Friday 30 October 2015

Match preview: Crystal Palace v United

United head to Selhurst Park off the back of three successive draws in all competitions looking to rediscover the poise and fire that brushed Everton aside in our last league away outing.

Alan Pardew's side started the season well- winning four of their first seven in the league- but they have lost their last three and come into this one off the back of a 5-1 reverse at City in the Cup in midweek. 

Antonio Valencia is unavailable due to the foot injury he sustained in the derby,  James Wilson and Memphis Depay both picked up knocks against Middlesbrough and the Reds will also again be without long term absentees Paddy McNair and Luke Shaw. 

For Palace, £10m club record signing and midfield playmaker Yohan Cabaye is a doubt which will be a huge blow to the Eagles hopes of a famous victory over United.
Despite the potential loss of their star man, this Palace side is packed with pace and trickery, with the Eagles in-form winger Yannick Bolasie and former United man Wilfried Zaha tasked with doing the damage against the Reds. 

"Memphis and Wilson are injured and we shall have to wait and see how bad it is, but they shall not be available for the selection against Crystal Palace" said United boss Louis van Gaal, who paid tribute to the club's "unbelievable"  fans.
"I shall do everything for this club because these fans are unbelievable and of course like me and everyone here they want to win so we shall do this and we shall continue." 

"Crystal Palace is a difficult opponent I believe as they have good players who can hurt us, they are quick and skilful and attack well so we shall need to play well both in the defensive phase and the offensive phase" added the boss. 

United won both matches against the Eagles last term, both by a single goal with Juan Mata scoring the winner at Old Trafford before the Spaniard netted a penalty in the 2-1 win at Selhurst Park in May with Marouane Fellaini nicking the winner for United. 

Form guide: Palace W W W L L L United W L W D D D
Match odds: Palace 14/5 Draw 5/2 United 11/10
Referee: Mike Jones (Chester) 

Thursday 29 October 2015

Frustrating and confusing progress under Van Gaal

One glance at the league table tells us that there's undoubted progress from last year- after 13 points from ten games last year we are seven points better off, going well in Europe and are only two points behind leaders Manchester City this time around.

Yet despite this, none of us know what Louis van Gaal's much feted and often talked about "philosophy" actually consists of and watching the team these days is a hugely frustrating affair.

We're well drilled, well organised and good in possession- not bad traits for any successful side, but, whilst it's not as bad as David Moyes (nothing could ever be that bad), not is it anywhere near the "attack, attack attack" mantra instilled by SAF and those before him. 

Surely United should be more than just efficient, disciplined and difficult to beat?

Van Gaal often talks about "not giving much away" in his interviews, epitomising his safe and risk averse approach to matches.
Ferguson never minded about clean sheets or watertight defences- or, if he did, he never said it.
His mantra was that if we conceded twice, that's OK as long as we scored three. 

There's no debating that the players respect and perform to their best for Van Gaal- and that the Dutchman is getting the results (after all, football is a results business)- but the style in which he is doing so is testing the patience of United's fans.

He has to get results as should he not, along with, shall we say his er, functional football, he'd surely be in trouble with the United board. 

Yet the most frustrating thing is that Van Gaal has shown that he can send the side out to play fluid, liquid, high tempo football- he did so in that golden six match winning run at the back end of last season and this glimpse into the SAF era has again been in evidence at Southampton and, the second half against Liverpool and at Everton this season. 

Therein lies the problem- Van Gaal only sets United up to play this well when he knows  functional football won't be enough against our rivals and the top sides in the division.

So why do we not play this way more often? The exciting brand of football that became our trademark is largely conspicuous by its absence and has become the exception, rather than the rule.

Attacking and entertaining football is in the very DNA of this club, but winning is all that matters and the majority of the fans will be happy as long as we're doing precisely that under LVG. 

Match report: United 0-0 Middlesbrough (1-3 pens)

United are out of the Capital One Cup after a penalty shootout defeat to Championship side Middlesbrough after a frustrating night at OT.

Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young all failed to convert from the spot- with only Andreas Pereira successful for us- as Aitor Karanka's Boro triumphed 3-1 in the shootout.

United manager Louis van Gaal made nine changes from the side held by City at the weekend, but despite the youthful looking line-up it was a flat opening only illuminated- literally- by the visiting fans protest against the closing of the Redcar steelworks by the lighting up of their mobile phones.

Boro were well organised and defended deep in numbers, but the first chance of the match fell to them, when Sergio Romero kept out George Friend's effort following a goalmouth scramble.

Memphis attempted a speculative piledriver that dropped well wide, and then Boro keeper Tomas Meijas saved well from James Wilson after good build up play between Memphis and Marouane Fellaini.

Spanish striker Kike went close for Boro and Friend blocked well to keep out Fellaini, but the best effort of the half came for Boro and Stewart Downing, whom forced a spectacular save from Romero on the stroke of half-time.

Daley Blind's blushes were spared by the offside flag after he had fired a superb finish into his own net, and then had another let-off when Romero miscontrolled his backpass and the ball rolled inches wide.

Grant Leadbitter worked Romero in Boro's brightest spell, and then United had a strong penalty appeal turned down when Matteo Darmian's cross clearly struck the hand of the outstanding Daniel Ayala.

