Wednesday 25 March 2015

Much improved Smalling epitomises United's growth

The United and England defender has improved in the post-SAF era and is flourishing under Louis van Gaal.

Smalling's hesitancy and recklessness has made him a much maligned scapegoat.
The stupid red card at City in November cost United any realistic chance of a result, however he displayed a new-found resilience and returned from suspension to guide teenage rookies Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett through that opening 30 minute maelstrom in the win at Arsenal.

Since then, he has emerged and blossomed as arguably United's best defender and thoroughly deserves any new deal that may come his way.
Since Sir Alex retired, Smalling has developed into the Reds best centre-back.
David Moyes erroneously started Smalling as a right-back, where he was comprehensively outwitted in the 4-1 defeat at City last year (the less said about that the better), whereas whenever he started in the centre he flourished, memorably at home and away against Arsenal.  

This United side is growing and Smalling epitomises that: in recent weeks he has rendered Harry Kane anonymous in the 3-0 win over Spurs and largely kept Daniel Sturridge on the fringes of the game in our win at Anfield.

He was solid throughout and his previously careless distribution appears to have improved in recent months.
Stirred under the astute management of van Gaal, there is a marked difference between the tentative, haphazard and fretful Smalling of August in the 3-5-2, and the assured, diligent and composed Smalling 2.0 of March.

He was thrust straight back into the side against Chelsea in October following a month long injury lay-off and again impressed, and, up until he limped off at Southampton, looked to be building an encouraging understanding with new recruit Marcos Rojo. 

He even turned match-winner in United's 3-1 over Burnley last month, and since he returned to the starting line-up following that game, United's only league defeat came with him on the sidelines at Swansea.

Smalling has always had potential and quality in abundance, but LVG is now nurturing and bringing his talent through on a weekly consistent basis, so much so that talk of United needing a whole new defence this summer may have been exaggerated.

Rio and Vida will never truly be replaced, but with Smalling now blossoming and Rojo also proving to be an excellent signing at the back, United's defence looks to be in safe hands for many years to come. 

Monday 23 March 2015

Van Gaal hails first half performance

Louis van Gaal believes United played Liverpool "off the pitch" during the first half of Sunday's excellent 2-1 win at Anfield. 

The Reds produced an emphatic, commanding display in the opening 45 minutes and moved the ball with intent and purpose, particularly in the midfield area, which ultimately led to Juan Mata's impressive opener past Simon Mignolet with a quarter of an hour played.

Steven Gerrard was shown a straight red card at the start of the second half and United took advantage when Mata crashed home a spectacular second on the hour mark.
Although Liverpool were down to 10 men, the hosts were briefly galvanised and soon hit back through Daniel Sturridge.

Speaking at his post-match press conference, van Gaal paid tribute to his side's first half display and claimed that Gerrard's dismissal was actually detrimental to United.
"The first half was very good because I knew in advance that Liverpool would press us and they did, but we played them off the pitch in the first half" said the United boss
"We scored a fantastic goal and gave nothing away, so it was a superb first half.
"So, I went in the dressing room and I gave the players all my compliments because I am so happy that I can give my compliments again.
"Then,  in the second half everything changed because of the red card.
"Then we are not playing like a team, we are running with the ball, unnecessary losses of the ball, we don't press the opponent with the ball and that was different in the first half so the second half was not so good I think.
"I am very pleased though as we now have a gap between the fifth, sixth and seventh teams of the league and we have deserved to win."

How van Gaal got it right: again

United manager Louis van Gaal has been criticised for his tactics at times this season, sometimes unfairly, but for the second game running he got them absolutely spot on just when we needed him to.

Just as against Tottenham last week, United took the game to Liverpool and got on the front foot early.
Van Gaal picked the same side from that Spurs match and the players looked very comfortable in their positions.

What impressed me about United was our work rate and intensity off the ball as much as on it.
Together, the whole team pressed Liverpool and put them under pressure high up the pitch.

We simply never let them breath.

Right from the kick off, United's midfielders were sharp into the tackle and composed when they had the ball.
This allowed us to control the middle of the pitch despite Liverpool playing four across the middle as opposed to our three of Carrick, Fellaini and Herrera. 

 In the second half our intensity dropped and we did not contain them as much as we had been, but against a good Liverpool side away from home that was no real surprise, even after Gerrard's red card.

Liverpool's pace from wide was one of the ways they were expected to threaten, but we had the measure of them there, too.
In particular, Juan Mata's dual with Alberto Moreno down United's right was a total mismatch.
He gave his fellow Spaniard a torrid afternoon.

