Friday, 29 May 2020

Football's return mapped out as Project Restart confirmed for June

It's all systems go again as English football took a step nearer to a return with the sport's roadmap out of a three month hiatus given the green light.
On Thursday, the Premier League announced the 2019-20 campaign will follow in the footsteps of Germany's Bundesliga with a behind closed doors return on Wednesday 17 June, with Aston Villa vs Sheffield United and Manchester City vs Arsenal - the four clubs with games in hand - subject to government approval.

The league was suspended on 13 March due to the pandemic and it will be 100 days after Leicester's 4-0 win against Midlands rivals Villa that competition will, provisionally - resume. United's first game after the resumption will be against Jose Mourinho's Tottenham on our first visit to the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Our top scorer Marcus Rashford would've missed the rest of the season but is nearing full fitness and is expected to be ready in time for the restart.

A full round of fixtures, each with a staggered kick off time, would be played between 19 and 21 June. Friday and Monday night fixtures will kick off at 8pm, with Saturday games to start at 12pm, 2pm, 5.30pm and 8pm. Sunday games will be 12, 2, half 4 and 7, with 6pm and 8pm kick offs for any games being played out on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. We've gone from the ridiculous of no football at all to the sublime of an absolute festival of the beautiful game. Finishing the 2019-20 season would need six weekends and three midweek rounds with all parties wanting a provisional end date of Saturday 25 July.

The UK may be beyond the worst of the awful coronavirus pandemic, but the threat is by no means in our rear view mirror so safety guidelines and decisions regarding the league's return are yet to be issued by either the government or the Premier League.
Due to the fact that all the remaining 92 games will be played in empty stadiums, every single one will be broadcast live with supporters able to watch in the comfort of our homes, with pubs still closed in the fight against Covid-19.

For the first time ever, BBC Sport will show four live matches, with Sky Sports to screen 64 - 25 of which will be made free to air. The rest will be shown on BT Sport and Amazon Prime. Home and away matches seem the most likely for the majority of the ties, with a select few to take place on a 'neutral' ground on the advice of the government and police. It has since been confirmed that the Merseyside derby, Manchester City vs Liverpool and our fixture with Sheffield United will be three of those played at a neutral venue.

So far, 12 players and coaching staff have tested positive for the virus after 2,752 tests across the
league with everyone continuing to be tested twice a week at a rate of 60 per club.

Meanwhile, there will be FA Cup winners for 2019-20 - with United still in the hat at the last eight stage - with the quarter finals and our trip to Norwich to be played on the weekend of 27 - 28 June. The semis have been rescheduled for 18-19 July with the final at a deserted Wembley on Saturday, 1 August. FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said that the new dates are subject to "all safety measures being met" with the kick off times yet to be announced.
A decision on the UEFA competitions, with United having already sealed our spot in another quarter final, is yet to be made. European football's governing body will discuss the plans in due course.

Football without fans is nothing but beggars, indeed, can't be choosers but in these unprecedented times it's something to look forward too and a step towards, perhaps, a semblance of normality.

Liverpool, chasing their first league title in three decades, sit top of the league by 25 points with nine games left.


Sunday, 10 May 2020

United star surprisingly named in Team of the Season

Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes has been named in the Premier League team of the season.... despite playing only five games.
Solskjaer explains why Bruno Fernandes failed to make big impact ...
Quick impact is rewarded and nothing beats raw talent. That certainly seems to be the case for our Portuguese magnifico, with his inclusion in the team raising eyebrows despite his impressive start to life at United. There can be no denying the impact Fernandes has made - with two goals and three assists in those five games - but surely it makes a mockery of rewarding sustained brilliance of an entire league season.
 It's like me getting employee of the year for working my backside off despite only being present at work for two months - the other people in the workplace wouldn't be too enamoured!

Fernandes became the only United played in an XI which was, as you'd expect, heavily dominated by Liverpool players. Seven of Jurgen Klopp's champions elect make the cut, a sickening but unsurprising sight with the season halted amidst the deadly grip of the Covid 19 pandemic. The BBC conducted a fan's vote to come up with the XI.  Fernandes gets in ahead of Leicester's James Maddison and Villa's Jack Grealish - both have been linked with Old Trafford moves and the young England duo can count themselves unlucky to miss out. Leicester's Wilfried Ndidi and Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic have also both been consistently if quietly impressive at the heart of their side's respective engine rooms.
What is even more eye-raising about Fernandes inclusion is that he didn't get the pre-requisite half a season of playing time that a winter arrival would usually get before being awarded such an honour. This, perhaps more than anything, speaks volumes about the difference he has had. If only we'd signed him in the summer.

