Wednesday 31 August 2016

Excitement builds ahead of 172nd Manchester derby

There may be ten days to go and an international break sandwiched in between but excitement and hype is already building ahead of the 172nd Manchester derby on September 10th.

Although still early in the season and far from the title decider the press love to describe the fixture as, this Old Trafford meeting goes way beyond mere local bragging rights in the most eagerly anticipated encounter for years. 

Subplots and dramas wherever you look, not only is there a bitter and storied rivalry on the pitch and in the stands, but there's also no love lost in the two dugouts as Messrs Mourinho and Guardiola resume their long-running feud.

The two men were often locked at loggerheads during their time in La Liga, often embroiled in a war of words and tempestuous exchanges both verbally and- on the odd occasion- even physically. 

Pep Guardiola was announced as City's new boss in February and from the moment Jose was confirmed as Louis Van Gaal's successor in May, the anticipation of this already high-octane occasion ratcheted up a notch. 

Indeed, it is the relationship between the two bosses that looks set to dominate the headlines in the build-up to the game almost as much as the match itself.

You can almost guarantee that, for the first time since taking charge, we will see mind games from Mr Mourinho.
How Guardiola chooses to respond to his rival's jibes will be equally as interesting.

Sergio Aguero looks set to sit this one out as he faces the prospect of a three-match ban for elbowing West Ham's Winston Reid.

Regardless of the Argentine's absence, City have quality throughout their side and will pose the stiffest test so far for Jose's new-look United side.
Raheem Sterling looks revitalised under Guardiola, Kevin De Bruyne has started the season in fine form and new signing Nolito has also caught the eye in the early stages of the campaign with fellow new boy John Stones also impressing. 

Of course, one thing is already for certain: both sides have had 100% starts to the season so one- or possibly both- of these perfect starts will go at Old Trafford.

The local landscape has ebbed and flowed intriguingly over the last few years, with United having the upper hand in the fixtures under Van Gaal (Played 4, Won 2, Drawn 1, Lost 1) but City dominant in the ill-fated David Moyes season (moving on, quickly)...

In Sir Alex's last season, the spoils were split with a win apiece but we had the last laugh after romping to the title by 11 points. 

The first all-Manchester meeting of the season comes after four games barely a month into the new season but, with the eyes of the world on this football mad city, it will be unmissable.

Bring it on!!

Tuesday 30 August 2016

Modern football waits for no man as Chris Smalling is finding out

If you could have asked any United fan in early June which players would be first on Jose Mourinho's team sheet David de Gea would be one and Anthony Martial another.

At a time before key signings had been made, most would then have probably plumped for Chris Smalling next ahead of individuals like Wayne Rooney, despite his role as club captain.

The former Fulham centre-back has developed into a real defensive leader over the last two seasons and was often wearing the armband himself by the end of Louis van Gaal's tenure. 

But, three months on, the debate is now whether Smalling even gets on the pitch at all.

Following a late return to pre-season training as a result of Euro 2016, Smalling then picked up an injury that ruled him out of contention to make an impression on Mourinho.

He was also suspended for the first game of the Premier League season which led the new boss to make plans that didn't include him.

What we perhaps had not envisaged was just how well Eric Bailly and Daley Blind would play together as United's new first choice centre-back pairing.

Who would have been an automatic name on the team sheet in early June?

Bailly wasn't at the club, and even when he did arrive there were reservations about whether he was ready to be thrown straight in, while Blind was predicted to be an early Mourinho casualty.

Even if he were to stay, most felt the Dutchman would be a squad player at best. 

But in Smalling's misfortune, the other two have actually significantly prospered.

Bailly looks every bit a top class Premier League defender.

He's quick, strong, powerful, composed both with the ball and without it, commanding in the air, able to read the game and identify danger, all with a distinct class rather than the rash and raw talent he was initially billed as.

Alongside the Ivorian, Blind has continued to defy the doubters.

His physical profile doesn't typically match Mourinho's preferred defender, but he's one of the most intelligent players there is and that makes him invaluable.

People thought LVG was mad for persisting with Blind as a centre-back and the player was still described as 'makeshift' and 'stop gap' even at the very end of last season and into summer despite playing virtually every game in all competitions at the heart of a defence that conceded the joint fewest goals in the League.