Before the game, when I saw that Juan Mata had been picked ahead of Angel Di Maria, that match up with Moreno looked like one of the key encounters.

We know Mata is brilliant going forward but there are question marks over how good he is at tracking back.

Moreno is also attack minded as a left wing back in their 3-4-3 system.
It was going to be a case of which of them would force the other to do the most defending and how hard they would both work without the ball.

Moreno hardly had any impact at all going forward and lost Mata for both of our goals.

Considering how well we started the game, the eventual 2-1 scoreline was not as convincing as it should have been. Rodgers' side deserve credit for picking up their game in adversity, and they showed how they intended to play from the off if we had let them. 

Even so, we still thoroughly deserved our victory.
Our performance at Anfield matched the result, when earlier this season we were getting results without playing well.

This side is growing and improving week in week out under Louis Van Gaal and, if we continue with this level of performance until the end of the season, have to be favourites for the title next term.

Match report: Liverpool 1-2 United

United surged to a monumental victory through two majestic Juan Mata strikes as Steven Gerrard was sent off 38 seconds after coming on in a dramatic thriller at Anfield.

This win was simply massive for the Reds - not only have we completed the double over the Merseysiders and opened up a five point lead - but we have put an end to their unbeaten league run in 2015.

That 13 game run- neatly bookended by defeats to United at home and away- never looked like being extended here as United came flying out of the traps.

We needed an early goal as reward for the dominant start and duly obliged in the 16th minute.

Ander Herrera and Mata again linked up to brilliant effect as the two Spaniards combined for the latter to control the ball with a magnificent first touch before rolling in a composed finish across Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet.

United were playing with a tempo and intensity that meant the hosts could not get near us in what must be the best performance by a visiting side at Anfield in years. 

Liverpool were forced to play like the away side but did go close on the counter attack when 
Adam Lallana steered narrowly wide after good build up play from Daniel Sturridge. 

It was Lallana who was sacrificed for the brief introduction of Gerrard, who hinted at his approach with a thunderous challenge on Mata before deservedly seeing red for a disgracefully reckless stamp on Herrera.

Mata emphasised the folly of Gerrard's red card with a sensational moment of magic on the hour mark.
Angel Di Maria, on a substitute for the limping Ashley Young, lifted the ball into the area for Mata to slam home a wonderfully acrobatic scissor kick and silence the home fans further.

United then should have put the result beyond doubt within a minute but, with Wayne Rooney unmarked in the middle, Di Maria overhit his pass and the chance was squandered.

To their credit, Liverpool responded well and after Philippe Coutinho's dipping drive skimmed the crossbar, set up a frantic finale with 20 minutes to play.

It was a well taken finish by Sturridge, who slammed in a low effort at the near post on the angle, but the usually faultless David De Gea should have done better.

United were given the chance to add gloss to the scoreline when Daley Blind was fouled by Emre Can, and although Mignolet saved well from Rooney's spot kick, it did not prove expensive. 

United Faithful Man of the Match: Could quite easily give it to anyone in a United shirt, but for the second successive week it has to go to Juan Mata. Simply immense.
Overall team performance: 9/10 

Friday 20 March 2015

Carrick signs one year contract extension

Michael Carrick has extended his stay at Old Trafford until the end of 2016 as the Reds midfield heartbeat put pen to paper on a new deal today.

United's 33 year old vice captain  has endured something of a stop-start season this term through injury but, when fit, he is vitally important to Louis van Gaal's team. 

Carrick, in my opinion, is one of the most under-rated players out there: he rarely scores (he averages around two goals a season) and rarely dribbles or outpaces opponents but is mightily effective at winning the ball and starting attacks from deep.

Carrick's work rate,  industry and range of passing was again in evidence in the 3-0 over former club Spurs on Sunday on his first start since his return from injury.
Matches in the Premier League are often frenetic and chaotic but Carrick's calmness, touch, composure and top class distribution makes him one of the first names on the team sheet when injury free. 

He provided the assist, his fifth in 16 appearances this term, for Marouane Fellaini to fire the Reds ahead early on and then notched his first goal of the season to double the lead soon after.

Carrick said:

"It's fantastic to know that I can continue my incredible journey with this great club.
"We're all incredibly focused on getting this club back where it belongs and competing with the best teams in the world.
"I am thoroughly enjoying my football and the team are progressing in the right direction under an absolutely fantastic manager and person, Louis van Gaal."

