Friday 29 April 2016

United all right in white to evoke memories of 1990

United will wear their white away kit in next month's FA Cup final against Crystal Palace after being named the 'away' team in the 21 May showpiece.

The Reds lost a coin toss which means we will don our changed strip of white shirts, black shorts and white socks while the Eagles will play in their traditional red and blue stripes at Wembley.

United have worn the white away kit twice during their run to the final- the 3-0 victory at Shrewsbury in round five and at Upton Park in the quarter-final replay two weeks ago. 

The colours will evoke memories of the 1990 match between the two sides at Wembley, which ended in a 3-3 draw, a match in which current Palace boss Alan Pardew starred.
Substitute Ian Wright twice put the Selhurst side ahead but a 114th-minute goal from now Stoke boss Mark Hughes forced a second encounter. 

United reverted to their traditional red shirts for the replay- settled by Lee Martin's goal- which gave the Old Trafford side a first trophy of the glorious Sir Alex era.

The Reds have played in white in eight previous finals but have won just twice.

The club's first ever outing in the kit came in 1909 when the Reds beat Bristol City in the FA Cup, and then had to wait until the 1957 final to wear white again, on that occasion we were narrowly beaten by Aston Villa.

Arch rivals Liverpool beat the whitened Reds in the 1983 League Cup before that most famous outing in 1990's aforementioned final against the Eagles.

Barcelona have also figured prominently in finals where United have worn white- with decidely mixed results.

The season after the win over Palace, United famously triumphed over the Catalan giants in Rotterdam in the Cup Winners Cup, with a brace from Sparky Hughes.

Not so happily, Barca were to take the upper hand over the white-clad 'Reds' twice in three years, as they ran out 2-0 and then 3-1 in the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals respectively. 

There has been criticism however, when fans were sent white T-shirt by United and asked to create a "Wall of White" at Anfield for the Europa League match at Liverpool, who went on to knock us out (sorry for mentioning it) in our first ever European meeting with the Merseysiders.

Mark Clattenburg will referee United's first final for nine years which kicks off at 1730.

Match preview: United v Leicester

United manager Louis van Gaal has warned champions elect Leicester City that his players will not allow the Foxes to win the Premier League title at Old Trafford on Sunday.

The 5,000/1 pre-season outsiders have had a season to remember after embarking on a journey that has been remarkable to witness.

In a truly romantic tale for all sports fans, a side who narrowly avoided the drop last term have come back as underdogs and played with a spirit and unwavering commitment that has taken them to the brink of a first ever top flight title.

"We have to beat Leicester City because we are still in the race for the top positions, so we have to beat them.
"We cannot allow that they shall be the champion this weekend at Old Trafford, I think they shall be the champion a week later so we don't spoil the party, just postpone it a bit.
"I believe in team building and the manager has done that with this team, it is good for the Premier League and the sport of football that there shall be an unexpected winner." said Van Gaal.

FA Cup finalists United will be buoyed by six wins in seven but Leicester need only one more win for the title and know that victory at Old Trafford would see them crowned champions.
They travel to Manchester without 22-goal top scorer Jamie Vardy whose suspension has been extended following his red card against West Ham. 

The corresponding fixture, back in November, ended 1-1 but the result was a footnote as Vardy broke our own Ruud van Nistelrooy's record of finding the net in 11 consecutive league games. 

With Vardy out, the newly crowned PFA Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez could be the visitors main threat.
The Algerian winger has wreaked havoc all season, his pace and ability to read the game have been a massive factor in his side's shock success.
Leicester's midfield cannot be overlooked, however, with recently-capped ex Red Danny Drinkwater and N'Golo Kante both providing insatiable energy and industry in the engine room. 

Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luke Shaw and Will Keane are all still sidelined due to injury with Adnan Januzaj also absent, whilst Andreas Pereira could be in contention having not featured for the Under 21s squad.

Form guide: United W L W W W W Leicester City W W W W D W
Match odds: United 11/10 Draw 12/5 Leicester City 11/4
Referee: Michael Oliver 

Tuesday 26 April 2016

United cooking up a recipe for success?

The young players in the United side inevitably garner much of the attention and why not when they play like they did on Saturday?

Matchwinner Anthony Martial has enjoyed a brilliant first season in England and was already a fans favourite before his late, late winner set up the final with Crystal Palace.

Even though he is still only 20, he was only the third youngest member of the Reds side with Tim Fosu-Mensah and Marcus Rashford also involved.

Sprinkling a senior side with kids barely out of their teens is one thing but there must be older and wiser heads around to steady the ship too.
The right blend of youth and experience is universally acknowledged as the recipe for success and it has been interesting to hear Fosu-Mensah consistently reference the assistance he receives from his elder colleagues.

Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney and Marouane Fellaini provided the know-how in the middle of the park and enabled the attacking trio to express themselves on the big stage.

Jesse Lingard may be a relative veteran at 23 but this is still his first season in the senior side in the top flight so he lacks experience and, on the other hand, Daley Blind is 26 but plays with a maturity far beyond his years.

When Palace provided the opposition in the 1990 final, there were no teenagers on show for Alex Ferguson's side.
Mark Robins, at 20, was the youngest Red involved when coming off the bench in the 3-3 draw but replay hero Lee Martin was the most youthful starter having turned 22 the previous February.

Better comparisons can be made with the 1995 and 1996 finals, when Sir Alex was starting to introduce some of his exciting homegrown products into his line-up.

Gary Neville and Nicky Butt started the 1-0 defeat to Everton in 1995, whilst Paul Scholes and an already established Ryan Giggs (21) came off the bench.
A year later, when Liverpool were beaten by the same scoreline, Phil Neville, David Beckham and Butt were in the XI with Gary Neville and Scholes as substitutes.

When Alan Hansen decreed that you win nothing with kids at the start of that season, he probably did have a point despite underestimating the vast potential of United's youth-team talent.

Eric Cantona was that side's leader and there was great experience, nous and character in the likes of Peter Schmeichel, Gary Pallister and Steve Bruce although the latter missed the 96 final.

If United are to lift the famous trophy for a 12th time next month, the youngsters and established stars will, once again, look to handle the big occasion and another test of nerve.

Enjoying such highs must only whet the appetite for further success as it did during SAF's glorious tenure.
None of United's current squad have won the cup with the Reds (Juan Mata did with Chelsea) so there will be great elation among those who have lost finals- the aforementioned trio of Carrick, Rooney and Fellaini.

But it could also prove a spark for others to grow in stature and form part of an exciting new team being built by Louis van Gaal. 

Sunday 24 April 2016

Van Gaal's young attack shine again with Rooney supplying the bullets

It was not quite Best, Law and Charlton, but at times in the first half at Wembley, United's youthful attacking trio proved to be unstoppable.

A game that ebbed and flowed superbly throughout was concluded by an injury-time goal from a player whose importance to his club grows by the second.

Step forward Anthony Martial, the latest entry on the roll call of Manchester United caveats.

The young Frenchman's clinically taken strike in the dying embers of the match was wholly deserved. 

Despite Everton's brave and creditable comeback, with Martial in the side the Reds always had a chance.
Together with Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard- who was wasteful but otherwise excellent- Martial was superb all game.

No doubt Louis van Gaal will take credit for their performance, congratulating himself on nurturing their talent and promoting them but at the start of the season it was not their names that he had anticipated seeing on the team sheet, having spent £20 million or so on Memphis Depay.

There is no doubt that the Dutchman has been blessed by their emergence, blessed by their effortless coherence, blessed by their energetic effervescence.
Like all good things in football and indeed in life, it is circumstance and serendipity that helped deliver United's first FA Cup final for nine years.

Not only were the young trio again excellent, so too was the England and United skipper Wayne Rooney.
Van Gaal deserves credit for his deployment of his captain at Wembley: Wazza was simply magnificent in his role as a deep-lying 'quarterback'.

