Ferguson wants to go faster


SOCCER:ALEX FERGUSON has promised no more slow starts from Manchester United this season after seeing his side fall behind in five of their six league games. United face CFR-Cluj in their second Champions League group game tonight, with Ferguson admitting to “concerns” over the team’s defending.

Tottenham Hotspur won 3-2 at Old Trafford after going in at half-time 2-0 ahead. “After the first half on Saturday I had plenty of concerns,” Ferguson said. “But I hope it’s an awareness thing because we faced that situation at the end of October last season, and from then on when Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand played together consistently we played better.”

Evans agreed: “Every defender will tell you that when you have a settled partner beside you, you get a good understanding, and with a run of games your match fitness and concentration go up.”

Ferdinand’s chances of a recall to the national side, however, appeared to recede further after the England coach Gary Neville insisted: “Roy Hodgson has said he will not take 34 to 35 year olds, with 80-odd caps to (major tournaments) to sit in the stands.”

United’s second-half display against Tottenham was far sharper, with the visitors spending most of the period hanging on to their lead. “You have to be concerned losing goals the way we did,” said Ferguson. “We were well off the pace of the game. I don’t think we won a tackle in the first half. Fortunately you saw Manchester United in the second half, and that was probably our best performance of the season.”

The Scot identified three matches in particular where United have failed to fire before the interval. “The first half against Southampton (falling behind 1-0), the first half at Liverpool (when United were poor) and the first half on Saturday – we have some work to do in that respect.”

Asked if there is anything deeper to be read into the pattern, Ferguson said: “If you go back 12 years, our norm was to start the season and build up to the second half, and then we changed when Chelsea won the title two years in a row (2005 and 2006). We changed our approach to pre-season training. I think it (the slow starts) will be the last.”

Immediately after the loss to Spurs the left-back Patrice Evra said he thought the issue was a mental one. But the manager disagreed: “I haven’t given it a thought. I wouldn’t say it’s mental. We conceded a bad goal after two minutes and we were always on the back foot after that. Half-time is always a good chance to correct things and the second-half performance was much better.”

For the Cluj game, Ferguson has left behind Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, his senior midfielders, all of whom are not feeling 100 per cent. “Carrick didn’t report today. He’s in bed with a virus. We left Paul Scholes behind but Ryan also felt rough this morning and we sent him home. Those three players are missing, two with a virus and Paul Scholes because although he didn’t feel great this morning and played great on Saturday. At 38 years of age I can’t expect him to play three games like that.”

Their absence should mean a start for Anderson and Tom Cleverley in United’s 4-2-3-1 formation. With Carrick absent, the only cover for centre-backs Evans and Ferdinand comes from youngsters Scott Wootton and Michael Keane, who both made their first United starts in last Wednesday’s League Cup victory over Newcastle.

Cluj have won the Romanian title three times since Arpad Paszkany, a used-car dealer, bought the Transylvanian club in 2002. Before then CFR-Cluj – the full name refers to the national rail carrier – had not won a league title since 1911.

Now managed by Ioan Andone, a former Romania international, their first national title in 2008 preceded them playing Chelsea in the Champions League, drawing 0-0 at the 25,000-seat Dr Constantin Radulescu stadium before losing the return 2-0.

Of the threat Cluj pose, Ferguson said: “We saw the performance in the last group game against Braga (winning 2-0, away). They knocked out Basel earlier in the competition, beating them twice. We know from our own experience last season that Basel knocked us out.

“They’re a team that defend quickly and get plenty of bodies behind the ball. The main strength is counter-attack, as they showed against Braga.”

Ferguson points to 'foreign players': they are the 'worst culprits' when it comes to diving

ALEX Ferguson has claimed “foreign players” are the worst culprits when it comes to diving. The Manchester United manager’s comments came in response to Sergio Aguero’s claim that there is a bias against overseas footballers in the Premier League when it comes to awarding fouls.

Ferguson, who is preparing his side for this evening’s Champions League group game against Romania’s title holders, Cluj, said: “It’s not worth going into that subject because down the years there have been plenty of players diving, and you have to say particularly foreign players.”

In Manchester United’s 3-2 home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday one of Ferguson’s own foreign contingent, Nani, appeared to be denied a penalty when Jan Vertonghen pulled the Portuguese back in the area. The referee, Chris Foy, did not award the kick, and while Ferguson does not think his winger is a diver, he did say after the match that the penalty may have been denied due to Nani overplaying the incident. “There were quite a few [penalty claims],” he said. “I think the one in the first half was a clear penalty kick but maybe Nani made a meal of it and he didn’t need to do that. He was clearly pulled back.”

Aguero’s comments followed Manchester City’s 2-1 win at Fulham on Saturday, when the Argentinian’s countrymen Carlos Tevez and Pablo Zabaleta were each denied penalties when apparently floored in the home area.

Asked if he thinks overseas players experience more difficulty than English players in winning decisions from Premier League match officials, Aguero had said: “Yes. Always. But it happens everywhere [in the world]. There is a little bit of privilege with players who come from that country. We just play our game, and the referee’s job is to know who is tricking him and who is not.”

Aguero also said he believes referees are more suspicious of overseas players. “It can happen,” he said, “and if it does, it’s not good for anyone. Here in England there are almost as many foreign players as English players and it’s not right that some have a privilege that others don’t.”

The Premier League is thought to be relaxed about the Manchester City striker’s comments.


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