The influential midfielder has registered 376 appearances in his Reds career and scored 23 goals in nine years at Old Trafford.
He has won five  Premier League titles, one League Cup, one Champions League and a Club World Cup. 

Van Gaal said:
"He is for me my second captain behind Wayne Rooney and he can also read the game as a team player and makes many phases for us so that is very important.
"I am delighted that Michael has extended his contract, he is a great reader of the game and he also has a fantastic forward pass.
"He is exceptionally versatile and this has allowed me to play him in many different positions on the pitch.
"He is my vice-captain and I have been impressed by his professionalism both on and off the pitch.
"He is a great inspiration for any young player"

Match preview: Liverpool v United, Sunday 22nd March

There is always much at stake when United and Liverpool lock horns in English football's fiercest rivalry. 

There is nothing worse than losing to the Scousers (even defeat to City is not as hard to take) but Sunday's encounter is one that United simply cannot afford to lose.

We head to Anfield sitting one place and two points above Liverpool, but Brendan Rodgers' side are the Premier League's form team and are unbeaten in the league in 2015.

They have not tasted defeat in the top flight since the reverse fixture- United's 3-0 win at Old Trafford in December- and have dropped only six points since.

What bigger incentive to put an end to that run and open a five point lead over them this weekend in a critical match in the race for the top four.
The return of Daniel Sturridge from injury has been integral in that run and he, along with England colleague Raheem Sterling and Brazilian schemer Philippe Coutinho, are a match for even the most accomplished of defences.  

Robin van Persie misses out once more through injury and Jonny Evans is suspended but Angel Di Maria is available again after his one match ban.
Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo (who turned 25 today) aren't fit enough to start but could be on the bench.

There are no new injury concerns for the Reds ahead of the match. 

United manager Louis van Gaal said on Friday:
"I want to win against them again and I know that for the fans this is the biggest game also.
"It's very important.
"I think every player knows the importance of this game, we are in a very crucial stage and cannot lose.
"When you are at Manchester United, you know every day the significance of the games at Liverpool,  so it shows it is a very particular match especially for the fans.
"It also helps us to concentrate on this match.
"We know that it will not be easy as they are in the rat race also and have not lost very much but the confidence and belief of my players is high."

Form guide: Liverpool W L W W D W United W L W W L W
Match odds: Liverpool 15/13 Draw 5/2 United 14/5 (bwin)
Referee: Martin Atkinson 

Sunday 15 March 2015

Fellaini proving his worth as a vital cog in United side

Marouane Fellaini is finally beginning to repay the £27.5 million that United paid for him from Everton in 2013, turning in another man of the match performance against Spurs on Sunday.

As David Moyes' marquee signing with huge expectations, last season he struggled as a scapegoated passenger in a woeful campaign under the previous manager, but he is now one of Louis van Gaal's most valuable assets.

 Last season Fellaini was probably getting ridiculed a lot of the time, people were saying that he is not a United player.
The way he has come back from that has been fantastic and the standing ovation he received at the weekend spoke volumes about how he has won over the hearts of the United fans. 

What he offers United is something different from the norm: he causes havoc with his height, strength, power and aerial ability, particularly from set pieces.
He provides an invaluable physical presence in a very physical league. 

For a giant of a man, his first touch is remarkably good, as he demonstrated on Sunday when he controlled a high Juan Mata pass on his thigh, rode three Spurs challenges and set up an attack for United.

The big Belgian has also proved his worth in front of goal this season: his clinical finish against Spurs was his fifth of the campaign.
His belting finish at West Brom just three minutes after coming on was his first for United and he has also come up with crucial strikes to break the deadlock at Loftus Road and the second goal at Deepdale to help United turn the tie around.

Against Tottenham, he won everything in the air and never gave the Spurs defence a moment's peace and was also influential as a substitute in United's late draw at West Ham last month.

Fellaini looked lazy, lost and out of his depth under Moyes tactical inflexibility and rigid system last season, but Louis van Gaal has allowed him the freedom to flourish and played to his strengths, and both he and the Reds are reaping the rewards. 

He is playing with confidence and belief, has been given a new lease of life under van Gaal's man management and looks like the man who was one of the best players in the league when he played under Moyes at Everton. 

There is no greater compliment I can pay to Fellaini that, in less than a season, he has gone from potentially our worst ever signing to a player of the season contender. 

Second place now within sight as United close gap on rivals

United's impressive win over Tottenham cemented our position in the top four as we closed the gap on City and Chelsea this weekend. 