Now that it's Mourinho playing Blind in the middle it is deemed as a master-stroke - investigating why the exact same decision made by two different managers has been perceived so differently is debate best left for another day.

Smalling is the unfortunate loser at the moment.

Time waits for no man in modern football and he'll have to be patient for his chance to come back around, although it's hard to see when that will be with things going so well in front of him.

Sunday 28 August 2016

Pressure pays off as persistent United find a way

Jose Mourinho proved he really does have the Midas touch as his United side snatched a dramatic late victory at newly promoted Hull City.

With the Reds needing a fresh foothold back into the game he made the call and introduced Marcus Rashford with 20 minutes to play.

There were calls for Mourinho to take off a subdued and out of sorts Wayne Rooney but just when United looked set to drop their first two points of the season, it was the Old Trafford captain who created the winner.

Mourinho can do no wrong so far and this was certainly the biggest test of his tenure to date.

The Reds had not exactly had their own way completely in the previous matches against Bournemouth and Southampton with both the south coast sides starting well early on.

Mike Phelan's Hull asked far more questions of Mourinho's new-look team.

They were snappy in the tackle, looked a threat from set-pieces and on occasions even managed to play around Paul Pogba in midfield.
In the last few seasons, opponents would have made hay as chins hit chests.

But this isn't a United side who'll sag any more when the going gets tough- with characters like Pogba and Ibrahimovic that's unlikely to happen.

Whereas last term you ripped your hair out wondering if an opposition keeper might actually get tested, Hull's Eldin Jakupovic couldn't enjoy the same comfort.
You had to wonder if the adrenaline from a visit of United, plus a 100% Premier League start for Hull would wear off at some point.

But they didn't flag and what they lacked in numbers they more than made up for in spirit and dogged determination. 

Henrikh Mkhitaryan's darting and penetrative runs began to cause Hull problems and forced both David Meyler and Tom Huddlestone into fouls on the silky winger in desperate last-ditch attempts to stop him. 

United wouldn't give up and you have to be grateful for one of the old traits that Mourinho looks like he might have revived.
The Reds kept pressing as Hull had to descend  into lashing balls into no-man's land to relieve the pressure with United hoping they might switch off for one critical moment.

When four minutes was held up on the fourth official's board, a groan went up from the home supporters who knew this was a different United side from the one that toiled so much last term.

Everyone knew what was coming and it did. 

Saturday 27 August 2016

Belief and mentality can take the Reds far

Jose Mourinho says he doesn't care about being top of the table in August.

He wants the team to be there in May. 

The United boss has been clear about this since taking over the job - he is here to achieve success and it is impossible to under-estimate the impact such a positive attitude can have.

It spreads throughout the club and there is a new-found feeling within the team that the Reds can go far this season.

When watching Mourinho's Chelsea win games through sheer desire and bloody mindedness at times it was psychologically damaging when the Reds were in direct competition for trophies.

That same feeling will have travelled across the country among supporters harbouring similar hopes this term when Marcus Rashford profited from Wayne Rooney's excellent work in injury time on Humberside. 

Somewhat fittingly, a rainstorm engulfed the KCOM Stadium as the hosts had to withstand what was at times a tropical cyclone from the Reds.
There seemed to be a real calm about United - with the clock ticking, there was no panic, just wave after wave of attacks as the visitors camped in the Hull City half.

Eldin Jakupovic hadn't really been extended but there was a purpose about our play, even early on with Zlatan exuding positivity in everything he did.

The same could be said about Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford- two wonderful and match-winning substitutions designed by Mourinho to get the three points.

When Paul Pogba curled just wide from a promising position in the closing stages, it seemed like United would have to settle for a point and probably go into the derby in City's slipstream- presuming Pep's mob beat West Ham on Sunday.

Yet, I still believed, so did the travelling fans and- most importantly- the visiting players.

As long as there was still time left on the clock, United could win it.

Rooney's magic created the opening and, when Rashford scored, the euphoric joy among all of a Red persuasion was obvious.
Hull's players slumped to the turf in utter dejection after such a valiant effort but in truth they were battered into submission in the second half.

Evidently, the boss felt the same- that he always believed the goal would come.