Jesse Lingard went close and, after  Ayala cleared off the line from Fellaini, two fantastic stops from Romero denied Leadbitter and Downing at the other end in a frantic finish.

Pereira lashed wide on the counter-attack deep into extra-time, but, after Anthony Martial and Fellaini spurned openings in the dying minutes, the tie went to penalties.

Rooney, Carrick and Young all failed to score for United with Nugent missing for Boro, but Leadbitter, Downing and Ben Gibson ensured the visitors' spot in the last eight.

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Andreas Pereira. 

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Match preview: United v Middlesbrough (Capital One Cup 4th round)

It's a third different competition in a week for United as Louis van Gaal's side welcome Championship high-flyers Boro' to Old Trafford with a place in the last eight of the League Cup at stake. 

Middlesbrough sit fourth in the second tier- having been 90 minutes away from a top-flight return last season (only to lose the play-off final to Norwich), and are led by Jose Mourinho's former protege Aitor Karanka.
The visitors boss has hinted that he may ring the changes to prioritise another promotion push, and his United counterpart has said that he may do the same.

LVG said:

"I am yet to decide on my selection, because I have several players in the "red zone" as we have had a lot of matches to play.
"I have to see if I can use them or not so I shall decide on Wednesday, we need  all the days to recover and some players recover better, so it is difficult to say my selection.
"I shall consider using some of the young players but you have to wait and see."

Antonio Valencia has been ruled out with the foot injury that forced him in the derby, and Luke Shaw and Paddy McNair remain injury absentees.
James Wilson and Ashley Young are both close to a return and so could feature, whilst Andreas Pereira could be in line for another start after his impressive display against Ipswich in the last round. 

Van Gaal added:

"Yes of course they (Pereira and Wilson) are in the squad, but I have to select the line-up and that I don't know- I have to do that on Wednesday"

United's Spanish playmaker Juan Mata said that he and his Reds team mates are looking for a run to the final in the Capital One Cup.

"Middlesbrough are playing in the Championship, but last season they were very close to being promoted to the Premier League and they are up there again this year so it's going to be a good test for us.
"I've never won this competition before and neither have many of our team, and we always want to be winning trophies, so I hope we can do that this season" 

Form guide: United W W L W D D Middlesbrough W W L D L W
Match odds: United 21/50 Draw 9/2 Middlesbrough 32/5
Referee: Lee Mason, from Lancashire, takes charge of this one. 

Monday 26 October 2015

LVG must drop Rooney and play Martial up front

Wayne Rooney's stats in Sunday's derby were, quite simply, absolutely woeful and I am among the legion of United fans now calling for decisive action from LVG. 

No shots, no key passes, no crosses and a miserable 55% pass accuracy. 

His body language was poor, he seemed to be lacking in confidence and the match bypassed him too easily.
In a match of the magnitude of Sunday, your captain should be leading from the front and roaring and cajoling at his team mates to make that vital difference in a game of such fine margins. 

There was none of that- indeed the only thing that Rooney did all day was get his head stapled after injury. 

He simply did not make any impression at all and, captain or not, Louis van Gaal needs to be brave and give the skipper a few games away from the spotlight.
United host Middlesbrough in the League Cup on Wednesday and that game is the perfect opportunity for LVG to do just that (for the record, either 'Mike' Smalling or Bastian Schweinsteiger should be given the armband as both have shown superior leadership to that of Rooney). 

Rooney has lost his fire and- as harsh it may seem- he should be stripped of the captaincy to make him work harder, find his form and get that fire back. 

LVG dropped Di Maria for underperforming and Falcao and RVP too, so is it merely the fact that Rooney is captain that is making him seemingly undroppable. 

Even just recently, both Memphis and Daley Blind were taken out of the firing line in the wake of Netherlands Euro 2016 elimination. 

A similar ruthless stance needs to be taken with Wazza. No precedent should be set. 

Rooney's tally of six goals in 14 games may not look so bad, but it's distorted by the fact that three of these came against the understrength runners up in the Belgian league and another against a Championship side.

Two league goals from nine games (and one of those was against a side who were at the bottom of the table at the time) from your main striker is just not good enough.
Van Gaal has tried playing him in the number 10 role, he has tried playing him as a lone striker but nothing seems to coming off for Rooney.

I don't like criticising players but it's got to the point where I think Rooney's position and status in the side is untenable at present.
He is awful at the moment and the only solution is for Van Gaal to drop him and play Anthony Martial up top. 

Sunday 25 October 2015

Match report: United 0-0 City

It was intense, physical and highly competitive but, in the end the 170th Manchester meeting ended in a dull derby stalemate at OT.

United substitute Jesse Lingard almost wrote himself into club folklore when he hit the bar late on, and Chris Smalling was also denied by Joe Hart in the dying minutes, but the disappointing draw saw Manuel Pellegrini's side return to the top of the Premier League.

Juan Mata was restored to United's starting line-up and the Spaniard unsuccessfully appealed for an early spot-kick when Fernandinho almost handled the ball.

The first real opening of the match fell to City through Raheem Sterling who saw his deflected effort go wide without troubling David de Gea.

In truth the opening 45 minutes failed to yield more than a handful of chances, the best of which fell to Yaya Toure when he headed wide from Kevin De Bruyne's corner on the half hour.

