Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The joy of facts

Football supporters can be cruel. Ask Arsene Wenger.

But often those with a passion for standing on the terraces in the freezing cold also like to think that they provide unrivalled spontaneity and wit.

Fans of Manchester United have these past few weeks demonstrated they can be as quick to exploit an easy target as anyone.

"Top of the league and that's a fact!" United's support have taken to chanting as the team's trademark post-Christmas run chalked up a startling 12th English Premier League match without conceding a goal against Everton over the weekend.

Their mocking, of course, refers to Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez's obsession with facts, and principally his recent rant over the supposed preferential treatment bestowed his major rival by the Football Association.

Until Sunday's last-gasp victory over Chelsea, the Spaniard's pre-planned outburst about United looked on shaky ground. Liverpool had not come out on top in any of their three Premier League games since, being held to draws by Stoke City, Everton and Wigan.

United's weekend win over Everton, meanwhile, was their seventh straight league win and ensured the champions entered February having turned an eight-point deficit into a two-point lead at the summit of the Premiership table - with a game still in hand.

Sir Alex Ferguson noted his side's ruthless streak after they dispatched 10-man West Brom 5-0 a week ago. United's biggest away win of their title defence was, he said, the first indication the team's vast attacking array was finding its rhythm.

The game included Cristiano Ronaldo's first goals in two-and-a-half months plus Dimitar Berbatov's 11th of the season. Four days later Ronaldo scored from the spot against Everton as if to underline Ferguson's point.

They are managing, too, without the sidelined Wayne Rooney and with Carlos Tevez not quite at his finest. But in the languid Berbatov Ferguson has at his disposal a Rolls Royce.

Against a backdrop of Benitez offloading the unhappy Robbie Keane, the other striker signed from Tottenham in the summer transfer window is, in Ferguson's opinion, beginning to motor.

The Bulgarian has found the net five times since Christmas and looks like he's just starting to find his feet at the world champions with United's faithful even beginning to accept his indolence.

“I’m not lazy, I’m just relaxed," argues the striker.

"I watch games and see guys who panic on the ball – they look so nervous on the ball. I sometimes know what I want to do before the ball comes to me."

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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