Good evening all. Simon will be here soon enough but if you arrive here before him, here's what Sir Alex Ferguson had to say about David De Gea over the weekend. Enjoy.
Sir Alex Ferguson has praised David de Gea's reaction to the poor performances which prompted Manchester United's manager to drop the goalkeeper at the turn of the year.
There will be no quibbles with the selection of De Gea to face Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park on Monday night, but the last time the Spaniard faced Blackburn he seemed well on the way to joining Massimo Taibi and Mark Bosnich in the list of goalkeepers who never remotely justified Ferguson's faith or transfer fee.
The 21-year-old, whose £18m signing from Atlético Madrid made him comfortably the Premier League's most expensive goalkeeper, had been chosen to start against Steve Kean's team despite the fact that Anders Lindegaard had played in both previous games, against Fulham and Wigan, which had been won by a collective scoreline of 10-0.
the next few don't look particularly daunting. Victory tonight and in Sunday's lunchtime kick-off against QPR will leave City eight points behind when they next kick ball in anger.Hello world! I'm here, and I'm excited. It's a key match at both ends of the table, but let's start at the top. Victory would pull United five points clear of Manchester City with seven games to play – and if things go very well for them they might also be able to pull ahead of City when it comes to goal difference, where they currently trail by three. This is the first of six Premier League fixtures in this calendar month for United, the last of which will be played at the Etihad Stadium – it feels highly unlikely at present that the title will still be up for grabs at the start of May. United have won their last six league matches, and
But this could just be United's second-hardest game in April. Blackburn are improving fast, having lost "just" four of their last 10 league games, and are chasing an improbable double against United, whom they beat 3-2 at Old Trafford on New Year's Eve, but for all that they will drop back into the bottom three should they lose tonight.
Teams to come imminently.
Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) has tweeted the United line-up: De Gea, Rafael, Jones, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Carrick, Scholes, Valencia, Rooney, Hernández. Subs from: Amos, Welbeck, Giggs, Smalling, Pogba, Park, Young. I'll confirm when the Press Association gets the act together.
And here are those teams:
Blackburn: Robinson, Lowe, Dann, Grant Hanley, Martin Olsson, Orr, Pedersen, Nzonzi, Marcus Olsson, Hoilett, Yakubu. Subs: Bunn, Dunn, Modeste, Formica, Petrovic, Rochina, Henley.
Man Utd: De Gea, Rafael Da Silva, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra, Carrick, Scholes, Jones, Valencia, Hernández, Rooney. Subs: Amos, Giggs, Smalling, Park, Young, Welbeck, Pogba.
Referee: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire).
So United bring in Jones – against his former club – Scholes and Hernández for Giggs, Young and Welbeck. Blackburn swap Formica for Orr.
Steve Kean's sounding confident, and expects to "ask their central defenders a lot of questions".
Gary Neville isn't: "It's going to be a bit of a slog I think, looking at those two teams."
Crikey, the United team that lost to Blackburn in December was horrifically ropey, involving as it did Michael Carrick at centre-back and the central midfield duo of Rafael and Park: De Gea, Rafael Da Silva, Jones, Carrick, Evra, Nani, Valencia, Park, Welbeck, Hernández, Berbatov.
"I'm expecting a very tough game," says Sir Alex Ferguson. "I'm leaving some very good players out – hopefully I've picked the right team." United have won two of their last 11 games at Ewood Park.
In response to Prateek Chadha's tactic-related email, it's thought that United will line up in a 4-3-3 style, with Rooney on the left of their attack and Valencia on the right, sandwiching Hernández in the middle.
A statistical bulletin from @OptaJoe: "Of 'keepers with 10+ PL apps this season, David De Gea has the best saves-to-shots rate (79%), Paul Robinson the worst (55%)."
"I think it's more likely that United will be playing 4-4-1-1 with Rafael on the left of midfield and Rooney behind Hernández," counters Tony Rowlinson. "Valencia's uncomfortable in a 4-3-3 as he's more a traditional winger and Scholes, Carrick and Jones is an incredibly deep-lying midfield. It'll be interesting to find out either way." And we will, soon enough – the players are in the tunnel.
"Has anyone considered that Fergie has decided that maybe the 3-5-2 wasn't such a bad idea after all?" wonders Colt Kennedy. "Evans and Ferdinand, Jones as sweeper, Rafael providing some legs in midfield alongside Carrick and Scholes, Evra and Valencia down the flanks? I'm feeling all Italian just thinking about it. Or maybe he just really likes Blackburn?" Ferguson does seem to have a bit more respect for Blackburn than you would expect of a team in their position.