Louis van Gaal's side almost broke the deadlock four minutes in the second half when Ander Herrera fired narrowly wide before Sterling survived another penalty appeal following a clumsy challenge on Herrera.

From the resultant corner, Chris Smalling nodded inches wide with the onrushing Morgan Schneiderlin unable to turn the ball home on the stretch.

United upped the urgency in pursuit of a famous win, frequently finding joy through the pace and tricky of Anthony Martial on the left wing.
LVG introduced Marouane Fellaini and Jesse Lingard and it was the academy graduate who almost stole the show in sublime fashion when he latched onto Martial's exquisitely lofted pass to clip an acrobatic shot over Hart and onto the bar.

Smalling then brought a fine save out of Hart with a low effort from Fellaini's flick on in what proved to be the final opportunity of the match.

United Faithful man of the match: Marcos Rojo. Kept £55m man De Bruyne quiet throughout and was excellent both defensively and in attack.
Overall team performance: 7.5/10

Friday 23 October 2015

Shutting down City will be key to victory in derby

Manchester City go into Sunday's derby without their two main attacking threats in Sergio Aguero and David Silva so it looks likely that they will set up to contain us and hit on the counter attack. 

This may affect the way that Pellegrini gets them to play- they may be a little more defensive than usual and use the pace of their wingers- probably Jesus Navas and Raheem Sterling- to get in behind us and bring Kevin De Bruyne and Wilfried Bony into the game.

To nullify the threat of the pacy duo, United's wingers will need to track back to help our full-backs and protect the flanks, so as a result it looks likely that Anthony Martial will again operate on the left (as he has done in recent weeks to keep check on Seamus Coleman and Mario Fernandes respectively).

The midfield battle again looks absolutely key and is the one area where we might- just might- have the edge.
For me, it's the midfield duels that will decide the match.

Bastian Schweinsteiger will sit in front of the back four- as Fernandinho will do for them- whilst the composure and energy of Morgan Schneiderlin will get United forward from deep, a role that Yaya Toure will surely similarly be tasked with for Pellegrini's side. 

How United deal with Toure will be interesting- in last year's derby Michael Carrick performed a man marking job on the Ivorian and magnificently shut him out- so whether Van Gaal will go for Carrick again instead of derby debutant Schweinsteiger is an intriguing subplot. 

Of course, Schweinsteiger is similar in style to Carrick and what he lacks in pace he makes up for in distribution, vision, range of passing and experience, so there is no reason why he could not shackle Toure, but Van Gaal has rotated the pair this season and may feel Carrick's experience of this fixture makes him preferable.

We know that City are vulnerable at the back (they've not kept a clean sheet since early September)- so, whether Vincent Kompany plays or not- we need to exploit their one glaring deficiency with Martial's pace and Mata's craft and creativity (with Ander Herrera drifting between midfield and attack) and target their defence from set-pieces.

In short, our best hope of victory is targeting their weakness and shutting them down both in midfield and out wide and, if we can do that, we'll be enjoying a second successive win over the neighbours come Sunday. 

Yaya Toure and Carrick could locks horns again on Sunday 

Smalling emerges as a potential United captain of the future

The England centre-back has been among the most improved players under Louis van Gaal.

The rise and rise of Chris Smalling could lead to the United captaincy for the in-form defender.

Reds boss Van Gaal believes the 25-year-old is now skipper material at Old Trafford, and this after calling him "stupid" 12 months ago when he was sent off in November's Manchester derby at the Etihad.

Almost exactly a year ago Smalling was booked twice in seven minutes against City.
He was yellow carded for blocking a Joe Hart kick out from close range, before he then hacked down James Milner and faced the walk of shame after just 39 minutes.

It left United with a mountain to climb and they lost the local showdown 1-0 to the Bluenoses.
"The sending off isn't one of those things, as a player you have to control your aggression, the second yellow card was stupid and not very smart" blasted LVG.

But this term he has certainly smartened up his act and has been United's stand out defender and one of the most improved Reds.

But the Old Trafford boss won't take personal credit for the extraordinary transformation in the player signed by Sir Alex for £10m from Fulham in 2010, but says he's taken his suggestion to be more vocal on board.

"Every player makes the step by himself" explained the Dutchman.

"I put him in the situation and I help him in the situation and I advise and then my player can take it on board or he cannot, it is his responsibility" says LVG.
"He has done it by himself, there is a lot of advice, it is about how we defend as a team.
"He is part of that and I wanted him to speak, he also has the talent to do this.
"That makes him easy to coach so because of that I made him a leader of the team- he has made steps and also in a tactical way.
"When you give instructions in terms of organisation you need someone to understand that.
"He is a structured person and he has accepted it quicker.
"David de Gea has the best view of the pitch and then the central defenders so I demand of my defenders that they are vocal.
"I am very pleased with Smalling and he is showing good leadership as well."

Match preview: United v City

"Beat City and we are title contenders"- so said Louis van Gaal after last week's win over Everton as we welcome cross-town rivals City to Old Trafford for the 170th Manchester derby.

Victory in this one would take United to the top of the table but City- after three defeats in six games last month- have rediscovered their swagger and firepower and come to Old Trafford off the back of a crucial late win over Sevilla in the Champions League in midweek.

