Sunday 26 April 2015

Boss: Toffees wanted it more

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal said that his side were without "motivation, aggression and inspiration" for the first time this season after defeat at Everton.

It's the first time the Reds have lost back-to-back games under van Gaal, and both the manager and defender Chris Smalling admitted the Reds were "off the pace".

LVG said: 

"For the first goal, we lost three duels in a row, in their counter-attack from our corner.
That is poor and you cannot do it.

"Everton had more aggression and motivation than us and that is the first time that I have seen that this year so I was very disappointed by half-time.
"Then, we could not restore the scores because Everton defended very well and played on the counter attack so then it is always difficult.
"We shall always be compared to the opponent in motivation and in aggression, we need to be higher than the opponent but that is not always possible.
"It was the first time I saw this."

"When you see the shots on the goal, they were not the shots that I am used to with the conviction to shoot. That is what I am saying, we were less than our opponents in aggression and winning the second balls, or winning the duels in defence. The first goal, we lost three duels in a row on a counter attack from a corner of ours. You cannot lose three duels in a row.”

Asked if he believed United could win the game at half-time, when Everton were 2-0 up, van Gaal said:
“You need a quick goal and the quick goal was not coming. Then you have to change because you want to try other players with other qualities and still I didn’t feel we were coming back.

“They finished the game with the third goal, of course, which was also a tricky goal – offside or not offside.
"You always have to run with your opponent, but I can imagine [Antonio] Valencia was thinking his opponent was offside.”

Centre back Smalling added:

"We're very disappointed, they had more aggression and we were off the pace and second best.
"This is a massive wake up call for us, we've got four games left and need to play much better than we did today.
"We'll make sure we learn from this, I think you will see a very different Manchester United next Saturday." 

Match report: Everton 3-0 United

United suffered a second successive defeat and a third in a row at Everton as the Toffees surged to a deserved win.

We missed the chance to move 10 points clear of Liverpool. but with a seven point cushion with four games to go, maximum points from the remaining fixtures will guarantee a top three finish.  

The final 3-0 margin is a little harsh on the Reds but there can be no debating that Everton were hungrier, quicker, stronger and were simply the better side on a chastening afternoon for the Reds.

Once again we dominated  possession but, unlike at Chelsea, we never looked like scoring and failed to recover from James McCarthy's fifth minute goal. 

Marouane Fellaini fired a third minute effort over the bar against his old side, but, within 90 seconds Everton took the lead as a superb counter attack  involving Seamus Coleman and Ross Barkley was finished off by a cool finish from McCarthy after he burst between Daley Blind and Paddy McNair.

Blind's speculative effort from range was as good as it got for timid United, who were once more deprived of injured midfield playmaker Michael Carrick. 

Had United reached the interval just the one goal behind, the outcome may have been different but the Toffees took a two-goal lead ten minutes before the break.

John Stones beat Antonio Valencia too easily to meet a Leighton Baines corner to power home a header for his first senior goal.

Radamel Falcao was introduced at the break as LVG looked for a way back into the game, and the Colombian went close with a header and then had a goal ruled out before United were once again caught cold on the counter.

Ross Barkley's through ball was intended for the offside Romelu Lukaku, but, with the Reds backline switched off expecting a whistle, substitute Kevin Mirallas swept in ahead of the Belgian and rifled in a clinical finish.

David de Gea saved well from Mirallas to prevent a fourth, but United's bad day at the office got worse when ex Evertonian Wayne Rooney limped clutching his knee late on.

Successive defeats hardly indicate a crisis, and a top three finish is still  likely, but this result  does indicate the need for a centre half, Gundogan and a 24-carat striker to help out Rooney.

United Faithful Man of the Match: Chris Smalling
Overall team performance: 5.5/10

Saturday 25 April 2015

Profile: Ilkay Gundogan

With the Reds seemingly on the verge of signing Ilkay Gundogan from Dortmund for £21million and a deal expected in the next 24 hours, we take a look at the career of our newest recruit.

A 24-year old German of Turkish descent, this versatile box-to-box midfielder started his career in the German second tier with Vfl Bochum before moving to Nurnberg where he was then scouted and signed by Borussia Dortmund.

