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

Monday, 9 March 2020

Player ratings - Man Utd 2 City 0 - Maguire 10, Fred&AWB 9

Oh what a night! Manchester United sealed a momentous derby double with a nerve shredding victory over Pep Guardiola's subdued, soon to be deposed champions.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side were clinging to the slenderest of leads after Anthony Martial's first half goal, when Old Trafford erupted as Scott McTominay seized on Ederson's errant throw out to steer the ball into the empty Stretford End net. It completed a hat-trick of wins over City and a huge, monumental victory that ensured United kept pace with Chelsea who won 4-0 against Everton earlier on Sunday.

Spirit, guts, willpower, resilience, courage and character - a team performance in every sense of the word.

Solskjaer 3-1 Guardiola - Manchester is Red!!

David de Gea - 7

For all of City's possession and territory, De Gea actually had little to do as the men in front of him did a simply magnificent job. Made a good save from Sterling early on and another from Phil Foden, but everything he had to do he did well. It was a day of contrasting fortunes for two of the league's best keepers. Ederson had a rare nightmare. A more comfortable than expected day at the office.

Victor Lindelof - 8

Imperious and solid alongside Maguire, Lindelof read the game superbly and shut down his area of the pitch. He and Maguire seemed to win everything in the air between them and never allowed a strangely subdued City a sniff. City passed their way down blind alleys and the Iceman - despite looking the weak link when the team was announced - was a big part of that. I'd have preferred to Eric Bailly start instead but Lindelof more than justified his selection.

Harry Maguire - 10

I very rarely give players a ten, but Maguire was simply colossal in the wave of a City siege. Got nutmegged once by Aguero, but the man City could have signed won everything, made tackles, organised the defence and epitomised his side's performance. He seemed telepathic at times, drawn to every ball as if by magic. The captain rendered one of the best strikers in the world anonymous. A rock. Maguire was immense, magnificent, huge. My captain and man of the match no doubt. How City wished they could have signed him

Luke Shaw - 8

Got beaten a few time by the pace of Bernardo Silva but, stationed again on the left of a back three, Shaw dealt with everything that came his way. He has improved beyond all recognition and Solskjaer must take the credit for that. Such was City's frustrations, Pep Guardiola switched Silva with Sterling to try and open him up and then put Riyad Mahrez on him, but Shaw would not budge. Followed up his mightily impressive form with another excellent showing. Top class. He epitomised the team's resilience and courage.

Aaron Wan - Bissaka - 9

Wan - Bissaka resumed his personal duel with Sterling and again came out on top. AWB harried and battered the City star into submission and pushed him to the fringes. A bundle of power, pace and strength, the guy never misses a tackle. He broke up attacks and bombed forward at will. Sterling must be sick of the sight of him. He just couldn't get past him, no matter what Sterling tried. Another huge individual performance. Immense again. A contender for United's player of the season

Fred - 9

Very harshly booked in the first half for a dive that replays showed should have been a penalty. Admitted aided by the absence of key City man Kevin de Bruyne, who he would have been in direct opposition with, Fred was just as good as he was at the Etihad back in December. Superb both in defensive and attacking situations, he won everything, linked the play, his passing was superb and he seemed to be omnipotent. A man bang in form, he has epitomised United's resurgence and is finally getting the credit he deserves.

Nemanja Matic - 7

I would have picked Scott McTominay ahead of him, but credit where it's due to the in-form Serbian. Matic was excellent again as a shield in front of United's back three and, far from being over-run, he actually got the better of Ilkay Gundogan. It's a stunning transformation for a player who looked certain to leave last summer. Matic has been nothing short of magnificent since coming into the team, he'll never be our most skilful or most important player but he did his job well in a Rolls Royce performance.

Brandon Williams - 7

A mixed day for the Manchester-born alumni in his first Old Trafford league derby. He played a part in the first goal and dovetailed nicely between defence and attack. Didn't shy away from his task even though he was given a tough time by Mahrez when he came on with City desperate for a way back. Solid if not always spectacular, Williams kept his head in the firepit and made some key interceptions. Tried to get forward but got taken off as United shut down the game.

Bruno Fernandes - 7

Quiet by his standards but got a filthy assist for Martial's opener. Showed ingenuity and intelligence for the goal, went close from a couple of set pieces and was pushed up front as United clung grimly to their lead. A constant threat, Fernandes is the glue that holds this side together and at one point started an attack from the edge of his own 18 yard box. The brain, heart and lungs of this side - imagine where we'd be if we signed him in January. He demands excellence from those around him and is the ultimate leader.

Dan James - 6

Ran himself into the ground, I can't fault DJ's effort and work rate. But his decision making and final ball definitely need improvement. There was an occasion when he opted for goal and Ederson saved with Fernandes and Martial free in the box in space. It's still bugging me now but fortunately it didn't cost us. He ripped City to shreds back in the first meeting of the season in December, and had his moments this time around. His form has improved of late.

