Tuesday 31 May 2016

Rashford: From United debutant to Euro 2016 in 96 days

Marcus Rashford must still think he's dreaming after becoming England's youngest ever debut scorer and then getting a call-up to Roy Hodgson's final 23 for the tournament in France.

Rashford was named in England's 26-man squad two weeks ago but was not thought likely to make the final 23-man selection.
However, he scored three minutes into his full debut for the national team against Australia on Friday to make a compelling case for inclusion and, with Danny Welbeck's injury enforced absence coupled with doubts over Daniel Sturridge's fitness, Rashford is one of five strikers in Hodgson's squad.

But Rashford deserves his place in the squad and is there on merit. 

It was only 96 days ago that the 18-year-old Academy graduate made his United bow, in an otherwise unremarkable Europa League tie that catapulted the precocious youngster to overnight fame.

Anthony Martial's injury in the warm-up against Midtjylland gave Rashford his chance, he scored twice on both his European and Premier League debuts within days of each other and has never looked back since.

It's a remarkable rise for a player whose season started with a 1-1 draw at West Brom's training ground in an Under 18 fixture.

Rashford began to stamp his mark and turn heads in September, netting eight goals in six games as he was given European experience for Nicky Butt's Under 19 side before being made captain.

James Wilson had been loaned out and a crippling injury list led to a shock call-up to Louis van Gaal's first team bench as an unused sub for matches at Watford and Leicester in November shortly after he turned 18.

The noises kept on coming from inside the club and he scored his first goal for the second string in a 6-1 win over Leicester shortly before Christmas before two more strikes for the Under 21 elevated the youngster to a regular spot in Warren Joyce's outfit. 

Rashford played for the Under 18s in the opening months of 2016  (he was part of the side knocked out of the FA Youth Cup by Chelsea) in a campaign in which he intended to earn his stripes at reserve team level. 

On the night of Thursday 25 February 2016, however, the course of Rashford's career and life changed forever as Anthony Martial hobbles down the tunnel holding his hamstring after a warm-up injury ahead of United's last 16 second leg Europa Cup tie with Midtjylland.

Called into the starting line-up at the last, Rashford scores twice and then does so again on his league debut against Arsenal to kick-start a sequence of eight goals in 18 appearances including the winner against City, a pivotal strike at West Ham and a new four-year contract after a start in the FA Cup final.

Fast-tracked into Hodgson's senior set-up, Rashford's fairytale continues with a goal on his England debut and he's named in the final squad four days later. 

Whether he will get game time in France remains to be seen, but it's been one heck of a journey for the lad from Wythenshawe. 

May: Reds miss out and Van Gaal sacked despite Wembley win

United start the final month of the season five points behind City who sit fourth as champions elect Leicester arrive at the Theatre of Dreams on the cusp of their coronation.

The Reds are in equally desperate need of the points, however and are in no mood to roll over, relishing their role of party poopers as Martial strikes early to put us ahead.

The Foxes show why they will be champions, however, and respond superbly through skipper Wes Morgan's header from a set piece and, although United have the better of the encounter, we cannot force victory despite Danny Drinkwater's late red card.

Leicester's title champagne remains on ice but they go on to seal the crown after Chelsea fightback to hold Tottenham and ensure they cannot catch Claudio Ranieri's side.

United, meanwhile, are locked in a straight fight with local rivals City for the fourth and final Champions League place and need a Mata winner to sink a soon-to-be-relegated Norwich side in a tight and tense encounter in East Anglia.

Pellegrini's side fail to beat Arsenal and United's top four fate is suddenly in our own hands as we head to the capital and the re-arranged last ever trip to Upton Park.

In a game that typifies our season, Sakho puts the hosts ahead early on for Martial- again- to come to United's rescue in our hour of need to turn the match- undeservedly on its balance- around. 

The Frenchman's brilliance briefly illuminates a traumatic night for Van Gaal and the team (kick off is delayed by 45 minutes after an unprovoked and mindless attack on the visitors coach outside the ground).

With United 14 minutes away from a top four finish, however, we unravel and our game-management is again naive as late goals from the excellent Antonio and Winston Reid ensure West Ham sign off from their home of 112-years with a famous win.

Once again that result means that United's Champions League fate once more lie in the hands of others but no one could have predicted what would happen next.

City draw at Swansea to leave Van Gaal's side needing a 19-goal swing to overhaul them, but our final day fixture at home to Bournemouth is postponed and then abandoned after Old Trafford is evacuated with a 'suspicious' device found. 

A chaotic day ends with a lot of egg on a lot of red faces and the Reds out of the top four fight but Bournemouth are eventually beaten two days later as Rooney, Rashford and Young (his first of the season) score to confirm a fifth placed finish.

A disappointing season ends with a silver lining as the ten man Reds lift a 12th FA Cup with victory over Palace in extra-time at Wembley but Van Gaal is sacked two days later and replaced by Jose Mourinho.

The club are unhappy and cite the twin failings of a negative style of play and a failure to finish in the top four as the principle reason for the Dutchman's sacking two years into a three-season contract at Old Trafford. 

Martial ends top scorer with 17 goals and wins Goal of the Season for his Liverpool goal with De Gea and Smalling voted Fans Player and Players Player respectively. 

April: A setback, successive wins and a semi-final

Everton provided the first and last opposition of the month and the out of form Toffees are beaten at Old Trafford as Tony Martial's second half winner keeps United in the top four hunt despite another unconvincing display

The Reds are delayed in north London and end up well beaten despite matching Spurs for 70 minutes as the title chasing hosts eventually pull away to triumph through Dele Alli, Toby Alderweireld and Erik Lamela's three goal burst in six second half minutes.

Van Gaal is criticised for his baffling tactics with Ashley Young deployed as a striker in the second half having replaced Rashford at the break, a decision that backfires badly as United lose valuable ground in the Champions League race. 

From one part of the capital to the other on the Wednesday and the last ever FA Cup tie at the "Boleyn" for a place in the semi-finals at Wembley

The fervent and passionate crowd are against United but the hosts are nervy and tentative as the Reds punish them through Rashford and Fellaini to seal a semi-final spot even after James Tomkins late goal for the Hammers.

David De Gea is heroic once more with a series of superb stops, youngster Tim Fosu-Mensah impresses again and Rooney's return provides a boost as United survive a late siege from Slaven Bilic's side to seal a semi-final spot. 

Rashford scores his second in two games to relegate Villa in an unremarkable game before the Reds dispatch of meek Palace with ease as Darmian scores his first United goal, a screamer in front of the sparsely populated Stretford End.

Three wins in a row and the month ends as it started, with a third meeting of the season against Roberto Martinez's Everton- this time in the FA Cup semi-finals.

United produce arguably their best first half performance of the campaign and Fellaini nets against his old club but De Gea brilliantly saves Lukaku's penalty after Rooney clears off the line as the Toffees roar back. 

From then on the Reds are the ropes and Everton's long-threatened equaliser finally arrives when Smalling turns a Deulofeu cross into his own net to seemingly force extra-time.

Martial has other ideas though and the man that settled the recent league encounter does it again with a composed finish from Herrera's pass to send United into a first final for nine years against Palace in May. 

March: Mixed fortunes as City downed after Liverpool KO

 United are frustrated for long periods but Watford are profligate and pay the price as Juan Mata's exquisite late free-kick ensures the Reds capitalise on our rivals slip ups to move level on points with fourth placed City.

That makes it four wins on the bounce but momentum is checked the following weekend as Mata goes from hero to villain, receiving the first red card of his career as West Brom beat United at home for the first time in 32 years.

The Reds of Manchester and Merseyside will meet in Europe for the first time in a blockbuster, but the first leg at Anfield goes the way of Jurgen Klopp's side who take advantage of a bad night at the office for United and Van Gaal.

Sturridge and Firmino both score to put the hosts in command and break a sequence of four defeats in a row to us, and only David de Gea's heroics keep United in the tie in a desperate and lamentable showing that leaves Van Gaal denying reports over his future.

West Ham and Dimitri Payet do little to allay the ongoing uncertainty as they take the lead in the Cup quarter-final but United rally and force a replay as Martial scores late to take the tie back to Upton Park.

Liverpool arrive at Old Trafford for the second leg with the Reds looking to do the improbable and, when Martial scores from the spot with half an hour played, the comeback looks on in a first half display full of pace, energy and endeavour.

