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One glaring miss shows Manchester United's Dimitar Berbatov is no King Eric
Published : 20 Apr 2010 13:25:37
Dimitar Berbatov shares many things in common with Eric Cantona,like a wonderful touch and a lack of mobility. But whereas King Ericwould puff out his chest and rise to the important occasion, Berbatovfluffs his big moments. With Wayne Rooney sidelined by his ankle injury, yesterday was thechance for Berbatov to make his own Manchester United history. But,with Chelsea winning 2-1, he blew a glorious chance to equalise. With his talent and ability, Berbatov should have been able tovolley past Petr Cech. But it didn't happen and you have to say thatthe wasted opportunity is symbolic of his entire time at Old Traffordfollowing his £31million move from Spurs. No joy: Dimitar Berbatov blew his chance against Chelsea Now, instead of remaining title favourites, United have to playcatch-up against Chelsea and a historic fourth title in a row looksdoubtful. While Cristiano Ronaldo and Rooney fired on all cylinders in the pastcouple of years, Berbatov's lack of incisive moments did not reallymatter. More from Gary Lineker... Gary Lineker: Screaming at the kids and abusing refs wins nothing17/04/10 Gary Lineker: I fear for Sir Alex if he doesn't get cash to spend at United10/04/10 Gary Lineker: Messi's a genius but he's not the biggest danger for Arsenal27/03/10 GARY LINEKER: Sport Relief proves footballers DO have a heart...20/03/10 Gary Lineker: Jose Mourinho will be back at Liverpool or Manchester City13/03/10 Gary Lineker: Don't bank on Rio Ferdinand being captain in South Africa - England's World Cup curse will hit Fabio Capello's planning06/03/10 Gary Lineker: John Terry may look strong but he is only human27/02/10 Gary Lineker: Martin O'Neill is the man to replace Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United20/02/10 VIEW FULL ARCHIVE Sir Alex Ferguson has been able to use him as a supporting cast member and he has done enough against weaker teams to make it worthwhile. But against Chelsea, United really needed Berbatov. And the outcome is that he still hasn't done it in the big games. You suspect that if the ball had dropped to Cantona a dozen years ago, the ball would have ended in the top corner and the fans would have been talking about it for years. If the ball had dropped for Rooney yesterday, you suspect United would have drawn the game and stayed top. The problem for Sir Alex is that he needs Berbatov against Bayern Munich this week so giving him a blast of the 'hairdryer' would be counter-productive. Despite appearances, Berbatov's problem is not that he doesn't care enough. If anything, it is because he is sensitive and fragile. Frustrated: Dimitar Berbatov reacts during Manchester United's game against Chelsea I remember people at Spurs telling me when United became interested in Berbatov that they had doubts over whether the Bulgarian would be able to cope with the enormous pressure of being expected to score and win every week. Some players respond well to the Fergie treatment but the United manager will need to ruffle Berbatov's hair instead and keep telling him he's a great player. The striker will feel very down this morning and possibly blame himself for allowing Chelsea to leave with the points. The big title showdown at Old Trafford also told us that United will miss Rooney during his enforced absence. For 45 minutes, their players were so lethargic, it was as if they were thinking: 'Oh no, Wayne isn't here. What do we do?' Their problems were heightened by Chelsea being fresher as a result of being knocked out of the Champions League and not having to play in midweek. United were awful in the first half, all at sea. Fergie probably gave them a coating at the interval - Berbatov excepted, of course - and they did improve in the second half, only to be undone by a poor offside decision for Didier Drogba's goal. Unfortunately for United, however, after Federico Macheda had given them a lifeline, Berbatov missed the sort of opportunity Rooney would have banged away. This season's title race has had too many twists and turns to declare it all over now, however. Chelsea have tough fixtures to come and although they are in the driving seat, United will not give up, particularly with Rooney to come back in. Although yesterday's game was slower than the high-octane encounters we've been used to between the two teams, there was plenty to enjoy, particularly for England manager Fabio Capello, who saw John Terry and Rio Ferdinand back to their best. Joe Cole also did his World Cup chances no harm with the opening goal. Readers will know I am a big Cole fan and believe it is no coincidence that Chelsea have started banging in more goals since he has come into the team for Michael Ballack. Cole is able to create danger out of nothing and is a proven force at the highest level, so I don't think it's too late for him to force his way into Capello's plans, even if he was left out of the last England squad. Big clubs rest their players, so why not Fulham? West Ham's appeal to the Premier League about Fulham fielding aweakened team against Hull smacks of desperation. To the credit ofmanager Gianfranco Zola, even he hasn't backed the club's stance.Wolves were fined earlier in the season for putting out anunderstrength side at Manchester United. My attitude was that MickMcCarthy had picked the wrong team but he was perfectly within hisrights to name the starting XI he wanted. Weakened team: Fulham's Roy Hodgson during his team's defeat against Hull To punish him and the clubfor that is wrong. Big clubs rest and rotate players all the time andget away with it. So who are the authorities to decide that clubs likeWolves and Fulham can't do what United did in the final game of lastseason, also against Hull, when they had a Champions League final toprepare for? Let Premier League managers pick whom they want formatches. That is their job - let them get on with it. Barcelona are playing on another planet! It's strange for a team to receive so much praise when they haven't actually won but I want to join in the chorus of approval for my old club, Barcelona, after their performance against Arsenal at the Emirates on Tuesday night. In my view, Barcelona are the best team on the planet and red-hot favourites to win the Champions League, although the match at Arsenal proved you can never be certain about things in knockout football. Even if Arsenal were able to go to the Camp Nou with their strongest team on Tuesday, I would still expect Barca to progress to the semi-finals. But without Cesc Fabregas, Andrey Arshavin and William Gallas, I'd find it very hard to make a case for Arsene Wenger's side. Different planet: Barcelona's Lionel Messi holds off Arsenal's Alex Song I wrote last week that Arsenal were good, but still inferior to Barca in every department. I am still scratching my head how the first leg ended in a 2-2 draw. Barca were imperious and for the first 20 minutes played as well as any team ever has. All that they lacked was the finishing. To Arsenal's credit, they hung in there and a big plus was the form of Theo Walcott. With his pace, he has to make the plane for the World Cup. A repeat of last year's Barcelona-Manchester United final is still possible despite United's 2-1 first-leg defeat to Bayern Munich. United's confidence is not high, and they are missing their best player, but the odds are still in their favour, 60-40, to get through. But, with Barca in this sort of form, maybe it will be best for United not to make the final!