Boost for the Blues

EVERTON have been given a double boost with the news that exciting youngsters Gerard Deulofeu and Seamus Coleman are in line for a return to action at Tottenham today this  lunchtime. With striker Romelu Lukaku still sidelined by the ankle injury he received in the Merseyside derby, manager Roberto Martinez needs the extra attacking options that both Deulofeu and Coleman will add.

Deulofeu, on loan from Barcelona, is a small lad who is blessed with electric pace and the wonderful ability, and desire, to run at opponents. His direct style caused Liverpool all sorts of problems when he came off the bench in the thrilling 3-3 draw at Goodison Park in October, the first time I saw him. The kid frightened Liverpool that day and he went on to do the same to several other teams before injuring a hamstring in the 4-1 win against Fulham. That was 10 games ago, games in which Deulofeu’s pace and directness would have been a big help to the Blues. The additional positive news about Deulofeu is that there are hints that his loan period might be extended into next season. I hope that’s the case, for this lad has all the attributes to make him a darling of the Goodison fans.

Irishman Coleman has already earned a place in the hearts of the Goodison faithful. He has also been sorely missed while out of action, again with hamstring trouble. Coleman was on the bench against Aston Villa last Saturday and is now poised to step back into the side as one of the most improved raiding right-backs in the Premier League. I first saw Coleman a couple of years ago when he came off the bench, coincidentally against Tottenham, Everton’s opponents today, and ran riot, changing the course of that match. Since then, he has become a regular in the team, a player who has noticeably improved the defensive side of his game, while also weighing in with the occasional goal.  If recently injured Steven Pienaar continues to redevelop his telepathic partnership with left-back Leighton Baines and if Deulofeu and Coleman are fit to add their talents to those of in-form Kevin Mirallas, the Blues may have sufficient threat to torment Tottenham, even in the continued absence of Lukaku.

 

 

4-4-2…no way, Jose!

MANCHESTER City v Chelsea  tonight…it’s “match of the season” time again! I am relishing the prospect of watching runaway leading scorers City attempt to shoot down their title rivals at The Etihad, scene of so many goal gluts this season. However, not even the most optimistic of City fans will expect a scoring spree against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. I don’t, for the simple reason that Mourinho will brazenly eat a slice of humble pie by setting up his team not to lose, rather than to win. Put it this way…if he doesn’t, I’ll readily eat the pie!

As I said in this column the other day, it’s hard to suppress a cynical smile when you hear Mourinho moaning about the opposition’s negative tactics, as he did when bemoaning Chelsea’s failure to score against West Ham. After all, this is the manager who achieved a 0-0 at Manchester United early in the season, when he did not select a single striker! This is the manager who, when 3-0 up against United at Stamford Bridge in the return meeting, brought on a third defensive midfielder. And I reckon this is the manager who, tomorrow, will almost certainly play two, possibly even three, holding midfielders and maybe three centre-backs in a bid to stifle super City’s attacking intentions.

I don’t underestimate Chelsea, or Mourinho, but the fact is that his teams are built on functionality as opposed to flair. And he does not have a single striker to compare with City’s battery of sharp-shooters, Samuel Eto’o looking the best bet, even though he is past his once-brilliant best. I think Mourinho will pack his midfield and have his men swarm all over City, like they did against Stoke in the FA Cup, in an attempt to smother the creativity of players like David Silva, Jesus Navas and Yaya Toure and, in turn, cut the supply line to deadly duo, Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko.

Now, I know “football is a funny game” and that we can all be made to look foolish with our predictions – witness Wigan’s astonishing FA Cup final win against City last May – but, if Mourinho goes 4-4-2  tonight I’ll eat my old boots, as well as that humble pie! If the wily Portuguese were to use that attacking formation, it would almost surely be suicidal against this rampant City side. And Mourinho doesn’t do gung-ho. So, sit back and prepare for a fascinating contest, one that will present Manuel Pellegrini and his players with probably their toughest test to date. Bring it on!

 

Come on, Oldham!

MEAT pie, sausage roll…come on Oldham, give us a goal. Those were the words of a song that characterised homespun, north-west industrial town club Oldham Athletic, the club that gave me my break in management 32 years ago and which will always have a place in my heart. Goals have, indeed, been hard to come by this season for the Latics and I was as thrilled as any of their diehard fans to hear that they had scored in the last minute to pull off a dramatic 5-4 home win against high-scoring Peterborough on Saturday.

