Tuesday 26 May 2015

So it's mission accomplished.. but expectations will be higher next term

Before the start of the season, the idea of United-- having finished seventh last term- finishing in the top four was greeted by scorn but with a proven manager of Louis van Gaal's ilk in place and quality still in the squad it was always a realistic possibility.

As we all know, LVG did exactly that in a satisfactory first season in charge and whilst a club of United's size and stature and our fans should not be happy with finishing in fourth place (as Van Gaal himself alluded to), it's a start and a step in the right direction.

Van Gaal set out to get United into the top four, and that's what he did, so regardless of the relatively small number of extra points gained, this season has to be considered a success.
We're still a work in progress, of that there is no doubt, but no-one can deny that this was a marked improvement from the dark days of the previous campaign.
Next season will be a bigger test of credentials both for Van Gaal and this squad, with a tilt at the title high on the agenda. 
It's difficult to say that we will definitely win it (the unlimited spending power of Chelsea and Manchester City will again put them ahead of the rest) but at the very least I'd expect United to be in contention.

Expectations will be higher so for me we should be looking for a top three finish and, with van Gaal having won a trophy in his second season in each of his previous jobs, a cup win wouldn't go amiss either. 

Van Gaal now has a greater understanding of the unpredictability of the English game (something he lacked in the first few months in the job) and has quickly identified the weaknesses in this United side both tactically and in terms of personnel.
We need at least one centre back, a defensive midfielder, maybe another striker and, should David de Gea leave, a new number one between the sticks.

Memphis Depay has already signed on the dotted line and Ilkay Gundogan looks a good bet to follow and with Dortmund's Mats Hummels staying put yet again, Valencia's centre-back Nicolas Otamendi is top of van Gaal's summer wish list.

The Reds simply had to get back into the Champions League for next season and having done that (provided we negotiate a potentially tricky two-legged play-off to reach the group stage), the next phase of the rebuilding process can begin.

Sunday 24 May 2015

Match report: Hull 0-0 United

Ten man United ended their season with a dour goalless stalemate at the KC Stadium to relegate Steve Bruce's Hull.

The hosts had needed to win to give themselves any hope of last day survival, but Newcastle's
2-0 victory over West Ham took the issue out of their own hands, condemning Hull to demotion no matter the result here. 

In a poor game low on any real excitement, the Tigers had the best of the intermittent chances but could not find a way through and slipped into the Championship after two seasons in the top flight.

For the Reds, for whom Marouane Fellaini was sent off for a reckless lunge on former United man Paul McShane, this result merely rubber-stamped fourth position, six points ahead of fifth placed Spurs. 

Wayne Rooney skimmed the bar with an early sighter for United, but, understandably given the circumstances, it was the hosts that started with the greater urgency.

A flurry of activity around the visitors goal midway through the opening half brought both hope and frustration for Hull.

McShane and Dame N'Doye had the ball in the net in quick succession within a couple of minutes of each other but both were ruled out for offside. 

Ahmed Elmohamady then got on the end of Robbie Brady's corner and steered his header goalwards, but Victor Valdes, on his full debut, reacted superbly to push the ball round the post.

David Meyler turned a Nikica Jelavic header wide from eight yards and Rooney went close with a free-kick, before news filtered through of Newcastle's opening goal at St James Park. 

Hull continued to press and Valdes saved well from Sone Aluko, before Fellaini was dismissed for leaving his foot in on McShane just 18 minutes after coming on. 

That proved to be the last meaningful action of a disappointing game with Hull down and United looking ahead to next season. 

United Faithful Man of the Match: Chris Smalling. Solid and composed throughout.
Overall team performance: 7/10

Friday 22 May 2015

Match preview: Hull City v United, Sunday 24th May

The curtain comes down on 2014/15 with this trip to Humberside as we face a Hull City side who simply must win this one to have any hope of top flight survival.

This is a dead rubber for the Reds who are safe in fourth, but Hull have to win and hope that Newcastle do not in their game with West Ham in the battle to avoid the final relegation place. 

United manager Louis van Gaal has hinted that he will play his strongest available starting XI and that there will be no sentiment from the Dutchman against the Tigers, who of course are manager by former Red hero Steve Bruce.

Addressing the media in his final press conference of the season on Friday, Van Gaal said:

"It shall be the same approach as ever, we need to defend our image as Manchester United and we are ending in fourth position, so we have to give our utmost best.
"We haven't won so many matches away so it's very difficult to beat English Premier League clubs away, particularly when the opponent cannot lose the game.
"We shall do our utmost best- we have to do it for the honesty of the league."

Wayne Rooney is fit to start but a decision on the fitness of David de Gea is yet to be made, with Victor Valdes poised to deputise should the Spaniard fail to recover. 
There are no new injury concerns for the Reds. 

It would be sad to see Brucey and his side drop into the Championship, and a small part of me hopes they win here to stay up (is that really bad) and relegate Newcastle (which is never a bad thing), but speaking post-match on Friday in his final press conference of the season, LVG said his side would "do what is expected of them."

He added:

"I have to play my strongest team, because we have to give everything for the Premier League, our fans, and of course Newcastle United.
"We have taken six points off Newcastle and we have to take six points off Hull City, I think.
"I have said to the players that, in spite of Steve Bruce being a Manchester United guy, we have to ignore that and do what everybody is expecting from us."

Sunday's final match of the season is live on Sky Sports 1 from 2pm. 

Form guide: Hull L W W L L L United W L L L W D
Match odds: Hull 12/5 Draw 11/4 United 5/4
Referee: Lee Probert

Thursday 21 May 2015

United Faithful's alternative awards 2014/15

So the curtain has come down on another campaign at Manchester United- bar one dead rubber of a game at Hull this weekend- and the end of season awards have been handed out.

But here at United Faithful we're going to take a look at those moments from the season that have not been recognised?
Whom, for example, has claimed the best assist of 2014/15, whose quotes did we rate worthy of their own awards and who is United's "Unsung hero" of the season?

First up, it's the "Most Improved Player" award.

With honourable mentions to both Marouane Fellaini and Chris Smalling, this award goes to Ashley Young who has had his best season in a Red shirt.
He must have been close to one of the main awards on Tuesday and gets our vote having been given a new lease of life under LVG.

Best moment of the season

Wazza's "knockout" celebration against Spurs shares this award which would not be complete without Sir Steven of Gerrard- sent off against us at Anfield 38 seconds after coming on. Priceless.

Best assist of the season

Not a defence-splitting pass or indeed a sumptuous piece of skill, but Rooney's pure persistence, determination, work rate and energy set the stage for Youngey's last gasp winner at Newcastle. Class. 

Best signing (s)

A close call between A.Herrera and D.Blind as both have excelled, but Herrera takes it as he's just got better and better throughout the season and I just feel he offers us that little bit more. 