Coutinho's wonderful individual goal quickly re-establishes the two goal advantage which the visitors do not relinquish as United run out of steam to bow out of the Europa League in the last 16.

Van Gaal is a man under pressure for the umpteenth time this term but again pulls a result out the bag just when he needs it most as stuttering City are beaten on home turf.

Rashford becomes the youngest ever Manchester derby debutant and scorer as the Reds move to within one point of a City side who have just announced the arrival of Guardiola in the summer.

United counter-attack brilliantly and then defend heroically to shut out City as Van Gaal's tactical masterclass finally brings him a credit mark in a campaign of angst.  

February: Frustrating inconsistency, youngsters shine and Rashford's rise

United end a run of 11 hours without a first-half goal at home as a youthful side avenge the Boxing Day defeat with a stylish victory over Stoke through goals from Lingard, Martial and Rooney in a rare night of relaxation for Van Gaal. 

The Reds fantastic crop of youngsters are flourishing under the Dutchman's tutelage and impress again at champions Chelsea on the 7th.

Lingard's brilliantly taken goal- set up by teenager Cameron Borthwick-Jackson-  puts a vibrant and energetic United side ahead but the valuable lead is lost as Diego Costa scores in stoppage time to earn Guus Hiddink's side a share of the spoils. 

The young players are keeping United in the hunt but suffer a setback after struggling Sunderland score early and late to boost their own hopes as Martial's goal is not enough to prevent a seventh league loss of the season.

To compound a bad Valentine's weekend for the team, Rooney is injured and will miss up to eight weeks as De Gea's own goal six minutes from time leaves United six points adrift of the top four.

Things go from bad to worse as the pressure again ratchets up on Van Gaal after the part-time minnows of Midtjylland sink woeful United in Denmark in the first leg of the Europa Cup last 16.

Memphis puts us ahead and we should push on from there but individual errors cost us dear as the Danes inflict another painful reverse on Van Gaal's frugal and fragile side.

In the Dutchman's defence, the Reds are bereft of 15 first-teamers but still win with ease at Shrewsbury to seal a Cup quarter-final as Smalling, Lingard and Mata score after substitute Will Keane is added to United's lengthy injury list.

Ahead of the second leg against Midtjylland, Martial is injured in the warm-up as 18-year-old Marcus Rashford starts and then scores twice on debut to become United's youngest ever European scorer.

It's just a flash in the pan, let's see how he does against anyone good, they said... we do.

Three days later, the Manchester-born youngster follows up his senior bow with a brilliant brace on debut as a United side with an average age of 25 stun title-chasing Arsenal at a jubilant Old Trafford to breathe new life into the campaign in one of the high points of our season. 

January: Results pick up but problems remain

Van Gaal has overseen an eight-game winless run, the worst such sequence since Sir Alex's winter of discontent in 1989 but remains in his job as 2015 makes way for 2016 and the start of a new dawn for United.

Well, sort of..

The Reds register their first win since mid November as bogey side Swansea are beaten at Old Trafford thanks to goals from Martial and Rooney's brilliantly instinctive finish.

The FA Cup journey begins with the visit of League One Sheffield, United are poor and toil but eventually triumph through a late, late Rooney strike from the spot to seal a fourth-round place.

The trip to Tyneside brings flair, entertainment and thrilling contest, but, frustratingly not a win as United are pegged back despite the brilliance of the rejuvenated Rooney.

The skipper puts United ahead early-again from the spot and Lingard's wonderful counter-attacking goal doubles the lead but the hosts storm back to level through Wijnaldum and Mitrovic.

Rooney's thunderbolt puts the visitors ahead again but Paul Dummett's injury-time goal rescues a point for the Magpies after Fellaini and Lingard miss gilt-edged chances to wrap up the game.

West Ham's win leaves United in sixth- leapfrogged by West Ham ahead of the trip to fierce rivals Liverpool on the 17th.

Van Gaal's side are second best and are fortunate to win but Rooney's smash and grab winner- which comes after a series of top stops from De Gea- earns United a fourth consecutive win over the Merseyside men, now led by charismatic German Jurgen Klopp.

That 1-0 victory brings euphoric delight but the mood quickly turns sour again as a lacklustre United- who muster only one shot on target- go down 1-0 to Saints at home for the second successive season and are booed off again by a fed up and frustrated fanbase.

The match is followed-again- by rumours of Van Gaal's sacking but he survives once more and the month ends on a brighter note with victory at Championship Derby in the FA Cup.

United send out a youthful-looking side but goals from the experienced trio of in-form Rooney, Daley Blind and Juan Mata send the Reds into the fifth round in a tie notable for the outstanding travelling support. 

December: Worst run of form for years as Van Gaal clings to job

After another shot-shy goalless draw at home to West Ham- a sixth of the season- the month starts badly and gets worse as the club's worst run since the late 1980s is offset by a crippling injury crisis and a manager fighting for his job at every turn.

There are calls for Van Gaal to go after the stalemate against the Hammers, but the mutterings reach a crescendo when United collapse in Wolfsburg to go out of the Champions League before the knockout stage.

Martial put United ahead early and own goal from the hosts makes it 2-2 and puts United in the box seat, but Naldo scores late to condemn the Reds to a third placed finish and the Europa League in 2016.

Van Gaal uses Nick Powell as a game-changer and is again guilty of muddled thinking as newly-promoted Bournemouth inflict a second consecutive loss on his side on the 12th despite Marouane Fellaini's equaliser as former United man Josh King hits the winner.

Van Gaal's position looks untenable as another promoted team  (this time Alex Neil's Norwich) win at Old Trafford for the first time since 1989, coincidentally the last time United suffered such a poor run of form.

United again dominate possession but muster only two shots on target and are beaten for the third game in a row.
Tony Martial's second half strike reduces the deficit but fails to spark an uninspired United into life as the team are booed off by a mutinous and disbelieving home crowd.

Despite widespread reports of his sacking- amplified by Jose Mourinho's departure from Chelsea- Dutchman Van Gaal remains defiant amid silence from the club's hierarchy.

It appears things cannot get any worse but they do as United's season hits a new low with an atrocious showing at Britannia as Stoke easily triumph 2-0.

The Potters are pacy, powerful, clinical and creative- everything the Reds aren't, and it seems almost certain that Van Gaal will not be in charge for the final game of the month.

He survives again and although United end this tramautic month as they started it- with a 0-0 at home this time to Chelsea the performance is much improved and appears to buy time for the embattled boss.

November: Barren run ended as United strike late and injuries mount up

Rooney's late goal against CSKA at Old Trafford finally ends United's barren run in front of goal and sends us top of our Champions League group in the first game of the month.

We look set for a fourth consecutive 0-0 draw and ride our luck, with superb blocks from De Gea and Smalling deny Doumbia and pave the way for the skipper's intervention three minutes from time in our first goal for 404 minutes.

We again make hard work of things when West Brom visit on the 7th, but Lingard's caps a man of the match showing with his first senior goal and Juan Mata's injury time penalty seals it.

With injuries mounting, teenager Cameron Borthwick-Jackson is handed a first team debut against the Baggies and looks impressive as Van Gaal's men move third with a steady and comfortable win ahead of the international break.

Makeshift striker Memphis volleys the dominant and injury-hit Reds side ahead early at Watford, but the promoted hosts hit back and level through talisman Troy Deeney's late penalty in a match that marks Marcus Rashford's first appearance in the senior squad as an unused sub. 

Van Gaal's side have character, though, and in a creditable display of gutsy spirit and determination, snatch victory at the death when Deeney turns from hero to villain when he turns Bastian Schweinsteiger's cross into his own net in Fergie time to send the Reds back to the summit.

Then comes, in my opinion, the turning point of the entire campaign as United lose control of their Champions League destiny with another tepid performance at home to PSV.

The Reds press and dominate, but rue a lack of cutting edge to run out of ideas and steam as two precious points are dropped with a crunch clash to decide our fate in Wolfsburg on Matchday Six.

It's another draw for the Reds three days later as Basti's first United goal cancels out Jamie Vardy's record-breaking opener at the King Power as we end the month third. 

Monday 30 May 2016

October: Delight and despair for inconsistent Reds

United's first outing in October proves a chastening one as Arsenal sink a ragged United with three goals in an opening 20 minute burst to leapfrog the Reds in the table.