He was signed by coach Jurgen Klopp- who will also leave Dortmund in the summer- to replace Real Madrid bound Nuri Sahin and initially struggled to make an impact in the number 10 role. 

But he made the breakthrough in the 2011-12 season as a deep lying playmaker- helping the Bundesliga giants to their first league and cup double- and the final of the Champions League the following season in which he scored a penalty at Wembley in Dortmund's 2-1 reverse to Bayern. 

 He was sidelined for over a year with a mystery back injury that baffled medical specialists and forced him to miss his country's World Cup triumph in Brazil. 

Gundogan  made his Germany debut in October 2011 aged only 20 (a 3-1 over Belgium) having previously being approached by Turkey, the country of his parents birth.
Gundogan said that declining the offer of playing for Turkey was the "hardest decision of his life".

United manager Louis van Gaal stated in February that he wanted to sign a creative midfielder in the summer and Gundogan, who is technically accomplished and possesses a superb range of passing- as well as being a tenacious tackler- certainly fits the bill.

With 33-year-old Michael Carrick in the twilight of his Old Trafford career, 24-year-old Gundogan is seen as the ideal long-term replacement for United's midfield lynchpin. 

While there is an element of risk about the deal given the talented midfielder's injury hit past, if Gundogan can recapture his 2011-2013 form he could prove to be to be one of van Gaal's smartest signings.

 Gundogan factfile

Born: 24 October 1990 (Gelsenkirchen, Germany)
Playing position: Midfielder
Current teams: Dortmund/Germany
Honours: Bundesliga 2011/12
DFB-Pokal (German Cup): 2011/12
DFL-Supercup: 2013
UEFA Champions League runners up: 2012/13



Friday 24 April 2015

Match preview: Everton v United

United make the 30 mile trip to the blue half of Merseyside having won five of our last six matches and go into this Sunday tea time clash a point ahead of fourth placed Manchester City.

Roberto Martinez has suffered a nasty bout of "second season syndrome" in the Goodison Park hotseat and up until the beginning of last month, their place in the Premier League looked under threat.

Since then, though, they are unbeaten in their last five league games and although they are firmly entrenched in mid-table and arguably have nothing to play for, Goodison Park is never an easy place to go (we have only won there once in the last six meetings) so this will be no gimme for the Reds. 

On the battle for a Champions League spot, Louis van Gaal said

" I'm always at a club to be a champion, but when we reach our goal we are happy and when you believe in the players and they believe in you, they want to convince you of their ability."

 United won the reverse fixture at ours in October through goals from Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao with Steven Naismith replying for the visitors, who were denied a point by a virtuoso goalkeeping performance from David de Gea.

Robin van Persie could be in line for a return after being an unused substitute against Chelsea and playing for the Under 21s in midweek.
Daley Blind trained with the team on Friday so could feature and Jonny Evans is available again having served his six game suspension for spitting.
Michael Carrick remains a major doubt whilst Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones are both definitely out. 

 Van Gaal added: 

"It was frustrating not be able to include Evans in my selection as I like him very much, I have defended him and I still defend him, so I do not punish him."
He (Van Persie) has to show his qualities again, then I have to compare him with the positions he can play with the other players in that position- it is always the same."

Rafael is out for the rest of the season with broken ribs sustained in the reserve game, during which Adnan Jauuzaj also picked up a minor knock.

Form guide: Everton W L W W D W United L W W W W L
Match odds: Everton 12/5 Draw 12/5  United 6/5 (bwin)
Referee: Andre Marriner 

In-form Marouane Fellaini will make his first return to Goodison as a United player on Sunday

Monday 20 April 2015

Depay deal looks all but done and Hummels bid strengthened

United have asked about the availability of PSV Eindhoven forward Memphis Depay according to the Eredivisie champions.

The 21-year-old Dutch striker, who played under United boss Louis Van Gaal at last summer's World Cup in Brazil, has scored 20 goals this season and is the league's top scorer. 

With Radamel Falcao looking unlikely to be kept on beyond the end of this season when his loan expires, and doubts about Robin van Persie, United will need an extra striker and Depay fits the bill.

"We have had a telephone call from them about him" explained PSV technical director Marcel Brands 

"But no talks have been held, several top clubs have expressed interest.
"It will be much higher than the offer from Tottenham Hotspur, he will be very expensive but we would sell at the right price." 