His intelligence and quick-witted reading of the game allowed him to exploit the pace of those in front of him- there was no issue with his own physicality, when he could exploit the speed and verve of the younger legs ahead of him.  

Rooney was providing the ammunition for United's armoury to do the majority of the damage in the first half.
His work rate, energy and sense of responsibility were exemplary- typified by his incredible goal-line thwarting of Romelu Lukaku in the opening minutes. 

Louis van Gaal must have run out of ways to thank his Spanish stopper after the number of times De Gea has maintained his manager in his job this term.

But even by his standards, that penalty save was extraordinary and possibly his best to date in a United shirt.

This brilliant game probably, in truth, deserved extra-time, but then came a goal worthy of a return here in May.

Que sera sera! 

FA Cup semi-final is one to savour but will it be enough for LVG?

United manager Louis van Gaal has been surrounded by constant speculation about his Old Trafford future - but the dramatic conclusion at Wembley means he still retains hope of winning a trophy at every club he has been at.

The 64-year-old said he was not willing to discuss his future beyond the end of the current campaign, although he did hint there were talks planned with his board.

With Jose Mourinho still waiting in the wings, Van Gaal said:

"I'm not looking beyond this competition- you cannot look too far ahead as we live in the present.

"For the future, I discuss that with my board and it is not for me to judge, it is for the board of Manchester United and it is fantastic to be in a final."

"It was very good, we have won, in the first half we were the better team.
"We have scored and created many chances, we could have finished more.
"In the second half the referee changed the match then De Gea stopped a penalty.
"I have to say I think the penalty was correct, I don't argue but the 50/50 calls were going in favour of Everton and that has a big influence on the game"

This was a two-faced United performance.

Excellent in the first half and ragged for much of the second but yet, as we have done throughout much of this FA Cup campaign, Van Gaal's side got the job done and are through to a first final since 2007.

Whether he survives as United manager or not, he will have the chance to make sure the Reds have silverware to remember him by.

He will lead United out as favourites for the final on 21 May.

Should United go on to secure Champions League football and finish the season with a trophy, it's difficult to see the board dispensing with him- but a failure to make the top four must surely be premise enough for a change in the summer, FA Cup success or not. 

With England manager Roy Hodgson looking on, his international captain Wayne Rooney showed his class - and perhaps his future - in a deep-lying midfield role behind United's attack.

In the opening half especially, afford time and space by a timid Everton, Rooney not only showed his full range of passes to create chances and dictate the game, he even showed his energy to sprint the length of the field and clear Lukaku's early effort off the line.

Rooney's place in England's attack has come under increasing scrutiny with the emergency of Tottenham's Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy as potential rivals, but this was the sort of performance that might just give Hodgson food for thought as he makes his plans for the Euros.

Match report: United 2-1 Everton

United will face Crystal Palace or Watford in a 19th FA Cup final after Anthony Martial's late, late winner at Wembley.

Marouane Fellaini had put Louis van Gaal's side ahead in a dominant first half but - after David de Gea saved a Romelu Lukaku penalty - Chris Smalling's own goal pegged the Reds back and looked set to have forced extra-time.

However Martial latched on to substitute Ander Herrera's through ball to take a touch and slide a composed finish past Joel Robles in the third minute of stoppage time to send United's travelling supporters into ecstasy.

United created the majority of the early openings but, in Lukaku, Everton had a pacy and powerful outlet and it was the Belgian who went closest after ten minutes.

Wayne Rooney, playing in a deep midfield role, ran the length of the field to head off the line after Lukaku had rounded De Gea and clipped goalwards from a tight angle.

Marcos Rojo headed wide, Jesse Lingard had a shot saved by the sprawling Robles and Rashford also went close from Fellaini's knock down in an increasingly frenetic contest.

Martial should have done better when put through by Lingard, but the Reds did not rue that miss and deservedly went ahead eleven minutes shy of the interval.

Martial burst towards the touchline, skipped past Muhammad Besic and pulled the ball back for Fellaini to steer home from close range against his former team.

The second half began as the first had ended- with United on top and creating more chances.

The best of them fell to Lingard after a move involving fellow young players Tim Fosu-Mensah, Marcus Rashford and Martial, whose backheel set up Lingard but he fired wastefully wide. 

Everton belatedly sparked into life and were given the chance to level the match when Aaron Lennon found Barkley whom went down under a challenge from Fosu-Mensah and referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot. 

De Gea dived brilliantly to his right to palm Lukaku's spot-kick away and United continued to be indebted to the Spaniard as Martinez's men then came on strong.

Barkley lashed an effort wide, former United man Tom Cleverley was kept out by De Gea whom then thwarted substitute Gerard Deulofeu with a superb stop.

Everton continued to press and finally got a foothold when Deulofeu's cross was inadvertently turned into his own net by the stretching Smalling with 15 minutes to play.

It looked like extra-time would be needed, but the Reds never-say-die spirit made sure that would not be the case, as, three minutes into added time, Martial latched on to Herrera's poked through ball to send his side into next month's showpiece.

Seen you soon, Wembley!

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Marouane Fellaini. Scored the opener, excelled in defence and attack and made an outstanding tackle on Lukaku at 1-1. 

Friday 22 April 2016

Rooney and Rashford key as Reds bid for place in final

As United pursue a first FA Cup final for nine years, two of the key attacking men have very different experience of the world's oldest domestic competition.

Wayne Rooney is a Wembley veteran, but Marcus Rashford appears likely to make his debut at the national stadium.
After playing together for the first time against Villa and then Palace, the duo may prove pivotal in ensuring the Reds set up a return date in the capital on 21 May.

Rooney has played 32 times for England at Wembley and scored 19 goals- an excellent ratio.
He had to wait until 2007, when he was 21, to appear there as the venue was being renovated and his first outing- for United- ended in disappointment as Chelsea won the trophy through Didier Drogba's extra time winner.

A few months later, he converted his penalty in the shootout against the same opponents to help earn victory in the Community Shield and the United captain also has a last minute equaliser in the curtain raiser against Blues in 2009, a headed winner in the League Cup final over Villa (2010) and a Champions League final strike (2011) on his CV. 

In total, the 30 year old has appeared seven times at Wembley in United colours so when he lines up against his former club it will be his 40th outing beneath the arch.

He is clearly a man on a mission as the FA Cup is the only major trophy missing from his collection in United colours. 
If you had told him, or anyone else, after his Man of the Match display in the 2005 final against Arsenal that he'd still be waiting for a maiden Cup win, it would have been something of a surprise.

By contrast, 18 year old Rashford has yet to play at Wembley and his memories of the competition obviously pale into comparison.
Rooney attended the 1995 final as a fan of his boyhood side, when Everton beat United 1-0, but Rashford was probably still in nappies when United overcame Newcastle to seal the second leg of the Treble in 1999.

The Mancunian striker was only six when the Reds last won the FA Cup and so will have only the sketchiest memories of the club's success in the competition.

Yet, as a raw teenager, he may get the chance to become a hero and continue to carve his name into United folklore.
His sublime strike at West Ham helped set up the semi final with Everton and the expansive Wembley pitch could provide numerous opportunities to exploit his explosive pace- especially against what looks to be a makeshift Toffees backline.

Whether Rooney or Rashford end up being influential on the big stage this weekend remains to be seen, but both will be extremely motivated to ensure the team lines up another day to remember at Wembley.

Wednesday's win over Palace hinted at the prospect of the pair combining to good effect, and the chance to upset a depleted Everton side should be approached with relish. 

FA Cup preview: Everton v United

Everton and United (the Reds are the 'away' side) will meet in the FA Cup for the 12th time in total and a third occasion at the semi-final stage.

Both clubs will be keen to mark difficult campaigns- for differing reasons- with a trophy and it was the Toffees- then managed by a David Moyes- whom knocked the Reds at the same stage in 2009.

United go into this last four tie (our 28th FA Cup semi final) off the back of five wins in six- including a victory over the out of form Toffees- and battled past West Ham at Upton Park just over a week ago to reach this stage.

