Friday 27 February 2015

Match preview: United v Sunderland, Sat 28th Feb

United host the Black Cats looking to bounce back from an undeserved defeat at Swansea last weekend and maintain a place in the top four of the Premier League.

Draw specialists Sunderland will be hoping for a repeat performance of their 1-0 win at Old Trafford last May that helped Gus Poyet's side avoid relegation in a dramatic late escape last season.

Michael Carrick is set to resume training in the next week but this game will probably come too soon for his return, whilst Robin van Persie is ruled out with an ankle injury. 

Struggling Sunderland currently sit two places and three points above the drop zone and had not won on our turf since 1968 until their shock win at OT last season. 

The Blacks Cats have drawn exactly half of their games (13) and are the second lowest scorers in the league, with a paltry 22 goals.

To try and rectify their attacking woes, Poyet reacted by signing  Jermaine Defoe in January, arguably the most clinical poacher in the English game. 

The Reds will be all too aware of the threat posed not only by Defoe, but also by former City man Adam Johnson and dead ball specialist Sebastian Larsson, who scored the winner in that game at our place in May. 

Speaking post match on Friday, United boss Louis van Gaal said:
"Yes van Persie is injured, it shall be for more than two weeks but we will have to see exactly how long, so for Falcao the possibility is of course higher.

"When you started the season with the objective of finishing in the first four of the league you are occupied with doing that.
We are not unhappy, I am happy with the results but not with a lot of the performances 
"But we are still there, I don't know why you are talking like that, because we are still there and we have control of our situation.
"Sunderland  will not be easy, we know that from last time but we are at home and we know that this gives us the advantage. 
"The other clubs are all winning their matches so therefore we need to do the same- it is a rat race."

Form guide: United W W D W W L Sunderland W W D L L D
Match odds: United 4/11 Draw 8/1 Sunderland 9/1
Referee: Roger East

Juan Mata put United ahead at the Stadium of Light in August.
The game ended in a 1-1 draw. 

Thursday 26 February 2015

Hummels a must but Strootman a risk as United eye summer spending

Manchester United transfer target Kevin Strootman faces 'no way out' of his injury nightmare after surgery on his ligament did not 'go to plan'.

Roma and Holland midfielder Strootman returned from a nine-month injury lay-off in November, but suffered a setback in January and will miss the remainder of the season.

United had been told that we would need to pay in excess of £35 million to prise the playmaker away from the Serie A outfit: but is it worth spending that much on an undoubtedly gifted but ultimately injury-prone player??

Louis van Gaal revealed in July that he would 'wait' on Strootman's fitness before deciding whether to bid for a player the Netherlands' 3-4-3 formation previously hinged upon.

Strootman's absence in the World Cup forced LVG to alter the Dutch system to a 3-5-2, but the Roma club doctor fears the "Cyclops Syndrome" (a complication that emerged following surgery on Strootman's ACL) could severely hinder the remainder of his career. 

He would without question be an excellent acquisition for the Reds: his hard working, combative, box-to-box approach has been sorely lacking from the United midfield since Roy Keane left the club.

It is history of crippling major injuries that makes signing him a risk. 

The biggest mistake United made was letting Paul Pogba slip through the net as a young, raw 18 year old who has now developed into one of the most sought-after talents in world football.

How United could do with the now Juventus man: still only 21, he is in the prime of his career, has won two Serie A titles at Juve and, although he left under slightly acrimonious circumstances, I am sure he would be welcomed back at Old Trafford. 

A defensive leader is also urgently needed.
Marcos Rojo has the potential to play at the heart of United's back line for many years to come: what is needed now is to find him a reliable, injury free defensive partner. 

When the transfer window comes around twice a year, United are linked to nearly every centre half in Europe.
Mats Hummels has been constantly touted as Nemanja Vidic's eventual replacement for years and, in my opinion, we should pay whatever  Dortmund ask for the 26 year-old World Cup winner. 

United are not far away from being the complete package: a defensive rock in the Vidic mould and a midfield enforcer must be top of van Gaal's shopping list in the summer. 

Blackett commits to United

Young defender Tyler Blackett has signed a new contract at Old Trafford, keeping him at United until 2017 with an option to extend the deal to another year. 

The Manchester born 20 year old has come through the ranks of the Academy system and made his debut on the opening day of the season, a 2-1 reverse at home to Swansea.

He has made 10 appearances in total for the Reds this season. 

His boss Louis van Gaal was delighted to have secured Blackett's services for at least another two years.
The manager said:
"I am delighted that Tyler has signed a new contract, he is another young player that has risen through the club to break into the first team.
"It is always a great moment at any club when that happens, but particularly at a club like Manchester United where youth development is important.
"Tyler has great potential and I believe he is at the right club to continue his progression and become a great defender for us."

I like what I see of Blackett so far: for sure he can be rash and naive at times but that is to be expected of a young player learning his trade, but more often that not he has looked positive, strong and confident on the ball.

Blackett added:
"I'm thrilled to have signed my new contract; I have supported United all my life and to have
come through the Academy and play in the first team has been a dream come true.
"My aim now is to keep improving and progressing on a personal level within the image of the manager, and I want to win titles and help to get United back to where they belong with the help of the manager, coaches and players around me."

Monday 23 February 2015

Battle for the top four will go down to the wire

The race for the Champions League qualification places became tighter than ever over the weekend, as United's defeat at Swansea City was capitalised upon by rivals Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool.

The Reds loss in Wales leaves United on 47 points, Arsene Wenger's side leapfrogged Louis van Gaal's side into third place, on 48 points, with a 2-1 win at Crystal Palace.

Santi Cazorla's penalty and an Olivier Giroud effort were enough to hold off a late fightback from Alan Pardew's men.

City pulled further ahead on 55 points after they thrashed Newcastle 5-0- Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri, Edin Dzeko and a brace from David Silva gave Manuel Pellegrini's side their biggest win of the season.