Following the ill-timed international break, the Reds travel to a far from happy recent hunting ground- Goodison Park- where United have lost in the last three seasons under three different managers.

This time, though, it's different as the Reds produce their best away day display of the campaign with Morgan Schneiderlin's first United goal added to by strikes from Ander Herrera and Rooney's first at Everton since 2007.

That sends United back up to second and also sees a first appearance since Van Gaal's first game in charge for Academy graduate Jesse Lingard after a knee injury.

Martial's first European goal for the Reds earns a come-from-behind point in Moscow against CSKA on Matchday Three, the first of four consecutive stalemates as the first signs of frustration begin to show.

Manchester City roll into town and although we return to the summit and do enough to win it- with good chances for Lingard and Herrera- the visitors defensive approach stifles United and we're forced to settle for stalemate.

Things do not get any better in midweek as Middlesbrough triumph on penalties in the fourth round of the League Cup after another goalless outing- as Rooney, Carrick and Young all fail from the spot to knock the Reds out and send Championship Boro through to the quarter-finals.

Simmering tensions come to a head with the manager's future now increasingly questioned after a ghastly Halloween for the team at Crystal Palace- a third successive 0-0 draw amid cries of 'attack attack attack' from the travelling fans at Selhurst Park. 

Palace have the better of the contest- Bolasie hits the bar-and merit the win but an undeserved point and renewed defensive solidity is of small comfort to a fanbase upset and disillusioned by Van Gaal's cautious and stymied setup. 

United slip down to fourth with pre-season title favourites City leading the way with Arsenal in close pursuit- Van Gaal's side are four points behind. 

Martial and Memphis continue to be tied in United's goalscoring charts with United now not having scored for 325 minutes. 

September: Martial makes his mark as momentum builds

September proves a mixed month for United and Van Gaal with the euphoric triumph over Liverpool followed by a traumatic evening in the Netherlands as we lose our Champions League group game opener.

Tony Martial defies his doubters and lights up Old Trafford with a stunning goal on his debut- a strike that will be voted Goal of the Season- on an evening of euphoric delight as United turn over Brendan Rogers' Scousers for a third time in a row.

Daley Blind and Ander Herrera's penalty give the hosts a 2-0 goal, despite the absence of Rooney, only for Christian Benteke's wonderful reply to set up a tense finale.
Enter, Tony Martial... off the bench, the 19-year-old waltzes and weaves through a mesmerised Liverpool defence to fire in a truly sumptuous goal to become an instant hero and write himself into United folklore. 

Three days later, Memphis nets against his old side but the Dutch champions come from behind to win as the Reds woes are further deepened by the loss of in-form Luke Shaw to a horrific double leg break in the worst possible start to our Champions League campaign.

Martial's two goal salvo fires the Reds to victory on the south coast (Southampton 2-3 United, an excellent goal from Mata completing the win) as we go second in the league and then the Frenchman scores yet again (English press said he had no chance) three days later in a routine 3-0 victory over Championship side Ipswich in the Capital One Cup. 

United make it a 100% record in the league for the month as they go top of the Premier League for the first time in two years with a comfortable home win over early strugglers Sunderland.

It's Dick Advocaat's final game in charge of the visitors and there's no goal for Martial this time, but Memphis, Rooney and Juan Mata score to send United to the summit.

Attentions turn to Europe and having suffered defeat in the opener, the Reds simply must win and do just that despite falling behind on a nervy night against Wolfsburg at Old Trafford.

Daniel Caligiuri slots the visitors into a fourth minute lead but United rally and turn the tie around through Mata's penalty and Chris 'Mike' Smalling's second half goal to earn a vital victory. 

Top of the league and back on track in Europe, early optimism looks set to be realised but little did we know there were several bumps in the road around the corner.

Martial's instant impact propels him to the top of United's goalscoring charts, with three goals in Europe for Memphis seeing him join the Frenchman on four apiece. 

United Faithful Season Review 2015/16: August

It was the worst-kept secret in football: Jose Mourinho has been appointed as the club's new manager and is already preparing for next term ahead of taking office on July 1st.

That seemed a stretch of the imagination last June, when we were looking to the 2015/16 campaign with genuine optimism: Louis van Gaal had led us to a fourth-placed finish and back into the Champions League in his first season in charge and soon set about bolstering his squad.

One that we hoped would- mistakenly as it turned out- prove capable mount a serious and consistent challenge for the title,

Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao were swiftly moved on, as were Robin van Persie, Nani, Rafael, Jonny Evans and Javier Hernandez.
In came Memphis from PSV for £30 million, Italian full-back Matteo Darmian for £18 million, midfield pair Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger with Argentinian keeper Sergio Romero on a free as back up and £36 million man Anthony Martial from Monaco.

We did not start Van Gaal's first season well but, having spent close to £100 million on strengthening the side, early signs are good as a promising pre-season- and the Dutchman's idiosyncrasies going down a storm- mean we go into the new season with new-found belief.

United win three out of four matches on the US Tour and the season opener against Spurs is settled through a solitary Kyle Walker own goal as Sergio Romero impresses on his debut with David de Gea's 'will he won't he' transfer saga still rumbling on. 

Adnan Januzaj scores the winner at Villa as the Reds make it two from two in the league and, four days later, see off Belgian outfit Brugge 3-1 in the first leg of the Champions League play-off at Old Trafford.

Memphis shines on his European debut with a brace of goals but the first points of the campaign are dropped the following weekend as a resolute Newcastle rearguard display frustrate United.

Wayne Rooney hits a hat-trick as United complete a 7-1 aggregate thumping of Brugge to qualify for the group stage where we are drawn to face PSV, Russian side CSKA and Bundesliga team Wolfsburg. 

Bogey team Swansea clip the Reds wings again with a third successive 2-1 victory over Van Gaal's side- Juan Mata getting the goal- and United end the opening month in fifth with seven points from twelve in August.

Despite that defeat in south Wales, there is relief and delight for Reds fans everywhere as De Gea's move to Real Madrid falls through and ends with him signing a new four year contract at the club.

Mourinho is United's upgrade on Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson made a grave error in 2013 when he overlooked Jose Mourinho as United manager but the club has belatedly made amends.

The game is afoot for United.

Three years after the ill-informed Glazer family delegated Sir Alex to anoint his successor, the club has atoned for those mistakes.
Instead of appointing a manager with a second-tier title on his CV, they have turned to an eight time league winner and two time Champions League winner.
Ferguson said upon Eric Cantona's arrival at the club that he was a United player - Mourinho is a Manchester United manager. In 2013, Mourinho was the only available manager who was an arguable upgrade on Sir Alex.

It might seem churlish to compare the two men's careers, given Ferguson's longevity over the itinerant Mourinho, but the Portuguese lost to Ferguson's United side on just two occasions with three clubs. Mourinho's imperious first Chelsea team raised the bar in England and posed a challenge Sir Alex was prepared to rise to. Mourinho's arrival in England improved Ferguson as a manager and United as a club.

As one Red said:"United are mad appointing Mourinho.
"A petty, confrontational egomaniac who is unnecessarily negative in big games."

It might be hard for Ferguson to stomach, but Mourinho is more like that than he's prepared to admit. Tribally, he is pefect.

Mourinho reduced Pep Guardiola to lame profanities in a press conference and his record against our old nemesis Arsene Wenger is as one-sided as Marcus Rashford against Martin Demichelis.

Like us, he loathes Liverpool and he masterminded their Premier League downfall in 2014. Mourinho feeds off hatred: United have done likewise for years.

An unofficial club mantra is 'Hated Adored Never Ignored'.

It should be Mourinho's mantra as well, times have changed and while Mourinho might be streaked with darkness, so too was Ferguson.

When asked about Mourinho eye gouging an opposition coach in 2012, Sir Bobby Charlton replied: "A United manager would never do that"
Perhaps not, but Ryan Giggs recent alleged transgressions ensured the moral high ground his cheerleaders stood on quickly eroded. 

Moyes, a manager whose arrival was greeted with slogan 'cut from the same cloth', seemed to be chosen on account of his nationality and friendship with the club's hierarchy.

In Giggs, United could not countenance someone less qualified and with inferior managerial experience than Warren Joyce. 