"I know when (note the syntax- when not if) we score late people will speak about a bit of luck but this was not lucky, we know we shall lose or draw matches but the mentality has to be to win and today we showed that- it was deserved.
"We grabbed a late goal because we showed belief and we will win again."

I sense that United fans have faith, belief and confidence in the team- and the boss- again.
It is still very early days but the signs are there and, on a testing night in Humberside, this feels like a huge step back towards the days of the United of old.
Such victories feel like they are worth so much more than just the three points.... they are psychologically devastating.

We approach the international break counting down the days to the Manchester derby on 10 September.
The atmosphere at Old Trafford will be electric and the focus intense.

But the belief in the Red corner is that we can deliver. 

Match report: Hull City 0-1 United

Substitute Marcus Rashford scored an injury winner as United finally broke through Hull's resilient rearguard to maintain our perfect Premier League start.

The 18-year-old- making his first appearance of the season- steered home from close range after excellent build up from Wayne Rooney to spark scenes of wild celebrations in the away end.

David Meyler had gone close in a rare Hull attack as they briefly threatened an unlikely smash and grab win but this was a deserved victory for the dominant visitors.

Rashford's intervention was the climax to a performance of persistence and intelligence from Jose Mourinho's men, who changed tack several times before finally breaking down a Hull side who defended magnificently. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic headed over the bar and then fired into the side netting, Wayne Rooney also went close while Hull threatened at the other end through Tom Huddlestone.

Curtis Davies epitomised his side's defensive display and denied Rooney on the line in the 37th minute after good work from Juan Mata, before Robert Snodgrass- later to leave the field injured- went close twice in quick succession on the cusp of the interval.

Abel Hernandez forced a smart save from David de Gea and Ibrahimovic then found the side netting from a tight angle having latched on to the skipper's clipped free-kick.

With the game still goalless after an hour, Mourinho felt a change of impetus was required and introduced Henrikh Mkhitaryan in place of Anthony Martial.

The Armenian threatened to find the breakthrough after a brilliant burst forward from his own half, but Hull continued to stand firm and almost stole a shock lead through Huddlestone's deflected shot which flew narrowly wide.

A further attacking threat was needed and duly arrived in the form of Rashford and, after Rooney and Paul Pogba had blasted off target from distance, the young striker's marvellous run and resultant shot forced a superb save from the sprawling Eldin Jakupovic.

Pogba again lashed narrowly wide with a 25 yarder, but it looked like Mourinho's men would have to settle for a point until the breakthrough finally arrived in the dying minutes.

Rooney's brilliance down the left saw him skip past Jake Livermore, slip the ball around Ahmed Elmohamady and cut the ball back for Rashford to ram in from three yards.

It was classic United and another memorable moment in the already exciting short career of the superb young striker.

Overall team performance: 7.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Eric Bailly

Friday 26 August 2016

Match preview: Hull City v United

United will come up against a familiar face and an in-form side when we travel to the KCOM Stadium looking to extend our early 100% record.

Our hosts for this Saturday tea-time kick-off have proved to be the shock of the season so far, having won both their matches despite only have 13 fit senior players and no permanent manager.

Step forward Mike Phelan.

Sir Alex's assistant for five years (2008-2013) during one of the most trophy-laden eras in the club's history, the 53-year-old has been placed in caretaker charge of the newly promoted Tigers and has worked wonders with a threadbare squad.

Tipped as relegation favourites following the departure of Steve Bruce, they followed up their opening win over champions Leicester with a notable result at Swansea last time out to maintain their excellent start to the season.

United manager Jose Mourinho said that his opposite number 'deserved the job', and added:

"I hope he gets the job but loses this match- he was one of the most successful assistant managers in the country with invaluable experience.
"He was an important person to Steve Bruce and has managed to organise and motivate his team so he deserves the job I think.
"I think that more points will be needed to win the league this year because many of the top teams underperformed last time, which was amazing for the beauty of the league.
"I think the top teams will go back to being strong again but of course only one can win it and we will be aiming to do that." 