Best individual performance

Juan Mata's virtuoso displays against Spurs and Liverpool, Luke Shaw's impressive showing at Chelsea and Rooney's lung busting game against Newcastle were all in the mix but in the end we gave this to David De Gea for his world class goalkeeping clinic at home to Everton in 

Unsung hero award

The fans continue to do the club proud home and away and don't get the credit they deserve, but this award goes to Antonio Valencia who has made the right-back spot his own and his pace and reading of the game from full-back has become a hugely important asset to the Reds.

and finally.... 

"We have twitched our asses on the bench- I said to my players that we had to squeeze our asses but it was the wrong expression- of course, I have twitched my ass on the bench because we were out of balance."

In January, LVG brilliantly explains why deploying a 4-4-2 at QPR made him uncomfortable. 

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Spanish Dave's top ten saves

United assistant manager Ryan Giggs said that David de Gea won both the Players Player of the Year and Supporters Player of the Player as recognition that "he wins so many games for us".

Off the back of his double, we take a look at Spanish Dave's top stops and best saves from his 2014/15 vintage.
On this evidence, it's easy to see why he was the obvious choice as the standout performer for the Reds this season.

It's been difficult to cut Dave's show reel down to just the ten saves, but here are his top ten in all their glory. 

De Gea's 10 best saves 2014/15

10. Jack Wilshere vs Arsenal

A simply brilliant one on one save low down to keep out Wilshere with the game poised at 1-1 and Arsenal pressing. United go on to win.

9 Didier Drogba vs Chelsea

Didier Drogba had earlier put Chelsea ahead and he looks certain to double the lead from 12 yards here after Oscar's pass but Dave saves with his legs and the Reds go on to salvage a late point.

8. Leighton Baines vs Everton

De Gea becomes the first keeper to ever repel a Premier League Leighton Baines spot-kick when he plunges to his right to palm away the pen. 

7. Mario Balotelli vs Liverpool

Not easy to choose as Dave again makes a string of superb stops in this match, but this incredible close range reflex save to push Balotelli's effort onto the bar is the pick of the bunch.

6. Leon Osman vs Everton 

A truly world class save in DDG's best game in a United shirt when Lukaku and Naismith tee up Osman who  hits it well but De Gea changes direction to flip the ball wide of the post in a 2-1 win. 

5. Papiss Cisse vs Newcastle

A crucial game is locked at 0-0 after a string of superb saves from both keepers, but this one, a point blank reaction save to keep out Cisse's diving header , is sensational. 
4. Mame Diouf vs Stoke

The second of a phenomenal double save in the dying moments sees De Gea react superbly to claw away Diouf's goalbound header to help United see out a late Stoke rally. 

3. Jesus Navas vs Man City 

A tremendous reflex stop by De Gea to keep out Navas' close range flick from eight yards during November's derby defeat.

2. Santi Cazorla vs Arsenal (FA Cup) 

A save right up there with his best, Dave produces a miraculous piece of goalkeeping to brilliantly claw away Cazorla's angled effort one-handed as United go out the cup. 

1. Bryan Oviedo vs Everton 

Save of the season! Everton are pressing and think they've levelled at the death through Oviedo only for Superman De Gea to fly to his left and tip the full back's dipping drive over the bar.
Another truly world class save. 

Club awards night 2015: De Gea's double and LVG steals the show

David De Gea was voted both the Players Player and Supporters Player of the Year for the second year in succession at the club awards night on Tuesday.

If this is De Gea's last act as a United player, then it's a fitting way to bow out as he's been influential in helping the club return to the Champions League.

Whilst other players have stepped up and the team as a whole have enjoyed a better campaign than 12 months ago, there can be no arguments that De Gea has again been simply outstanding between the sticks for the Reds.
He's won United so many games but his performances against Everton, Newcastle and Stoke, to name but three, meant he has more than merited the award. 

Juan Mata was also recognised, with the Spaniard's brilliantly acrobatic scissor kick at Anfield voted as our Goal of the Season in a fans poll.

Andreas Pereira was voted as Player of the Year for the Under 21s team and Axel Tuanzebe won the same award for United's Under 18 side. 

The event is always a prestigious occasion, and the highlight for many this year was manager Louis van Gaal's eccentric speech to wrap up proceedings.
The Dutchman playfully clipped Ryan Giggs around the head having been outbid by the Welshman in an auction for a round of gold with former United striker Dwight Yorke.

Earlier, during seven brilliant minutes, LVG praised the spirit and "amazing effort" of the players before declaring his side "could have been champions" and were "very close" to Chelsea despite a 15 point deficit.
Recalling a team meeting in which skipper Wayne Rooney had called for a strong finish to the season, LVG then exuberantly bellowed "yes" and punched the air.
Then, with MUTV presenter Jim Rosenthal concluding, there was an LVG encore. 

Grabbing the microphone, he shouted:

"Hello, hello, pay attention to the manager", before admonishing those present for not applauding the female saxophonist, whom the manager labelled 'fantastic'.

Monday 18 May 2015

Van Gaal drops hint on De Gea future

United manager Louis van Gaal has given the clearest indication yet that they face the prospect of losing goalkeeper David de Gea to Real Madrid.

De Gea went off with a hamstring injury during Sunday's 1-1 draw with Arsenal at Old Trafford, an injury that makes him a doubt for the final match of the season at Hull next weekend- and it could mean he has played his last game for the club.

The Spanish giants have earmarked the 24-year-old Spanish international as the successor to veteran stopper Iker Casillas and he is sure to be tempted by the possibility of rejoining his family and girlfriend in Spain, according to LVG. 

The Dutchman said he did not know if Real had made an approach for De Gea, but said:

"De Gea is Spanish, he is a Spanish international- he is still behind Casillas but now a Spanish club is coming and his girlfriend is Spanish.
"His mum and dad come over every week or two weeks to watch him so it is difficult for him."

Both Casillas and stand-in Keylor Navas have made high profile errors for Real this season as they missed out on the La Liga title.

The United boss insisted that he would not be doing any more to persuade De Gea, who has one year left on his contract, to sign a new deal, explaining: 

"I cannot persuade him because this transfer is an individual thing, he knows everything that he has in Manchester United at this moment and he knows also that if he is going he is losing that because he has a lot of credits.
"I don't have to say anything for the benefit of Manchester United because he can feel everything, the crowd has been unbelievable and you have seen that reaction here.
"A transfer is a process involving a player, a club and his present club so he has to choose.
"It is up to him."

"It is no so easy to choose between two great clubs- we would be very happy if he stays.
"Of course he is Spanish and as I have said already, his family and girlfriend are Spanish and a Spanish club are coming in for him and he can go to another wonderful club so it is difficult for him to decide.
"David de Gea shall not be leaving us so easily because we are a great club and he wants to participate."

Sunday 17 May 2015

Match report: United 1-1 Arsenal

THEO Walcott's deflected cross earned Arsenal a share of the spoils after Ander Herrera had put United ahead in the Reds final home game of the season.

