Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Solskjaer's United taking baby steps in the right direction

Four games into the 2019/20 season and Manchester United are in a false position. We may sit eighth in the - still fledgling - Premier League table - but we were two inches away from nine points out of 12 and third place. Fine margins indeed. We took two points from Wolves, Palace and Southampton but deserved more.

We have not played badly but little things have cost us. Errant spot-kicks from Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford, a fortuitous Patrick van Aanholt ricochet, a player taking a shot when the pass was on and vice versa. All these renumerations add up to a bigger accumulation of debt.

But at least these moments are happening. At least we're creating the chances and controlling games. I'd be far more worried if we weren't creating anything and being outplayed.

 Solskjaer has got rid of the shit, brought the youth through and tried to play the right way. His signings have broken the mould and been top notch so far. Young, British and hungry. The results will come in good time.
He buys good characters as well as good players, doing due diligence on personality, not being seduced by reputation. He is building for the future, and deserves to see that come to fruition. 

 Has his desire to trim the squad left him short in attack? Probably yes, but Lukaku’s body language screamed “gone” and Alexis Sánchez’s expensive presence had just become embarrassing. Solskjaer was decisive. He is accused of being too nice, but he can be the baby-faced assassin again and carries an under-rated air of ruthless determination. 

 Messrs Jurgen Klopp and Josep Guardiola didn't just suddenly get their teams to where they are now overnight. Liverpool’s pressing and fast raiding and City’s pressing and intricate possession took time and training to implement. It can take years for a manager to change the entire complexion of a team's style. If there's no change under Ole after three years, then we can re-assess, but until then it is churlish to pass judgement on the fruits of Solskjaer's labour.
 As the playwright and author John Heywood once penned, Rome wasn't built in a day.

 Those trying to rush Solskjaer towards the exit should understand that he is coldly, calmly attempting a “revolution”, in the description of Rashford. He’s doing what the fans have been calling for, sorting out a squad that has acquired layer after layer of four managers’ signings, leaving it bloated, top heavy and imbalanced. 

He has to be given time to rebuild as there is not any quick fix. I don’t expect a top-four finish this season but some exciting football with some pace and purpose would be good to watch.

 Three wins in 18 games may suggest a man living on borrowed time, but scratch the surface beyond simply the results and Solskjaer has got nearly everything right. He's doing what us fans have wanted - and needed - from a United boss for years.

Ole and his staff deserve the chance to put United back on the right track, a track they know.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Match report: Southampton 1-1 Manchester United

United were forced to settle for a point as a towering Jannik Vestergaard header cancelled out another Daniel James goal for the ten man hosts.

The Reds had won one, drawn one and lost one from their opening three games, and had looked on course for another win through James early stunner, with the young Welshman again proving United's biggest attacking threat.

Saints, however, gained momentum in the second half as a disappointing United side grew increasingly sloppy, and Vestergaard capped a spell of pressure with the equaliser just before the hour - his first goal for the club.

Che Adams had blazed wide of an open goal and David de Gea had saved superbly from Danny Ings before the giant figure of Vestergaard rose to meet Kevin Danso's fine cross. Danso was then sent off for a reckless lunge on Scott McTominay, but we were unable to take advantage as Saints keeper Angus Gunn repelled the Reds as United laid siege in the closing minutes.

Gunn saved superbly from substitute Mason Greenwood and the erratic Marcus Rashford, while both Jesse Lingard and Ashley Young were narrowly off target. Despite mounting a late assault and Saints numerical disadvantage, United were unable to find the killer touch and have picked up five points from our opening four games.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was forced to make changes from the side who faced Crystal Palace last weekend, with Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial injured for the trip to the south coast. Ashley Young and Juan Mata were their replacements, the experienced duo making their first league starts of the season and Andreas Pereira came in for Lingard.

The hosts threatened early on, putting pressure on centre-backs Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire at every opportunity but it was the Reds who took an early lead.
Scott McTominay did well to not only maintain possession in the middle but to find James in space on the left with an excellent pass. The Wales international cut inside, having used Mata’s clever overlapping run as a decoy, and thundered a fierce shot beyond Gunn to score his third league goal in four. 

 Ralph Hasenhüttl’s youthful and energetic side ended the half much as they had started it - on the front foot. Danny Ings’ volley dropped wide thankfully and McTominay did well to block a Sofiane Boufal effort from 20 yards out as United kept the home side at bay, going into the break a goal to the good.

  Southampton picked up where they left off at the restart and after Lindelof had lost possession on the half-way line Boufal found Adams in space in the area but he sliced wide from 10 yards out when he really should have hit the target.

