Sunday, 16 February 2020

How Manchester City's UEFA ban will effect Manchester United

Man City manager Pep Guardiola and OGS 
A bombshell was dropped on the world of football on Friday with an announcement that could have far reaching consequences.
In case you've been living under a rock or have been cut off from the outside world with no form of internet or news, let me fill you in.
Following a lengthy investigation by UEFA, Manchester City were judged to have breached Financial Fair Play Rules and failed to disclose the true extent of sponsorship revenue. They were also fined 30m euros (£25m) and as, a result, have been banned from European competition for two years.

The club can appeal and will do so, and it seems unlikely the entirety of the sanction will be upheld by CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport), with a possible scenario of the ban being reduced to one year and any financial penalty halved. Their expulsion from the Champions League will bring very impactful implications with United one of the clubs affected. The futures of City manager Pep Guardiola and several of the club's star players have been thrown into doubt.

It will have a huge affect on the race for next season's competition, with the league champions ban freeing up another Champions League place for the chasing pack.
The decision, should it remain in place, will ensure that qualification will drop down a place, if City finish in the top four which they almost certainly will. It means that fifth place will be enough to get in, with sixth and seventh taking the resultant Europa League spots.
Sheffield United currently occupy the spot, with Chris Wilder's surprise package defying the odds to launch a stunning assault on the league and push for the unlikeliest of European rewards. As it stands, the Blades will be in the Champions League for 2020/21... now, there's a sentence I never thought I'd be typing. Everyone, me included, loves a story of the underdog, the rank outside, coming from nowhere to upset the applecart. Part of me would love nothing more than seeing Sheffield United strutting their stuff with the likes of Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern next season - it would be bigger than Leicester winning the Premier League back in 2016 with odds of 5,000/1. As good as it would be, I'm a Man Utd fan first and foremost and would never want any other rival to enjoy success at our expense.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side are four points further back, in ninth but with a game in hand and hopes of a return to the continent's top table were given a boost by Friday's shock verdict. Just when we thought all hope had gone, schadenfreude has intervened. Perhaps now Champions League football next season would be a big possibility.
Up until this point in the season, fourth place, and the riches that come with it, had looked very unlikely. Not impossible - we're a club that don't know that word - but unlikely. Solskjaer's side have seen countless opportunities go begging to capitalise when Chelsea have dropped points and despite picking up points against the superior sides, we're struggled against the sides below us.

City have ten days to lodge the appeal with CAS, and as already mentioned, could yet see the ban reduced or even overturned (you just know they're going to throw endless money at it until they get their way). Friday's ruling is not the end of this story by any stretch. While United can hope the ban is upheld and the additional space given to fifth spot, the focus should remain on ourselves rather than the shortcomings of others. The temptation might be to aim for fifth and taking our eye off the Europa League ball, but imagine how embarrassing it would be if we missed out on the Champions League if City ARE banned and fifth, does, indeed, get given that extra place. It's a lifeline we didn't see coming but one we desperately crave. Short term suffering for long term success - even if that does mean a little helping hand from a next door neighbour in our hour of need.

Should City win the Carabao Cup or the FA Cup and therefore qualify via that route, then their European spot would again jump a place in the league, possibly down as far as eighth in the table, with United one of a cluster of sides waiting in the wings. The race for Europe is wide open thanks to the biggest football story of the season.


Match preview: Chelsea v Man Utd

It seems like a lifetime ago that Manchester United last played a football match. In fact it will be a little over two weeks by the time Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side take to the field after the Premier League's first ever winter break.

Solskjaer has beaten Frank Lampard three times in their previous three managerial meetings, boasting a 100% record against his counterpart in the battle of two relative rookies. But Lampard can claim to be happier with his side's season so far, with the Blues currently occupying fourth place, only two points ahead of United.... surprise package Sheffield United!

We sit six points further back in eighth position and this Monday night fixture surely looks a must win to keep alive any lingering hopes of reeling in the chasing pack. Manchester City's potential Champions League ban could mean that the fifth placed team qualifies for the Champions League in their absence, sprinkling added intrigue to an already congested battle.

