Wednesday 30 March 2016

Blind's quietly excellent season for in-flux United

So many of United's recent purchases have put in sub-par performances but Daley Blind can very reasonably claim to have justified his price tag.

If anything, he probably does not get quite enough credit for what has been a solid, consistent and dependable second season at Old Trafford.

Consider the circumstances of his signing.

Blind was bought from Ajax, where he had been the captain of several title triumphs, a few days before the end of the transfer window.

Having enjoyed a fine World Cup for Louis van Gaal's Netherlands- whom finished third- it had been known for several weeks that he was available.

If someone had said back then that Blind would make a much better adjustment to the Premier League than Memphis, his far more heralded compatriot, many would have laughed.

It was said Blind was too slow for the league, he lacked the physical fortitude and the grit needed for the defensive toil.

Blind has frequently been likened to Phil Neville, another player whom was often asked to fill in across several positions, but he is a more versatile and more gifted player.
He starred for the Dutch in Brazil as a left wing-back but has more often than not been deployed by Van Gaal in the centre of defence or defensive midfield.

Blind's underrated playmaking abilities has been key to some of United's most impressive victory under Van Gaal, most recently in wins over Arsenal and last time out against Manchester City not to mention a string of strong showings during the purple patch of last spring.

Blind's unassuming style, both on and off the pitch, has not gone unnoticed but he is no stranger to significant burdens, being the son of a Dutch great (his father Danny is the current Netherlands coach).
Then there's the level of success at his former club, having captained Ajax to the last of four consecutive league titles just before his departure for United. 

His passing out from the back is as prompt, precise and ambitious as most centre-backs in the league, his positioning and use of space is excellent and quite often sets the tone for counter-attacking performances. 

His price tag, just under £14 million, made him a smart acquisition at the time and he has been far from one of the squad's weaker links.
Instead, he has provided the type of solid foundation for the midfield and attack that makes you think that- with slightly smarter investment- United could have mounted a sustained challenge instead of limping towards the summer with thoughts of further rebuilding.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

A year on from LVG's purple patch- has there been any progress?

United had a spring in their step when the clocks went forward in March 2015 in the most promising period of Louis van Gaal's fraught tenure at Old Trafford. 

After wins over North East giants Sunderland and Newcastle, the Reds really turned it on against Spurs at ours and then went to Anfield and pummelled Liverpool.

Aston Villa were dispatched with relative ease and Manchester City were played off the park at Old Trafford in the demolition derby.

We were third in the Premier League, a little behind rivals in the scoring stakes but as tight as a shoestring at the back- it looked like it had all clicked and a golden new era beckoned.

It all went pear-shaped after that but van Gaal still felt on solid ground when he was able to declare during his memorable eight-minute end-of-season player awards speech that he felt the Reds were "very close".

United have won three fewer matches this time around, and, though the encouraging derby win put us back in the top four race, we are still three places lower in the league table.

The defence is still largely held together by the heroics of DDG, but the biggest plus from last spring is that Chris Smalling has come on a ton as a reliable defender.
Last April he was handed a new four-year contract with Van Gaal declaring "He's improved and developed immensely in the short time I have been at the club".

Angel di Maria was in the last throes of his troubled United career, Marouane Fellaini was a regular and Ander Herrera was hailed as our best signing of the season.
Two goals against Villa a year ago this weekend highlighted his increasingly burgeoning impact.

But the Spaniard has not really progressed, Juan Mata- influential in the purple patch- is now running hot and cold.
The two major summer signings of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger have not paid dividends- United's engine room looks no more masterful, powerful or creative than it did a year ago.

Wayne Rooney was shouldering the goalscoring burden a year ago- Chicharito had left, Danny Welbeck had left and Robin van Persie was facing the exit door after an underwhelming season.

The purchase of Anthony Martial and the emergence of Marcus Rashford has energised the forward line and their return is decent but they are not getting enough support from elsewhere and are being let down by the number of chances being created.

There was a belief a year ago that the negativity surrounding LVG's early months was just the Dutchman building a foundation and he might kick on and give the fans the attacking football they so craved.

The same old complaints are still the major bone of contention. 

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Basti faces long United KO

Bastian Schweinsteiger suffered his latest knee injury KO playing an innocuous pass in Germany's training session in Berlin and it's put his season in serious doubt.

It could mean another lengthy spell on the sidelines for United's 31-year-old midfielder as Schweinsteiger's national manager Joachim Low says the problem is "likely" to be the same knee injury that kept him out of 13 matches for the Reds.

The fact that it is the same ligament he tore against Sheffield United in the FA Cup in January- missing two months for United- will be a major concern for manager Louis van Gaal during the run-in.

Schweinsteiger is having an MRI scan to detect the full extent of the injury.

Low said:

"He was injured at the end of the training session without any other involvement, while playing a square pass.
"It is likely to be the ligament which he had injured earlier in the season, he is being checked out in Munich at the moment so we do not know an exact diagnosis but it does not look positive."

Germany captain Schweinsteiger picked up the injury in training in Berlin on Tuesday ahead of his side's friendly with England, and has travelled to Munich with the German team doctor Hans-Wilhelm Mueller-Wohlfahrt.

Schweinsteiger, United's summer signing from Bundesliga champions Bayern came on as a second half sub in the Reds last four games as he regained match fitness following his absence since January's third round win against the Blades.

Schweinsteiger will miss both the world champions upcoming games with England and Italy.

No further information was given on the length of his lay-off, but he is likely to miss much of the remainder of the season and his participation in this summer's Euros could be in doubt. 

Schweinsteiger had only just returned from a knee injury that had kept him out since January 9th.
He previously suffered a groin problem in October and was unable to start United's first three matches of the season due to a lack of match fitness having also picked up a knock on the pre-season tour of the USA. 

United and Mourinho a match made in heaven

Alleged letters to United's board, eye-watering pre-contract agreements, desperate phone calls to agents - for the already beleaguered Louis van Gaal the spectre of Jose Mourinho just will not go away.

Everyone has a opinion on why Mourinho is the right, or wrong, man for the job.

When Pep Guardiola was announced as the next Manchester City manager, there was a palpable ratcheting up of calls for the Portuguese to be brought in, leading to the suggestion that should United do so, it would be in direct response to City's latest move.

This, however, ignores the fact that a great many people felt Mourinho should have been the one to replace Sir Alex Ferguson in the first place.

As it was, David Moyes got the United gig and Mourinho returned to Chelsea.

Moyes reputation was battered like a boat on the high seas and Mourinho, too, left Chelsea with his stock at its lowest point since he entered into football management.

The whole footballing world is well versed in United's reasons for not hiring Mourinho almost three years ago and their similar reluctance to do so now: his constant courting of controversy, his poor record in promoting youth, the short-termism of his management career so far and his oft-criticised style of football.

But the acute sense of destiny about Jose Mourinho riding into Old Trafford in his freshly polished armour, to save the club from imminent disaster and put them back on the map, is inescapable.

At Chelsea, he spoke of settling down and creating a dynasty - but it never felt like his heart was in it.

At least not at Stamford Bridge.

Were he to succeed Van Gaal, perhaps Mourinho, having finally landed his dream job, would lay down roots.

The desire to re-prove himself after his disastrous third season at Chelsea must be strong, but a man as ferociously ambitious as Mourinho would surely dream of emulating - if not surpassing - Ferguson's incredible record at our club.

He could only hope to do that if he embraces the kind of managerial longevity that has, thus, so far proved alien to him.

Mourinho moves in his own self-made maelstrom and comes with his own early warning system, but then again Ferguson was not exactly a ray of sunshine either.

There has been a distinct lack of grit, fight and guile about United - on and off the field - since Ferguson retired and Mourinho would instil the us-against-the-world siege mentality that the Scot made his own.