Morale will have been boosted by Wednesday's win- that left United within touching distance of the top four- whilst Everton slumped to an "embarrassing" 4-0 loss at Anfield to pile the pressure on under fire manager Roberto Martinez.
In fact, the Merseysiders are without a win since they themselves progressed in the FA Cup by seeing off Chelsea 2-0 on 12 March. 

Luke Shaw, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Adnan Januzaj and Will Keane are likely to be the only absentees as Louis van Gaal has an otherwise fully fit squad to pick from.
Chris Smalling picked up a knock on Wednesday but the centre-back confirmed his fitness and looks set to start at Wembley.

For Everton, centre-half Ramiro Funes Mori is suspended, Seamus Coleman is injured and Phil Jagielka, Gareth Barry and John Stones will face late fitness tests.

United manager Van Gaal said that he will have to "disappoint six players" when selecting his side for the semi-final. 
"We are the in the semi final of the FA Cup- a big chance for a trophy- and are in the race for the fourth or third position and that was our aim so we can be happy.
"Every player wants to play in a semi-final, I have to select 18 players and now I have everyone fit so there will be six players that shall be disappointed. 
"That is difficult for a manager, but I like me I believe that Roberto (Martinez) has also brought youngsters through and Everton have some very good players."

The Reds have enjoyed the upper hand in both league meetings against the mid-table Merseysiders, winning 3-0 at Goodison Park in October and that narrow win at Old Trafford- courtesy of Anthony Martial- three weekends ago. 

The Toffees are yet to concede a goal en route to the semis but have a paucity of defenders available for this one so that record will surely come under threat. 

Form guide: Everton L L D D D L United W W L W W W
Match odds: Everton 14/5 Draw (extra time and pens) 27/20 United 7/2 

Referee: Anthony Taylor 

Wednesday 20 April 2016

United 2-0 Palace: Youth, pace and promise

This was a match that United simply had to win and they easily managed to get the job done thanks, partly, to an inferior Palace side who have yet to secure top flight safety.

The Reds were everything their visitors were not-bright, creative, energetic, pacy and hungry.

One win will not paper of the cracks of a disappointing league campaign, yet Louis van Gaal's side have given themselves a fighting chance of sealing a top four place and Champions League football.

United still face difficult tests against leaders Leicester (home), West Ham (away) and must also travel to a Norwich side fighting for their Premier League lives before we end the league season at home to Bournemouth.

It was one of those days that suggested United's future might be bright after all.

There have been others- tantalising glimpses like the 3-0 at Everton, the home win over Arsenal and the derby day victory at the Etihad.

This result, over a Crystal Palace outfit who showed next to no ambition wasn't as eye catching but it was a professional job done and there were at least promising signs of life.

Van Gaal picked Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial, Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford together in the same team for the first time.
The quartet were all happy to get forward and help their side boss the game in one of our better home performances- albeit against toothless opponents with their minds on the weekend. 

It was as if he was determined to play his part after calling for his team to step up a notch after another pedestrian performance on Saturday.

The first half alone saw seven shots - six on target- an early goal and 62% possession.
It was entertainment, LVG style.

United's previous four league wins had all come with a 1-0 scoreline but, this time, we always looked likely to add to our lead against a limp and lifeless Palace side. 

But for keeper Julian Speroni, the Eagles would have been on the receiving end of a rout as Martial, Rashford and Lingard once again hinted at United's promising future. 

The trouble with almost every other good United performance this season has been that it's been swiftly followed by an awful one.

Van Gaal will hope that habit is broken in time to book a place in the FA Cup final.

His job may yet depend on it.

Match report: United 2-0 Palace

United moved to within two points of third placed City and kept the league campaign on track with a comfortable victory over lacklustre Palace.

Both sides have an FA Cup semi-final at the weekend and Louis van Gaal's side warmed up for the Wembley meeting with Everton with a dominant win.

Van Gaal made three changes to his team from the preceding win over Aston Villa by recalling Matteo Darmian, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Wayne Rooney deployed in midfield. 

Palace are yet to mathematically secure Premier League safety and the visitors got off to a poor start inside the opening five minutes.

Marcus Rashford back-heeled to release Darmian down the left and the Italian's left-wing cross was inadvertently diverted past the recalled Julian Speroni by Damien Delaney. 

The Eagles were indebted to their overworked keeper who kept United at bay- and his side in the contest- with a string of superb saves as United threatened to run riot.

Speroni tipped over from Anthony Martial, saved a Wayne Rooney header, thwarted Rashford and saved well from Jesse Lingard as Palace sat back with minds focused on their own FA Cup last four tie with Watford.

Rooney went close when he lashed wide with the aid of a deflection, but despite that miss the Reds kicked on after the break and had soon doubled their advantage.

The goal came from the left foot of an unlikely source, as man of the match Darmian latched on to Delaney's headed clearance to chest the ball down and rifle in a sumptuous volley - via a post - for his first United strike. 

Lingard and Rashford both forced smart stops from Speroni in quick succession before the pair were replaced- possibly with Wembley in mind- with Memphis and Ander Herrera introduced.

That proved to be the last action of a far from classic encounter- Palace offered nothing and David de Gea was never tested- but it was a deserved and important win in the race for the top four. 

Overall team performance: 7.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Matteo Darmian. Created the first and scored his first United goal with a screamer. Impressive. 

Tuesday 19 April 2016

Under 21s match report: Spurs 2-3 United

United's Under 21 side made sure of the title with an incredible 3-2 at Tottenham thanks to Guillermo Varela's injury time winner.

Joe Pritchard's equaliser six minutes from time looked set to put the champagne on ice but Warren Joyce's side, who had led 2-0 through Donald Love and Andreas Pereira, provided a finish typical of United in the dying seconds of a thrilling contest.

The Reds started in determined fashion and took the lead after only five minutes.

A sublime 13-pass move from one end to the other was rewarded when Paddy McNair found  Pereira whom in turn picked out Love to rifle home an excellent finish from 18 yards.

Varela then picked out Pereira with a fine cross and the makeshift striker slammed home a volley on the run to double the visitors lead with only 16 minutes played.

Joel Pereira saved well from Harry Winks and Kazaiah Sterling went close with a header before Spurs captain Will Miller drilled a low effort wide of Pereira to halve the deficit on the half hour.

Joel Pereira kept out Miller's prodded effort after Josh Onomah nutmegged Axel Tuanzebe but United hit back strongly and should have made the points safe after half-time.

Love lashed wide from distance before Andreas Pereira and Devonte Redmond also went close whilst Spurs mustered long range efforts through Winks and Anton Walkes. 

Substitute Scott McTominay quickly could have extended the lead when played through by Love but Spurs stopper Luke McGee did well to save and Walkes was on hand to clear the loose ball.

Pereira struck the outside of a post as United came close to making sure of the win but, instead, Spurs levelled with six minutes left to play.

Substitute Marcus Edwards burst clear down the right and his resultant cross picked out fellow replacement Pritchard- who scored in the corresponding fixture- to tap in from eight yards. 

That set up a grandstand finish as Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Edwards and Joe Muscatt all might have scored before Varela's late intervention.

Pereira's clever free-kick picked out McNair and, when his shot was blocked, Varela followed up to hammer home a superb strike past McGee to spark scenes of wild celebrations. 

It was no more than Joyce's side deserved and was a fitting way to retain the trophy. 

United: J Pereira, Varela, Williams, Tuanzebe, Borthwick-Jackson, Love, McNair, El Fitouri, Redmond (McTominay 62), Riley, A Pereira. 

Varela and Pereira star as young Reds are champions

In a season in which the United Under 21s have produced the most excitement out of any of the club's teams, it was appropriate that they became champions in a very United way.

Guillermo Varela- demoted back down to Warren Joyce's second strong side after he allowed Philippe Coutinho to ghost past him in the Europa League- struck a 94th-minute winner against Tottenham at White Hart Lane to clinch the title.

