United needs stingier defense in 2nd half of EPL

Updated 26 December 2012
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United needs stingier defense in 2nd half of EPL

MANCHESTER: Despite being guaranteed top spot at the Premier League’s halfway point, Manchester United’s leaky defense could thwart its quest to regain the trophy from Manchester City.
Going into the 19th match of the campaign on Wednesday against Newcastle, United has already conceded 25 times, just eight short of the total in 38 games last year when the title was lost on goal difference.
As they prepare for Newcastle’s visit, United’s players have been recalling how they produced just one of three clean sheets so far, in a 3-0 victory at the northeast club in October.
“We went there with the right mindset and defended well, we had great shape and got two early goals,” United defender Jonny Evans said. “It was probably one of our best defensive performances of the season.” United is four points ahead of City, but the second-place team’s defense has only been breached 15 times so far in its title defense.
United’s firepower up front, though, is more lethal, hitting 44 goals in 18 matches compared with 34 by City.
United have become reliant on Robin Van Persie, who has scored 12 goals in the league alone since joining from Arsenal in August.
“I reckon we got our Christmas present early — right at the start of the season when Robin van Persie arrived at Old Trafford,” manager Alex Ferguson said. “I am reluctant to subscribe to the cult of the individual but sometimes there really is a situation when you are lucky enough to find the last piece of the jigsaw.
“As we approach the halfway point of the season, I have no hesitation saying that he has made a vital difference to our chances of making our mark in this season’s title race ... he has moved us forward as a team.” But Ferguson has a quandary up front as both Van Persie and Wayne Rooney are one booking away from suspension.
Rooney, though, was ineffective in Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Swansea, and Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck will both be hoping to regain a starting spot on Wednesday.
Newcastle hasn’t won at Old Trafford since 1972 and is enduring a gloomy season after a surprise fifth-place finish in May.
Languishing five points above the relegation zone in 14th place, Newcastle’s victory over Queens Park Rangers on Saturday was only the team’s second in 12 games.
“They’ve found it a bit tougher this year but I know they’ve had some injuries, which have played a part,” Welbeck said. “You can still see potential throughout their team. They have some real attacking threats — everyone knows about players like Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse.” Having already lost to Man City this month, Newcastle follows up the trip to United with matches against fourth-place Arsenal on Saturday and fifth-place Everton on Wednesday.
“When you looked at the program at the start, you could see this was a tough run for us — and even tougher now with the results we’ve had,” Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said.
But Pardew is upbeat.
“We’ve definitely picked up, we look a little bit more resilient, we picked up a very important clean sheet on Saturday,” he said. “And I think we’ll be in good heart for what is one of the toughest games of the program: Manchester United away.” Newcastle is just a point and a place above Sunderland, and its northeast rival hosts United’s neighbor City on Wednesday.
City cut United’s six-point lead to four at the weekend thanks to Gareth Barry’s late winner against bottom-place Reading.
“We are a very strong team, self-motivated and full of confidence at the moment,” City defender Matija Nastasic said. “What is important is that we keep the same attitude, if we want to win the Premier League.” So too does Chelsea, which is at Norwich on Wednesday.
Resurgent under Rafa Benitez, Chelsea’s 8-0 victory over Aston Villa on Sunday put the side 11 points behind leader United with a game in hand.
“We have to sustain this run and it will be easier for me to say we can compete,” Benitez said.
Fourth-place Arsenal was due to play West Ham on Wednesday but the game was postponed due to a strike by London Underground workers.
They are the only sides not in action on Boxing Day. So Arsenal could be overtaken by Everton, Tottenham or West Bromwich Albion, who are only behind Arsene Wenger’s side on goal difference.
Everton hosts Wigan, Tottenham is at Aston Villa, and West Brom plays a Queens Park Rangers side that is just a point off the bottom of the standings.
Bottom-place Reading hosts Swansea, Southampton, which is only out of the drop zone on goal difference, is at Fulham, and Liverpool heads to Stoke.
Fixtures (1500GMT unless stated)
Aston Villa v Tottenham (1730GMT), Everton v Wigan, Fulham v Southampton, Man Utd v Newcastle, Norwich v Chelsea, QPR v West Brom, Reading v Swansea, Stoke v Liverpool (1945GMT), Sunderland v Man City
Postponed Arsenal v West Ham (London Underground strike)