Mourinho will have a selection headache for the trip to Humberside with no injuries or suspensions and a fully fit squad to pick from. 
Jesse Lingard and Chris Smalling are available again after the latter came on as a late sub against the Saints, and Paul Pogba will look to carry on where he left off following an impressive debut in that one.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has quickly taken the Premier League in his imperious stride and should he score on Saturday he would equal a club record that has stood for 91 years.
The summer signing has found the net in each of his first three competitive outings for United (including the Community Shield win) and would equal Jimmy Hanson's 1925 feat of scoring in his first four matches for the club if he notches on Saturday. 

Match odds: Hull City 7/1 Draw 11/4 United 1/2
Form guide: Hull City W W United W W
Referee: Jonathan Moss 

Europa League Group A: The lowdown

United have been drawn alongside Fenerbahce, Feyenoord and group stage debutants Zorya Luhansk in Group A of this season's Europa League.

The Reds were the first club to be pulled out of the bowl in the glitzy ceremony in Monaco, and Jose Mourinho's side were put into one of the more attractive-looking groups, alongside Robin Van Persie's current employers, the perennial Dutch powerhouses and the little-known Ukranians.

Mourinho welcomed the draw, saying the 'difficult' opponents will help to keep United on their toes.
He said:"There are groups in the Champions League that have a similar quality, so it is good for that, we know that it will be a difficult group but I think that is a good thing.
"If you have teams without expression then even the fans may not enjoy nights at Old Trafford, it is good for the fans and the players and also to help keep the team motivated.
"I think it is good for the competition as well because it does not have the same glamour as the Champions League but having a team like Manchester United against high quality sides like Feyenoord and Fenerbahce is good for everyone.
"I do not have a vision about the Ukranian team and their quality but it will be an interesting group."

van Persie's Fenerbahce finished second in the Turkish league last term behind Besiktas, and qualified for the group stage via a 5-0 aggregate victory over Grasshoppers of Switzerland in the play-off round.

Former United man Nani was also among last season's alumni but has since moved on but Dutchman Van Persie is their star man and will no doubt relish a reunion with the Reds.
Feyenoord, another of RvP's former sides, finished third in the Eredivisie in 2015/16- 21 points behind champions PSV.
The Rotterdam-based outfit are managed by former Arsenal full-back Giovanni van Bronckhorst and their squad includes former Liverpool pair Dirk Kuyt and Brad Jones.

Zorya Luhansk, from Odessa in the west of Ukraine, have reached the play-off round in the last two seasons but this is their first time in the group stages.

Finishing fourth in their league in 2015/16, they are one of the smallest clubs in the competition and have never faced United. 

Group game dates: Feyenoord (A, 297 miles) 15.9. 16 (1800 KO)
Zorya Luhansk (H) 29.9.16 (2005 KO)
Fenerbahce (H) 20.10.16 (2005 KO)
Fenerbahce (A, 1,675 miles) 3.11.16 (1800 KO)
Feyenoord (H) 24.11.16 (2005 KO)
Zorya Luhansk (A, 1,922 miles) 8.12.16 (1800 KO) 

Thursday 25 August 2016

Blackett joins Reading, C B-J and Wilson go out on loan

Young defender Tyler Blackett has completed a permanent move to Berkshire where he will join up with former Reds legend and treble winner Jaap Stam.

The Hulme-born 22 year old is an Old Trafford Academy graduate who was handed his first-team debut under Louis van Gaal in the 2014/15 season, going on to make 12 senior appearances that term.

Blackett, equally adept at centre-back or on the left, then spent the entirety of last season on loan at Scottish champions Celtic where he played eight times for the Glasgow side.

He returned to United in July and featured in our opening pre-season fixture, the 2-0 win at Wigan in July, but he has now decided to pursue another opportunity amid fierce competition for places.

New signing Eric Bailly is one of an number of players blocking Blackett's route back into the side, with Daley Blind, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo all ahead of him in the pecking order.

Stam enjoyed three stellar seasons at Old Trafford, during which time United won three Premier League titles and the Intercontinental Cup not forgetting the FA Cup and the Champions League as part of the never to be forgotten treble season in 1998/99.

The former Dutch internatinal has now taken his first steps into management at Championship side Reading and has had something of a mixed start, with two draws, two wins and two defeats in his first six games in charge.

Meanwhile, promising young full-back Cameron Borthwick-Jackson has also taken the step into the second tier and joined Wolves on a season long loan move.