With Chelsea held to a 1-1 draw at home to Burnley in a controversial encounter, City are now five points off the top spot occupied by the Stamford Bridge outfit.

Ironically, the best result of the weekend from a Red point of view was Liverpool's 2-0 win at Southampton.

Although Brendan Rodgers' men cut the gap to United to just two points to move on to 45 points, the result keeps United in the top four, one point ahead of the Saints, who are fifth with 46. 

Tottenham missed their chance to move up the table after a late draw with West Ham.
Diafra Sakho and Cheikhou Kouyate gave the Hammers a 2-0 lead at White Hart Lane, but Danny Rose and Harry Kane, with the last kick of the game, salvaged a point for Spurs, who are seventh on 44 points.

With just four points separating Arsenal in third and Spurs in seventh- and United playing Tottenham and Liverpool in March, Manchester City and Chelsea in April, and Arsenal in May, the battle for the Champions League will go down to the wire. 

It's all to play for. 

Sunday 22 February 2015

United wait on RVP injury

As if losing to Swansea wasn't bad enough, to add insult to injury (literally), Robin van Persie left the Liberty Stadium on crutches with his lower right leg and foot in a protective cast on Saturday.

United fans can only hope that this was just a precaution and nothing more serious as, despite the criticism Van Persie has received of late, he is still a valuable asset to the Reds forward line and is our leading scorer with ten goals so far this term.

United's Dutch striker picked up the injury in the closing stages of the 2-1 reverse and, having missed the FA Cup win at Preston with a knock, this latest fresh setback is a concern.

Van Persie, 31, was forced to stay on the field as United had already used their three permitted substitutes, and manager Louis van Gaal said afterwards.

"Yes, he (Van Persie) is injured, we dominated the game even with ten men when Van Persie could not run any more.
"He should have come off but of course he could not as we had already made the changes.
"He could not run or even play with the ball, so it is a concern and we will have to see how bad the injury is."

With doubts over Radamel Falcao's form at United, a long term injury for van Persie could prove to be a major blow in the Reds quest for Champions League football in the final throes of the 2014/15 campaign. 

RVP has hit ten goals in 25 appearances for United so far this term.

Saturday 21 February 2015

Van Gaal laments missed chances

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal was frustrated by his team's inability to turn a dominant performance into points during the 2-1 defeat to Swansea on Saturday.

Having taken a 28th minute lead through a superb Ander Herrera strike, the Reds conceded a swift equaliser to Ki Sung-Yeung, but enjoyed plenty of the ball after the break.
Despite totally dominating the second half, United just could not hammer home the elusive advantage as the home side turned the result on its head with a fortuitous second, claimed by Bafetimbi Gomis.

"I think it was our best second half performance (this season), we created a lot of chances and dominated the game but we did not score" the boss told MUTV.
"That's football, you have to score out of the chances you create, we had a lot of chances, especially in the second half, but they score and then you know it shall be difficult.

The manager did take some positives from a disappointing afternoon, namely United's ability to dominate a match away from Old Trafford.
Van Gaal felt this will his serve his players as the Reds continue to search for just the second league win on the road in 2015.

"I shall say to the players that the result is disappointing but the performance was pleasing and this is good I think.
"In the process of the development of our play, then it was a very good match" the Dutchman added.

"To play like this, away from home, so dominant creating so many chances, you can hardly improve apart from scoring goals, but that is up to you and also a bit of luck."

Match report: Swansea 2-1 United

United suffered only their second Premier League defeat since November as Bafetimbi Gomis' fortunate winner gave Swansea a smash and grab victory at the Liberty Stadium.

It gave the Swans an unlikely double over the luckless Reds and, whilst the defeat is disappointing, it does little to affect United's top four position with Southampton or Liverpool, or both, guaranteed to drop points on Sunday.

Gomis had scored only one league goal before this match, but the French international  striker went close twice in the opening 10 minutes in a bright start from the home side. 

His header from a Gylfi Sigurdsson corner was cleared off the line by Ander Herrera, and then he nodded narrowly over from a Ki Sung-Yeung flick. 

The recalled Robin van Persie went close and Wayne Rooney saw his effort saved before United took the lead with an excellent goal just before the half hour. 

After Luke Shaw burst down the left wing, a neat exchange of passes between Rooney and Di Maria set up Herrera, who clinically swept in his second goal in two games. 

Parity was restored almost immediately though, as Jonjo Shelvey's cross was guided in from close range by Ki to pull the Swans level. 

From then on, United almost totally dominated, both in terms of possession and goalscoring chances, and went close twice after half-time, through Marcos Rojo's header and Herrera's well-hit snapshot. 

Rooney, van Persie and substitute Ashley Young all had chances to restore United's lead but, to sum up our day, were thwarted in the crucial moments either by a wrong bounce of the ball or last-ditch defending from Swansea.  

It wasn't to be though, and  the hosts were rewarded for their resilience with 15 minutes left-albeit rather fortuitously- when Shelvey's shot was heading wide until it struck Gomis and was diverted into the net.

United's day got worse when Van Persie picked up yet another injury late on and left the Liberty Stadium on crutches. 

How the Reds got nothing from this game will forever be a mystery, but, with the battle for the top four still in our hands, we now need to dust ourselves down to focus on a favourable-looking run in. 

United Faithful Man of the Match: Ander Herrera
Overall team performance: 8/10 

Friday 20 February 2015

Match preview: Swansea v United, Saturday 21st February

United head to south Wales with the aim of preserving third place in the table and settling a score with Swansea.

Garry Monk's side spoiled Louis van Gaal's first competitive match in charge with a 2-1 win at Old Trafford on the opening day.