Manuel Pellegrini's side head to Old Trafford minus their two key men- creator in chief David Silva and United's nemesis Sergio Aguero- but with talents such as record signing Kevin De Bruyne, midfield battering ram Yaya Toure and the pace and trickery of £49m man Raheem Sterling, they still have plenty of heavy weaponry at their disposal.

Van Gaal has some decisions to make regarding his selection: Juan Mata and Matteo Darmian were rested in midweek so both look likely to feature on Sunday, whilst Memphis, Daley Blind and Michael Carrick- all on the bench in Moscow- could also be recalled to the side.

Luke Shaw and Paddy McNair are the only injury absentees for us and Ashley Young is back in training but is not yet ready for a return.

Speaking on Friday, LVG said that the derby is "the talk of the town" and, when quizzed on who will start the match as favourites, the Dutchman added:

"You have to ask the fans, it's not so important who is the favourite, they are first in the table and we are second or third but I think the position in the table of the league does not matter when we play against Manchester City.
"I hope that we have recovered from Moscow as we have done everything to help the recovery.
"Although we don't train today we have to recover as it is a match at a high level so we have to cope with that.
"I live in a village and it is the talk of the town, we have to prepare our game, we have had one day less and more travel so it shall be more difficult but we will do our meetings in a shorter time and then we shall be ready to beat Manchester City."

A few things are certain: Form goes out of the window in the derby, it's either going to be tight, cagey and tactical or an end to end stormer (possibly all three) and, at full time, we'll see where abouts United are under LVG. 

Form guide: United W W W L W D City W L W W W W
Match odds: 17/10 Draw 28/11 City 15/8 (Bet365)

Referee: Mark Clattenburg 

Thursday 22 October 2015

CSKA 1-1 United: Questions for Van Gaal despite Moscow draw

It could have been a lot worse for Louis van Gaal's side, who are in a healthy position midway through the Champions League group stages.

In addition to the hosts 15th-minute opener, David de Gea had to claw away Ahmed Musa's effort from distance and United initially offered little response with any attacks lacking pace and purpose. 

But Marouane Fellaini's introduction at half-time signalled a second half improvement, as Ander Herrera dropped deeper and injected more pace and urgency into the visitors passing.

It was from Herrera's pass that Valencia crossed for Martial to head in his first Champions League goal.
Questions may once again be raised about van Gaal's team choices, with the United boss opting for Martial on the left wing, Wayne Rooney down the middle and 22-year old European debutant Jesse Lingard on the right.

Martial continued in the same position as he did against Everton on Saturday, tasked with keeping an eye on CSKA right-back Mario Fernandes who was a constant threat.

The hosts defenders were quick to surround the former Monaco forward during the first half as he struggled to make an impact in attack.

But the 19-year-old changed the complexion of the match with a brilliant header from 12 yards for his fifth goal of the season. 

The strike came from a central position, where the £36m signing has largely played in his early United appearances, and with Rooney failing to make a huge impact in his place, it will be interesting whether van Gaal keeps them there for the derby. 

Despite being our top scorer this season with six goals, Rooney spent long periods on the game's periphery. 

Playing at the focal point of the visitors attack, he had a half-chance in the first period from Valencia's near post cross, and a second-half header was well saved by CSKA keeper Igor Akinfeev.

The 29-year-old touched the ball only 40 times, more than De Gea's 39 but less than Fellaini's 47 despite the Belgian only coming on at half-time.

Van Gaal has already defended his captain this season but if Rooney is so crucial to our success, it is arguable that he needs to play in a position where he is more involved. 

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Match report: CSKA 1-1 United

Anthony Martial's second half header earned United a deserved point in Moscow to move the Reds up to second in Group B.

Martial had been at fault for Seydou Doumbia's opener for CSKA having given away a penalty, but the young striker nodded in Antonio Valencia's cross to atone for his error and ensure a valuable point for the Reds. 

To say United deserved to win is probably stretching things, but we were certainly worthy of a point after an improved second half performance. 
In a match relatively short on clear cut chances, Louis van Gaal perhaps had one eye on Sunday's Manchester derby as he rested Juan Mata, Matteo Darmian and handed a European debut to 22 year-old Jesse Lingard.

With every team in Group B on three points you would expect a tight opening to the match, played in near-freezing conditions on a plastic pitch, so it was something of a surprise when the home side took a 15th minute lead.

Having initially saved Mario Fernandes' shot, it  turned out the referee had already awarded a spot-kick after Martial had handled the right-back's flick on.
David de Gea pushed Roman Eremenko's on to the post but Doumbia was the fastest player to follow up and sweep home the rebound.

Wayne Rooney's 25-yarder dropped narrowly wide, but United also found themselves 2-0 down at the break when De Gea tipped over Ahmed Musa's dipping drive on the half hour mark.

The pattern of the second half mirrored that of the first, with the Reds knocking the ball around nicely but with very little to show for it.
Rooney got a glimpse of goal just past the hour mark when Ander Herrera whipped  the ball in and the United skipper headed goalwards, but CSKA keeper Igor Akinfeev saved well.

The best opening of the match arrived three minutes  later when Herrera released Lingard but the young forward snatched at the chance and Akinfeev held on.

