Sunday, 14 August 2022

Erik ten Hag has been sold a fallacy - I wouldn't blame him for walking out

 You can't help but feel sorry for Erik ten Hag. If he had hair, he would already be balder than he already is now.
What on earth he must be thinking as he muses the mess before him is anyone's guess - two games into life under immense scrutiny as Manchester United manager and the knives are already out. Please, please, do not blame this on him. We knew it would take time and we knew how difficult his job would be, but I don't think any of us could have anticipated just how bleak it would be. 

It wouldn't matter who the manager is. You could have Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Sir Alex as joint managers and they couldn't get a tune out of this side. It is a dreadful, League Two quality side with a disgusting mentality and attitude. Bar the wantaway, 50-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, there is not one single player here who would get in any other Premier League or Championship team.

You can't polish a turd: these players have been shit for years and won't magically improve now. ten Hag is working with one hand behind his back and has been hung out to dry. He should get on the phone to his parasitic paymasters, tell them he cannot work in these conditions and walk out the door. He has been lied to, shat on and betrayed. It certainly feels like the club are setting him up to fail. He would have my eternal gratitude if he admitted he's been let down by his bosses and walks out into the sunset before his reputation precedes him. For the first time ever, we may have a manager too good for the club. It is like going up Everest blindfolded whilst wearing a dressing gown and slippers. 

Ralf Rangnick's press conference - the one in which he said United needed ten new players - is probably the most accurate thing any football manager has ever said. His infamous words have re-surfaced after out cataclysmic start to the season. He certainly wasn't wrong but got sacked from the consultancy role for speaking the truth. 

 The blame lies squarely at the feet of these players, many of whom are on their third manager in a year (four if you count Michael Carrick's brief stint as caretaker). Yes, the squad has had money spent on it but if I spent 2bn on a car with no engine, it won't get me very far. Money has been spent but completely in the wrong areas and on the wrong players. Ten Hag wanted Jurrien Timber, Frenkie de Jong and Anthony. Instead he got a back-up left-back, a centre back he didn't need and a freebie midfielder. It screams of the infamous second summer under Jose Mourinho when he went to then CEO Ed Woodward with a list of players he wanted but ended up with a veteran keeper, an unknown full-back from Portugal and Fred. In stark contrast, his counterpart across the City, Guardiola, spent just shy of 300m. It just shows the chasm between the clubs, the difference in ambition, vision and forward planning. 

David de Gea had probably his worst ever game for United between the posts. It's common knowledge he is some way behind his goalkeeping contemporaries when it comes to the modern day pre-requisites every top keeper needs - handling, distribution, communication and command of his area, to name but four. His one staple, the one skillset he has always had to fall back on was his status as probably the best shot-stopper in the game. Yet on Saturday, even that deserted him. 

Josh Dasilva's daisy cutter from distance should have been bread and butter for De Gea. Indeed, for any goalkeeper at any level of the game. I would expect the keeper for my Sunday league side to deal with it. There was no power on it at all, it was straight at de Gea and looked a gimme. You cannot legislate for mistakes like that. 

The second and the third goals can both be pinned on him, too. His loose throw out lacked power and accuracy and was seized upon by Mathias Jensen to score and de Gea flapped helplessly as Ben Mee's header travelled beyond him and in. There was little he could to prevent Bryan Mbeumo's close range finish for four, but of the six goals we have conceded in our first two games, de Gea can legitimately be blamed for five of them. In fairness to the veteran Spaniard, he did at least have the guts to front up and take public responsibility for the side's defeat. 

It makes the decision to dispense Dean Henderson - a far from unflappable but certainly capable deputy - out on loan to Nottingham Forest all the more head-scratching. A baffling indictment of United's muddled thinking when it comes to transfer strategy. Now de Gea has no competition save for the 36-year-old Tom Heaton and is undroppable by default.

ten Hag may have dropped Scott McTominay to the bench after his disasterclass against Brighton, but it did little to restore the equilibrium in midfield. Christian Eriksen returned to Brentford as a six but it was a mismatch in his battle with Jensen and Dasilva. Fred was anonymous and McTominay was somehow even worse than he was last week when he came on for the second half. Frenkie de Jong and, indeed Adrien Rabiot, would be upgrades but you would not blame either man for not wanting to sign for the club. ten Hag has wanted de Jong since day one but has been let down by John Murtough and his merry band of men who have faffed and dallied all summer over the Barcelona player to such an extent the deal for a man who should have been here weeks ago is now dead in the water. 

ten Hag hasn't got any of the players he wanted, he's having to make do with last season's shit and so it figures we will see the same dreadful results, no matter who is in the dugout. The fans continued to sing loud, proud and unstintingly despite another horror show in a long trip to the capital, battling a train strike in the process. They don't deserve this. None of us do. 