Robin Van Persie missed Monday's FA Cup win at Preston, but the Dutchman "shall be fit" for Saturday according to his manager and Phil Jones is also available again. 
Michael Carrick is  the only confirmed absentee after he suffered a slight setback in his recovery and there are no fresh injury concerns for the Reds. 

Speaking pre-match on Friday, van Gaal said:
"Carrick is of course injured but shall be training with the squad in the next week, and Robin (Van Persie) and Jones are ready (for tomorrow's game).
"When you see the score of the last 19 or 20 matches, we are the best team in the league.
"I am never 100% happy, we can of course play better than we are now, but the main thing is to win games and that is what we are doing.
"We have shown our team spirit many times this season already and confidence is high in my players because of this."

The Swans are yet to win at the Liberty Stadium in 2015, and, following the sale of star man Wilfried Bony to our pesky cross-town rivals, have been beaten in three of their last five games and are perched in ninth place.
They did, however, pull off a surprise 1-0 win at United's top four rivals Southampton earlier this month.

Despite the loss of Bony, Swansea still carry a threat and one player the Reds will need to be wary of is creative playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson, who returns from injury in time to face United.
They offer pace and invention from wide areas through Nathan Dyer and Jefferson Montero so should not be under-estimated.

On Swansea, van Gaal added:
"They are a very good team, I like the way they play.
"They want to play football in a very nice play style, they want to make their games a passing game like we do, so I like that style of football.
"I hope it shall be a match like that on Saturday as it is always good when two teams play in the same way."

Form guide: Swansea D L L W D L United D W W D W W
Match odds: Swansea 13/5 Draw 5/2 United 10/11 (Bet365)
Referee: N Swarbrick 

The Liberty Stadium, where the Reds will do battle with the Swans in the Premier League on Saturday. 

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Falcao's United future cause for huge concern

Like United supporters everywhere, when Radamel Falcao was first linked with joining us, I had to do a double take.

It seemed too good to be true: a player who most football fans would put in their world's top five strikers, at Old Trafford, linking up with Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, Juan Mata and Angel Di Maria.

Yet true it was: boy, at the time it was even worth staying up until 2am to make sure the deal had gone through.
Surely now, with a forward line that would leave even Real Madrid trembling, United would be unstoppable....

Only it has not worked out that way.
There is no debating Falcao's work rate and commitment to the Red cause, but the sign of him toiling alone up top at Preston on Monday indicated just what a struggle life at United has been.

The fact that the away fans broke out in cheers when he was hauled off after an hour said it all: the fact that his replacement, Ashley Young, had far more of an impact on the game was actually quite sad.

I feel sorry for Falcao: he suffered a debilitating knee injury that ruled him out of the World Cup and this has unquestionably had an affect on the Colombian.

But there must be more to his performances, or lack of, than that.
Every player has injuries, it's part of the game.
Indeed, I have often felt that LVG has changed our system several times over to try and fit Falcao into it but, whatever the manager does, nothing seems to work.

Four goals all season tells its own story. 

Granted, three of those have been crucial: the winner against Everton and predatory strikes at Stoke and Aston Villa to earn United away draws. 

He has been frustrated too, by a lack of service, but, when he does receive the ball, he has looked slow on it and does not react quickly enough when chances do come his way.
At Deepdale, his movement was poor and he was kept in check by the back three of the League One side.

For a player fighting for his future, Falcao simply has not done enough to convince me, or I'm sure, van Gaal that he warrants a long-term career at United.

United v Arsenal the pick of the ties in the quarter-finals

United's reward for battling past Preston in the fifth round is a home quarter-final with old foes and current Cup holders Arsenal.

Although United v Arsenal is no longer the snarling, ferocious, hatred-fuelled encounter it once was, there is  still something about the fixture that gives both sets of fans a sense of nostalgia. 

Both fans still want to get one over on each other and the undoubted tie of the round adds extra spice to an already intruiging quarter final line up.

Blackburn will be looking to follow up their impressive wins over Swansea and Stoke with an even bigger Premier League scalp as they face Liverpool at Anfield, whilst Midlands rivals Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion meet at Villa Park in another mouth-watering tie. 

There will be at least one team from outside the top tier in the last four as giant-killing Bradford- who have put out both Chelsea and Sunderland- host Championship outfit Reading at Valley Parade.

United manager Louis van Gaal was pleased that the draw threw up a home tie for the Reds, and said:
"I think that is the most important thing, we have a draw at home against a big opponent, so for us it is very good.
"I am very happy that we can now play against Arsenal and for the first time in the competition we are at home.
"That is important in FA Cup matches and we believe that we can now go on to the semi-finals."

United are sure to be roared on by a sold out Old Trafford and, that, together with strong home form this term and an excellent recent record against the Gunners (one defeat in 15 games), will leave the Reds confident of a 28th FA Cup semi final and our first since the 2010/11 season.

The quarter final match ups will take place over the weekend of 7/8 March and the United v Arsenal encounter will be shown live on BBC One. 

Van Gaal explains FA Cup fightback

Louis van Gaal said he solved the problems posed by Preston North End in the FA Cup by changing the shape of his United side. 

The Reds trailed to Scott Laird's early second half opener but hit back with three goals to earn a quarter-final spot against holders Arsenal at Old Trafford. 

Ashley Young replaced the hard-working but ultimately ineffective Radamel Falcao on the hour mark with Marouane Fellaini switched to attack and the tactical move paid dividends with the Belgian scoring the second goal.

"I was reasonably satisfied with the first half" said the boss.
"We didn't give anything away, our ball possession was good and it's always difficult in such games especially with the long balls and the fights between the central defenders and Kevin Davies. 

"It's always difficult but we only gave away once chance, I believe, in the first half.
"Then in the second half their goal was a little bit unlucky because it deflected but, after then, we showed an unbelievable team spirit.
"We changed the shape and that was the solution."