Teams are out, ads are finished, action imminent.
1 min: Peeeeeep! We're off! Blackburn kick off and immediately hoist the ball forwards.
2 mins: Hoilett finds some space, but Rio Ferdinand snuffs it out. Question of the week: is he deliberately trying to make his chin look like fat Brazilian Ronaldo at the 2002 World Cup?
5 mins: Chance! Rooney picks up the ball on the left wing, 15 yards inside his own half, and launches a superb 60-yard pass towards Hernández. Grant Hanley gets his head to it first but to pretty useless effect, looping the ball a couple of yards to the Mexican, who fluffs his shot.
9 mins: Another ball from deep towards Hernández, this one just overhit. Veterinary question of the day: "Our dog has recently taken to eating carrots," writes Gerard Courtney. "Tonight he ate three carrots, but now he looks nervous. Could this be an omen of things to come?" There could be many reasons for his apparent discomfort, surely. Perhaps the neighbours' dog has heard about his carrot-eating shenanigans and is starting to take the mickey?
11 mins: Carrick spots Rafael in space in the penalty area and finds him with what is properly known as a sliderule pass. Grant Hanley produces a saving challenge.
11 mins: Chance! Valencia crosses low and hard from the right, Hernández gets ahead of his marker and tries to turn the ball home from just in front of the near post, but (I think) hits the post, and Robinson grabs it.
12 mins: And then Carrick blazes over when nobody closes him down 25 yards out. Promising start this from United.
16 mins: Ten minutes of near-total control for United ends without a breakthrough. Rooney is very much on the left, but is joining Hernández in the middle when the ball comes down the right.
18 mins: Blackburn attack! Yakubu's flick seems certain to give the ball away, but Hoilett's acceleration embarasses a flat-footed Carrick and he carries it towards the penalty area before curling a lovely right-footed shot towards the top corner, which De Gea saves at full stretch.
23 mins: Yakubu is the only player who appears to be sweating. United continue to look the better team, but I'm not sold on Hernández as a solo striker.
28 mins: "Maybe the carrot-eating dog was just baiting a trap for the rabbit he hopes will hop into his mouth for lunch?" proposes Robin Hazlehurst. "The nervousness might be from wondering where the gravy will come from or whether he will be given a nice bottle of burgundy to go with his rabbit and carrot stew." Interesting idea. In my extremely limited experience of dog-ownership, which amounts to living in the same house as someone who owned one for a short while, dogs should only really get nervous when they try eating parmesan cheese.
28 mins: Valencia sprints into the penalty area, but then performs a pirouette which, while being fairly pretty, also allowed Hanley to tackle him. "Anyone know why I cant listen to Radio 5 live over here in not so sunny Spain?" asks Henry Carter. "I can listen to the games at the weekend but not Monday." Makes no sense to me. Anyone?
31 mins: United get a corner, from which Evans eventually gets a shooting chance, which he sidefoots tamely at Robinson. "If United were to win all their remaining games it would set a new Premier League record for points," we're told. I could have told you that back in August.
33 mins: @KandiMalekan419 has got in touch via Twitter. "Hi! Would you like to see how good I look in a chain bikini?" she asks. "and How to get Sexy Summer Abs? Visit me then!" Er, no. And what is a chain bikini?
34 mins: Good football from United, working the ball from left to right. Valencia crosses and Jones, at the far post, misjudges his run and squirts the header wide.
38 mins: Getting some disgruntled responses to my using the words fat and Brazilian to describe Ronaldo. "The original, the majestic, the goal-scoring tornado of nature perhaps," suggests a representative Jayden Cinquez. "Fat Brazilian is sacrilegious. Shaking with fury." But a footballer is often remembered for how he is at the end of his career, rather than at its peak. And at the end of his career Ronaldo was a bit podgy, and with a taste for transexual prostitutes to boot.
40 mins: Valencia fouls Martin Olsson 10 yards into United's half, and is harshly booked for it. Pedersen's free-kick is an embarrassment, though, scooped straight into the midriff of a United player standing 20 yards away.