United's options appear thin on the ground and Mourinho is clearly the obvious choice to replace Van Gaal.
There are risks involved whoever United decide to appoint, and the constant speculation means an undignified exit to Louis van Gaal's own glittering career.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of reasons to believe that Manchester United and Jose Mourinho could be, at this moment in time, a match made in heaven. 

Tuesday 22 March 2016

United stars head off on international duty

The Premier League may be taking a two week sabbatical to make way for internationals but there's no rest for the wicked as several United stars jet off to join up with their countries. 

Daley Blind and Memphis are included in the Netherlands squad to face Euro 2016 hosts France in an Amsterdam friendly, with Anthony Martial likely to spearhead the attack for Les Bleus and Morgan Schneiderlin also set to be involved. 

The Netherlands then travel to Wembley to face England on 29 March, but Roy Hodgson's side will be without skipper Wayne Rooney through injury.
Chris Smalling is the only United player in the hosts' squad but Jesse Lingard has been touted as a possible replacement for the injured Raheem Sterling.

Bastian Schweinsteiger and World champions Germany provide the subsequent opposition the preceding Saturday before Joachim Low's outfit take on Matteo Darmian's Italy in Rome in another friendly fixture.

Darmian is in the Azzuri's squad for their schedule, which also includes a clash with Spain this coming Thursday.
David de Gea and Juan Mata are both in the European champions squad with a friendly trip to Romania also on the horizon.

Paddy McNair is set to represent Northern Ireland against Wales on Thursday and Slovenia next Monday while Marouane Fellaini looks set to feature for Belgium against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal on  the 29th March.

Guillermo Varela has been handed a first senior Uruguayan call-up for the World Cup qualifiers against Brazil and Peru.
Sergio Romero and Marcos Rojo are in Argentina's plans for their encounters with Chile and Bolivia.
A fourth red in South American action is Antonio Valencia with the fit-again Ecuadorian returning to his country's squad for the fixtures vs Paraguay and Colombia.  

Thursday 24 March

Italy v Spain (Darmian, De Gea, Mata)
Wales v Northern Ireland (McNair)
Chile v Argentina (Romero, Rojo)
Ecuador v Paraguay (Valencia)

Friday 25 March

Netherlands v France (Blind, Memphis, Martial, Schneiderlin)
Brazil v Uruguay (Varela)

Saturday 26 March

Germany v England (Schweinsteiger, Smalling)

Sunday 27 March

Romania v Spain (De Gea, Mata)

Monday 28 March

Northern Ireland v Slovenia (McNair)

Tuesday 29 March

Belgium v Portugal (Fellaini)
Germany v Italy (Schweinsteiger, Darmian)
England v Netherlands (Smalling, Blind, Memphis)
France v Russia (Martial, Schneiderlin)
Argentina v Bolivia (Rojo, Romero)
Colombia v Ecuador (Valencia)
Uruguay v Peru (Varela) 

Monday 21 March 2016

Local lads can help United restore their identity

The most evocative picture of the 171st Manchester derby was not that of Marcus Rashford's celebration but rather the melee that followed Martin Demichelis' trip on the young striker.

While the spineless referee Michael Oliver observed, Jesse Lingard piled in to protect his team-mate.
Eliaquim Mangala tugged at Lingard's shirt whilst Demichelis and Fernandinho tried to intimidate Rashford, but ten days after the Liverpool surrender the two local lads proved they will fight, fight, fight for United.

Wayne Rooney's pre-match speech lifted and galvanised the players, and the Fletcher Moss graduates were not the only ones whom were pumped up for the derby.
Daley Blind produced his most impressive performance yet in a running battle (literally at times) with Sergio Aguero and Matteo Darmian, in his best showing since August, brought some catenaccio canniness to the United rearguard.

In a soul-destroying season, lads from Warrington and Wythenshaw played a pivotal part in deciding a Manchester derby.
Rashford started both Under-21 encounters on the left this season, but exactly a month on from his last outing at the Etihad, he is the first team's no.9.

Rashford could become the first United academy striker to genuinely succeed at the club since Mark Hughes.
Mark Robins and Danny Welbeck were bit part players, whilst Paul Scholes was converted into an attacking midfielder.

Rashford has the pace and finishing ability to spearhead the attack in a team whose manager treasures possession more than goals.

Lingard- a late developer after numerous loan spells, arguably does more damage off the ball than on it such is his intelligent movement and awareness.
Louis van Gaal has made some baffling tactical decisions this season but deploying Lingard as a no.10 really stumped City's plodding midfielders.

Before Sheikh Mansour's millions changed the rivalry, Sir Alex tended to flood his teams against City with homegrown academy talents.

Van Gaal's United are still suffering an identity crisis, but players like Lingard and Rashford are channeling the spirit of the Class of 92 as well as easing supporters' worries.

One player was said to have questioned whether his teammates understood the rivalry with Liverpool but United's performance at City will have reassured him.

Whoever United's manager is next season, youth is an integral ingredient in the rebuilding of the squad.
Lingard and Rashford have emerged as keepers of the flame when their academy is in a state of flux and Van Gaal or Mourinho need to supplement them at senior level.

With emerging talents including Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Joe Riley and Axel Tuanzebe, United's Academy crop is the best since 2011 and should be eased into the first team fold to prove that they're good enough and old enough. 

Rashford, Lingard and other talking points from the derby

A month ago Marcus Rashford was playing for United's under 21s against City's EDS at the Etihad Stadium.

He played on the left that day but the 18-year-old is already central to Louis van Gaal's plans for the remainder of the season.

He roasted Martin Demichelis for the goal and should have had a penalty just before half-time.
More than that, his work rate was incredible.

Out on his feet and struggling with cramp, only he will know where he found the energy to sprint into the corner to hold the ball up in the final minute.

It's easy to forget that this is Jesse Lingard's first full season in the senior side but Van Gaal trusted him to play a key role at the Etihad, picking him as the no.10 ahead of Juan Mata.

His ability to find space and nullify the dangerous Fernandinho when City had the ball were the main reasons United had such a good first half.

Switched to the right in the second half, he was almost playing as a right back for the final 10 minutes as United had to stand strong, but even that didn't bother him.

As it stands, Michael Carrick can leave Old Trafford for nothing in the summer. He's not had his best season- it's not surprising when he's pushing 35- but he showed against City that he deserved a new deal.

He can't play every game any more but he's still a big match player.

His passing was good and his awareness of the danger was vital in the second half. 

At one stage he instinctively dropped into the back four to cover after Daley Blind had chased the ball into midfield.

His experience is still vital.

United were good but Marcos Rojo had a bad day at the office.

He lost Jesus Navas in the first 10 seconds and never seemed to recover against the raw pace of the Spanish winger.

He was lucky not to come off at half time after 45 minutes of giving the ball away and gifting Navas another chance to flash the ball across goal.

He was eventually hooked early in the second half and replaced with Antonio Valencia as Matteo Darmian moved to the left.

Luke Shaw can't come back quickly enough.

Louis van Gaal took a lot of stick for his substitutions against Liverpool on Thursday but he got his decisions right against City.

He recognised that Rojo was struggling against Navas and then introduced Bastian Schweinsteiger to tighten up the midfield when City were threatening to overrun us.

He was also quick to take off Matteo Darmian after he moved to the left. 

The Italian was struggling with cramp and the fresh legs helped United to see out the last 20 minutes.
Even though it was frantic, we were never really in trouble. 

Sunday 20 March 2016

City 0-1 United: Van Gaal's faith in youth continues to pay off

A lad from Wythenshawe sealed victory for United in the 171st Manchester derby at the Etihad.

Academies 1 Untold riches 0. Youth 1 Experience 0 City 0 United 1. 