The biggest shock after that result? The fact it is not a shock at all...

At these moments, we are supposed to have new and original things to say. Yet by now, you have heard it all before.

Yes, we know, the Glazers.

Yes, we know, United's policy and execution of recruitment baffles the life out of both their rivals and their supporters.

Yes, we know, David De Gea is not adept at playing out from the back.

Yes, we know Harry Maguire's confidence has reached a point of startling anxiety.

Yes, we know, Fred is not the Fabinho or Rodri that United require to instil balance into the team.

Yes, we know, Bruno Fernandes’ form has fallen off a cliff and he now overcompensates with a single-man press, chaotic attempts at Hollywood passing and tedious handwaving at referees, his team-mates, himself and any other being that blurs into sight.

Yes, we know, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford flit meaninglessly in and out of games, leaving supporters envisioning only what we imagine they might be, yet it is not what they have demonstrated in front of our very eyes for over a year now.

Yes, we know, Cristiano Ronaldo's most recent episodes of self-importance have left everyone suspecting that he would rather be just about anywhere else than wearing the lime green cocktail number that qualifies as United’s new away kit.

Yes, we know Donny van de Beek only appears from the United substitute bench after the clock has passed the 80-minute mark.

So, yes, we know it all. We have heard it all. We have seen it all. And yet, somehow, each week manages to conjure a new sense of stupefying shock.

At half-time, Brentford, who had not beaten Manchester United since 1938, led their opponents. And this was more than a lead. This was 4-0 and deservedly so. And there was, in the press box, almost a numbing madness to it all. Brentford’s supporters, too, stared at one another, open-mouthed.

They taunted their United opponents, telling them they’d be “going down with the Fulham. Fulham, on two points after two games compared to United’s zero, may be offended by the comparison. Worse was to come. Erik ten Hag, the bright new hope in the United dugout, was told he’d be “sacked in the morning”. Brentford’s supporters sang the “Ole’s” as their players, this incredibly likeable, humbly acquired collection of organised and driven individuals, an XI bought for £55million compared to United’s £424million, danced around their gilded opponents. Talking of Ole’s, much more of this and we may all start to wonder whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (now two managers ago) was, in fact, holding United together rather than holding United back.

In the technical area, United’s new coach initially remained present, hands in pockets, shaking his head, wondering how on earth a pre-season that had yielded acclaim from players, staff and media had developed into the abject mess developing on the field. They all eat lunch together now, we were excitedly informed, and they also now turn up to work at 9am for training.

After United’s deficit extended to three goals, he sank into the shelter of the dugout, which may have been refuge from the burning sunshine in West London, or a brief retreat from the scorching spotlight of life as Manchester United manager.

The one ray of light may have been for those besieged individuals who manage the social media accounts of United’s under-performing players, as they had no shortage of time to sculpt this season’s first major sequence of apologies.

Yet even by United’s standards, this had been a staggering 25-minute ordeal, which began 10 minutes in when Josh Da Silva’s strike inexplicably squirmed past the lamentable De Gea and culminated in the 35th minute when Bryan Mbuemo applied the finishing touch to one of the most fluid and precise counter-attacking goals you might wish to see. The kind Manchester United used to score.

Now, however, they are merely passive participants and, once the immediate tremors had subsided, the latest post-mortem of a Manchester United calamity could begin. For Ten Hag, that meant entering the United dressing room at half-time. In similar circumstances in Sunday League football, a coach would probably tell their team to just go out and win the second half. Somewhere in his mind, the spectre of Manchester United’s next fixture will have loomed. Liverpool, who hit United for nine goals without reply last season, career into view with all the foreboding of an asteroid. In the director’s box, United’s chief executive Richard Arnold stared on, speechless, and he probably won’t be rushing down the pub for another pint with United’s most fervent supporters any time soon.