PSV would want around £15m for the Dutch striker, who was the subject of an apparent bid from Tottenham Hotspur last season. 

Jurgen Klopp leaving Dortmund is good news for United, not because the German will end up on the OT touchline (the German was strongly tipped to succeed David Moyes this time last year but that horse has long since bolted) but because the charismatic coach's departure means that long time Reds transfer target Mats Hummels is more likely to become available. 

The Reds have been linked with the German World Cup captain in every transfer window in recent memory but Klopp's  unexpected departure now makes him a realistic transfer target.
In my opinion, if we were to sign Hummels then that would make us champions next season.
A genuine world class player in the mould of former fans favourite Nemanja Vidic, the much coveted centre-half is one of the best in the business and would add steel to any back line. 

A classy, strong, composed and diligent leader: it is easy to see why LVG is such a huge admirer of Hummels.

How much we would need to pay to get him I wouldn't like to say, but it's clear for all to see that the squad we hope will mount a title tilt for next season is beginning to take shape. 

Saturday 18 April 2015

United's performance in adversity bodes well going forward

United's performance at Stamford Bridge was undoubtedly the best by a visiting side in many a year and we can count ourselves mightily unlucky to come away with nothing.

The game at champions elect Chelsea- who now only need six points for the title- was a tough enough proposition anyway but when two of United's best performers this season- Michael Carrick and Daley Blind (along with Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones) were ruled out with injury, the task ahead of the Reds was akin to climbing Everest.

Going to the champions elect (a side that have not lost at home in the league all season) without your best defensive distributors and standing a chance of victory is like expecting Novak Djokovic to win Wimbledon with a cellophane racquet.  

That said, you'd never have known that the Reds were so heavily depleted, we dominated Chelsea for 90 minutes and, were it not for circumstance, one or two questionable decisions and Eden Hazard's moment of brilliance, we'd be sitting here toasting a seventh victory on the spin. 

This defeat may have ended our recent winning streak but we once again produced compelling evidence that we are now a very different proposition from the side that struggled, even though the results were coming, earlier in the season.

The fact that we've gone to the champions, played the best that we have all season and still feel gutted at a 1-0 defeat shows how far we have come in a few short months. 

This game showed exactly why Mourinho's team are going to be champions. 
Resilient, defensively strong, physical and compact, everything you'd expect from a Jose team, but when it came to style of football, only one team turned up on Sunday and their shirts were Red.

Without Carrick,  Rooney was pushed into midfield and although he frequently looked a danger with his vision and range of passing, it left United lightweight up top, and, with Falcao dropping deep to receive the ball, Chelsea's defensive strength snuffed out any half-decent service to the Colombian.

I thought United were immense out there on Sunday- we had 70% possession, had more shots than them, looked likelier to score all game and were only undone by one moment of combined magic from Oscar and Eden Hazard.
Quite frankly, we battered Chelsea and, despite the result I could not be prouder of the side. 

Come on you Reds! 

Match report: Chelsea 1-0 United

A solitary first half strike from Eden Hazard proved the difference as despite a truly immense showing an injury hit Reds side slipped to an unlucky 1-0 defeat at champions elect Chelsea.

There was no question that the Reds deserved a point, but we were edged out by Hazard's moment of individual brilliance seven minutes before the break. 

United went into the game already up against it with four players missing through injury and the loss of Michael Carrick in particular was a massive blow.

We still controlled the early stages though and went close through Wayne Rooney, whom, playing in midfield, bent an effort narrowly wide from 18 yards following good work from Luke Shaw, who was impressive upon his recall.

Thibaut Courtois saved well from Paddy McNair's strike from distance but United's good work was undone when the home side took the lead through their only shot on target in the entire game. 

There was no disputing the quality of Hazard's finish, as Oscar's brilliantly disguised back-heel picked out the Belgian to slot in a composed finish under David de Gea.

The goal should not have stood, however, after a clear foul by Nemanja Matic on Radamel Falcao in the build-up. 

The same pattern of play continued after the break, as Courtois blocked a McNair effort from 20 yards and then Rooney's well-hit drive was deflected inches wide by Oscar. 