The 19-year-old was one of the senior side's standout stars last term, catching the eye in his 14 first team appearances and being voted as the club's Under 21 Player of the Year.

A key member of Warren Joyce's title-winning team, the talented left-back played in the Reserves first Premier League 2 game this season and will now look to gain further first-team experience at Molineux. 

Borthwick-Jackson was named as a substitute for the West Midlands club's 2-1 EFL Cup win over Cambridge United on Tuesday but did not feature for Walter Zenga's side. 

Following his spell at Brighton last season, United's 20 year old striker James Wilson has again moved on, this time to Nigel Pearson's Derby County on loan for the remainder of the campaign. 

The striker scored twice on his Reds debut under Ryan Giggs but has found first-team football hard to come by since, hence his decision to stay in the Championship. 

Everyone at United would like to wish Tyler, Cameron and James all the best for the season ahead. 

Friday 19 August 2016

Early days but promising signs for Jose's United

As starts go, Jose Mourinho could not have hoped for much more from his first two matches in charge.

The Mourinho era has begun with two solid and largely comfortable wins against opponents that got the better of Van Gaal's United last term - inspired this time around by the presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The 34-year-old, signed on a free from PSG, marked his home debut with a combative and confident display that may well prove that Jose's oldest signing could be his shrewdest.

Any concerns that the frenetic pace of the English top flight might not suit him looked to have been swiftly dispelled with his fourth goal in three games following his neat finishes against Leicester and Bournemouth. 

His force of personality could be every bit an asset as his ability for us. 

The Swede's movement and link-up play was significant in a Reds attack that looked far more fluid and lively than it did under the management of Louis van Gaal.

Intriguingly, Ibrahimovic also appears to have bumped skipper Wayne Rooney off penalty duties: he was quick to take responsibility when we were awarded a spot-kick and was duly rewarded with a 25th conversion in 28 attempts. 

Already we can see that Mourinho's imprint has been stamped on this United side: we're moving the ball quicker, getting it wide more, every player knows their job and there's a striking balance between high-tempo attacking interplay and effective defensive play when the need arises.

Meanwhile, Paul Pogba's Old Trafford return, four years after he left Manchester for Juventus, has been eagerly awaited by the fans this summer.

His second debut for the club was delayed at Bournemouth because of suspension and manager Mourinho warned against expecting too much too soon from the world record signing. 

Despite the colossal fee, there was plenty of evidence to suggest that Mourinho was right to spend so much money to bring Pogba back to the club.
His performance was largely a positive one, with more touches and passes in the opposing half than any other team mate.
One surging run towards the end of the first half left four Southampton players in his wake and he demonstrated his power with a second-half header that flew narrowly over the bar.

He did, understandably, fade as the match reached its later stages undoubtedly because he has not had a proper pre-season, but the Frenchman found enough energy to blast narrowly off target at the end of an injury-time counter attack.

Early days still, but you can't argue with six points out of six and a squad that looks the strongest its been for years. 

Match report: United 2-0 Southampton

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored either side of half-time on his home debut as United made it two wins from two in the Premier League with an impressive win over Claude Puel's Saints. 

The Swede headed home Wayne Rooney's cross nine minutes shy of the interval and then added a second from the spot shortly after the interval for his fourth goal in three games.

The win maintained the Reds 100% start to the new season under Mourinho and the manner and efficiency of the victory will fuel the belief- even at this early stage- that we can mount a genuine title challenge this time out. 

United's world record signing Paul Pogba played the full 90 minutes in an eye-catching debut and went close to scoring on 13 minutes when he fired narrowly wide from Ibrahimovic's through ball. 

Fraser Forster saved well from Rooney, Shane Long should have done better when clean through and Dusan Tadic shot off target before Southampton were forced into an early change after Oriol Romeu was forced off with an injury. 

Rooney and Zlatan had set Jose Mourinho's side on their way in our opener at Bournemouth last weekend, and linked up again to deadly effect as the skipper picked out Ibrahimovic to thump home a brilliant header from close range on 36 minutes. 

Juan Mata blazed over the bar and Tadic had a goal disallowed before Anthony Martial forced a fine save from Forster with a 20 yarder shortly after the resumption.