United beat Chelsea 4-0 on the opening day of the campaign and also prevailed on our last trip to Stamford Bridge - Marcus Rashford's wonder goal proving the difference in a 2-1 Carabao Cup victory in October. The Reds have a baffling ability to turn it on against the top teams yet frequently fall short against the league's lesser lights, struggling against the likes of West Ham, Bournemouth, Watford and Burnley.

New loan signing Odion Ighalo is set to travel with the squad and will be involved, with the former Watford striker set to make his debut, probably off the bench. He hasn't played much football or even trained with the team since arriving from Shanghai Shenhua on deadline day, so Solskjaer probably won't throw him straight in.
Scott McTominay and Axel Tuanzebe have been out since December but both travelled to the Reds winter training camp. This match seems likely to come too soon for the pair, however.
Marcus Rashford (back) and Paul Pogba (ankle) also remain sidelined, while Tim Fosu - Mensah - who is yet to play this campaign - has suffered a minor setback but is not far away from full fitness.

Bruno Fernandes will make his first appearance away from home following an impressive debut against Wolves last time out.
Lampard has a fully fit squad to pick from with Ruben Loftus - Cheek the Blues only injury absentee.

Solskjaer said: "Of course, a win gives us a three point gap and that's what we've got to aim for.
"We've played them twice already this season and done well but Chelsea are a good team. They are at home so it's more difficult for us, but we're going there to try and win the game.
"We've got to, to give us more belief and more hope and confidence that we can kick on, because we need to kick on.
"We know it will be difficult but the boys have trained well, we've had a rest so we're ready to go."

On the benefits of the winter break, Ole added: "I think it's a big advantage for everyone in the squad, individually, the team, but also the other teams and the league. I think the league will see a benefit from it, the quality of the football will improve, because December and January are relentless.
"It's a good move by the authorities, every other major league in other countries have some form of break, so it's just up to the boys to show that freshness we've shown this week."

United's visit to Stamford Bridge is the MNF game on Sky Sports and kicks off at 8pm

Form guide: Chelsea W W L D W D United W L L W W D
Match odds: Chelsea 5/6 Draw 11/4 United 7/2
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe)


Saturday, 1 February 2020

Match report: Man Utd 0-0 Wolves

United debutant Bruno Fernandes enjoyed an impressive debut but was unable to inspire his new side to victory in another stalemate with familiar foes Wolves.

In a game of few clean cut chances, the £47m man - signed from Sporting Lisbon on Thursday - did force a few good saves from compatriot Rui Patricio, who almost inadvertently dropped another over his own goal line.

They say familiarity breeds contempt and that was certainly the case as the men from Molineux met United for the sixth time in eleven months - our third clash with Nuno Espirito Santo's side in 29 days with 2020 only a month old.
It was perhaps because of these regular tete-a-tetes that this match proved a largely dull and anodyne affair. The two sides know how each other player, they have similar styles, are very similar clubs and its always a tight contest between the combatants. The three previous encounters had ended 1-1, 0-0 and 1-0, proving that there's rarely much to separate the two well matched teams.

The nearest United came to scoring a deserved winner came in the final minute when substitute Diogo Dalot headed inches wide having been picked out by Aaron Wan - Bissaka.
Wolves worked hard and were tough to break down but, despite introducing their own new Portuguese signing Daniel Podence, also lacked a killer touch in front of goal.

While it could not be described as an explosive debut, Fernandes did enough to indicate that he will instantly offer United an improved attacking threat. Eager to get on the ball, he took risks, is quick, looked creative and sparky, took the initiative at set pieces and was not afraid to shoot.

Typically, Fernandes had the first effort of the encounter when he flashed a shot narrowly wide on the angle, and then fired a 20-yarder straight at Patricio.  He wasn't afraid to get stuck in either, with a crunching challenge on countryman Joao Moutinho, which earned him a booking.

Another free-kick and the routine strike Patricio made a mess of were his second half highlights, but he won't be able to raise the level of this team on his own.

The visitors had chances too, with Raul Jimenez denied by David de Gea and Roman Saiss heading over when he should have better eleven minutes from time.