Louis van Gaal's side would have gone above the Gunners with a win and looked on course to do so, but Walcott's late cross (that will probably go down as a Tyler Blackett own goal) means Arsenal stay third and they will ensure a top three finish by beating Sunderland in their game in hand on Wednesday.

With both teams having already qualified for next season's Champions League, the game was low on intensity and tempo but a draw was ultimately a fair result.

In his programme notes, Van Gaal suggested a club of United's stature should not be celebrating fourth place- but it was hard to argue with his assertion that this season has been a step in the right direction after the dismal reign of his predecessor David Moyes. 

United started well and went close early on through Ashley Young before they got the goal the early dominance deserved when Young crossed to the back post and Ander Herrera volleyed home his eighth of the season after Marouane Fellaini's decoy run had created space.

Daley Blind's effort was deflected away by his own team mate Chris Smalling and Herrera's rasper flew narrowly over the bar as the Reds pushed for a second.

Van Gaal made a predictable change on the hour, replacing the labouring Falcao with  Robin Van Persie.
The Colombian's body language suggested that this was the final time he would be seen at Old Trafford as a United player after a frustrating campaign.

The other Red whose future has become a matter of public debate, David De Gea, showed why is he is so highly prized when he was finally called into action to block Olivier Giroud's angled effort.
The goalkeeper was beaten when Aaron Ramsey lofted towards goal, but Marcos Rojo's recovering header cleared the danger well.

Victor Valdes was unexpectedly handed a United debut but barely had time to settle when he was beaten by Walcott's speculative cross which deflected off substitute Tyler Blackett and wrong-footed the stopper. 

United Faithful Man of the Match: Ashley Young: Terrorized Arsenal throughout with his pace and delivery.
Overall team performance: 7/10 

Saturday 16 May 2015

United back in the Champions League

Manchester United have qualified  for the 2015/16 UEFA Champions League. 

The Reds, who missed out on qualifying for Europe's premier competition last season, were mathematically guaranteed at least fourth spot in the Barclays Premier League on Saturday after fifth-placed Liverpool lost at home to Crystal Palace.
Louis van Gaal’s men still have an opportunity to finish higher in the table, but must rely on other results going the right way.

A victory over third-placed Arsenal on Sunday would put United a point ahead of the Gunners, but Arsene Wenger’s men crucially have a game in hand, at home to Sunderland on Wednesday, ensuring their destiny remains in their own hands. 
Second-placed Manchester City are currently five points ahead of the Reds with two games to go – the Blues travel to Swansea on Sunday lunchtime, before finishing with a home game against Southampton.
If United finish the campaign in fourth, the Reds will need to get through a two-legged qualifying play-off to be in the hat for the group stage proper. The draw for the play-off takes places on Friday 7 August with the first leg to be played on 18/19 August and the second leg scheduled for 25/26 August.
The play-off round will be divided into two sections with a ‘Champions Route’ and a ‘League Route’. The first section features clubs who have won the domestic league in some of Europe’s lesser-known nations, while the second section, which United will be in, involves clubs that finish second, third or fourth in the more prominent European leagues.
A seeding system, based on the UEFA Club
Coefficient, should work in the Reds' favour and mean United are seeded; indeed van Gaal's team are likely to be the highest-ranked side in the play-off round and should therefore avoid some more well-known opposition.
If United progress to the group stage proper, the draw for which takes place on 27 August, then the Reds will be in seeding pot two.
UEFA have, however, made changes to the group stage seeding system for the 2015/16 campaign meaning the champions of the seven biggest leagues in Europe (England, Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, France and Russia) will be named as top seeds along with this year’s Champions League winners, either Barcelona or Juventus. That means the Reds may face teams including, Barca or Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Benfica or Porto, PSG or Lyon and Zenit Saint Petersburg. Of course, two English clubs cannot be drawn in the same group so there is no chance of us being drawn with Chelsea at this stage of the competition.
If the Champions League winners are also their domestic league winners (Juve have already won Serie A, while Barca are on course to triumph in La Liga), then the champions of the eighth-ranked association, Holland, would be named as top seeds. That will mean Memphis Depay’s soon-to-be former club PSV Eindhoven would be in pot one.
The final teams in each group of four will come from the third and fourth pots which will feature sides who have made it through the earlier qualifying process.

Friday 15 May 2015

Match preview: United v Arsenal

United host old rivals Arsenal in our final home game of the season on Sunday knowing a win will take us above them and keep alive slim hopes of a top three finish.

Having all but secured a top four finish last weekend (we need a point to make absolutely certain), Louis van Gaal's side can leapfrog the Gunners (who have a game in hand) and go one point above them, after Arsene Wenger saw his side's unbeaten run end at 11 matches with defeat to Swansea on Monday.

Speaking post-match on Friday, van Gaal said that he wants United to end their home campaign on a high with victory over the north Londoners.
The boss said: 
"We want to be third- it's still possible and we can put pressure on Arsenal on Sunday.
"I want us to win not only to help our position in the first four but it's also important because Sunday is our last match at home and we want to finish on a high.
"I want to thank the fans with a victory."

Former Red Danny Welbeck, who knocked us out of the FA Cup in March, misses the trip to Old Trafford with injury for the Gunners while, for United, Michael Carrick and Rafael are both out.

Van Gaal confirmed that Wayne Rooney and Luke Shaw, both of whom sustained injuries during the first half last time out at Palace, are unavailable for selection. 
However, Angel Di Maria and Robin Van Persie have been declared fit and Marcos Rojo has returned to training and could feature. 

LVG added: 

"I have often said that the most important thing is to make a balance in our selection because it's not good that I have to change the positions because players are injured.
"We have to bring that balance in the selection, and that was not the case in this season."

It's honours even between these two this season going into this game.
An own goal from Kieran Gibbs and a strike from Wayne Rooney sealed a 2-1 win at the Emirates in November in the league for the Reds, but Arsenal avenged that defeat with a win by the same scoreline thanks to the aforementioned Welbeck in the FA Cup quarter finals at Old Trafford in March. 

Form guide: United W W L L L W Arsenal W W W D W L
Match odds: United 9/4 Draw 15/4 Arsenal 13/10 (bwin) 

Referee: Mike Dean 

Wednesday 13 May 2015

May: The run-in!

The final month of the season began with a Saturday tea time fixture at home to Tony Pulis' West Bromwich Albion as the Reds looked to return to winning ways following two consecutive away defeats.
Despite a dominant performance and a whole host of chances- including a Robin Van Persie penalty save-  the Reds are thwarted  by Baggies keeper Boaz Myhill in the game of his life and the Reds go down to a third successive loss through to a Chris Brunt free-kick that deflects in off Jonas Olsson.

Next up was a trip to Crystal Palace, and, after Juan Mata puts United ahead from the spot, Jason Puncheon equalises before Maroaune Fellaini heads a crucial late winner to leave the Reds on the brink of a return to the Champions League. 

That put the Reds seven points clear of Liverpool, who were then held to a 1-1 draw at champions Chelsea the next day, meaning United were all but ensured a top four finish.