42 mins: Carrick's cross hits a Blackburn defender's arm, but it was all very innocent and no penalty ensues, though Carrick does appeal. "Tell Henry Carter I have an even odder Radio Five conundrum here in New Hampshire, USA," writes Simon Darvill. "I can get all the football and cricket on Radio Five via my Apple TV box on the telly in the living room but on my internet radio in the bedroom all the cricket and football broadcasts have messages telling me that the broadcasts are blocked in my region – there seems to be no sense to this. So all those long nights listening to cricket are done from the sofa rather that the comfort of my bed."
43 mins: Adam Hirst's half-time report: "Spread it right, cross it in, head it away. Repeat for 45 minutes."
45 mins: Blackburn defending in numbers in the final minutes of the half, Rooney twice having passes intercepted, but then they get a chance to break. Hoilett has the ball on the edge of the area but he ignores the well-placed and unmarked Lowe to his right and shoots feebly straight into a defender instead.
45 mins: Save! And another save! First Marcus Olsson's super left-footed half-volley from 18 yards is palmed over at full stretch, then Hanley's header from the corner forces another stop from David De Gea!
Half-time: The whistle goes, and the players disappear for a bit of a breather. The events of that final minute will have both sides thinking they could have been a goal up at this point. So a draw is probably about right, then.
Still half-time: Not a classic. United have had the possession, but – one early Hernández post-smack apart – not the chances. David De Gea has been responsible for the top three saves of the half, two of them in the final minute. As so often this season, watching United forces the thought: is this really the best we've got? "I'm writing this from Hong Kong and I'm watching Blackburn v Manchester United to get my mind off a terrible incident that happened to my mother Evelyn Juan this evening," writes Richard Juan. "She's currently confined in the hospital and doctors said she might be suffering from meningitis or encephalitis. I hope you can tell people to pray for her, I would really appreciate it." You have my very best wishes, Richard.
46 mins: Peeeeeep! They're off! Again!
46 mins: "Saw him in a Copa del Rey semi against Sevilla," writes Henry Carter of Brazilian Ronaldo. "All the Sevilla fans chanting Gordi, goooorrrrdiiii – fatty, fatty – until he outran all the Sevilla players and nearly scored, twice! We were quieter after that!"
48 mins: Scott Dann heads wide of goal from 15 yards and hangs his head in his hands. He could have scored there (if only he'd headed it much harder, and more accurately).
52 mins: "Carrots to dogs are what caviar or Belgian chocolates are to man," writes Jenny Sofia. "I didn't know this until I was peeling carrots on to a newspaper on the coffee table whilst watching TV. I went to make a cup of tea and came back to find the newspaper licked clean, and my dog with bits of peel on his smiling muzzle Mentioned it to another dig owner who told me that it's a well known fact that dogs will sell their souls for a carrot." I assume you mean dog owner. Really, this thread is doing terrible things for dogs' macho image.
52 mins: Another Scott Dann header, this one much more important. It's yet another United cross from the right, and this one seemed destined for Hernández's forehead, five yards from goal, until the defender's last-breath intervention.
55 mins: Another booking, this for Grant Hanley, who was a little late on Scholes, and a little too free with his elbow as well. Decent free-kick chance this.
55 mins: Rooney shoots, but there's little pace to it and Robinson gets across to save quite comfortably.
57 mins: Save! Rafael shoots from 35 yards. Robinson was always going to save it, but it looked nice. "Steve Kean must be pleased that Berbatov is left out tonight," suggests Gary Naylor. "So must Roberto Mancini." I would agree. He's more credible in the centre of a 4-3-3/4-5-1 than Hernández, if you ask me, but United have clearly had enough of him.
58 mins: Blackburn half-clear the corner, and it's turned back in towards Hernández, who could have turned, controlled the ball and wellied it roof-of-netwards, but instead attempts a ludicrously difficult backwards twisting flick header with pike and misses the ball entirely.
59 mins: Yakubu given time, space and – unusually, in this game – the football, all at once. His eventual left-foot shot is horrible and flies high and wide. A few moments later he's played in again, by Pedersen, but shoots wide of the near post.
61 mins: Scholes dispossesses Yakubu perfectly cleanly, but Howard Webb gives a free kick. Scholes is so furious he could easily have been booked for dissent. United substitution: Welbeck comes on for Hernández.
62 mins: Pedersen's free-kick goes through the wall, low and extremely hard but straight down the middle. De Gea can't gather, and is grateful that Ferdinand is first to the rebound.
