Saturday, 22 September 2018

Match report: Man Utd 1-1 Wolves

Nuno Espirito Santo's hungry and impressive Wolves side came away from Old Trafford with a fully deserved draw. Fred had put United ahead in the first half but the in-form visitors hit back thanks to a stunning Joao Moutinho equaliser to continue their strong start to life in the top tier.

Last season's Championship winners were more akin to the Portuguese national team after a influx of stars linked up with compatriot manager Santo thanks to the influential power of agent Jorge Mendes. It was summer signing Moutinho - alongside last season's Player of the Year, string puller and creator in chief Ruben Neves - who inspired the visitors fightback.
With Sir Alex Ferguson watching in the director's box, David de Gea saved well from a Wilfried Boly header and then also denied Raul Jimenez on the turn before the Reds took the lead against the run of play on 18 minutes.
The goal was down to the brilliance of Paul Pogba, who controlled a high ball with his instep and then flicked a no look pass into the path of Fred, who swivelled and fired in beyond Rui Patricio with a 20 yarder for his first United goal since his £47m signing from Shakhtar.

United had to be on our toes against a side who were looking so dangerous on the counter attack. But chances at both ends became very limited after the goal until a late free-kick just before the interval  from goalscorer Fred. Having seen an Alexis Sanchez set-piece wasted earlier, Pogba appeared to take command of the situation and lined up ready to fire in a right footer. But with Wolves' defence and keeper set up for an effort from the French midfielder, it was Fred who nipped in to strike a ferocious drive. Wolves custodian Patricio may have been stunned but he swiftly reacted to paw away Fred’s effort to grab a second.
Helder Costa had negated Luke Shaw by pinning him back and it was who led the charge as the men from Molineaux equalised on 53 minutes.
Costa's run and cross picked out Jimenez, his cushioned touch teed the ball up for Moutinho and he thumped a shot beyond the helpless DDG.
Wolves were warming to their task as Neves went close from distance and De Gea saved well again, this time to keep out Diogo Jota.
Jesse Lingard, otherwise quiet, went close at the other end, and Romelu Lukaku headed wide after Pogba's pinpoint pass had picked him out as both sides pressed for a winner in an increasingly end-to-end encounter.

The visitors continued to show unrelenting ambition and went closest to a winner late on through speedy substitute Adama Traore whom tested De Gea on the counter-attack. That proved to be the last action of the encounter as Wolves extended their unbeaten run to a fifth game and became
the first side this season to take points off both Manchester clubs.

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man off the Match: David de Gea 

Friday, 21 September 2018

Match preview: United v Wolves

Two of the Premier League's three Portuguese bosses go head-to-head at Old Trafford as compatriots and friends Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo pits their wits against each other for the first time. Young Boys were not a problem for Mourinho, but an old boy certainly could be.
Unusually for an newly promoted team, Wolves will not be cowed by the occasion, they will not come merely to sit back and frustrate United and boast an attack-minded side packed with intelligent, technically gifted players. Santo will send out a pumped up and hungry Wolverhampton side with the bit between their teeth.
The visitor arrive at Old Trafford unbeaten in three and with back-to-back wins, so this is a clash of two in-form sides with Wolves draw against Manchester City serving notice of the quality they possess.
The sides are separated by only a point and a place in the table as Mourinho's United go into the game on the back of three successive away wins at Burnley, Watford and Young Boys.

The Reds are without suspended duo Marcus Rashford and Nemanja Matic so Fred will likely start alongside Paul Pogba with Marouane Fellaini probably coming in to fill the void in the Serbian's absence. Andreas Pereira will be in contention, but Alexis Sanchez's place in the side is perhaps more doubtful than ever. Diogo Dalot impressed on his debut in midweek but will miss out here with Antonio Valencia to return at right-back. Dalot is set to start against Derby in Tuesday's Carabao Cup tie but Marcos Rojo and Ander Herrera remain sidelined.

Wolves could name the same starting XI for a sixth consecutive league game.
Ivan Cavaleiro is expected to be their only absentee as he continues his recovery from a back injury but Santo has an otherwise fully fit squad to pick from. Watch out for playmaker Ruben Neves, a cracking bundle to energy, poise, pace and trickery and a player who was the talismanic, string pulling, creator in chief last term as the men from Molineaux ran away with the second tier title.

