Wednesday 30 September 2015

Match report: United 2-1 Wolfsburg

Mike Smalling's early second winner secured a vital come-from-behind victory over Wolfsburg in a Juan Mata inspired turnaround on a tense European night at Old Trafford.

United had fallen behind in the fourth minute through Daniel Caligiuri's close range finish, but, after man of the match Mata levelled from the spot, the Spaniard set up  Smalling for the decisive winner to leave all four Group B sides on three points apiece after Matchday Two. 

Having been beaten at PSV on Matchday One, United simply could not afford defeat in this one, but were left fearing the worst when Caligiuri finished off a neat passing move from Max Kruse's incisive through ball after only four minutes. 

Wayne Rooney blazed over from close range after good work from Anthony Martial and Memphis Depay headed straight at Diego Benaglio when well placed, before Caligiuri went from hero to villian when he handled Antonio Valencia's cross.

Juan Mata pulled the Reds from the spot ten minutes before the break but the Reds started strongly after the restart and had soon completed the comeback on 53 minutes.

Mata was again at the heart of things, when Bastian Schweinsteiger's mishit dropped to the Spaniard who guided a delicious flick into the path of Smalling to slide in and score. 

Old Trafford erupted with joy and relief but Wolfsburg were not going quietly and went close through substitutes Nicklas Bendtner and Andre Schurrle- who lashed an effort dangerously across goal- as they pressed for an equaliser. 

Andreas Pereira excelled on his first competitive start against Ipswich and was introduced on the hour mark here, replacing Memphis after the Dutchman had drilled narrowly wide shortly before being booked.

Chances were ultimately few and far between in the closing stages as United looked to consolidate their slender lead, but it was the German visitors who looked the more likely to score in the closing stages.

Ricardo Rodriguez curled a dipping free-kick inches wide on 85 minutes but that proved to be the final opportunity of the match as United held on for an important Group B victory. 

In the other match in this group, our next opponents CSKA edged past PSV 3-2 in Russia meaning all four sides are level on points ahead of the third round of matches next month.

United Faithful Man of the Match: Juan Mata. 

Overall team performance: 7.5/10

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Reds maturing and progressing in three year plan

United manager Louis van Gaal is aiming high in what he described as a "three year process" as he targets  Premier League and Champions League success at the club before his planned retirement in 2017.

The Dutchman said that it is "realistic" to expect at least one major trophy in this timespan, but also admitted that United may need luck to help them on their way.
Having always maintained that he will leave United when his contract expires in 2017, LVG appeared a little less definitive when asked today.

"Normally I shall leave after next year as I have already said but what is normal in our football world you never know.
"I promised my wife I would go to our paradise in Portugal, it will be very hard to deny her that promise and it shall be very hard for me and for my wife."

"We have made progression in the maturity and balance of the team, we have to improve to win the Premier League and Champions League but we are still improving and I can see that every week.
"Reaching the final is also an aim and winning the final, but you need a little bit of luck, it is not only quality and I think Manchester United knows and remembers that fantastically when they won in 1999.
"I think that we have improved enough to win the Champions League, I do not know whether it is this year or next year but that is realistic."

Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger insisted that United are good enough to go all the way in the Champions League this season, saying that the side's "belief and team spirit" will stand them in good stead for the future. 

Van Gaal praised the influence of Morgan Schneiderlin, whom, along with midfield team-mate Schweinsteiger brings composure and is key to the Reds "development" in the engine room.

"Last year we did not have balance in midfield, now we have Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Carrick, Fellaini and Herrera also, so this is important as it gives me many possibilities which is important when you have to play a lot of games.
"We have shown good development in the midfield positions and that is good for my philosophy so I am happy" said van Gaal.

Whether Van Gaal thinks we can win the Champions League this season or next remains to be seen, but it's good to hear him aiming to restore United to the very top of the elite before he bows out on a high. 

Match preview: United v Wolfsburg

United manager Louis van Gaal has called Wednesday's Champions League Group B encounter a 'must win' as the Reds welcome Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg to Old Trafford. 

"In the Champions League, you need to win all your matches and we lost against PSV so if we do not win against Wolfsburg it shall be very difficult, it is a match we have to win for ourselves and for the fans" said van Gaal in Tuesday's press conference.

The Dutchman was joined in media duties by Bastian Schweinsteiger 

Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick, Antonio Valencia and Marcos Rojo all missed training and Van Gaal said that his midfield duo are unlikely to feature through "minor injuries"

"I don't think Michael Carrick shall play tomorrow and the others have minor injuries so I don't want to take any risks.
"You shall have to wait and see, I know my selection in advance but I do not tell you because that helps the opponent and I never give my team" explained van Gaal, when asked for his starting XI by a reporter.

LVG was joined in media duties by Bastian Schweinsteiger, praised by his manager as a "great leader" and a "great example to the young players".

"It's a big stadium with wonderful fans and a big honour for me to play for Manchester United, especially in the Champions League
I'm looking forward to the match, I have a lot of friends at Wolfsburg and know a lot of their players well" said Schweinsteiger. 

Wolfsburg sold their star player to United's cross town rivals Manchester City in the summer but re-invested that money on German international winger Julian Draxler, who forms part of a dangerous attack for last term's third placed Bundesliga team.

Former Chelsea man Andre Schurrle and ex-Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner are also likely to feature for Dieter Hecking's side, who beat CSKA Moscow 1-0 at home on Matchday One. 

In contrast to LVG's in-form United, the visitors are without a win in three Bundesliga outings, and were on the end of Robert Lewandowski's stunning five-goals in nine minutes for Bayern last weekend.

Form guide: L W L W W W Wolfsburg D D W W L D
Match odds: United 15/4 Draw 29/10 Wolfsburg 14/20
Referee: V Kassai (Hungary) 

We never need an excuse to put up a picture of these two. 