 James, a constant threat throughout the afternoon, had three opportunities in as many minutes as the clock ticked down, stinging the palms of Gunn before skewing a volley back out to the impressive Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the opposite side and then failing to connect with a cross to him at the back post.
The Reds continued to pile on the pressure as Rashford saw his low shot kept out and substitute Greenwood saw his excellent curling effort kept out by Gunn ensuring the points were shared.

 United Faithful Man of the Match: Daniel James. What a talent.
Overall team performance: 5/10

Friday, 30 August 2019

Match preview: Southampton v Man Utd

United make the long trip to the south coast with three wins in 15 games having not won on the road since that night in Paris - a recent record that is unsurprising but simply not good enough.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side make this Saturday lunchtime trip to St Mary's without Luke Shaw (hamstring) and Anthony Martial (thigh). Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly and Timothy Fosu - Mensah are also all sidelined.

Ralph Hassenhuttl's Saints, fresh from their south coast derby win at Brighton last time out, are looking to avoid a battle at the wrong end of the table for the third consecutive season.

Michael Obafemi is likely to be absent after suffering cramp in midweek, while Ryan Bertrand is back in training but he is a doubt. Nathan Redmond is out for at least a fortnight having picked up a knock in his side's Carabao Cup win at Fulham in midweek. Moussa Djenepo, whom broke the deadlock at the Amex moments after he came on, is also out.

United's problems run deeper than a simple inability to score from 12 yards - though that would help. Both Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford have endured successive spot-kick failures, so it will be intruiging to see who steps up should the Reds get yet another penalty at St Mary's.

  So far United have a win, a draw and a defeat from our opening three Premier League fixtures. An opening day victory against Chelsea has since been followed up with an away draw against Wolves and a stoppage-time defeat to Crystal Palace. These three results mean that the Reds lie in fifth in the league table. You get the feeling it will be another up and down season for us.
Our hosts began the campaign with back-to-back defeats to Burnley and Liverpool, but beat 10-man Brighton last weekend to ensure that the Saints have risen off the foot of the table to 18th going into the fourth round of fixtures.

 The Saints experienced a slow start to last term under the stewardship of former United striker Mark Hughes, achieving just one solitary league win before mid-December. That led to increased fears of relegation on the south coast, and their poor form would see Hughes dismissed after that 2-2 draw with United in December 2018.  Former RB Leipzig boss Hasenhuttl took the reins and, after losing his first match in charge at Cardiff, he enjoyed a memorable home debut when the Saints ended Arsenal's 22-match unbeaten run. A further upturn in form during the second half of the campaign included a notable 2-1 home victory over Tottenham, and Southampton would eventually finish the season five points above the relegation zone in 16th place.

Solskjaer is targeting defensive solidity for the match at Southampton, and said: ""Clean sheets are always the foundation to build on and we started really well against Chelsea, but we know the two goals conceded against Palace should have been avoided.
"We hope to go down there to Southampton and look stronger at the back. Overall I have been pleased with us defensively but we made mistakes against Palace so we need to avoid that."

United faces umfamiliar foes and a 6,000 mile round trip in Europe

Manchester United face long trips to Serbia and Kazakhstan after we were handed our Europa Leageu fate at today's draw in Monaco.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side were placed into Group L, alongside Astana, Partizan Belgrade and Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar. United have never faced the former or the latter, and you have to go back all the way to 1966 to find our first - and until now only - competitive tie with the side from Serbia. We have not faced AZ Alkmaar before either, despite playing several other Dutch sides on 17 occasions during our history. Astana will also provide our first ever opponents from Kazakhstan. It is a draw that will throw up some unfamiliar faces and new foes as the Reds look to regain the trophy we won back in 2017 on our previous foray into this competition. It could represent United's best chance of a place in next season's Champions League.

Whilst the group may appear one of the kinder on paper, in reality it will be anything but given the length of the journeys involved. The trip to Astana for our last away group match in November sees United embark on a mammoth 6,000-mile round trip with the team set to return to Blightly only 48 hours before a league match after a nine hour flight.

This year will be the 10th time we have participated in the Europa League (or the UEFA Cup if we include its former guise), although two of those campaigns followed our mid-season elimination from the Champions League.

The first time the Reds played in the competition was in 1976/77, when we were defeated in the second round by Italian giants Juventus, who won 3-1 over two legs.

United last featured in the Europa League in 2016/17, when we won the tournament after beating Ajax 2-0 in the final. That year, the Reds played Fenerbahce, Feyenoord and Zorya Luhansk in the group stage and knocked out Saint Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht and Celta Vigo en route to the showpiece final in Stockholm.

Eastern European grounds are famed for their intimidating atmosphere but Partizan Belgrade will have to play two of their matches behind closed doors after racist behaviour.