Podence had a shot blocked on the turn and Ruben Neves tried his luck from distance but Wolves, playing their 41st game of the season, ran out of steam.

Fernandes was not the only man restricted to only long range efforts as Harry Maguire flashed a shot over the ball and Andreas Pereira was unable to call Patricio into action.
Juan Mata pulled a shot inches wide on the turn and the visiting keeper then frantically had to shovel another Fernandes around the post.

Mason Greenwood - on as a sub for the ineffective Andreas - almost grabbed a potential winner six minutes after his introduction when his drive deflected off Willy Boly and Conor Coady but Patricio was able to snatch the ball low down.

Sub Dalot then came even closer with the final action of the game when his stooping header rolled agonisingly wide ensuring another stalemate.

So the match, the fourth of the season between the clubs, ended all square and goalless.

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Bruno Fernandes. A superb debut even if he did understandably tire late on

Friday, 31 January 2020

Match preview: Man Utd v Wolves - New boy Fernandes to be involved

After Manchester United's valiant efforts in victory - but aggregate defeat - over Manchester City in midweek, we return to Premier League action against Wolves on Saturday.

These two combatants are probably sick of the sight of each other but are very well matched with United two places against the visitors but locked together on points in the table. As we know, Wolves are a very good side with a well organised defence, two eye catching string pullers in Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho in the middle and a combination of pace and power from an attack that can hurt you.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pits his wits against Nuno Espirito Santo for the sixth time in eleven months as the Old Gold make the trip to Old Trafford for a Saturday tea time kick off - but there's only name on everyone's lips.

Having completed the signing of Bruno Fernandes on Thursday, our new number 18 will go straight into the squad against the men from Molineux.

The manager could throw his newest recruit straight into the firepit but we think it's more likely that Solskjaer will ease him into things by bringing him off the bench. Solskjaer confirmed that Fernandes will be involved in this one in some capacity, and the new man will offer United an instant upgrade on what we already have.

United's in-form midfielder Nemanja Matic serves a one game ban having been sent off against Man City, with Paul Pogba, Scott McTominay, Marcus Rashford and Axel Tuanzebe all still sidelined. Fernandes is fully fit and is set for a debut.
Bruno's compatriot Daniel Podence, yet another of Wolves Portuguese contingent, signed for £16.6m from Olympiakos and could also be handed a bow.
Wing-back Ruben Vinagre (hamstring) is out, but forward Diogo Jota and defender Willy Boly are both available again.

What a week it has been for United: a 6-0 away win, a second victory in two months at the Etihad, and the completion of one of the most expensive transfer moves Old Trafford has seen for many a year.
However, we were knocked out of the League Cup by our local rivals and there was the unsavoury incident that saw CEO Ed Woodward's house attacked. There remains the the possibility of a mass walkout here in protest over the Glazers ownership despite this being United's closest match to the 62nd anniversary of the Munich air crash.

It does, though, promised to be a tight but entertaining affair with the three previous meetings this season all very closely contested.

On the signing of Fernandes, OGS said: "We have followed him (Bruno Fernandes) for years but he has grown as a player during that time as well. More mature, more confident, more assured.
"He is a great leader of his team and even with all the speculation around him, probably every club in Europe has been linked with him, he stayed focused and has been playing fantastic for Sporting.
"It tells you everything how professional he has been and when you get to see him and meet him, he's also a fantastic human being."

These two sides meet for the fourth time in 2019-20, with both matches in the Midlands ending all square. Following a creditable 1-1 league draw at Molineux in our second game of the season, the Reds edged matters 1-0 courtesy of Juan Mata in last month's FA Cup replay win (the first tie had ended
 0-0).

Wolves got a draw here in last term's corresponding fixture and beat us twice with a pair of 2-1 wins at Molineux as United's form plateaued having started like a train under Solskjaer. History suggests another tight tussle that could go either way in our final game before the first ever Premier League winter break.