Giggs or Guardiola: The search for LVG's successor

Louis van Gaal will retire at the end of next season when his United contract expires and the race to be his successor appears to be between two men at the opposite ends of the managerial spectrum.

On the one hand, there's Pep Guardiola, a man renowned for his swashbuckling style of play who has won everything there is to win, a hugely experienced, decorated coach and a pioneer whose innovative methods gave birth to arguably the finest team this planet has ever seen.

Then on the other, there's Ryan Giggs: the legendary, loyal, one club man who won everything there is to win as a player, loves the club and is the very epitome of its ethos but whose managerial CV spans just four games.

It's a dilemma for the board: Do we go for the guaranteed success and trophy-winning record that Guardiola will surely bring, or the values of a man who loves the club, has United in his blood, is adored by the fans as the most decorated player in the history of the club and has learnt the ropes from two of the best teachers anyone could have.

Current first team assistant boss Giggs is seemingly being groomed to take on the mantle and would be the sentimental/logical choice and, whilst it's true his lack of managerial experience is a sticking point, the men he has been mentored by (SAF and LVG) more than compensate for that and his appointment would make sense in many ways. 

Giggs knows the intricacies of United inside out, is highly respected by players and fans, has been at the club since he was eight, is learning on the job and, having had a little taster of managment as caretaker boss two seasons ago, would be by then surely ready to step into the hotseat. 

For Guardiola's part, he has made no secret of his desire to coach in the Premier League before he retires, and his trophy winning record - along with the sensational style of play implemented at Barca - would make him an ideal proposition for United's board. 

Giggsy has been pushed for the job by both SAF, Sir Bobby and Van Gaal (no higher accolade than that), but Ferguson is also known to be an admirer of Guardiola and the Catalan was thought to be on the list of potential successors when the Scot retired in 2013.

There are pro's and con's for both Messrs Guardiola and Giggs and its too early to predict what will happen but one thing's for sure, in 18 months time the picture will be a lot clearer. 

Saturday 26 September 2015

Match report: United 3-0 Sunderland

United moved to the top of the Premier League after seeing off stubborn Sunderland with strikes from Memphis, Wayne Rooney and man of the match Juan Mata.

In the absence of a recognised left-back, Van Gaal brought Antonio Valencia in at right-back and moved Matteo Darmian across to the left, and LVGs' attack minded team started the match on the front foot.

The hosts good start was almost rewarded with an early goal in the sixth minute when Darmian's cross narrowly evaded Anthony Martial, and then Memphis squandered a half-chance from Michael Carrick's reverse ball.

Sunderland responded well as the Black Cats- in their bright green away strip- began to assert themselves on the match but, a John O'Shea header aside, chances were at a premium for the visitors.

Mata fired a free-kick into the wall whilst Jermaine Lens almost gave Sunderland a shock lead when played through at the Stretford End, but David de Gea saved well with his feet shortly before half-time.

United had been frustrated for long periods and looked set to go in at the break goalless, but launched one last attack and took the lead in the dying seconds of the half.

Daley Blind's superb pin-point pass picked out Mata who in turn cushioned the ball down for Memphis to tap home his first Premier League goal in added time.

Having secured the vital breakthrough moments before the interval, United doubled the lead minutes after it when the excellent Anthony Martial received the ball from Mata, outfoxed Younes Kaboul and then lashed across goal where the ball struck the onrushing Wayne Rooney and diverted into the net.

Lens went close with a free-kick and de Gea saved well from Patrick van Aanholt in a brief flurry from the visitors, whilst Memphis fired straight at the keeper after good work from Martial. 

Mata was kept out by a super save from Costel Pantilimon but the Spaniard was not to be denied and got his deserved goal in the final minute when he fired into the roof of the net from Ashley Young's cross to seal a fine day at the office for the new league leaders.

United Faithful Man of the Match: Juan Mata
Overall team performance: 7/10

Friday 25 September 2015

Match preview: United v Sunderland

United manager Louis van Gaal looks set to field a makeshift defence after Marcos Rojo was ruled out of Saturday's encounter with struggling Sunderland.

Rojo and Paddy McNair have not recovered from the "minor" injuries that kept them out of the League Cup win over Ipswich,  and- along with long-term absentee Luke Shaw- that has left the boss short of options at left-back as Tyler Blackett is on loan at Celtic. 

While winger Ashley Young filled in admirably there against the Tractor Boys- and may be forced to do so again on Saturday- the boss admitted that Rojo's hamstring injury has created a "difficult problem" for him. 

Dick Advocaat's side make the trip to Old Trafford rock-bottom of the league and with two points from their first six games but Van Gaal warned against complacency against his friend and compatriot. 

"I sympathise with him- I hope Sunderland win every game- apart from against us but I know that for us it shall not be so easy as they compete well, have good defensive organisation and have players who can hurt us so course I want to win but the pressure is always on us in these sort of games."

LVG's fellow Dutchman masterminded another great escape with Sunderland last term and even at this early stage it's looking like he might need something special to get them out of trouble this time around with their only win so far this season coming in a 6-3 League Cup success over Exeter.

Van Gaal added:

"Rojo is injured, you saw I changed every player (in the team) except a left-footed player, only Blind has now played all the minutes and I want a left-footed player in my centre-back position.
"Rojo and Shaw are injured so I have a difficult problem in my selection."

United have no new injury concerns and will be confident of continuing their dominance over Sunderland, whom have won just once in their last 26 visits to Old Trafford.

Form guide: United W L W L W W Sunderland D W D L L L 
Match odds: United 1/4 Draw 57/10 Sunderland 14/1|
Referee: Mike Jones 

Thursday 24 September 2015

Van Gaal reacts to Ipswich cup win

Louis van Gaal declared himself a "happy coach" after United's 3-0 over Ipswich on Wednesday as a strong Reds side progressed into round four.

"The result was great, we don't have injuries, I brought in players, I rotated players and Phil Jones has played some minutes so I am a happy coach." said the Dutchman.