A United goal looked imminent and it duly arrived on 65 minutes as Martial pulled the visitors level.
Valencia powered down the right and sent in an excellent cross which was met by a fine header from the French forward which rolled in via a post.

Substitute Marouane Fellaini went close late on after fellow sub Memphis and Martial had linked up well, but that proved to be the last opportunity for us ahead of the return with the Russians on November 3.

Wolfsburg beat PSV 2-0 at home in the other Group B game to go top of the section. 

Overall team performance: 6.5/10
United Faithful man of the match: Tough one this, no one really stood out. Valencia was probably the pick of the bunch. 

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Match preview: CSKA Moscow v United

The massive matches continue to come thick and fast for United as the Reds prepare to fly out to Moscow ahead of Wednesday's testing Group B encounter with CSKA on Champions League Matchday Three. 

We have met CSKA twice before- in the group stage in 2009- winning 1-0 away and mouting a late comeback to draw 3-3 at home.
We go into this one off the back of a vital win over Wolfsburg last time out to leave all four clubs in this section on three points so victory on Wednesday will go a long way to deciding who takes pole position in the battle to qualify for the knockout stages.

Antonio Valencia and Sergio Romero will both come back into the squad having missed the trip to Everton, but James Wilson is ill so will not travel and Paddy McNair, Luke Shaw and Ashley Young also all miss out.

There are no fresh injury concerns for the Reds (United boss Louis van Gaal will speak to the media at around 1900 BST this evening). 

United midfielder Marouane Fellaini admitted United have one eye on Sunday's derby with City, but insisted that the team are fully focused on Wednesday's clash in the Russian capital.

Speaking to MUTV, the Belgian said:

"Of course we know that Sunday's match against Manchester City is one of the biggest and we cannot forget that, but now we are focused on the match in Moscow and we know it will be very different from in England
"It is a very important match for everyone and we know how we need to play as the manager has showed us videos on the opponents.
"Both teams want to win so it will be different to domestic football, but we are looking forward to this game and as I said before, it is very important."

United fans will be familiar with CSKA winger Zoran Tosic (the Serbian had a brief spell at Old Trafford in 2009), whilst Seydou Doumbia is the hosts top scorer this season. 

Wolfsburg host PSV in the other Group B fixture on Wednesday. 

Form guide: CSKA D D W W L W United W W W W L W
Match odds: CSKA 15/8 Draw 21/10 United 8/5 (William Hill)
Referee: Carlos Carballo (Spain) 

United travelling squad: De Gea, Romero, Johnstone, Darmian, Smalling, Jones, Rojo, Blind, Carrick, Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, Fellaini, Valencia, Pereira, Mata, Herrera, Memphis, Lingard, Rooney, Martial. 

Sunday 18 October 2015

Herrera proves Van Gaal should build team around him

Ander Herrera is possibly the most popular United player among supporters and proved again on Saturday why he should be a certain starter.

"I want to go to an away game with our wonderful fans" Herrera beamed, but following his weekend heroics he may need to wait a while before watching a game from the stands.

Elusive, dynamic and decisive, Herrera brought thrust and impetus to United's attack at Everton as he exhibited his credentials as LVG's playmaker.
He was injured at Arsenal, and we missed his spark and aggression in that chastening reverse at the Emirates.

With 11 goals in 27 United starts, Herrera has emphatically justified United's insistence on signing a player scouted by Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes but signed by Van Gaal, albeit whilst he coached the Dutch in Brazil.

Herrera is the energetic midfielder we've been deprived of for the best part of a decade.
He creates goals, scores goals, works hard and isn't afraid of getting stuck in (he had the distinction of ending Steven Gerrard's last game against us after 38 seconds).

Surging forward from midfield to finish expertly, his third of the season was reminiscent of Paul Scholes in his pomp but what resonates most is that he seems to almost represent his love of the club and the fans through his performances on the pitch.

An obvious victim of Van Gaal's 4-2-3-1 in pre-season, Herrera has demonstrated in his six starts this term that he is the nimblest and most productive playmaker we've got.
Memphis was ambushed, Adnan Januzaj dawdled, Juan Mata floundered and Wayne Rooney reaffirmed he is too tactically indisciplined to return to role he was developed for.

Just consider Herrera's impact this season since LVG pushed him forward for the second-half in Brugge: three goals and two assists in six games and Herrera's eight league goals have come from 10 attempts on target.

"It was a fantastic performance from him, I was very happy but I maybe need him on Wednesday so I had to spare him." said Van Gaal, referring to the substitution of Herrera at Everton.

Whatever our shape or system, Herrera, accompanied by Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger, has to be United's midfield trio.
Backed by two defensive-minded team-mates, Herrera could develop into the full-time playmaker in a formidable triumvirate.

His manager's treatment of him has sometimes been hard to fathom, particularly as he is the player that makes us tick.
Having said that, LVG's man management of the Spaniard during the international break was exceptional. 

He enjoyed a weekend break in Venice with his family and had five days of training to capitalise on his team-mates international commitments to prove he merited a start at Goodison, and Marcos Rojo also benefited, producing his best performance in a United shirt at 

Arguably man of the match in our April Old Trafford derby victory over City, Herrera's selection for Sunday's corresponding fixture could be pivotal.
Ever the hard taskmaster, when asked about Herrera's role at Goodison, van Gaal was as straight-talking as ever.