Form guide: Man Utd W W L L W W Wolves L D D L W L
Match odds: Man Utd 5/4 Draw 9/4 Wolves 5/2
Referee: Paul Tierney (Wigan)

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Player profile: New United signing Bruno Fernandes

So it's official. After weeks and months of wrangling, negotiating and deadlock, Bruno Fernandes is a Manchester United player. He brings with him a reputation as one of the most eye-catching attacking midfielders in Europe and will add some much quality and intelligence to a threadbare and slipshod side.

I knew nothing of this player before United came sniffing for him so why did we want him so badly and who exactly is he?

The Portuguese international, 25, can score goals, create and plays in midfield either as a 10 or an 8, and that pretty much says it all. With key injuries and a lack of threat in an area so crucial, Fernandes will seemingly fill a void that has desperately needed addressing.

Through 15 domestic games with former side Sporting Lisbon, Fernandes has eight goals and seven assists in league play alongside five goals and three assists in five Europa League ties.
Those numbers alone are eye-catchingly impressive but when we look at them compared to what we've got already, you will quickly see why we need someone like Fernandes in there. 

Dan James - 23 games (three goals, six assists)
Andreas Pereira - 21 games with one goal and three assists (awful)

Scott 'McSauce' - 17 games with three goals and one assist but he's out until February
Fred and Jesse 'Invisible Man' Lingard - 20 games and - wait for it - ZERO goals and NO assists
Juan Mata - 15 games no goals and two assists and Paul Pogba seven games but NO goals and two assists, out for 4-5 weeks

Fernandes began life in Italy with Novara in Serie B before making the step up to Udinese. 86 games and ten goals later, he was on the move to Sampdoria on a loan deal. Scored five times in 33 appearances.
In June 2017 he returned to his native homeland with Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon for £8.5 million.
With Sporting, he became the player that everyone - fans, players, pundits, friends and foe alike - sat up and took notice of. His breakthrough season came last term when he plundered 20 goals in 33 games.

Fernandes could slot into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side as either an attacking midfielder, centrally in a 4-2-3-1, or an out and out midfielder who can play deeper but chip in with goals.
Currently, with the depleted state of our midfield, the attacking thrust just isn't there and we've had to rely on a more defensive system.
Fernandes give us a new attacking danger that been sorely conspicuous by its absence. In theory, once Pogba and McTominay return from injury, we'll have the most offensive minded engine room that we've had for many a year.

If used as a central midfielder his defensive contribution is solid if unspectacular, but we haven't signed him to do that job. In the past, having played there he is at his best when accompanied by someone more defensive. He's an accomplished passer of the ball and is not afraid to take risks in order to cut teams open or switch the play.

He comes to OT with a hefty price tag and even loftier expectations. Let's see what sort of impact he will have but - one thing's for sure - he can't be any worse than what we have now!

United complete Bruno Fernandes signing

So it's official. Bruno Fernandes is a Manchester United player. Yesterday we penned on these pages that a deal for the player had been agreed and shortly after 5pm on Thursday United confirmed the signing on a five and a half year deal.

Having strengthened the defence during the summer, it was blindingly obvious that we needed a creative spark and sprinkling of stardust to replace the departed Ander Herrera and the stricken duo of Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay. I very much hope that Fernandes will be that man.

Fernandes flew to Manchester yesterday and was pictured at Carrington in the iconic Red with his contract on the table having agreed personal terms and passed his medical. The Portuguese international is set to go straight into the squad for Saturday's Old Trafford meeting with the Old Gold of Wolves.
The initial fee for the 25-year-old is set at £47m but add ons could see that rise to around £67.7m. Nonetheless, he represents a significant upgrade to the side and hopefully this marks the end of Jesse Lingard's days as a regular. Fernandes can come in and dislodge both Lingard and Andreas Pereira from first team duty straight away. Capped 19 times by Portugal, he has scored twice and helped his team to UEFA Nations League glory and also played at the 2018 World Cup.

Bruno was a relative unknown when he arrived at Sporting Clube from Italian side Sampdoria but quickly became one of the most exciting and sought after players on the continent.  Fernandes won the Portuguese league's Player of the Year award back to back in 2018 and 2019.  Described by former Swansea manager and compatriot Carlos Carvalhal as a 'player from another level', and touted as a player with great leadership, his transfer - despite its protracted nature - had been expected for some time.