It was appropriate that Varela and Andreas Pereira- two kindred and gung-ho spirits discarded by Louis van Gaal- shone on a memorable night at White Hart Lane as United's young stars won their league for the second successive season. 

Pereira, ostracised since March, was selfless and clinical in the lone striker's role, scoring a sumptuous volley and striking a post either side of the break. 

To paraphrase Sir Alex Ferguson's old age adage, United did not make it easy for themselves.

They led 2-0 early on only to be pegged back by an enterprising Tottenham team before Varela's late heroics summed up the side's season and capped an enthralling match. 

Donald Love, another player overlooked by Van Gaal since his senior breakthrough in February, belted Joyce's charges ahead inside 10 minutes for his first goal in three-and-a-half years before Varela picked out Pereira to clinically finish.

William Miller halved the deficit for dominant Tottenham, who were thwarted time and time again by the impressive Joel Pereira until Joe Pritchard tapped in from close range after Love, Scott McTominay and Andreas Pereira squandered good openings.

Both sides pressed for the winner but Varela claimed the match and a fourth title in five years with a screamer in stoppage time.

James Weir has been the standout performer for Joyce's side this campaign, although Paddy McNair- another player on the fringes of the first team- alleviated the pressure on the captain with a tidy winner against Middlesbrough at Old Trafford last week.

The league title could be the first trophy of a possible treble for the Under 21 side, with Oldham and Bury to come in the semi-finals of the Lancashire and Manchester Senior Cups respectively. 

United's win over Tottenham moved them two points clear of second placed Sunderland- who have completed their fixtures- and Joyce's team have two games still to play.

Match preview: United v Crystal Palace

Louis van Gaal insists his players will stay focused on the task in hand as United welcome Alan Pardew and his out of form Palace side to Old Trafford.

The Reds host the Eagles just three days before an FA Cup semi-final against Everton but the manager said that minds will not wander towards that match.

"I don't think our players shall do that because they have to focus on this game against Crystal Palace because we still have to qualify for the first four in the league.
"It is important for our opponents also and they have the same problem- they are in the semi finals also and maybe they shall be thinking about that game but we have to win.
"Of course I shall think about changing my selection, but that is the same with every game.
"You know that there shall be a lot of games and that some players may struggle with the load of matches so you always have to rotate"

Ander Herrera is in contention for a return whilst Bastian Schweinsteiger, Adnan Januzaj and Luke Shaw remain sidelined but there are no new fresh injury concerns.
Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial were rested against Villa as Wayne Rooney and Memphis came in so LVG has some decisions to make and looks set to shuffle his pack with Wembley on the horizon. 

Free-falling Palace have endured a miserable second half of the season, slumping from sixth in December to sixteenth in April- albeit well clear of relegation- after a shocking run of form

The reverse fixture at Selhurst Park ended goalless in October but the visitors have won only four league games since and their recent victory over Norwich was their first in 2016. 

Despite their poor league form, Palace have, like United, progressed in the FA Cup and face Watford at Wembley for a place in the final. 

That aside, Palace possess two of the most potent wingers in the top flight in the shape of former United man Wilfried Zaha and his left-wing lieutenant Yannick Bolasie whom scored his side's equaliser at the Emirates on Sunday.

The Congolese may be one of those to miss out as Pardew- with his side safe in the Premier League- also looks likely to rotate as he prepares for that semi-final on Sunday.

Form guide: United D W W L W W Crystal Palace W L D W D D
Match odds: United 8/15 Draw 16/5 Crystal Palace 13/2
Referee: Lee Mason 

Monday 18 April 2016

United midfielder Juan Mata facing uncertain future

Juan Mata has reason to be slightly worried.

The Spanish midfielder is under contract at United until 2018 but he's still facing an uncertain future at Old Trafford. 

He wants to stay- we know because he says as much every time he's asked.

He's got close friends at United in Ander Herrera and David de Gea and he enjoys living in Manchester.

Ultimately, though, the decision about whether he stays or goes may not be his.

He doesn't yet know who United's manager will be next season.

It's unlikely but possible it could be Louis van Gaal, whom has spent the last year insisting he needs more pace in his forward line.

Or it could be Jose Mourinho, the man who sold Mata to United in the first place.

Mata would be too polite to admit it but neither option would feel that appealing.

Despite Van Gaal's desire for quicker forwards, most of Mata's games in the last year have been as a right winger.

He had a good time at Anfield at the end of last season- scoring twice in a 2-1 win- but often it's looked like a square peg in a round hole- an uncomfortable fit for a player who thrives on creative freedom.

The sight of Danny Rose surging past him again and again during the 3-0 defeat at White Hart Lane two weeks ago was painful viewing.

He was substituted 15 minutes from time and was on the bench for the 2-1 at West Ham three days later, but was back on the right wing for Saturday's win over Villa.

Two years ago, his time at Chelsea came to an end when Mourinho decided Oscar was the better no.10.
He suggested Mata would have to compete for a place in one of the wide positions but hinted he didn't possess the tactical responsibility to do so effectively.

In the end Mourinho decided he do without the Spaniard whom had been voted the club's player of the season two years in a row.

Chelsea's fans may be upset that Mourinho sold both Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne but, whilst a popular and likeable figure, Mata's departure wasn't mourned in the same way.

Van Gaal has made no secret of his desire to buy a quick, creative winger if he is allowed to stay this summer.

Equally, if Mourinho comes in there will be further questions about Mata's role in this team.

Exactly what United's immediate future looks like is still unclear.

So too is Mata's place in it. 

Sunday 17 April 2016

How LVG and United should prepare for biggest week in our season

Louis van Gaal faces his biggest week in charge of United and has key decisions to make against Crystal Palace and Everton.

After the 5-1 thumping of Midtjylland in February, the Reds had only 72 hours to prepare for the visit of Arsenal and were in the midst of another injury crisis.
Marcos Rojo had been rushed back for the second leg and United would finish the win over Arsene Wenger's side with a back four of Guillermo Varela, Michael Carrick, Daley Blind and Timothy Fosu-Mensah.

Van Gaal's over training- and the reported intensity of his methods in training- have contributed to physical and mental deficiencies during his 20 months at the helm. 

This week, United host Palace on Wednesday with an 8pm kick off before Saturday's 5.15pm kick off against Roberto Martinez's Everton in the FA Cup semi final at Wembley. 

The Reds planning may include a change of hotel following the belated arrival at White Hart Lane last weekend. 

Van Gaal began the team's preparations for the Cup semi as we hosted Aston Villa yesterday.

There were five changes to the midweek win with youngsters Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Fosu-Mensah rested, Ander Herrera injured and Michael Carrick also absent.

However ominous his future looks at United, Van Gaal cannot compromise United's Premier League campaign against Alan Pardew's fifth-from-bottom side, who have underachieved terribly in the league.

They have their own semi-final with Watford at Wembley to think about, which will doubtless impact Pardew's own team selection.

Van Gaal needs to rotate effectively whilst maintaining United's competitiveness.

The Dutchman said that the 4-3-3 he deployed was 'a risk' and did away with it against Villa as United supporters endured another anodyne afternoon.

United's best football under Van Gaal has come in the 4-3-3 with a midfield triangle, which brings the best out of our forwards and we should return to it in these next two matches.

The Eagles Old Trafford trip is a chance to rest Blind.

He has not missed a game since October and is a certain starter for Wembley, so he needs to be kept fresh for another battle with Romelu Lukaku.

Blind dealt with the Belgian powerhouse brilliantly in the recent league meeting having benefited from a five-day breather.

The Reds have a paucity of options at the back, so it could offer Fosu-Mensah a chance alongside Mike Smalling after he kept Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney in check last month.

Matteo Darmian needs game time- and recovery time- after his chastening cameo at Tottenham and should slot in at right-back.

The returning Wayne Rooney should be considered and Rashford rested whilst Marcos Rojo's erratic performances- particularly against Gerard Deulofeu- means that Ashley Young has a chance to reclaim the full-back slot that he had made his own. 