There was still a slim chance of a top three finish ahead of Arsenal's trip to Old Trafford for United's final home match of the season, but after Ander Herrera's first half goal, a late own goal from the unfortunate Tyler Blackett earned the Gunners a point, who stayed two points ahead of the fourth placed Reds with a game in hand.

We'll update this section of our review once the season out- but for now, sit back, smile at the league table and toast our return to the top table of European football.

Finally, a shout out to Warren Joyce and the Under 21s who beat City 4-0 last night  to move to the brink of their league title.... good to see the natural order of things restored!

Sunday 10 May 2015

April: High and lows....

United were flying as the season entered its final  two months with four successive wins and big names banished in the form of Spurs and Liverpool.

Sandwiched  between the four games against top five opposition came a home game with Tim Sherwood's struggling but improving Aston Villa outfit.

The Reds were too strong for the Midlands side though, and won a fifth game on the bounce with a brace from Ander Herrers and a stunning goal from Rooney setting up a 3-1 success (Benteke with a late consolation for Villa).

The fixture list did not get any easier though for the Reds, as cross-town rivals and soon-to-be deposed champions Manchester City came to Old Trafford in search of a fifth successive derby win.

Sergio Aguero put them ahead to leave United fans fearing the worst, but the Reds stormed back to lead at half-time through goals from Ashley Young and Fellaini.
Juan Mata made it 3-1 and Chris Smalling headed in a fourth to put United and their fans into dreamland and not even Aguero's late second put the dampener on another hugely momentous win.

The Reds had leapfrogged City into third place with second in their sights, but United's magnificent run of form came to end on the 18th at champions elect Chelsea.
Van Gaal's side were brilliant and deserved a point, but Eden Hazard's solitary strike was 

enough to win the game for Mourinho's side. 

United end the month with an awful day on Merseyside as Everton take advantage of a lacklustre performance to win 3-0 at Goodison for the first back-to-back defeats under Van Gaal. 

The Reds end April in fourth position, needing two wins from the last four games to seal a return to the Champions League for next season. 

April: Played 4 Won 2 Lost 2 Goals For 7 Goals Against 6 

March: Three crucial wins!

The Reds begin March on a Wednesday night in Newcastle and, despite dominating the game, look set to drop two points they can ill afford to do with revitalised Liverpool breathing down their necks.

Step forward Ashley Young- often despised by opposition supporters and often derided by United fans.
The former Villa man is enjoying a renaissance under LVG however, and makes the crucial difference here when he smashes in a late winner to break the deadlock and seal a massive three points for the Reds after a string of fine saves from home stopper Tim Krul.

The Reds look good in the league, but there is cup disappointment when Arsenal steal victory in a heavyweight quarter-final contest, former United man Danny Welbeck knocking ten man United out of the FA Cup on a controversial night at Old Trafford.

Van Gaal's side are still below their best and finish March with two make or break games, massive six pointers against two sides both still in contention for a top four finish.

First up, Tottenham at Old Trafford on the 15th....

Reds fans needn't have worried, though, as LVG's men, playing a new 4-3-3 system, tore into Spurs and blew them away with flair, pace, style and panache in a breathtaking performance.
Marouane Fellaini continued to prove his worth with his fifth of the season, Carrick headed in the second and Rooney completed a comprehensive victory as United storm to a 3-0 win.

Having dispatched Spurs in some style, United then travelled to Anfield to face a Liverpool side who went into the game one place and two points behind Van Gaal's side.

The Reds end the month five points clear in fourth spot, thanks to two goal of the season contenders from Juan Mata that rendered Daniel Sturridge's late strike irrelevant, Steven Gerrard having earlier been sent off 38 seconds after coming on. 

Top scorer: Rooney (13)

March: Played 4 Won 3 Lost 1 Goals For 7 Goals Against 3

February: Substance over style

Going into February and United start the month by seeing off League Two Cambridge at the second attempt to progress to the FA Cup fifth round.

The spirited challenge of the fourth tier side comes to an end at Old Trafford as goals from Mata, Wilson and Marcos Rojo (his first for the club) set up an away tie at Preston. 

Five days later and the Reds head to east London to face West Ham and are heading for a fourth league loss after Cheikhou Kouyate's early second half strike, but a late, late volley from Daley Blind rescues a deserved point for the Reds.

Performances remain unconvincing, but United continue to grind out results, and all those battling qualities are needed when tenacious, hard-working Burnley visit Old Trafford on the 11th.

Early substitute Chris Smalling puts the Reds ahead, but Danny Ings levels for the Clarets who are then the better side for long periods until United eventually claim victory through another from Smalling and a penalty from Van Persie.

Five days later, the Reds again toil at Preston in the FA Cup and look to be going out (Scott Laird having put the hosts ahead) until late goals from Herrera, Fellaini and Rooney turn the tie around and put United into the last eight. 

Swansea complete their first ever double over United with a smash and grab at the Liberty (Herrera putting the Reds ahead) before a brace of goals from Wayne Rooney see off ten man Sunderland at Old Trafford on the final day of the month. 

United end February in third place, two points ahead of Arsenal who have played a game more.
Rooney is now the Reds top scorer (he has 11) and RVP is just behind him on ten. 

February: Played 6 Won 4 Drawn 1 Lost 1 Goals For 13 Goals Against 5

2015: A mixed start

As 2014 gave way to 2015, the Reds were on the up but a trip to the Britannia Stadium to face Stoke would prove a tough start to the year.

Having fallen behind to an early Ryan Shawcross header in a game played in atrocious conditions at Stoke, the Reds  dug deep and fought back to earn a point through Radamel Falcao's predatory, close range strike.

United's quest for an 11th FA Cup success began in the humble surroundings of League One Yeovil, but goals from Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria- on his return from injury- avoided a potential banana skin against the League One side at Huish Park.

Next up was a real "six pointer"against Champions League chasing Southampton- and it was the visitors who stole a smash and grab victory through Dusan Tadic's goal to leapfrog United in the table and end the Reds unbeaten run.

LVG's side responded well to that setback, though, and despite a below first half performance at struggling QPR, goals from substitutes Marouane Fellaini and James Wilson propelled United to a valuable 2-0 victory.

Then followed a quite remarkable FA Cup fourth round weekend when, following elimination by lower league opposition for Chelsea and Manchester City, United ensured they would be in the draw for the fifth round despite a frustrating goalless stalemate at League Two Cambridge.

The Reds finished January with a routine 3-1 win over Nigel Pearson's rock bottom Leicester, and moved back into third through goals from Van Persie, Falcao and an own goal from Wes Morgan.

Robin van Persie is now out on his own as the Reds leading scorer with nine goals to his name. 

January: Played 6 Won 3 Drawn 2 Lost 1 Goals For 8 Goals Against 3 

December: An unbeaten month

The players are beginning to adapt and buy into LVG's philosophy but December was a key month: difficult away games at fellow top six sides Southampton and Spurs and a home match against fierce rivals Liverpool. 