The schedule for our six group games was announced a few hours after the draw on Friday afternoon and is as follows:

Astana (H) - 19 September, 20
:00 BST
AZ Alkmaar (A) - 3 October, 17:55 BST
Partizan Belgrade (A) - 24 October, 17:55 BST
Partizan Belgrade (H) - 7 November, 20:00 GMT
Astana (A) - 28 November, 15:50 GMT
AZ Alkmaar (H) - 12 December, 20:00 GMT

Saturday, 24 August 2019

OGS needs time and there's no need for panic

We all know that the vast majority of football fans are as fickle as can be, but nowhere does that stand to reason more than with Manchester United. Let's face it, the vast majority of our fans are twats. That's before we even consider the disgusting racial abuse aimed at first Paul Pogba and then Marcus Rashford over the last few days, simply because of a missed penalty during a football match. Most of our fans are selt entitled, spoilt brats who wish for the world and want it yesterday. Nothing will ever be good enough. A home defeat to Crystal Palace shouldn't be good enough, of course, and it isn't, but it hardly warrants such a level of hysteria.

It's not just the fans, but the media too. Chelsea are beaten 4-0 at Old Trafford on the opening day, and are deemed unlucky, we lost to a hard-working but limited Crystal Palace team and it's a crisis. Double standards at their hypocritical finest.

Three games into the season and the Ole out brigade has started already. Ask yourself this: how would it help if we changed manager again?  For what? We need stability - we've lurched from the joker in the pack, the studious tactictian to the proven serial winner and now tried our hand at the club legend. Four different managers but nowhere else to turn. Ole might not be the man for the job, but this club has been run upside down for over a decade now and the plethora of problems run very deep.

 If Sir Alex Ferguson had endured his difficult start at Old Trafford in 2019 and not 1986, he wouldn't have survived in the job for 25 days never mind a quarter of a century. A reminder, we're THREE games into a potentially 50-odd game season. Three. Why are some of you lot panicking? There's nothing to panic about.

We've twice been the width of a goalpost away from going joint top of the table with a 100% record. Instead it's four points from a possible nine and one win in three. Fine margins indeed.
You always get freak results, and Palace have shown to be capable of upsetting the top six apple cart in recent years. They're one of those sides that never really do much but can always catch you cold on their day.

I've seen more than enough positive signs in our first two games to know there's no need to sound the alarm bells and hit the panic button after one defeat. There have been clear signs of improvement already. It's a marathon, not a sprint, you win some, you lose some and won't always get the rub of the green. We will there or thereabouts come May. I'm not worried in the slightest.

Whereas Louis van Gaal and, more pertinently, Jose Mourinho, were brought in with the specific raison d'etre of the big name, quick fix, with Ole it's different. It's a long term building project, and such projects can take months, even years, to complete. You can't just walk into an office, click your fingers and expect everything to fall into place. When he came in last December, the season was as good as done, so it would seem unfairly churlish to judge Ole on those few months when he inherited a mess and a dressing room that was broken beyond repair. In short, it is this season that the hard work starts.
He needs to change the entire ideology, mentality and playing style of the team. That's a daunting task for any manager, but when you're working with your hands tied under a Glazer regime, it is one rendered even more difficult. That won't happen in one season, probably not even two and certainly not just a single transfer window of opportunity. There's a reason why he was given a three year contract.

Solskjaer needs time and patience - two commodities that unfortunately don't seem to be afforded to those in the position of football management. Not just at United, but across the board (pun intended). Jurgen Klopp finished eighth in his first two seasons at Anfield, and didn't have anywhere near the squad he wanted or needed. He didn't do too badly in the end.

How long should Ole get? How long is a piece of string.

 There are going to be bumps along the road, as with any construction job. You would think that most fans would have the brains to realise that, but clearly, for some, his time is already up. This season is a free hit for Solskjaer - or it certainly should be.

Match report: Man Utd 1-2 Crystal Palace

Patrick van Aanholt smashed in a fortuitous injury time winner just when it looked as though United had salvaged a point. Dan James equalised with his second successive Old Trafford goal on 89 minutes, but full-back van Aanholt netted in the 93rd, thumping in under David de Gea as the ball broke loose after Wilf Zaha had burst forward.

The Reds were left to rue another failure from the penalty spot - Marcus Rashford this time the unlucky man when he fired off a post after the interval. Paul Pogba had a spot-kick saved in the 1-1 draw at Molineux earlier in the week. Whilst many will see this as a shock, in reality it comes as no surprise at all.