Anthony Martial - 8

Another typical performance from the languid, mercurial Frenchman. Ederson should have saved his shot that led to the first goal, as he became the first United player since CR7 in 2006/07 to score home and away against City in the same season. Had the hapless Nicolas Otamendi on toast all day and led the line superbly. A constant threat. Now has 16 for the season, one short of his best ever scoring season for the Reds. Showed awareness and a predatory instinct for the goal. He never stopped running and was pivotal to the counter attacking game plan. Excellent. Got subbed to a standing ovation late on.

Substitutes - Eric Bailly (for Williams, 78 minutes) - 6

Unlucky not to start, Bailly wasn't on long but did his bit as United attempted to shore things up and see out the game. Won a few headers and made two good clearances.

Scott McTominay (for Martial 78) - 6

Like Bailly, was only on for the final moments but played his part and scored the match winning goal in stoppage time. A 35 yarder over Ederson sparked the most buoyant scenes OT has seen for years. He knows what this fixture means and added energy and guile to the midfield at a time when United needed it. Helped the Reds to wrestle back an element of control and gave us another man to lock down the midfield.

Odion Ighalo (for Fernandes 88) - N/A

One sumptuous back heel to set up a late attack and helped us to get out but wasn't on long enough to rate. His first taste of a Manchester derby

Manager - Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - 9

Has now beaten the so called "best manager in the world" three times this season with another tactically perfect performance. Set United up to defend from the front, we were superbly organised and Ole deserves immense credit for putting together a ten match unbeaten run. Long may it continue.

Solskjaer 3, "Best manager in the world" Guardiola 1

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been searching for a significant moment since being handed the job as United manager whilst basking in the afterglow of a caretaker manager's honeymoon period.

As he strolled down the touchline in an Old Trafford downpour at the conclusion of our 2-0 derby day win - our first league double over City since the retirement of Sir Alex - this felt a little like that moment.
In the euphoria of victory, Solskjaer's name reverberated to the rafters and it looked like the indefatigable burden of his mammoth job had, in part at least, been lightened.

It was Ole's third victory over his illustrious counterpart from across the City having beaten him twice in the league and once in the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi final. He's also beaten Frank Lampard thrice, and has got one over on predecessor Jose Mourinho, potential successor Mauricio Pochettino, Thomas Tuchel, Maurizio Sarri and Nuno Espirito Santo, to name but five, since taking charge at United. Solskjaer is one of two men to beat Guardiola three times in a single season - Jurgen Klopp is the only other manager to achieve that feat. Not bad for a "glorified PE teacher" against a man considered as the best boss in the business.
It shows, surely, that Solskjaer has something about him and the potential to become a top manager. His ill-fated spell at Cardiff has become a stick to beat him with, but it was an anomaly and no one could have saved them that season. He was a victim of circumstance. Isn't learning from your mistakes and improving yourself as a person because of those mistakes part of life?

Despite his impressive record against the best managers, Solskjaer has struggled as much as his side to convince the sceptics this season, as one of football's heavyweight superpowers have lurked on the margin of the league's top four.
And yet, with a ten game unbeaten run and the shrewd addition of a player who looks genuinely top class in Bruno Fernandes, Solskjaer might be, at last, finally starting to dispel those doubts. Where are the Ole outers now? The critics and those calling for Solskjaer's head a few weeks ago? Conspicuous now by their absence. 

The Reds have a favourable draw against Austrian minnows LASK in the last 16 of the Europa League, travel to Premier League basement boys Norwich in the FA Cup quarter finals and now sit only three points behind fourth placed Chelsea and five behind Leicester in third. We can't... can we?

That's all well and good but, whether you think its fair or not, the fact is that United managers will eventually be judged on bridging the gap to any potential title challenger. For context, we're 37 points behind Liverpool as Klopp's men walk to their first title in 30 years. At some point, if not for a good few years yet, Solskjaer will be required, and probably expected, to at least reduce that gaping chasm.

For now, though, there has been a major shift in mood and momentum inside Old Trafford. Not since that dark January night against Burnley have United been beaten, and the 6-0 win over Tranmere - which Ole went into under serious pressure - kick started this run. It's our best streak since Solskjaer's initial appointment as interim manager, 446 days ago.

That golden run of form may have, temporarily at least, returned us to the halycon days of yesteryear but it proved yet another false dawn as United subsided to finish the season in sixth and with two wins in 15 games. History cannot repeat again this time, we have to kick on and can't allow an identical situation where we lost total momentum and a loss of focus.

Solskjaer's cause has been helped by three pieces of shrewd individual recruitment - the lack of which has been the one biggest failing since the Glazers took over the club in 2005. Aaron Wan - Bissaka looks a magnificent signing for now and the future. He won his battle with Raheem Sterling again and has had a colossal debut season since joining from Crystal Palace.
Alongside him in the middle, Harry Maguire has had the impact we all hoped for and has played in part in United's defensive fortitude, being part of a defence that's conceded only two goals in those ten games - statistically the joint second best in Europe.

At the heart of it all is Bruno Fernandes, the 25-year-old signed from Sporting Lisbon for £47m, a fee that could eventually rise to 67m with add ons. No matter the eventual fee, he's making it look like a steal. A focal point, a game changer, a talismanic figurehead and a match winner. Fernandes has added the X Factor to an already potent attack that was being hindered by the lack of a viable number ten.

