Friday, 16 April 2021

United finish the job and roll on to Roma

Manchester United traditionally don't do straightforward. It's a rite of passage - almost a contractual obligation - to put supporters through the entire gamut of emotions for 90 minutes every week. 
When most people would take the motorway at 70mph, United choose the scenic route of the back country road at 20mph to reach their eventual destination.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Reds have had a nightmare sequence of cup draws - thwarted by the best team in that particular round at every turn. Apart from Watford, we played a top half Premier League team at each stage of the FA Cup until our eventual elimination at the hands of Leicester. The Champions League group of death alongside PSG and Leipzig and Everton and City in successive rounds of the Carabao Cup. Even having dropped into the second tier Europa League, Real Sociedad and Milan hardly represented inferior opposition. 

Consider all of this, and it was strangely soothing to see United get through a European quarter-final with a bit to spare. Granada were the dream draw, the tie everyone wanted, and United lived up to their billing as favourites with a confident, professional and accomplished performance against Spain's eighth best side. The Reds never needed to get out of second gear and could easily have clicked up a level if it was needed. As European quarter-finals go, this was surely the easiest most of us can remember - as United writer Samuel Luckhurst alluded to at full-time. 

4-0 on aggregate, the Reds could have had a few more if we fancied it. Even before Edinson Cavani's early goal put us ahead at Old Trafford and 3-0 up in the tie to put the result beyond any lingering doubt, United had taken a stroll down easy street. 

It was nice to have a two-legged cup tie in the latter stages of a competition and not to suffer palpitations every few minutes. The only time United ever looked in trouble was when the heavy handed visitors dished out a liberal helping of foul play. Quite how they ended with a full compliment of players will forever remain a mystery. You felt Granada could have played until next season's quarter-finals and still not score. United and Solskjaer were without four key men, three of them - captain Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay through suspension - and the rested Marcus Rashford but yet still won in second gear and with plenty to spare.

Not many managers can afford to leave out four of their best players for a European quarter-final but yet still win in second gear with a bit to spare. As the season's frantic run-in continues at breakneck speed, those players are rested up after a rare night off as Burnley head across Lancashire to Old Trafford on Sunday. Fatigue and tired legs cost us during last season's denouement but our strength in depth is much improved this time around so you'd hope we avoid a repeat. There couldn't have been a better tie for Axel Tuanzebe to make his first start since January with the young defender one of United's best individual performers. 

Another semi-final then, the fifth in two seasons for Solskjaer to attempt to find a formula to lift his personal curse. No matter what you made of Solskjaer's divisive comments the other week about trophies only massaging egos, winning silverware - any silverware - will have to matter at some point. There can have been few less daring passages en route to United's third Europa League last four tie and a second in succession. 

You won't need us to tell you how the previous four semi finas ended with the heartache of falling at the penultimate hurdle. Man City in the League Cup (twice), Chelsea in the FA Cup and, most painfully of all, the Europa League semi final KO at the hands of Sevilla in Germany in August - a tie United dominated and should have won but we were ultimately punished for profligacy. As the United boss said afterwards, the disappointment of that night still lingers and has provided the team with an additional dollop of motivation to go one better this time around. In Solskjaer's defence, he can claim to have not always had the rub of the green when it comes to the big moments in the biggest games. 

Roma, the team from Italy's Eternal City, will lie in wait with Paulo Fonseca's side to face United in the last four having edged past Ajax 3-2 on aggregate after their 1-1 draw in Italy followed an impressive 2-1 away victory in the Dutch capital, a minor shock to set up the first meeting between the two clubs for 14 years. 
This time though, it's a two legged semi final against an opponent that present our best chance so far of reaching that elusive first showpiece under Solskjaer. It won't be anywhere near as simple against the Serie A side as it was against Granada - and nor can we expect it to be. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Chris Smalling and Edin Dzeko et al will have other ideas, of course, but Solskjaer's United - for probably the first time under the Norwegian - head into a semi final as strong favourites to progress. Dangerous and talented they may be, but with respect to I Giallarossi, Chelsea and Manchester City they certainly aren't. 

This never really felt like a quarter-final with the second leg played out in the manner of a glorified training game, but United will need to move up through those gears in the next round if Solskjaer's dreams of silverware with his boyhood club are - finally - to come to fruition. 