United’s players, it should be said, were beyond pitiful after falling a goal behind, mirroring the collective breakdown that ensued on numerous occasions last season when the first whiff of setback passed their way. Whatever the tactical or technical deficiencies of the players and coaching staff may be — and there were plenty here — it is also true that United lack so many of those intangibles that define great teams. We may occasionally roll our eyes at Roy Keane’s predictable monologues, but he is correct to identify an absence of leadership, organisation, accountability and togetherness in the United line-up.

Manchester United lost their final six Premier League away games of last season, often doing so emphatically, so, in many ways, this was merely a continuation of all we have seen before. Taking this defeat into account, United have now lost seven consecutive matches on the road, conceding 21 goals and scoring only two in that sequence. Ten Hag was simply witness to the kind of implosions that Solskjaer oversaw in a 5-0 defeat by Liverpool and 4-1 defeat at Watford, or which Ralf Rangnick endured in 4-0 losses at Anfield or 4-1 defeats at Manchester City.

That is not to say Ten Hag’s approach was beyond reproach on this occasion. United were undone and outsmarted at set pieces. A lack of desire or a lack of planning? Christian Eriksen, his summer signing in midfield, operated as a false nine last week and was once again asked to perform a curious role, in a screening position in front of the back four. He demonstrated little of the defensive nous required in the position. In goal, Ten Hag asks De Gea to provide a prowess in possession that clearly ill-befits the goalkeeper. In defence, the coach has empowered Maguire as a starter and a captain and it is difficult at this point to justify either call. Up front, Ten Hag spent the entirety of pre-season preaching unity and discipline, only to restore Ronaldo, a man who appears at odds with his club and disappeared before the end of a pre-season friendly.

And, yes, we know, many of these things are, to an extent, outside of Ten Hag’s control. Yet here United are again, with a cataclysm on their hands. And we can only begin to imagine the strain of panic that may now ensue as United seek to fix glaring deficiencies in the remainder of the transfer market.

On the final whistle, the scenes were wearily familiar. United's players, beaten and bowed, skulk over to the travelling fans, raising hands in a manner that now feels jarringly routine. ten Hag, for his part, stared on from the touchline, barely looking at his players as they trudged past him into the tunnel.

Monday, 8 August 2022

Erik ten Hag's Mission already seems Impossible

If Erik ten Hag didn't realise the size or the scale of the job on his hands at Old Trafford, he certainly does now. 
How anyone could think the incoming Dutchman could inherit the same mob of players and expect to be rosy again is simply beyond me. There were a few small buds of hope (more on that later) but this was, largely, a case of same shit different day.

Irritating cliche though it is, it's hard to imagine ten Hag watching his side completely outplayed by the ninth best team in England - a side which sold it's two best players - with anything other than a dawning realisation of just how much work there is to do after a pre-season which did show promise. 

93 days on from the nadir of Ralf Rangnick's miserable interim spell in charge, the infamous 4-0 thumping at the hands of Brighton, not much has changed. 

Despite losing two of the stars of that famous win in Yves Bissouma and Marc Cucurella, Brighton were just as vibrant, just as savvy, just as well drilled and just as good at basically everything. 

Graham Potter has done a simply impeccable job on the south coast, turning the Seagulls from perennial strugglers into an upwardly mobile team every other club now aspires to be. 
United had looked strong and impressive in pre-season but wilted in the Manchester sunshine once the pressure was on in front of a full house on the opening day of the Premier League season. When the going got tough, the match lapsed into a familiar pattern. Heads dropped, any semblance of cohesion trickled away, touches became heavy and passes loose. Only when Cristiano Ronaldo - the same Ronaldo who, indeed, wants to leave came on did United show any signs of an upturn. 

Christian Eriksen shone on his full debut as he linked the play, looked good on the ball and caught the eye with his eclectic range of passing. He came close to scoring and United's best spell of the game came when the talented Dane dropped deep alongside Fred and began to dictate the game. Still early days but Eriksen could be a very good signing for the club. 

£57m man Lisandro Martinez had a largely impressive debut alongside Harry Maguire and there were signs the pair could become a strong and dependable centre-back partnership, given time and patience. 
Donny van de Beek did more in his flashing 12-minute cameo than Scott McTominay managed in the 78 before him, but that was where the positives ended. But like an amateur golfer improving his swing or a plastic surgery obsessive, any improvement, however minor, only serve to emphasise other problems. 