It did not take long for the hosts to stretch their advantage as former Southampton man Luke Shaw went down under a challenge from Saints substitute Jordy Clasie and Ibrahimovic clinically dispatched the resultant spot-kick.

Pogba had displayed his full repertoire of attributes- strength, vision and creativity- and almost added a dream goal to his impressive debut when he went close with a header from a Mata pass.

Armenia captain Henrikh Mkhitaryan was introduced with 15 minutes remaining in place of the Spaniard before Martial was replaced by Ander Herrera as Mourinho looked to consolidate the victory in the professional manner that his teams have become known for. 

Pogba went close with a drive from distance in injury time, but despite not getting on the scoresheet the 23-year-old Frenchman's industrious display in midfield hinted at what we hope will become a stellar, second Old Trafford career. 

United Faithful Man of the Match: With an honourable mention to Pogba who impressed on his return to the club, Zlatan again proved to be our matchwinner, already looks an inspired signing. 

Match preview: United v Southampton

Jose Mourinho's competitive home debut as United boss comes against a Southampton side who have picked up back-to-back wins at Old Trafford over the last two seasons.

A late Adam Lallana goal denied us victory in the David Moyes campaign before solitary goals from Dusan Tadic and Charlie Austin proved enough for the visitors to emerge with the spoils in the next two corresponding fixtures.

It's fair to say that we've a score to settle. 

In the first Friday night of the new campaign, the Reds will aim to beat the Saints at home for the first time since 2013 and start the season with a South Coast double. 

World record £89 million signing Paul Pogba looks set to make his 'second debut' for the club but whether Mourinho will unleash him from the start remains to be seen.

Pogba has had the briefest of pre-seasons after France's Euro 2016 campaign but his mere presence is a signal of United's intent.
Chris Smalling is also available again after suspension and Jesse Lingard could return after missing the win over Bournemouth with a knock picked up in the Community Shield. 

The Saints have endured a turbulent off-season, with the departure of three of their key men- Graziano Pelle, Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama- also offset by former manager Ronald Koeman's switch to Everton.

Now under the stewardship of 54 year old Frenchman Claude Puel, the visitors will hope that they have continued their knack of making inspired managerial appointments, in the same way that their famed academy continues to produce outstanding young talent.

Ryan Bertrand misses the match with injury but the South Coast side's three summer signings- Nathan Redmond, Jeremy Pied and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg are all set to be involved.

Speaking in his pre-match press conference, Mourinho said that he hopes the Old Trafford 'fear factor' can return, and added:

"Not me, but the team, yes.
"Everything starts there: the relationship between the team and the fans,  if there is a connection then the factor of being really strong at home has to be back.
"The way we play will help and if the fans play a part then there is no chance for the opponent.
"Paul (Pogba) has fitted in really well but that is not a surprise as he knows the club and knows everybody.
He has had no time no adapt but he'll time to build his condition and his understanding of how the team plays and how he will fit in with that."

Match odds: United 4/1 Draw 15/4 Southampton 8/1
Form guide: United W Southampton D
Referee: Anthony Taylor 

Sunday 14 August 2016

Bournemouth 1-3 United: Opening day talking points

1. Premier League new boys impress

United's starting line-up included two players making their full Premier League debuts- Eric Bailly and Zlatan Ibrahimovic- with both making significant contributions.
Bailly picked up where he left off against Leicester City last weekend with another Man-of-the-Match showing, despite being injured most of the week and only training once. 

He looked as solid as ever at the heart of the defence alongside the also excellent Daley Blind, and both earned praise from their new manager afterwards.
Ibrahimovic's hold-up play at the other end also impressed and his superb strike for the match-sealing third goal capped an eye-catching debut.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan came on for the final 15 minutes for his Premier League bow and became the first Armenian to feature in the top flight.

2. Another landmark Zlatan goal

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's fine 69th-minute strike was another landmark goal for the Swedish striker, who has now netted on his debut in the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Ligue 1 and the Champions League.
He told reporters after the match that he "feels alive" in the English game and he certainly looked lively throughout the game at the Vitality Stadium.
His eye for goal is renowned, but it was his neat touches and link-up play coupled with his intelligent movement and passing that stood out and, rather tidily, his goal ensured United's no.8, no.9 and no.10 all netted on the South Coast.