On fielding a near full-strength side:

"Last year we were out in the first round against Milton Keynes away and this was not good, at that time there were a lot of injuries and I played with my second team.
"We went out and the fans were not so pleased, I thought that this year I should do it another way so played with mostly my first team.
"We play also at home so we have to make it enjoyable for the fans as well, our own fans.
"We have succeeded in doing that and that's a major point for me, we have no injuries, we have won and we are into the next round."

'Great goals'

"The first goal I liked the most because it is a fantastic pass from Daley Blind and the way Wayne Rooney finished it was great because it was not so easy.
"We know that Pereira has the quality to do that with the free-kick so that is also good, of course then there was Martial's goal, in the last 15 minutes the gaps were bigger so it was easy for him."

On Boro at home in round four:

"It is another top club in the Championship, I do not know much about this opponent, the scout shall analyse them like with Ipswich.
"It is one of the top clubs  so it is not easy but I am pleased because we are at home and I am happy because this gives us a good chance of getting into the next round and we do not have to travel."

On Anthony Martial, LVG added:

"It is not so difficult because he is a player who is very modest, he knows that he can score and he can also do this because of the other players in the team.
"We made it for him two times very easy because we won the game and the gaps were existing.
"With his speed and composure, he can score always.
"He did it against Liverpool, against Southampton two times and now again.
"He is happy and I am happy but we have to keep his feet on the ground."

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Match report: United 3-0 Ipswich

United will face Middlesbrough in the fourth round of the Capital One Cup after a comfortable victory over division lower visitors Ipswich on Wednesday.

Wayne Rooney scored his first domestic goal of the season, Andreas Pereira scored a beauty on his first senior start for the club and Anthony Martial continued his rich vein of goalscoring form with his fourth goal in as many matches.

Louis van Gaal surprised many by naming a virtually full strength side against Championship opposition who made 11 changes, but it was 19-year-old Pereira whom particularly caught the eye.

He struck the post after 80 seconds but was flagged offside before his well-struck effort in the eighth minute was well saved by Tractor Boys keeper Bartosz Bialkowski.

The Reds had strong shouts for a penalty waved away after suspicions of handball from Giles Coke, but United got the breakthrough just beyond the half hour mark with an excellently worked goal.

Rooney latched onto a superb through ball from Daley Blind, shrugged off a defender, rolled his marker and fired in under the Ipswich keeper for his first Old Trafford goal of the season.

Tommy Oar went close with a sighter for the visitors and David McGoldrick lashed an effort across goal in a good spell for Ipswich shortly after half-time.

Antonio Valencia- on his first start of the campaign- saw his powerful drive beaten out by Bialkowski whilst, at the other end, McGoldrick's cross narrowly evaded Jay Tabb when a touch would have taken the ball in. 

United's lead had never been really threatened though, and we doubled it on the hour through a wonderful rasping free-kick from Pereira, who marked an impressive full debut with a deserved goal.

Juan Mata had a drive tipped over the top by Bialkowski and, shortly after coming on, Anthony Martial stabbed wide after neat build up that involved Rooney.

Pereira had another effort well saved and went close again with a deflected header, but it was left to substitute Martial to rubber-stamp the result and fire United into the next round.

He linked up with fellow substitute Memphis who chested the ball down and put Martial through to slot home a composed finish for his fourth goal in four games. 

That was the last act of a comfortable victory and United now go on to face another Championship outfit- Middlesbrough- in the next round.

United Faithful Man of the Match: Andreas Pereira
Overall team performance: 7.5/10

United's title chances hinge on crucial October

Louis van Gaal suggested after Southampton that his side can challenge for the title this season and, from what we have seen in these very early days, he may be right.

A midfield spruced up by summer signings and an attack with added firepower with the acquisition of Martial-in stark contrast to last season, United have made a good start this time around.

However, one glance at October's fixtures and you feel that this could be a defining month in our season.
We start with an away trip to Arsenal on the 4th- despite a decent recent record at the Emirates, a trip to Arsene Wenger's Gunners is never easy but Wayne Rooney loves scoring against them so this could be an ideal opportunity for skipper to shine.

If we're confident about returning from Arsenal with three points, then we should be less so in our next game- a trip to a ground that is rapidly turning into my least favourite away day.

Goodison Park.

We've lost there the past three seasons (with 1-0, 2-0 and 3-0 scorelines) and no matter what form the Toffees are in, they relish a big name scalp and are always difficult to beat.
Having already seen off Chelsea, Roberto Martinez's side will be searching for a fourth consecutive home win against the Reds.

The trip to Everton comes after the international break and then, following the two league games, a trip to Russia to face CSKA in the Champions League just four days before the Manchester derby at Old Trafford.

By this time we'll know what shape we'll be in- can we continue our early season pursuit of our cross-town rivals and ensure that the OT showdown is a meeting of the top two sides in the division. 

City have a favourable fixture list so you would not expect them to drop many points between now and then so, although it's probably still too early to call as a "title decider", the derby has the look of a massively important match and could be pivotal in both sides ambitions this season.

In my view, it's the derby that will determine whether United are genuine title contenders.

We finish October with yet another away match- our fourth out of five in all competitions next month, and one that, in its own way looks just as tough as the others.

Normally, you wouldn't expect United to be worried about a trip to Palace but at the end of a testing month in which United's focus and resolve will have been tested to the limit, you would not pick Selhurst Park as a guarantee for victory. 

Alan Pardew has build an impressive outfit at the South London side (they have won at Chelsea and pushed Arsenal and City close in narrow home losses) and would like nothing more than to give their passionate, loyal home supporters another win over one of the league's big boys. 

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Scholes debut set stage for League Cup launchpad

21 years ago yesterday, a small, pint sized, unknown 17 year old midfielder made his United debut in a League Cup tie at Port Vale as part of the Reds youngest ever starting XI.