Falcao had worked hard and his endeavour almost paid off when he twice came within inches of an equaliser.
First, he was denied by a superb point blank block from Gary Cahill  and then, having escaped Kurt Zouma on the angle, rifled an effort against the post. 

Chelsea could have doubled their lead when Didier Drogba's shot was deflected over De Gea and fell to Hazard (my pick for Player of the Year), but he could only turn the loose ball against the upright. 

The Reds bravely continued to press but ultimately fell victim to Chelsea's resilience and defensive strength that their success this season has been built on.

United had a strong appeal for a penalty waved away in the dying seconds when Ander Herrera went down under a challenge from Cahill.

So United's six game winning streak has come to an end against a physical and well-organised Chelsea side who are now only two wins from the title, but we should be very proud of a depleted team who showed how far they have come under Louis van Gaal.

This side is growing and that can only be bad news for our rivals.

United Faithful Man of the Match: Luke Shaw
Overall team performance: 8.5/10

Friday 17 April 2015

Chelsea v United, Sunday 19th April

United manager Louis van Gaal takes his in-form Reds side to the champions elect in what promises to be a titanic Saturday teatime tussle.

The straight talking Dutchman will once again lock horns with his great friend and confidante Jose Mourinho as the Reds look to inflict a first home league defeat of the season on the Blues.

Two of the biggest personalities in the game, the pair worked together at Barcelona and have been close friends ever since, but that friendship will put aside for this fixture.

As well as the clash between the two "most quotable" managers in football, former Blues fans favourite Juan Mata returns to Stamford Bridge in a Red shirt for the first time. in an encnounter bristling with subplots.
Chelsea, as league leaders, go into the game as favourites but United are riding the crest of a wave having dispatched of top four rivals Spurs, Liverpool and City in style.
Mourinho's side may be champions in waiting, but their early season swagger and panache has been conspicuous by its absence of late and they have looked far from convincing in recent weeks having edged to single goal wins over Hull, Stoke and QPR. 

Leading scorer Diego Costa misses out for them whilst for us Michael Carrick has not recovered after limping off against City.
Defensive trio Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones also all picked up knocks in the derby and will miss Saturday's game.
Jonny Evans is still suspended but Luke Shaw is again available and Robin van Persie could also feature. 

Addressing the media on Friday, van Gaal said:

"It's part of life in football, these are the things you have to cope with.- all the injuries are from the game against City.
"Blind was injured in a tackle but played on, Rojo picked up a knock, Jones injured himself in the second half and Carrick was also off.
"We had a big hope that Blind and Jones could reach this game but they cannot.
"I shall consider playing Rooney in midfield, my selection is affected so we have to come up with a solution.
"Chelsea will be satisfied with a draw, but of course they want to beat us and we want to beat them.
"Normally I always put players in the line-up if they have played for the opponent, so I think Mata shall play.

Match odds: Chelsea 11/10 Draw 5/2 United 21/10 (bwin)
Form guide: Chelsea W D D W W W United W L W W W W

Referee: Mike Dean

Monday 13 April 2015

United's resurgence silences the noisy neighbours (Part Two).

The blue moon is hiding behind a rising red tide for City.

Knowing how moody the weather can be in my favourite city, it could be a while before that moon surfaces again.

Ten coaches(yes, TEN) were part of the police escort of City fans that left Old Trafford yesterday.
That's ten coaches to go, er, where exactly?

Most Reds I know walk or catch a bus to the swamp when we play them away.

How could the club whose fans claim to be the true Mancunians (the same fans who insist Manchester is blue), be using ten coaches for a game at Old Trafford?

United are rebuilding and we all know that.
For a side in transition and bearing in mind how poor some of the football has been at times this season, Louis van Gaal has arrested a decline that so many people, as recently as five weeks ago, thought beyond him (you know who you are...)

LVG deserves credit for, if nothing else, giving Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini a purpose in this United side when both of those players (amongst a good few others) looked certainties to leave Old Trafford last summer.

They are now an integral part of LVG's “philosophy"- something nobody would have thought possible last August.
Around this time last season, City came to us and handed out as comprehensive a thumping as I've ever seen anyone give United (one of the most miserable days of my United-supporting life).
Numerically of course, the 6-1 was more comprehensive but anybody who knows football would be aware that the real leathering came from City last season.