No wonder Ole was smiling as Old Trafford sang his name to the rooftops as he revelled in another derby victory that w
as relished just as much by United's magnificent Red Army.
The final judgement on Solskjaer's first full season in charge must be reserved and shaped during these final weeks - but this may just have been his best day in charge of United.
The day that could be looked back upon as a turning point for the Norwegian.

Man Utd turning a corner with Bruno at the wheel

For Bruno Fernandes, this must have felt like a coronation, a crowning glory.
For the last few months there had been rumours of Manchester United's great midfield rebirth, of gears clunking and clanking into place, the jumbled collection of discombobulated pieces finding their place. The Manchester United midfield? Ah, yes, welcome back. Oh, it's been twelve years now.

Well, look again. At a damp and increasingly raucous Old Trafford, the stadium witnessed its best atmosphere for years. Fernandes produced a central midfield performance that seemed so at odds with the last decade or so. Amid the rip currents, Fernandes was swimming to shore on the turning of the tide.
So often, United's declining fortunes have become encapsulated by something ponderous at the heart of the engine room - a club drained not just of success, but of spirit, invention and belief.
This though, was something else. This looked, and felt, different. There can be no arguments we fully deserved the 2-0 derby day victory over Manchester City. In the middle of which Fernandes produced surely the best string-pulling performance anyone in Red has been able to muster against City since the balance of power shifted seismically.
Midfield has been a painful place to ply your trade against the passing triangles of City's slickers. But for the first time in many a year United shed the inferiority complex, threw off the underdog tag and came to the party.

It all sprung from Fernandes, who has been that rare thing in recent weeks and months - yes, an expensive, talented player, but also an expensive, talented player we actually needed and someone who wants to play for us.  Bringing craft and skill, but also something expressive, imaginative and extroverted. Imagine a Paul Pogba who actually wants to be at Old Trafford. Well, here he is, in our  number 18 shirt, running the show as a number 10.
Fernandes had played in seven instalments of United's impressive ten match unbeaten run before this derby. This, though, was a considerable step up in class and quality - a visit from the great colonising force of the European game, an ever evolving, always one-step-ahead team of slickers created by a man who dreams of turning the whole world a shade of midfield. A man whose teams will spend every second trying to pass and move you to death in the middle of the park. Over to you then, Bruno.

He began just ahead of the double pivot of Fred and Nemanja Matic in the most varied and balanced-looking midfield selection we've had for some time. One to give it, one to wander around like a decommissioned Dalek and one to offer to creative shoots of promise.

Clearly Fred and Fernandes already have an understanding. There was a lovely fizzed exchange of passes early on, one of several moments when they seemed to be simply enjoying themselves out there, bantering the ball between them, enjoying each other's repetoire. Teams are quite often simple things, so this is important.

On 15 minutes there was a slick, lightning fast Fred-Fernandes link up that led United away at breakneck pace. The latter fed Dan James for a shot straight at Ederson, nothing came of it from a player who hasn't scored since August, 36 games ago. The move may not have worked quite as we wanted on that occasion, but the signs were there.

Between them, the pair made United's opening goal. Drawing a foul from Ilkay Gundogan, Fernandes - activating the fairly acute Portuguese pain threshold - sprung up and stood over the free-kick with Fred. Was it rehearsed? It looked like it. First there was a gorgeous little sheen of misdirection as Fernandes raised his right arm and looked vaguely the other way, distracted by thoughts of a back post hoof, a whip, a punt, a sideways roll.
Anthony Martial darted in behind the sky blue line. As he began the move, Fernandes flicked his leg back like a golfer measuring his chip to the green. He played a beautiful, impudent, cheeky back-spin dink over the retreating blue shirts, the ball seemingly frozen in time before dipping into Martial's path.
Planning is one thing, execution in situations such as this quite another. This was a moment of cold, hard, technical brilliance in the middle of the firepit and the harum scarum 100mph battle of a Manchester derby.
The shot from Martial was low and well struck by Ederson should have saved it. A broader question is why Sergio Aguero wasn't marking that space in the first place but do we care? Not a jot.

City improved after the break. The blue shirts began to spread the play and everything they did seemed a yard or two quicker. The Fred - Fernandes axis fell apart as City seized control of midfield. There was a period of red defence against blue attack, but for all their possession there were no real alarm bells from City. At the death came Lord Sir Scott of McSauce to seal the deal with a brilliant long range finish after a hurried throw from a panicking Ederson left him with the open Stretford End goal to aim at.

It can be strange how football's crisis klaxon works. A while back United were fifth in the league, a financial basket case and playing as bad as we've seen. The club was on its knees on the field and off it, drawing talk of the darkest of dusks, at the tipping point which Salford itself would be consumed with hellfire.
Two months on, United are still fifth in the league, still a financial basket club with owners and a board to match. Suddenly soft music is playing and the buds of spring have sprouted through the soil. It will take more than one fine and timely signing to this team on from here. But at least one thing is certain. With Bruno Fernandes at the wheel, rumours of the rebirth of Manchester United's midfield - like one of his shots from distance - aren't far wide of the mark.