He is a player to be very excited about and we can't wait to see him in action again when football finally resumes. I struggle to think of a player I've seen who's had such a huge impact in such a short space of time.

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has been named the Player of the Season (another contentious one) but there is no place for top scorer Jamie Vardy or last year's Golden Boot winner Pierre - Emerick Aubameyang - second in the scoring charts this time  around - with Manchester City's Sergio Aguero preferred to the pair.
Henderson is joined by several of his table topping team mates, with goalkeeper Alisson, full-backs Trent Alexander - Arnold and Andrew Robertson, centre-back Virgil Van Dijk and forwards Sadio Mane and Mo Salah all getting the nod. Aaron Wan - Bissaka is unfortunate to miss out with the United man having had a sizzling, sensational debut season at Old Trafford.
Elsewhere, Leicester centre back Caglar Soyuncu has been voted in alongside Van Dijk after a fine campaign for the high flying Foxes. Kevin de Bruyne completes the team.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Day 45 without football... and counting

It seems an awfully long time ago since Scott McTominay breezily wrapped up Manchester United's derby double over Manchester City.
Amidst the euphoric, jubilant scenes that days - scenes reminiscent of the halcyon days of yesteryear -  little did any of us know what was about to happen. No one quite knew how bad this new, undiscovered virus was or how badly it would affect us. Indeed, McTominay's winner feels like a lifetime ago. It was certainly the last time that life itself resembled any semblance of normality.

 A day after our derby win, Italy's Serie A was suspended indefinitely, Spain's La Liga followed suit three days later and then so did the Premier League. For the first time in living memory, football had completely stopped in a way never seen before. 45 days on, and the new reality has become a way of life. With the UK and much of the world under an unprecedented lockdown, we've all got used to this by now. Although for obvious reasons there's nothing United to write about, we thought we'd keep you all updated and give you some musings to peruse as the lockdown enters its sixth week. Man, how I miss football.

It's strange isn't it, how a team of players that don't even know we exist have such a profound impact on all our lives. Football brings everyone together in a way that only the beautiful game can - feast, famine, war, terrorism, drought, political crisis and Mother Nature - no matter what the world throws at us, we'll always have football. The one constant in an ever changing, forever evolving world. It's so important to so many, we need it to help us through the biggest global crisis many of us have ever seen, but yet at the same time football is so irrelevant, particularly when you glance at the horrible numbers we're seeing on a daily basis.

Whilst the organised professional stuff was halted during WW2, there were unofficial fixtures and wartime games to keep the nation's spirits up during the conflict with Germany. At least then we could see the enemy and knew what we were up against. We could prepare and plan our fightback. This is completely different. If you'd told me on New Year's Eve that four months down the line we'd be fighting an invisible killer that put our PM in intensive care, shut schools, closed pubs, stopped sport, delayed the Olympics, cancelled Wimbledon, ceased travel and turned the world as we know it upside down I'd have said you've gone a bit too heavy on the beer and champagne. For me, its not so much being unable to go to the pub, the gym, to church and to travel freely as not having the option of doing so should you wish. Having that choice taken away is the worst part of all this. Then again, it will make those pleasure activities all the more special when life returns to normal and all this is over in the distant, post coronavirus times. So what of the Premier League? There's an understandable reluctance to null and void it, but as each day goes by and a return to normality seems further and further away, the window for completion seems to be shrinking by the minute. There surely has to be a cut off point, a point of no return, for when the league must resume.

I've never done so many quizzes in my entire life than I've been doing in these last few weeks (most of them, it must be said, to do with the Reds). Watching highlights of old United games on the Internet obviously isn't the same as going down the pub with your mates to cheer your team on, but it at least helps to fill a football-sized hole in my life. I've watched the 2008 Champions League final a fair few times and only yesterday watched highlights of our win over Spurs in the 2018 FA Cup semi-final. Happy days. Thank goodness for YouTube.
I've been learning a language, going for runs, writing a book and doing a lot more DIY, so its fair to say I'm keeping myself busy.

As the old adage goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. That's true on every level right now, we're all missing our friends, our families and our football. It will be certainly be the case when football returns, whenever that may, and will serve only to rekindle the love we all have for our club. Stay safe, stick together, keep going, look after each other and we'll get through this. Bill Shankly once said that football isn't a matter of life and death. On this one occasion, he was wrong. Now more than ever, we need to be united.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Former United man tests positive for Coronavirus

Former Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini is the latest high profile footballer to test positive for Covid 19.