"When Herrera is playing like that it is difficult to not select him, but of course it is possible and I can do it."

Herrera can always stand with the fans. 

Match report: Everton 0-3 United

The Reds returned to winning ways and earned a first victory at Goodison Park since 2011 thanks to goals from Morgan Schneiderlin, the recalled Ander Herrera, and Wayne Rooney.

It was the perfect way for United to return to league action following the international break and a chastening 3-0 defeat at Arsenal last time out.
The result ensured we continue to keep pace with the chasing Premier League pace,  and, going into next weekend's massive derby clash, we sit two points behind City and level on points with the second placed Gunners. 

Saturday's match was tinged with emotion at the news that Toffees legend Howard Kendall, former Everton player and manager, had died at the age of 69.
The players  wore black armbands as a mark of respect and there was a minute's applause prior to kick off in a match that saw Louis van Gaal make four changes to his XI, with recalls for Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo,  Schneiderlin and Herrera. 

A slow start had cost United at Arsenal and the manager had demanded a much-improved opening on Merseyside.
He got his wish, too, as the Reds went ahead after 18 minutes when Schneiderlin drilled in his first competitive goal after good build up from Chris Smalling and Rojo.

Four minutes later, Herrera doubled the lead when the Spaniard burst into the area and nodded in a fine Rojo cross past former United stopper Tim Howard.

David de Gea saved well from Ross Barkley on the stroke of half-time before he brilliantly denied Romelu Lukaku with an outstretched foot shortly after the resumption. 

Jesse Lingard replaced Juan Mata at the break, and the academy graduate was soon needed in defence as he headed away James McCarthy's dangerous cross as the hosts belatedly applied some pressure.

United stood firm, though, and put the result beyond any doubt just after the hour mark when Schneiderlin picked out the impressive Herrera, who in turn played in Rooney who fired in to score against his former club away from home for the first time since 2007.

Barkley went close and substitute Arouna Kone forced a save from De Gea, but United consolidated an excellent win, another clean sheet and three more deeply satisfying points.

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

Friday 16 October 2015

Boss delivers injury update ahead of Goodison clash

Louis van Gaal provided an injury update on numerous United players in Friday's press conference ahead of Saturday's league match away at Everton. 

Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick did not feature in either of England's Euro 2016 qualifiers against Estonia and Lithuania due to slight injury problems, but van Gaal says both are fit to face the Toffees. 

Phil Jones is also available after registering 90 minutes for the Three Lions on Monday night. 

"Wayne Rooney, I think he can play and Michael Carrick also" van Gaal told MUTV
"I was very pleased with Jones, yes of course he is fit because he has already played for me two times for 15 or 20 minutes.
"Then he plays for the England team, so when I want to select him I can include him in my selection for the line-up."

Bastian Schweinsteiger was hurt in the warm-up for Germany's match against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin and missed the 1-0 defeat, as well as the world champions subsequent 2-1 win over Georgia in Leipzig, but the 31-year old appears set to feature at Goodison Park after van Gaal did not list him as injured.

Paddy McNair endured mixed emotions during the international break as he helped Northern Ireland qualify for a first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup with a 3-1 win over Greece, before sustaining a serious-looking injury during the 1-1 draw with Finland that secured top spot in Group F.

During his pre-match press conference at the Aon Training Complex, van Gaal also revealed Ashley Young picked up a problem against Arsenal last time out and is therefore unavailable.

Meanwhile, Marcos Rojo and Ander Herrera stayed in Manchester during the international break to continue their rehabilitation from injury and both are available this weekend, although neither are possibly yet ready to complete a full match. 

"They were injured and they have a recovery period behind their back and everything went well" the boss confirmed to MUTV.
"They are also fit to play- maybe not for 90 minutes but you never know." Van Gaal added. 

Match preview: Everton v United

It's a rare traditional Saturday kick-off for the Reds in this one as we head to Goodison Park looking to get back to  winning ways and regain top spot as the Premier League returns after the international break. 

The trip to the blue half of Merseyside has not been nice for United in recent years- we've lost our last three matches there (1-0, 2-0 and 3-0 with three different managers) and have won there only once in seven outings. Fair to say we're due a win here.

The Toffees currently sit seventh in the table and have not lost since August- against City, and their recent home victory over champions Chelsea further proves what a difficult proposition a trip to Goodison can be. 

Whatever form they are in, the atmosphere is always intense and Roberto Martinez's well drilled and potent attacking outfit are a handful for any opposition on their day.

This will be another huge test for United (with a trip to Russia and the derby to come) and we cannot afford to start like we did at Arsenal. 

Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney and Bastian Schweinsteiger are all fit to play despite missing the internationals, whilst Ander Herrera and Marcos Rojo could feature.

Paddy McNair is unavailable after sustaining an abdominal injury and Ashley Young will also miss out with injury. 

United boss Louis van Gaal spoke of United's need to respond from Arsenal, and said:

"It cannot happen again, I will not accept for my team to play as we did, we want to be champions so we have to behave like champions and improve every time. 
"Everton has always been difficult, I remember from last year and Manchester United also lost there the year before as well I think so it shall not be easy but I am confident as I have seen the training sessions and the reaction of my players.
"It is a very heavy and challenging week so we have to be prepared for that, after an international break it is not easy." 