"I think we scored fantastic goals also but we were maybe a little bit lucky as well.
"It was good, I liked it, especially the second goal when Antonio Valencia crossed to the back post for Fellaini.
"I liked that and it was very pleasing for Valencia as we have trained on that a lot."

Fellaini remains an awkward and effective asset for defenders to deal with and the Belgian took his goal superbly after his initial header was saved by Thorsten Stuckmann. 

"Yes, Fellaini has the power and body strength" added van Gaal.
"We can always overcome the pressure with him and he scores goals also.
"I played him for the first time in the position he wants to play but I have not always got a position for him and that's my problem." 


Monday 16 February 2015

Match report: Preston North End 1-3 United

Manchester United survived a second-half scare at Deepdale to see off Preston and set up an FA Cup quarter-final tie with holders Arsenal.

The Reds had dominated the game but it was not until we had fallen behind through Scott Laird early in the second half that we made the pressure tell, and in the end, Louis van Gaal's side emerged comfortable winners. 

A flat, disappointing first half failed to produce a shot on target for either side with Angel Di Maria's dipping free-kick and Joe Garner's close-range header for Preston the best of the sporadic openings.

Having dominated possession, the lack of a final pass was all that was holding United back but, two minutes into the second half, Deepdale erupted as Preston took a shock lead.

Laird was played in by Garner who raced into the box and powered in a shot that deflected off Antonio Valencia to beat the unfortunate David de Gea at his near post.

The home side briefly had United on the ropes and Tom Clarke nearly made it
2-0 when he narrowly failed to connect with a whipped free-kick.

After an hour, Van Gaal had seen enough.
He hauled off the ineffective Falcao for Ashley Young in an astute change that helped turn the game in his side's favour.

It was the pacy substitute who set up the Reds' leveller when he cut the ball back for the again impressive Ander Herrera, who slotted in a neat finish 25 minutes from time.

There were initial suspicions that Wayne Rooney had been offside when Herrera scored, but replays showed that Rooney did not touch the ball and was not obstructing the keeper's line of vision.

Marouane Fellaini, pushed further forward as part of the switch, then followed up his own saved header to poke United ahead and change the complexion of the tie.

North End were not going down without a fight, though, and Kyel Reid fizzed a low effort narrowly wide before Callum Robinson forced De Gea into a save with a well-struck drive.

But United made sure of their progress with two minutes to go when North End keeper Thorsten Stuckmann sent Rooney tumbling and he stepped up to despatch his penalty high into the net.

United Faithful Man of the Match: Ander Herrera
Overall team performance: 7.5/10

Friday 13 February 2015

Match preview: Preston vs United, Monday 16th February

Manchester United make the 33-mile trip to Deepdale on Monday evening as we face Preston North End for the first time in 43 years in this FA Cup fifth round tie.

Michael Carrick has had a “minor setback” and remains out and United boss Louis van Gaal said he will “wait and see” on the fitness of Phil Jones and Daley Blind.

Robin van Persie is doubtful as he is carrying a knock but Luke Shaw is available after completing a one match ban.

PNE are managed by Simon Grayson, who was in charge of then League One Leeds who famously knocked the Reds out of the cup in the third round at Old Trafford in 2010.

The man who netted the winner that day, Jermaine Beckford, now plies his trade on loan at Deepdale and the Reds defence will also need to be wary of the threat posed by veteran striker Kevin Davies. 

North End currently sit fourth in the League One, 45 places below van Gaal's side, third in the top tier.

Van Gaal is relishing the atmosphere of the competition and said it is “fantastic” to face a high-flying third tier side as the Reds look to secure a place in the quarter finals.

Speaking on Friday, the boss said: “Our fans are fantastic, both when we play at home and away, it is very important that our fans support us as they can help the players.
It is fantastic, I have already described, we have to play for the third time a lower team. "You know that everything is in favour of the lower team, the environment is against you because everyone is with the underdog, you have confirmed it but you are conscious to do that so it is more difficult to accept but football is like this.
But the chance that you can survive is higher because you are playing against lower qualities but we know from the matches against Yeovil and against Cambridge that this game will not be easy for my team.”

Preston have seen off Havant and Waterlooville, Shrewsbury and Sheffield United (after a replay) to reach the last 16.

Form guide: Preston D D L W W W United W D W W D W
Match odds: Preston 13/2 Draw 7/2 United 5/11 (bet365)

Referee: Phil Dowd

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Match report: United 3-1 Burnley

Substitute Chris Smalling scored twice to help United overcome a battling Burnley side and move up to third in the Premier League table.

Smalling, who had come on inside five minutes for the injured Phil Jones, headed United ahead but Danny Ings' ninth of the season brought the Clarets level.

The centre-back then restored the lead with another header on the stroke of half-time before a late Robin Van Persie penalty, United's first of the season, wrapped up the points eight minutes from time.

The hosts were second best to the struggling Clarets for long periods, yet, despite a committed, hard-working performance, Burnley remain one point from safety.
They have won only once in nine league games ahead of their next match at leaders Chelsea.

Ex United-defender Michael Keane went close for the visitors with a header from a corner, but, only 22 seconds after coming on, Smalling was in the right place to nod beyond Tom Heaton after Falcao headed across the face of goal.

David de Gea denied Michael Kightly before Burnley equalised with a superb finish from Ings, who flung himself at a delicious Kieran Trippier cross in the 12th minute.

Burnley had ten attempts on goal to United's three in the first half and Ashley Barnes almost put the visitors ahead when he fired narrowly wide from 25 yards.

Ings was the most threatening striker on the pitch in the first 45 minutes, while Rooney ended the half playing as a holding midfielder after Daley Blind was forced off with injury.

Yet it was United who finished the half with a lead they could scarcely believe as Smalling headed home Di Maria's excellent cross following a short corner.

David De Gea denied Ings from close range and Kightly flashed a shot wide as Burnley refused to lie down, but United were able to relax for the first time in the match on 82 minutes.
Angel Di Maria was felled by Scott Arfield and, for the first time this season, United were awarded a penalty, clinically despatched by van Persie to put the result beyond doubt.