The title race (if it ever was a 'race') looks over with Chelsea six points clear with a game in hand, but United are right in the scrap for fourth place and can now even target a runners up finish. 

The win gives United a six point cushion over our vanquished opponents, who are level on points with Southampton in sixth.
Liverpool are five points behind us, with a trip to Swansea to come tomorrow night, ahead of our meeting next Sunday lunchtime at Anfield, a vital clash that is the very definition of a six-pointer.

Brendan Rodgers side are unbeaten in the league in 2015 but that run has to come to an end at some point and United will head into the vital fixture brimming with vigour and confidence. 

We remain one point behind Arsene Wenger's Gunners, but we now have the neighbours in our sights as we trail our second placed cross town rivals by just two points, following their 1-0 loss at Burnley on Saturday.

Sure, there will be many more twists and turns and our place in the Champions League is far from secure yet, but if United continue to produce performances like Sunday's between now and the end of the season, we will take some stopping. 

The home derby with City comes hot on the heels of the trip to Anfield (with a home match against Aston Villa in between), but the ragged champions are all but out of the title race and are staring down the barrel of European elimination.

United travel to Anfield and then host Aston Villa before the neighbour's visit to OT, and should we collect six points from those two games, victory over City on 12th April could put us second.

Having lost four consecutive derbies, United have a score to settle with City and Manuel Pellegrini's side will not relish their trip to MI6.

Looking ahead is all very well, but these last nine league games are all cup finals in themselves but it's fair to say that United are looking up rather than down over our shoulders in the final weeks of the season. 

Match report: United 3-0 Tottenham

A virtuoso performance from Juan Mata and United saw the Reds move to within two points of second placed City as Louis van Gaal's side stormed to victory over Spurs on Sunday.   

This was the best we have played all season, a high tempo display of pace, verve, style and attacking intent that yielded a 3-0 lead at the interval through goals from Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney.

Man of the match Mata was back in the United XI in place of the suspended Angel Di Maria and the Spaniard delivered an outstanding individual performance that earned him a prolonged standing ovation when he was substituted late on.

The Reds started on the front foot and went ahead in the ninth minute when the returning Carrick played in the excellent Fellaini, who scored with a clinical left-footed finish across Spurs stopper Hugo Lloris.

Having set up the opener, Carrick added the second himself when Spurs failed to deal with Fellaini's aerial power from a corner and the former Tottenham man reacted quickly to steer home his header.

The visitors manager Mauricio Pochettino made a tactical switch on the half hour when he introduced Moussa Dembele in a desperate attempt to stem the tide, but there was no stopping the Reds who surged 3-0 ahead in the 34th minute.

Nabil Bentaleb inexplicably gifted a pass to Rooney, who was almost ushered towards goal by a succession of Spurs defenders before he slotted past Lloris with ease.

The skipper's celebration added a touch of charisma to proceedings, as he threw fake punches in the direction of the jubilant fans before collapsing dramatically to the floor in mock response to the online boxing footage.

With the game won in style, the second half resembled little more than a testimonial, with Spurs happy to embark on a damage limitation exercise.

Ander Herrera fired into the side netting and Harry Kane finally had a shot when his effort was easily fielded by David De Gea in the final minute.

With a massively important win signed, sealed and delivered, Louis van Gaal handed a Premier League debut to 19-year old Andreas Pereira as United go in to next weekend's showdown with Liverpool with confidence and swagger. 

United Faithful Man of the Match: Everyone excelled but this week it has to go to Juan Mata. Different class with his energy and industry in the Reds engine room.
Overall team performance: 9/10

Friday 13 March 2015

Match preview: United v Harry Kane (sorry, Spurs)

United face North London opposition for the second week running as we welcome fellow Champions League chasers Spurs in the first of ten "cup finals" that will define our season. 

As the Reds enter the final stretch of the season, everything now means something so it is vital that United refocus and build momentum, starting with this weekend's encounter against Tottenham, as the race for the top four looks set to go down to the wire. 

Robin van Persie is the only confirmed injury absentee, but Jonny Evans and Angel Di Maria are both suspended for this game and Marcos Rojo has a minor knock.
It is not yet decided whether he will be available on Sunday. 

Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham side, spearheaded by 26-goal striker Harry Kane, arrive at Old Trafford having been knocked out of Europe and missing out on silverware in the Capital One Cup final, but, largely thanks to Kane's red hot form, are still just about in contention for the top four. 