And so we come to the proverbial elephant in the room. Size wise, the 6ft 4 frame of Scott McTominay towers over the diminutive, 5ft 10 Moises Caicedo but it was Caicedo who simply bullied his opposite number into submission. The young Ecuadorian bossed proceedings and was the best player on the pitch, in the first half especially, as he cut a swathe through United's anodyne, non existent midfield. 

The ease with with Brighton sliced us open through the middle was down to the ineptitude of McFred as much as it was due to Caicedo's expertise. For three years, we have witnessed these plodders melt away and turn our midfield to a pile of rubble. They would not start for any other Premier League team or, indeed, most of those in the Championship. Games are won (and lost) in midfield. Every top side dominates the midfield, control the game and they win. ten Hag knows they are incompatible and about as much use as a chocolate fireguard, but he has to play them as there is no one else. 

For now at least, ten Hag has to be absolved of any culpability. As is the case for any new signing arriving in a new league, it takes time for managers to find their feet. Time and patience is the only way forward for United. ten Hag perhaps failed to cope with the necessary speed of decisions and how to react, but he has to be allowed to learn on the job.

First to every ball and every challenge, Caicedo's performance perhaps showed they have a ready-made replacement for the departed Bissouma. Fred toiled in vain for 53 pitiful minutes before  ten Hag hooked him having seen enough.
United missed a trick by not making a move for Bissouma but Caicedo is exactly the kind of player we need in the middle of the park. An orchestrator, a string-puller, not shy of wanting the ball and relentless in the press. 
He covered every blade of Old Trafford's sun-kissed turf, picking holes in United's set up, mopping up the danger and paving the way for his forward players to inflict the damage.

Yet the biggest irony of all? He could have been doing that for us. He was available for next to nothing, £4.5m - United held extensive discussions with him over a deal but, as per, failed to get anything over the line. We don't have the nous or the guile to cherrypick such gems, instead faffing and faltering for an eternity trying to sign a player in Frenkie de Jong who does not even want to come. 

Now he is worth around ten times in yet another glowing endorsement of Brighton's exquisite scouting network and recruitment strategy. In short, they are everything United aren't. The biggest compliment you can give them is they have lost Bissouma and Cucurella but yet you would not even have noticed.

United need more, a lot more, most notably in midfield when McTominay and Fred are simply not good enough. That line of thinking has been the case for the best part of two years now, yet United have failed to rectify the problem and continue to persist with the invisible pairing. 

Assuming a return to the top four is the aim, ten Hag requires an astronomical upturn in performance from his new United side. He himself will have to climb Everest in slippers - the steepest learning curve in world football. 

Match report: Man Utd 1-2 Brighton&Hove Albion

The Erik ten Hag era began in familiar fashion as Manchester United opened the season with defeat to Brighton. 

The Dutchman had arrived at Old Trafford on a wave of optimism, tasked with revitalising a United side at its lowest ebb after our worst ever Premier League campaign.

There will be a few positives for him to take - Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez had impressive debuts and Harry Maguire already looked an improvement. But if ten Hag didn't know the size and scale of the task awaiting him before kick-off, he certainly does now.

His first team selection included two summer signings with Martinez alongside Maguire at the heart of the defence and Eriksen in the false nine role, flanked by Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, in the absence of the hamstrung Anthony Martial. 
Bruno Fernandes went close early on when he fired over in the sixth minute and the impressive Eriksen was denied by Robert Sanchez after a free-flowing move which involved Sancho, Fernandes and Rashford.

Pascal Gross has so often proved to be the thorn in United's side and the German link man played the decisive hand again on the half hour mark. Gross had scored in the infamous 4-0 at the Amex in May and also scored against United in the 1-0 victory which ensured the Seagulls survival back in 2019. 
Ex-Red Danny Welbeck also has an untimely habit of netting against his old side, but this time turned provider as he swept the ball across goal for Gross to steal in and turn the ball home.

Ten minutes further on, Gross popped up with his and his side's second, his fifth goal in ten meetings with the Reds. It started on the edge of the Brighton box, as Moises Caicedo moved the ball on to Adam Lallana. He in turn found Leandro Trossard who picked out Solly March to drive the ball low into the area. David de Gea got down to parry away but only as far as the onrushing Gross to sweep home on the rebound and stun Old Trafford into silence.

United were much improved in the second half, although to be fair that certainly wasn't saying much. The introduction of wantaway superstar Cristiano Ronaldo finally sparked United into life as he replaced the toiling Fred on 53 minutes. Eriksen dropped deeper alongside McTominay and the upturn was immediate.