The Reds started the hectic festive schedule at home though, as Mark Hughes brought his compact and resilient Stoke side to Old Trafford.
United were missing the injured Angel Di Maria and Wayne Rooney, but goals from the rejuvenated Marouane Fellaini and a second from Juan Mata give United a hard fought 2-1 win. 

A Monday night trip to the south coast to face surprise high flyers Southampton proved every bit as tough as it had looked: Saints are dominant and should win the game but United are resilient and snatch a smash and grab win thanks to two Robin van Persie goals to move up to third in the table.

December 14th, United 3-0 Liverpool: Juan Mata, RVP and Rooney score as United comfortably beat the out of form Merseysiders for a sixth consecutive victory and stay third in the table (eight points behind leaders Chelsea).

United end the month with two away draws (1-1 at Villa, Falcao cancelling out a Benteke goal, and 0-0 at Spurs) but whilst our form on the road is still unconvincing, we are looking strong at home and dispatch Newcastle 3-1 at Old Trafford on Boxing Day- Rooney scores a brace and Van Persie gets the other against Alan Pardew's Magpies.

The Reds are now unbeaten in nine and end the month in third place.
Rooney and Van Persie remain locked together at the top of the goalscoring charts after a prolific month (eight each).

December: Played 6 Won 4 Drawn 2 Goals For 11 Goals Against 4 

November: Momentum is building

First up this month is the small matter of the Manchester derby and despite a fantastic performance from the visiting Reds, Chris Smalling is sent off and City nick the points through Sergio Aguero, so often the scourge of United.

The Reds then play host to Neil Warnock's struggling but stubborn Crystal Palace and are made to work for victory, but take all three points through substitute Juan Mata's solitary strike in the second half.
We then travel to Arsenal, a match that sees LVG revert to a (rookie) back three of Smalling, Blackett and McNair, but despite long periods of pressure from the Gunners, an own goal from Gibbs and a strike from Rooney give United a first away win to move back up to fourth.

Michael Carrick has returned from injury to bolster the Reds midfield ranks and he is influential in United's final game of November, a third successive win as Hull City are put to the sword, 3-0.

Goals from the familiar duo of Rooney and Van Persie, plus one from Smalling (his first goal of the campaign) see off Steve Bruce's Tigers in a match that Van Gaal describes as the "best of the season" so far. 

Going into the hectic festive fixtures, United are beginning to build momentum but, with difficult games at Stoke and Spurs to come, plus the visit of Liverpool, December would prove to be make or break for Van Gaal's rapidly improving Reds. 

The Reds end the month in fourth place with Rooney and RVP now joint top scorers with four apiece. 

November: Played 4 Won 3 Lost 1 Goals For 6 Goals Against 2

October: Spirit shines through

The first match of October saw Everton visit Old Trafford and it proved to be something of a watershed moment: back-to-back wins for the first time under Van Gaal, a return to the Premier League's top four and a truly heroic display from Spanish stopper David de Gea.

Angel Di Maria put the Reds in front only for Steven Naismith to level for Everton but Falcao's first United goal and a De Gea penalty save from Leighton Baines, one in a series of outstanding stops, prove enough for United's third win in four.

A Monday night trip to the Hawthorns to face West Bromwich Albion perhaps proved tougher than expected.
Stephane Sessegnon and Saido Berahino twice put the Baggies ahead but first United goals for Marouane Fellaini and Daley Blind (in the 87th minute), both of them beauties, salvaged a point for the Reds who are still searching for that first away win.

United end the month with a "Super Sunday" encounter against unbeaten leaders Chelsea and pits van Gaal up against his great friend and rival Jose Mourinho.
Didier Drogba puts the Blues in front but United, still without the suspended Wayne Rooney, rally and snatch a point right at the death when Robin Van Persie smashes in a loose ball from Fellaini's saved header from a Di Maria free-kick. 

Two late goals in two games hint at the return of the old United that so often saved games late on under Sir Alex and the Reds end October in eighth position, three points off the Champions League positions.

Five players (RVP, Di Maria, Fellaini, Falcao and Blind) all scored one goal each in October, with the former two now our top scorers (out on their own with three each) 

October: Played 3, Won 1, Drawn 2, Goals For 5, Goals Against 4

September: Players bedding in

United begin the month with another match against a newly promoted side as QPR visit Old Trafford on the 14th but Harry Redknapp's side are blown away by a United side who record their first win under Louis van Gaal.

Goals from Herrera, Di Maria, Mata and Rooney kick-start the season for a Reds side who hand debuts to four summer signings (Herrera, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind all start and Falcao later comes off the bench).

Unfortunately, though, the Reds are left with a feeling of "back to the drawing board" after their next match at Leicester as United are stunned by a late collapse that sees the Foxes win
Herrera, Di Maria and a first goal of the season for Robin van Persie put the Reds 3-1 ahead with 20 minutes remaining, but Tyler Blackett is sent off and the Foxes take advantage of defensive chaos and record an incredible come from behind victory.

The Reds end the month with a hard-earned win against Sam Allardyce's West Ham United in a dramatic game that sees Rooney put United ahead and Van Persie double the lead before Diafra Sakho pulls a goal back for the Hammers.
Rooney is then sent off and Van Gaal's side are forced to dig deep to hang on for victory in a match that sees the United debut of £30million full back Luke Shaw.

Youth team graduate Paddy McNair impresses on his debut and fellow academy prospect Tom Thorpe also enjoys a brief taste of first team action. 

The Reds finish the month in seventh place, eight points behind leaders Chelsea. 

September: Played 3, Won 2, Lost 1, Goals For 9, Goals Against 6
Top scorers: Rooney/Van Persie/Herrera/Di Maria (2 each) 

August: A shaky start

16th August 2014: Louis van Gaal's first competitive match in charge of United, but the supposed 'new era' does not start well as United slip to a first opening day loss since 1972 as the Reds go down 2-1 at home to Swansea.
Wayne Rooney scores the Reds first goal of the new season, but strikes from Ki Sung-Yeung and Gylfi Sigurdsson give the Swans a first ever win at Old Trafford in a match that sees Red debuts for academy products Tyler Blackett and Jesse Lingard.
In the first away game of the campaign at Sunderland, Juan Mata puts the Reds ahead but former City man Jack Rodwell earns a share of the spoils for the Black Cats on Wearside.

Van Gaal has set United up to play in a 3-5-2 and this certainly seems to inhibit the players- who seem in a state of flux and confusion- culminating in undoubtedly the lowest point of the season two days later.

Tuesday 24 August: Capital One Cup second round: MK Dons 4-0 United.
An understrength and out of sorts United are emphatically thumped by Karl Robinson's vibrant young League One outfit. A bad night in which the only positives are first senior United games for Saidy Janko, Reece James, Mike Keane and Andreas Pereira. 