Match report: Manchester United 2-0 Granada (4-0 agg)

Manchester United finished the job to set up a fifth semi-final under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer against AS Roma in the Europa League.
2-0 ahead from the first leg in Spain, the Reds were already in full control of the tie - a control we would never relinquish - and never needed to get out of first gear against the combative but limited outsiders of a side eighth in La Liga.

Solskjaer's side will now Paulo Fonseca's Giallorossi in the last four as Roma - Chris Smalling, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Edin Dzeko et al - edged past Ajax (whom we beat when we won this competition in 2017) 3-2 over the two legs. Unai Emery will take on his former side Arsenal with Villarreal in the other last four tie. 

The United boss shuffled his pack and made five changes from the first leg in southern Spain, three of which were enforced with captain Harry Maguire, in-form left back Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay  suspended after picking up bookings. Axel Tuanzebe, Alex Telles and Nemanja Matic
returned to the side whilst Fred and Edinson Cavani replaced Dan James and the rested Marcus Rashford in a strong but rotated XI.

It took United only six minutes to go ahead as Telles began the move with a cross. Captain for the night Paul Pogba flicked the ball on with an expertly controlled back header and the ball fell to Cavani who, as expected, fired home with a left-footed volley from close range to put the tie beyond any lingering doubt.
Cavani had been a man on a mission at Spurs and grabbed another here, his second goal in as many games and ninth of the season.

Granada, on their first ever visit to England, showed far more attacking intent at Old Trafford than they did in the first game as City loanee Yangel Herrera - a man fortunate not to have been sent off in Spain - twice headed wide from set pieces to fire warnings to United.

But the Reds were comfortable and should have extended their already handsome aggregate lead further. 
Bruno Fernandes flashed a volley over the bar having been teed up by Matic and the Portuguese schemer then fired wastefully off target when he dragged wide at the culmination of a sweeping move.

If that was uncharacteristic from the usually immaculate playmaker, then so too was the errant boot of Mason Greenwood. Fresh from his best form of the season, the dead-eye 19 year old was off target on this occasion as he screwed his shot wide just before half-time as United went in at half time ahead.

Pogba had picked up a booking during the opening 45 and, with Granada's histrionics threatening to get him sent off, Solskjaer withdrew the World Cup winner to prevent him getting another and missing the semi-final. Fernandes took the armband as Donny van de Beek came on to replace the Frenchman.

Granada sub Jorge Molina should have done better and so too should Greenwood when he headed straight at Rui Silva having been picked out superbly by van de Beek.
Cavani added to the increasingly lengthy list of missed chances with a chance that you would expect him to score. The striker's run was timed to perfection to meet Fernandes superb ball in, but the Uruguayan hitman could only connect with his shoulder rather than his head and the gilt-edged opening went begging.

van de Beek flashed a shot inches wide on the hour mark after a solo Greenwood run but Granada continued to press for a much sought after memento goal. Nehuen Perez was denied by David de Gea, and the Spaniard suddenly found himself busy as he was called into action again, this time to deny Herrera.

Uniquely, United had three captains in the match as Fernandes handed the armband over to the oncoming Juan Mata, having himself taken over from Pogba for the second half.
Just as we did in the first game, United grabbed a late second when a Telles cross flicked off Mata to strike the unfortunate Jesus Vallejo and crept in under Silva to rubber-stamp a comfortable 4-0 aggregate victory. 

Granada could consider themselves lucky to end the game with a full compliment of players when United substitute Amad Diallo was scythed down by fellow replacement Luis Suarez (no, not that one) having burst clear. In keeping with the abysmal officiating which dogged the tie, Suarez wasn't even booked despite the foul surely appearing to be a case of denying a clear goalscoring opportunity. 

For the heavy handed Spaniards, their creditable run to the quarters is over but United roll on to a two-legged semi final against the side from the Eternal City with a European final now within touching distance. 

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Edinson Cavani

Monday, 12 April 2021

The evolution of Mason Greenwood

 Mason Greenwood struck his fourth goal in three games to rubber-stamp United's second half salvo and seal victory at Tottenham. 
The-19-year-old rose to prominence in 2019-20 with a stunning breakthrough season as he scored 17 goals - the most by a teenager in a single campaign for United. Touted as the best teenage talent since the days of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, Greenwood is a generational talent and the finest Academy graduate to emerge from the Carrington conveyor belt for many a year.

