x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Ferguson's tactical follies

Premier League best and worst: The Manchester United manager is undoubtedly a great, but the last few selections have been odd.

Sir Alex Ferguson, centre, the Manchester United manager, looks on as his team lose 6-1 at home to their city rivals.
Sir Alex Ferguson, centre, the Manchester United manager, looks on as his team lose 6-1 at home to their city rivals.

Kevin Affleck looks at the best and the worst elements of what happened in the Premier League this week

Worst tantrum - Taarabt

A coach of a club in the second tier of English football once told me when asked about the merits of Adel Taarabt, the Moroccan playmaker: "You need two footballs - one for him and one for the rest of the team."

That was no more evident than yesterday when Taarabt attempted to wrestle the ball off Heidar Helguson after Queens Park Rangers were awarded a penalty against Chelsea.

Helguson speaks with a stammer but there was no danger of any miscommunication over who was taking the spot-kick. Taarabt reacted with embarrassing petulance and it needed Joey Barton, of all people, to act as the peacemaker to calm him down.

Best francophones - Newcastle

Such is the Gallic influence at Newcastle United these days that the club might as well hoist a tricolour above St James' Park. With seven French speaking players in their squad the likelihood of two of them being involved in the winning goal on Saturday were always going to be high and so it proved; Sylvain Marveaux was the architect and Yohan Cabaye the executioner with an unerring finish.

The 25 year olds encapsulate Newcastle's sensible policy of buying reasonable-priced, hungry young players who have resale value.

It is a policy reaping handsome rewards. Marveaux and Cabaye, along with Demba Ba, will have plenty to talk about at their English lessons this week.

Worst pyrotechnics - Balotelli

It is fair to say Mario Balotelli will not be the face of any firework safety campaign ahead of bonfire night after the fire brigade were called to extinguish a blaze at his opulent home caused by the Italian striker and his cohorts setting off fireworks from his bathroom.

You couldn't make it up, could you?

The incendiary forward provided the pyrotechnics on the pitch yesterday with two finishes as cool as the water used to douse the fire in City's thrashing of their Manchester rivals United.

Best star gazing - Fox

Having spent most of his career kicking around in the lower leagues with the likes of Colchester, Blackpool and Shrewsbury you can hardly blame David Fox, the Norwich City midfielder, for taking a few souvenir snaps with his iPhone on the Anfield pitch as the players familiarised themselves with one of the most famous football cathedrals.

You feared Norwich might suffer a bout of stage fright when confronted with a cast list that included Gerrard, Suarez, Bellamy and Kuyt, but the Canaries strutted their stuff on the red carpet, producing a box-office performance that could have yielded a fairy-tale victory had Grant Holt not fluffed his lines with a late header.

Worst selection - Ferguson

Amid the hyperbolic reaction of those who believe the axis of the Premier League orbits around the "Big Six", you could forget Phil Jones had been pulling up trees for Blackburn Rovers long before he arrived at Old Trafford.

He has, in the matter of weeks of being transferred alongside exalted company, been talked of as a future captain of both Manchester United and England. His versatility is one of his biggest attributes - he has been played with some composure in four positions in his embryonic United career so far - yet Sir Alex Ferguson mysteriously failed to find a place for him in the starting XI for the club's biggest game of the season so far yesterday.

Hindsight is wonderful tool but the Scottish master got it wrong tactically for the second successive week yesterday by selecting Jonny Evans ahead of Jones.

Best seed sowing - Olsson

On a radio show last week Jonas Olsson, the towering West Bromwich Albion defender, said "you don't get penalties when you are 6ft 4ins" and questioned the policing of fouls in the penalty area after he was manhandled in the Midlands derby last week.

Very clever, Jonas. It is unknown whether Phil Dowd, the referee, was tuning in but you wonder if his words seeped into the consciousness of Dowd, who awarded West Brom a generous penalty after Olsson had been fouled, yep, you guessed it, in the penalty box.

These marginal line calls are supposed to even themselves over the course of a season - not a week.


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