The Reds finish the month with a goalless draw at newly promoted Burnley in a match that marks the United debut of £59.7 million man, Angel Di Maria. 

The Reds end the opening month of the season in 14th place. 

August: Played 4, Lost 2, Drawn 2, Goals For 2, Goals Against 7
Top scorer: Rooney/Mata (1 each)

United Faithful's season review

With the 2014/15 season drawing to an exciting conclusion and United's place in the Champions League all but secured, on the blog over the next few weeks we're going to be looking at the ups and downs of Louis van Gaal's first season in charge in the Old Trafford hotseat.

But first, let's set the scene....

Let me take you back a year: David Moyes had been sacked, Ryan Giggs was in caretaker charge in the interim- he would retire from playing at the end of the season- and United slumped to a disastrous seventh placed finish.

United had been written off as a spent force with ageing players for whom years in the wilderness would follow, but the Reds acted quickly by appointing a proven winner to replace what proved to be an expensive experiment.

Step forward Louis van Gaal: an enigmatic, straight-talking and often controversial character hailed as a tactical and innovative man manager. 

His first job was an almost complete overhaul of the squad: out went Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Shinji Kagawa, Danny Welbeck and Alex Buttner, plus Javier Hernandez and Tom Cleverley on loan.
Darren Fletcher, Wilfried Zaha and Anderson would eventually follow suit in January.

What followed was one of the most remarkable spending sprees in the club's history: in came Marcos Rojo from Sporting Lisbon, Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao, Luke Shaw from Southampton, Radamel Falcao on loan from Monaco, Angel Di Maria from Real Madrid and Daley Blind from Ajax (Victor Valdes would later join on a free in January).

Many thought that Robin van Persie would be appointed as Van Gaal's captain at Old Trafford, but that honour instead went to Wayne Rooney with Michael Carrick and Fletcher vice and third captains respectively.

An unbeaten pre-season in the USA (taking in wins over LA Galaxy, Roma, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Liverpool) gave United fans a glimpse of Van Gaal's tactical insight before his first home match as manager (a 2-1 win over Valencia in August). 

So then.... the players are ready, there's a new man in charge, there's an expectant hum in the Old Trafford air, and the big kick off is nearly upon us.

This is United Faithful's 2014/15 season review....

Match report: Crystal Palace 1-2 United

A late Marouane Fellaini winner saw United return to winning ways and all but seal a return to the Champions League with a massively important away victory.

Juan Mata had earlier put the Reds in front but we were pegged back by Jason Puncheon's deflected free-kick before Fellaini headed in Ashley Young's cross 12 minutes from time to secure a hard-earned win. 

United moved seven points clear of fifth-placed Liverpool, who travel to champions Chelsea on Sunday knowing that anything but a win would mathematically end their top four hopes.

In a first half of relatively few chances, Julian Speroni saved well from Daley Blind and Ander Herrera lashed an effort wide before United were given a penalty when Scott Dann handled a Young cross.

Mata put United's recent spot-kick woes to bed by converting from 12 yards for his ninth of the season but it was a bittersweet half for the Reds when we lost both Luke Shaw and Wayne Rooney to injury.

Palace were much improved after the break, with Puncheon stepping off the bench to bend home a free-kick via a deflection off Blind in the United wall shortly before the hour mark. 

That led to a period of sustained pressure from the hosts.

James McArthur poked wide and United were then indebted to David De Gea who made a brilliant point-blank save to deny Glenn Murray as wingers Yannick Bolasie and Puncheon started to dominate the game.

However, it was the impressive Young who had the final say when his superb delivery from deep picked out Fellaini who nodded in after Radamel Falcao had put the home defence under pressure.

Palace were not finished there, though, and called De Gea into action again when he produced another superb stop to keep out Murray in the closing stages but United held out to move to the brink of Europe's elite competition. 

United Faithful Man of the Match: A close call between Young and De Gea but we're giving it to DDG for his two superb stops from Murray that proved so pivotal.
Overall team performance: 7.5/10

Friday 8 May 2015

Match preview: Crystal Palace v United

Manchester United head to south London off the back of three successive defeats and desperately need a win to stay on course for a top four finish.
We have never lost four top flight matches in a row and, with Liverpool again breathing down our necks, victory in this Saturday tea time kick off is simply a must. 

Palace, like United, have lost three games on the bounce without scoring but  Selhurst Park a difficult place to go under Alan Pardew with the Eagles possessing pace and trickery in abundance.

On this match, United boss van Gaal said:
"We need luck and composure in front of the goal.
"That I cannot provide, the players shall need to do it for themselves.

"We have the pressure, Liverpool have to play these matches and have to win them also, but we have to focus on our match.
"They're at home but I still expect them to defend more than attack so it is up to us to find a solution.
"I am not very concerned (about our form recently) as I think that we have played well, but we must start finishing our chances."

Palace come into this game firmly entrenched in mid-table with arguably nothing to play for, but the same could be said for Everton and West Brom and they both recorded wins over us.
United remain a prize Premier League scalp and the Eagles will be bang up for this one.

Van Gaal delivered mixed news on the injury front in Friday's press conference.

Michael Carrick will miss the remainder of United's season after his injury was "worse than first thought", and, given his hugely important influence on the Reds this season, his absence comes as a massive blow on the run-in.
Luke Shaw and Phil Jones are both available and Jonny Evans could also feature, but Marcos Rojo is again doubtful. 

LVG added: "Carrick is not available, his injury is more heavy than we thought, we tried everything as we know he is important but now we have to think about next season.
"He shall not play anymore this season, it's better now to focus for him on next season and being fit to start.
"When you see the stats, it's clear that's he very important but that's also because we have only one right sided holding midfielder so our selection is not balanced.
"I want to restore that in the next transfer window, we have to look at that position first, I think.
"Evans and Shaw can both play football and this game, Evans doesn't have match rhythm as he was injured for six weeks and then after that he was suspended.
"He needs match rhythm so I am not sure yet whether he shall play."

Form guide: Crystal Palace W W W L L L United W W W L L L 
Betting odds: Palace 17/5 Draw 11/9 United 12/9 (bet365)
Referee: Michael Oliver 

Thursday 7 May 2015

Memphis Depay: Player profile

United have agreed a deal in the region of £25 million with PSV for winger Memphis Depay and, subject to a medical, the deal will be completed once the transfer window opens in June.

Depay has emerged as one of the most exciting young prospects in Europe and it's easy to see why.
The attacker was the top scorer in the Eredivisie this season, scoring 21 goals to help his side to the title.

Born in Moordrecht in the Netherlands, Depay has spent his entire career in the Eredivisie with PSV Eindhoven having been scouted and signed by the newly crowned Dutch champions aged 12 before he made his debut (a 3-2 win against Feyenoord) in 2011. 