63 mins: Nzonzi centres from the right and Pedersen, a couple of yards outside the penalty area, wellies the ball into the back of the net. But the linesman's raised his flag – the ball had gone out of play! United bring Ryan Giggs on for Jones.
65 mins: Further adventures of vegetarian canines: "Why are my potatoes in the garage, you ask? Because my dog has taken a liking to raw ones, and has worked out how to open the pantry door to get them," moans Paul McCormick. "This involves scraping deep channels in my lovingly applied paintwork, and the resultant irritation this causes me is ignored by my wife, who continues to post pictures of the cute-ickle-doggy with a spud in his chops on her Facebook page."
65 mins: "I just tried to feed my dog a carrot and he just spat it out and looked at me as if I was an idiot," writes Richard Linnane. Perhaps some celery, Richard?
67 mins: Evra gets to the byline inside the penalty area, but his low centre is deflected out for a corner.
67 mins: Good spell of pressure that for United, but Blackburn manage to clear Evans' knock-down to end it, temporarily at least.
69 mins: Carrick's header from Giggs' corner loops wide, just failing to set up Rooney along the way. "Paul's dog needs to be placed on round the clock suicide watch," writes Jenny Sofia. "Potatoes are highly poisonous to dogs. Keep an eye on the razor blades too." So this amounts to animal cruelty, basically. The RSPCA should head over to Facebook, where I understand there are some highly incriminating photographs.
70 mins: Valencia wins the ball to end a Rovers break, but Hoilett brings down Welbeck to stop United from profiting. Giggs and Rooney then try to take the free-kick at the same time in what immediately appears to be a pre-rehearsed training-ground jape. Rooney centre, when it comes, is rubbish and headed away easily.
73 mins: This is starting to get a little relentless, but Blackburn continue to cling on grimly. "We have four dogs here on the farm a couple of hours north of Sydney and they all queue up when grapes are produced," writes Sean Gough. "They enjoy rolling them around in their mouths then feeling that burst of juice as their jaws bite." Don't we all, Sean, don't we all.
76 mins: Giggs now on the left, Rooney and Welbeck in the middle. United continue to knock on the door. Eelco van de Stadt brings news of his dog, Foenoe, who "when still alive, did like to be sprayed (heavily) with eau de toilette". Definitely one for the RSPCA, that.
77 mins: Blackburn nearly score! A very nice move from the home side ends with the ball slid in from the left towards Yakubu, five yards out and preparing for a tap-in. From nowhere, Rio Ferdinand's leg appears and scuppers things. Super challenge, that.
79 mins: Blackburn cross from the right, Rafael diving-headers it away. This is a pretty fine and rather tense game now. United bring Ashley Young on for Paul Scholes.
GOAL! Blackburn 0 Manchester United 1 (Valencia, 81) Yet again Valencia gets into a good crossing position, but this time he shoots instead, with the outside of his right foot, the ball curling past Robinson and in at the far corner. A great strike, hit with great pace, but should he really have scored from there?
85 mins: United fans in fine voice now. Apparently they shall not be moved.
GOAL! Blackburn 0 Manchester United 2 (Young, 86)! Young picks the ball up, back to goal, edge of the area, bang central. He shifts it onto his right foot and shoots early, bending the ball around Robinson's dive and just inside the post. Another fine finish.
90+1 mins: There will be three minutes of stoppage time, which should just about allow the rest of the home fans to leave before the final whistle.
90+3 mins: United playing keep-ball. No more to see here.
90+4 mins: Peeeeeeep! It's all over!
Full-time: Blackburn playing Dario G's Carnaval de Paris as the game ends, which seems a remarkably upbeat way of soundtracking defeat. United's players doing some title-chasing high-fiving in front of their fans.
Final thoughts: United deserved the win, though they didn't seem to have many good ideas about how to actually achieve it. Valencia and Rafael sent in 8,192 crosses from the right wing, and just when it surely seemed time for someone to tell them in no uncertain terms to try something different for a change, one of them flew straight in. People will ask if Valencia intended to shoot, but I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt – it looked like a shot to me. No doubt at all about the second. Ashley Young is particularly brilliant at adding gloss to scorelines, as Arsenal, Tottenham and now Blackburn will know. United go five points clear, Blackburn sink back into the bottom three. Both should be slightly encouraged by tonight's performance.
Post-match interview highlights: "We'll just take each game as it comes," says Ashley Young. Valencia is asked to clear up the was-it-a-cross-or-a-shot question: "Fifty-fifty," he says.