I was talking to a Latics fanatic the day before the match, and he was voicing his concerns that the team was not only finding it hard to hit the back of the net but also to keep a clean sheet. In the event, they couldn’t do the latter but, boy, did they deliver on the goals front, that last-gasp winner sparking scenes that gladdened my heart when I watched the re-run on TV. I only hope the result inspires the team and manager Lee Johnson to produce another tremendous performance in tonight’s home match against promotion favourites Wolves, who Latics knocked out of the FA Cup at Molineux a few weeks ago. A win against Wolves could really spark a climb up the League One table and that is something young Lee Johnson deserves, for I think the club has found a burgeoning managerial talent in this 32-year-old – that’s the age I was when I took charge – who signed a three-year contract extension last week.

Johnson, as I did all those years ago, is working on a shoestring budget,  and finding it tough to get the results right now. But, believe me, his team plays good football and, if they can get a break or two, the fans at Boundary Park have every reason to think that better times lie ahead. Tonight is a big night of football in the Premier League, but the result from “Ice Station Zebra” – my nickname for the stadium when I was there, one designed to send a chill through those southern softies – is one of the first I’ll be looking for. #KTF

 

Derby day decisions

IF tomorrow’s Merseyside derby is half as good as the 3-3 draw at Goodison Park earlier this season it will be a cracker. Derby clashes between big city clubs are all too often tense, tight affairs, ones “for the connoisseur,” to put it another way. The clash at Goodison was an exciting exception to that rule and we can only hope that the Anfield confrontation unfolds along similar lines. Unfortunately, Everton go into the match with a lot of injury problems, most notably to Bryan Oviedo, who suffered an horrendous double fracture in the FA Cup win at Stevenage on Saturday. I was there, having agreed to commentate for a Merseyside radio station, and it was immediately apparent that something awful had happened because every player in the vicinity of young Oviedo started waving frantically for the medics. The Costa Rican, who has made such a big impact over the past couple of months, coming in for the injured Leighton Baines, has had his World Cup dream dashed and it falls to every Evertonian to wish him a full recovery and a return to action next season.

The good news for Blues fans is the signing of a new, four-year contract by Baines, one player who will be going to Brazil this summer – and who will not be joining former Goodison manager David Moyes at Manchester United, as the Goodison faithful feared he might. Baines’s experience and ability will be important at Anfield tomorrow, especially if young John Stones makes his derby debut at centre-back. With Sylvain Distin again absent at Stevenage, and Phil Jagielka taken off at half-time with a hamstring tweak, manager Roberto Martinez will be tempted to pitch Stones into the fire. If he does so, I’m confident his faith in the 19-year-old will be justified. Stones played the 90 minutes at Stevenage, first alongside Jagielka and then John Heitinga, and I was impressed with him. The lad is big and he is quick and he’s good on the ball. He doesn’t simply hoof it. I first saw him last season, playing for Barnsley at Blackburn, and I made a mental note of him then. I am regularly hearing positive reports about the lad and I must say he did everything that was required of him at Stevenage, where the main challenge against lower league opposition was the aerial threat. He handled that comfortably.

Liverpool also have injury issues, amongst them another setback for England right-back Glen Johnson, but Everton’s problems look the greater, with Steven Pienaar, Seamus Coleman, Ross Barkley, Distin, Jagielka and the hapless Oviedo on the treatment table. Roberto last weekend described Barkley as the best young English player around, not only in terms of ability but mentality, too, and what a boost it would be for Everton if he were to return to action against Liverpool after missing several games with a broken toe. Certainly, there was nothing between these great rivals in that pulsating 3-3 draw, which had Goodison Park creaking at its aged seams, and it will be white hot in the cauldron of Anfield, with both clubs going toe to toe to clinch a coveted top four place and qualification for the Champions League. I look forward to the game.

 

Perfect storm

THE Perfect Storm hit Old Trafford last night, leaving David Moyes and Manchester United with a heck of a job on their hands to repair the damage. The penalty shoot-out implosion as United crashed out of the Capital One Cup semi-final to Sunderland was the culmination of a growing crisis that I – and many others – had seen coming since last season. I have alluded to this several times in this column and I’ll have to say it again: United’s 13th Premier League title win last season, Sir Alex Ferguson’s glorious swansong as the most successful manager in the history of British football, was all the more remarkable because it was achieved with a squad that was clearly fraying around the edges.