The men from the Lane sit three points behind us and two behind fifth placed Liverpool, so a win for United would all but put Pochettino's side out of contention for a top four place.
The Reds will be looking to avoid a hat-trick of home defeats to the North Londoners who have emerged victorious from their last two trips to M16.

Kane's bucketful of goals have taken him to the brink of an England call up, but as well as his pace, aerial ability, poaching instinct and strength, United should also be wary of Christian Eriksen's dead ball prowess.

Speaking pre-match on Friday, van Gaal said:
"I'm very pleased with the players reaction in training and I hope we can show that against Spurs- the first of the ten matches in the rat race.
"Every game is very important- we must keep the fighting spirit and we have to be more effective in finishing our chances.
"I have the same confidence as before and so do the players, their belief and mentality hasn't changed.
"Rojo is a little bit injured, you have to take care of the health of your players and he has a minor problem.
"Maybe I shall take him out of the match against Tottenham Hotspur but I have to decide."

Form guide: United W W L W W L Tottenham D D L L W W
Match odds: 10/11 Draw 10/4 Tottenham 16/5 (Betfred)
Referee: Mark Clattenburg 

Hurrikane warning: Keeping Spurs danger man Harry Kane in check will be the key to victory on Sunday 

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Reds must now refocus for top four push after Cup exit

The contentious disappointment of United's cup exit will linger for a while but the team must put it behind them and refocus on the vital job of securing Champions League football for next season.

We  may have missed out on the FA Cup final but in reality our last ten league games all represent cup finals in themselves as the Reds must refocus and target a strong finish to the season.

Securing a return to the Champions League has been the priority all season and Monday's loss does not change the fact that a top four finish would represent a successful season for Louis van Gaal in a transitional first season in charge.

United's run in is far from favourable with trips to champions elect Chelsea and in-form Liverpool to come as well as home matches against top four chasing rivals Tottenham, Manchester City and a rematch with Arsenal on the penultimate  weekend. 

United were the better side on Monday until Antonio Valencia's unfortunate backpass led to Welbeck's winner but, with only five points separating Arsenal in third and Southampton in  seventh, an immediate return to winning ways in now a must for LVG's side. 

Despite what the cynical United haters and doom merchants may say- most of whom are desperate for us to fail- Louis van Gaal has done as well as expected with the squad he has and the little time he has had to do it in, but that will count for nothing if we fail to finish in the top four.

Realistically United should, on paper, win eight of our remaining ten games which would be enough to secure a top four position with even a late push for second position not out of the question.

Next up for the Reds is another match with north London opponents as we welcome fellow Champions League chasers Spurs (sorry, Harry Kane) to Old Trafford on Sunday and victory for the Reds would all but rule the men from the Lane out of the race Champions League qualification. 

So Monday was disappointing, but it is now essential that the Reds dust themselves down, shake off the setback and refocus on the critical challenges that lie ahead as the season heads for an exciting finale.


Monday 9 March 2015

Match report: United 1-2 Arsenal

Former United striker Danny Welbeck's second half winner knocked ten man United out of the FA Cup and put the Gunners into the last four.

Nacho Monreal put the visitors ahead just before the half-hour but Wayne Rooney's superb equaliser pulled the Reds level only for Welbeck, and several questionable refereeing decisions, to end our Cup dream.

Although Arsenal probably deserved the win, United will be left with a lingering sense of injustice after Angel Di Maria's harsh sending off and the denial of at least one strong penalty appeal.

United started well and went close early on through Ashley Young's well hit effort and Marouane Fellaini's half chance when he failed to get the ball out from under his feet and Arsenal cleared.

The revitalised Di Maria was denied by an excellent save from Wojciech Szczesny but it was Arsenal who went ahead on 26 minutes when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's trickery allowed Monreal to pick his spot and the full-back steered in a controlled finish. 

United were not behind for long though and quickly restored parity when Di Maria's inch perfect cross from the right was nodded home by a stooping Rooney from close range.

Rooney lashed narrowly over the bar and Di Maria also went close from Fellaini's pull back before Arsenal went ahead against the run of play in catastrophic fashion.
Antonio Valencia's underhit backpass sold David de Gea short and the predatory Welbeck reacted quickly to nudge the loose ball around the stranded keeper and roll into the unguarded net.

Welbeck, who made nearly 150 appearances for United, later departed to a largely rapturous welcome but United were almost 3-1 down by then as De Gea somehow clawed out Santi Cazorla's shot from an Alexis Sanchez cross. 