We should go with this against Palace...

and this against Everton 

Saturday 16 April 2016

Match report: United 1-0 Aston Villa

Marcus Rashford's first half strike kept United on course for a top four finish and condemned managerless Villa to the Championship.

The drop had looked inevitable for months but, in a match lacking tempo and intensity, this result rubber stamped their relegation. 

After the Reds eye catching performance  in midweek, a much changed side were not at their best but did enough to earn the three points and keep up the pressure on City.

Louis van Gaal made five changes from the side that won at West Ham in midweek and that- coupled with a second game in four games- no doubt played a part in a narrow win that was expected to be a rout. 

Jordan Ayew skied the game's first attempt, Marcos Rojo headed over the top and Joleon Lescott sliced narrowly past his own post from Rashford's teasing delivery.

Juan Mata skewed wide having jinked into a good position and ex-Red Kieran Richardson fired over when Marouane Fellaini's header had dropped to him. 

The brightest moment of the half arrived just beyond the half hour and led to the game's first-and only- goal.

The returning Wayne Rooney was fouled by Lescott in midfield and found the overlapping Antonio Valencia from the set-piece.
The right back's cross was missed by the stretching Villa defence and arrived in the middle for Rashford to supply a predatory finish past Brad Guzan for his seventh goal in 12 games.

United searched for a second to effectively end the game as a contest but Rashford was unable to profit when twice played through by Mata, firstly being hustled of his stride by Alan Hutton before he dragged his finish wide.

Memphis lashed off target and Guzan saved well from the lively Mata, but Villa grew into the game and went close through Scott Sinclair's header at the other end.

Villa suddenly sensed a goal as substitute Rudy Gestede hit a post from Ashley Westwood's corner and, from the resultant set-piece, Ciaran Clark forced a smart stop from the otherwise unemployed David de Gea.

Gestede was causing United problems and went close again with a header whilst substitute Anthony Martial linked up well with Memphis whom saw his effort turned on to a post by Guzan.

Not the easy victory that many predicted but all that matters now is the result and United were deserved winners as we kept alive hopes of a top four finish.

Villa, meanwhile, face life outside the top flight for the first time since 1987. 

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford 

Friday 15 April 2016

Match preview: United v Aston Villa

United boss Louis van Gaal has called for better consistency from the Reds ahead of the visit of basement boys Aston Villa to Old Trafford.

At the end of a positive week that saw United into the FA Cup semi-finals, LVG said that he was "happy" with his side's standing but that the lack of consistent form has been "frustrating".

"The players, the manager, the staff and the fans also have been frustrated because we have not been consistent this season.
"When you have to line a different team up every week because of injuries, it is difficult to make a consistent team-building process.
"Still we are in the race for the top positions in the league and we are still in the FA Cup so we have to be happy with our season.
"I'm very happy that we have the ability to pick young players out of the Academy, this is something I always do and Manchester United believes in youngsters, so it is not difficult to do this." said the Dutchman.  

The managerless Midlanders arrive at Old Trafford in turmoil.

They've won only three league matches all season, they've been rooted to the foot of the table since September and defeat here would confirm a relegation that's looked inevitable for months.

15 points adrift, they could even be down before kick off if Norwich get a result against Sunderland in the lunchtime game as the former European Cup winners face a first ever season in the second tier after a desperate campaign. 

Tim Sherwood was sacked in October and replaced by Remi Garde but the Frenchman was unable to save them and left the club last month to leave Eric Black in temporary charge. 

Wayne Rooney returned in midweek and is available but Ander Herrera is a doubt and Bastian Schweinsteiger will miss the rest of the season.
Luke Shaw and Adnan Januzaj have returned to training but are some way off a first-team comeback whilst Phil Jones is pushing for inclusion after an Under 21 outing on Monday. 

Herrera picked up a knock in the midweek replay but the extent of his injury is known- however, with Crystal Palace on the horizon on Wednesday a rotated team is possible.

Jordan Amavi and Gabby Agbonlahor will not feature for the visitors but Jack Grealish and Adama Traore have been passed fit.

Form guide: United D D W W L W Aston Villa L L L L L L
Match odds: United 10/1 Draw 6/1 Aston Villa 50/2 

Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire) 

Thursday 14 April 2016

LVG: Will he stay or will he go? Managerial uncertainty goes on (2)

It is understood that the United players would welcome assistant manager Ryan Giggs despite the Welshman's lack of experience and he is the preferred choice of both Ferguson and Charlton.

Former team-mates have said that Giggs quiet touchline demeanour and laidback public style do not give the whole story and point to the years he has spent gaining the knowledge that would allow him to take on one of the highest profile hotseats in management. 

The most decorated player in the club's history, Giggs knows the club and its traditions better than anyone, giving him a 'triple tick' for that aspect of the job. 

Giggs thinks he is capable and, if Van Gaal were to leave, he would be interested.

But could we afford to appoint someone with four games worth of experience and - if not-  what happens then?

There are significant doubts about Giggs wanting to work with Mourinho, or indeed Mourinho wanting to work with him.

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has been touted as a potential replacement, along with Atletico boss Diego Simeone, Ronald Koeman and PSG manager Blanc - but none of them know the club like Giggs. 

The lack of clarity at Old Trafford comes as most of United's rivals know exactly where they are heading.

Jurgen Klopp is relatively new to Liverpool, Pep Guardiola is on his way to City and Antonio Conte will join Chelsea after Euro 2016. 

In announcing the Italian as their manager in April, Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia said they were pleased to have got the contract signed before the summer to aid the club's future planning. 

If United are unable to announce who will be manager next season, it could prove costly in terms of player recruitment, especially if no decision is made until after the FA Cup final on May 21.

The impact of inconsistent results has not only led to managerial uncertainty.

Wayne Rooney's testimonial against Everton is scheduled for the 3 August but that clashes with the third qualifying round of the Europa League.
Should United finish fifth and fail to win the FA Cup we will almost certainly be playing in it.

The Reds pre-season plans would also be affected with the high profile Manchester derby fixture - in China on 25 July - is only three days out from the first leg of that Europa qualifier.

LVG: Will he stay or will he go? Managerial uncertainty goes on (1)

United's 2-1 FA Cup quarter-final win at West Ham on Wednesday kept alive our chances of silverware during another week when significant questions were asked about Louis van Gaal's future.

The experience is nothing new. 

Six times in less than four months, 64-year-old Van Gaal has gone into matches amid a backdrop of intense speculation.

On every occasion, the Reds have pulled out a positive result.

Yet rather than bringing to an end the fevered debate about who will be the club's manager next season, it has merely created a sense of uncertainty

Van Gaal is about to end the second season of a three-year contract he signed in May 2014 to succeed David Moyes - he thinks he should be allowed to get to the end of it. 

The men who will ultimately decide that judgement on Van Gaal's tenure - co-chairman Joel and Avram Glazer, plus executive vice chairman Ed Woodward - aren't letting on.

No one at United, even those inside the deepest corridors of power, can be entirely sure what is going to happen next at a club for whom managerial stability was taken for granted under Sir Alex. 

The Dutchman's first season was seen as a success as he steadied a ship in danger of going under to get us back into the Champions League but this year has been different.

While the effort expended in beating West Ham proved United's players are still prepared to battle of his behalf, Van Gaal's regimented approach, tactics and team selections have caused bewilderment in the dressing room.

Fans have voiced their disapproval on social media and phone-ins at what is perceived to be a negative and 'boring' style of football- and many want Van Gaal replaced because of this.

Yet Woodward knows sacking LVG would be a personal blot on his copybook as he took responsibility for his appointment, following the short-lived Moyes tenure.

There has been no public statement about what Van Gaal needs to achieve to remain in the job but - whether it be winning the FA Cup, securing the Champions League, or both or neither, the decision is anything but straightforward.

Many fans have been antagonistic towards the Dutchman and this could affect season ticket sales and secondly - if Van Gaal was to stay on-  could United realistically let him enter his third year given the uncertainty that would bring?