In this bizarre topsy turvy world of Louis van Gaal, United fans have been grudgingly inhabiting that he has once again defied the odds when it's least expected.

It truly was do-or-die (again) for the Reds Champions League ambitions next season and, having had the unpalatable debit on his Old Trafford CV of a European KO by Liverpool, the Dutchman managed to engineer a derby win on away territory.

His credit column has finally got a decent addition in this campaign of angst.

With his future arguably on the line, Van Gaal showed that there is no room for sentiment in this game.

Martin Demichelis was a Bundesliga title-winning stalwart for the United boss at Bayern Munich in the 2009-10 season in Germany.

The 35-year-old Argentine was also one of the first picks for the Dutchman in his German rearguard for the 2010 Champions League final against Inter and knocked Van Gaal's Netherlands out of the 2014 World Cup in the semi finals. 
When the now City defender was in his pomp, Marcus Rashford was only just in junior school and slowly making his way in United's academy system. 

Six years on from his prime, Demichelis was targeted by Van Gaal for some old school United treatment.

Rashford probably watched both Demichelis big moments on the most prized European and World stages on TV in his Wythenshawe family home never daring to believe he'd cross swords with him one day in a Manchester derby.

Demichelis will now wish that dream had never become reality at the Etihad.

You can debate for the length of LVG's tenure whether Rashford would ever have got his opportunity had Wayne Rooney not been sidelined by his knee ligament injury.

Van Gaal has always stated that his captain has special privileges so you can guess that the young Mancunian might have been watching this at home like those other momentous moments had Rooney been available.


After his whirlwind start of four goals in two games, came the not unexpected tail off of form recently but Rashford was back on it big time at City.

In the shadow of the Blues much-vaunted £200m academy HQ, it was a reminder that United are still unrivalled when it comes to production line talent. 

A message to whoever eventually follows Van Gaal into the post that you ignore that history and interwoven tradition at your peril. 

City 0-1 United: Reaction and analysis as Reds take the derby

Without Marouane Fellaini's cumbersome and clumsy presence, the difference in United was marked as Louis van Gaal's big game brilliance again worked a treat. 

Having bowed out of the Europa League on Thursday and going into the international break off the back of a hectic period, this was a showing of resilience, discipline and character as the Reds moved to within a point of fourth. 

Morgan Schneiderlin has, like many of his team mates, endured something of an indifferent season but had his best game in a United shirt to date at the Etihad. 

Much better in a more forward role, his engine and energy allowed greater fluidity and his range of passing - in tandem with the equally excellent Michael Carrick - utilised the pace and width provided by Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. 

Plenty worried that  Carrick might struggle in the heat of an away derby but he was arguably the team's best performer and kept the City midfield in check.

Following a run of eight successive starts that left him looking jaded, there had been calls for Rashford to be rested going into the international break but he had a new lease of life at the Etihad.

Not only did he score the decisive goal, but his work rate and selfless running belied a bout of cramp as he ran to the corner to hold up the ball in the final seconds of stoppage time.

The 'Rashford for England' clamour may grow after another flash of brilliance, but it may be too soon for Roy Hodgson to be tempted into calling him up.
He is undoubtedly a precocious talent and one thing's for sure: if it does not happen now it surely will before too long. 

United's front three must have been one of the youngest in derby history but Jesse Lingard excelled in an unorthodox central position to play dangerously and intelligently whilst Anthony Martial constantly caused City problems.

Juan Mata came out on top in the battle of the Spaniards against David Silva, and whilst he drifted in and out of the game before being taken off, he provided the pass from which Rashford slotted in the winner. 

Playing 80 minutes against Sergio Aguero when on a yellow is far from ideal but Chris 'Mike' Smalling was back to his imperious best with a dominant defensive showing as United came under siege in the second half to rightly earn the man of the match award. 

He's had his critics but Daley Blind proved a solid sidekick for Smalling as he contained Sergio Aguero to great effect in a battle that turned feisty late in the first half.

Manchester is Red as Rashford rises to sink City

Louis van Gaal has been living with speculation about his future since before Christmas, and he awoke to reports from Spain claiming the imminent arrival of Jose Mourinho.

But yet once more, he managed to grind out an important victory which not only gives United and their fans the pleasure of a victory over their arch rivals but keeps them right in the hunt for a top-four finish.

Van Gaal has been criticised this season but one area where he deserves immense credit is his willingness to put faith in youth-  and Marcus Rashford delivered for him with a wonderful piece of skill and initiative that got him the goal.

He also made the wise decision to go without Marouane Fellaini and restore Morgan Schneiderlin whom duly delivered his best performance in a United shirt to date.

This took away United's temptation to hit long balls towards the Belgian midfielder - awful in recent weeks - and meant we could utilise the verve, pace and width provided by young attacking trio Jesse Lingard, Rashford and Anthony Martial.

It gave United extra fluency as well as speed and greater tempo without Fellaini clogging things up and slowing moves down and perhaps this will be a lesson that Van Gaal will now learn.

Rashford showed his precocious skill at 18 years and 141 days with a demonstration of lightning pace and fleet of foot to ghost past hapless City centre-back Demichelis and slide home the finish of a veteran.

The Dutchman may yet go at the end of the season - indeed this still looks more than likely - but with United still in the race for the top four and still in the FA Cup, he may leave Old Trafford with something to remember him by.

Van Gaal's decision to play Lingard at no.10 ahead of Juan Mata paid off as  United were the better team in the first half and took their one real chance.
Asked to do an unfamiliar job behind the striker, Lingard was impressive and linked the play to excellent effect.

He found a lot of space in between City's defence and midfield, especially in the first half, and did a valuable spoiling job on Fernandinho when City had the ball. 

We had to weather a second half onslaught but - thanks to the performance of Chris Smalling and Daley Blind whom were both outstanding - we stood up well.

The Reds are still in the race for the top four and a point off fourth place with eight games to go.

It's going to be tight - especially with difficult trips to Tottenham and West Ham to come - but we've given ourselves a chance which looked unlikely a few weeks ago. 

Match report: City 0-1 United

The Reds moved to within a point of the Blues as Marcus Rashford wrote himself into United folklore with a superbly taken winner at the Etihad.

The local lad- on his Manchester derby debut- produced the match winning moment early in the first half when he nutmegged Martin Demichelis and did the rest with a composed finish past Joe Hart on 16 minutes.

The reverse fixture at Old Trafford in October was a largely cagey and sterile affair, but this contest started at lightning pace and the hosts went close twice early on.

Jesus Navas volleyed narrowly wide before the Spaniard was denied by the sprawling David de Gea after neat link up between compatriot David Silva and Raheem Sterling. 

City were made to pay for their early profligacy when, with a little over a quarter of an hour played, Rashford hit home what proved to be the winner.

Juan Mata found space in midfield and picked out the 18 year old whom left Demichelis for dead and curled home his fifth goal in eight United games to put the visitors ahead.

Hart saved well to keep out the impressive Anthony Martial, but City remained a threat at the other end and should have equalised when Demichelis nodded wide from a Silva set-piece.

Sterling was then forced off through injury and United had a strong penalty appeal waved away when Rashford went down in first half stoppage time.

City's day then went from bad to worse when Hart was injured clearing an underhit back pass, but stand in stopper Willy Caballero soon saved well from Martial's deflected strike to prevent a second United goal.

That chance sparked Manuel Pellegrini's side into life and the hosts went close twice in quick succession on the hour mark.

Substitute Wilfried Bony's goalbound flick was kept out by the superb Chris Smalling and United scourge Sergio Aguero headed off a post from Yaya Toure's teasing delivery.

City were now on top but, for all their pressing, De Gea was a relative bystander as United expertly soaked up the pressure and looked to hit their hosts on the counter.

