Wednesday 15 June 2016

Bournemouth first up for Mourinho's Reds as fixtures released

United will face a South Coast duo in Jose Mourinho's first Premier League games in charge after the 2016/17 fixtures were released on Wednesday.

The new United boss kicks off his competitive Reds career with a trip to Eddie Howe's Bournemouth- who won the corresponding fixture last term- on 13 August, having finished last campaign against the same opponents. 

His first home match in charge also comes against South Coast opposition when Southampton, who will also have a new man at the helm- arrive at Old Trafford a week later.

Mourinho will not have to wait long to lock horns with old foe Pep Guardiola with their new clubs set to meet at Old Trafford on 10 September in the most eagerly anticipated cross-town showdown in years.

Jose's big game mentality will be tested to the full during a challenging October, with trips to the Red half of Merseyside on the 15th and then an emotional return to his former club- Antonio Conte's Chelsea- a week later.

Mourinho's long-running feud with Wenger continues apace when Arsenal visit in November  before we host North East duo Sunderland (Boxing Day) and newly promoted Middlesbrough on New Year's Eve in the final matches of 2016.

The first month of 2017 looks tough, too, with a first ever trip to the Olympic Stadium and the always tricky visit to Stoke sandwiched by the return fixture against Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool at OT on the 14th January.

That's followed by a trip to champions Leicester ahead of Guardiola's first home derby before Conte brings his Chelsea side to Old Trafford in the fourth match of a hectic April.

We also face West Brom, Everton and Swansea- all at home- and Sunderland and promoted Burnley in what we hope will be the title run-in during the season's penultimate month.

It's a North London double in May with successive away trips to White Hart Lane and the Emirates before United-just as we did last term- end against Crystal Palace.

That cup win over the Eagles was not enough to save Van Gaal but Mourinho will hope that the Old Trafford encounter with Pardew's side sees similar scenes to that Wembley win- but this time in the Premier League. 

Key dates and fixtures 2016/17:

7 August: Community Shield United v Leicester
13 August: Premier League opening weekend Bournemouth v United
10 September: United v City
15 October: Liverpool v United
22 October: Chelsea v United
7 January 2017: FA Cup third round
21 May: Premier League season ends United v Crystal Palace 

Wednesday 8 June 2016

United complete £30m Eric Bailly signing

United have signed Villarreal defender and Ivorian international Eric Bailly for a fee in the region of £30 million subject to a work permit. 

The 22-year-old has 15 Ivory Coast caps to his name and joins the club on a four year deal- with the option of a further two- to become United's fourth African player and Jose Mourinho's first signing as boss.

Bailly has played 40 times in La Liga, five of those with Espanyol before a £4.4 million move to Villarreal in January 2015. 

Eric made his debut for the Ivory Coast within weeks of his transfer to the Yellow Submarines and proved influential in that year's African Cup of Nations; Bailly appeared in all six matches as his side were crowned continental champions. 

Bailly described his move to England as a 'dream come true', and said:

"To play football in the Premier League at the highest level is all I have ever wanted to do and to be joining Manchester United is a dream come true.
"I believe working with Jose Mourinho will help me develop in the right way and at the right club, I am looking forward to meeting my new team-mates and to starting this new chapter in my life and career."

Louis van Gaal may have spent £200 million during his time his charge, but the one glaring deficiency that the Dutchman failed to address was the gaping hole in United's backline.

At 6ft 2in and with an imposing style, Bailly will be well suited to the physical demands of the Premier League and looks to be the commanding presence we've missed since the departures of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. 

Alongside Victor Ruiz in the Villarreal defence, he formed a strong partnership that was a key factor in the team's fourth placed finish last term, including shutouts against Atletico Madrid (twice), Real and Liverpool in Europe, suggesting an ability to shine against high calibre opposition.

Mourinho said of his new addition:

"Eric is a young central defender with a great natural talent, he has progressed well to date and has the potential to become one of the best around
"Everyone at Manchester United looks forward to working with him to help nurture his raw talent and fulfil his potential.
"Eric is in the right environment to continue his development."

United are also widely tipped to complete the acquisition of PSG's out of contract Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the summer. 

Tuesday 7 June 2016

United retain faith in youth in 2015/16

United have a long and proud history of building teams from homegrown players.

Indeed, at least one graduate from the club's famed Academy has featured in every first team squad since 1937, and 2015/16 was no different.

Jesse Lingard's superb winner in the FA Cup final last month was a fitting way to end a season characterised by a new and emerging crop of young talent now permeating United's senior team.

During his final season at Old Trafford, Louis van Gaal handed debuts to seven youngsters: Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Donald Love, Joe Riley, Marcus Rashford, Regan Poole, Tim Fosu-Mensah and James Weir and also fielded a further seven Academy products who had made their bows in previous campaigns.

Between them, this new generation of Reds amassed 121 appearances, 76 starts and 16 goals, adding further proof to the argument that you should always give your own a chance.
Of those 16 strikes, 14 of them were contributed by the two standout players of this current crop- Rashford and Lingard.

Both players have played a huge part in United's campaign, shouldering responsibility usually afforded to players of much greater experience.

Jesse's wonderful strikes against Chelsea and Palace in the final will live long in the memory but it is Rashford's season that truly epitomises the United ethos.

Starting the season plying his trade for the Under 18s, the Manchester-born forward worked his way into the Under 21s before a pre-match injury to Anthony Martial ahead of the Europa League tie with Midtjylland thrust the teenager into the spotlight.