Ronaldo picked out Rashford who was somehow denied by Sanchez when it looked easier to score. The
offside flag went up but replays showed Ronaldo was onside and the goal would have counted. Rashford went close again, this time after Fernandes had picked him out, but he failed to find a finish.

United were then fortunate to survive a penalty appeal when the lively line-leading Welbeck was shoved over off the ball by Martinez. Referee Paul Tierney may not have seen it but VAR did not intervene and the Reds were off the hook.

But United continued to press and set up a grandstand finish on 68 minutes as a Fernandes corner flicked off Diogo Dalot, struck Maguire and cannoned in off the stretching Alexis Mac Allister. VAR checked to see if there was a foul on Sanchez or a possible handball by Dalot, but under the laws of the game the goal was allowed to stand.

Sanchez saved from Dalot and Eriksen flashed a shot wide in the closing stages as Old Trafford roared the Reds on in pursuit of an unlikely leveller. But it was not to be as Graham Potter's impressive Seagulls, despite the departures of star men Yves Bissouma and Marc Cucurella, held on for the ever win in M16. 

Overall team performance: 5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Christian Eriksen 

Friday, 5 August 2022

Man Utd v Brighton predicted XI: Malacia debut and Sancho starts

After a bumper summer of thrilling sport, the wait is finally over as the Premier League returns. We have to wait until Sunday for Erik ten Hag's first competitive match in charge of Manchester United after Palace and Arsenal open proceedings on Friday. 

ten Hag's revitalised Reds had an impressive pre-season but still look light on numbers, particularly in midfield. United were infamously humbled at the hands of the Seagulls back in May - the nadir of a dreadfully torrid season - but have won all of their Old Trafford meetings with the south coast side. 

There have three incoming arrivals through the door at Carrington with Christian Eriksen on a free, Lisandro Martinez from Ajax and the relatively unknown Tyrell Malacia also crossing the North Sea to sign from Feyenoord.

The Frenkie de Jong saga rumbles on and Cristiano Ronaldo's future remains unclear, but ten Hag has a fully fit squad to pick from, bar the hamstrung Anthony Martial. 

David de Gea is set to start in goal as the 31-year-old begins his eleventh season at the club.

Diogo Dalot left Old Trafford early in the wake of the friendly draw with Rayo Vallecano - to the chagrin of his manager - but with little alternative, expect the Portuguese to get the nod at right-back ahead of the incompatible Aaron Wan - Bissaka.

Sunday may come too early for Martinez, who has only played one game in Red. Raphael Varane has played fewer minutes than his centre back cohorts so we could see the familiar sight of Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof at the heart of the United defence. 

Tyrell Malacia has been going toe-to-toe with Luke Shaw during pre-season and caught the eye on United's Tour Down Under. The young Dutchman has settled in strongly and will usurp Shaw for a full, competitive debut in ten Hag's XI.

Much like Martinez, Eriksen is undercooked and so we expect the talented Dane to be on the bench for the visit of Brighton. The midfield urgently needs reinforcements but 'McFred' have been the regular duo in pre-season and so ten Hag may look to start both and err on the side of caution until Eriksen is ready. 

Bruno Fernandes will almost certainly start ahead of whoever the two in the engine room are. 

In the absence of Martial and with Ronaldo not 'match sharp' enough; Anthony Elanga is likely to start on the left wing with Marcus Rashford to play out of position up top. 

After a difficult first, settling in season at United, the 2022-23 campaign is expected to be one of personal renaissance for Jadon Sancho. The 22-year-old showed flashes of his immense talent in a hit-and-miss campaign under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and then Ralf Rangnick, but caught the eye impressively on tour.
Sancho sat out the last two pre-season games through illness but is expected to recover and secure his place in ten Hag's first starting line up for the Brighton tie. 
United's front three misfired terribly last term but proved revitalised in Australia and Thailand; giving cause of optimism ahead of the arrival of another season. The Reds won three, drew two and lost one in six pre-season fixtures and beat Wrexham in a behind-closed-doors friendly at Old Trafford last week.

Man Utd XI vs Brighton: De Gea; Dalot, Maguire, Lindelof, Malacia; McTominay, Fred; Sancho, Fernandes, Elanga; Rashford.