His goal at Tottenham, a well-struck, low, right footed drive beyond Hugo Lloris and into the corner, is rapidly becoming the Greenwood raison d'etre. It took his tally to the season for seven after a run of form in which Greenwood, who does not turn 20 until October, has looked back to his best.

His goal tally may not be anywhere close to last season's haul but an argument could legitimately be made Greenwood has played better in 2020-21 than he did in 2019-20. Despite not always getting on the scoresheet, Greenwood has caught the eye with his work rate, link up play and desire to make things happen. He was excellent in the recent 1-0 wins over West Ham and Milan, hitting the post in both games and leading the line with patience and precision. Greenwood has been playing well and his all-round contributions have caught the eye despite a relatively lean campaign in front of goal. Last season he only had one assist, but this season he's got five - his all round game is developing and the team are benefitting. Just because he's got ten fewer goals with what we hope will be ten games left, Greenwood has shown over the last few weeks that we shouldn't be concerned just because he hasn't quite hit the same heights as last season. There's a notable intelligence to his game, he's growing in maturity and is now more than simply a talented goalscorer. 

One of the criticisms during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's time in charge at United is a perceived failure to get his substitutions right.
But no one could accuse the Norwegian manager of that against Spurs as Ole got his tactics and subs spot on to outmanoeuvre his Old Trafford predecessor Jose Mourinho. 
Taking off a tiring and far from fully fit Marcus Rashford was the right call, as United's no.10 battled gamely for 70 minutes before making way for Greenwood. Putting Greenwood on to devastating effect, the teenager tore Spurs apart with his pace and trickery as he crossed for Edinson Cavani to head home before he added the third himself to put the result beyond doubt.

All of Greenwood's recent goals have been very different. There was the unsighted, near post sidefooted effort in the cup defeat at Leicester, the predatory diving header late on against Brighton and the goal at Spurs where he cut in and fired low into the corner. After two months of quietly solid individual displays, Greenwood has rediscovered his mojo when it comes to doing what he does best - finding the back of the net. The best natural finisher at the club, it's sometimes easy to forget he's still only 19. 

Whereas United's other forwards have looked fatigued, overburdened and unfit over the past weeks and months, Greenwood has sprinkled stale collective attacking performances with the vibrancy and exuberance of youth. How else can you describe him spinning Mark Noble inside out in the FA Cup win over West Ham. That night, especially, felt like a night on which Greenwood came alive again. 

Even then, he had to be patient. Solskjaer has talked up Greenwood's performances throughout his goal drought and has not been surprised that the teenager's persistence and patience is now being rewarded.
"The world nowadays is so onto stats - goals, assists, this and that" Solskjaer said after that West Ham game.
"The boy has played fantastic the last two or three months. He has really matured, really come on." 

United didn't play particularly well against Brighton but Greenwood was our most effective player and scored within minutes of moving into his favoured no.9 position. We've not seen much of him as the out-and-out centre forward and it's almost doing him a disservice that much of his career has seen him stationed out wide on the right hand side. 

Greenwood has played himself back into scoring form and it hasn't come a moment too soon. Anthony Martial endured a disappointing season but is unlikely to play again this campaign after a knee injury on international duty with France looks to have ended his season.
Rashford's form has ebbed and flow but although he's reached 20 goals for the second season in a row, Rashford is clearly struggling with injury and an extended, enforced rest could do him the world of good.
Cavani's goal on Sunday was his first since Everton in February with fitness and doubts over his future having poured cold water on a promising start to life at United. Cavani has been distinctly hit and miss in what could be his only season at Old Trafford. 

As United approach the pivotal run-in, Greenwood looks back to somewhere near hi best, proving the old adage that whilst form may be temporary, class is permanent. 

Sunday, 11 April 2021

Corrupt, donkey, abysmal referees... again (RANT)

 I have had enough of these useless, corrupt, bent, biased, donkey, abysmal referees and every single one of them should be investigated and banned for match fixing. Where do they find these absolute cockwombles? Get rid of all of them.. NOW!