As the match entered six minutes of added time, United's battling display was almost undone in the cruellest fashion by a man whom has so often hurt us.

Aguero took down and turned on Silva's diagonal pass but could only pull wide from eight yards in a chance that summed up his side's afternoon.

Instead, the points and derby-day bragging rights belong to Louis van Gaal's United on a memorable day for Rashford and the Reds.

Overall team performance: 8.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: An immense all round team performance but Chris Smalling was the pick of the bunch. Stood up hugely against Aguero when on an early booking. 

Friday 18 March 2016

Match preview: City v United

The 171st Manchester derby brings with it a strange set of circumstances as United travel five miles across town looking for a first win at the Etihad in three seasons.

Manuel Pellegrini's side sit four points ahead of United but the pre-season title favourites are 12 points adrift of leaders Leicester after a patchy 2016 ahead of what looks the most insignificant and unpredictable meeting in years.

City's domestic indifference has come against a backdrop of a historic European run- in contrast to United's early exit- as they have made the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time where they will face PSG in 'El Cashico'. 

Pellegrini will sign off from his City spell with a trophy in his final season after winning the League Cup but, instead of the expected title challenge, they- like us- face a battle to merely finish in the top four.

That should not be considered a noteworthy achievement for either side- more a minimum requirement- but even with a defeat on Sunday, Pellegrini's men will remain in a strong position for a top three finish and automatic Champions League qualification.  

Ander Herrera missed the Liverpool match with a tight groin but Bastian Schweinsteiger and Antonio Valencia both came off the bench and could be pushing for starts on Sunday.

Juan Mata has served his domestic ban whilst Ashley Young and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson have returned to training and may also feature.
Wayne Rooney, Luke Shaw, Phil Jones and Will Keane all miss out, as do defensive duo Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi for the hosts. 

"We have to disorganise the defence of Manchester City, we know that Vincent Kompany and maybe Otamendi also shall not play, so we can analyze that and then you can discuss the  game plan" said Louis van Gaal.
"This also depends on which players are fit to play as we cannot train in between, so the recovery time is very short but we have to cope with that

"Any match against City is very important for the players and the fans as well as it is a derby- the same as Liverpool- so it shall be a similar match to the last time but we have to deliver a good performance" added Van Gaal.

The corresponding fixture ended in a goalless stalemate at Old Trafford- only the third such stalemate in the Premier League era- but United are without a win at the Etihad since 2012 having lost there the last two seasons.

Form guide: City W D L W D D United W W L L D D
Match odds: City 4/5 Draw 11/5 United 7/2
Referee: Michael Oliver 

Five Van Gaal substitutions that have baffled us

As United bowed out of the Europa League to Liverpool on Thursday night, Louis van Gaal's substitutions again came under the spotlight.

Philippe Coutinho's goal just before half-time meant United had to win 4-1 on the night to get through.

Van Gaal said he was confident his team could do that if required but in the second half he brought on Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian and Bastian Schweinsteiger and left Memphis on the bench.

It's not the first time his subs haven't made sense. 

Adnan Januzaj (v Sunderland), August 2014

With United chasing a winner at the Stadium of Light in his second game in charge, he swapped holding midfielder Darren Fletcher for Adnan Januzaj.

But instead of pushing Januzaj forward to get a goal - at a ground where he scored twice the season before - he was deployed as a holding midfielder alongside Tom Cleverley.

United created next to nothing and had to settle for a 1-1 draw against a side who would go on to struggle.

Marouane Fellaini (v CSKA Moscow), November 2015

With United again looking for a goal, this time in Europa against CSKA, Van Gaal replaced Anthony Martial with Fellaini in a change that was greeted with boos from the Old Trafford faithful.

Ultimately, Van Gaal got away with it as Michael Carrick, Jesse Lingard and Wayne Rooney combined to find a late goal in a 1-0 win.

Nick Powell (v Wolfsburg), December 2015

United needed to win in Germany to be sure of keeping their Champions League campaign alive.
It was a surprise when Van Gaal named Nick Powell on the bench with the midfielder only just back from a year out.

It was an even bigger surprise when he was thrown in place of Juan Mata after 69 minutes.
With Wolfsburg leading 2-1 and United needing to score twice, Van Gaal left Ashley Young and Andreas Pereira on the bench in favour of Powell.

He had very little impact, United eventually lost 3-2 to go out and a month later Powell was on loan at Hull. 

Timothy Fosu-Mensah (v West Brom), March 2015

United were a goal and a man down at the Hawthorns with 10 minutes to go but instead of turning to attacking options Marouane Fellaini and James Weir, Van Gaal decided to change his right-back.

Timothy Fosu-Mensah came on for Matteo Darmian while Fellaini and Weir spent the rest of the match on the bench.
United barely created anything as West Brom held on comfortably.

Marcos Rojo (v Watford), November 2015.

Another one that Van Gaal got away with but it very nearly cost us the game. 

Ander Herrera got injured midway through the first half with United dominant, but Van Gaal's decision to put on Rojo, instead of the attack minded Pereira, upset United's equilibrium as Watford staged a second half fightback.

Van Gaal switched to his ill-fated 3-5-2 and needed a late Troy Deeney own goal to snatch the win. 

Poor tactics and bad game management cost us dear

Louis van Gaal's decisions and tactical set up again made little to no sense against Liverpool.

Chasing three goals to rescue the tie, his rigid and inflexible 4-2-3-1 system - with Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini as the axis - was never likely to produce the result we needed.

United's spirit and endeavour was admirable, especially in the form of young forwards Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, but there is no surge of old in this team.

Once Philippe Coutinho's goal went in there was no sense, no belief, inside Old Trafford that a come back from days of yesteryear would ensue.

It did not.

Ander Herrera was missing, which did have an affect on United's tempo and intensity but why Van Gaal ignored the gritty steel of Morgan Schneiderlin in favour of the incompatible Carrick and Fellaini was hard to fathom.

The Frenchman has, like many of his team-mates, suffered an inconsistent season, but when on form his engine and industry is important to United but it appears Van  Gaal remains unconvinced. 

Not for the first time, his substitutions were extremely strange.

Granted, United never looked like finding the three goals we needed to go through - and the tie had all but gone by then - but Van Gaal should have at least been seen to try and go for it.

Instead, the cavalry consisted of right-back Antonio Valencia, left-back Matteo Darmian and veteran Bastian Schweinsteiger in place of another veteran in Michael Carrick.

Van Gaal has a paucity of attacking options available but the one forward thinking option he did have, Memphis Depay, was left kicking his heels on the bench.

Why was Juan Mata on the right? 

His best performances have come in his favoured position tucked in behind in the number 10 position, but United needed to play on the front foot and the Spaniard is wasted out wide.

He lacks the pace to go past people and instead is at his best pulling the strings as a playmaker- as he has done to great affect in recent weeks - so his positional switch to the wing made little sense.

Van Gaal and United's game management was, once again, not good enough.

In the ten minutes between Martial's penalty and half-time, we needed to consolidate, solidify, play sensibly and regroup.

Instead, naivety and inexperience struck again as the Reds went for the jugular too early, exposing themselves at the back.

Conceding on the stroke of half-time killed us and left us needing four to progress, which we never looked capable of. 

United were once trailblazers and pioneers, feared and revered throughout Europe under Busby and Ferguson (even Moyes got us into the Champions League quarter finals!!) 

Out at the round of 16 in Europe's secondary club competition, those days couldn't look any further away right now. 

Klopp and Van Gaal have their sides heading in opposite directions

On the evidence of these two Europa League ties, Jurgen Klopp has built a Liverpool side more in his own image and likeness in four months than Louis van Gaal has managed in two years at United.

Klopp's side weren't at their best at Old Trafford but still demonstrated an intensity, work rate and quick counter-attacking style that he regards as the trademark of his teams.