Depay was handed a first Netherlands cap in October 2013 under the stewardship of a certain Louis van Gaal, and was then selected in their final 23 man squad for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
He scored twice and set up two more during the tournament to help the Dutch to a third placed finish.
He was named on the  shortlist for the World Cup's Best Young Player but narrowly missed out to former United startlet Paul Pogba. 

The wide player's goal haul- which includes numerous screamers from long range- has attracted plenty of suitors this term but he's a player that LVG knows well. 

A pacy, tricky winger who can also play as a striker, his direct running and fleet of foot makes him a difficult proposition for opposition defenders. Depay can play anywhere across the forward line, but I imagine that he will play from the left for us, surely ending any talk of a surprise swoop for Real's Gareth Bale. 

Ilkay Gundogan looks set to follow as Michael Carrick's long term replacement, and with Mats Hummels  and Nathaniel Clyne also possibly on the way, LVG is building an exciting young side in readiness for a title tilt next term. 

Welcome to United Memphis! 

We look forward to seeing you in the Red shirt in 2015/16....

Memphis Depay profile

Born: 13 February 1994 (Moordrecht, Netherlands)
Playing position: Winger/Forward
Current teams: PSV Eindhoven/Netherlands
Honours: KNVB Dutch Cup: 2011-12
Johan Cruijff Shield: 2012
Eredivisie: 2014/15 

Below: Depay on his senior PSV debut in 2011

POTY: Why Michael Carrick gets my vote

United have had a wonderful season with Michael Carrick in the team but he's spent much of it sidelined with injury leaving fans with a sense of what might have been had he stayed fit.

"It is really that hard to believe you're not Scholes" came the question during a Manchester United Q&A session last season.
It was a reference to the song United fans sing about the midfielder, who replied modestly and with a smirk "No".

Scholes was a different type of midfielder but he rarely had as much influence on a season that Carrick has had on this one.
Of the 17 games Carrick has started, United have won 12, drawn four and lost one.
Without him, Louis van Gaal's side have played 24, won 12, drawn five and lost nine. 

United have scored an average of 1.8 goals per game with him in the team and 1.5 per game without him.
With him, we've conceded 0.6 goals per game, without him it's 1.3.
United have lost three successive games, all of them without Carrick in the team, and although his absence is not solely responsible for our dip in form, you'd be foolish to think the two aren't at least linked. 

Of course, it could all just be coincidence.
It could be that LVG's possession-dominated philosophy makes him indispensable.
It could just be that's he just having a good season where others are not.

But whatever it is, it should be enough to force Van Gaal to find a younger replacement in the summer. 

What United haven't struggled with in the last three games has been possession of the ball- rather it's what we have done with it that has been lacking.
There has been no penetration, one dimensional passing and a lack of intelligence on the ball- all areas where Carrick's influence is key.

In Carrick's absence, both Daley Blind and Ander Herrera have been played in the role in front of the back four but it is a position that suits neither.
Blind has looked better at left-back and Herrera has had his best games further forward.
Indeed, Carrick is now so important to this United side that there is no one else that can do the job he does, at least not to the same immaculate standard.

He's so smooth and slick in his quietly effective enforcer role that he could play in a dinner jacket. 

He may not be full of goals or a box of tricks, but with United's end of season awards almost upon us, Michael Carrick, you know, gets my vote. 

Sunday 3 May 2015

RVP: The fall and fall of our Dutch striker

When Robin van Persie arrived at Old Trafford, there was something awe inspiring about his mere presence.
He just had it: a magician, the X Factor, whatever you want to call it, he had it.

RVP was the biggest name United fans had seen at OT since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, and boy did he live up to the billing.
In his opening season at Old Trafford, the Dutch striker was of absolute paramount importance in our march to that 20th league title.

In fact, he was so important that he led to United's current talisman, Wayne Rooney, being demoted to the bench.
Since the 2012/13 season, and the departure of his mentor Sir Alex has faded into memory though, so too has RVP's brilliance.

Last season showed how quickly talent can fade in the world of football as his goals scored figure dropped by more than 50% as he finished with 12 in the league.
This term, with only three games left, that number is 10.

His absence over the past few months has coincided with our best run of form this season prior to the encounter at Chelsea.

RVP's return yesterday against West Brom allowed the Dutch striker a home opportunity to show both Van Gaal and the United fans what we had been missing.
And in fact he did..... Michael Carrick. 

The shift Van Persie put in saw him miss chance after chance that the Van Persie of old would have buried.
20 minutes in, Ashley Young's ball arrived into his feet six yards out.
He put it wide.

Ten minutes later, a slick fluid move up the pitch involving  Rooney and Young saw the ball drop to RVP on the edge of the box.
Two years ago he would have swivelled and smashed a rocket into the top corner.

Yesterday, he struggled to control to ball, stumbled and lamely mishit a delayed pass to Fellaini with the West Brom defence back in position.

But then his day got even worse.

1-0 behind, United were awarded a penalty after a Saido Berahino handball.
Van Persie put the ball on the spot (I still think Rooney should have taken responsibility... I never felt confident that Van Persie would score).

My worst fears were realised. It was saved. It wasn't necessarily that bad a pen as much as it was a good save by the keeper.

The issue for Van Persie lies in the fact that he gave the West Brom stopper a chance.
The Dutchman has previously been applauded for his dead-eye ability from the spot.

Yesterday's spot kick had an almost apologetic air about it.

In just two season, RVP has gone from our inspirational talisman to a potential liability.
What little pace he had is gone, his touch is so far off what it was and his goal snaffling ability has simply evaporated.

He scored two goals for the Under 21s in midweek, sparking hopes he may rediscover his magnificent form of two years ago.
Instead, his 90 minute performance against the Baggies only confirmed his demise. 

Boss concerned by lack of goals

United's approach against a defensive minded West Bromwich side was exactly the right one.... keep the ball, look to draw them out, stay patient and wait for an opportunity.
This was a game plan that would have been executed perfectly had it not been for a heroic performance from the opposition goalkeeper and the ultimate smash and grab raid. 

It was a lack of a finishing touch in front of goal that once again hurt United- an all too common occurrence in recent weeks, and manager Louis van Gaal was left concerned by his side's recent attacking paucity.

The Reds had pushed into a wonderful position after April's win over City but defeats against Chelsea, Everton and West Brom have now left the door ajar for the chasing Champions League pack. 

Robin van Persie's return failed to end the goal drought, as he saw a second half penalty saved by the outstanding Boaz Myhill after Jonas Olsson deflected in a Chris Brunt free-kick for a shock win.

"Normally Robin shoots the penalties very good but it was also a good save from the keeper- you have to give the credit also to the goalkeeper but it was our biggest chance as it was harder for them to defend in that moment.
"It's also a concern now (a lack of goals) because it's not a coincidence and in spite of the way we have played against Chelsea, Everton and now against West Bromwich, we have created a lot of chances and still we don't score.
"You can say as a manager that we are not unlucky in every match, it's also that you have to finish these chances.
"We have lost three times in a row, this has not happened to me very much so it's also in the hands of my players.
"Now our position is less secure."