Adnan Januzaj had an effort hacked off the line by Jason Shackell late on but an improved second half performance saw United move up to third after Southampton were held 0-0 by West Ham on the South coast.

United Faithful man of the match: Chris Smalling.
Overall team performance: 6/10

Tuesday 10 February 2015

Match preview: United v Burnley, Wednesday 11th January

Manchester United welcome the struggling Clarets to Old Trafford with both sides in need of three points for entirely different reasons.

United need the win to stay on course for a top four finish while Sean Dyche's Burnley are embroiled in a congested relegation scrap- they currently sit one place and one point outside the "drop zone". 

Like the Reds, Burnley were also left disappointed on Sunday as they let a two-goal lead slip at home to West Bromwich Albion who fought back to earn a 2-2 draw at Turf Moor. 

Michael Carrick remains out with a ruptured muscle and left-back Luke Shaw is suspended for this game following his late red card at West Ham.
Marouane Fellaini impressed as a substitute in that game and could be restored to the starting XI. 

Burnley are making a fair old fist of life back in the top flight and their hard-working, committed and organised approach has caused problems for many an opponent this term.
However, they have only won once on their travels in the league this campaign and that, coupled with our excellent home return, make the Reds strong favourites for victory here. 

The return fixture in August ended goalless at Turf Moor (Angel Di Maria's United debut) and since then the Clarets have shown the qualities they will need in their survival fight with comeback draws at Manchester City and Newcastle over Christmas. 

Speaking pre-match on Tuesday, United manager Louis van Gaal said:
"Carrick is injured and Luke Shaw is of course suspended so I have to choose out of the rest.
"Yesterday I played five first team players of my selection in the second team (Under 21s) and they won against Chelsea.
"But I have to see how the players have recovered from the match against West Ham United- that was a tough game.
"We had to fight until the end and I think that Burnley will be another difficult opponent but we are at home and we have to win.
"I am happy with results so far but we are looking to improve as you can always get better."

Form guide: United L W D W W D Burnley D W L L L D 
Match odds: United 2/7 Draw 11/12 Burnley 9/1 
Referee: Kevin Friend

United criticised for style of play but results are more important

Sam Allardyce criticising United for "lumping it long and see" after the sides drew 1-1 at Upton Park not only smacked of hypocrisy but also sounded a little bitter.

Since then, United's Plan B has been much-maligned in newspapers and on TV-  but I'm sure I am not the only one who does not care how United play- as long as we are getting results I will be happy.
I am also certain that this applies to 90% of fans from other teams- substance over style any day of the week. 

Frustrated by West Ham's solid defensive shape, United were getting nowhere with their passing, probing approach- so, heading for defeat- we did what any side would do- shelve Plan A and revert to pumped balls into the box.

At least we have this approach to fall back on when nothing else is working, unlike last season when we could barely string three passes together under David Moyes. 

Look at Chelsea as a prime example. Jose Mourinho's side are seven points clear in the league and are champions in waiting.
Their style is based around work rate, industry and physicality- they are mightily effective at this but free-flowing, quick tempo football is conspicuous by its absence.

Yet no-one mentions this. 

Leicester on the other hand, are the opposite.
I can't confess to have watched the Foxes many times but, when I have, their neat and tidy approach play often gets them nowhere, they do not score enough goals and have nothing else to fall back on. 

So: United's sometimes basic direct approach that, for all the criticism, is working, or being in Leicester's bleak position but playing easy-on-the-eye football? 

I know which I'd rather and, come the end of the season, when United are back where we belong in Europe's elite, I am sure Reds fans will feel the same. 

Football is about winning and that's what we're doing. 

Nothing else matters. 

Sunday 8 February 2015

Match report: West Ham 1-1 United

Daley Blind's equaliser deep into stoppage time earned United a deserved point at West Ham after Cheikhou Kouyate's superb volley had put the Hammers ahead.

A win would have taken us to within three points of stuttering City but in the end a point each was a fair result as United stay fourth, one point behind third placed Southampton.

Kouyate juggled the ball twice, swivelled, and volleyed in after Mark Noble's free-kick deflected into his path.

United had looked to be heading for defeat only for Blind to lash home a volley from 16 yards from an Angel Di Maria cross.

The visitors finished with 10 men, left-back Luke Shaw having been sent off for a second bookable offence.

West Ham were fast out of the traps and United were indebted to man of the match David De Gea who twice kept out Enner Valencia- one a 25-yard drive and the other an acrobatic flick from close range- before the Spaniard denied James Tomkins with an outstretched boot.

Robin van Persie went close after a mistake from Tomkins but United struggled to carve out chances with the creative talents of Juan Mata and Ander Herrera on the bench.

West Ham got the breakthrough their play deserved four minutes after half-time, Kouyate showing great skill to volley in the loose ball from a Noble free-kick.

Noble was denied a potentially match-sealing second by another smart save from De Gea, but United came on strong as the clock ticked down.

Radamel Falcao looked certain to equalise 13 minutes from time after combining with Robin van Persie, but the Colombian striker stabbed wide under pressure from Tomkins.

Van Persie was then denied by Adrian's right leg before the hosts' keeper scrambled across his line to keep out substitute Marouane Fellaini in a frantic finish.

That seemed to be the last chance for United- but Blind had other ideas as he volleyed in from 18 yards following good work down the right from Di Maria.
United sensed a winner but a dramatic finish had another late twist as Shaw was, somewhat harshly, dismissed for his second yellow card.

A point apiece was ultimately a fair result and it will be Louis van Gaal's side that will be the happier with a draw that has to be seen as a point gained following the late drama.