Di Maria was then sent off in a confusing passage of play when a trip on the Argentine was interpreted as  a dive, earning him a yellow card and he was then sent off for placing his hand on the referee's shirt in an attempt to attract Michael Oliver's attention. 

Hector Bellerin then somehow escaped punishment when, having already been booked, he clattered into Ashley Young but remained on the field.

United then had a penalty appeal waved away when Adnan Januzaj was pulled down by Per Mertesacker, but the youngster was harshly booked.

De Gea made another miraculous save to keep out Sanchez and Rooney went close with a late effort as the Reds fought until the death but our task now is to refocus on the top four challenge that lies  ahead.

United Faithful Man of the Match: Wayne Rooney
Overall team performance: 7/10

Friday 6 March 2015

Match preview: United v Arsenal, Monday 9th March

United welcome the in-form Gunners to Old Trafford on Monday in a heavyweight encounter with a last four date at Wembley awaiting the winners. 

Although 'only' a quarter-final, this game has the feeling of something more resembling a showpiece final with the FA Cup the only remaining chance of silverware for both sides.
United and Louis van Gaal are looking to mark the Dutchman's first season in England with a trophy and current holders Arsenal are bidding to retain the cup they won last term. 

van Gaal said on Thursday:
"I want to achieve the goals we've set and that goal is to reach the top four and a trophy would be fantastic.
"When you win it has a good influence on the next game, after the defeat at Swansea we won two games and kept two clean sheets, so we have a good feeling.
"As I have said, we're in a rat race in the Premier League and whoever wins on Monday will have good momentum for the league games." 

Robin van Persie remains United's only injury absentee and misses this game against his old side and Jonny Evans begins his six-match ban for spitting but LVG has an otherwise full squad to pick from
A notable subplot to an already mouth- watering tie is the first Old Trafford return of former United forward Danny Welbeck. 

Van Gaal added:
"I think if we beat them it is a big blow for them and if they beat us then it is a big blow for us, it is a very important game, not only in the FA Cup but also in the rat race.
"We have the support of our fans at home but Arsenal shall bring a lot of fans also.
"I hope we can give a fantastic match for them and of course if we win we can play at Wembley, so it is very important."

Form guide: United D W W L W W Arsenal W W W L W W
Match odds: United 19/4 Draw 5/2 Arsenal 11/5
Referee: Michael Oliver

United's quarter final with Arsenal is the last match of the FA Cup weekend and will be televised live on BBC One. 

The Reds last won the FA Cup in 2004. 

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Van Gaal hails United attitude

Louis van Gaal says Wayne Rooney's part in creating United's crucial late winner at St James Park summed up the enduring and unbreakable team spirit within his squad.

The  United captain chased down what appeared to be a lost cause in the final seconds of what had looked like being a frustrating evening for the Reds.
Rooney's hustling and harrying led to Tim Krul's shanked clearance that allowed Ashley Young to strike home the vital winner.

"I have to say that Wayne, how he makes that goal is unbelievable, because it was a lost ball.
"But his fighting spirit is unbelievable" van Gaal told MUTV.

"I have a fantastic group, they have the spirit and, in spite of all the criticism, they want to win and always play good football so I do not understand why there is criticism.
"Today I think you would agree that we played good football."

The Reds carved out a raft of excellent chances but found Krul in inspired form until his untimely error.
At the other end, David de Gea did not have a lot to do but two excellent saves provided a platform for the victory.

"Newcastle is a difficult ground to win at, they won here against Chelsea and Liverpool so I am very pleased.
"It was a narrow escape as our competitors have won also but we have dominated for the 90 minutes and I think it was our best match of the season, especially in an away match.
"We deserved the victory and it is a rat race.
"We created many big chances and could have scored earlier, but they also had two chances and David de Gea rescued us at that time, but we are happy with the result as we deserved it."

Below: United's jubilant players celebrate Ashley Young's late strike that gave us a crucial victory

Young strikes late to give Reds vital victory

Ashley Young capitalised on a late error from Newcastle keeper Tim Krul to give the Reds a vital victory on Tyneside.

Despite a dominant performance (our best of the season in my view), the Reds were continually frustrated by a string of top drawer saves from the Dutch keeper so it was ironic therefore, that it was his mistake that gifted the Reds victory.

It looked as though the visitors had dropped two crucial points when Krul, under pressure from Wayne Rooney, hacked a loose Newcastle backpass straight to Young who gobbled up the chance from close range to seal a hugely important victory.