The Oldham born youngster, going by the name of Paul Scholes, scored twice in a 2-1 win and the rest is history.
As well as kicking off the career of one of the club's greatest ever players, from that moment on the League Cup became the traditional launchpad for many a United success story (David Beckham also made his debut for the Reds in the competition).

For the record, the Reds team that night was: Walsh, G Neville (O'Kane), May, Keane, Irwin; Beckham, Scholes, Butt (Sharpe), Gillespie, Davies and McClair. 

Eight of those XI went on to enjoy success-laden careers at Old Trafford with a staggering amount of titles, medals and trophies between them, so, as the Class of 2015 prepare to kick off this season's League Cup campaign, we take at look at our current crop of youngsters bidding for the big breakthrough.

Jesse Lingard has long been tipped to be the next big thing at Old Trafford and, despite not featuring competitively in the senior side since LVG's very first match in charge, he shone in pre-season after also flourishing at lower league level on loan (you may remember him scoring four on his Birmingham debut as well as a memorable goal in the pre-season win over Barcelona).

We've already had a few glimpses of 19-year old Andreas Peireira, who made his Premier League debut in a 3-0 win over Spurs in March after several appearances on the first team bench, whilst James Wilson has four goals in 14 outings for the senior side after featuring sporadically last term. 

Sean Goss featured on the Tour 2015 to the USA and looks set to be involved against Ipswich, whilst 20 year old stopper Sam Johnstone could play in goal tomorrow having been on the bench earlier this season. 

Neither Goss nor Johnstone have yet to make a breakthrough at senior level, but both went on the USA Tour (and played) and are held in regard by the coaches, so first team recognition does not seem far off. 

Whoever LVG selects to face Ipswich on Wednesday, it will be fascinating to see the undoubtedly talented youngsters being given a chance to shine, and hopefully kick-start a path to glory and glamour at the biggest club in the world.

For inspiration, they need look no further than Messrs Scholes and Beckham. 

Match preview: United v Ipswich (Capital One Cup 3rd round)

Louis van Gaal looks set to rotate his team as Championship outfit Ipswich travel to Old Trafford for the first time in 14 years on Wednesday in the Capital One Cup.

On that occasion in 2001, United ran out 4-0 winners and, going back to 1995, there was of course that famous game in March 1995 in which Andy Cole hit five in a 9-0 romp for the Reds and the biggest ever margin of victory in the top flight. 

The Reds will not have it so easy this time around, however...

On paper, a home tie against division-lower opposition should not pose any problems for United, but- with Coventry City and MK Dons from recent years springing to mind- shocks at this stage can happen and Ipswich, who have started their league campaign well- will provide a stern test for whichever Reds XI LVG puts out.

Ahead of three successive home matches in the space of seven days across three different competitions, Van Gaal looks set to shuffle his pack and hand game time to some of his fringe and young players. 

The likes of  Antonio Valencia, Andreas Pereira, Jesse Lingard, Sean Goss, Sam Johnstone and James Wilson are all pushing for involvement and could feature.
Paddy McNair is ruled out with a "minor"  injury and Marcos Rojo is unavailable due to a hamstring problem but Phil Jones is in the squad and will be on the bench. 

Former West Ham youth product Freddie Sears and Arsenal loanee Ainsley Maitland-Niles could feature for Mick McCarthy's full-strength Tractor Boys. 

Speaking to MUTV, Van Gaal said: 

"I shall make changes in my selection but still we want to win so it is important we have the correct balance in our team.
"Ipswich are a dangerous opponent and it is the same situation as last year I think, with Manchester United against a lower team but we want to progress.
"These games are always difficult because of the extra motivation of the opponent and all the pressure will be on us so we have to be confident.
"I have to admit that because of the injuries to three defenders I shall have Jones on the bench but he is not fit.
"It is our first game in this competition and it is always good to start at home."

Match odds: United 19/5 Draw 9/2 Ipswich 39/5
Form guide: United D W L W L W Ipswich W W L L W D
Referee: Simon Hooper 

Sunday 20 September 2015

Martial could be our X Factor after fine start

Watching Anthony Martial leading United's line on Sunday, it looked like he had been playing there all his life.

Whilst it's too early say this kid is "some player" and that he will be a success at Old Trafford (plenty of young players have made an instant impact at United only to fall by the wayside), three goals in two games, coupled with his power, pace and composure, suggests that we could be witnessing the start of something special.

When he came on for his debut against Liverpool, Martial had barely touched the ball in 13 minutes until announcing himself with that unforgettable moment.
Again on Sunday, Martial had been redundant in the game for the opening half an hour, but when his chance came, he took it and the composure he showed was remarkable.

To come straight into the team and have the impact he has had at this early stage, given everything that's happened in the past two weeks, is nothing short of incredible.
You'd expect a little lack of sharpness, a snatching at chances or at least a sign of nerves in a £36m teenager at the biggest club in the world.

Not with Martial. 

There was no milking the moment, no extravagant celebration, just a steely look in his eye and a fist pump in the direction of the travelling fans whom he is already winning the hearts of.
Not only does his style of play bely his tender years, so too does his attitude and mentality. 

The big criticism of United over the past 12 months has been playing in front of teams and playing safe with no movement and sideways passing, but Martial's pace and presence give United an outlet and a weapon to strike quickly on the counter attack.

He quickens the game up, takes risks, plays on the shoulder and threatens with his runs in behind.

A consistent feature of successful  United sides in the past has been pace up front, on the counter attack, something we've  been lacking for the past two seasons, but Martial's lightning start has hinted of a return to the cut and thrust attacking intent of old. 

Granted, his second against the Saints was gift-wrapped but, despite that, he still showed awareness and intelligence, waiting for Maarten Stekelenburg to go down before rolling confidently into the corner. 

When Anthony Martial signed for United, hardly anyone had heard of him.

They have now.

Although it's still early days, the acquisition of this talented young Frenchman could be the best bit of business by United in years. 