They looked fitter, hungrier, stronger, quicker and more skillful than United.
It was a painful sight and they looked simply light years ahead of us that night.

A combination of United players buying into a new manager's ideas and style and City's players seemingly treating Pellegrini like ours did David Moyes last season meant that this fixture was a lot more balanced.

If you had said to me on New Year's Day that come mid-April we would sit four points ahead of City on equal games, I would've thought you'd overdone it the previous night.

Ultimately, for better or worse, United's main aim this season was to get back into the Champions League for next season.
A few weeks ago, with fixtures against Tottenham, Liverpool, City and Chelsea coming up (Aston Villa don't really count), no Red of my acquaintance thought that we'd take maximum points from games we've struggled in in recent times.

We're not quite there yet, but for it not to happen now would take a collapse to match that of Liverpool's last season.

We do not let this slip now...

United's resurgence silences the noisy neighbours (Part One)....

Despite Manchester City's erratic form of late, I expected them to turn up at Old Trafford yesterday and, for the first 15 minutes, they did.
They had United chasing shadows.
In the sixth minute, Jesus Navas brilliantly beat our offside trap and only a good save from David de Gea prevented them from going 1-0 up.
Two minutes later, James Milner fed David Silva who in turn set up Sergio Aguero to tap home in front of the Stretford End.

History repeating? No.

City then inexplicably took their foot off the pedal, either that or sheer bloody mindedness dragged us back into the game.
A fight, a hunger and a desire, conspicuous by absence last season, reared its head and when Ashley Young equalised in the 14th minute, things changed dramatically.
Youngey's tenacity, a quality he is not generally known for, shone through and the goal sent OT into raptures.

Marouane Fellaini deservedly put United ahead on 27 minutes after great build up between Antonio Valencia and Juan Mata.
Midway through the second half, Rooney then fed the again impressive Mata to steer in beyond Hart before Chris Smalling, played onside by the floundering Eliaquim Mangala, headed home the fourth.

The 89th minute saw Aguero halve the deficit with a consolation strike, but City's shocking body language belied their current position as champions.
There was no urgency, no desire to press United and look to set up a grandstand finish, and the fact that they had long given up on the game tells me that its looking very likely that Manuel Pellegrini will pick up his P45 in the next couple of months.

Manchester is never a quiet place, but the cacophony created by our sometimes noisy and annoying neighbours has abated dramatically over the past few months.
The once ubiquitous blue and white scarves are now long gone.
Bluenoses who were crowing and incorrectly telling us a year ago that we “were the worst champions we've ever seen” (as if they'd know) are not as visible on the streets or social media.

There's no doubting the fact that City have made a better job of defending their title this season than we did last time around, but, even allowing for that, United have still won more trophies that City since Sheik Mansour's takeover in 2008.

City have spent all that money trying to buy success but, looking at them yesterday, there's already a root and branch restructure needed.

RVP faces fight to win back place in United side

When Robin van Persie returns from injury for what- many believe- could be his final few weeks in a Red shirt- he faces a fight to win back his place in this current side.

RVP last played in United's 2-1 defeat at Swansea nearly two months ago and the Reds have not looked back (winning every game since, the FA Cup aberration against Arsenal aside).

Some may say that the fact that United's results and performances have vastly improved in RVP's absence is just a co-incidence but are we actually better off without the ailing Dutchman in the side?

Such is the Reds confidence, belief and swagger that to bring him back into the side could actually disrupt the current momentum- he should by no means be an automatic pick for the starting XI when fully fit.

LVG has found a system, line-up and formation that suits these players perfectly and, unless forced to do so by injury, should not change it in our six remaining games of the season.

The Reds defence was widely acknowledged as being our weakness, but, with the United futures of both Radamel Falcao and now RVP being questioned, an overhaul in the striking department should now be LVG's priority.

There is no doubting RVP's quality, he is a born goalscorer and we would not have won the 20th league title without him, but the difference in performances with and without him in the side could not be in starker contrast.

Part of the problem is that, yes he's a goalscorer, but his work rate and contribution to the team off the ball leaves a lot to be desired.
United's tempo slows and possession is lost quickly, RVP is starved of service so pulls wide to receive the ball and the shape of the side is then imbalanced. 