He's only been at Anfield since October - and the squad is one inherited from Brendan Rodgers -  but you can already see a clear Klopp imprint.

In contrast, United are a team on the drift, without personality, plan or direction.

If Van Gaal is putting his own stamp on this side, it is almost impossible to detect. 

This was not a bad performance from United, but it came too late to repair the damage after the dismal display in the first leg at Anfield.

Liverpool thoroughly deserved to progress over the two games and United are no nearer a firm tactical template than they were when Van Gaal arrived.

Liverpool, already, play like a Klopp team, which is an ideal platform for progress but for us, on the other hand, there is no discernible style or direction.

They have a manager in for the long haul accompanied by a feel-good factor - we have a manager that many believe will not be at Old Trafford beyond the end of this season - and the uncertainty is plain to see.

The German's heart-on-his sleeve management style, a whirlwind of activity and emotion in his technical area, is the polar opposite to LVG's rule by clipboard from his seat in the dugout.

Klopp already seems to be carrying his players with him in a manner that has eluded Van Gaal in almost two seasons at United. 

Players such as Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho have brought into Klopp's approach and the German has established an instant connection with Liverpool's fans.

United, in contrast, seem stuck and no one is more stuck than Marouane Fellaini, a symbol of where it all started to go wrong after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.

The ill-fated David Moyes paid £27.5m for his former Everton midfielder but, unloved by the crowd and struggling to find any semblance of form, it's painful to watch. 

United's targets now are a place in the top four and winning the FA Cup, with a testing replay at West Ham on the horizon.

Van Gaal's tenure is stuttering along at pedestrian pace and any finish outside the top four would surely be fatal for his chances of seeing out the final year of his contract. 

Thursday 17 March 2016

United 1-1 Liverpool: What we learned as United bow out of Europe

Described as very tired two weeks ago, Daley Blind has started every United game since late October and was supposed to be ruled out of the Europa League tie.

Needing goals to remain in Europe, United were bound to be porous and never quite had the measure of an attack with two of the most talented forwards in the country.

With Michael Carrick ahead of Blind, he lacked sufficient cover when on the back foot. 

United were not as over reliant on the Dutchman's distribution as they were at Anfield with Carrick in the side, but it speaks volumes of Louis Van Gaal's inexplicably casual preparations that when a stopgap central defender like Blind might be sidelined it sparks widespread panic.

Guillermo Varela was United's best player against West Ham but he was the worst against Liverpool.

Even before Philippe Coutinho practically walked past him for their goal, the young Uruguayan's composure was lacking and his positional awareness, one of his biggest weaknesses, afforded Liverpool plenty of space down the left, which made his interval withdrawal inevitable.

Van Gaal might not have planned on using Varela at all this season with Matteo Darmian, Antonio Valencia and even Ashley Young ahead of him.

 But, however, it is hypocritical of the United manager to retain someone as raw and risky as Varela and sell Rafael, a player whose cult status was built on his all-action performances, particularly against Liverpool.

Two years and one day ago, United lost at home to Liverpool in a 4-2-3-1 formation with a defensive midfield axis of Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini.

United's regression to the David Moyes level occurred months ago but Van Gaal has a spectacular tendency to channel his inner Scot.

It says a lot about the Dutchman's reign and his flawed thinking that had Morgan Schneiderlin - a player who is essential as United rebuild their spine - lined up it would have been a surprise.

In such a rigid formation, the Reds were bypassed as the attempt at fluidity was limited to Jesse Lingard's and Juan Mata's interchanging.

United are more spirited than the David Moyes side but they are easy to counter against even with such a 'safe' manager in charge.

We didn't have the intensity to counter Liverpool's attack with the 34-year old Carrick patrolling the midfield with Ander Herrera not risked.

Bastian Schweinsteiger was not regarded as fit enough and Darmian might still be ring-rusty but Van Gaal's hesitancy over Schneiderlin is a symptom of the problematic and restrictive 4-2-3-1 which has defined United's joyless season.

Match report: United 1-1 Liverpool (1-3 agg)

United were knocked out of the Europa League despite a spirited fightback as Liverpool completed the job to progress to the quarter-finals.

Anthony Martial's penalty gave Louis van Gaal's side hope of a memorable turnaround, but Philippe Coutinho's brilliant goal on the stroke of half-time put the tie to bed.

2-0 down from the Anfield leg, the Reds started brightly and, roared on by a raucous Old Trafford crowd, carved out three good chances inside the opening 20 minutes. 

Jesse Lingard should have done better with a header, Martial also went close and Juan Mata skewed wide from six yards.

David de Gea was soon called into action at the other end, though, with a stunning save to keep out Coutinho's low goalbound effort.

United simply had to score first and were given the chance to do just that when Martial went down under a challenge from Nathaniel Clyne just beyond the half hour mark. 

The Frenchman stroked in his twelfth of the season from the spot to give United a lifeline but the goal lifted Liverpool out of their shell and the visitors twice went close to a quickfire leveller.

Daniel Sturridge struck the bar from a free-kick and Jordan Henderson spurned a glorious opening when one-on-one.

Marcos Rojo then somehow failed to convert from five yards and United were to rue that miss as Jurgen Klopp's side equalised right on half-time.

Coutinho had a lot of work to do down the left, but worked his way past Guillermo Varela and into the area before clipping in a wonderful dinked effort over De Gea on the angle.

Despite now needing four to progress, Van Gaal's side manfully continued to press as Marcus Rashford lashed a shot wide and Marouane Fellaini nodded straight at Mignolet when well placed.

With time ticking on and the tie slipping away from United, Liverpool looked the more likely to come away the winners on the night.

Sturridge hammered an effort wide on the counter attack, whilst the excellent Coutinho continued to cause United problems.

The Brazilian playmarker twice forced impressive stops from De Gea, Fellaini fired over and Jesse Lingard saw another penalty appeal turned down.

That proved to be the last action of a frustrating night for United as Klopp's side take their place in Friday's draw for the quarter-finals.

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the match: Daley Blind 

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Match preview: United v Liverpool (0-2 agg)

Louis van Gaal has admitted that his side face a "big challenge" and issued a rallying cry to the fans as United attempt to overturn a significant Europa League deficit on Thursday. 

First leg goals from Daniel Sturridge (a penalty) and Roberto Firmino have left the Reds with a mountain to climb at Old Trafford.
After the 2-0 defeat at Anfield last week, United must win by at least three clear goals to progress to the quarter-finals. 

A 2-0 win would send the tie into extra-time with the possibility of penalties looming large, though a single Liverpool away goal would leave United needing four in reply to progress. 

Despite that prospect, Van Gaal refused to give up hope and said that his side are 'thinking only of scoring'

"It is much more important that we beat Liverpool tomorrow and that is our aim.
"When we can do that with two goals difference and without conceding, then we have extra-time and, with our fans, we can make it.
"It is always a big challenge when you are behind, but the atmosphere at Anfield had a big impact and I hope it shall be the same for us also- we don't fulfill the expectations and still the fans of Manchester United support this team so that is fantastic
"We have to believe and we are not thinking about conceding, but if we do it is possible to score four as we have done in the last round against Midtjylland." 

Luke Shaw, Wayne Rooney, Phil Jones and Will Keane remain long term absentees for United,  Ashley Young, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Antonio Valencia are not ready to return whilst Bastian Schweinsteiger is still not fit enough to start.
Jesse Lingard missed the first leg through suspension but is available for this one and looks likely to feature. 

Jurgen Klopp (who steps out for the first time at Old Trafford as a manager) and his in-form side topped their group in this season's Europa League and reached this stage with a narrow aggregate win over Augsburg in the last round.