Match odds: Everton 9/4 Draw 12/5 United 11/8 (Bet365)
Form guide: Everton D W D W W D United L W W W W L
Referee: Jonathan Moss 

Friday 9 October 2015

United in pride on historic night for Northern Ireland

United might have sparked controversy by pulling out of this year's Milk Cup but the club should feel mightily proud about Northern Ireland's qualification for the 2016 European Championship.

In Paddy McNair, Craig Cathcart, Corry Evans and Oliver Norwood, there were four United academy graduates in the Northern Ireland line-up on a historic night at Windsor Park.

Michael O'Neill's side won 3-1 against Greece in Belfast to secure their place at a major finals for the first time since 1986, back when Norman Whiteside was a 21-year-old regular for both United and his country.

McNair, who signed a new United contract earlier this year, started in place of another former United youth player Jonny Evans - now of WBA - in the victory over the Greeks.

Watford defender Cathcart, Blackburn midfielder Evans and Reading's Norwood never featured for the United senior side, although Cathcart and Evans were named as substitutes for the first team and Norwood travelled as cover to Wolfsburg in the Champions League win in December 2009.

The four may not have ever actually played for the senior team, but they all started their careers at Old Trafford, careers that last night reached the pinnacle as they and their team mates made history for their tiny nation. 

Another United academy graduate, James Chester, could join his former colleagues in France next summer with Wales, who are expected to seal qualification this weekend when they face Bosnia and Herzegovina and Andorra. 

Chester joined Evans at the Hawthorns in the summer for £8 million and made one senior appearance under Sir Alex, in a 2009 League Cup semi-final win over Derby County. 

A historic, momentous occasion for a country in which United have a huge following, and for four of our former players, the chance to mix it with the best in France as their country play in a major tournament finals for the first time in 30 years. 

McNair, Evans, Cathcart and Norwood enjoyed a night to remember 

Monday 5 October 2015

Did Van Gaal get it wrong.... how Arsenal tore United apart.

Louis van Gaal has spent close to £200m since taking charge at Old Trafford but still appears to have gaping holes in the squad.

The decision to play winger Ashley Young at left-back against Arsenal, and the continuing selection of Daley Blind at centre-half were both exposed by the Gunners' blistering start.

Blind played most of his first season at United in a deep midfield role and a lack of pace and strength were both in evidence against Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez.
Up until now, Blind has done well at centre-half but, as feared, did not have the attributes to play at centre-half against a devastatingly quick, high tempo counter-attacking outfit and got found out in our first true test this season. 

Sanchez against Ashley Young was a complete mismatch as the Gunners ran United ragged in the opening exchanges.
Even Chris Smalling- rightly lauded for his early season form- was too slow to close down Sanchez as he bent in the third goal after easily outwitting Matteo Darmian- another previously impressive performer whom had a bad day on this occasion. 

In front of our disorganised, bewildered back four, partnering Bastian Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick together also proved to be the wrong call.
Carrick, 34, and Schweinsteiger, 31, are both masters at keeping possession and dictating play, but in an opening 15 minutes in which Arsenal completely dominated, their lack of pace against the counter-attack was brutally exposed and punished.

Morgan Schneiderlin- left on the bench-may have been a better option to break up play with pace to push forward as Arsenal's trio of  Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin totally bossed midfield.

Antonio Valencia- introduced as a half-time substitute, could have been better at right-back (with Darmian on the left) to deal with the rampaging Sanchez.
The Ecuadorian is both quick and strong in the tackle and has at least played full-back on previous occasions, so tasking him with shackling the Chilean seemed to make more sense than an out of position left-footed attacking player. 

The anonymous Memphis Depay- who surely must be playing for his place now- and Darmian, who was also disappointing, were hauled off at the break in place of Valencia and Marouane Fellaini, whom belatedly stiffened the centre and contributed to a better second half performance.

Anthony Martial was our only bright spot on a desperate day and came closest to scoring- and Schweinsteiger also forced a good save from Cech- but the damage was already done. 

Sunday 4 October 2015

Match report: Arsenal 3-0 United

Three quickfire Arsenal goals sank the lacklustre Reds on an afternoon to forget in north London for LVG's side.

The Gunners made a blistering start and found themselves three goals ahead in 20 minutes, a position from which we never recovered and, despite a much improved second half performance, the damage had long been done. 

Arsenal started brightly and went close through Santi Cazorla before the hosts went ahead after only five minutes through Alexis Sanchez, who ghosted into space and flicked home at the near post after good work from Aaron Ramsey. 

That was a bad start for the Reds, but it got worse a little over a minute later when Mesut Ozil was given the freedom of the Emirates to slam a low effort past David de Gea from close range.

2-0 down in seven minutes, the Reds desperately tried to respond and find a way back, but Arsenal were irresistible, poured forward again and made it 3-0 when Sanchez- unmarked- lashed in the third to all but kill the game as a contest after just 20 minutes. 

Shell shocked and reeling by the hosts lightning start, the Reds finally began to threaten and Petr Cech did well to deny Anthony Martial on the turn from point blank range on the stroke of half time.