If I was LVG (I'm not but I'd do what I think best) I would keep this line-up and system that is working so well and use RVP as an impact sub in the closing weeks of the season.

Whatever the relationship between the two Dutchmen, Van Gaal must now see that United's best XI does not feature Van Persie and I would  hope that he is not too stubborn to put his continued trust in a player whose best days now unfortunately seem behind him. 

Sunday 12 April 2015

'Proud' Van Gaal dedicates derby win to United fans

United manager Louis van Gaal says every Reds fan deserves to enjoy the derby victory over City and insisted that he was "proud and delighted" with the result and performance.

The United boss hailed the Old Trafford faithful for their unbroken backing through what has sometimes been a testing first season in charge.
He cited the great support given to the team in the good times and the bad after a superb come-from-behind victory over the Bluenoses.

Van Gaal was in buoyant mood when he addressed the media post-match, and said: 

"We have shown that strength of recovery often" he said when asked about United's response having gone behind to an early Sergio Aguero goal.
"I have more than once given compliments to my players about that because, in all the matches, we are going until the end with a great spirit and we have shown that once more against City.
"I am very pleased for the fans of course, because they have supported us when the results were not so good and now they are very good- I am very happy for the fans that they can walk through the streets without being embarrassed.
"They can go on the streets, hat up, and they can say now that their team is the better team this year because we are four points ahead."

Van Gaal heaped lavished praise of United's man of the match Ashley Young, who scored the equaliser and set up two of the other three goals in the dominant win.
"Ashley was Man of the Match and I think that was right- if I had to choose, I would have chosen him.
"Also, Fellaini is very important in our game plan and I am very pleased that he plays for Manchester United and no-one else."

Van Gaal later added: 

"At Liverpool, it was about the first half but we did not start so well, I have to say that Manchester City had the better start.
"But then we came back into the game because of the assist of David de Gea, more or less, for the first goal for Ashley Young.
"Then we gained confidence and we performed our game plan much more.
"In the second half, we played very well with a lot of pace and power in our game- I was very pleased with the second half and I am proud that we have had this fantastic win over Manchester City, a major competitor, today."

Match report: United 4-2 City

United ended a run of four successive derby defeats and addressed the recent imbalance between the sides with a dominant 4-2 victory over our neighbours.

The win moved the Reds back to within a point of second placed Arsenal and stretched our advantage to four points over City after weathering an early storm from the fading Premier League champions.

City, who had lost their last two away games at Liverpool and Crystal Palace, made a blistering start and took an early eighth minute lead.

David de Gea had saved well from Jesus Navas, but the Spanish stopper was powerless to prevent Sergio Aguero scoring from close range.
 The Argentine, so often a scourge of United, converted David Silva's cutback after superb build-up from James Milner.

The Reds were on the ropes against the visitors fast start but responded quickly and drew level just six minutes later.
De Gea's long clearance picked out Ander Herrera who in turn picked out Ashley Young who reacted first to stab in the rebound after Gael Clichy blocked his initial effort to send OT into ecstasy. 

The in-form winger then turned provider as United turned the game on its head just before the half-hour mark when Young's cross was met by Marouane Fellaini, who steered home his header past Joe Hart, who should really have done better.

The tide continued to flow United's way and Hart made amends shortly after the re-start when he kept City in the game with a fantastic double save to keep out first Wayne Rooney and then Michael Carrick when both had looked certain to extend United's lead.

The reprieve was only temporary though, as we deservedly moved 3-1 ahead on 67 minutes when Rooney's wonderful reverse pass released Mata, possibly marginally offside, and he lashed in from a narrow angle.

Things got even better for United seven minutes later when Smalling emerged unmarked to glance home his header from Young's free-kick and send the Reds into dreamland.

Aguero scored in the closing moments to add a touch of respectability for City but this did nothing to sour a magnificent derby day for United, our sixth successive win. 

Manchester is Red! 

United Faithful Man of the Match: Everyone was again outstanding but Ashley Young gets MOM this week as he scored one, set up two and was a constant menace to the City defence.
Overall team performance: 8.5/10 

Friday 10 April 2015

Match preview: United v...oh come on you know who we're playing!

First off, sorry I'm writing this later than usual (pesky work commitments getting in the way) but anyway.... 