Ferguson felt it was a clear issue in 2002 when he reversed his retirement decision, saying his players had taken their foot off the gas.

Former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has held talks with the club but there is no signed contract, nor has Woodward indicated when or indeed if there's likely to be one.

Reservations about Mourinho's style of football and general conduct were expressed by United legend Sir Bobby Charlton and there are also question marks about the Portuguese's commitment to youth.

With speculation about Laurent Blanc's position at PSG growing in the wake of their European exit, it could be dangerous if United wait too long. 

Fosu-Mensah should remain at right back for the Reds

Timothy Fosu-Mensah has an exciting Old Trafford future and could become a key man for the United team next season.

Of all the players in United's £316.4 million matchday squad, the one name those in the Boleyn Ground press room wanted to know was available was an 18-year-old with two Premier League starts to his name.

Timothy Fosu-Mensah only turned 18 in January but some already believe that he is the glue holding the United defence together.
Matteo Darmian is eight years older and has had the benefit of honing his catenaccio canniness, emerging through the ranks at AC Milan and playing in a World Cup, yet United came unstuck when he replaced Fosu-Mensah at Spurs on Sunday.

Louis van Gaal has developed a reputation for killing players confidence and Darmian is another victim.
His performances against City and Everton were his finest since his auspicious August yet a harsh demotion at Spurs preceded a squad exclusion at West Ham.

Van Gaal's ruthlessness was vidicated, though- Fosu-Mensah is more pacier and more powerful than Darmian.

Despite his inexperience, he is arguably a more suitable fit at right-back in the Premier League and has added beef and steel to an otherwise lightweight United side.

In east London, Fosu-Mensah was the last United player to emerge onto the pitch at half-time.
Seemingly superstitious, he needn't have been.
Dimitri Payet- nominated as one of the Premier League's best performers this season- had no joy when he ventured down the Dutchman's side and Aaron Creswell only became prominent when Fosu-Mensah was switched to the left, to cover for the drained and jaded Marcos Rojo.

Just seven games into his senior United career, Fosu-Mensah has played in three different positions: left-back, centre-back and right-back.
Central midfield is arguably his best position but United are well equipped there.

He has merely filled for the blowing Rojo on his left-back outings but, although he might prefer playing in midfield, his career prospects at United are best suited on the flank.

Darmian's struggles this term suggest there is still a vacancy at right-back in United's first choice backline.
Antonio Valencia is out of contract next year while Guillermo Varela is rash, risky and, at 23, not as junior as many think.
Fosu-Mensah has looked more solid and assured than both of them so far.

Even at such a young age, Fosu-Mensah boasts an enviable mix of strength and speed.

Before he created Anthony Martial's winner against Everton, his assist for Nick Powell's goal in the Under 21s thrashing of Leicester in December was pure United wing play.
The Reds should arguably sign another right-back in the summer- Valencia might represent an easy summer sale and Varela might be angling for regular football.

Fosu-Mensah's form might save United the trouble- and the Glazers more money. 

Once he is more accomplished in the first-team, he needs to be let off the leash.

And the matchday squad's value will soar. 

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Grit and guile as Van Gaal's high wire act sends United to Wembley

United defender Phil Jones described this tie as a "defining moment" in our season and manager Louis van Gaal has had plenty of those as he has been surrounded by speculation about his future.

In this managerial high wire act, Van Gaal has developed a canny knack of steadying a stumble to pull out a result when he needed it most.

Van Gaal has fought off his critics with crucial wins at Liverpool and Manchester City as well as progressing in the FA Cup - and the heat was on the Dutchman again here after Sunday's 3-0 reverse at Tottenham.

There was no sign of unrest here in a performance that showed guile for the first 70 minutes and grit for the last 20 to send United to Wembley and offer LVG the chance to answer his critics with a trophy.

David De Gea will again rightly take the plaudits for another display of the kind that has offered us some respite in the darkest moments but Van Gaal's continued willingness to risk young talent again paid a rich dividend here.

18-year-old Marcus Rashford was replaced at half-time at Tottenham, his manager unhappy with his performance, but he produced the magic moment of star quality that shifted the emphasis and momentum in United's favour here.

As he did with his winner in the Manchester derby, Rashford showed a clinical edge and natural talent to score a wonderful opener.

Anthony Martial's busy and bustling outing caught the eye, Jesse Lingard was bright and linked the play well and in defence Timothy Fosu-Mensah was again excellent.

The young full-back showed tremendous maturity and was a tower of strength when United needed him most.
He was immense in the air and powerful in the tackle to keep the not insignificant threat of Manuel Lanzini quiet.

United have had their difficulties but in these two 18-year olds, Lingard and Martial, they have the burgeoning young talents to build around.

For the first time this season, United started in a 4-3-3 and, finally, produced a performance that the supporters can boast about.

Pacy, purposeful and powerful, United's players were more assured and enterprising in the system that we played our best football in under van Gaal last season and it is folly that he did not begin the season with it.

Rashford's latest piece of improvised ingenious might not be enough to save his manager's United career, but it means we return to Wembley- for a semi-final at least- for the first time in nearly three years. 

The Old Trafford museum staff might just want to keep that pot of polish handy. 

Match report: West Ham 1-2 United

United set up an FA Cup semi-final with Everton at Wembley after showing class and then character to see off West Ham at Upton Park.

Marcus Rashford gave the Reds the lead in this quarter-final replay on 54 minutes, the 18-year-old collecting Anthony Martial's pass and curling a magnificent finish past helpless Hammers keeper Darren Randolph.

When Marouane Fellaini- who had his best game of the season- bundled home a Martial cross 13 minutes later it looked all over- only for United to come under siege in the closing stages.

United keeper David de Gea- in another virtuoso display- had already saved superbly from Michail Antonio when James Tomkins stooped bravely among flying footwear to halve the deficit 11 minutes from time.

The hosts finally hammered at United's rearguard in a belated spell of pressure with De Gea saving once more from Andy Carroll and Cheikhou Kouyate, the latter flagged narrowly offside as he headed home a rebound.

Enner Valencia went close for West Ham early on whilst Randolph tipped over Fellaini's flick and then saved well from Jesse Lingard after fine build up from Rashford. 

The Reds were playing with a verve, pace and energy conspicuous by their absence this season and- after Lingard fired narrowly wide- took the lead within ten minutes of the resumption.

Rashford picked up Martial's pass, shimmied and curled a brilliant effort into the top corner for his sixth goal in a whirlwind United career.

The hosts fired a couple of speculative efforts at De Gea as they pushed for a leveller, but it was the Reds whom deservedly doubled their advantage on the hour mark.

Lingard crossed for Martial who controlled and fired across goal but the ball deflected off Tomkins and was diverted in off the knee of Fellaini and put United within sight of Wembley.

West Ham did not go quietly, however and roared back at their visitors as a slow burning cup tie turned into a fully grown thriller.

After an astonishing point blank save from Antonio, the Hammers halved the deficit to set up a frantic finale.
Carroll- subdued throughout after his seven-minute hat-trick on Saturday, nodded back across goal from a Mark Noble corner and Tomkins untidily forced the ball home from five yards.

That goal spurred Slaven Bilic's side into life as the hosts laid siege to the United goal.

De Gea prevented Chris Smalling putting through his own net, Carroll headed over when well-placed and the Spanish keeper made a superb late double save to keep out first Kouyate and then Carroll.

Kouyate's header was ruled out for offside, Wayne Rooney made his return from injury and Manuel Lanzini lashed wide but United held out to book a semi-final against Everton on 23rd April. 

Overall team performance: 8.5/10
United Faithful Man of the match: Marcus Rashford (De Gea and Fosu-Mensah were also excellent) 

Match preview: West Ham v United

Hot on the heels of Sunday's dissapointing reverse at Tottenham, United head to the capital's east end for another crack at the Hammers in the FA Cup.

