 and the upcoming 2012/13 Premier League season over involvement at the Olympics.

Despite this, Pearce has issued the rallying cry for all interested parties to come forward, and the modern day competitor should jump at the chance. Admittedly the Olympics will not carry the same following in football as Euro 2012, but the unique chance to play in the Great Britain team, at the sporting summit of the Olympics, on home soil, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The fact that the majority of competitors need to be 23 or under (there are three overage players allowed in each squad), should mean that up-and-coming superstars like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Tom Cleverley, Phil Jones and Daniel Sturridge to name but a few should be clambering over themselves to be involved at the Olympics. With some of the higher-profile and older players not eligible or interested, a young prospect could shoot themselves to super-stardom with strong performances, and join a very small group of players to have an Olympic medal in their trophy cabinet.

The likes of Lionel Messi have competed in the Olympic Games before (against the wishes of his parent club), and won the gold. If you ask Messi, despite is embarrassment of titles he will still remember the Olympic gold and what it means to him. Most of the players likely to head to London 2012 under Stuart Pearce can only dream of getting close to Messi’s trophy count – and if the world’s best footballer wants to win everything on offer, if a football tournament at home presents your country’s best chance of international success in football for ages – then it’s only right that players and management (FA) make it a high priority.

Football fans in England tend to say that the Olympics don’t matter. They do to the people taking part, and especially to the people who give it their best shot, and win.

Published – Soccerlens

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

England vs Bulgaria: Three Points A Must For Fabio Capello’s Men

England continue their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign this week with fixtures against Bulgaria and Wales promising to give the fans a better idea of the nation’s chances of competing in Poland and Ukraine next year. With Fabio Capello’s men locked at the top of Group G on 11 points with Montenegro and an away day in Podgorica still to come, the Three Lions can ill-afford many more slip-ups.

The Italian coach has selected a number of promising youngsters in his squad for the match in Sofia, and it will be interesting to see whether the likes of Manchester United pairing Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley are trusted to start the match. Chris Smalling has impressed the former Real Madrid coach thus far this term, and should also pick up his international debut at right back. With no Rio Ferdinand to call upon, it will be a toss up between Jones, Lescott and Cahill to who partners skipper John Terry in the heart of the English rearguard.

In attack Wayne Rooney will harbour the responsibility of getting the goals to win the match, and the United striker has started the season in blistering form, with a hat-trick against Arsenal last Sunday ensuring the 25-year-old goes into the game full of confidence. Darren Bent is an injury concern so Andy Carroll may accompany the former Everton man up front.

Bulgaria were put to the sword at Wembley in the return fixture back in September 2010, with Jermain Defoe scoring three in a comfortable 4-0 win. The away match will be no walk in the park however, as the luxury and familiarity of Wembley will be traded in for the hostility of the Stadion Vasil Levski.

The home side no longer have all-time top goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov to call upon, who quit the international set-up back in May 2010, but despite this Bulgaria will have some strong players on show come Friday. Stiliyan Petrov will be a familiar face for the away midfield, and the likes of Scott Parker or Gareth Barry will need to get close to the Aston Villa midfielder, who has the ability to shoot from distance or create chances for others. Former Manchester City forward Valeri Bojinov has not been selected in the squad, but Bolton’s Martin Petrov may feature.

The match will be given an extra bite by the fact that the home coach Lothar Matthaus has been vocal in the media this week and will motivate his players to get three points on Friday. The former Germany international got the better of England in his playing days, and will look to replicate this in his managerial tenure, despite the fact that Bulgaria are almost assured of missing out on Euro 2012.

A win would go far to alleviating fears of a do or die game in Montenegro next month, a draw is not ideal but would be acceptable and a loss would put the nation’s chances of competing in the European Championships in jeopardy. Expect a hostile reception from a passionate home faithful, and Bulgaria to come out of the blocks quickly, but if England can weather an early storm they should have the players and the experience to see them home.

Published – http://www.whoateallthepies.tv/opinion/85363/england-vs-bulgaria-three-points-a-must-for-fabio-capellos-men.html

Man Utd v Barca: Who has the better youth players?

Manchester United and Barcelona have dominated European football over the last ten years, and will again meet in the Champions League final on May 28th at Wembley. Much of both clubs success must be accredited to excellent youth systems, with a number of the key players in each side working their way through the respective academy’s; but who are the next superstars in the making that will keep the English and Spanish champions at the pinnacle of European football for years to come?

Barcelona enter into the final as favourites, and have played an impressive brand of attacking and possession football in Pep Guardiola’s reign over the last three seasons that has been rarely contained and much applauded. The side is full of international superstars, with the likes of Victor Valdes, club captian Carles Puyol, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and the mercurial Lionel Messi some of the world’s best players. The common theme of these players is that they all learnt their trade at La Masia and are products of the club’s stellar youth system.

Over the last couple of years a number of other youth team products have made their way through to the first team. Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez are now mainstays in the Catalan side, but who are the next young Messi’s in the making?

Bojan Krkic became the youngest Barcelona player to feature in a La Liga match when he made his debut for the first team at just 17 back in September 2007, boasting a record of 800+ goals in seven youth team seasons. The diminutive attacker has been hampered by injuries this season however, and is being linked in the Spanish press this week with a move to Valencia. Jeffren is a flying winger who has made fleeting appearances from the bench for the first team over the last two seasons, whilst Andreu Fontas has been included in the first team squad on occasion this season, but the central defender has struggled to break into the side. The most promising of the current batch of players however is Thiago Alcantara, a clever attacking midfielder who has made 14 appearances for Guardiola’s side this season, but will look to become a more regular feature next season.

United’s stranglehold over English football in the last 15 years was been largely due to the rise of youth players into world beaters, with Scholes, Beckham, Giggs etc putting all-comers to the sword. The current side have less internally developed players in its core, but Darren Fletcher, Jonny Evans, John O’Shea and Darron Gibson have come through the ranks and are first team squad members.

Who the next big name youth product will be is yet to be seen, as the club have resorted to buying players straight into their first team, and the previously largely English or British first team is now more multicultural. Danny Welbeck, who has impressed on loan at Sunderland this season and made an appearance for England is a product of Carrington, as is Italian 19 year old Federico Macheda. However the brightest prospect for United is 21 year old midfielder Tom Cleverley, who on loan at Wigan has showed creativity, a range of passing and an excellent work rate this season; the player may very well make the Old Trafford first team next campaign.

Published – http://www.fmscout.com/q-3001-Man-Utd-v-Barca-Who-has-the-better-youth-players.html?n=last

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