 Mourinho gave his thoughts ahead of the tie, and said: "I think we are improving as a team, I think the team is more compact, more solid, the spirit, the co-operation is very good, I don't want to say that our improvment has the name of one player, of course we have many players doing well but they are part of a team that has played very well in these matches.
"Dalot will play again on Tuesday, I want him to play totally fresh, it is difficult coming to Manchester United as a kid, from another country and after important surgery, so it is a process of adaption and not playing him in this game is part of that adaption.
"Wolves are a very good team, strong, dominant, consistent last year in the Championship, which even if you have the best side it is not an easy situation. They have had a great transition to the Premier League - getting the points and the performances so I say myself that they will have a very stable season."
Santo's side have been a breath of fresh air so far but let's hope that United's experience and know how will be enough to tame the Wolves nasty bite.

Form guide: United W L L W W W Wolverhampton D L D W W W
Match odds: United 3/5 Draw 7/2 Wolverhampton 19/4
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire)

Jose Mourinho: The Rebranded One?

When United suffered the ignominy of back-to-back defeats by Brighton and Tottenham at the end of August, Jose Mourinho was a man under siege. The knives were out for the manager, and all sorts of questions were being asked about both him and the team. The curse of Mourinho's third-season syndrome looked to have reared its ugly head once more - the phase in the manager's glittering career that inevitably ends in his acrimonious departure after a long and protracted goodbye.
With Ander Herrera in a banter back three alongside Chris Smalling and Phil Jones against Spurs, the manner - as well as the margin of the result - only increased the feeling of discontent around Old Trafford after an unsatisfactory summer. On that painful night, a top six rival came to our own backyard and inflicted Mourinho's heaviest ever home defeat on a disjointed, desperate and discombobulated United side.

Crisis, what crisis? Jose seemed a man on the very brink of meltdown that night, but - less than a month on - life now appears much rosier in the Old Trafford garden. Of course, it's clear there are still huge problems at boardroom level but all the time the team are winning those issues with the hierarchy can be put to one side. The problems that looked to have engulfed the club feel like a long time ago now - we've got momentum and have responded to those successive defeats with a run of three consecutive wins, all away from home against Burnley, Watford and Young Boys - keeping two clean sheets in the process.
Some may say its long overdue, but Jose's United finally seem to be playing with a system, a plan and a pattern, the manager has hit upon a formation that works and has struck a balance with a starting XI that is not far off what you would consider his best. There have been signs of wonderful attacking play, Jose has showed that he is still a man that can change his ways and the turnaround has even brought about the return of an old terrace favourite. Even against Tottenham, despite the 0-3 scoreline, United were brilliant in patches during the first half. Controlled and comfortable in midfield, strong from set-pieces at both end of the field and lethal on the counter-attack, there is a clear identity to our game at present that has been conspicous by its absence for too long now. There's a structural difference, an altered angle of approach. Not only that, but he's also making a concerted, belated effort to strike a connection with our fanbase, having pointedly and deliberately stayed behind to applaud section of our support in the defeat to Tottenham and win over Burnley.

The song, that has not been heard since the halycon days of last August when 4-0 win followed 4-0 win, features the line: "Jose playing the way that United should" and there have tantalising glimpses that we are. For 20 minutes against Watford, we were given a glimpse of what might be possible.
The scintillating spell before half-time that saw Watford’s defence torn to shreds by the pace and power of United's frontline was a timely reminder that, despite the much-criticised start to the season, he has an attack with frightening potential. Against Young Boys, with Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw leading the charge on the flanks, two of United's three goals came from devastating break aways down the left-hand side.

To his credit, and however awkwardly, Mourinho is making efforts to unite his base, to create a winning spirit, to re-forge those bonds. Best of all this coincided at Burnley to Bern, via Hertfordshire, and for half a game against Tottenham, with a more José-looking team, a return to the pared-down, hard-running football of his best XIs. Two years ago, Chelsea won the league with the intervention of the season's first international break that allowed Antonio Conte breathing space to reconfigure his side to devastating effect after an indifferent start to the season. It may be too much to expect history to repeat itself here, but at least there is some hope, whatever the outcome of this third season, that Mourinho will not leave United without ever having really wrestled this team into something resembling one of his own. For all the talk of Mourinho's infamous third-season syndrome, the signs are there that he's changing his ways and turning our fortunes around.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Luke Shaw showing that Man Utd didn't need a new left-back after all

Cast your mind back to the heady days of summer. An unprecedented heat wave had the country melting under its spell, the nation was gripped by a bad dose of World Cup fever and, away from the public eye, a solitary figure popped up on social media jogging around Carrington.

As an England side that he should have been in came within 20 minutes of a World Cup final, that figure was Luke Shaw - unwanted, ostracised and out of favour - and seemingly on the brink of a one way ticket out of Old Trafford and into the wildernes on the back of a what-might-have-been Man Utd career.