£36m could- could- turn out to be a bargain.

Match report: Southampton 2-3 United

£36 million man Anthony Martial inspired United to a come from behind victory in a thrilling, see-saw encounter at St Mary's as the Reds moved second in the Premier League.

The Frenchman's dream start to life at Old Trafford continued but United had to work hard for a victory that looked anything but assured after a lightning start from the Saints.

We did not start well and, after Dusan Tadic fired wide early on, Graziano Pelle put Southampton ahead in the 13th minute.

It was a great move from the hosts as Sadio Mane and James Ward-Prowse exchanged passes, Mane was foiled by a brilliant reflex save from David De Gea but Pelle snaffled up the loose ball.

Pelle was causing United- and Daley Blind in particular- all sorts of problems and almost doubled his side's lead when he rifled against the post with the visitors defence flat-footed.

The Reds were on the ropes but weathered the storm and levelled ten minuted before the break.
Saints made a hash of clearing a loose ball and Juan Mata played in Martial who turned his marker and finished calmly.

Having ridden their luck for long periods of the opening half, United benefited further from a massive slice of fortune five minutes after the interval.

Maya Yoshida, without looking, played a suicidal backpass to Maarten Stekelenburg but massively underhit it and Martial raced through, picked his spot and rolled the ball in. 

Memphis Depay went close to a third but Saints remained  a threat and United needed De Gea to react well to keep out a Ward-Prowse free-kick.

The Spanish keeper made an even better save soon after though when he brilliantly clawed away Jose Fonte's goalbound header from a corner before United moved 3-1 ahead on 68 minutes.

A move that did not look like going anywhere suddenly burst into life as Memphis fired off the woodwork but the ball dropped to Mata who tucked home the rebound.

That put United in a position of relative comfort but Southampton came on strong again and, after Pelle headed in Mane's cross in the 86th minute, they almost snatched a  point in a dramatic late rally.

Tadic headed over when well placed, substitute Shane Long went close and De Gea produced a simply stunning stop to tip over Victor Wanyama's dipping drive in the dying minutes as United held on- just. 

United Faithful Man of the Match: Anthony Martial
Overall team performance: 7/10

Saturday 19 September 2015

Match preview: Southampton v United

United will be looking to end a difficult week on a high with a trip to Southampton, a fixture that has yielded narrow victories in the last two seasons.
Ronald Koeman's side, who finished seventh last season- including a 1-0 win at Old Trafford- have made an indifferent start this time around with a win, a defeat, three draws and a European exit to Midtjylland. 

Having said that, on their day they can be dangerous underdogs and with the quality of the likes of Jay Rodriguez, Victor Wanyama and Graziano Pelle, can pose a threat for the best of sides so the visitors will need to be on their mettle. 

Luke Shaw's injury has overshadowed the past few days and denied him a return to St Mary's, but United manager Louis van Gaal has said that the full back's injury can "galvanise" his side.

Van Gaal added that United would dedicate a victory to their stricken team-mate, but, whilst Shaw is set for a long spell on the sidelines, Wayne Rooney is fit to play and Phil Jones could also feature having trained with the first team.

Marcos Rojo looks likely to come in at left-back for United's longest away trip of the season.

Speaking on Friday, Van Gaal said Shaw's injury was a "huge blow" but that there are "three options" to replace him with.

"I called Luke Shaw last night and he sounds very strong, which is amazing and a good sign.
"It is very difficult to change the left-back position, but we have three options- Blind, Rojo and Young- so we have good replacements.
"Southampton have a very good team, I don't think their current position is normal for them and they have shown the quality of their play so we have to be careful of them."

Form guide: Southampton L D D L W L United W D W L W L
Match odds: Southampton 7/4 Draw 2/1 United 6/4
Referee: Mark Clattenburg 

Thursday 17 September 2015

LVG posed with defensive dilemma

Sorrow was etched on the United's players faces as they left the field in Eindhoven following an awful night on Tuesday.
Despondent in defeat and distraught at the horrific injury suffered by their team mate, not only is the full back's injury hugely damaging to the player himself, it's also a huge blow to Louis van Gaal's previously settled back four. 

When Shaw was stretchered off, Marcos Rojo came on for him and it was curious that Daley Blind, who has developed a promising grit-and-guile centre-back pairing with 'Mike' Smalling at centre back, was switched to the left.
There was no real need for Blind to move to left-back (with Rojo equally as capable there) and it was a switch that arguably changed the outcome of the game as PSV pounced on disappointing defensive errors. 

Blind was excellent at left-back in United's run of form at the back end of last season whilst Rojo, in his first competitive outing of the season, looked- perhaps understandably- rusty and a bit off the pace but, even so, it seemed odd at the time given that the Reds were well in control of the game at that point. 

Phil Jones also shone in that six match winning streak in the spring and was starting to build a promising partnership with Smalling but illness has struck again and he is still not fit enough to return.

What, then, does Van Gaal do now when it comes to that left-back position.
He will be reluctant to break up the impressive Blind-Smalling pairing, so playing Rojo at left-back seems a logical tactical change and one that would not cause too many headaches.
However, Van Gaal's switching of Blind to the left on Tuesday- with Rojo alongside Smalling- would suggest that the manager does not see the Argentine defender as a viable long term option. 

Matteo Darmian could switch to the left, where he is as equally as adept as on the right, which would mean that Antonio Valencia would reclaim the right-back position that he made his own last term. 

Personally, I would play Rojo at left full-back for the moment, and then when Phil Jones returns he should be the man to partner Smalling with Blind in Shaw's position, reverting back to three quarters of the defence that were so prominent in that aforementioned purple patch at the back end of last season.

Neither Darmian nor Blind are slouches when it come to getting forward, and that- combined with the grit and graft of the two tried and tested Englishmen Jones and Smalling provide United with the ideal balance at the back for the time being. 