There are misgivings about Mourinho post-Real.

Those three years were such a strain that even an egotist like him was prepared to return to Chelsea, where he alienated a title-winning squad and a former Chelsea employee, physio Eva Carneiro, is seeking damages from him for unfair dismissal.

Hated Adored Never Ignored indeed.

Friday 27 May 2016

Tough job for Jose after appointment as new United boss

Jose Mourinho has finally landed his dream Old Trafford job but the size of the task at hand is unlikely to phase him.

The Portuguese said that the past three years did not "reflect the club's history" but for the man many thought would replace Sir Alex in the first instance it won't be plain sailing.

Despite the £250 million spent on new players in his largely unsuccessful two years as manager, Louis van Gaal did not invest in the defence and this should be Mourinho's main focus.

United have not really replaced Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic and although Chris Smalling has developed well, finding a consistent and reliable partner for him is a must.

Tim Fosu-Mensah looks to have a bright future but is still raw whilst Daley Blind was one of United's better performers this season but he remains very much a stop-gap centre-half.

Mourinho had multiple bid for John Stones turned down last summer and he looks likely to try again, with Real's Raphael Varane, PSG's Marquinhos, Benfica's Ezequiel Garay and Atletico's Diego Godin also all reported targets.

Tony Martial and Marcus Rashford were two of the team's brightest assets this season and Mourinho should look to build the attack around them but with Europa League football to contend with we'll need depth and at least two more signings to bolster the forward line. 

34-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a free agent and has been strongly linked to join forces with his former Inter boss - the Swedish striker is considered one of the best in the world and would be a welcome addition to the club's attacking alumni. 

Atletico's Antoine Griezmann, Real playmaker James Rodriguez and Napoli's Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain could join Martial and company at United.

Mourinho is also thought to be pursuing a right winger and a central midfielder, with a number of big names mentioned as possible targets despite a lack of Champions League football.

Revamping the midfield could cost us millions: Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale look unlikely to be lured away from the Bernabeu and the return of Paul Pogba would come with a hefty price tag.

Then there are Mourinho's compatriots Joao Mario and William Carvalho- both of Sporting with the latter an Arsenal target- and Sevilla's Polish international Grzegorz Krychowiak. 

With Jose in place and certain to attract big names, it's going be another fascinating summer at the biggest club in the world. 

So its official: Mourinho confirmed as United boss on three year deal

Former Chelsea and Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho has been officially appointed as the new United boss on a three-year contract  (with the option of a fourth)

The Portuguese replaces the sacked Louis van Gaal and is one of the most decorated and divisive figures in the modern game. The 53 year old's appointment comes following three days of talks between agent Jorge Mendes and senior United officials.
He has already been linked with a move for 34-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic who played under Mourinho during his successful reign at Italian side Inter Milan.

He said he had always "felt an affinity with Old Trafford" and claimed he has always "felt loved" by United's fans. 

As well as three Premier League titles with Chelsea, he led Real Madrid to the La Liga title in 2012 and has enjoyed double domestic and European success (2004 and 2010) at Porto and Inter Milan.

Despite a glittering CV, Mourinho will have a lot to prove at Old Trafford with his reputation tainted after a serious of "toxic" incidents that resulted in his dismissal amid "palpable discord" in December at Chelsea.

Mourinho left under a cloud only seven months after winning the title, with the club 16th in the league and only one point above the drop zone, having sacked physio Eva Carneiro and accused some players of "betraying" his work. 

When at Real Madrid, he poked an opposition coach in the eye and his frequent outspoken rants against officials and referees had many - Sir Bobby Charlton included - to opine that his behaviour was not befitting of a United boss. 

He will also need to disprove the doubters and buck a trend of preferring expensive foreign signings over young homegrown talents and continue our club's ethos and tradition of nurturing and putting faith in youth - Van Gaal's overriding Old Trafford legacy.

Mourinho's old enemy Pep Guardiola takes charge of City in July and Jose's appointment will mean the mouthwatering prospect of the two best bosses in football going head to head in the Manchester derby - and maybe the title - next term. 

The future of Van Gaal's assistant Ryan Giggs remains uncertain with the club not mentioning the 42-year-old in any statement and the club legend is known to be unhappy at the manner of the Dutchman's dismissal.

He has now been passed over for the manager's job for a second time and is considering an offer to stay at the club.

Mourinho's first match in the home dugout at Old Trafford will be on 5 June for Soccer Aid- where he will come up against Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri before he locks horns with Guardiola during a pre-season tournament in Beijing.

United have lost their aura over the past few seasons and who better to rediscover it than this serial winner with a strong personality who has finally landed his dream job. 

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Ten moments that cost LVG his job (2)

Mutiny at Selhurst Park

Reds used to bellow 'attack attack attack' in the final quarter of matches but at Selhurst Park the first cries came just 20 minutes in.
"Paul Scholes he scores goals" the travelling support sang after 37.

Serenading Scholes two days after he gave Van Gaal a kicking as merciless as one of his tackles was not co-incidental.
United supporters were not merely going through the repertoire of songs reserved for former legends, they were turning against the manager who had delivered 
another turgid performance.

Pitiful against PSV

United's first half performance at home to PSV Eindhoven in November was actually one of the better ones this season.
Martial, Jesse Lingard and Morgan Schneiderlin wasted gilt-edged chances to put the Dutch side away as United dominated, requiring a win to seal Champions League qualification with a game to spare.

The second half, however, was one of the worst 45 minute displays ever recorded by a United side.
They did not muster a single shot on target, the team were booed off and the rot began.

A depleted United crashed out in Wolfsburg to be relegated to the Europa League weeks later and the season began to unravel.

Southampton sorrow

Another January and another 1-0 home defeat to Southampton, only this time the atmosphere at the club was the most toxic since the Glazers takeover in 2005.
Boos rang in Van Gaal's ears at half-time and again at full-time, whereas the players were applauded by the Stretford End- United managed one attempt on target all game (Daley Blind forcing Fraser Forster into a catch rather than a save).
Van Gaal and his players then enjoyed two days off as rumours abounded of his sacking.
Fans had booed in previous games but against Southampton it was patently clear they held one man responsible for United's slump. 

Misery in Midtjylland

Danish minnows Midtjylland had not played in two months and had won just one of their last ten games when they lined up against United in February.
What followed was Van Gaal's Olympiakos moment.

Almost every United player produced performances worthy of a minus rating to match the freezing conditions as Midtjylland became the lowest-ranked European side to beat us in the last ten years.
We managed to recover in the return leg on a night Marcus Rashford's name shot up on Google Trends, but, just like with Moyes and Olympiakos, elimination awaited in the next round. 

Listless at Liverpool

Towards the end of his United tenure, the similarities between Louis van Gaal and David Moyes became so stark he presided over a pathetic March surrender to Liverpool.
Van Gaal was as fortunate as Moyes that a soulless loss to United's greatest rivals did not end in triumph for the Merseysiders.
Liverpool collapsed at Palace two years ago and did so again against Sevilla last week, providing United fans with moments of unbridled schadenfreude.
Both managers did not survive the humiliations.

This 2-0 defeat at Anfield was so startlingly listless that one United player openly questioned his team mates commitments.
He could not understand why some performed so feebly in English football's most intense match and pondered whether they even understood the history between the two clubs.
'Embarrasing' was the word used to describe the performance. 

West Ham woe

Mourinho had reached a 'gentleman's agreement' to manage United after the Midtjylland farce but one thing stood in his way: a top four finish.
So lacking in quality was this season's Premier League that even Van Gaal's United were in contention to finish fourth in May.
At West Ham, we led 2-1 with 15 minutes to play but then sieved goals from two set-pieces to go down 3-2.

United's fourth placed competitors City had been wobbling for months and performed so nervously at a casual Swansea on the final day that they only managed to draw.
United won their rescheduled with Bournemouth to get level on points with City but trailed them by 16 in the goal difference column.

Ten moments that cost LVG his job (1/2)

Leicester capitulation

The chastening defeat at Leicester in Van Gaal's sixth game as boss was remarkable for the meek manner in which a United side capitulated.

Back when Jamie Vardy was a small-time part-time hardman, United lost their nerve - and heads - against the newly promoted outfit with an expensively assembled attacking quartet of Wayne Rooney, Angel Di Maria, Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao.