Now, a combination of that ongoing fact, plus injuries to key players like Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, has left new boss Moyes with the mother and father of a job to restore the team to former glories. The massive problem Moyes inherited is that United icons like midfield maestros Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs have not been adequately replaced, resulting in a sub-standard level of performance in that key area. United have authorised a club record £37m fee for Chelsea’s Juan Mata – and that, plus the £28m spent of Maroaune Fellaini last summer must only be the start of the spending if United are not to allow the phenomenal success story that Ferguson wrote over a 27-year tenure to unravel. I am sure that, within weeks of taking over last July, Moyes will have realised that all was not what it seemed with the squad and that, by now, he is crystal clear about the extent of the rebuilding required. He needs another two top class midfielders and he needs to strengthen a defence that has lost its air of authority along with the waning powers of Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra. Goalkeeper De Gea’s embarrassing fumble to allow Bardsley’s shot to enter his net will renew old doubts about him and, as for the strike department, so much will depend upon whether Rooney and Van Persie stay at the club. I see rumours have reawakened as to the possibility of Rooney going to Chelsea and that makes me wonder if there is an unspoken agreement in the Mata deal. What is for sure is that if either, or both, of those players had been in the team last night, what a big difference it would surely have made. Not least from the penalty spot, where you would expect Rooney and Van Persie to succeed.

As it was United’s inexperienced, shoot-out nominees blew it, big-style. It is hard for the fans to understand how professional players, particularly those at the top level, can miss from 12 yards, but the fact is it takes a special character to step up in front of 70,000 people, with millions more watching on TV, in a make-or-break situation, and do the job. It is down to pressure and how well or badly you handle it. Rooney wouldn’t have had a problem with that. But there aren’t that many Rooneys or Eric Cantonas out there, men who thrive on the tension. A mistake that is often made, as it was by several of the failures last night, is to try to place the ball. To do that, you have to either be lucky, with the keeper  going the wrong way, or you have to have the nerve to withhold your strike until the last split-second, something that former Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli is good at. No, believe me, the most effective method for most players is to smash the shot thus giving  the keeper little hope, even if he has dived the right way.

In the final analysis, though, as Moyes graciously admitted, United were not good enough to subdue a Sunderland team struggling near the foot of the table. On the assumption that United, therefore, cannot possibly be good enough to win the Champions League, their season is, effectively, over in January! When can you remember that last being the case? It is time for sweeping change and Moyes should not be judged until the end of next season, when he will have had time to implement his revolution.

 

 

 

Not again, Suarez!

LIVERPOOL’S failure to beat Aston Villa at Anfield has given Everton the chance to leapfrog them into fourth place at West Brom tomorrow. Dare I say it, but for another dubious penalty box incident involving Luis Suarez, Everton’s prospects would be even brighter. Liverpool salvaged a point when Steven Gerrard drove home a penalty, awarded after Suarez went down under Villa keeper Guzan’s innocuous challenge. I don’t think I’ve ever known BBC’s Match of the Day conduct a viewers’ Did he Dive? poll. The result was 60 per cent ‘yes.’ Even Stan Collymore, a former Liverpool striker, accused Suarez of being a cheat on Talksport, though Alan Shearer, in the TV studio, disagreed. I don’t know how often I’m going to have to say this, but for a man blessed with such sublime balance, I’m surprised that Suarez appears to be vulnerable to a proverbial puff of wind.

The fact is, Liverpool’s dropping of two home points gives Everton a great opportunity to reclaim the coveted fourth place. I don’t think Ross Barkley will be fit, but the Blues have plenty of quality midfielders. The question remains, will manager Roberto Martinez strengthen his striking department in this transfer window? I hope so, for if Romanu Lukaku – who tomorrow faces the team for whom he top scored last season – gets injured,  it will be a big problem. Everton have banked £35 million from the sales of Marouane Fellaini and Nikita Jelavic so they do have cash available.