Anthony Martial's late goal a month ago cancelled out mercurial Frenchman Dimitri Payet's opener to take the two sides back to Upton Park which will host its last ever cup tie with tonight's visit of United.

Coincidentally, West Ham's final Premier League game at their home of 112 years will also be against the Reds in the final week of the season on Tuesday 10th May.

There are no points on offer tonight though, rather a semi-final meeting with Everton at Wembley as the Reds look to end a 12-year itch without winning the famous trophy.
West Ham, meanwhile, are bidding for a fourth success in the competition and a first since 1980. 

Slaven Bilic's side are enjoying a good season, sitting sixth in the Premier League with a strong chance of European football and targeting the FA Cup as a realistic hope of silverware. 

Tim Fosu-Mensah impressed in his 68 minutes against Spurs but was forced off through injury so his fitness is unknown but Wayne Rooney played an hour for the Under-21s so could feature.
Phil Jones was also included in that match and may come back in, but the hosts will be without Diafra Sakho, Alex Song, Sam Byram, James Collins and Carl Jenkinson.

United manager Louis van Gaal:

"The FA Cup is our last chance of a trophy so it is very important for the players, for the club, me as the manager and, of course, the fans.

"We did not win against West Ham at home so now we have to play them again, this time away, and we have had one day less to prepare so I hope that does not affect us.
"It shall be different from a league game because if you lose the game you are out and then you cannot win.

"West Ham are difficult opponents and I saw against Arsenal the 'Andy Carroll show' but they have other players who are dangerous also- Payet for example and Lanzini can also score and create goals so we know that is shall not be easy but hopefully we can continue." said the Dutchman. 

The two sides have already met twice this season- both times at Old Trafford and both ended all square (0-0 in the league in December and then the first installment of the tie a month ago). 

Form guide: West Ham W W D D D D United L D D W W L
Match odds: West Ham 17/10 United 9/5 The match to be decided on penalties 11/4

Referee: Roger East 

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Enigmatic Herrera typifies United uncertainty

In two years at United Ander Herrera has promised so much but delivered little and his future, like many of team mates, is uncertain.

Herrera was the star of Athletic Bilbao's 2011-12 season, a campaign in which they reached the Europa League final (dispatching of United en route) and the Copa del Rey final.

It was thought to be those performances against us in that European tie that persuaded United to sign the Basque when he arrived for £24 million in the June.

When he signed, he appeared to be exactly the type of player we needed: an all-action midfielder to link the play and bring energy and industry to an engine room in desperate need of surgery. 

Eight goals last term was not a bad return for an attacking mid, and there were flashes of brilliance- the debut goal, exquisite strike at Leicester and his brace against Villa that was reminiscent of Paul Scholes. 

But yet, since then, he has struggled for consistency and has yet to nail down a starting place under Louis van Gaal. 

Watching Herrera, you're left with a feeling of what might have been: a player who looks as though he can dictate a match and make a difference but never quite manages to do so. 

Part of this problem is down to his style of play and role in the side: is Herrera a no.10 playmaker, a box-to-box engine ala Paul Scholes or a deep-lying creator?

It's been difficult for Herrera to establish himself in his favoured position 'in the hole' with Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Memphis and Adnan Januzaj all having vied for that position before Van Gaal seemingly settled on Jesse Lingard. 

Two seasons in and we're still not sure what he brings to the table: he loves the club with a passion and is a likeable guy but there's no real identity in his play and too many question marks.

I'm still not convinced he's good enough to be our playmaker: he's wasteful in possession and his lightweight frame is not up to the physical and robust style of the English top flight. 

In many ways, Herrera's uncertainty mirrors that of many of his team mates.

Are his struggles down to a lack of faith in him by Van Gaal and therefore a lack of game time?
Has he struggled for consistency because he's being played in many unfamiliar positions?
Or is he just not good enough?

Do we keep him at the club and hope Herrera flourishes under a new manager or do we cash in and put him down as another Van Gaal flop.

Whatever happens from here, the jury's still very much out on Ander. 

Manchester United: Keep or Sell (3)

Ashley Young

Had his best season in a United shirt last term but has not kicked on this year. He brings pace to our team but his his crossing is poor and too often doesn't beat a man. Has had an injury disrupted campaign and has filled in at full-back. There's an argument he possibly deserves a further season but he doesn't offer us a great deal and we can do better. SELL. 

Wayne Rooney

Admittedly not the player he once was but is still our captain and a great influence on the younger members of the squad.
Lacks pace and has more influence on a match from a deeper role but still has match winning moments in him and a lot to offer this team. KEEP. 

Marcus Rashford

The young Mancunian has burst on to the season to take the Premier League by storm, despite only making his debut in February. Pace, skill and a menace in front of goal are just three assets in his armoury. Difficult to tell if he'll keep this form going but one for the future for sure. KEEP

Anthony Martial

Has potential to be world class in a few years. Already well on his way. One of the best young players United have had in many a year. Possibly still a little overpriced, but has stood out as the shining light in a poor season for this side. Martial has been our best outfield player this term and, along with De Gea, must surely be in the running for the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year Award. A no brainer. KEEP

James Wilson

Currently on loan at Brighton but he doesn't look fit and isn't doing his long term prospects at Old Trafford much good. Raw pace to burn but not much else and don't think he's good enough. Should cash in. SELL. 

Louis van Gaal

Very difficult for our manager to be given a third year as - even if we win the FA Cup - there's been a lack of progress from last year and, if anything, we've gone backwards. As we see, the squad isn't up to much but you do feel that another manager would have got more out of them. Sorry Louis, but it's goodbye. 

Manchester United: Keep or Sell? (2)

Michael Carrick

A fantastic servant who enjoyed the best season of his career for United last year. However every player has a best by date and we're seeing that with 35-year-old Carrick. Regrettably, should be one of those axed in the summer. SELL.

Morgan Schneiderlin

A mixed bag in his first year at the club. Not sure he's up to it but probably deserves another season to show his true potential. I think we can do better but hard to judge at this stage. KEEP (for now)

Bastian Schweinsteiger

Injury prone, unfit and struggling with the pace and physicality of the English top flight. Seemed like a good idea at the time but past his best and easy to see why Bayern got rid. We should do the same. SELL.

Marouane Fellaini

Has shown glimpses of the player he was at Everton but has generally failed to convince and his style of play is ill suited to what United fans want. Far from popular. SELL

Ander Herrera

Two years into his Old Trafford career and I'm still not sure what he brings to us. Lightweight, often out of position and not enough influence and authority when it matters. Loves the club with a passion. Flashes of quality but has failed to convince the fans or Van Gaal. SELL

Juan Mata

Not had his best season but he cannot be held accountable. The mercurial Spaniard lacks pace but is one of this side's few match winners and has moments of magic in his locker. Class. KEEP

Jesse Lingard

A breakthrough campaign for the  Warrington youngster. Still learning his trade and games sometimes can pass him by but has generally been impressive.  Credit to  LVG for giving him his chance. KEEP

Adnan Januzaj

So much early promise and potential but has fallen out of favour under Van Gaal amid reports about his attitude. Difficult to say whether he would flourish under another  manager but we can do better. Should cash in. SELL


A difficult first season for the £25 million purchase from PSV. Again, flashes of brilliance but has struggled for consistency and his attitude has been poor. That said, he is young and clearly has bags of talent so probably deserves another season before we can judge. KEEP.

Andreas Pereira

Who? The out of favour Brazilian is not even in the Under 21 side and has fallen down the pecking order since making his debut last season. Clearly talented. May benefit from going on loan. KEEP (loan deal elsewhere) 

Manchester United: Keep or Sell? (1)

Here at United Faithful we run the rule over those Reds who will be here next season, those fighting for their futures and those whom should be moved on.