United never played so expansively again after that defeat: Van Gaal was striving for balance but over the next 15 months the emphasis was, largely, on defence and forward after forward toiled in his team.

However infuriating United's reverse at the King Power was, they entertained more than they ever did in victory this term.

Muddled thinking against Arsenal

With Chelsea and City eliminated in the fourth round, United had a terrific chance to end their FA Cup drought, staggering through to the quarter-finals where Arsenal awaited at OT.
The Gunners had not won at United since 2006 and, still managed by the one-dimensional tactician Arsene Wenger, Van Gaal held the upper hand.

Then he decided to start Daley Blind in midfield.

Wenger's fleet-footed aesthetes rang rings around Blind and the isolated Marouane Fellaini, yet United went in at half-time level.
Van Gaal had needlessly started the unfit Luke Shaw and withdrew him at the break, also taking off Ander Herrera instead of the blowing Blind as Arsenal went on to win comfortably.

Van Gaal was the architect of his own downfall and had just let slip his best chance of silverware.

Abandoning 4-3-3

United enjoying a sprightly sping as we blitzed Tottenham, bossed Liverpool and battered City in a six-game winning Premier League run in an innovative 4-3-3 formation.
Across the pond in pre-season, United were set up in a rigid system with two holding midfielders and the winger Memphis starting as a playmaker.

Despite the drudgery this season, Van Gaal has loyally retained the formation and as a consequence we've played more tediously that we ever did under Moyes.

Failure to replace Rooney

Van Gaal gave Rooney the benefit of considerable doubt when he began the season with the United captain as the squad's only recognised striker- effectively disregarding James Wilson.
Rooney has suffered a steady decline since 2012 and Sir Alex Ferguson knew as much when he left it to Moyes to dot the i's and cross the t's on his sale.
Instead United gifted in indulged Rooney so much that he became undroppable.

Even when United belatedly signed a striker in the raw Anthony Martial (what a waste of money), Van Gaal could not bring himself to demote Rooney.
The Reds struggled for goals and form inevitably deteriorated.

Rooney was more effective in the second half of the season and Marcus Rashford emerged, yet United still only scored just one more goal than fourth from bottom Sunderland.

What now for Giggs after Van Gaal sacking?

After two seasons as Louis van Gaal's assistant- which followed a year as player-coach under David Moyes and a brief spell as caretaker manager when the Scot was sacked, Ryan Giggs is at a crossroads.

With former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho set to be appointed as manager this week, United have made Giggs an offer to stay but it is unclear in what capacity and if the 42 year old club legend will accept.

Giggs has already spent three years furthering his education, initially as a player-coach under Moyes, then, following his retirement as a player, as assistant to Van Gaal.
Mourinho does tend to have one man in his backroom team with specific knowledge of the club concerned.
He moved Steve Clarke up from Chelsea's academy to become his assistant in his first stint at Stamford Bridge and retained Matt Holland in the role when he returned in 2014.

In theory, it makes Giggsy next in line but he wasn't appointed on a permanent basis after Moyes was sacked, despite taking temporary charge for the final four games of that season, and now he has been overlooked again.

Nurturing the 'Class of 2020' has been mentioned as a possible alternative for Giggs should he wish to remain at Old Trafford but not work so closely with Mourinho.
An academy role has been ruled out as Giggs' 'Class of 92' colleague Nicky Butt is in that job.

So it could mean United's Under 21 team.

Warren Joyce has been in that job since 2008, when he worked alongside Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Joyce has been linked with the vacant manager's post at Championship Blackburn so there could be an opening.

It would be the nearest United have to a similar position Zinedine Zidane found himself in when he was appointed Real Madrid's reserve team boss prior to the first team job in January.

Yet Under-21 football here is a pale imitation of the Spanish league second division, where Zidane spent 18 months in charge of Real Madrid Castilla.
Would it really be a proving ground for Giggs to step into the main job at some undefined point in the future?

Giggs has been at United since he was 14.

He played first team football for 23 years, winning a record 13 titles and two Champions League having made a club record 963 appearances.

Any decision to leave would be a massive wrench

He feels he is qualified to become United's new manager now and has been overlooked, as he was when Louis van Gaal came in to replace David Moyes despite a four match spell as interim boss in 2014.

If he believes the call will never come, Giggs might as well look for alternative employment elsewhere.

He has passed his UEFA pro-licence coaching qualifications and would not be short of offers.

Former team-mates such as Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce have enjoyed success and longevity with brief success for others such as Paul Ince and Roy Keane, whereas more recently others have failed outside the confines of Old Trafford (Gary Neville the most obvious example).

Monday 23 May 2016

Jose Mourinho: 10 priorities at Old Trafford

10. Clear out the dead wood

There is certainly enough around United to set up a fire sale so who might Mourinho target?

There are plenty of underachievers that might catch his attention.

31-year-old Bastian Schweinsteiger is injury prone and past his best and Michael Carrick is 35 and out of contract in June: Mourinho may feel they are both surplus to requirements.

Memphis Depay, a flop since his £18 million move from PSV last year does not fit the Mourinho template and Van Gaal did not even consider him worthy of a place in the FA Cup final squad.

Phil Jones was once considered one of England's brightest products but has been constantly blighted by injuries whilst Marcos Rojo, Ashley Young, Morgan Schneiderlin and Ander Herrera will also come under close scrutiny.

9. Settle Juan Mata's future

Juan Mata is one of United's most popular figures, with players and fans alike and this will only have increased with his equaliser in the Cup win against Crystal Palace.

The 28-year-old held similar status at Chelsea but it cut no ice with Mourinho when he felt Mata was not mobile or pacy enough and did not contribute enough defensively, to fit his needs.

Mourinho was happy to sanction the £37 million move for the two-time Chelsea Player of the Year and his arrival does not sound like good news for one of the game's genuine nice guys.

8. Answer the Giggs question

Mourinho's appointment will mean Ryan Giggs is once again passed over for a job many- including senior officials at United- thought would be his.
He has been virtually the silent sideman to David Moyes and then Van Gaal and Mourinho always works with his own staff Rui Faria and Silvino Louro- what influence would Giggs have and would he simply be a symbolic nod to United's glittering history?

It may be time for Giggs to go elsewhere and prove his managerial credentials for the United job rather than remain a token appointment.

7. Win over the Old Trafford doubters

United pride themselves on a certain style and Sir Bobby Charlton has publicly expressed doubts about Mourinho's demeanour in the past, saying "he pontificates too much"
It may well be that United demand for Mourinho to ditch the confrontational approach that has bought him into constant conflict with authority throughout his career.
Mourinho has shown nothing but reverence for United and Old Trafford in the past and he is smart enough to know there will be those who do not see him as the right man for a United manager- he can ease those fears by dealing in the one currency he knows best - success.

6. Give United's youth its chance

United have a history of developing and watching with pride as they graduate to senior level but Mourinho, by contrast, has earned a reputation on battle-hardened players he can rely on.
Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne were swiftly sold under the Portuguese at Chelsea, but he has youth to work with at United with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Tim Fosu-Mensah and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.
All earmaked as future stars who should be flourished not cast aside, even 21-year-old Adnan Januzaj is a player United retain high hopes for.

5. Deliver success with style

Questions have already been raised about Mourinho's pragmatic approach that has winning as its sole objective.
He will need to add dash and colour to enliven Old Trafford and reignite a fanbase bored into submission under Moyes and Van Gaal in the last three seasons.

It would be fallacy to suggest that this is beyond Mourinho and the statistics back this up.
Records tumbled when he was at Real Madrid, his Chelsea side scored the join highest amount of goals in his second title-winning season in 2006 and they scored 73 goals last term.

Mourinho is not a one trick pony.

4. Challenge Pep's profile

When City announced that Pep Guardiola would be arriving as their boss this summer, it was a stunning coup and a shot across United's bows.
In recruiting Mourinho as manager, United are recreating a bitter, intense, personal and footballing rivalry from their time together in La Liga at Real and Barcelona.
The Reds appointment of Mourinho can easily be seen as their response to City- a declaration that they are not prepared to stand aside and let them have things their own way.
United will hope that Mourinho will challenge Guardiola's profile, prove they mean business once more and- most importantly- compete with the Catalan for trophies.