"2-0 was an almost perfect result, we would liked to have won more clearly but there is nothing to criticise
"We are in a good position and want to go to the next round but the job is not finished yet" said the German.

Form guide: United W W W L L D Liverpool D W D W W W
Match odds: United 34/5 Draw 8/4 Liverpool 12/4 United to win 3-0 33/1
Referee: Serbian Milorad 
Mazic (voted the World Cup's worst) 

United need spirit of 84 to turn fortunes around

The Reds disappointing performance at Anfield that sees us go into the last 16 home leg 2-0 down have revived memories of that unforgettable Cup Winners Cup night 32 years ago this month against Barcelona.

United, then under the stewardship of 'Big' Ron Atkinson, were two down from their first leg against the mighty Barcelona at the Camp Nou. 

But Diego Maradona, Bernd Schuster and co were overturned in Manchester and two goals from Captain Marvel Bryan Robsonv- added to by Frank Stapleton's clincher - drove his United side to a sensational 3-0 victory and aggregate success in front of a delirious Old Trafford faithful. 

"That night against Barca was the best night of my career- the fans were outstanding and it was a superhuman effort to get us through and if we do that again on Thursday it will go down as United's greatest ever victory over Liverpool" said Robbo. 

Robson believes the advantage of Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool from the encounter on Merseyside can similarly turn from despair to triumph for Louis van Gaal and his side. 

The frenzied atmosphere that night was arguably the best the stadium has ever witnessed, Anfield was a cauldron in the first game and a Stretford End inspired intimidating night could help tip the balance in the Reds favour. 

Liverpool at home and in Europe - even in the Europa League  - is enough to get Old Trafford bouncing. 

Bastian Schweinsteiger surely has to start on Thursday: his introduction against West Ham changed the game and, with the Reds chasing an early goal, his ability to dictate the game and set the tempo will be key.

He's not started a game since early January but Van Gaal is a fan of picking the German for the biggest games and - if he comes through unscathed - has to be considered for City on Sunday as well. 

Van Gaal has earned himself the reputation of being a cautious manager but that will have to change against Liverpool.

LVG has no choice - already 2-0 down and chasing the game, he has to send United out to attack.
Unfortunately, it's not something Van Gaal's United side have become known for and it's an approach that will play into Liverpool's hands, but that's the position we've left ourselves in. 

A single away goal for the visitors would surely end any lingering hope of a comeback, and there's a danger that United will leave themselves open to being caught on the break with Jurgen Klopp an exponent of "gegenpressing" counter attacks but the Reds have to accommodate that risk. 

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Huge week for Reds and Everton await if we get past Hammers

Louis van Gaal's assertion that United are "still in three competitions" may have been an admirable sign of defiance but realistically looks wide of the mark. 

Ahead of a huge week in which we face Liverpool on Thursday and then travel to City on Sunday, he may technically be correct but it's difficult to make a case for the Reds' progress in any of the three tournaments he referred to.

The in-form Merseysiders arrive at Old Trafford with a 2-0 first leg advantage, we face a difficult FA Cup replay at Upton Park (for which West Ham are favourites) and- perish the thought- City can all but put us out of the race for the top four with derby victory on Sunday.

United rescued a Champions League tie against Olympiakos under David Moyes from a similar position and our history is littered with such turnarounds, but given our attacking shortcomings this season can anyone really back us to turn this one around? 

Jurgen Klopp's style of play presses teams into submission and- whilst it's difficult to envisage United scoring three times (we've only managed that four times all season at home)- it's also a stretch of the imagination to see Liverpool not scoring the one goal they need to surely put the tie to bed.

Bastian Schweinsteiger's introduction against West Ham was pivotal as United staged a late rally, and the German must surely start on Thursday- we need an early goal and his ability to set the tempo and spread the play will be key.

Sunday's derby at the Etihad is arguably the most insignificant in years- in terms of the title at least- but both sides indifferent form also makes it the most unpredictable. 

Stuttering City have won only three of their last nine in all competitions- a run that included three straight losses- and the pre-season title favourites are 12 points behind leaders Leicester.

Victory for them would effectively end our hopes of a top four finish but a win for us would put us back to within a point and leave Manuel Pellegrini's side looking nervously over their shoulders.

The winners of United's FA Cup replay with West Ham will face Everton in the semi-finals at Wembley with Watford and Palace facing off in the other last four tie.

Should we prevail at Upton Park, the two sides will meet in the competition for the first time since David Moyes' Everton knocked a youthful United side out (on penalties) at the same stage in 2009. 

West Ham and United are the two highest ranked sides left so whoever wins the Upton Park replay will be favourites to go on and win the most wide open FA Cup competition in years. 

Monday 14 March 2016

Still in the hat but Hammers are now semi final favourites

Our FA Cup quarter-final with West Ham is still in the balance but the Hammers will now be considered slight favourites with an Upton Park replay on the horizon.

Sunday's match followed the familiar pattern of so many of others this term: plenty of possession, no cutting edge, not much luck and falling behind.

There were flashes of the 'old United'- the late rally, Anthony Martial's equaliser and terrific fighting spirit to rescue the game- but this was, largely, another frustrating outing. 

Smarting from the genius of Dimitri Payet's opener, Louis van Gaal's side showed their much-missed powers of recovery to rally.
Europa League success in unlikely but the silver polish might yet be needed this season. 

I think both sets of fans will agree that a draw and subsequent replay was the fairest outcome, but the fact that we only sparked into life when 1-0 down will leave some United fans with a feeling of what might have been. 

Whilst we're in the hat for the semi finals, you can't help but feel we've missed our opportunity ahead of the replay down at Upton Park with the Hammers home advantage the key factor in the right to seal a Wembley semi-final. 

Unusually, United and Van Gaal will find themselves in the position of underdogs ahead of the replay. 

There are many reasons why Slaven Bilic's side have to be considered favourites from here: our poor away form, their strong home record and the fact that it will be their last FA Cup tie at the Boleyn ahead of their impending move to the Olympic Stadium. 

That has undoubtedly had a sentimentally positive effect on fans and players alike as they bid farewell to their home of 112 years, desperate to mark the occasion with a fantastic season.

West Ham are unbeaten at Upton Park since August, in contrast we've only won eight away games all season- only three of which have come in 2016- and have often looked short of inspiration and confidence when we hit the road.

The Reds are vulnerable away from home, West Ham will have the bit between their teeth and the atmosphere will be at fever pitch when United come to town for the last hurrah. 

Yet United and Van Gaal have proved that we're capable of producing a result when it's least expected: the away games at Everton and Liverpool this season and we'll look to draw on that again in the East End. 

This is the most open FA Cup in years: Manchester City, Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal are all eliminated, with Palace, Watford and Everton already assured of a Wembley berth ahead of Monday's semi final draw. 

Sunday 13 March 2016

Martial and Basti impress again but Fellaini divides opinion

In amongst the rubble and wreckage of United's traumatic season, the £36m purchase of Anthony Martial has been one of the few shining lights. 

The 20-year-old came to the rescue for his side and manager, just as West Ham looked on course to knock the Reds out of the FA Cup.

The busy Frenchman was tireless and energetic throughout and got his reward when he reacted first at the far post to turn in Ander Herrera's cross.

If United had gone out here, Van Gaal would have been left banking on his side delivering the sort of comeback we look incapable of producing as Liverpool arrive at Old Trafford with a
2-0 Europa League first leg lead.

Not only would an FA Cup exit effectively have ended our season but it would almost certainly have ended Van Gaal's tenure at the end of the campaign.

Martial's goal at least gives us a fighting chance to salvage some silverware from the season. 

The giant figure of Marouane Fellaini has always been a square peg in a round hole at Old Trafford, a player out of step with the club's traditions of fast, attacking play.