Wednesday 16 September 2015

PSV 2-1 United match report

United slipped to defeat in their opening Champions League group game in a match overshadowed by a double leg break to Reds full-back Luke Shaw.

Memphis had slotted the visitors ahead against his old side but Hector Moreno- whom should have been sent off for the terrible, lunging, reckless challenge that led to Shaw's injury, scored the leveller for PSV before Luciano Narsingh headed the winner.

On a luckless night for the Reds, we dominated for long periods and were made to rue missed chances (17 shots on target compared to six for the Dutch outfit).

United started well but were rocked after 15 minutes when Shaw burst into the box after riding two challenges, but as he bore down on goal he was scythed down by Moreno and from the Mexico defender's immediate reaction, it was clear that this was a serious injury.

After 10 minutes of treatment, the 20 year old England man was taken off on a stretcher but, once the game restarted, Memphis shone against his former side.

Played through by Daley Blind, he cut inside and fired past Jeroen Zoet four minutes before the break.
It did not take long for PSV to equalise though, when Moreno- somehow still on the field- headed home after the ball had clipped off Blind and wrong-footed De Gea.

Juan Mata should have put United back ahead and Chris Smalling went close with a header before Narshingh headed home Maxime Lestienne's cross on 57 minutes after Matteo Darmian was guilty of giving the ball away on halfway. 

Despite the defeat, there were plenty of positives for Louis van Gaal's side, with encouraging displays from Depay and Anthony Martial who was handed his first United start off the back of his goal against Liverpool on debut.

Poor finishing let United down, but our biggest concern is for that of Shaw who will suffer a lengthy lay-off just when he was beginning to shine in a United shirt.

Reds manager LVG said:

"It's the same game as against Swansea.
"We are dominanting the game, we are creating chances and we are not finishing.
"The first chance they have, the corner kick, they scored and the second goal we were attacking and then we lose the ball in the first phase and they scored.
"It's fantastic for PSV but not so good for us but we have many more chances in this competition so we can recover."

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

Monday 14 September 2015

Match preview: PSV Eindhoven v United

So Champions League Matchday One and arguably United's trickiest away assignment in Group B on Tuesday.

PSV are reigning Dutch title holders, have an imposing home record and the 22-time Eredivise champions will pose a stern test for Louis van Gaal and the Reds.
It's true that we could be sitting here discussing Barcelona and Bayern Munich, so whilst our potential top seed opponents in this section could have been tougher, Philipp Cocu's side are not to be taken lightly. 

In a match that will see Memphis Depay return to the club he signed for United from in the summer, Wayne Rooney will miss out with the hamstring injury that kept him out of Liverpool.

Who will come in for the skipper up front remains to be seen, but- other than Rooney and the recovering Phil Jones- Louis van Gaal has a fully fit squad to pick from. 

Will Marouane Fellaini keep his place in the XI or will LVG be tempted to hand a first start to Anthony Martial following his dream debut against the Scousers.

Speaking on Monday, Van Gaal explained that its time for United to "prove themselves at the highest level".
The Dutchman is expecting a testing encounter in Eindhoven, and believes his side must demonstrate the ability to win against some of the continent's best sides.

The boss said:

"PSV are difficult to beat on their home ground and I have a lot of respect for them.
"We've had one training session since the Liverpool game and so far Martial's impression is good so you shall have to wait to see my selection.
"A draw away from home in this competition is always good.... but I want to win, the first game is very important.
"We have to show on the pitch we are able to win matches at the highest level- that's the challenge now." 

For Memphis, it's sure to be an emotional homecoming as the young Dutchman returns to the Philips Stadion to face the side that he netted 22 times for last term as he helped Cocu's team to the title.

"I played for PSV for ten years so it's a special feeling to see my old team-mates and to return to a club where I have so many good memories from" said the winger.
"Of course I have respect for PSV but I play for Manchester United now so I am focused on trying to help my team get an important win" he added. 

Form guide: PSV W D W D W W United W W D W L W
Match odds: PSV 5/2 Draw 7/4 United 6/5
Referee: N Rizzoli (Italy) 

Saturday 12 September 2015

Match report: United 3-1 Liverpool

United earned another victory to savour over Liverpool as Anthony Martial scored on a dream debut to ensure a 3-1 triumph and complete a hat-trick of wins over our fierce rivals at Old Trafford.

The visitors looked to have set up a nervous finale when Christian Benteke's spectacular strikes replied to earlier goals from Daley Blind and an Ander Herrera penalty but Martial then took centre stage as he announced his arrival with a superb solo third.

David de Gea made his return in goal by was a bystander for much of a stale, sterile first half as United dominated possession but - without injured striker Wayne Rooney - failed to test Simon Mignolet.

The visitors looked edgy early on as Juan Mata latched onto a loose ball and played in makeshift lone striker Maroaune Fellaini, who lifted it well off target.
Nathaniel Clyne mustered a rare attempt on goal and Memphis Depay's cross was deflected behind with the Merseysiders content to keep United at arm's length.

As in the last match at Swansea City, the Reds started the second period with a goal when half-time substitute Ashley Young, on for Memphis, was fouled by Clyne and Mata rolled the ball back to an unmarked Blind who directed an unerring finish into the top corner.

Back came Liverpool and they went thrice went close in a spell of pressure as Roberto Firmino's cross was well cleared by Chris Smalling, De Gea made a superb stop to keep out Danny Ings and Blind cleared off the line from Martin Skrtel's deflected header.

Martial came on for his debut in place of Mata and the hosts soon doubled their lead when Herrera was fouled in the area by Joe Gomez and the Spaniard smashed home the spot-kick. 

Benteke headed over and Jordon Ibe was denied by a stretching De Gea but the visitors did pull one back as Benteke crashed home an acrobatic volley to set up a tense finish.

That tension did not last, though, and the majestic Martial soon took centre stage as he danced through the Liverpool defence and planted home the calmest of finishes to spark wild celebrations and cap a debut he wouldn't have dreamed of.