David De Gea

An absolute no brainer. United's only world class player will be integral to the rebuild and absolutely must stay at all costs. KEEP

Sergio Romero

Playing second fiddle to DDG but has impressed when called upon and the Argentinian is useful back-up. KEEP

Matteo Darmian

A tough one. Has impressed in fits and starts but looks a little lightweight and his positioning isn't always good. Having said that, he probably deserves another season to prove his worth. KEEP

Antonio Valencia

Pacy but his distribution is poor, he's toothless and offers little when called upon. Has been a good servant for United but should be moved on. Not good enough. SELL

Guillermo Varela 

Raw, rash and learning his trade. Inconsistent but this can be excused because of his young age. Deserves further chances to impress. KEEP.

Chris Smalling 

United's most improved player and standout defender. Has come on in leaps and bounds and arguably the only man to have improved under Louis van Gaal. Defensive lynchpin. KEEP

Daley Blind

Has had a good season but often gets exposed for pace and I can't help but think that we can do better. He is not the answer to our defensive problems. SELL.

Paddy McNair

Another difficult decision on the Northern Ireland international. Integral to the Under 21s and still a young man making his way at Old Trafford. Needs more time in the senior side to judge. KEEP (for now). 

Phil Jones

Should be moved on. Injury prone and fails to impress with his reckless tackling on the rare occasion he does play. Failed to fulfill potential. SELL

Marcos Rojo

Injury prone, poor on the ball and not strong enough off it. Underwhelming and not up to it. The £16 million Argentinian should go in the summer. SELL.

Luke Shaw 

Had two injury-disrupted years at Old Trafford so hard to judge. Deserves another season to prove his worth after his leg break. KEEP (for now). 

Also KEEP: Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Tim Fosu-Mensah. Two fantastic young talents with excellent first team futures. 

Monday 11 April 2016

Common sense all too common for Louis van Gaal

Two defensive midfielders. A winger as the playmaker. A playmaker as the winger. A winger as a striker and a striker as a winger. 

Just like at West Brom, Louis van Gaal gave the impression that he over-complicates things and his thinking is muddled, old fashioned and unclear.

Common sense is, for Van Gaal, too common.

Anthony Martial could have moved up front to accomodate Ashley Young's introduction, or Marcus Rashford could have stayed on.

What did Van Gaal think that Young, whose last professional game up front was as a teenager at Watford, would do against the Premier League's best defence?

It was, as previously highlighted, a baffling decision.

In only his tenth career game, Rashford was hooked at the break.

At Liverpool, his withdrawal was an admission that Van Gaal had made a tactical mistake but the timing of his substitution at Spurs seemed to be convenient.

With Wayne Rooney match-fit again, Van Gaal has an easy excuse to start the captain either at West Ham or against Aston Villa at the weekend.

Young could-or should- have replaced Juan Mata or Jesse Lingard.
Even Anthony Martial struggled against Kyle Walker, who was bamboozled by a wonderfully audacious piece of skill by Rashford.

He's looked imperious in midfield for the Under-21s but Tim Fosu-Mensah has not moved out from the back four in his time with the seniors.

He made his debut as left-back and has excelled at centre-back but his pace and power is perfect for the full-back role in the Premier League and it's no coincidence that Spurs blew United away after he went off.

With Antonio Valencia out of contract next year and Guillermo Varela a raw and rash talent, United arguably need to sign a right-back in the summer.
18-year-old Fosu-Mensah was selected ahead of Matteo Darmian despite the Italian's good recent outings and might kill that debate if he maintains this form.

Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata dovetailed effectively at City but that result, like most of United's big wins this season, was an illusion.

Last week, the pair did little against an Everton side as watertight as a sieve and they never got in the game at Spurs- Mata has had a wasted season on the right in a 4-2-3-1 under Van Gaal.

United fans at The Lane chanted 'Argentina' in the first half but even at 0-0, Marcos Rojo endured another underwhelming game and it is impressive that he actually lasted the full 90 minutes this week.

Outjumped by Toby Alderweireld for Spurs second, the £16 million defender is one of Van Gaal's overlooked flops and must go in the summer.
He was again embarrasing and offered nothing - you could arguably say the same about our manager. 

United were leaderless at Tottenham and face a summer of rebuilding

In an ever growing list of baffling tactical decisions, Louis van Gaal's call to deploy Ashley Young up front at Tottenham was his most unfathomable yet. 

Apart from a 60-minute run-out as a centre forward for United's Under 21s, this is a player whom is not only on the way back from injury but has never played as a striker in his life.

If that was odd, Van Gaal's justification that he played him there because he wanted "pace and running in behind" was even stranger.

Maybe he did, but if so then why not play Anthony Martial- a natural forward- up front and put Young in his more accustomed position on the wing.

Martial offers the pace, trickery and direct running that Van Gaal wanted Young to give United so it was a nonsensical decision.

Tim Fosu-Mensah  and Chris Smalling impressed but Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo- whom continued at left-back despite a string of underwhelming outings- less so.

United lacked creativity so to leave out Ander Herrera- who was bright against Everton- in favour of the leggy-looking Michael Carrick was also hard to get our heads around.

United were a tactical mess from start to finish and it was again very difficult to detect exactly how we were trying to play.

Beyond containing Spurs, there was no game plan and once the first goal went in through Dele Alli on 70 minutes- although it was only a matter of time throughout- defeat always looked on the cards.

It's easy to blame the manager after a defeat such as this but sometimes it pays to just admit that the better team won on the day and that was certainly the case here.

I expected to lose to a high-flying Spurs but it was the manner of the defeat, rather than the result itself, that was disappointing.
We had nothing to play for and Tottenham needed the win to keep pace with Leicester but- even so- i
t was an inexcusable crumbling and United never recovered from three goals in six second half minutes. 

Once Fosu-Mensah went off and Spurs broke the deadlock, there was a lack of leadership and the floodgates opened.

United are in transition and, on this evidence, it cannot be underestimated just how big a rebuilding job we've got on our hands this summer.

Van Gaal's hopes of being the man to do that had been boosted in recent weeks but have taken a further blow off the back of this defeat. 

Tottenham result seemed inevitable but Van Gaal's tactics baffle (again)

From the moment United's team bus arrived late at White Hart Lane, you got the feeling that it wasn't going to be our day.

The joke doing the rounds of social media was that it wasn't the first time a coach has held the Reds back but - that aside - the result at Spurs should come as no surprise.

We came up against a very good side, arguably the best footballing outfit in the league and, with nothing to play for from our point of view, they were always going to play with greater purpose.

Nothing to play for, I hear you ask? 

The Reds are out of the Champions League places but such is our state of flux and rebuilding is finishing fourth any different to fifth, sixth or even seventh? 

United are a world away from challenging for European honours and are at least three years away from doing so, so does it really matter where we find ourselves next season?

In my eyes, if you're not going to win the Champions League then there's not much to be gained from playing in it (apart from the obvious financial incentive but that's no barrier for United).

Having turned up to the ground late, United seemed set up to contain the hosts and finished with only five shots across the 90 minutes.

Bizarrely, Louis van Gaal decided to substitute young striker Marcus Rashford at half-time and sent on winger Ashley Young, who played as the furthest man forward for the second 45 minutes.

Van Gaal's reasoning for this was he wanted Young's pace and penetration to pin Spurs back, but, with Anthony Martial stationed on the left, it seemed a nonsensical decision.

Young was played up front based on one 60-minute showing there for the under 21s but it was the latest in a long line of unfathomable tactics from Van Gaal this season. 

It would be easy to blame the defeat on that call from the manager but, in truth, Spurs had threatened throughout and it was only a matter of time before they scored. 

Young made little impression, while 18-year-old Tim Fosu-Mensah was United's best player, defending bravely and combatively during his 68 minutes.

It was telling, therefore, that the Reds capitulation began two minutes after the young full back's withdrawal.
Just two minutes after Matteo Darmian came on because of an injury to Fosu-Mensah, Tottenham broke the deadlock in a move that came from his side of the pitch.

I'd much rather win on Wednesday at West Ham - United's task now is to ensure there's no repeat of this result in the capital's east end.