Jordan Ayew had scored the opener in the first half against the run of play, latching on to Jeffrey Schlupp's flick-on and coolly converting Palace's first goal of the campaign, before the late drama.
James curled in a wonderful leveller a minute from time after equally excellent build up that involved Rashford and Anthony Martial.

Scott McTominay went close with a header, and Rashford had a couple of early sighters from set pieces. Palace had barely threatened but went ahead with their first attack shortly beyond the half hour mark. Ex United triallist Jeffrey Schlupp outjumped Victor Lindelof and flicked on for Ayew, who raced through - unmarked - to roll the ball under the advancing De Gea.

The United keeper made amends when he denied Zaha from close range, although the goal would have been ruled out on VAR due to an offside in the build up.

 Attacking the Stretford End, there needed to be a response after the restart and there was a moment of danger for Palace when Young's deep cross was met by James at the far post, but deflected wide off van Aanholt.

Solskjaer introduced Mason Greenwood for Jesse Lingard but the visitors continued to stand firm until McTominay burst into the box to force a penalty in the 69th minute. Greenwood's pass was laid off by Martial and McTominay was tripped to hand the Reds a spot-kick for a third successive match this term.
Rashford, who scored a penalty against Chelsea, stepped up but, despite sending Vicente Guaita the wrong way, his shot struck the inside of the keeper's right-hand post, to the utter frustration of the majority at Old Trafford.

 McTominay fired wide, off balance and Pogba's header cleared the bar as United just could not muster a decisive effort. VAR threatened to intervene when Rashford latched on to a flick by James to speed past Martin Kelly and was felled by the centre-back's challenge. Referee Paul Tierney's initial decision stood and, with nine minutes left, the Reds were staring down the barrel of a costly defeat.
However, James looked to have earned a point when he curled home beautifully, after Pogba tackled Zaha and combination play by Martial and Rashford created the opening. It came with a minute of normal time left and should have sparked a late siege on Guaita's goal.
Instead, three minutes into the five that were added on due to the numerous stoppages in play, substitute Christian Benteke tackled Pogba to spark a move that culminated in van Aanholt's drive going through De Gea's defences to hand Palace an unlikely winner.

Overall team performace: 5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Scott McTominay 

Friday, 23 August 2019

Match preview: Man Utd v Crystal Palace

Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts recently but I've been away in Snowdonia with a very iffy WiFi connection for the past week.
Anyway, back to the serious stuff. United enjoy the relative rarity of a Saturday 3pm kick off against a Crystal Palace side without a win over the Reds in the Premier League era.

United's Diogo Dalot has been ruled out until after the international break next month due to injury.
He joins fellow defenders and long-term absentees Eric Bailly and Timothy Fosu-Mensah on the sidelines.
Winless Crystal Palace remain without injured central defenders Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins.
As a result, summer signing Gary Cahill could make his debut for Roy Hodgson's side.

 Aaron Wan-Bissaka has settled in very well following his £50m summer move from Palace to United, and he could be in for a pretty quiet afternoon if the Eagles shoddy showing in Sheffield is anything to go by. The young full-back has really caught the eye with his pace, power and penetration down the right in the first few weeks of his United career.
You really struggle to see where the goals are going to come from for Roy Hodgson's side, and it already looks like being another tough season ahead for them.
In contrast, Anthony Martial has two in two since getting United's number nine shirt back, and appears to be growing into the role he began his Old Trafford career in.

 The Reds are unbeaten following our opening two fixtures and sit in fourth place in the Premier League table. Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Daniel James scored in an emphatic 4-0 victory against Frank Lampard's Chelsea at Old Trafford, while Martial was on the scoresheet again in our 1-1 draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Palace began the new term with a goalless draw against 10-man Everton at Selhurst Park, before losing 1-0 to newly-promoted Sheffield United at Bramall Lane last week. These two results mean that Hodgson's side lie 14th in the fledgling table ahead of the third round of fixtures.

 Despite the improved Reds encouraging start to the season, with the team already four points better off than last season, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has stayed grounded.

 He said: "Every single Premier League game gives you a different challenge and, of course, Crystal Palace are a very well organised team.
"They've got pace up front for counter-attacks and they're strong on set-pieces. So we know we'll have to do all parts of the game well."

 The Eagles last won a league game at Old Trafford in December 1989 courtesy of a brace from Mark Bright in a 2-1 victory. They've failed to score in 11 of their subsequent 12 away league games at United, and earned a solitary point - the 0-0 result in last term's corresponding fixture.

Form guide Man Utd W D Crystal Palace D L
Match odds Man Utd 1/3 Draw 15/4 Crystal Palace 17/2
Referee: Paul Tierney (Wigan)
Predicted United XI: De Gea; Wan - Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Pogba; James, Lingard, Rashford; Martial.