3. Keep DDG

Spanish keeper David de Gea is quite simply United's best and most important player, the 25 year old wins points and matches and his importance has become even more influential since his failed move to Madrid last year.
De Gea signed a new four year contract last September, but there is the lingering fear that Real may return to try again- Mourinho knows how hard his chances of success would be hit if he left.
He must make it his business to ensure De Gea is satisfied about his ambitions.

2. Freshen up a stale squad

City will move their aspirations on to a new level under Guardiola while Chelsea will expect to fight for honours again under Antonio Conte.
Liverpool will also be strong under Klopp and Mourinho must lead United's response.
He will surely focus on rebooting United's central defence that, Chris Smalling apart, lacks class and quality.
Mourinho wanted Everton's John Stones last summer but may have a battle to secure his services and has also been linked with Raphael Varane and Juventus's Paul Pogba.
Will he go for a Hollywood signing in 34-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic who he managed at Inter Milan or Borussia Dortmund's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang?
Mourinho will know United's squad needs urgent work and has probably prepared for his arrival months in advance

1. Bring back the glory days

Easier said than done with competition increasing with the arrivals of Guardiola and Conte as well Jurgen Klopp getting his feet under the table at Liverpool.
Mauricio Pochettino will build on a fine season at Spurs while Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will want to prove that his optimism is not misplaced.
There will be reservations about Mourinho at United but they have gone for the managerial default option when it comes to success.
He is as close to a guarantee of trophies as it gets.
 He will want to be challenging for the Premier League right away- that is what United will demand and they will give him the financial firepower to help him achieve his objective. 

What went wrong for Louis van Gaal at United (part 3)

20-year-old Luke Shaw looked certain to fulfil the promise that persuaded United to sign him for £27 million while £36 million man Anthony Martial is a world-class forward in the making.

Glance elsewhere, though, and you have a collection of names looking good on paper but not on the pitch, failing to address the serious issues that have held us back.

We needed pace and drive to complement steady midfield anchor Michael Carrick, but instead got Bastian Schweinsteiger- world class on paper but now a 31-year-old, slow motion advert with his best days behind him.

The likes of Ander Herrera, Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian, Memphis and Morgan Schneiderlin were in and out like some form of Van Gaal hokey-cokey.

Daley Blind, a trusted figure of Van Gaal's latter spell with the Netherlands, has been solid but unspectacular following his £13 million signing from Ajax.

An outlay of £90 million was offset by the departures of Di Maria, Nani, Robin van Persie, Jonny Evans, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez.

RVP was past his best and unceremoniously hustled out of the door by the man he was once very close to.

James Wilson spent the season on loan at Brighton, Adnan Januzaj went to Dortmund but then returned having made no impression, but for all his manoeuvring in the market Van Gaal ignored the glaring flaw in United's defence.

Chris Smalling has shone but Phil Jones and Rojo injury prone and lack of success in the transfer marker has been a trademark since Ferguson and David Gill departed and Van Gaal has picked up the tab.

His departure was also shaped by circumstances beyond his control and he has not had enough credit for stabilising United from the chaos of the Moyes era to get us back into the Champions League in 2015.

The brilliance of Ferguson in his final season in 2013 covered a multitude of cracks in the Old Trafford facade as he dragged a squad in urgent need of renewal over the line for his 13th and final Premier League title almost by his own willpower alone.

Van Gaal had repairs to carry out and his work behind the scenes was well regarded by those in power.

It was result s- the most important currency of all - where he failed to give long term value.

He deserves plus points for his willingness to blood youngsters.

Tony Martial is a snip at £36 million and will be world class, Marcus Rashford has thrived under Van Gaal and Jesse Lingard was trusted and repaid with the FA Cup final winner in one of a number of eye-catching performances from the 23 year old.

Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Tim Fosu-Mensah also won Van Gaal's faith amid of string of injury problems.

Wayne Rooney, Schneiderlin, Shaw, Jones, Rojo, Valencia, Herrera, Smalling and Antonio Valencia spent long periods of the season on the sidelines so while Van Gaal has largely been the architect of his own demise, other factors worked against him.

It was never, in the final reckoning, going to be enough to save him.

What went wrong for LVG at United (Part 2)

The players also seemed gripped of spontaneity and gripped by fear of attempting the unexpected, an image and ethos at odds - perhaps one from a more romantic and silver-tinged past - casting United as the great swashbucklers, willing to concede goals on the basis of out-scoring opponents.

Van Gaal often cut a remote figure from his players - especially during games and did the sight of the stone-faced manager making notes on his trademark clipboard while never venturing near the touchline have an affect on the team?

It was an image Van Gaal never shook off and was reflected in a United team that seemed regimented to the point of tedium making visiting Old Trafford to watch the Reds a miserable experience and one that was not sustainable after the torpor of Moyes.

No manager should ever be measured by his touchline animation, but Van Gaal expended more energy writing notes on his clipboard that he ever did offering advice and tactical pointers during a game.
When any member of his backroom staff- usually assistant Ryan Giggs- was seen in the technical area, it came as a surprise. 

Van Gaal could not connect with supporters or, on many occasions, his players.

The Dutchman seemed cocksure yet often confused- he talked the talk but yet, when it came to carrying his convictions, he was found wanting.

The master coach offered muddled thinking, never more obvious than when he called Nick Powell out of obscurity to replace string-puller Juan Mata with the team chasing a result in Wolfsburg to stay in the Champions League.

Maybe Van Gaal simply came too late to the Premier League and was too fixed in his ways- or too stubborn- to ever adapt to the modern demands of England's top flight.

The Moyes era was instantly derailed by transfer indecision that saw multiple targets chased and then missed.
 United could not be accused of failing to back Van Gaal.

Yet we were no further forward and no more pleasing on the eye, despite spending in the region of £200 million during Van Gaal's tenure (although the net spend including sales is less than half that figure).

There was no shortage of ambition but it was a scattergun approach rather than a structured strategy.

Angel Di Maria was signed for £59m but never settled, Radamel Falcao was cursed by injury and Van Gaal's recruitment was questionable.

There were successes but nowhere near enough to save Van Gaal.

What went wrong for Louis van Gaal at United (Part 1)

Louis van Gaal called Manchester United the "biggest club in the world" when he was appointed in 2014- the sort of bold statement a disillusioned fanbase yearned to hear after the David Moyes nightmare.

The 64-year-old Dutchman was meant to be the antidote of the Scot, who was painfully out of his depth after succeeding Sir Alex.
He was the big, brash personality who would embrace the scale and stature of the club - a perfect fit for one of the world's most successful coaches.

He was a figure of world standing having taken an unheralded Netherlands squad to third place in the World Cup in Brazil but it soon became clear that his best days were behind him.

Van Gaal's tenure looks like it has ended with United's first trophy since the retirement of Sir Alex as the FA Cup was won but his departure was inevitable after a joyless, turgid season in which the run to Wembley was the exception and not the rule.

The brief hope offered by a return to the top four and the Champions League in his first season was replaced by an early exit from Europe's elite tournament at the group stage and a failure to reach next season's competition.

So how did an appointment that started with such hope and expectation end in disappointment and a tortuous journey to dismissal for a man regarded as one of the best managers of his generation?

When Van Gaal admitted after a narrow FA Cup third-round win over Sheffield United that he had been "very bored" during some games this season, how could he really have expected supporters to be satisfied?

And what sort of message did that send out to United's owners the Glazers - who, while detached, followed his every word? 

It could have been the opening line of a resignation speech. Hardly stuff fit for the 'Theatre of Dreams'.

It did not get much more exciting and while Van Gaal's blunt honesty was welcome he so often veered wildly off course to antagonise supporters who did not want ice cold water thrown over their lofty ambitions.

He suggested some were living in the past and said after the final Premier League game of the season- a 3-1 win over Bournemouth, that "the fans are expecting a lot but I think that this is not realistic and these expectations are much too high."

In PR terms the signals were all wrong and Van Gaal was certainly not raising expectations.

Van Gaal's functional style of football, based on training ground repetition aimed at defensive organisation and retaining possession, was accepted when he achieved his first brief, namely to return the club to the Champions League.

United set to appoint Mourinho as new manager

United are expected to appoint Jose Mourinho as our new manager within the next week.

It is believed a deal with the 53-year-old Portuguese was agreed in principle before United's FA Cup final win against Crystal Palace on Saturday.