 

Dis-United

THAT, surely, is that as far as Manchester United’s title hopes go! The 3-1 defeat at Chelsea merely confirmed my growing feeling that David Moyes not only took on a tough job when he succeeded “the master,” Sir Alex Ferguson, but a near-impossible one because of the dearth of top quality in the squad he inherited. United teams of recent years would have been snapping away at Chelsea when they went behind, giving the impression they could hit back at any moment. But not this team. At 2-0 down you felt it was all over.  Without Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie up front, United simply cannot pose a goal threat, certainly not against quality opposition, and they can no longer compete with the best midfields around.

Another sign of the fraying around the edges of this once all-conquering side was the irresponsibility of captain Nemanja Vidic, sent off in the closing moments for his late lunge at Eden Hazard. He now misses Wednesday’s Capital One Cup semi-final second leg with Sunderland, a match that represents United’s one remaining realistic hope of winning silverware. How ill-disciplined was that? Vidic is no longer the commanding figure he was but, nevertheless, he remains a significant one and, if he, Rooney and Van Persie are all absent on Wednesday it can only make the job of retrieving a 2-1 deficit all the harder. I feel for Moyes, for United’s struggles are not down to him. And people should not point the finger at Ferguson and suggest he got out when the time was right. Sir Alex has recently turned 72 and he unquestionably deserves the right to spend more precious time with his family. I don’t think Moyes should be judged as United manager until the end of next season. He will have a busy summer, when he needs to bring in two or three midfielders and preside over the uncertain situation of Rooney, with rumours persisting that the 27-year-old wants a new challenge. It is never easy to bring in top players in January, largely because clubs are reluctant to release them, but if any one of Mata, at Chelsea, and Newcastle’s Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa was available, he would, in my opinion, be what United need.

I must say I was disappointed in Chelsea, daft though that might sound after such a significant 3-1 victory over the fallen champions. Put it this way, had it been United who had gone three goals up, or Manchester City, we would have seen a team going for the jugular, trying to twist the knife into their opponents and pile on the agony. What did Jose Mourinho do? With 20 minutes to go he put on another holding midfielder in John Obi Mikel! With Ramires and David Luiz, that made three holding players – and your team is winning 3-0. Mourinho had United on the ropes at that point. Why not go for the knock-out blow? But that is typical Mourinho…he always seems to err on the side of caution, rather than adventure. In those closing minutes, Luiz – a centre-back playing in midfield – actually kicked the ball out of play on two occasions, a ploy designed quite unashamedly to break up United’s rhythm. Instead, Chelsea could have been focusing on rubbing United’s noses in it by trying for a fourth goal. Having said that, there’s no denying this Chelsea team is very hard to beat and will contest the title to the death. Although they don’t have the fluency and attacking flow of Manchester City and Arsenal, they do have some superb players, and many athletic ones, notably the Brazilian Ramires who is the fittest footballer I have seen since Colin Bell, my team-mate at Manchester City 30-odd years ago. I see Chelsea fighting for the title with City and Arsenal, though I don’t expect them to provide the entertainment that the other two do.

 

 

Zero tolerance required

THE ugly spectre of diving – simulation as it is officially described – has dominated the football headlines again these past few days and it really is time decisive action was taken in a bid to stamp out what is a disgraceful stain on the game. Not for the first time, I am suggesting that a zero tolerance policy be implemented by the Football Association, with referees told to brandish a red card every time they believe a player has cheated. And I also think players should be immediately sent off if they question the referee’s decisions. The authorities simply must be positive about restoring respect for the officials and in their attempts to stamp out the repugnant diving which, while it may be food and drink to the controversy-hungry media, is an ugly practice that threatens to undermine the basic integrity of “the beautiful game.”

Referees and their assistants running the line are being put under far too much pressure, not only by players who harangue them and who over-react in a bid to influence decisions, but also by trial by the TV replay. Linesmen are being held to account nowadays because a replay shows they didn’t see that a player was half a yard offside! And another thing. My zero tolerance policy would incorporate the disgusting offence of waving an imaginary card in the referee’s face, a shameful attempt to get an opponent booked or sent off. People pay a lot of money to go to Premier League – and other category – football matches and they should not have to witness the witless and damn right disrespectful sort of behaviour I am referring to. I see that Southampton have complained that referee Mark Clattenburg allegedly disrespected their England forward Adam Llallana – who was questioning why his team had not been awarded a penalty – a claim that has been thrown out by the professional body that governs referees. Surely, the point is that Llallana should not have been remonstrating with the official in the first place. Had Llallana been shown a red card for insubordination, he would no doubt think twice before questioning an official again.