We were in the market for a new left-back with Juve's Alex Sandro, Tottenham's Danny Rose and Benfica's Alex Grimaldo all in the pipeline to finally solve that problematic position. Two months on, and the transformation in Shaw has been nothing short of incredible -  no one's talking about the urgent need for a new left-back now. Indeed, such has been Shaw's remarkable renaissance that, even though this is his fifth season at the club, it almost feels like he's that new signing. Like he's the new left-back we so yearned for all along even though he's played almost 150 times for the club.
Shaw was maybe the sole beneficiary of United's split transfer strategy when it was decided in early June they would not approach Juventus for Sandro. Sandro is 27 and Ed Woodward's 'long-term' thinking has so far been vindicated by Shaw, while Mourinho clarified on Friday he wants to 'keep' him.

He impressed in the season opener with Leicester - a match in which he scored his first ever senior goal - and was the only bright spark on that torrid day at the Amex. Since then, Shaw has gone from strength to strength and has looked every inch like the player we thought we were getting when he signed for us from Southampton for £27m in 2014. Quick, strong, agile and dynamic, Shaw is playing with a smile on his face and is a world away from the moribund and maligned man whom so often felt the wrath of Jose Mourinho. Shaw has lost weight, he looks sharper both in body and in mind, and is unquestionably in the form of his life. It's great to see and I couldn't be happier for him.

United have slowly begun to address their lopsided attack through full-backs' natural width. Shaw, once anathema to Mourinho, has been United's most impressive player six games into the season. Senior club sources said last November they were still optimistic Shaw would regain the form he displayed three years ago, a surge literally broken by Hector Moreno's brutal tackle on that numbing night in Eindhoven. The 23-year-old has done; he scored his first career goal against Leicester in Aug
ust and has since played key roles in goals at Brighton, Burnley and Young Boys. Ashley Young, now Shaw's understudy, was the architect of United's set-piece strikes at Watford. It was a cruel twist of fate that our number 23's return to the England fold was cut short after less than an hour in that sickening collision with Dani Carvajal.

Not that Shaw needs to worry, if he continues on his upward trajectory then he will surely make the cut for Gareth Southgate's next squad. On this form, it's impossible to leave him out.

 In a league that boasts Marcos Alonso, Benjamin Mendy, Andy Robertson and Rose, Shaw is currently the highest-performing left-back. Shaw and Diogo Dalot cost a combined £46m, less than half the vault-load of cash Guardiola was given to spend on three full-backs last year. And Fabian Delph still started in the defeat to Lyon.
The feel-good factor is back at United.

Ronnie set to cruelly miss Old Trafford reunion

United got our Champions League campaign off to a winning start with a 3-0 win over Swiss champions Young Boys, but the headlines were grabbed - almost inevitably - by a certain Cristiano Ronaldo in the other match in Group H.

The former United and Real Madrid forward was sent off, albeit somewhat harshly, for allegedly pulling the hair of Valencia defender Jeison Murillo in an off the ball clash shortly before half-time at the Mestalla. Despite their numerical disadvantage Juventus still went on to win 2-0 without him, the seven-time defending Italian champions will have to make do without their star man - the record Champions League goalscorer -  for at least the next three European ties. Ronaldo signed for Massimiliano Allegri's domestic kings for £99m in the summer in a bid to help Juve land that elusive European crown.

Ronnie will definitely miss their next Champions League group stage game against Young Boys on 2 October - but a two-game ban would rule him out of the trip to his former side Manchester United for Matchday 3 on 23 October at Old Trafford.
And if he were to be handed a three-match suspension, he would also miss Juve's home game against United on 7 November in the reverse fixture, therefore denying him the emotional reunion with not only United, but also his former Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho - an occasion that had set pulses racing and grabbed all the headlines from the moment the draw was made. 
Uefa could possibly decide to increase the ban because of the time it took Ronaldo, who was in tears, to leave the pitch. A one-game ban is automatic - with no right of appeal - but given the very harsh nature of the sending off - it wouldn't be a surprise if Juventus appealed the decision in a bid to limit Ronaldo to only the minimum one match suspension.

The UEFA regulations state: "As a rule, a player who is sent off the field of play is suspended for the next match in a UEFA club competition (i.e. UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League or UEFA Super Cup). In case of serious offences, the UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body is entitled to augment this punishment, including by extending it to other competitions."

Ronaldo has won the tournament five times - more than anyone else except Paco Gento (six) and this was his first red card after 154 appearances in the competition.