‘Good, but not good enough’: Juan Antonio Pizzi on Saudi Arabia’s defeat to Uruguay

Updated 20 June 2018
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‘Good, but not good enough’: Juan Antonio Pizzi on Saudi Arabia’s defeat to Uruguay

  • A Luis Suaréz goal midway through the first half gave Uruguay a 1-0 win
  • Pizzi had spoken passionately about the need for his side to demonstrate a higher level of focus and performance

ROSTOV-ON-DON: Good, but not good enough.
That was what Juan Antonio Pizzi stated as he declared himself pleased with his team’s performance in the 1-0 defeat to Uruguay on Wednesday night.
But he lamented his side’s lack of firepower as they exited the World Cup after just two matches.
Pizzi had spoken passionately about the need for his side to demonstrate a higher level of focus and performance in Rostov-on-Don after losing their opening game 5-0 to hosts Russia in Moscow last week.
The Argentine got his wish with a display that saw the Green Falcons fight throughout and edge possession against a Uruguay side ranked 14th in the world.
A Luis Suaréz goal midway through the first half after poor goalkeeping from Mohammed Al-Owais, however, was enough to hand the Green Falcons a 12th successive World Cup defeat.
The result means that even with a win against Egypt on Monday, the Green Falcons are no longer capable of progressing to the knock-out stages from Group A.
“We had a lot of ball possession and were able to impose our style of play and distribution,” said Pizzi. “We conceded a goal from a random play and didn’t have the weapons or tools to try to equalize. We kept the ball well and weren’t really troubled defensively, but lacked that ability to score.”
Indeed, for all their possession, Saudi Arabia have managed just three shots on target in 180 minutes of football. Against Russia, they failed to muster a single effort on target and the managed just three against Uruguay, two of which came in the final minutes when they knew they had to score or face elimination. None of the three shots came from a striker.
“This is our weakness. We have good ball possession, but no effectiveness. We lack the depth and skill required to win these games,” Pizzi added. “We have that deficiency and have looked for solutions, but we haven’t quite come up with one yet. But that is one of the reasons great forward are in high demand and are the elite players in world football.”
Pizzi had made four changes ahead of the match, dropping goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf in favor of Al-Owais and introducing Ali Al-Bulayhi at the heart of the defense alongside Osama Hawsawi. Further upfield, Hattan Bahberi came in for Yahya Al-Shehri and Fahad Al-Muwallad replaced Mohammed Al-Sahlawi. The changes, particularly the inclusion of Bahberi, seemed to give the side more impetus in midfield.
“The difference between the performance in the first game and this game is enormous,” Pizzi said. “The only way to compete at this level is to play at the level we did here. And even then it was not enough even to get a draw. Undoubtedly there were other factors aside from the pressure of playing in the opening game that made a difference, but it’s true that the difference was enormous.”
Many critics had predicted a deluge of goals from the likes of Suarez and Cavani, yet both were kept at bay. Save for a couple of half-chances early on, neither came close to scoring until the 23rd minute.
A corner from Carlos Sanchez sailed into the area and when Al-Owais came for it but failed to connect with his punch, Barcelona forward Suaréz was left with the simplest of tap-ins. He was so caught off-guard, he actually looked surprised as he reeled away in celebration.
“I believe you cannot be relaxed in any match,” Suarez said when asked by a Uruguayan journalist whether he had taken it easy against the Saudis.
“We wanted to win and to progress to the knock-out stage and this game simply showed how difficult it is. That’s the World Cup for you though and we are obviously delighted with how we have performed so far to progress.”
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez did not share his striker’s sentiments.
“Saudi Arabia wanted to excel and give a better account of themselves after losing to Russia,” he said.
“They did that very well and we have to respect them. But what surprised me the most is how we played. We underperformed.”