Instant hero!

United Faithful Man of the Match: Daley Blind
Overall team performance: 7.5/10

Friday 11 September 2015

De Gea contract is final twist to bizarre summer.

It's official: after months of talk, rumours, acrimony, claims and counter claims, David de Gea remains a United player.

Whether he will still be snaffled up by long time admirers Real remains to be seen (I've got the feeling we've not heard the last of this), but we've got our star stopper for at least another year and, should he eventually leave, it's going to test the financial power of Real to its limit.

What a strange summer it's been: from Memphis to Martial and seemingly everyone in between, life's never dull at the greatest club in the world.
The signing of the Dutch winger seems a lifetime ago now and wasn't a huge surprise.
We quietly sealed the addition of Darmian and a double dose of midfield bite when Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger quickly followed. 

All this time, De Gea's 'will he won't he' saga rumbled on, indeed it seemed a case of when, not if, he would finally be presented as a Real Madrid player.
Having strengthened the midfield and defence, Ed Woodward set off in pursuit of a "world class" forward.
By this time, United had "entered talks" with Real for the sale of De Gea, and, in what seemed at the time to be confirmation of the Spaniard's imminent departure, Sergio Romero signed for the Reds on a free. 

Pedro seemed only a matter of time (the deal was reportedly done), but, then in a dramatic U-turn that was to eventually echo that of De Gea, Chelsea stole in and nabbed the attacker right under the noses of a reeling United.

Quite possibly the most ridiculous rumour of this- indeed any- summer, was to then follow: United had bid an eye watering amount for Neymar. 

Of course, nothing transpired (like Neymar at OT was EVER going to happen) but the media were not done there and, as the days ticked down, the list of United's targets grew ever more mind boggling (Thomas Muller, Gareth Bale and Robert Lewandowski to name but just three).

Having been linked to a whole host of stellar, superstar names all summer, we eventually ended up with an unknown and untested French teenager whom no-one had heard of in Anthony Martial, which is a bit like rejecting Mila Kunis and ending up with Susan Boyle (with respect). 

Deadline day loomed and still De Gea's future was not resolved: what was taking so long, we asked.
Well.... now we know. 

The paperwork missed the deadline, the deal collapsed, Real fumed and blamed United and De Gea ultimately ended the window back where he started it: as a Manchester United player in surely the most dramatic transfer U-turn of all time. 

Yep, it's fair to say that's it been another unpredictable, rollercoaster, up and down summer in the history of this great club! 

Match preview: United v Liverpool

The Premier League returns with a bang as United welcome fierce rivals Liverpool in this titanic Saturday tea time tussle searching for a hat-trick of wins over our North West neighbours.

The last time we met was truly unforgettable: Juan Mata's spectacular double inspired us to a famous win at Anfield to complete a league double following the 3-0 victory at OT in December. 

Liverpool, like us, have spent big this summer with seven new arrivals including familiar faces James Milner, Christian Benteke and reported United target Nathaniel Clyne amongst their signings in a new-look squad. 

Two 1-0 wins (over Spurs and Villa for us and Stoke and Bournemouth for them), a goalless draw and disappointing defeat apiece means that both sides go into this showdown with identical early season records (seven points from four league games). 

The form book goes out of the window in these matches, though but with a return to winning ways a must, LVG is boosted by having a virtually fully fit squad to choose from.

Michael Carrick is fit to play despite his withdrawal from the England squad, Marcos Rojo could be named in the squad whilst Phil Jones is "progressing well" but is not yet quite ready for a return.

Speaking to the media on Friday, LVG said:

"You never know (if De Gea will play), his head is empty now and that is important.
"He can focus but I have to judge him in training before deciding my selection.
"Only Pereira came back with an injury, Carrick can play and Jones is still injured but he's going well."

It seems unlikely that new boy Anthony Martial will be thrust straight into Van Gaal's starting XI on Saturday, and the manager seemed to confirm this in his press conference, adding:

"The crazy world that is football is that there is a market and a price, we cannot have any influence on that price.
"I have said to Ed Woodward that we needed a striker, he is the best of his age and is a player for the future.
"We can wait a year but for now we can build him up, help him adapt and then he can enter the game at the right moment."

Form guide: W W W D W L Liverpool W W D L 
Match odds: United 19/12 Draw 12/5 Liverpool 7/2
Referee: The man with two first names, Michael Oliver (remember him) take charge of English football's biggest game

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Ins&outs: Transfer window round-up

When the dust settled on the summer transfer window at the start of the month, Louis van Gaal had made further modifications to his squad for 2015/16.
After the earlier arrivals of Memphis, Matteo Darmian, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Sergio Romero, the Reds had one more trump card reserved for the last day of the transfer period. 

Anthony Martial, an exciting and young- if relatively unknown- French forward arrived from Monaco to swell Van Gaal's attacking options.
The transfer caught fans and pundits on the hop- with Martial's name seldom- if ever- linked to United in the press speculation in the preceding days and weeks- but LVG revealed that United had been monitoring him for some time. 

"Anthony is a naturally talented, young, multi-functional forward with great potential" stated the manager after the deal was confirmed.
"We have been watching him for a while now and he has developed immensely during his time at AS Monaco.
"I am delighted he has joined Manchester United as I believe this is the right club for him to continue his development as a young player.
"He has all the attributes to become a top player, however we need to give him to adjust to his new environment and the rhythm of the Premier League."

There was significant traffic heading out of Old Trafford in the closing stages of the window, too, with some popular and successful figures calling time on their United careers.
Jonny Evans moved to West Bromwich Albion, where he will link up with former team-mate Darren Fletcher, eight seasons on from his first-team United debut.

Javier Hernandez also left the club permanently, signing for Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen five years after joining the Reds.

Anders Lindegaard became another former Red at WBA when he also swapped Old Trafford for The Hawthorns where he will challenge another ex-United gloveman Ben Foster between the sticks.