The fact is that this sort of behaviour has become the norm in the past 10-20 years, and to say I find it tiresome is to massively understate my feelings. I am sick of the sight of players surrounding the referee, brandishing imaginary cards in referees’ faces – and making a meal of it when they are tackled. And I applaud the Manchester United fanzine Red Issue, which has published an article decrying the antics of several of their players –  new boy Januzaj has already been booked an astonishing four times for simulation and Ashley Young has developed a reputation as a diver – and implored manager David Moyes to “sort it.” Moyes did say earlier this season he would speak to the teenager. If he did, it looks as though the message didn’t get across. To their credit, the people at Red Issue insist they can live with defeat, but they cannot accept the sight of players “disgracing the club” by cheating while wearing the famous red shirt. This is the sort of protest that must become an outcry from fans in general and everyone who has the interests of the game as a whole at heart. The authorities must face the fact that the Premier League, which has become a global, multi-billion pound product, is being tarnished by the unruly behaviour of some players. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has got involved, suggesting players who cheat be left on the sideline for a while until the referee decides they can return to the pitch.

Referees – whatever happened to the FA’s “Respect” campaign? – are in a no-win situation when it comes to players exaggerating their reaction to a challenge. The man with the whistle has a split-second to make his decision and, thus, he will get some wrong and some right. Former Grade One ref Graham Poll has made the point that Howard Webb may, understandably, have been prejudiced against Ashley Young, because of the player’s reputation for diving, when he did not give a penalty when the United star was taken out by Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris on the edge of the box. That is precisely what I believe was the case with Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, who was refused a penalty when clattered at Chelsea last week, having gone down like he’d been shot. Suarez was fouled – but you can only cry wolf so many times before you get ignored. It would be a darn sight easier for the referee if he could rely upon honest, no-nonsense reaction when players are tackled. Believe me, when I was playing, over 30 years ago, there was a much more genuine approach on the pitch and certainly no pretend card-waving or dying-swan-type diving, which must be a nightmare for referees to deal with. If they start showing red every time they suspect a dive, occasionally a player will be wrongly punished. But the message will soon get across and the practice will be stamped out. Why would you take the risk if you were in no doubt about the severe consequences?

I accept that there is much, much more money involved these days and, as a result, much more pressure on players and managers. But there can be no excuse for rank disrespecting of referees or for cheating. If rugby players can batter away at each other as they strive for victory and, at the same time, accept the referee’s word without demur, why can’t footballers? It’s time to clean up your act, guys.

BLACKBURN host Manchester City in the FA Cup third round tomorrow and what a day it could prove to be for Jordan Rhodes. I pondered whether a Premier League club would try to sign the Rovers star last summer. Now, with Rhodes hitting 16 goals before Christmas to cement his reputation as a prolific striker, I suggest that a strike against the Premier League title favourites would spark enquiries from several top-flight clubs in the remaining few weeks of the transfer window. Rhodes cost Blackburn £8million when signed from Huddersfield two years ago and, though the Championship club say they are in no hurry to sell, we all know that every player has his price. And none more so than successful strikers.

 

 

Told you so!

I TAKE no pleasure in the fact that my prediction of a few weeks ago seems to have come true: Luis Suarez’s theatrical antics have almost certainly cost Liverpool dear. I refer to Suarez’s reaction to being fouled by Samuel Eto’o in the penalty box, during Chelsea’s 2-1 win on Sunday. There is no doubt in my mind that Liverpool should have had a penalty, but, as Suarez went into orbit after being taken out by Eto’o, I’m sure referee Howard Webb was thinking: ‘I’m not falling for that!’ Suarez did something similar, a bit of a dying swan act, when clattered by Manchester City’s Joleon Lescott in the 2-1 defeat at The Etihad last week. That was on the edge of the box, but it is arguable that a penalty might well have been awarded had it not been for Suarez’s melodramatic reaction. After yesterday’s match at Stamford Bridge, Blues boss Jose Mourinho said Suarez “did an acrobatic swimming pool jump.” And Mourinho insisted this type of thing has no place in English football  (though I must say Chelsea’s Eden Hazard did a pretty good similar impersonation at one point).

