Fergie wary of QPR
Ajax feeling good, but Arrows will be a major challenge ...but Man United can go top if they beat Rangers
THERE’S a flush of positive vibes emanating from Ajax Cape Town at the moment.
After a run of inconsistent results and far from convincing performances, the club – and coach Maarten Stekelenburg – believes that things are changing.
They are playing with the control and dominance they are accustomed to and, if they win their two remaining fixtures of the year, they could well end the season in a lofty position on the PSL log.
Ajax are in Durban to face Golden Arrows tonight (kickoff 8.15pm) and then, on Wednesday, they host Black Leopards at the Cape Town Stadium.
Tonight, Stekelenburg is adamant that his team continues the form they showed in their last match – a comfortable 2- 0 win over Bloemfontein Celtic.
“It was a good result,” he said. “We played well, controlled the game and, when the opponents had the ball, we were still able to control things and keep them at bay. In this regard, Matthew Booth’s experience has been crucial in settling things at the back. We now look a lot more solid and the players are starting to play the way we want them to.”
The problem for Stekelenburg tonight, however, is that his team is facing Arrows, who are coached by former Ajax mentor Muhsin Ertugral.
Ertugral was responsible for the grooming of many of the current Ajax players. He knows their strengths and weaknesses, and he is acutely aware of the Cape club’s style of play.
For example, when Ertugral brought Arrows down to the Mother City to play Ajax in a Telkom Knockout Cup quarterfinal last month, the Durban side ran out 2-1 winners.
In addition to Ertugral, Arrows also have another ex- Ajax connection in midfielder Dillon Sheppard.
Sheppard, now 32, spent many years at Ajax and is as sussed about his former club. As one of the senior players at Arrows, he will pass on this knowledge to the rest of the squad. Sheppard certainly believes that Arrows are on the up, especially under a wily, experienced coach like Ertugral.
“There are a lot of good youngsters at Arrows,” Sheppard told the PSL’S website. “But there are older players who also contribute. It’s this mix of youth and experience of the squad as a whole that gives it quality and a great balance. I think that’s been the key.
“We’ve been getting better each week under Muhsin Ertugral. The coach seems to be implementing a lot of things that the guys are now starting to get right. We’re getting better and better at things, the improvement has been there, and that has been evident in our performances.” MANCHESTER UNITED could briefly forget about injury problems, Champions League elimination and their resurgent neighbours tomorrow.
If Manchester City lose to an Arsenal side that already won 5-3 at Chelsea this season, United could overhaul their rivals and go to the top of the League for the first time since October 14 with victory at Queens Park Rangers.
But QPR have lost only twice at Loftus Road this season, with Chelsea, Newcastle and Aston Villa among the sides that failed to win there.
“We have a good record there and I hope we can continue that,” United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said.
“They’ve done well and given themselves a chance of staying in the league by investing and bringing in a few players. It’s going to be a hard game.”
United have not lost in seven trips to QPR since May 1989, but their last visit was in March 1996, just before QPR’S 15-year absence from the top flight began with a demoralising relegation.
Ferguson will again be without captain Nemanja Vidic, striker Javier Hernandez and midfield duo Anderson and Tom Cleverly – along with ill midfielder Darren Fletcher – but has striker Dimitar Berbatov back from an ankle problem. Rafael Da Silva and Darron Gibson could also be available.
QPR manager Neil Warnock guided his newlypromoted side to a 1-0 win over Chelsea in October and saw his team go ahead against Manchester City last month before losing 3-2.
“Queens Park Rangers have invested the right way,” Ferguson said. “Neil Warnock realised that when you get into the League you need big play- ers. That gives them a better chance because it’s an unremitting league in terms of the demands.
“Strangely, Norwich, Swansea and QPR have done well and adapted to the demands of the league. The real test, though, is in the second half of the season.”
But QPR will be without key defender Anton Ferdinand because of a hamstring problem.
Man City host Arsenal tomorrow with almost as much attention focused on striker Mario Balotelli as on his team’s chances of winning.
Balotelli was again pictured fighting with a teammate this week, with Micah Richards the latest player to square up to the temperamental Italy international.
“He said it was because he didn’t pass the ball to him,” City manager Roberto Mancini said. “It was a really stupid thing. It was nothing. After 10 minutes it was finished.
“I was always involved in problems on the training ground, it happens.”
Arsenal are on a run of seven wins from eight League matches and have won four of their last five away matches in all competitions.
But the Gunners are still without Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, Andre Santos, Carl Jenkinson, Bacary Sagna, Lukasz Fabianski, Vito Man- none, Abou Diaby and Ryo Miyaichi.
Also tomorrow, fourthplace Tottenham host Sunderland and Liverpool go to Aston Villa.
Today Chelsea will have David Luiz available for their trip to Wigan after the defender was suspended for Monday’s win over City – the leader’s first league defeat this season – for picking up a fifth yellow card of the campaign. – Sapa-ap
STRIKER ON CALL: United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will call on Dimitar Berbatov for today’s match against QPR.