United Faithful man of the match: David de Gea
Overall Team Performance: 7/10 

Saturday 7 February 2015

Herrera's baffling absence from the side poses more questions than answers

Spanish midfielder is popular amongst Reds but is becoming as frustrated as Shinji Kagawa did under David Moyes.

No-one can quite fathom why Louis van Gaal is continuing to ignore a player who has impressed me every time he has played, either as a starter or substitute.

We've been here before, or more accurately, Shinji Kagawa, has: United's lynchpin three years ago and Wayne Rooney's de facto heir two seasons back is now realising the grass isn't always greener at Old Trafford.
Ander Herrera could be forgiven for feeling the same way. There is not much left to say when United's starting XI is announced, often with an unbalanced look, and Herrera is named on the substitutes' bench.

Kagawa is now not even starting games for a Borussia Dortmund side rooted to the foot of the Bundesliga Table.

Like Kagawa, Herrera is popular  with United fans, unlike Kagawa he is not culpable for his first team exile: indeed, this seems to be down to pure circumstance.

It's no co-incidence therefore that United's most convincing performances- against Hull and Stoke- came with Herrera in the side.
He is mobile, quick, deceptively strong and carries a goalscoring threat. 
He received a 20 minute run-out against Cambridge on Tuesday and with his first touch teed up James Wilson to score.

No United midfielder has reached double figures since Paul Scholes in 2004/05 but yet Herrera has netted three goals in seven starts this term.

In the last three months, Herrera has been picked from the start just twice, providing an assist in one (against Stoke) and scoring a screamer in the other (at Yeovil).

It would be bizarre of Van Gaal to still hold those wretched 45 minutes Herrera experienced at West Brom in October against the Spaniard just after he returned from an injury lay-off.

It is not a coincidence that Herrera's replacement, Fellaini, scored his first United goal that night to belatedly kick-start his Reds career and the Belgian has emerged as a valuable squad player this season.

United have curbed their attacking instinct since the traumatic defeat at Leicester and Herrera is a casualty of this more pragmatic approach.

But yet since then he flourished after he stepped in for the injured Angel Di Maria against Hull in November, changed the game at Southampton and was instrumental as a substitute in the 3-0 win over Liverpool later that week.

Van Gaal, like Ferguson, is a master of manipulation.
"Herrera is class," he said after the Yeovil game.
"It was a fantastic goal. I was very happy with him that he scored."

The following week he was back on the bench, where Kagawa often sat and has remained there ever since.

Friday 6 February 2015

Emotional day for United as tributes paid on Munich anniversary

February 6th will forever be circled on the calendars of everyone connected with Manchester United. 

On that day in 1958, the landscape changed forever when Matt Busby's young side, with the world at their feet, were destroyed- with the legendary manager very nearly going with them. 

The team were returning from a European Cup tie at Red Star Belgrade, but having secured a passage into the semi-final, the team's plane crashed on take-off at Munich, killing eight players and 23 people in all.

Now, every year on the day of the disaster, players past and present, fans and officials of the club come together to pay tribute.

Today, boss Louis van Gaal was in attendance as a large crowd gathered under the memorial and Munich clock on the corner of the East Stand to remember the 57th anniversary of the tragedy.

The manager laid a wreath and stood in silence to observe proceedings at 3.04pm (the exact time of the crash) before joining with the singing of the Munich hymn "The Flowers of Manchester" 

At his West Ham press conference he read a passage from one of the speeches at the ceremony, poignantly ending with:  "We must always honour the victims in our hearts and continue to play the Manchester United way."

It has often been debated about what that team of phenomenally talented young players could have gone on to achieve had Munich not cut them down in their prime, but United rose from the ashes and conquered Europe 10 years later.

Sir Matt overcame his horrific injuries, and, inspired by the spirit of his "Babes" built another great side culminating in a 4-1 win over Benfica at Wembley. 

The tragedy has left an indelible mark on United's history and, although we carried on and the club returned to its glory days, the impact of the disaster will never be lost on anyone who has this great club dear to their heart. 

We will never forget.
The Flowers of Manchester
Forever RemembeRED

Match preview: West Ham United v United Sunday 8th February

Manchester United travel to East London this weekend in a potentially difficult away game as the Reds look to consolidate their place in the top four.

Robin van Persie looks set to start after Louis van Gaal confirmed that the Dutch striker was taken off in the FA Cup as a pre-planned change in readiness for this game.
Falcao and Antonio Valencia, who were both unused substitutes in the Cambridge game, are likely to start and Ashley Young could also feature after overcoming his hamstring injury.

Michael Carrick is United's only absentee with his ruptured muscle.

The Hammers made a superb start to the season and occupied fourth spot just before Christmas and, even though they have tailed off a little recently, they are still in the hunt for the Europa League and lie eighth.
We will need to be on our mettle to win this one.

United survived Wayne Rooney's sending off to win the reverse fixture at Old Trafford in September, but the Reds will need to be wary of West Ham's tricky wingers and aerial prowess of Andy Carroll, a handful for any opposition defence.

Speaking at his post-match press conference on Friday, van Gaal said he wanted United to end "an important week with victory".
The boss also took time to pay tribute to the men lost at Munich on the 57th anniversary of the disaster.
He said: "I represent the club, I think the players that died played a big part in the history of the club and we must remember that always.
"On this day and always we will never forget them (the 23 people that died in the crash)
"It has been a good week for the club and now we must look end it with a win.
"Giggs has told me that West Ham will be a tough battle but that's nice and can happen in football I believe.
"We have to make a solution to beat them but they play in a strong way so we have to beat them.
"We can look to the other teams but we have to win.
"We need to end an important week with a victory."

Match odds: West Ham 11/4 Draw 9/4 Man Utd 12/5
Form guide: West Ham D D D W W L United W L W D W W
Referee: Mark Clattenburg

Wednesday 4 February 2015

Van Gaal tips Reds for FA Cup glory

Louis van Gaal has tipped his Manchester United side to win the FA Cup after the Reds 3-0 win over Cambridge United.