The Reds survived an early appeal for a Newcastle penalty, when Emmanuel Riviere went down under a challenge from Chris Smalling, but replays showed that contact was minimal. 

Ander Herrera flashed an effort narrowly wide after good link-up play from Marcos Rojo and Rooney, before the skipper dragged his low effort wide after Young and the improved Angel Di Maria had combined well.

A minute before the break, Krul reacted superbly to claw away a Marouane Fellaini header, whilst his opposite number was called into action to deny Riviere. 

The French forward had another close-range effort blocked by De Gea shortly after the interval before Krul made a fantastic double save soon after.
Fellaini found himself clean through but the Dutchman reacted superbly to block the Belgian's effort and then recovered excellently to keep out Young's angled drive on the follow-up. 

Rooney had a goal chalked out for offside, but, with United having failed to put their opponents away, Newcastle squandered a golden opportunity to take a 75th minute lead.
Substitute Ayoze Perez dispossessed Herrera and put Papiss Cisse clean through, but the Magpies leading scorer fired wastefully wide and the chance was gone.

The home side were buoyed by the heart-warming return of Jonas Gutierrez after 17 months following a battle with cancer, but it was the Reds who struck late to earn three precious points.

Even then, though, the Magpies did not go quietly and almost salvaged a point with the last action of the game when Cisse's bullet header from point blank range was clawed away by De Gea, but the Reds held out. 

United Faithful Man of the Match: Ashley Young
Overall team performance: 8/10 

Tuesday 3 March 2015

Match preview: Newcastle v United, Wed 3 March

Hot on the heels of victory over Sunderland on Saturday, United travel to St James' Park on Wednesday in search of a four-day North East double. 

This is the second of three games in ten days for the Reds as Louis van Gaal's side enter a pivotal month of fixtures that will make or break our season. 

The Magpies- under the temporary stewardship of John Carver- are currently perched in mid table in 11th place and the Reds have won the last two meetings between these two historic football cities (4-0 on our last visit to Newcastle and 3-1 at OT on Boxing Day).

United have no new injury concerns with Robin van Persie (ankle) the only definite absentee.
Phil Jones and Luke Shaw, both of whom missed Saturday's 2-0 win with illness and injury respectively, are fit and available for selection.
Michael Carrick was an unused substitute against Sunderland, but van Gaal has said that it is "too early to bring him back."

On van Persie and Carrick, van Gaal said:
"It is too soon to say when Robin (van Persie) shall be back  but it is not going to be only one or two weeks- this we shall have to wait and see.
"I put Carrick in my squad because Phil Jones and Luke Shaw could not play and I took a risk with that, as a substitute you can play 20 or 30 minutes which he can do."

Juan Mata, who scored twice in that 4-0 win on our last visit here, could be restored to van Gaal's XI and Angel Di Maria looks likely to keep his place in the side despite his recent poor run of form.

Despite their inconsistent form, unpredictable Newcastle and their 18-goal strike force of Papiss Cisse (11) and Ayoze Perez (seven) will pose a stern test for a Reds side with just three Premier League wins away from home all season.

Speaking ahead of the match on Tuesday, van Gaal added:
"It will be a very tough game away in Newcastle, they always play with a very high rhythm, they want to give a lot of energy in their play and the fans are very good, they are supporting a lot.
"They want to play a nice style of football and that I like.
"I hope it shall be a good game and that we shall win."

Form guide: Newcastle L W D D L W United W D W W L W
Match odds: Newcastle 16/5 Draw 8/11 United 9/4 (
Referee: Anthony Taylor 

Monday 2 March 2015

How to solve a problem like (Di) Maria...

Discussions over Angel Di Maria's alarming slump in form has dominated newspapers, TV punditry and radio airwaves over the past few weeks but reached its nadir when he was subbed at half-time on Saturday.

Our number 7 was- to put it mildly- simply atrocious in the first half of Saturday's 2-0 win over Sunderland.
He gave the ball away countless times (one such occasion almost leading to a Black Cats goal), he shirked tackles, did not track back to reclaim possession, blazed a 20 yard free-kick woefully over the bar, and worst of all, passed the ball out of play when clean through on goal. 

I don't like criticising players but Di Maria is so far removed from the player who looked a world beater for the first four months of the season that, despite his club record £59.7 million price tag, LVG should seriously think about giving him a break (by that I mean dropping him)

You do not become a bad player overnight- especially when you're a player who was considered one of the world's best at Real Madrid and played a pivotal role in getting his country to last summer's World Cup final.