Who would have thought just a few short weeks ago that United would go into the derby not only sitting above our cross town rivals  but arguably as favourites for the win?

Four consecutive derby defeats have been tough to take (we have not beaten them since December 2012) but for the in-form Reds, there is no better time to face our stuttering neighbours.
We'd love to address that recent imbalance and move four points ahead of them in the process. Game on!

Jonny Evans is again suspended and Robin van Persie is back in training but is not ready for the derby, whilst LVG will assess Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw.
United have no new injury concerns.

Media pundits have spent hours trying to explain City's consistent inconsistency, but the fact is that too many important players are out of form for the champions.
 They have twice dropped points against Burnley, been beaten at home by Arsenal, been held by Hull and succumbed to away defeats at Liverpool and, only last week, Crystal Palace. 

Let's not be guided entirely by form, though- at the end of the day they are champions with some fantastic individual players so we will need to be at our best to win this one.

Part of the problem in their recent slump has been the lack of consistency amongst their four key players: Kompany, Aguero, Yaya Toure and David Silva- all have failed to reach the heights of last season but all can win a game on their own (Silva in particular is the man to watch with his ability to pick pockets, find holes and drift into space).

Speaking on Friday in his pre match conference, United boss van Gaal was in confident mood, and said: 

" Never change a winning team is an English expression that I have heard before but I always have my eyes open, you must see the quality of your opponent and then make a decision, so it's not always about never changing the team.
"I'm always confident because I believe in my team, a game between two local rivals is always very special and of course I dream and the players dream of giving the fans a victory in this derby.
"I think that after Liverpool, Manchester City is the opponent that the fans want their team to win against the most- we shall do everything to achieve this."

Match odds: United 5/8 Draw 23/10 City 10/7
Form guide: United W W L W W W Manchester City L W L L W L
Referee: Mark Clattenburg 

Sunday 5 April 2015

Match report: United 3-1 Aston Villa

Manchester United claimed another important three points in the race for the Premier League's top four places thanks to a brace from Ander Herrera and another from Wayne Rooney.

We moved above neighbours City into third and, more significantly, stretched our advantage over fifth placed Liverpool to eight points in the battle for the Champions League positions. 

Herrera put the Reds ahead two minutes before the break with a fine finish and Rooney fired in a superb second from Angel Di Maria's cross.

Christian Benteke set up a nervy last ten minutes but United were never really troubled and secured a fifth consecutive victory through Herrera's injury time strike.

The Spaniard's first strike came at an important time for Louis van Gaal's side who had dominated at Old Trafford but were in danger of being frustrated by Tim Sherwood's relegation threatened side. 

The Reds had an early penalty appeal turned down early on when Maroaune Fellaini ran onto Antonio Valencia's weighted pass and cushioned it into the path of Rooney, who was set to pull the trigger when he appeared to be pulled back by Ciaran Clark but referee Roger East was unmoved.

Juan Mata's left footed drive was blocked and Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan  then tipped over Marcos Rojo's rasper from 25 yards.

United had to be patient in the first half against the compact and well-organised visitors before Ashley Young released Daley Blind who pulled the ball back for Herrera to steer a low finish home from 12 yards.

Villa should have equalised when Jores Okore met Leandro Bacuna's flighted free-kick but could only head wide from eight yards.

Young lashed an angled effort narrowly past the post and Guzan saved well from Fellaini but, with United not playing at the same tempo, van Gaal introduced Di Maria on 70 minutes.

Radamel Falcao came on soon after but it was the Argentine, our leading assist maker this season, who set up the second as his cross from the left allowed Rooney to control, swivel and arrow home a delightful finish 11 minutes from time.

That appeared to have put the game beyond doubt, but Villa almost instantly gave themselves hope through Benteke's low effort that crept in under David de Gea.

United were always in control of proceedings though and it was Herrera who finally killed the contest in stoppage time when he sidefooted Mata's cross beyond Guzan to add gloss to a deserved result.

United Faithful Man of the Match: Ander Herrera
Overall team performance: 7/10 

Friday 3 April 2015

Match preview: United v Aston Villa, Saturday 4th March

Sandwiched between two of United's biggest games of the season and hot on the heels of an international break this fixture against the Villans is almost something of an anomaly. 