Goals from Juan Mata, Marcos Rojo and James Wilson sealed a fifth-round trip to League One Preston.

United are the highest placed side left in the competition and van Gaal believes that allows them to be considered favourites.

"I am not a casino man, I am not allowed to bet, but I give you a tip: We have a real chance now." joked the usually deadpan Dutchman. 

United are joint record winners of the competition, along with Arsenal.
But the last of the Reds 11 wins came in 2004 and Darren Fletcher's departure means no current United player has won the competition during their time at Old Trafford.

"We are the highest qualified team in the FA Cup so our status is the highest club" added the boss.
"But Arsenal is still in the cup and also a very high competitor, Liverpool is also there and will fight against Bolton on Wednesday." added the boss.

Unexpected defeats for Chelsea and Manchester City have created the opportunity for van Gaal to win the domestic cup in a fourth country after his previous successes with Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

And, despite the potential for an upset, Van Gaal is happier being paired with a lower league team than a top flight rival. 

"I prefer to play against lower teams because the possibility to survive is higher I believe.
"The FA Cup is a famous title and I am living for titles.
"It is not as important for the coach as the club, the fans and the players.
"That is the sequence."

"But I won a title in my first year everywhere I have worked so this is something I want to continue at Manchester (United)." 

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Van Gaal targets FA Cup success after replay win

Manager Louis van Gaal has his sights set on a 12th FA Cup win for United as his side secured a place in the last 16 on Tuesday.

The Reds are two wins from Wembley after a 3-0 win over Cambridge, and with Chelsea and City both knocked out, are the highest ranked side left in the competition as LVG chases a trophy in his first season in the Old Trafford dugout.

van Gaal's side will face a Preston side who are fourth in League One on the 16th February, a match for which United will be strong favourites to seal a place in the quarter finals.

Speaking after Tuesday's replay win, van Gaal said: 
"Cambridge have played very well, a very organised team and with the mentality that was superb, the fans from Cambridge United were fantastic and I congratulate them.
"We did what we had to.
"Every club wants to win the FA Cup, we also. We have to beat Preston and that will not be easy, they won away against a big cup fighter like Sheffield United, so it will be difficult for us to win in Preston North End.
"For the club, the fans and the coach and my staff, we want a title this year.
"The biggest chance of this is in the FA Cup but we still have to win four games to do that.
"We will hope to continue at Preston as it has been a long time since this club has won the FA Cup and this is something that is important to everyone in Manchester United."

The Reds have not won the world's oldest and most famous knockout competition for 11 years, a recent record that United are desperate to put a stop to this season.

Of the current squad, only Robin van Persie and Juan Mata have won the trophy, with Arsenal in 2005 and Chelsea in 2011 respectively. 

The Gunners remain slight favourites to retain the trophy they won last season at 5/2, with United second favourites at 13/5 and Liverpool dark horses at 11/2. 

United's fifth round match at Preston North End will be televised live on BBC One on Monday 16th February. 

Match report: United 3-0 Cambridge

United survived an early scare to beat League Two Cambridge and set up an FA Cup fifth round tie at Preston North End on the 16th February.

Richard Money's fourth tier outfit had defied the odds to hold Louis van Gaal's side to a goalless stalemate at the Abbey Stadium but, with the exception of the opening 90 seconds, they never looked likely to repeat the feat at Old Trafford.

Kick off had been delayed by 20 minutes due to traffic problems on the M6, but once the game got underway it was, surprisingly, Cambridge who made the early running.

U's striker Tom Elliott should have given the visitors a sensational early lead in the replay but shot against the post after a Daley Blind error in the first minute.

From that moment on, however, United took control of the contest and, after two early chances for captain Wayne Rooney, went ahead in the 25th minute.
Paddy McNair's cross picked out Marouane Fellaini and the Belgian nodded down into the path of Juan Mata, who poked in off the crossbar for his sixth of the season.

United were now in dominant mood and moved 2-0 up just past the half hour mark when Marcos Rojo headed in his first goal for the Reds from a clever chipped pass from Robin Van Persie.

It was then a case of damage limitation from a tiring Cambridge, who sit 79 places below United in the league system.

The home side continued to control proceedings after the break as van Persie skied over from close range before the Dutch striker was denied by a good save from Cambridge keeper Chris Dunn.

Angel Di Maria and Rooney also called the visiting stopper into action, before United went 3-0 17 minutes from time.

Substitute Gearoid Morrissey sshot narrowly wide for Cambridge, but it was another substitute, James Wilson (on in place of Van Persie), who fired in the third from an Ander Herrera pass from the edge of the area.

That was the last real action of a game which petered out into an attack against defence training session, although Cameron McGeehan did flash a low effort wide in injury time for the brave, valiant visitors.

Cambridge pushed United all the way and will bow out with their heads held high, but United march on to Deepdale in the last 16 and are now just two games from Wembley.

United Faithful Man of the Match: Paddy McNair
Overall Team Performance: 8/10

Ins and outs at Old Trafford- January transfer window round up

This January transfer window was in stark contrast to the summer one when six new arrivals left United fans licking their lips in anticipation.

As expected, Darren Fletcher moves on to pastures new with the best wishes of everyone at the club.
Darren has joined up with Tony Pulis at West Bromwich Albion on a free transfer after his move to West Ham broke down.

Fletcher made 342 appearances for United, winning five Premier League titles in a 12-year career at Old Trafford after coming through the youth academy.
He was the longest serving United player in the current squad when he left Old Trafford.
All the best for the future Darren! (Fletcher 5-0 Gerrard) 

Victor Valdes joined United on an 18 month contract earlier in January and has played for the Under 21 side, with his senior debut possibly coming tonight in the FA Cup replay.