These referees have been told to make sure Manchester United never get any decisions and are getting paid off to do so.. its the only explanation I can come up with after another game against twelve men. They're scared of us and are doing everything to make sure they fuck us over. There can be no other conclusion to come to at this stage. Ever since Jurgen Klopp opened his trap, the media darling at Anfield is getting exactly what he wants. 

As referee Chris Kavanagh added another entry to the ever-lengthening list of decisions to have gone against us this season, I finally reached boiling point. Flinging my phone down in disgust, I stormed off into the garden to calm down and get my head together again. For the umpteenth game this season, Manchester United were playing against twelve men and rage - pure visceral,  boiling rage, consumed me. It takes a lot to get me wound up, but after one wrong decision too many, I reached my limit. As the dust settles almost six hours after the final whistle, I'm left with mixed emotions. Of course I'm delighted we won and left Jose Mourinho and Duncan Castles in the mud, but there's still anger too. 

 Just like Artur Dias on Thursday, Kavanagh booked our players for everything but yet ignored Spurs blatant attempts at cheating and play-acting. The decision to disallow Scott McTominay's goal was the worst decision I have seen since the failure to send off Yangel Herrera on Thursday. 

Have you ever tried running without moving your arms? Try it and tell me its possible. McTominay lifted his arms to run into space, Son yanked McTominay back and went down like he'd been shot. Five minutes later he's up and running around again. The Easter resurrection was last week, mate. Absolutely disgusting and disgraceful, he should be banned. If that's a foul then we may as well just give up. Yet Rashford can get  deliberately stamped on, Fernandes elbowed and Dan James chopped in half and nothing's done. Kavanagh said it was accidental and not a foul but yet he disallows the goal for no apparent reason? He caved in to being surrounded by Spurs players and took the nonsensical decision to not give the goal for something that happens every few minutes in any football match anywhere. Rashford got whacked in the face five minutes by Sergio Reguilon earlier. Result? Nothing at all - not even a VAR check. Yet when its us refs can't pull the card out quick enough. 

 Not content with that, the referee - determined to give Spurs more time to score - added on six minutes at the end of a half in which there was no VAR checks, no injuries and only five subs. It was three minutes at most but he added six on to deliberately try and stop us winning. He did his best to do so, but Ole's tricky, tiki taka showtime Reds let their football do the talking and justice, eventually, was done. Remember guys, cheats never prosper. 

You wouldn't have been surprised if Kavanagh had revealed a Tottenham shirt under his black referee kit. He didn't even try to hide his obvious hatred of United. 

The fact United came back to win in the face of extreme provocation and with an extra man in the Spurs corner should not detract from the fact we were absolutely shafted yet again by a corrupt, donkey official not fit to be in football. Even after a win, I don't think I've ever been this angry at the performance of a referee. When a manager or a player makes a mistake, he comes out and is asked to explain it yet the referees get protected by their paymasters, there's no accountability and they're never banned or removed from officiating despite being consistently useless. It's just not football anymore. 

If it was just an isolated one-off incident, you could accept it. That's football - every team gets a bad decision and sometimes you have to accept it. But it's happening every week with us. Right from the first game, when Crystal Palace were given a ludicrous penalty for handball - a spot-kick missed but then scored on the retake by Jordan Ayew - officials and referees have had it in for us. Week in week out, our games are ruined and points robbed from us by the incompetence of these donkeys. 

That was only the start of the carnage. There was the Anthony Martial sending off in the reverse game with Spurs when Erik Lamela hit the Frenchman but didn't get sent off despite initiating the contact. Fred was clattered in the box at Fulham, there was the foul on Lindelof for West Brom's opener at the Hawthorns, the Sheffield United debacle when Martial had a goal ruled out for nothing and their winner when David de Gea was elbowed in the head. We actually got a public apology from the Premier League  and both of those decisions were wrong. Joel Veltman didn't even get booked despite almost snapping Bruno Fernandes ankle against Brighton last week. There was Grenada's thuggery, the handball at Chelsea, Maguire's header at Burnley, the decision to send Fred off against PSG - a wrongful dismissal that cost us a place in the Champions League knockouts. Need I go on? 

These are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head, I'm sure there's more if I sit down and think about it. In three successive games - Brighton, Granada and now this one - the opposition have had 12 men. To paraphrase a certain catchphrase from a certain fan channel on YouTube - when is it gonna end? It will only be a matter of time before we get cheated out a final or in a title decider. 