The second half was better from United- although anything would have been better than the shambolic first- and makeshift left-back Ashley Young forced a good save from Cech.

Martial and captain Wayne Rooney both went close to what would have been a mere consolation, before chances at both ends through Ozil for Arsenal and Mata's curler for the visitors.

Substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain chipped against the bar in the closing minutes as United slipped to third, behind our hosts- who go second- on goal difference. 

Credit to Arsenal, they were superb but were given a huge helping hand by the abject Reds in what must surely be the worst performance we've had since LVG took charge.

It's no major crisis-but with Everton next (we all know about our recent record there)- this will act as a wake up call ahead of a two-week break for the international matches.


United Faithful Man of the Match: Anthony Martial
Overall team performance: 3/10 

Saturday 3 October 2015

Special Juan: Mata's star shining brightly at Theatre of Dreams

Sporting a beard  and standing at a mere 5ft 7ins, you would imagine Juan Mata would not stand out amongst his team mates when he heads to Manchester's Northern Quarter, the city's home for hirsute hipsters.

The likeable, down to earth Spaniard- with a keen eye for fashion and culture- goes about his day to day life quietly, unmolested by selfie taking hordes.

Yet, when he steps out at Old Trafford, all eyes are on him and rightly so.

Time seems to slow when Mata gets the ball - an outrageous dink here, a flicked pass there - he is the star turn and ultimate fans favourite at the Theatre of Dreams.

Not only is he a magicican of a player, he also comes across as a genuinely lovely guy: friendly, polite and humble, he even ends his blog posts with 'hugs- what a man!!

As another week with another game-changing moment passes, the legion between the gifted 27 year old and his employers grows ever stronger.

What, then, was Jose Mourinho thinking when he called time on his career at Stamford Bridge?

Mata is just what Chelsea need in these turbulent times - calm, measured, understated and consistent - a player who keeps his head down and gets on with his business regardless of the noise.

Mata is also (unusually for the typical footballer stereotype) very intelligent and it did not take long for him to realise he may not feature in Mourinho's plans and following talks with Roman Abramovich in summer 2013, it was agreed he could leave in the next transfer window for a set fee.

Aside from one mini-tantrum upon being substituted, there was little dummy spitting as Mata simply got on with it, no doubt hoping he could change the mind of his stubborn Portuguese boss.

He could not, and after United resisted Chelsea's attempts to lure Wayne Rooney as part of the deal, he was soon flying to Carrington in a helicopter (even that was slick).

His start at Old Trafford coincided with the end of David Moyes's short, ill-fated stint.
There was flashes of genius but a lack of pace and consistency around Mata as we limped to a seventh placed finish, leaving many to believe getting £37m was another Mourinho master-stroke.

That opinion was bolstered last season when a Mata-less Chelsea marched to the Premier League title with ease.

Many at Stamford Bridge, however, hold onto the belief that the fans' favourite should not have been allowed to leave - especially not to a rival - and that the move may come back to bite Mourinho on the backside. 

Whilst it still may be early in the season this looks like it could be the year when that happens.

He's convinced LVG of his class and the Mata assist machine is in full flow.

He has played a part in nine goals in just 12 matches as a suddenly-fluent United find themselves at the top of the table with Mata at times unplayable.

It's easy to forget as well that is all this is happening from out wide, a position that he does not regard as his favourite or even his best.

Hugs, Jose. 

Thursday 1 October 2015

Match preview: Arsenal v United

Van Gaal wary of Arsenal backlash 

United manager Louis van Gaal has admitted that his side are struggling with fatigue ahead of our seventh game in 20 days at old rivals Arsenal on Sunday. 

The trip to the Emirates will provide the first true test of our title credentials and- with the Gunners looking for a response after their European setback- having had an extra day's rest- Van Gaal is anticipating a demanding encounter for his 'tired' team. 

Speaking to the media on Thursday, LVG was "pleased and satisfied" with Wednesday's win over Wolfsburg, but there was no time for reflection as attention soon turned to the tea time tussle with Arsene Wenger's unpredictable, but always dangerous, outfit. 

Michael Carrick is back available, Ander Herrera could also feature after recovering from his minor knock and there are no new injury worries for United as the boss ponders his selection options ahead of another massive game for the Reds. 

Ex United striker Danny Welbeck will not face his former club as he is facing six months out with a long-term knee injury. 

Van Gaal said: 

"I am happy with our progress, but Arsenal is a difficult opponent and I think they can come back from a defeat, they have shown that many times and they have had an extra day's recovery.
"That will benefit them and it shall not be easy for us but we shall manage it, I have given the players a day off on Friday to help us in our preparation.
"It is difficult to prepare for the match against Arsenal because we have to see how the evaluation is in the players tiredness so the solution is recovery, recovery, recovery.
"As a manager, you want to prepare on the pitch and you cannot do it because you need freshness of the players, so then there's another solution- to change your squad so of course I can do this on Sunday."

United are unbeaten in our last eight league matches against Arsenal, having won 2-1 in this fixture last season before a 1-1 draw in the return game at Old Trafford in May.

Form guide: Arsenal W L L W W L United W L W W W W
Match odds: Arsenal 7/5 Draw 11/13 United 13/4
Referee: Roger East