In a post on Twitter, the 32 year old - now playing for Shandong Luneng in China - wrote: "Dear friends I have been tested for coronavirus and my test result is positive. Thanks to the fans, medical staff and the club for their care and attention. I will follow the treatment and hope to return to the game as soon as possible. Please, everyone, stay safe."

Chinese media reports claim Fellaini is in isolation at Jinan hospital, which specialises in infectious illnesses and diseases. I don't think we'll have any problems with him *passing it on* though (badum tish) - sorry Marouane. We couldn't resist that.
The Belgian international moved to China in 2019 after eleven years in the Premier League under David Moyes at Everton and at Old Trafford with Moyes, LVG and Jose Mourinho as managers.
Chinese football - as with the sporting world as a whole - has been hit hard by the outbreak - with the resumption of Chinese Super League pushed back indefinitely from its intended restart of 22 February.

He is reportedly the only top flight player to have returned a positive coronavirus test in the country where this all started. Fellaini showed no symptoms of Covid 19 and was tested as he returned to training. Spain based China international Wu Lei is recovering from the condition.

Fellaini joins Paulo Dybala, Paulo Maldini and son Daniel along with four Portsmouth FC players - Haji Mnoga, James Bolton, Andy Cannon and Sean Raggett - in being diagnosed with the potentially fatal and rapidly spreading virus. Thankfully, all seven men have been described as feeling well and better already.

Fellaini played 106 times for United having arrived from Goodison Park in 2014, but he fell out of favour under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and moved to Shandong Luneng last January.

These are scary and unprecedented times for everyone and we hope Fellaini - as well as anyone who has tested positive or those showing even mild symptoms - stays safe and follows the guidelines of their Government.

Celebrities and athletes in the UK are being tested for coronavirus but the average Joe will just be told to self isolate and stay at home regardless of their circumstances. Being a relatively young professional sportsman, it is almost certain that Fellaini will make a full recovery.

We wish Fellaini all the best in his quarantined recovery and hope he will be able to return to the sport soon. Best wishes to him from everyone here at United Faithful.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Covid 19 to pave the way for United's 21?

How we all coping without the constant of Premier League football in our lives? Just when Manchester United hit a wonderful run of form, the season was brought to a juddering and abrupt halt as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the country.

All games at every level of the professional game have been postponed until at least April 3, but privately there is a growing concern that the season will not be finished. In that scenario, league positions would remain as they currently are but there would be no title, no relegation and Leeds United and WBA would jump into a 22 team Premier League for the 2020/21 season. Five teams would face the drop next season as a result but such a move seems unlikely and at odds with the entirety of the system. A vacant title would get the backing of many United fans with Liverpool missing out on their first triumph in 30 years if that was to happen.

The second shout is going to be less popular. That would see the season end on current points and league positions - Liverpool win it, United fifth and Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Norwich would have to accept relegation despite the fact the Villa Park side have played a game less.
What would that mean for United's quest to get back among the European elite - City's ban is still pending so would fifth be enough. It would be very hard on us if we missed out on a technicality.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men have all but qualified for the Europa League quarter finals after a 5-0 win at LASK Linz on Thursday - but both of UEFA's club competitions face cancellation with European football's governing body calling an emergency meeting on Tuesday.
There is a consensus among clubs, officials and organisations that nobody wants that outcome and the aim is to finish the finish in some way, come what may.

How about play-offs for the title, Europe and relegation? Liverpool fans won't be happy but when are they and who cares anyway. They're irrelevant in this.
Depending on how many clubs are included, this could even be a chance for United to win title number 21 - now wouldn't that really pour down on Liverpool's parade. Something like perhaps Liverpool and City as the top two get "byes" into the semi final and the rest of the top six start in a quarter-final style, mini knockout competition. Last four get into the Champions League, the play off winners are exactly that - league champions.

That would be a fair way to decide the title and the Champions League positions. Or, a mini league which takes into account points accrued so far home and away, one for the top six and another for the bottom six. Could Covid 19 open the door to United's 21? We're in unchartered territory with the situation changing by the day.

The UK is expecting the peak of the virus to hit in June - so it seems extremely unlikely that the season will resume in April as planned at the moment. It does, however, give the authorities some breathing space and thinking time. There could even be a delay into July with a delayed start to the 2020/21 campaign. Very much a case of watch this space. We'll know more next week but it looks increasingly likely that Euro 2020 will be postponed until next summer.

Even in absentia, football will divide opinions on what the best course of action is, but anything that stops the Scousers from winning the league is fine by us.

Friday, 13 March 2020

Premier League forced into unprecedented lockdown

The Football Association and the Premier League have been forced into unprecedented action with the suspension of all elite football until 3rd April amid the Covid 19 outbreak.
All top flight, EFL, FA Women's Super League and Women's Championship - along with all UEFA club games - have been put on hold amid the coronavirus crisis. 
United's Europa League last 16 second leg with LASK at Old Trafford is therefore suspended, along with the draw for the quarter finals. 