It has been going all season long - a list of diabolical decisions as long as both my arms. You know its bad when you've even got rival fans in your corner - for a club as universally reviled as United, that takes some doing. Micah Richards and Jamie Redknapp - ex City and Liverpool players respectively - disagreed with the decision to rule out Edinson Cavani's opener and that tells you everything you need to know. 

It's time for the FA and the Premier League to do something about this and see it for what it is - blatant, deliberate sabotage of a football team and their season. 
Chris Kavanagh should never be allowed to referee a United game again. Ban Son Heung - min too whilst we're at it, cheating prick. 

Match report: Tottenham 1-3 Manchester United

 Manchester United hit a second half salvo to enact revenge on Jose Mourinho's Tottenham and banish the demons of October's defeat at Old Trafford. 
The Reds had gone down 6-1 on a day when we suffered our joint-worst Premier League loss when Anthony Martial was sent off and Erik Lamela somehow escaped censure despite hitting the French centre-forward.

There was more controversy here when referee Chris Kavanagh disallowed what seemed a perfectly good Edinson Cavani goal, only to overrule it through VAR for an alleged foul in the build up. Replays showed Scott McTominay had done nothing more than run with the ball but Son Heung - min threw himself to the ground, conning the official and seeing the strike ruled out.
To quite literally add insult to injury, Son - the man at the centre of it all - put Tottenham ahead five minutes before half-time as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looked set to explode with rage on the touchline.
But as we have done so many times before this season, United - spurred on by the sense of injustice - roared into life in the second half.
A rare goal from Fred - only his second for United - levelled matters before a superb Cavani header and a blistering late third from substitute Mason Greenwood put the result beyond doubt and left United seven points ahead of third placed Leicester.

Solskjaer made three alterations from Thursday night's European exploits in Spain as Dean Henderson, Fred and Cavani came in for David de Gea, Dan James and Greenwood. 
In truth, nothing much happened in the opening 17 minutes but then came United's first opening after a sweeping move. Bruno Fernandes floated a lovely ball for Paul Pogba into the box and he in turn flicked on to Cavani. The Uruguayan moved the ball on to Marcus Rashford and he took a touch and fired goalwards only for Eric Dier to make a brilliant lunging tackle to deflect the ball out for a corner.

Then came the game's major talking point on 33 minutes when the referee disallowed a brilliant Reds opener for no apparent reason. A superb flowing move was finished by Cavani after lovely link up between McTominay, Fred and Pogba but Son had gone down in the build up. McTominay had pushed forward to burst into space, Son flicked his head forward and went down like a sack of spuds. Incredibly, and for reason I'll never understand, the official deemed the coming together a foul even though replays showed there had been no contact. 
To compound our anger, the same player - lucky to still be on the pitch after his blatant play-acting - Son put the hosts ahead on 40 minutes when Harry Kane cut the ball back to Lucas Moura and he squared for Son to tap in. 

Raging at the robbery and a sense of injustice, United came out for the second half a team on a mission. After McTominay had thumped a post with a 20-yarder, the Reds equalised three minutes shy of the hour mark. A nice piece of play involved Rashford and Fred saw the latter release Cavani to burst through on goal. Our impressive no.7 hammed the ball goalwards, only to be denied by a good stop from Hugo Lloris. The rebound fell perfectly into the path of Fred and even the notoriously wayward Brazilian could not miss as he thumped the loose ball high into the net.

Dean Henderson saved superbly from Son to preserve parity soon afterwards, before Lloris was called into action again at the other end, this time to push the ball round the ball to deny Fernandes after another neat passing move.
United had taken the upper hand and should have taken the lead on 67 minutes when a corner was cleared to Luke Shaw and he volleyed the ball wide to Fernandes. The Portuguese moved it on to Pogba but the Frenchman went for the spectacular and his back-heeled effort was blocked by Dier.

The tie was becoming increasingly end-to-end and Henderson was again alert to save smartly from Kane with his feet at the near post. At the other end, Greenwood, who had come on for Rashford, fired wide having cut inside as both teams looked a threat going forward.

Cavani deserved a goal for his constant movement, causing Dier and Joe Rodon no end of problems. The veteran striker finally got the goal his performance deserved eleven minutes from time when Fernandes linked with Greenwood, the latter crossed and Cavani met it with a diving header beyond Lloris and into the corner.