It has not always been the Belgian's fault, but the regard in which he is held was emphasised by the loud cheers that greeted his substitution, the loudest of the day at that point. 

Fellaini has a David-Moyes shaped stigma hanging over him which he cannot shift and, on this occasion, did not deserve the sarcastic cheers.
He was tidy in the tackle and solid in possession, but he struggled to make an impact in his defensive role and his passing is too ponderous to effectively start our attacks from deep. 

His cause was not helped by the fact that United's play was totally transformed once he went off and replaced by Bastian Schweinsteiger.

United had been one-dimensional and stodgy with too many long balls and unimaginative ideas that proved too predictable for the West Ham defence.

Van Gaal's changes finally saw us produce pace, width and threat, with the 31-year-old German showing all his qualities and experience to spread the play and belatedly give the Hammers something to think about. 

The sudden build up of pressure- sparked by the substitutions- led to the late rally and Martial's equaliser- so perhaps a lesson learned for Van Gaal. 

Schweinsteiger's leadership has been missed immensely during his two months out, and his introduction gave United an extra dimension and added urgency in an otherwise generally pedestrian match. 

Match report: United 1-1 West Ham

United and West Ham will meet again in an FA Cup replay after a late Anthony Martial equaliser cancelled out Dimitri Payet's controversial opener.

Payet had put the East London outfit ahead through an exquisite free-kick- although he shouldn't have been on the field at that point- before a late rally led to Martial's 83rd minute strike to deservedly take us back to Upton Park.

United had dominated the game but lacked a cutting edge and it was the visitors whom went close early on through an Andy Carroll header.

David de Gea saved well from Emmanuel Emenike whilst Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford had half-chances at the other end.

Ander Herrera volleyed wide from a Martial cut back and the Spaniard should then have done better following neat build up between the Frenchman and Marcos Rojo. 

West Ham- backed noisily by their 7,000 strong travelling support- ended the half well as Aaron Cresswell forcing a smart save from the sprawling De Gea.

United had a penalty appeal turned down when Herrera's goalbound drive bounced off the arm of Winston Reid, before Payet appeared to commit a dive under the attentions of Rojo inside the area.

The playmaker had already been booked and was lucky not to receive a second, but it was he whom conjured up a moment of magic to break the deadlock on 68 minutes.

The Frenchman unleashed an unstoppable 25 yard free-kick that left De Gea with no chance and put Slaven Bilic's side within sight of Wembley. 

Louis van Gaal introduced Bastian Schweinsteiger and Memphis and the changes instantly worked dividends as United upped the tempo and ante in pursuit of a leveller.

Guillermo Varela blocked Payet when one on one, but the hosts built a spell of pressure which saw Schweinsteiger lash off target and Memphis go close with a snapshot.

With seven minutes left, United got reward for the belated pressure as Herrera crossed from the right and Martial stole in at the back post to hook home. 

Michael Carrick fired narrowly wide as the Reds went in search of a winner, but West Ham remained a threat themselves and United needed a brilliant save from De Gea to deny Michail Antonio in stoppage time.

A flurry of corners from the visitors led to nothing and both sides will be reasonably happy with a draw as they prepare to meet again for the right to go to Wembley. 

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

Saturday 12 March 2016

Match preview: United v West Ham

United welcome in-form West Ham to Old Trafford for the second time this season with a place at Wembley at stake for the winners of this FA Cup quarter final. 

The league fixture between these two ended goalless in December, but Slaven Bilic's Dimitri Payet-inspired side have beaten Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City on their travels this term and arrive at Old Trafford on a six-match unbeaten run.

In their final campaign at Upton Park, the Hammers are enjoying a splendid season and their 3-2 win at Goodison Park last weekend- from 2-0 down- lifted them above United and to within two points of the Champions League positions. 

West Ham have knocked out Championship sides Wolves (1-0) and Blackburn (5-1) and sent Liverpool packing after a replay in round four to get this far.  

The Reds were knocked out by eventual winners Arsenal at this stage last year and it's been well documented that we've not won the FA Cup since 2004 and victory in this one  would set up a first semi-final since 2011. 

Louis van Gaal's side will be without Wayne Rooney, Luke Shaw, Ashley Young and the suspended Juan Mata but Bastian Schweinsteiger, Marouane Fellaini and Antonio Valencia are all available again and could feature as United's injury crisis eases.
Phil Jones and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson are nearing returns and Jesse Lingard looks set to come back into the squad after missing Thursday's European defeat at Anfield.

"We are still in three competitions, so we need to fight- we still have the chance to win a trophy and you have to believe in that" said  Van Gaal.
"There is of course much more pressure on us now, but it is also possible that we win against West Ham and then we can play at Wembley which will be the first time for me" added the boss.
"We have to go for everything and that's what we want- we'll try our best to win a trophy and make it a good season".

Crystal Palace and Everton sealed their quarter final spots with wins over the weekend whilst Arsenal host Watford in the other last eight tie. 

Form guide: United W W W W L L West Ham W D W W W W
Match odds: United 21/10 Draw 13/5 West Ham 16/5 (United to win FA Cup: 6/1)
Referee: Martin Atkinson 

Friday 11 March 2016

Match report: Liverpool 2-0 United

Goals from Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino put Liverpool firmly in command of this Europa League tie with United indebted to a string of fine saves from David de Gea.

The Reds face an uphill struggle in next week's second leg at Old Trafford but have De Gea to thank for keeping us in with any semblance of a chance after a virtuoso performance. 

As expected, the contest started at a frenetic pace in front of a raucous atmosphere and United immediately set about silencing the fervent Anfield crowd.
Marcus Rashford almost converted a Memphis cross on the stretch, but the first real opening of the match led to the breakthrough on 19 minutes.

Nathaniel Clyne surged forward from right-back and went down under a challenge from Memphis and, despite De Gea getting a hand to it, Sturridge slotted home the spot-kick with aplomb.

That goal sparked Liverpool into life and they looked certain to go 2-0 ahead just minutes later, only for De Gea to claw the ball away from point-blank range to keep out Philippe Coutinho. 

The Spaniard was called into action again shortly after the half-hour mark to deny the England international after Chris Smalling's slip had let him in, while Memphis and Marcos Rojo both blasted off-target from distance at the other end. 

Liverpool were not finished before the break, though, as Emre Can crossed for Adam Lallana, but De Gea once again came to United's rescue to excellently repel the volley.

Simon Mignolet was finally tested by Morgan Schneiderlin shortly after the break, but the hosts remained on the front foot and almost doubled their lead twice in quick succession on the hour mark.

De Gea tipped over from Coutinho when the Brazilian's dipping drive seemed destined for the top corner, and then once more reacted superbly to keep out Clyne when he palmed away the full back's fizzed effort. 

There was nothing he could do to prevent the second goal, which had been a long time coming and duly arrived on 73 minutes.

Substitute Michael Carrick's attempted clearance fell short and the ball dropped to Lallana whom cut it back for Firmino to roll home from six yards.

Despite the two goal deficit, United knew that an away goal would change the complexion of the tie, and the recalled Marouane Fellaini went closest to it with a header from substitute Bastian Schweinsteiger's cross but that was the best we could muster. 

Overall team performance: No rating
United Faithful Man of the Match: David de Gea. Magnificent and the only reason we're still in this. 

Wednesday 9 March 2016

English football's fiercest rivals set for maiden European meeting

Liverpool and United will lock horns for the 195th time on Thursday but our rivalry goes continental as the Reds of Merseyside and Manchester face off for the first time in

The two East Lancs Road rivals are separated by a mere 45km (27 miles) and three points in the Premier League but will put domestic dust ups aside in the first all-English European meeting for five years.  

The fact that the North-West giants meet in the Europa League rather than the Champions League reflects the fact that both of us are far from vintage at present but that only adds extra intrigue to an already deep-rooted and tribalistic rivalry.