Di Maria's house was recently broken into, and that, along with having to play many differing positions in a constantly changing system, has undoubtedly had an effect on his form and confidence. 

In his first months at United, Di Maria looked every inch the player that persuaded the Reds to sign him: strong on the ball, skillful, direct and quick, everything good about United went through him.
In his first five games for the Reds, he scored three times and claimed three assists.

Di Maria will return to the player he was- talk of his demise as a genuine world class talent, is, in my eyes, a little wide of the mark, but for this to happen he needs support from his team-mates, the coaching staff and assurances about his role in this United side. 

Manager Louis van Gaal has said that Di Maria still needs time to adapt but that he is "only human" and that is is "normal for a player new to this country."

He added:
"We have to give him time to adapt and also to lift his confidence again.
“He is a human being like me and you, you can make mistakes but he is a top sportsman so he will overcome this period, of that I am sure.”

Sunday 1 March 2015

'No mistake' in Brown red card confusion

The main talking point from United's relatively routine 2-0 win over Sunderland on Saturday was the apparent mistaken identity that saw Wes Brown sent off instead of John O'Shea.

Referee Roger East appeared to send off former United stalwart Brown in error, after TV pictures showed that it was another ex-Red John O'Shea who committed the offence. 

The fact that the incident involved two former United players only added a touch of irony to the confusion. 

Referees body Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) said East thought Brown, 35, had fouled Radamel Falcao in the incident that led to Wayne Rooney scoring from the penalty spot. 

O'Shea appeared to pull the Colombian back but Brown was dismissed. 

While there may be controversy over the sending off, there could be little argument over its impact or the result that leaves Sunderland deep in the relegation mire. 

The two Black Cats centre backs spoke to East following the red card, but, despite the official also consulting his assistants, he stuck to his decision.

A PGMOL statement after the match, said:
"From his position, Roger East, the match referee, believed he saw contact from John O'Shea and Wes Brown.
"As he thought Brown had fouled Falcao as he was in the act of shooting, he dismissed Brown for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity in the second phase of the play.
"After the incident, the match referee consulted with his team of officials, but none were better placed to offer guidance."

United manager Louis van Gaal said on the incident:
"The players protested because they felt the wrong player was sent off, not because they felt the penalty was wrong.
"That's a mistake, you make mistakes as well and so do I, it can happen.
"It is unlucky but we deserved to win." 

Sunderland intend to appeal the decision- which they would not be able to do for two bookable offences.

If the appeal is successful, O'Shea would serve the one match ban instead. 

Match report: United 2-0 Sunderland

A brace from skipper Wayne Rooney helped United beat the relegation threatened Mackems after former Red Wes Brown was sent off in bizarre circumstances at Old Trafford. 

Rooney scored our opening goal from the penalty spot after a foul on Radamel Falcao for which Brown was dismissed and not John O'Shea, despite protests from the visitors.

The victory strengthened United's grip on a top four place and moved us back up to third with an 11th home win out of 14 in the top flight so far this season, although Arsenal moved back above us with their 2-0 win on Sunday. 

The Reds dominated possession and were initially frustrated by the massed ranks of the visitors, who went close early on when David de Gea saved well from Connor Wickham.

United almost gave the home fans the goal their start deserved when Ashley Young's shot across goal ricocheted off O'Shea onto the crossbar and Ander Herrera headed the rebound wide.

Marcos Rojo's effort from a corner was cleared off the line by Sebastian Larsson but, despite having 71% possession in the first half, United could not find a way through. 

The again ineffective Angel Di Maria was hauled off at half-time and his replacement, the lively Adnan Januzaj, instantly raised the tempo and urgency of United's play.

He flashed an effort wide but Sunderland remained a threat on the counter, and from one such break away, Jermaine Defoe's half chance was smartly blocked by Jonny Evans. 

The penalty incident saw Brown sent off and gave Rooney the chance to put United ahead, and he duly did so to take his goal tally for the season into double figures.

From then on, there was no way back for a Sunderland side short on goals and confidence and it was only a matter of time before United made the game safe with the second six minutes from time.

Januzaj almost capped his impressive performance with a goal, but when Costel Pantilimon parried his effort, the ball dropped for Rooney who headed in from close range to make the game safe. 

Herrera had a late third chalked off after he strayed narrowly offside but this was a game that United had the better of from the first minute as we picked up a vital three points in the race for the Champions League. 

United Faithful Man of the Match: Wayne Rooney
Overall team performance: 8/10 

Below: A selection of pictures live from OT taken during the Reds 2-0 win!