It may not come with the magnitude or prestige of the Reds last two games (and with the Manchester derby looming a week on Sunday) but it is no less significant and is vitally important both for us and our opponents as the season enters its final month. 

Villa have been flirting with relegation all season and looked doomed five weeks ago, but the West Midlands outfit are revitalised under new boss Tim Sherwood and served notice of their improvement in their last away trip with a crucial 4-0 win at Sunderland. 

Their main problem has been in front of goal- they have only notched 19 all season- but they have a talented squad and will not be pushovers with powerful Belgian Christian Benteke the main attacking threat. 

Jonny Evans serves the fourth match of his ban, Robin van Persie and Luke Shaw are nearing returns but will not feature on Saturday and Chris Smalling is doubtful after coming off in England's friendly in Italy with illness. 

There are no other injury concerns but the hectic international break may influence Louis van Gaal's selection. 

The manager will need to decide whether to retain the same XI that impressively beat Spurs and Liverpool, or consider the demands that travelling has placed on his charges and make changes.

Speaking on Friday, van Gaal said: 

"I have a good feeling that we can continue in this run, I have seen the performances of all our players in training and that gave me a very good signal for the game against Villa.
"When I saw my players performing for their countries I was very pleased.
"Every match they play can give them belief and confidence.
"Fellaini will probably play and Valencia also after the international games, Robin is coming back on the training pitch and Luke Shaw has been back on there for a week already, but match rhythm is very important so I cannot consider them to play in this game.
"Smalling was ill in the internationals I believe, so I have to wait and see if he can train today (Friday)- but it is very close to the game so it will be touch and go."

Match odds: United 1/3 Draw 4/1 Aston Villa 8/13 
Form guide: United L W W L W W Aston Villa L L W W W L 
Referee: Roger East 

RVP's memorable hat-trick against Villa sealed United's 20th title in 2013 

Wednesday 1 April 2015

International break: Reds round up

The Premier League may have taken a ten day break for the latest round of international fixtures but there was no rest for many of United's stars who were in action for their countries across the globe.

England continued their unbeaten run since the World Cup debacle with a 4-0 win over Lithuania in Euro 2016 qualifying and then a 1-1 draw with under strength Italy on Tuesday.

That match featured four Old Trafford stars as Phil Jones and Wayne Rooney played the full 90 minutes, but Chris Smalling's night was cut short as he felt unwell and was replaced by Michael Carrick shortly before half-time.

Jones, Carrick and Rooney also all played against Lithuania in a match that saw the latter edge to within two goals of Sir Bobby Charlton's goalscoring record. 

Elsewhere, Marouane Fellaini continued his fine run of form with a crucial winner for Belgium away in Israel in a European Championship qualifier. 

Fellaini netted twice in Belgium's 5-0 win over Cyprus last week and now has four goals in five games for club and country having also netted against Tottenham.

The rest of United's international stars were engaged only in friendlies on Tuesday evening, with two matches actually seeing Reds up against each other.

Marcos Rojo and Angel Di Maria got the better of team-mate Antonio Valencia as Argentina beat Ecuador 2-1 in New Jersey.

Rojo played the full 90 minutes at left back whilst Di Maria was given a 79 minute run-out playing behind main striker Sergio Aguero.

In the evening's other United head-to-head, Daley Blind and David De Gea started for the Netherlands and Spain respectively in a rematch of the two sides memorable World Cup meeting last summer.

The Dutch did not emerge 5-1 winners here, though, but still proved too strong and emerged
2-0 victors in Amsterdam.

Blind has featured at left-back for United of late but was restored to midfield by his manager Guus Hiddink as he played 73 minutes before being replaced by Jonathan de Guzman.

De Gea, meanwhile, played the full 90 and made several excellent stops as he picked up the fourth senior cap of his international career. 

On loan United striker Radamel Falcao equalled Colombia's national goalscoring record with his 24th strike for his country.

Falcao showed his class with a brace in Thursday's 6-0 win over Bahrain before he notched his third in two games with a penalty as Colombia defeated Kuwait 3-1. 

Congratulations are in order for 19 year old United defender Paddy McNair, who made his Northern Ireland debut in his side's 1-0 friendly defeat  in Scotland last week.