Where he could have buckled under the pressure, Rashford thrived, netting a brace against both the Danish side and also on his full Premier League against Arsenal the following weekend.

After helping United to reach Wembley by scoring a sumptuous goal at West Ham in the FA Cup replay, Rashford finished the campaign as a cup winner.

He then made his senior England debut- scoring after three minutes against Australia- before signing a new United contract and selection for Roy Hodgson's final 23 man squad for the upcoming Euros in France.

A whirlwind few months.

Don't be fooled into thinking these two examples of local talent are the only players to have caught the eye, though.
Borthwick-Jackson- who joined Rashford in signing a new contract last week- displayed confidence and composure at left-back that belied his tender years.
Those from further afield impressed, too, with Dutchman Fosu-Mensah putting in a number of powerful performances at both right-back and centre-back to suggest he is another to watch in the coming seasons. 

Monday 6 June 2016

International Reds: Euro 2016 preview

The domestic football season may be taking a summer hiatus but there's no rest for many of our squad as they join up with their countries ahead of Euro 2016 which starts on Friday.

Hosts France kick off the tournament against Romania in Paris with Reds Anthony Martial and Morgan Schneiderlin both in Didier Deschamps 23-man party, albeit the latter a late call-up to replace the injured Lassana Diarra. 
Switzerland and tournament debutants Albania make up the group. 

Chris Smalling, Wayne Rooney and wildcard pick Marcus Rashford are all included in an England squad that get their campaign underway on Saturday when they take on Russia in Marseille before matches against Wales (16 June) and Slovakia (20 June)

Bastian Schweinsteiger missed much of the second half of United's season with injury but despite his knee problem, the 31-year-old has been passed fit to feature at the Euros and will captain Joachim Low's world champions.

Schweinsteiger looks set to be involved in the always dangerous Germans group opener against Ukraine before subsequent matches with Poland and club team mate Paddy McNair's Northern Ireland who are making their maiden appearance at the continental showpiece.

Holders Spain are in Group D and, such is the luxury of options at manager Vicente del Bosque's disposal, Reds playmaker Juan Mata has missed out on selection for the final 23 man squad.
United goalkeeper David De Gea is one of three stoppers in the 23, however, along with uncapped Sergio Rico and Porto's Iker Casillas.
DDG faces a battle to be first choice ahead of 166-cap Casillas, but will hope for more than a watching brief as the European champions take on Turkey, Croatia and the Czech Republic in their group section.

Group E provides an early highlight and is one to watch for Reds fans when Marouane Fellaini's Belgium face Matteo Darmian's Italy as two of the tournament's dark horses meet in Lyon on 13 June in a group also featuring the Republic of Ireland and Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden. 

Former United star Cristiano Ronaldo captains Portugal with another ex-Red, Nani, also in Fernando Santos' 23-man squad for a group campaign against debutants Iceland, 2008 co-hosts Austria, and Hungary. 

Euro 2016:

Group A: France, Romania, Albania, Switzerland
Group B: England, Russia, Wales, Slovakia
Group C: Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Northern Ireland
Group D: Spain, Czech Republic, Turkey, Croatia
Group E: Belgium, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Sweden
Group F: Portugal, Iceland, Austria, Hungary 

United to visit China on pre-season tour

Jose Mourinho will get a first look at his United side when the club depart on their annual pre-season tour of the Far East in July.

The Reds will play in the International Champions Cup against Bundesliga side Dortmund in Shanghai on July 22 before Mourinho's United face Pep Guardiola's Manchester City in Beijing three days later as the two men lock horns in a Manchester derby for the first time. 

The Reds first travelled to China in 1975 and have gone on to visit a further nine times since, estimating that they have around 107 million supporters in the country.

During our trips east, we've played 12 matches against local teams, the most recent of which was against Hong Kong side Kitchee in 2013 in front of 40,000 supporters.

This year's tour is considerably truncated for a variety of reasons.

As many of 17 of Mourinho's squad are expected to be involved with their respective nations at Euro 2016 and each will have at least three weeks rest afterwards.
The tournament starts on Friday with the final on 10 July and given the competition's expansion to 24 countries for the first time, there is more chance of progression to the knockout phase and a longer involvement for many Reds. 

The earlier any player could end participation in the tournament is on 19 June when Group A finishes though this would only apply to two players- Tony Martial and Morgan Schneiderlin- and only if hosts France were eliminated surprisingly early.

As the opening group stage ends on 22 June, when Marouane Fellaini's Belgium and Matteo Darmian's Italy are involved with Groups F and E, they would be on holiday until 13 July at the earliest. 

Wayne Rooney's testimonial, to be played against Everton at Old Trafford on August 3- four days before the Community Shield fixture with Leicester- has also meant a shorter trip this time around.

The Reds overseas tours are usually closer to three weeks in length and feature at least four matches.
Under David Moyes in 2013, the club visited Thailand, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong whilst Louis Van Gaal led United in North America for the past two years. 

The Tour is always exciting for fans as we get to see any new signings don the Red shirt for the first time and get an idea of any new tactics and formations ahead of the new season

United's pre-season schedule 2016:

22 July v Borussia Dortmund, Shanghai (KO TBA)
25 July v Manchester City, Beijing (KO TBA)
3 August v Everton, Old Trafford (Rooney testimonial)
7 August v Leicester City, Wembley (Community Shield)