Dynamic duo offer United a glimpse of the future

Was I dreaming? Am I hallucinating or did Man Utd last night have not one but two full-backs that can not only fly down the wings at pace but can also beat their man and cross a ball? Not only that, but a left-back with a left foot who can multiple games in a row without getting injured in consistent form. Heady days indeed. We used to take such luxuries for granted, but in an era when United are still somehow refusing to shake off the notion that using two 30-something former wingers is going to get you anywhere, it was very refreshing and progressive to see Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw bursting down the flanks from full-backs and give Man Utd exactly what we've been missing and crying out for  - width, pace and penetration.
It's the modern day raison d'etre that every other top team seems to have except us. Tottenham have Kieran Tripper and Danny Rose, Manchester City possess arguably the best two full-backs in the land in Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy, and now, at long last - United finally appear to have players in the same mould and two young, progressive full-backs worthy of the name.
 Dalot has had to wait to make his United bow having been hampered by a knee injury but he was everything the modern day full-back should be: dynamic, quick, agile, good on the ball, strong in the tackle with an excellent positional sense and he defended intelligently with nous when he had to.
On the opposite flank, Shaw continued his renaissance with another man of the match performance as he stretched Young Boys at every opportunity with his pace. This is Shaw's fifth season in the red of United and he's finally starting to look like the player we thought we were getting when he arrived from Southampton as the-then most expensive teenager in the world. For all the talk of United's urgent need for a new left-back, Shaw has silenced that talk and made a mockery of those claims.

As a 19-year old, what a debut it was for Dalot. Let's not get too carried away and remember that Matteo Darmian was excellent on his first appearance for the club vs Tottenham before he regressed into the realms of mediocrity. But the signs are great for the Portuguese teenager - he was confident and assured at both ends of the pitch with fearlessness and an end product. I'll be the first to admit I'd never even heard of him when he signed, but whoever scouted him has done a job well done. Antonio Valencia remains United's most senior player and, as our captain, you would expect him to play the majority of our matches in the right-back position. But in Dalot, he is more than capable of coming into the side when required and should be the Ecuadorian's natural successor for many years to come.
The Dalot/Shaw partnership may be a fledgling one and still only 90 minutes old, but they've added so much to the team already. It's no secret that United have struggled with a lack of width, but if Dalot and Shaw can consistnely stay fit and firing, both could prove the solution to that particular problem to stand us in good stead and ensure that the future of Manchester United's full-back positions is in safe hands

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Match report: BSC Young Boys 0-3 Man Utd

Captain Paul Pogba scored twice - including a goal of the season contender - as United knocked aside Young Boys to take early command of Group H in the Champions League.

Pogba curled home an exquisite finish after a brilliant one-two with Fred to put the Reds ahead ten minutes before the break before he added a penalty and Anthony Martial a third after the break as we penetrated Young Boys with regularity.
Portuguese full-back Diogo Dalot was handed an official debut by his compatriot manager, and the right-back played well, bombing up the flank on the overlap as well as his defensive positioning and nous as United came under early pressure. 
Until Pogba's intervention, the hosts had enjoyed the better of proceedings as Jose Mourinho's United struggled for fluency on the Swiss champions plastic pitch.
Winning away from home in Europe is never an easy task no matter who you are, and, buoyed by a bouncing, fervent mass of yellow that greeted them at the Wankdorf Stadium, Young Boys started brightly on their group stage debut and certainly did not seem overawed by the occasion. Former PSG forward Guillaume Hoarau headed wide early on, and David de Gea was called into action twice in quick succession as he denied first Mohamed Ali Camara and then Christian Fassnach.

Marcus Rashford clipped a post and then went close again as he cut in and flashed a effort wide beyond the right hand post of the wonderfully named keeper David von Balmoos. Skipper for the night Pogba then took centre stage. Linking with Brazilian Fred, Pogba was inventive and precise for the opener as he opened his body up and curled home a sumptuously dipping finish from 20 yards. The World Cup winner then doubled his tally with his third successful spot-kick of the season after defender Kevin Mbabu was harshly adjudged to have handled Luke Shaw's cross.

United, in the lead and smelling an important victory, began the second half comfortably and attempted to keep possession for long periods, presumably in a bid to keep Young Boys at bay, the hosts who had won six consecutive matches in all competitions prior to this European contest.

With 25 minutes to play, United rubber stamped the result through Martial with another lovely goal that began and culminated down the left, as Shaw and Fred linked up to play in the wantaway forward who fired in a well-taken finish.

That added gloss to a result now beyond any lingering doubt, but the Reds continued to press as substitute Juan Mata drilled an effort wide in what proved to be the last attack of an professional, clinical and well earned European away win as United brushed off Young Boys to leave them hammered and on their knees on their own turf. Elsewhere, section favourites Juventus powered to a 2-0 win in Valencia through two Miralem Pjanic penalties, but the win came at a cost with Cristiano Ronaldo potentially ruled out of Juve's trip to Old Trafford on Matchday 3.

Overall team performance: 7.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Luke Shaw