Wilfried Zaha has made his loan move to Crystal Palace permanent- a player who was Fergie's last signing and arrived with great promise but leaves having never been given a chance in the United side under David Moyes.

But if there was an award for "Oddest transfer of the season" then United would surely win it as the Reds brought in 21 year old defender Andy Kellett (no I've never heard of him either).

Kellett has only made four appearances for Bolton and his first senior league start for the Trotters only came last Tuesday when he played 51 minutes in a 4-2 reverse at Rotherham.

Kellett had previously spent three months on loan at Plymouth and moves to Old Trafford in exchange for youth graduate Saidy Janko who goes the other way on loan until the end of the season. 

Another Reds youngster, Jesse Lingard- who played in van Gaal's first game in charge (the 2-1 defeat to Swansea on the opening day) joins promotion chasing Derby, also on loan until June.

Anderson has left Old Trafford after eight years (and 105 appearances) and has signed for Internacionale in his native Brazil. 
Good luck at your new club Ando!  

Monday 2 February 2015

Adnan must prove himself- Van Gaal

Adnan Januzaj faces a battle to convince Louis van Gaal he can be a key figure in the Manchester United manager's long term plans. 

The young Belgian was the only creative spark in an otherwise dismal season under David Moyes' last season.
But Saturday's start against Leicester City was the 19 year old's first in the Premier League since early November.

Juan Mata has become van Gaal's first choice creator in the engine room and Januzaj has been forced out of the picture with speculation about his future- both Everton and big-spending French champions PSG have shown interest.

Van Gaal  says Januzaj needs to prove himself on the Carrington training ground to force his hand on a permanent basis. 

"The competition is high- this is the same with Darren Fletcher who is a very good player, but I have to compare him with Michael Carrick and Daley Blind who are also playing in that position" explained van Gaal.

Fletcher lost out to Carrick and Blind in that battle and now Januzaj faces a similar challenge to dislodge Mata. 

"It is also like Januzaj and this is a problem- I have to compare with Mata because they play the same position in my team but in the next press conference you shall ask "Why? Why is Mata not playing? so I am very pleased you asked about Januzaj and not Mata.
"I have to choose and for now I choose Januzaj but I've said to Mata, I've said to  Falcao and I've said to Januzaj that I am looking every week, every day and they have to show it.
"Januzaj has the ability and talent- he would not be in Manchester United if he did not have this- but it is about showing me that can perform.”

Januzaj was just pleased to be given the chance to play the full 90 minutes.
He said:
“I haven't played too much, so it was good to be given a full game, I was tired and got cramp in the last 15 minutes but I knew I had a job to do.
“Danny Simpson was a tough opponent to get past on the wing and I really enjoyed the battle between the two of us.”


MANCHESTER UNITED welcome League Two Cambridge- and their 6,000 travelling fans- to Old Trafford for this FA Cup fourth round replay.

In a rare midweek outing under the Old Trafford floodlights, United manager Louis van Gaal is expected to name a strong side for the cup tie as we look to progress into round five.

Michael Carrick is the only injury absentee but Adnan Januzaj is expected to keep his place after an impressive showing against Leicester and in the original tie 11 days ago.

A tricky Premier League trip to West Ham on Sunday may force van Gaal to rotate his squad once again, but a number of his key players are expected to be involved on Tuesday.

Wayne Rooney, who was rested for the stalemate at the Abbey Stadium, could start in attack as van Gaal considers resting Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie, while James Wilson, Paddy McNair and Ander Herrera are all likely to start. 

Speaking on Monday, Spanish playmaker Juan Mata again re-iterated that United should not underestimate Richard Money's League Two outfit.
In his weekly column on the United website, Mata said:
"We want to make it to the next round and try and win this competition but in sports having respect for your opponents is key

"Even more so in football where distances have shortened, that is something we are aware of ahead of this game against Cambridge.
"Not long ago they proved to be a very tough opponent and we saw that the way they played in the first game was difficult for us.
"We are very excited about this competition and will do our best to win through to the next round."

The winners of this game will travel to League One opposition in the last 16 in the shape of Preston North End or Sheffield United who meet in their replay at Bramall Lane on Tuesday.
Form guide: United D W L W D W Cambridge W W W D D L 

Match odds: United 11/1 Draw 20/1 Cambridge 66/1
Referee: Jonathan Moss 

Sunday 1 February 2015

Van Gaal looks up as top four battle intensifies

Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal is continuing to look up the Barclays  Premier League table as the race for the top four places and Champions League qualification continues apace.

The Reds moved back into third spot with a 3-1 success against Leicester City on Saturday, but Liverpool and Tottenham also picked up three points.
West Ham, United's next league opponents, were beaten at Anfield, while Manchester City and Chelsea drew 1-1 in Saturday's top of the table clash.

On Sunday, Arsenal thumped Aston Villa 5-0 to move fifth, one point behind United, and Southampton missed the chance to go above the Reds as they slipped to a surprising 1-0 loss at home to Swansea.

The Premier League's pecking order is changing from week to week, but that is merely a sign that the race is heading right to the wire.
Despite Saturday's victory, van Gaal warned that United still have work to do to secure a return to the Champions League for next season. 

"I have already said in press conferences that the race for a Champions League spot could go down to the final weekend of the season.
"That is a big battle, not only for us but also for our opponents who are close to us in the league." the boss admitted to MUTV.

The Reds have gained points on Chelsea and City this weekend and although Chelsea look set fair for the title, second placed City are five points ahead and if we can string a run of results together from a favourable run-in, they can remain within reach.

"We are five points off them (Manchester City) so we can aim to get nearer to them- I believe it will be a big battle until the end." added van Gaal.

United had moved third with the victory over the Foxes and cemented that position after the Saint's unexpected reverse to Swansea at St Mary's.
That result means that the Reds are one point ahead of Ronald Koeman's side as van Gaal sets his sights on finishing as high in the league as possible.