The Baggies defensive minded approach mirrored that of Chelsea and, to a lesser extent, Everton, but, despite having only 20% of the ball, it was enough for a surprise win.
"I know what is happening" LVG added
"In the defence, West Bromwich shall, as I think you say in England, park the bus and they have done that"
"Their goalkeeper was fantastic I think and they did not give us sufficient space to score the goals as we have created enough chances to score but still from a difficult situation because a lot of bodies are in front of you, behind the ball.
"Their goal was not even a chance- it was a free-kick that was off target and deflected also.
"It is very unlucky when you see what we have created and how we missed the chances and how they scored.
"It is unbelievable but that is also the beauty of football."  

Saturday 2 May 2015

Sour end to season as goals dry up

By the time United play again (May 9th), it will have been almost an entire month without a goal.
The Reds have lost three league games on the bounce for the first time since 2001 (even David Moyes didn't manage that), but what's more worrying is that United have lost all of these matches in the same way.

It seems that whenever United play a team that attacks us in a open, stretched, high-paced encounter, we thrive but, to me, it now seems that  against the so called "lesser sides", we may have now been found out.

Chelsea, Everton and West Brom have all played the same way against us: let us monopolise possession, contain us, defend in numbers and hit on the counter.
It seems the secret is out.

Louis van Gaal said after the game that he knew exactly what West Brom's tactics would be: exactly the same as at Chelsea and Everton, but having played so poorly at Goodison Park, he kept faith with the same system and style that failed so miserably a week ago.

I still think United will end the season in the top four..... but it is looking increasingly likely that this will because of the failings of other rather than any late dash to the finish from the Reds: indeed, any time United have been presented with an opportunity to leapfrog the sides above us this season we have failed to capitalise.

Although our situation has not changed (we still need two wins from three games), there seems to be a determination from the team to drag the fight for the top four all the way to the wire. 

Granted, Michael Carrick's injury enforced absence has proved to be a massive loss but the fact that there seems to be an over reliance on the 33-year-old highlights the need for a player of the quality of Ilkay Gundogan in the summer. 

United did not play at all badly against West Brom: indeed this was as good a performance as the one that just fell short at Stamford Bridge and the famous wins over Liverpool and City, but the goals have dried up and that has to be a concern.

So too is the fact that sides are playing us with the intention of nicking a draw yet emerging as winners and that's worrying: Chelsea had 30% of possession, so too Everton and West Brom even less: just 20%. 
Yet all three sides have beaten us- and they've beaten us without the ball- an area that United themselves have been so strong in down the years. 

Match report: United 0-1 West Brom

United slipped to a third consecutive league defeat as we were somehow denied victory by a string of outstanding saves from West Brom keeper Boaz Myhill.

The thrilling, high octane wins over Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City are now nothing but cherished memories and any momentum built by those victories have now come to a worryingly profligate end. 

The Reds remain in fourth place, but are once again glancing nervously over our shoulders as fifth placed Liverpool moved to within four points of us with victory over QPR.
Any hopes of a top three finish are now surely over (Arsenal have two games in hand) but the equation remains the same: two wins from the remaining three games will secure a return to the Champions League. 

United boasted 80% possession and quite simply battered the visitors but once again lacked a cutting edge against a limited but well organised West Brom side who, to their credit, defended magnificently. 

At times this match was Robin van Persie against Myhill, as the Baggies stand in keeper stopped everything we threw at him, and Tony Pulis' side ultimately nicked an incredible smash and grab victory through Chris Brunt's deflected second half free-kick.

Myhill denied Van Persie early on, Ashley Young's well-struck drive went behind off Craig Gardner, and RVP again went close when he lashed wide from Marouane Fellaini's pull back.

United had a penalty appeal turned down when Fellaini was felled by Gardner, before Albion went ahead in fortuitous fashion on 63 minutes.
Brunt's 25 yard free-kick, which probably would have been saved by David de Gea, flew into the wall, struck the unaware Jonas Olsson on the leg and deflected in.

The Reds laid siege to the Albion goal and were given a helping hand, quite literally, when Saido Berahino handled Antonio Valencia's cross and a penalty was awarded.

The contact with the ball looked to perhaps be outside the area, but it proved irrelevant as Myhill once more denied our Dutch striker with a good save down to his left.

Paddy McNair headed wide, Fellaini's header was cleared after a scramble, Juan Mata went close on the angle and Myhill produced two more brilliant saves to keep out Angel Di Maria's dipping drive before reacting smartly to superbly tip Van Persie's effort around the post. 

It was just one of those days for this United side, who for the third successive match were beaten in a similar fashion: frustrated by the opposition, hit on the counter and unable to find a way back.


Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Robin van Persie 

Friday 1 May 2015

Match preview: United v West Brom, Sat 2nd May 5.30pm

Manchester United can move to within three points of securing a place in the top four with victory over the Baggies in this Saturday tea time kick-off.

We could even seal our Champions League qualification this weekend should we win and Liverpool fail to defeat QPR. 

A win would also put us into second place with City not playing until Sunday and Arsenal travelling to Hull on Monday.

West Brom arrive at Old Trafford in 13th place and four points from two games, after five defeats in six, have effectively banished any lingering relegation fears.
Baggies boss Tony Pulis will ensure there is no resting on laurels, though.
Any team managed by the highly respected Welshman are always tough nuts to crack so there is no guarantee here for United. 

Wayne Rooney limped off with a knee injury late on at Goodison Park but has been passed fit and Robin Van Persie is also available.
Phil Jones will have his fitness assessed and could play but Michael Carrick, Luke Shaw and Jonny Evans are all ruled out with injury.

Louis van Gaal faced the media as usual on Friday, and said on selection:

"Wayne is very important to us, so I am very happy that he shall play against West Bromwich.
"Robin (van Persie) can play but we will have to wait and see if I let him play of course and Jones is also fit but I shall need to assess his match rhythm before I can select him.
"We need balance in our selection and I have said that many, many times.
"I cannot deny that we need balance in our selection, I think also the preparation of our season.
"I think that Manchester United has already adapted to a better preparation this season."

The last two games have seen players now in Red returning to former clubs, but, this time, a familiar face lines up against United in opposition colours.

Long serving stalwart Darren Fletcher, who made 223 appearances for the Reds, makes his Old Trafford return having moved to the Hawthorns in January where he was appointed captain under Pulis. 

Having been asked about a potential title challenge for next season, LVG added: 

"There is not a big gap, I don't think so.
"You can judge that when the clubs are playing matches against each other.
"We are very close to the second position, Chelsea are far above the other clubs but that can be different next year I think.
"We started very badly this year because when you cut the start of it, I think we equal Chelsea, for example.
"Now we have to start better, we have to make the balance of our selection better and then we have to perform better in different moments." 

Form guide: United W W W W L L West Brom W L L L W D 
Match odds: United 5/2 Draw 17/4 West Brom 19/2
Referee: Anthony Taylor