The fact is, Suarez is such a good player – as good as anyone in the world right now – that there’s just no need for this sort of thing. And, though I hate to say to Liverpool fans that I told you so, my forecast of a referee-rebound blow in a big, big match has come to pass. I am not condoning the fact that World Cup final official Webb got it wrong, just highlighting a situation where a player’s reputation for diving can precede him – and be so costly to his team when an important, split-second decision is made. This isn’t sour grapes on my part, you Reds fans, it is merely an underscoring of my warning of the potential repercussions of Suarez’s blatant attempts to influence the referee. It must be said, for a player blessed with such sublime balance, he does seem to lose it easily when someone gets near him, particularly in the penalty area. Manager Brendan Rodgers has been singing the praises of his reformed striker, following the biting incident late last season, then Suarez’s undignified bid to engineer a move from Anfield in the summer, and Liverpool have been so delighted with the Uruguayan’s form that they have signed him to a record, four-year contract extension. All I’ll say is, if Brendan can convince his star man to stamp out the play-acting, then Liverpool and their fans really will have the 100 per cent real deal to savour through to 2018.

 

Man up, Luis!

LIVERPOOL produced the most free-flowing display I can remember from them for many, many years with the Luis Suarez-inspired 5-0 destruction of Tottenham at White Hart Lane. The performance of Suarez was awesome, scoring goals, making goals and working hard for the team. His dribbling skills put him right up there with Messi and Ronaldo. Now for the negative side of his game! I know Liverpool fans will again accuse me of being blue-eyed when I express my exasperation at Suarez’s antics when he was fouled by Tottenham midfielder Paulinho, who caught him in the chest with his boot. Well, I am not biased against Suarez because he plays in the red of Liverpool, in fact I marvel at the manner in which he is tearing defences apart. But that does not prevent me from being dismayed at the way he rolled across the turf as if he’d been shot. If the referee was in any doubt as to whether it was a yellow or a red card offence, two theatrical rolls and a fist pounding the turf were designed to influence him towards the latter.

Look, it was a high boot and I’m sure it hurt. But, come on, Luis, man up! At one point, I was looking for the sniper in the crowd. Just as at Everton the other week, when he was caught high by Kevin Mirallas and rolled around as if in agony, Suarez was racing around the pitch like a spring chicken within a couple of minutes. It wasn’t so much a recovery as a resurrection. All I’m saying is that if Suarez would cut out the melodrama he would remove the only stain on an otherwise impeccable footballing persona.

Certainly, he and his team-mates have put themselves right in the frame for the fight for the Premier League title – and put Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas in big trouble in the process. When the Sky cameras focused on the unsmiling chief executive Daniel Levy the image spoke volumes for the predicament of Villas-Boas, who does not seem to know how to integrate the £100m-worth of players bought last summer. It seems to me Spurs had a better Champions League look about them two years ago! Since then, they have lost Luka Modric and Gareth Bale and none of the new signings look close to filling the gaps.

IT was a big weekend for the Manchester and Merseyside clubs, the four of them totalling 18 goals, with rampant Manchester City leading the way with their 6-3 demolition of leaders Arsenal. City in that form, with Silva, Toure, Aguero and Negredo sweeping forward, are virtually unstoppable. Arsenal’s £40m Mesut Ozil was overshadowed by the City midfielders in what was a wonderful advert for the Premier League. I still worry about City, defensively, with De Michelis unconvincing alongside Kompany. However, whereas Arsenal scored three and could have had six, City scored six and could have had 10. Everton were not at their best when putting four past Fulham, but that in itself is a good omen for them. When you win comfortably in those circumstances it has to be a positive sign. Young right-back Seamus Coleman provided further evidence that he is emerging as one of the best in his position in the top flight. A welcome return to winning ways for Manchester United, whose 3-0 at Villa highlighted the defensive problems that are hampering Paul Lambert’s team. Full-backs Luna and Lowton were run ragged, failing to stop crosses, and the fact that three of the back four were booked tells you the struggle they had trying to contain Wayne Rooney and Co. When Danny Welbeck scored, from a header by Januzaj, they were the only two United players in the box – where there were five Villa defenders. That also tells Lambert he has big problems. Great to see Darren Fletcher back for United after a year out in his ongoing battle with illness. In recent years, in all the big games, Fletcher was a must in Sir Alex Ferguson’s midfield, physically strong, good on the ball and blessed with huge reserves of stamina. Rumours were spreading that he might not play again, so it’s marvellous for him – and for manager David Moyes – that he is back in action.