Prediction: United have a very good record against Brighton at Old Trafford and that - coupled with the start of the Erik ten Hag era - points to a win in the Dutchman's first game in charge. The Seagulls are always a tricky proposition but have lost a couple of key men over the summer so it will be intruiging to see how they line up. With all this in mind, we're going for a narrow United win. 2-1

Thursday, 16 June 2022

United to host the Seagulls in opening gambit

Erik ten Hag's first competitive fixture in charge of Manchester United will see Brighton&Hove Albion visit Old Trafford on the opening weekend of 2022-23. 
92 days on from the nadir of a dreadful, unwanted record-busting campaign and that 4-0 capitulation at The Amex brings the start of the ambitious Dutchman's debut in English football.

We don't yet know what state the squad will be in, but we will - by then - at least have a rough idea of how EtH intends to set United up and how he wants us to play. 
United have a good record against the Seagulls in M16, having never lost to the south coast side on home turf and with a 100% Old Trafford record over them since Brighton's promotion to the Premier League in 2017.

We won the corresponding fixture last term by a 2-0 scoreline in a delayed February tie, thanks to goals from Portuguese duo Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes. But the memory of that woeful evisceration in the penultimate match of the season just gone will linger long in the subconscious. 

Graham Potter's side finished ninth last term for their highest ever league finish and visit United on the Sunday afternoon, 7 August, with a 2pm kick off in a televised encounter. 
It represents a sixth successive home opener for the Reds, with our last start on the road coming way back at the start of the Jose Mourinho era, a 3-1 win at AFC Bournemouth in 2016.

The opening weekend of the season is earlier than usual due to the winter World Cup in Qatar, with no fixtures between 12/13 November and Boxing Day - a six week hiatus for the tournament at a time of year when the league would normally be in full swing. 

It means the eagerly anticipated festive feast of football will continue as tradition dictates, with newly-promoted Nottingham Forest the visitors on 26 December and then the always-tricky trip to Wolves on New Year's Eve. Steve Cooper's Forest side face the Reds for the first time in 23 years with our last meeting the famous 8-1 win in the treble season when a certain Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came on as a substitute and scored four. 

There are no games between those two dates and the Premier League season will end slightly later than usual, too, on 28 May 2023.  

Brentford, fresh from an eye-catching debut campaign in the Premier League, provide ten Hag's first opponents on the road. 

The biggest game on the calendar arrives early this time around with Liverpool the visitors to Old Trafford in Gameweek Three (20 August), then Arsenal to start September after away trips to Southampton and Leicester City.

That precedes a nasty, brutal October in which we travel to champions Manchester City and Thomas Tuchel's dangerous Chelsea. Antonio Conte's big-spending Tottenham, a talented West Ham side and Eddie Howe's impressively rejuvenated Newcastle will also be in the Old Trafford crosshairs during a month which has a make or break look about it. 

There are only two fixtures in November, both away from home at Aston Villa and perennial yo-yo club Fulham, before the players are released for the World Cup. 

The second cross-town derby of the season comes early in the new year when Pep Guardiola's pre-eminent City come to Old Trafford in a battle of the Premier League's two folically challenged bosses.In stark contrast to our aforementioned impressive record against Brighton at Old Trafford, we have lost on three of our five league visits to the Seagulls Amex Stadium home. This time, we go there with ten games to go as the run-in hots up (18 March), a fortnight after our trip to Anfield, sandwiched by the visit of another south coast club - Southampton - on the 11th.

Two of the three promoted sides, in Scott Parker's Bournemouth and his former club Fulham, provide the denouement to 2022-23 as we play at the Vitality Stadium on 20 May and then welcome the Cottagers a week later.

United's 2022-23 Premier League fixtures in full (kick-off time and dates TBC)


7 - Brighton&Hove Albion (H)
13 - Brentford (A)
20 - Liverpool (H)
27 - Southampton (A)
30 - Leicester City (A)


3 - Arsenal (H)
10 - Crystal Palace (A)
17 - Leeds United (H)


1 - Man City (A)
8 - Everton (A)
15 - Newcastle (H)
19 - Tottenham (H)
22 - Chelsea (A)
29 - West Ham (H)


5 - Aston Villa (A)
12 - Fulham (A)


26 - Nottingham Forest (H)
31 - Wolves (A) 


2 - AFC Bournemouth (H)
14 - Man City (H)
21 - Arsenal (A)


4 - Crystal Palace (H)
11 - Leeds United (A)
18 - Leicester City (H)
25 - Brentford (H)