The news was hardly unexpected with the hierarchy following in the footsteps of all of Europe's other major leagues. With Serie A, Ligue 1, Bundesliga and La Liga also facing a definite suspension, fans are left with a huge football-shaped hole in all of our lives. That said, whilst football is of paramount importance and sport unites us when times are tough, nothing can take precedence over people's lives. Health and safety must come first. It's the correct decision and the corridors of power were left with no other realistic option. Typical, just when United are hitting form, the season and our momentum grinds to a juddering halt. 

The Premier League said action would resume on April 4th "subject to medical advice and conditions at that time." 

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea player Callum Hudson - Odoi tested positive for Covid 19 late on Thursday with the powers that be finally forced to take action. 
Three Leicester City players are self-isolating, and the first team squads at Everton FC and AFC Bournemouth have also shown symptoms of the rapidly spreading virus. Daniele Rugani of Juve and Sampdoria's Manolo Gabbiadini are also known to have contracted the illness. We wish these players and Arteta well and hope they make a full recovery. 

Still, it should have come earlier, long before the straw that broke the camel's back. 

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said: "In this unprecedented situation, we are working closely with our clubs, the government, the FA and the EFL. We can reassure everyone the health and welfare of players, staff and fans are our priority." Masters added that the league will look to finish the season and re-schedule any displaced fixtures. 

Ten people have now died from the potentially fatal disease in the UK and there have been nearly 600 known cases across the country. 

We will keep you updated with the situation as it develops here at United Faithful. 

Match report: LASK Linz 0-5 Man Utd

Manchester United took total control of our Europa League last 16 tie with a resounding first leg win at the Austrian champions in front of 500 people.

The game had been ordered to be played behind closed doors by the Austrian government amid the threat of the coronavirus, with a small posse of club officials, media and Austrian hierarchy in attendance in an otherwise empty ground - our team's first ever experience of playing behind closed doors.
Odion Ighalo set United on their way with a superb opening goal - his fourth in three starts - as the Reds extended our unbeaten run to an eleventh game.

Daniel James added an excellent second after half-time for his first goal since August, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side put further distance between themselves and LASK through goals from Juan Mata and substitutes Mason Greenwood and Andreas Pereira.

It rendered the second leg (if there is one) at Old Trafford completely anodyne with the tie won, allowing Solskjaer to field a side exclusively of youth players if he feels the need.
Despite shuffling his pack again, with five changes from the derby, Solskjaer's men were fluid and confident against opponents on their best ever European run.

Mata miscued a chance early on and LASK keeper Alexander Schlager punched clear under pressure from a Luke Shaw cross, but he could only direct the ball to the Spaniard, but he could again only drive wide.
Schlager saved well from Ighalo, James was denied by the increasingly busy keeper and Eric Bailly directed a header narrowly off target from the resultant corner. United had piled on the pressure and persistence paid off with Ighalo's stunning breaking of the deadlock shortly before the half hour mark.

A lovely forward run from the again impressive Bruno Fernandes led to him finding Ighalo on the edge of the area. After a trio of wonderful touches with both feet to control the ball, the Nigerian slammed home a superb half-volley off the bar.
LASK suddenly sprung forward when a deflected cross fell to Dominik Frieser. The Austrian side's top scorer chanced his arm from close range but Bailly blocked well in front of Romero to snuff out the opening.

Maguire went close with a trademark header from a Fernandes corner but the second goal was not long in coming.
After Mata had fired over and Scott McTominay was denied by Schlager, James - played in by Ighalo - cut inside to slam home on 58 minutes to end his 23 game goal drought. It was his first goal since the 31 August and capped a creditable recent revival for the player.
Ighalo struck a post and Peter Michorl had an effort at the other end, but the Reds remained in control and put unassailable distance between us and Valerien Ismael's tiring Austrian champions late on.

After collecting the ball on the touchline, Mata found Fred whom played a pinpoint, defence-splitting
pass back to the Spaniard and, one on one with Schlager, he finished emphatically.
Substitutes Tahith Chong and Greenwood linked up for the fourth goal, as the former found the latter to fire in an excellent finish off both posts.
Another sub, Pereira, added the icing on the cake with a 25-yarder that Schlager should have done better with.

The Reds now head back to OT with a 5-0 lead and both feet in the quarter finals, ahead of the scheduled game against Tottenham on Sunday (although that will almost certainly be postponed).

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Odion Ighalo