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told ManUtd.com: "We have been tracking Bruno for a while now, and everyone here has been very impressed with all his attributes and what he will bring to this team.
"Most important he is a tremendous person with a great personality and his leadership qualities are clear for all to see. His goals and assist stats speak for themselves, he will be a fantastic addition to our team and will help us push on in the second half of the season.
"The winter break is coming at the perfect time for us to integrate Bruno into the squad and for him to get know his team mates."

Despite having already played for former side Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League, Fernandes will be eligible to turn out for us in that competition when it resumes next month with the "cup tied" rule having been abolished.

The signing of Fernandes is the biggest of the January window so far and he follows Marcos Rojo and compatriots Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani in making the move from the Portuguese capital to M16.

I don't know much about him but I'm told he's very good and I can't wait to see him in the Red of United. We don't know yet what squad number he will be given.

Welcome to Manchester United, Bruno Miguel Borges Fernandes.


Match report: Man City 0 -1 Man Utd (Agg: 3-2)

Manchester United won the battle but lost the war as Pep Guardiola's City edged through to a third successive Carabao Cup final after the Reds claimed victory.
3-1 down from the first leg, it looked a big ask for United to complete another memorable comeback and we fell short despite a gusty effort and a second win at the Etihad in six weeks.
In truth, though, that abject opening half an hour at our place across the city came back to haunt United and proved pivotal, the tie was lost at Old Trafford. But going to the Etihad and winning despite that deficit shows we did something right and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should be proud of the team despite going out. Over the 180 minutes of the tie, City probably just about deserved to go through to the final, where they will face Aston Villa at Wembley on March 1 as they bid for a seventh League Cup title. United became only the second team to stop Man City scoring on their own turf and the first side to beat City in any cup competition since Wigan in the 2017-18 season.

Ultimately, Solskjaer and his side left themselves with too much to do even after Nemanja Matic's volleyed winner ten minutes before the break.  United had created little in open play but City could only half-clear a Fred free-kick and the Serbian swept in a volley beyond Claudio Bravo.

Matic was later sent off for two bookings and the Reds last chance saw Fred put a free-kick into the wall when the dead ball situation was crying out for substitute Juan Mata.
Leading 3-1 from the Old Trafford match, holders City pushed forward and looked to put the tie beyond any lingering doubt but could find no way past an inspired David de Gea. United's keeper was back to his impervious best as he saved from Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Riyad Mahrez in a frantic opening 20 minutes.
Bernardo Silva flashed a shot wide whilst Bravo saved well from the otherwise quiet Anthony Martial at the other end.
Sterling had a goal disallowed for offside and Ilkay Gundogan went close from distance as the chances kept coming - and going - for Guardiola's side.
The first goal was crucial and it was United that got it as Matic capped his superb individual performance with a volleyed finish from close range after City failed to deal with a Fred free-kick. That meant there was suddenly an air of nervousness around the Etihad with the tie back in the balance and the Reds one goal away from restoring aggregate parity.

Harry Maguire went close with a header and Matic fired wide with a 20 yarder, but City continued to carve out chances of their own.
Sterling had an opportunity to settle his side's nerves and restore the two-goal advantage when he burst clear in the second half, only to blaze his effort wildly over the crossbar. Sterling has failed to score in 2020.

More profligacy followed, notably when substitute David Silva opted to pick out Gundogan instead of pulling the trigger with only De Gea to beat. It was only when Matic was sent off for his second yellow card, after fouling Gundogan on the halfway line after an earlier offence on Mahrez had earned him a booking. As the game entered the last half hour, United were still in the tie and looking to punish City for their profligacy.
Aguero had another strike correctly chalked off by the linesman, before United's big moment came. With time running out and having thrown men forwards, captain Maguire was scythed down by Nicolas Otamendi in a hugely promising position on the edge of the 'D'. With all eyes on set-piece specialist Mata, Fred instead took responsibility for the set piece but could only blast in into the wall.
That was the last chance for either side as the Reds ran out winners on the night but, sadly, not in the tie.

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: David de Gea. Equal to everything City could throw at him