4 - Liverpool (A)
11 - Southampton (H)
18 - Brighton&Hove Albion (A)


1 -  Newcastle United (A)
8 - Everton (H)
15 - Nottingham Forest (A)
22 - Chelsea (H)
25 - Tottenham Hotspur (A)
29 - Aston Villa (H)


6 - West Ham (A)
13 - Wolves (H)
20 - AFC Bournemouth (A)
28 - Fulham (H) 

Friday, 3 June 2022

Ten Hag's revolution in full swing as five Reds leave

Erik ten Hag has wasted no time at all in putting his stamp on the Manchester United squad ahead of the 2022-23 season.
The Dutchman has started his work at United with the announcement of the departures of three Reds - Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata. The trio are all out of contract at the end of June and the club will not offer new deals which means they will all leave for nothing.

Nemanja Matic, Lee Grant and Edinson Cavani are also expected to step through the doors of Carrington for the last time, bringing the number of departures to six with more to maybe follow. Dean Henderson, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly, Anthony Martial and Aaron Wan - Bissaka are among those with uncertain futures and at the mercy of their new boss. 

It has been clear for some time major surgery was needed at Old Trafford to cleanse of the toxicity that's engulfed the club. A big clear out was needed and no one can accuse United of failing to act. With chief executive Richard Arnold's imprint on the club coming to the fore - and with director of football John Murtough now in charge of a new-look negotiating team - this is a massive summer of change in M16. 

For all the platitudes in United's grandiose farewells, the brutal brunt of the matter is United twice paid money for the World Cup winning Pogba - as a kid to get him from Le Havre and then again, this time for a world record £89 from Juventus - and he has twice left for nothing. But at no time has he ever consistently delivered. There have been flashes, tantalising glimpses of Pogba at his best: notably his two-goal contribution to the famous climb-off-the-canvas comeback at City in 2018, and his four assists against Leeds on the opening day of last season.

It was all too fleeting and compared to the impact of Kevin de Bruyne at City and even the far less heralded Fabinho at Liverpool, Pogba's influence was only occasional. Nothing like you'd expect from a player of his price tag and stature.

United should have built a team around him but instead looked as though they never knew how to use him. Even his colourful and personable off-field antics became a problem.

He very publicly fell out with Jose Mourinho, who stripped him of the captaincy, and failed to repay the faith shown in him by Mourinho's successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. 
Pogba remains a draw and will attract a number of suitors but, in many ways, will be remembered as the epitome of United's confused and muddled thinking and profligacy which has left us so far adrift of City and Liverpool. 

On a busy day at Old Trafford, the club announced Lingard will leave having risen through the ranks to play 232 times with 35 goals, two of which came in cup finals. Having returned from a successful loan spell at West Ham, Lingard only started twice upon in 2021-22 after two decades as a Red. West Ham have already expressed an interested in re-signing the player, this time for good. 

Two of Lingard's best moments at the club came on the biggest stage with his finest hour in the 2016 FA Cup final when his extra-time screamer took United to Wembley glory against Palace. He also netted in the following season's Community Shield win over Leicester and again in the EFL Cup final victory against Southampton. 

Mata arrived at United for a then club-record fee of £37m as the talismanic figurehead of the post Sir-Alex Ferguson era. One of the finest no.10s of the modern era, United somehow never quite seemed to get the best out of the diminutive playmaker, with Mata often shoehorned into a role out on the wing - a position simply not conducive to his considerable, and at times magical, talent. Widely considered the nicest man in the game and hugely popular wherever he plays, Mata has still more than made his mark on the Reds recent history. 
Mata's best season at the club was his first full campaign in a series of scintillating showings under new manager Louis van Gaal in 2014-15. The best one came on enemy territory on a day known simply as 'Juanfield' when his spectacular brace against Liverpool - the second a stunning match winning scissor kick (later voted our Goal of the Season) - earned him instant cult hero status at Old Trafford. 

He would go on to score in an FA Cup final and added a Community Shield, the EFL Cup and the Europa League to his personal CV under his former Chelsea boss Mourinho. Mata's influence gradually started to decline but he remained a popular squad player with his peers speaking highly of his professionalism and positivity.

In truth, Mata no longer possesses the energy levels required for the top level and probably should have been moved on a few seasons ago. That takes nothing away from the unstinting and selfless service he has given to the club but there is no place for sentiment in football. 

We would like to wish every player leaving United all the very best for the future.