With United failing to quality for the Champions League for the second time in three seasons under Louis van Gaal, the Old Trafford hierarchy is thought to have decided a change is needed.

Mourinho has been linked with United on a seemingly daily basis since he was sacked by Chelsea in December.

The club plan to announce his arrival early next week after telling Van Gaal, 64, his reign has come to an end after two seasons of his three-year contract.

Van Gaal's grip on his job has seemed increasingly fragile this season, with Mourinho known to covet the task of masterminding a revival at United three years after legendary former manager Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down.

The Portuguese has stayed silent throughout the months of speculation when asked about his replacing Van Gaal.

Mourinho is one of the game's most successful- and controversial- bosses, winning three league titles in his two spells at Chelsea, as well as guiding Porto and Inter Milan to Champions League glory in 2004 and 2010 respectively.

He also led Real Madrid to the Spanish La Liga title in 2012, and his arrival would mean a mouthwatering resumption of his rivalry with former Barcelona counterpart Pep Guardiola, who will take over at the mob across town this summer.

Woodward - and United's American owners the Glazers - still hoped Van Gaal would lead the club to a top four finish and up until last month Mourinho's advisers were concerned the club would stay loyal to the Dutch coach.

But for us, as fans, we've not been convinced by Van Gaal's style of play and tactics.

The 49 goals scored this season were the lowest since 1989-90 and since collecting only three points from six games at the end of 2015 - a run including four straight defeats - Van Gaal has been under intense pressure.

The season might have ended with glorious success at Wembley, but the club's priority remains the Premier League and Champions League and it is the failures in both that appear to have sealed Van Gaal's fate.

Having served under Moyes and Van Gaal, initially being lined up as the latter's eventual successor, it remains to be seen what Ryan Giggs would do.

The prospect of continuing under a third United boss in as many years may not appeal and it remains to be seen whether the club can find an alternative role for their most decorated player.

A winning farewell for Louis with Mourinho set to take over

All the messages in and around Wembley before and during this FA Cup final pointed to this Wembley showpiece marking the end of Louis van Gaal's largely undistinguised two years in charge. 

When his expected replacement with Jose Mourinho is confirmed, the 64-year-old Dutchman can at least take pleasure and credit for returning United to trophy-winning ways for the first time since the retirement of Sir Alex in 2013.

Saturday's performance was another that has become our FA Cup template this season, driving on through periods of adversity to eventually come out of the other side victorious, something for which Van Gaal deserves credit.

We won at West Ham in a quarter-final replay then survived resurgent Everton's spirited comeback to win the semi-final with Tony Martial's late winner.

Here, we fell behind through Jason Puncheon's goal 12 minutes from the end and then had to win the match with ten men following Chris Smalling's red card.

It was a victory that clearly meant so much to Van Gaal as the normally impassive manager raced from his seat in the dugout to embrace his staff in celebration of Lingard's winner.

In what appears to be his last act as manager, it was one that illustrates he will be leaving on a high.

Captain Wayne Rooney did more than most to ensure a glorious send-off for his manager, as he led his team-mates up the Wembley steps to collect the famous trophy and add a missing medal to his now complete collection - a richly deserved accolade.

The England international may not have been at his best but it was his intervention, character determination and sheer willpower when we had our backs to the wall that dragged United back into a cup final we were in danger of losing.

Bursting from midfield, he drifted past four Palace players and took on two more before crossing to far post for Fellaini to knock on for Mata to score.

It was a momentum shifting moment amid another lung-busting display from Rooney, typified by his tackle on Wilf Zaha to prevent a goal from the former United winger.

Rooney may have his critics but he is indispensable for club and country and he proved once again he retains the ability to influence the biggest of games.

Match report: Palace 1-2 United

Ten man United came from behind to triumph in extra-time for a record-equalling 12th FA Cup success over Alan Pardew's Palace at Wembley.

Undeservedly trailing through Jason Puncheon's opener, the Reds mustered a performance of resilience and character to level through Juan Mata before Jesse Lingard's stunner ensured a first trophy in the post Sir Alex era despite Chris Smalling's red card.

Connor Wickham thought he had scored on 19 minutes when he rounded David de Gea and slotted in, only for Mark Clattenburg to bring play back for a foul.

A superb challenge by Rooney thwarted former Red Wilf Zaha before the captain curled inches wide from distance at the other end.

Wayne Hennessey saved well from Mata, Marcus Rashford shot wide and Marouane Fellaini went close with a deflected header before Joel Ward brilliantly cleared off the line from Anthony Martial late in the half.

United were left to rue their luck when the woodwork was rattled twice in quick succession shortly after the break, first through Fellaini's powerful effort and then Martial's header.

Marcos Rojo and Rashford were then both forced off through injury but things got worse for United when Puncheon - who had just come on-  latched on to Damien Delaney's pass to finish past De Gea at the back post against the run of play. 

Parity was quickly restored, however, as Rooney surged forward to find the increasingly influential Fellaini.

The Belgian took the ball on his chest and knocked down for Mata to fire home low through the legs of Ward and force extra-time.

Yannick Bolasie went close with a 25-yarder and the dangerous Congolese forward was then felled by Smalling who received his second booking of the match and leave United a man short.

Substitute Dwight Gayle lashed wide and Puncheon again went close, but it was 23 year old local lad Lingard who ensured his place in United folklore with a truly stunning winner.

Antonio Valencia burst forward and saw his cross half-cleared but the ball fell for Lingard to slam home a dipping volley from 20 yards that beat Hennessey all ends up on its way in.

Despite their numerical disadvantage, the Reds held on to that lead fairly comfortably to end a disappointing season on a high and give manager Louis van Gaal the perfect leaving present in an enthralling final. 

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

Thursday 19 May 2016

How the United squad could look as boss ponders Cup final options

Louis van Gaal's United squad may not be as vintage as his wine cellar but several of his players will be dreading tomorrow.

Van Gaal is unlikely to find time for sentimentalism when he might be managing his players for the final time on Saturday.
There might be more than 18 players down to the capital with even the injured Luke Shaw and Bastian Schweinsteiger entitled to their share of cup final tickets.

Van Gaal is as capricious as he is superstitious and it would not be a surprise if the Dutchman retained his XI from that game for the big one at Wembley.

Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata will probably both start although the pair do not have a telepathic understanding on the right and Van Gaal has- inexplicably- often played Lingard in the centre instead of Mata.

Lingard is seldom creative on the ball but his movement off it and versatility across the front three supplement the attack well whilst Mata- despite having an underwhelming campaign by his standards- is United's most intelligent forward.

Marouane Fellaini's elbow on Robert Huth may have cost him a starting spot but he will surely feature as he has impressed in the Cup to date and has been increasingly relied upon by Van Gaal.

Van Gaal cites a 'lack of match rhythm' when outlining why a player doesn't start, however Fellaini has been most effective in the 4-3-3 formation- especially in our quarter and semi-final wins and LVG restored him against Liverpool in March after a month out. 

Marcos Rojo has endured a poor season but only his recent injury allowed Cameron Borthwick-Jackson to come back into the team.

The Argentinian is fit to play but should he regain match fitness he will have played only one game in two weeks and to be thrown back in against Palace's pacy and potent wingers is a risk it might not be worth taking.

Matteo Darmian is also back available and he would be a superior option on the bench, not due to his ability but because of his versatility to cover both the right and left-back positions.

Ashley Young should have clinched a bench spot and Morgan Schneiderlin- unwell against Bournemouth- has had five days to perk up for Palace but is vying for Fellaini for a squad berth.

Van Gaal errs on the side of caution and might favour the Frenchman's defensive capabilities ahead of Ander Herrera, who could be unlucky but his semi-final impact may work in the Spaniard's favour. 

Tim Fosu-Mensah was dropped from Netherlands duty due to injury and Adnan Januzaj has also suffered a setback having forced his way back into Van Gaal's plans so there are unlikely to be any squad shocks. 

Predicted squad: De Gea, Romero, Valencia, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Jones, Borthwick-Jackson, Carrick, Herrera, Fellaini, Memphis, Lingard, Mata, Young, Rooney, Martial, Rashford. 

FA Cup final preview: United v Crystal Palace

United head to Wembley bidding for a record-equalling 12th FA Cup success in Saturday's showpiece against Alan Pardew's Palace at Wembley.