Having put us ahead, Cavani was then inadvertently involved at the other end when he flicked a Spurs corner on to his own crossbar in an attempt to clear. 
Having somehow conjured up six additional minutes (I reckon he deliberately added loads on to allow Spurs more time to score), Mourinho's men went in search of a scarcely deserved equaliser. But, instead, the Reds put the seal on a memorable victory through Greenwood as the immense Pogba picked out the onrushing striker to lash in a brilliant finish and serve up a delicious helping of revenge.

United Faithful Man of the Match: Edinson Cavani. A masterclass in movement and finishing. Brilliant effort against twelve men. 
Overall team performance: 8/10 (Referee: - 15,000 - useless donkey shit) 

Friday, 9 April 2021

Manchester United need protection... not penalising

 Manchester United won 2-0 in Granada on Thursday but it was a match certainly not without incident a referee Artur Dias took centre-stage.
If you thought the standard of refereeing in the Premier League was bad, and it is, then the performance of Portuguese official Dias reached new levels of incompetence.
Granada committed more fouls than United but received only two bookings. Nemanja Matic got a yellow card for literally winning a header, Harry Maguire's booking wasn't even a foul and Pogba was cautioned for running forwards as he penalised the Reds for everything but continually turned a blind eye to every elbow, kick, hack, scythe and foul coming from the Granada team. This referee showed so many cards he must have a share in Clinton's. 

All game long, the home side were more focused on deliberately trying to harm our players than they were in winning the match. Making it difficult for a superior team is one thing, but overstepping the mark and causing deliberate harm to an opponent quite another. You could be forgiven for thinking this was 1970s Leeds, it was that bad. Yet this official simply allowed it to happen. I was proud of the Reds for keeping a cool head under such extreme provocation but it was yet another example of United getting nothing from an abysmal official. I'm sick of it now. It's true we got a penalty at the end of the game, but, given what had gone before, the referee effectively forced himself to give it. His decision making was so haphazard and card happy that he set a precedent resulting in him awarding the spot-kick after Fernandes was shoved over by Yan Brice.

There's a list as long as my arm of incidents which went unpunished in that game. At the centre of it all was Yangel Herrera - quite how he never even got booked, let alone sent off, I'll never know. Not content with elbowing Scott McTominay off the ball, the City loanee and animal set out to maim Marcus Rashford, despite the fact the United man is clearing playing through injury. Herrera stamped on the United no.10's injured ankle, knowing he was hurt and knowing he would likely cause serious injury. Bruno Fernandes was elbowed in the face (not sure who by) and Dan James scythed down with such force on more than one occasion it was a minor miracle he escaped without serious injury. Domingos Duarte was eventually cautioned for his rough-house approach but how the home side only had two bookings and finished with all eleven players on the pitch is beyond me. The fact Duarte was forced off through injury having slammed James to the ground was a delicious piece of ironic karma. 

To add insult to metaphorical injury, United will be without three players for the second leg - Luke Shaw (don't know what he was booked for), Maguire (not even a foul) and McTominay (probably the only booking you could say was justified). Mr Dias couldn't wait to pull our boys up on the tiniest thing but yet that Herrera bloke committed roughly 5,000 fouls and nothing was done about it. It makes me wonder whether that referee was asked to dish out yellow cards to deliberately weaken our squad for the second leg - nothing would surprise me any more. 

To call Granada's cynical approach "agricultural" would be putting it politely - they were, to be frank, an absolute disgrace to football. Fair play to them for getting this far, but it would have been a travesty if they had got anything from that game. Their one and only tactic was to sit on the 18-yard line and then kick the s**t out of us every time we went forward. They didn't try to play football, they simply kicked anything that moved and were allowed to do so by an incompetent, abysmal, donkey referee - he lost control of the game and failed in his duty of care towards our players. Rarely have I felt this wound up after a win, but the 'performance' of this official has left me feeling very upset and angry. Where do they find these referees?

It's almost as if opponents are setting out to deliberately ruin United. Brighton's Joel Veltman should have been sent off on Sunday after he clattered Fernandes in the build-up to Rashford's goal - to the extent the playmaker could've broken his ankle. At Stamford Bridge last month, Mason Mount stamped on Fred right under the nose of referee Stuart Attwell. And now this debacle. Granada were the dirtiest team I have seen and we can only be thankful that our boys emerged without serious injury - if the home side had three men sent off, I don't think anyone could have really complained. For the second game in a row and for the umpteenth time this season, United should feel hard done by when it comes to getting a raw deal from refs. 