There were also some eye-catching loan moves, most notably Adnan Januzaj linking up with Borussia Dortmund for the coming season.
The young Belgian can now look forward to developing in the Bundesliga and also playing in front of huge crowds at the Westfalenstadion.

Everyone at United welcomes Martial and wishes all the best to those leaving Old Trafford. 

International Reds round-up

Where else to start our international week round-up but none other than our very own Wayne Rooney.
It was a proud moment for United fans everywhere when our skipper converted an 84th minute penalty against Switzerland on Tuesday to eclipse Sir Bobby Charlton as England's all time record goalscorer.

England had already qualified from one of the most boring round-robin groups in living memory so the focus was all on Rooney- and the record- and he delivered.
Reds team mates Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling also earned praise for their Wembley outings, with Smalling named man of the match as his impressive season continued. 

Rooney can easily go on and notch another 10 or 15 goals for our country.

Elsewhere, Juan Mata scored and David de Gea started as Spain edged closer to qualification with a 1-0 win in Macedonia.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, as ever, produced a classy midfield performance as the World Champions edged Scotland 3-2 at Hampden in a thriller.

Morgan Schneiderlin played 90 minutes in France's 2-1 friendly win over Serbia in a match that saw United new boy Anthony Martial earn his second cap with a late cameo (France qualify automatically for Euro 2016 as the host nation). 

Marouane Fellaini scored his country's opening goal in their 3-1 win over Bosnia&Herzegovina on Thursday and then played just over an hour in a 1-0 win in Cyprus to help secure Belgium at least a play-off spot.

Things are not so rosy for Daley Blind and Memphis Depay though, with their Dutch team out of the running for an automatic place at the finals and facing a fight to even make the play-offs.
They are fourth in Group A with two matches to play and need results to go their way to even finish in third.

In Group H, Matteo Darmian's Italy edged closer to a place in France next summer in a pair of 1-0 wins over Malta and Bulgaria respectively, in which our right-back played the full 90 minutes in both matches, producing two neat and tidy displays as ever. 

Paddy McNair watched Northern Ireland's dramatic 1-1 draw with Hungary from the bench as an unused substitute. 

Van Gaal's "judgement day" is fast approaching- it's time to deliver

Sat in a Washington DC hotel last summer, only a few weeks after officially being announced as the new United manager, Louis van Gaal insisted he had taken on the biggest challenge of his decorated career.

He said that this was because taking over a team at its lowest ebb was more difficult that inheriting one the previous year.
In summary, he would have rather taken the job after Sir Alex than after David Moyes.

It sounded like a bit of a cheap shot- especially, you'd imagine to Moyes himself who experienced the pressure of succeeding Ferguson first hand.
LVG perhaps wouldn't accept it, but he's benefited from simply not being SAF's immediate successor.
The Scot's 10 months in charge were so humiliating for fans that anything was an improvement and it has perhaps amplified LVG's achievements since.

The football hasn't always been great but at least we're harder to beat and, although we would not normally celebrate fourth place, it's better than seventh.

Supporters might not like hearing Van Gaal say he doesn't mind his team only having one shot on target but it's preferable to Moyes saying he wanted his side to 'make it hard' for Newcastle ahead of a visit to Old Trafford.

There is though, a time when LVG will have to judged on who he is and what he's done rather than who he isn't and what he hasn't.
After 14 months, three transfer windows, 12 new signings, 30 departures and total outlay of £258.7 million, it's fast approaching.
Van Gaal has given us our pride back- he has the unwavering self-belief and persona you need to manage the biggest club in the world.
He won at Anfield, thumped City and got us back into the Champions League.

That's all well and good, but the expectation eventually will be that United start winning trophies again.
It's difficult to know when it's acceptable to judge a manager- you need to give him time to build a squad and implement his methods.
But the feeling at Old Trafford is that this is now Van Gaal's United.
He's indicated privately that he's happy with his squad despite a perceived lack of business in the final days of the window, while he's had plenty of time to explain his "philosophy" (I'm still not 100% certain what it is).

Because of that, it's time to hold him to United's usual expectations.
The honeymoon period has passed. 

The time has come to hold him to a higher standard, the standard forged by Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson.

United expects. 

Tuesday 1 September 2015

United sign £36m Martial as De Gea stays

Manchester United have completed the £36m signing of Monaco's French forward Anthony Martial making him the most expensive teenager in world football.

The fee could rise to a staggering £58m (one of the adds on include a clause should he one day win the Ballon D'or). 

The 19-year-old becomes United's third most expensive player after Angel Di Maria (£59.7m) and Juan Mata (£37.1m) and has been given the number nine shirt by Louis van Gaal.

"I am so excited to be joining Manchester United, I have always wanted to play in the Premier League and to play for the biggest club in the world is what every young footballer dreams of." said Martial. 

A France Under-21 international who has just been called up to the senior national team for the first time, Martial scored 32 goals in 21 games at youth level for Lyon before joining Monaco.

The club's failure to qualify for the Champions League group stage was thought to be an important factor in the deal.

Meanwhile, the most dramatic transfer saga of the summer slumped to a massive anti-climax as David de Gea's expected move to Real Madrid collapsed in the final moments of the window.

Real have had 62 days to get the deal done but missed the deadline by two minutes as they failed to submit the paperwork in time, so De Gea is staying at Old Trafford, as is Victor Valdes despite his spat with the manager. 

Martial is certainly not the big name "X Factor" striker we were hoping for orexpecting and his signing looks somewhere between a panic buy and a massive gamble, but despite the last minute nature of the transfer, United said that he had been on their radar for some time. 

The price tag is - quite frankly - simply astonishing for such an unknown quantity who most fans in England had not heard of until yesterday, but van Gaal said:

"Anthony is a naturally talented, young, multi functional forward with great potential.
"We have been watching him for a while and he has developed immensely during his time at Monaco."