These two sides famously met in the 1990 final- Sir Alex's first major trophy as United boss- and Louis van Gaal is looking to follow suit in what could be his last match in charge of the club. 

Arsenal's back-to-back victories in this competition have seen them overhaul United to become the club with most Cups to their name and the Reds- runners up in 2005 and 2007- start as favourites against out of form Palace. 

"The FA Cup is a big title in this country and we are playing in the most magnificent cathedral in England so you know how important this cup is- it is always exciting when you are so close but you have to win it.
"It is not so easy against Crystal Palace, they have a lot of pace and quality and shall defend in a tight space and also play on the counter attack.
"We want to bring home this FA Cup for ourselves and also for the fans of Manchester United who are always unconditional and fantastic." said the Dutchman ahead of the final.

Full-backs Matteo Darmian and Marcos Rojo are both fit to play after injury, Marouane Fellaini is available again after suspension and Morgan Schneiderlin is expected to recover from the illness that kept him out of the Bournemouth match.

Luke Shaw and Bastian Schweinsteiger are back in training but the final will come too soon but Van Gaal faces a selection headache with an otherwise fully fit squad to pick from.

Joe Ledley is Palace's only notable absentee with key trio Yohan Cabaye, Connor Wickham and former United man Wilf Zaha all expected to feature despite recent doubts.

The Eagles have knocked out fellow Premier League sides Southampton, Stoke, Tottenham, Watford and division lower Reading to reach the final and set up a first showpiece since that replayed 1990 meeting with United. 

That remains their only major final as victory on Saturday would see a first domestic cup success in their 110-year history and manager Alan Pardew become only the third English boss in the Premier League era to achieve the feat. 

Saturday's match is a 17.30 kick off and is live on BT Sport and BBC One.

Form guide: United W W D W L W Palace D L W L W L
Match odds: United 3/4 Draw 12/5 Palace 17/4
Referee: Mark Clattenburg 

The rise and rise of Rashford: The making of England's newest star

To chart Marcus Rashford's astonishing rise from obscurity to FA Cup final start and England squad member, you must begin at lowly League One Shrewsbury on 22 February. 

The 18 year old was not involved in our routine 3-0 win having made a rare start for the Under 21's at City two days earlier.

Substitute Will Keane was forced off with injury 11 minutes from the end at Greenhous Meadow and as a result Rashford was included in Louis van Gaal's squad for the Europa League tie with Midtjylland the following Thursday.

As we know, Tony Martial's warm up injury catapulted the unknown youngster into the side- and the spotlight 20 minutes before kick-off- and he's never looked back since.

He comes from Wythenshawe, in South Manchester, and joined local boys club Fletcher Moss Rangers aged eight where he soon caught United's eye.

To an outsider, Rashford has emerged from nowhere to become a Premier League - and soon an England - star.

It is true that he only made his first team debut on 25 February and that by the time he lined up against Bournemouth on Tuesday he was picked in England's provisional squad for this summer's Euros having scored eight goals in seventeen games for the Reds.

But the striker had been touted as a first team star of the future long before his debut in February.

Playing in the Under 18's at 16, Rashford had featured in a first team squad before his dramatic debut against the Danes, having been on the bench for Van Gaal at Watford, Newcastle and Leicester earlier in the campaign. 

Rashford has always been ahead of his age.

Really, he should have been elevated into Warren Joyce's Under 21 squad having started the season under the now departed Paul McGuinness in the Under 18's.

McGuinness' experience is vast -  it was his team, featuring Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison and Jesse Lingard- that won the FA Youth Cup in 2011 and he sensed more could be made of Rashford's talent.

"It will be great to see him in the FA Cup final, Marcus is a great lad, a hard worker and very humble" said his former mentor.
"When I left United he was the first to get in touch to thank me.
"He's not there yet, he still drifts about and will need to stay clear of injury but he has given himself a great foundation.
"It is up to him to build on that, nobody else can do it."

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Match report: United 3-1 Bournemouth

United rubber stamped a fifth placed finish with a comfortable and eye-catching performance in the last match of an extraordinary Premier League season.

In a hastily re-arranged fixture played in front of an understandably sparse crowd, Wayne Rooney put United ahead with his 100th goal at Old Trafford before new England call-up Marcus Rashford doubled the lead and substitute Ashley Young made it three late on.

Max Gradel- via a hefty deflection off Chris Smalling- grabbed the visitors first ever goal at United late on as the Cherries finish 16th in their maiden top flight campaign.

Michael Carrick- in what could be his final league appearance for United- went close from a Rooney free-kick before Marc Pugh had an effort blocked by Antonio Valencia at the other end.

Chances were at a premium in the first half but the breakthrough arrived two minutes shy of the interval with one of the best goals seen at Old Trafford this term.

Rooney started and finished the move as he picked out Juan Mata with a sublime cross-field pass and the Spaniard fed Anthony Martial who crossed for Rooney- after a neat dummy by Rashford- to slot in from close range. 

Dan Gosling lashed over from distance and Callum Wilson went close with a snapshot, but United should have had a penalty on 50 minutes when Mata was clearly fouled by Steve Cook but referee Jonathan Moss waved play on.

Michael Carrick had an effort deflected on to the bar, Jesse Lingard fired just off target and Valencia's piledriver was tipped over by Adam Federici in a flurry of chances from the hosts.

Federici saved well from Mata and Smalling headed wide but the chances kept coming and United finally doubled the advantage 16 minutes from time.

Rooney's pinged pass picked out Valencia who cushioned the ball for Rashford to sweep home his eighth of the season in front of the Stretford End. 

Playing in midfield, Rooney was simply outstanding and was involved again as United moved further ahead three minutes from time.

Substitute Young latched on to a fine through ball from the skipper and applied the finish for his first Reds goal since last April's Manchester derby victory.

Despite an unfortunate injury-time own goal from Smalling- the final league goal of the season- it proved to be merely a consolation for Eddie Howe's side as United warmed up for Wembley with a comfortable victory.

Overall team performance: 7.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Who else but Wayne Rooney. Scored one and created the other two. Magnificent. 

Monday 16 May 2016

Nowhere to hide for Van Gaal after top four failure

Should United win this final game it will mean we miss out on the top four on goal difference- an apt statistic for where we've so obviously failed this season.

We just haven't scored enough goals.

It's so damning on Louis van Gaal and his pragmatic approach.

In Sir Alex's final season at Old Trafford - 2012/13 - United scored 86 goals on our way to the title: it was 64 in the David Moyes season and 62 last time out in Van Gaal's first campaign in charge.

This season, the paucity is off the scale - just 46 goals in 37 league games, two fewer than Sunderland who only just stayed up and two more than a Newcastle side who sank into the Championship.

Strangely but almost understandably there was a large contingent of United fans who greeted the failure to reach the Champions League with some degree of relief because it may spell the end of Van Gaal at the club.

There was a fear that finishing in the top four would have been enough for him to stay on into the third year of his contract.

Imagine that: United fans actually pleased not to reach the Champions League - a ridiculous notion, but this is the Van Gaal effect.

Many Reds fans can barely remember feeling so detached from the club, so fed up and uninspired have we been by the dire fare so often served up this season.

There was always going be a lengthy period of adjustment and transition in the post-Ferguson years, but we were not prepared for such a departure from the club's attacking traditions and very ethos.

The season effectively ended in December: a winless run of eight games which included four consecutive defeats, the worst run since the 1989/90 campaign.

The FA Cup run and failures of others kept us alive long into 2016, but many fans had already given up on Van Gaal and wanted the season to end.

All hope had been extinguished: the narrative was that Van Gaal had failed and he has not been able to alter that. 

We did not appoint him to invest £100 million in new players to finish fourth and then fifth or even sixth.

Van Gaal's public utterances - and his attempts to justify these failures - have also become increasingly desperate and only served to open him up to further criticism and ridicule.

Moyes paid for his failure to reach the Champions League with his job, and it remains highly likely the same fate will befall Van Gaal after the Cup final.

In 1990, an FA Cup win was enough to save Ferguson's job but times they are a changing: United have since won 13 Premier League titles and expectations are vastly different.

He arrived at the club with a revived reputation but the last two years have seen him become yesterday's man and this is surely the final week of his Old Trafford tenure.