You expect better from an official at this level - it's time for United to ask for protection from referees before someone gets seriously hurt. 

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Match report: Granada CF 0-2 Manchester United

 Manchester United have one foot in the Europa League semis with an away win over Granada in the first leg of our quarter-final.
Marcus Rashford fired Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side ahead when he superbly collected Victor Lindelof's stunning long pass, and fired in a finish beyond Granada keeper Rui Silva. 
A late Bruno Fernandes penalty put distance between the sides as United never needed to get out of first gear to see off the cynical and rough house approach of Spain's ninth-best side.

Portuguese referee Artur Dias was at the centre of proceedings, booking five Reds despite the hosts committing more fouls and seemingly kicking United to the ground at every opportunity. Quite how Yangel Herrera, on loan from Manchester City in Granada's midfield, wasn't even booked never mind sent off, will forever remain one of life's great mysteries. 
As a result of this official's incompetence, Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay will all miss the second leg at Old Trafford having all been carded, therefore ruling the three men out of the return fixture next week.
Solskjaer made three changes from the win over Brighton on Easter Sunday as David de Gea returned in goal, McTominay came in for Fred and Dan James displaced Edinson Cavani with Mason Greenwood leading the line.

Granada had captured the imagination of the continent as a small, provincial club embarking on their first ever European campaign. Whilst Los Nazaries had undoubtedly done well to get this far, United proved too strong and never looked troubled.

Despite the game being played behind closed doors, a streaker disrupted proceedings after six minutes causing a stoppage and a sight no one really wanted to see. 
Paul Pogba was the first player to be booked for a foul on Chelsea loanee Kenedy, and Granada earned a corner from the resultant free-kick as Fernandes cleared to safety despite an offside infringement. In a recurring theme, nothing came from the set piece as a low cross was comfortably held by the recalled De Gea.

Rashford went close from a set piece of our own at the other end, and our no.10 then had a similar effort from distance, but the ball flashed narrowly wide of the post as United upped the ante in search of the breakthrough.

Herrera, a man who somehow stayed on the field for the full 90, hit the outside of a post before United moved ahead moments later. The television cameras were still showing the replays of Herrera's chance when Rashford put the ball away after a brilliant, defence splitting pass from Lindelof. The Iceman spotted Rashford's run and clipped an exquisite pass over the defence for our no.10 to run onto, take in his stride and slot beyond Silva.

Ex-Spurs man Roberto Soldado fired wide shortly before time, but the 35-year-old striker failed to trouble De Gea with a 20 yarder.The bookings for McTominay and Shaw, making them ineligible for next week's second leg, proved the only blemish on a first half in which the Reds had entirely controlled from the outset.

After Dan James was clattered by Domingues Duarte - an infringement that finally saw a home player booked - United went close to a second from the free-kick. Half-time sub Alex Telles whipped the ball to the back stick and McTominay's snapshot was cleared by a covering defender. Kenedy had earlier sent a volley straight at De Gea and tried his luck again from a similar distance only to see the same result as the returning United stopper was comfortably equal to his strike. 

Maguire flashed a shot wide after a driving run from deep, before the impressive Lindelof was called into action at the other end as he blocked from that man Herrera and then Carlos Neva. 
The United skipper was harshly cautioned having challenged Soldado for the ball whilst Herrera somehow escaped without censure for a late, dangerous lunge on James that failed to even bring about a booking.

Silva saved well from Fernandes, although the Portuguese was offside anyway, and James went close to a match sealing second when he dragged an effort wide at the culmination of a counter-attack. 

United always looked likely winners but made sure of the result in stoppage time when Fernandes was scythed down by substitute Yan Brice and made no mistake from 12 yards. The keeper probably should have done better but the spot-kick squirmed into the corner to give United breathing space. 

Overall team performance: 5/10 (Referee rating - 1,000)
United Faithful Man of the Match: Victor Lindelof. 

I was proud of our lads today for keeping their heads in the face of disgusting provocation and a corrupt, donkey, abysmal referee.