United have a superior 79-64 head-to-head domestic record but English football's two most successful and widely supported clubs share 38 top flight titles and eight European Cups between them. 

Recent history makes United slight favourites for this two-legged tie having won four consecutive matches against the Anfield side - we've never won five in a row - something Louis van Gaal described as "unusual"

"It's curious that we have won against Liverpool so many times under me as it is unusual for any team to beat an opponent four times in a row.
"This time we are playing them in a cup competition but it shall not be much different from the last time" said the Dutchman, who will take charge of his 150th European tie as a coach in the second leg.

United, unlike Liverpool, have never won the UEFA Cup/Europa League but will be going all out to do so this time around with a Champions League spot at stake for the winners.

As well as their five European Cups/Champions League titles, the Merseyside men have won the second-tier tournament three times (1973, 1976 and 2001) alongside three Super Cup successes in 1977, 2001 and 2005.  

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp hopes that the Anfield atmosphere will be reminiscent of the club's finest Champions League matches, perhaps the best for several seasons.

"I couldn't imagine that years ago when I started out that one day I would be sitting on the Liverpool bench playing a European game against Manchester United.
"I would say that both clubs are in a good moment - I know that United lost their last match after winning four in a row but there had been a lot of pressure on their team and Louis van Gaal and they handled it really well.

"We can really enjoy the relationship with the fans and we can create a better atmosphere in the first leg than Manchester United in the second leg."

Match preview: Liverpool v United

This is a historic first meeting in European competition between English football's two most successful clubs and United manager Louis van Gaal is relishing a "fantastic occasion".

Van Gaal will become the first Reds boss to win five consecutive matches against the Merseyside men with victory on Thursday, but Liverpool are building a run of promising form under Jurgen Klopp and will look to take an advantage into next week's Old Trafford return.

The hosts come into this one off the back of three successive league wins- coupled with a penalty shootout defeat to City in the League Cup final- in what is sure to be a cauldron of noise for this first leg tie at Anfield. 

Jesse Lingard is suspended after picking up a booking in the last round against Midtjylland, but Antonio Valencia could be on the bench with Bastian Schweinsteiger also not far away from a return.

Adnan Januzaj and Tim Fosu-Mensah are both ineligible, with Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Luke Shaw and Wayne Rooney all still out for United. 

With both sides adrift of the Premier League pacesetters- and a Champions League spot up for grabs for the winner- the Europa League still remains the most likely route back to Europe's top table for both these sides, whom share eight European Cups between them.

"It is always a big game traditionally and historically, for the fans as well, especially because both sides are fighting for the Champions League so it is a very important match" said Van Gaal.
"It shall be a fantastic occasion, we have to win- it is a cup competition but it is no different because we want to win a trophy.
"The fans of Manchester United are appreciating playing the Europa League, we shall have 75,000 fans at Old Trafford (for the second leg) and Anfield is sold out also, so it's very important and everyone is looking forward to these games" added the Dutchman. 

Liverpool have won the UEFA Cup- the precursor to the Europa League- three times, most recently in 2001 whilst United are looking to go all the way for the first time having reached the last eight in 1985.

Liverpool narrowly edged out Klopp's countrymen Augsburg in the last round (1-0 on aggregate) and United saw off Danish champions Midtjylland 5-1 at home for a 6-3 overall success.

Form guide: Liverpool W D W D W W United L W W W W L
Match odds: Liverpool 11/10 Draw 5/1 United 10/5 

Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (Spain) 

Monday 7 March 2016

Van Gaal reverted to type in the Midlands- with predictably negative results (2/2)

Matteo Darmian's crossing was so bad he must have been practising with Antonio Valencia.
Varela has bombed on from full-back and claimed two assists of late, and typifies the 'too open' 'too risky' football that LVG despises so much.

Blunting United at full-back encouraged Albion to play more adventurously and Rondon's winner came via the surging run of Sebastien Pocognoli at left-back.

Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial's positioning was a dilemma after they switched roles against Watford but relegating the in-form Memphis back to the bench was another example of Van Gaal killing a player's confidence.

The winger completed one pass in 20 minutes- United's forwards have so often struggled to flourish under LVG because he needlessly changes their roles so often.

Van Gaal tried to justify Memphis exclusion for Jesse Lingard at the Hawthorns due to the latter's suspension at Anfield on Thursday- a remarkably short-sighted decision when City are three points clear with a game in hand.

Timothy Fosu-Mensah provides a pacy presence on the flank, presumably the reason behind his introduction- only he did not have a target man to aim at.

Marouane Fellaini's aerial prowess and long balls would have been acceptable given the circumstances and would have posed an unpredictable problem for the home side's organised and well-drilled two banks of four. 

Van Gaal preaches the importance of rotation and recovery even though he began the season with a slender squad.
If United had started the players integral to the recent run, we would have had a better chance of winning the game early, which would then have allowed the boss to withdraw the tired players.

Common sense is too common for Van Gaal: his thought process is too muddled for his own good.

Poor tactics, baffling selections and confusing decisions: it was a familiar tale of woe for Van Gaal, whom will now surely begin to feel the pressure again which had been allayed- if not totally evaporated- during the recent run. 

The television cameras honed in on Sir Alex at full-time, who is possibly more vexed about the renewed clamour for Jose Mourinho than he is at United's troubles since his retirement.
It's hard to imagine United's current fluctuating fortunes extending under the stewardship of the enigmatic Portuguese.

Van Gaal reverted to type in the Midlands- with predictably negative results (1/2)

United had a problem long before Juan Mata took a swipe at Darren Fletcher to earn a red card at the Hawthorns.

An hour before kick-off, the gloom returned when United's teamsheet appeared on Twitter, and, as one fan, tweeted "Varela has far too much of the Rafael about him for Van Gaal's liking.
"Schneiderlin had a shot from 25 yards the other night".

It may have been a tongue in cheek remark, but it's hard to argue as both were dropped, seemingly for no apparent reason.

Varela and Schneiderlin both said they were 'fatigued' after starting four games in 10 days, as well as another demoted player, Memphis.

Yet Van Gaal started the 'very tired' Daley Blind who, after his shocking game on Wednesday, endured another shambolic outing at West Brom.

With Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian again available, Louis van Gaal had an opportunity to give Blind an overdue rest.
Marcos Rojo could have partnered Chris Smalling with Varela at right-back and Darmian on the left- maintaining Van Gaal's weird right-foot left-foot central defensive obsession.

The Dutchman's decision to retain his jaded and overworked compatriot Blind was borderline nepotism.

The Reds had the ignominy of going into the game behind West Ham and with Liverpool on our tails, yet Van Gaal treated the fixture like an end of season dead rubber.

Of the five Premier League teams reduced to ten men over the weekend, three rallied to get a result but United threw in the towel.

United's passing in the opening half-hour was after the Lord Mayor's Show stuff. 

West Brom were maybe the worst side to beat us this season and Ben Foster only had catches to claim, rather than proper saves to make, as Van Gaal decided to use a must-win game akin to a training exercise.

Our players improved their match rhythm, at least..

In Schneiderlin, Fosu-Mensah and Varela, Van Gaal dropped arguably the three best players in the midweek win over Watford.
Schneiderlin was man of the match in that slender victory and his absence has been keenly felt in numerous away defeats this season, but Van Gaal opted for a downgrade in 35-year-old Michael Carrick.

Ander Herrera, again, did not have a brilliant game but he did at least try to get forward, so why Van Gaal replaced him with Schneiderlin- instead of Carrick- I do not know.

Like the Ji-Sung Park-Rafael axis against Blackburn, the Schneiderlin-Carrick pairing should have ended after one game yet the unadventurous Van Gaal sees it as a comfort blanket.