3. Mourinho felt nerves

For a manager as decorated as Jose Mourinho, who has confidence and belief coursing through him, it was refreshing to hear him admit to some pre-match nerves.
"Yes, before the match a little bit, for somebody with many years of football to have that feeling is normal "
"Experience helps in football, but you always have a little feeling, which is good, I think" he said.
The win over Bournemouth ensured Mourinho maintained his impressive opening day Premier League record, which now reads won seven, drawn one. 

4. 250 up for Valencia

He's been one of United's star performers throughout pre-season and Antonio Valencia looked sharp once more in the victory at Bournemouth on Sunday, a special match for the winger-turned-full-back on his 250th appearance for the Reds.
United's main attacking threat came down the right and it was Valencia's cross to Anthony Martial than teed up Wayne Rooney to score.
The Ecuadorian, who has created two of Ibrahimovic's three goals for United, including the Community Shield winner, will hope to maintain his strong form with Mourinho clearly impressed by what he has seen so far.

5. Mata off the mark

Juan Mata's opener for United came at a crucial time in the match as the Spaniard took advantage of a terrible Simon Francis backpass to steal in and put us ahead five minutes before half-time.
Some had questioned whether or not the talented and charismatic playmaker would fit into Mourinho's plans after the Portuguese sold him to United from Chelsea in 2014, but Mata clearly has an important role to play in this side.
Remarkably, the match at Bournemouth was his 52nd consecutive league game for United, having been ever present since February 2015.

Match report: Bournemouth 1-3 United

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored on his United debut and Eric Bailly excelled as United opened our Premier League season with an impressive victory at Bournemouth.

The visitors were without record £89 million signing Paul Pogba whilst fellow new recruit Henrikh Mkhitaryan was named on the bench with Juan Mata preferred in the line-up.

That decision proved to be something of a surprise but after reacting angrily to his substitution last week, the Spaniard was all smiles as he got Jose Mourinho's tenure up and running. 

Simon Francis cleared bravely under pressure from Ibrahimovic early on and Wayne Rooney saw a sighter well saved by Artur Boruc after neat link-up play between Mata and Ander Herrera.

The hosts failed to heed those warnings, however, and United took the lead five minutes before the break after a double defensive error from Francis.

The defender attempted to play Herrera's ball back to his keeper but underhit the pass, allowing Mata to steal in.
His initial shot was saved by Boruc but the ball rebounded off Francis into the path of the playmaker who tapped home from close range. 

Bournemouth's Polish stopper blocked well from Rooney on 51 minutes and the skipper then had a penalty appeal waved away but he did not have to wait long for Reds goal number 246 of his career.

A lovely flick from Mata picked out Antonio Valencia and his centre was mishit by Anthony Martial into the path of Rooney who headed home with ease.

Things got even better for the visitors as Mourinho's side put the result beyond any lingering doubt just beyond the hour mark. 

A minute after Boruc had saved brilliantly from Ibrahimovic, Zlatan collected the ball 25 yards out and fired low into the corner for his second goal in as many competitive games for the Reds.

The goal continued a remarkable run of debut strikes for the Swede, who has now scored on his  Premier League, Serie A, Ligue 1, La Liga and Champions League bows. 

Adam Smith cut inside to blast home with 20 minutes to play, but- a superb stoppage time save from David de Gea aside- the Reds held firm to ensure a winning start for Mourinho and his men. 

Overall team performance: 7.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Eric Bailly. A solid and impressive debut. 

Saturday 13 August 2016

Adnan Januzaj joins former United colleagues at the Stadium of Light

Adnan Januzaj has agreed to sign for Sunderland on a season-long loan move from Manchester United.

The 21-year-old Belgian links up again with David Moyes at the Stadium of Light and also with former Red team mates Donald Love and Paddy McNair who both joined the Black Cats earlier in the week. 

Januzaj scored twice on his full United debut at Sunderland in October 2013 to earn the Reds a 2-1 win during Moyes' ill-fated spell in charge at Old Trafford.

He had asked to leave on a permanent basis but we preferred a loan. 

On the switch, manager Jose Mourinho insisted that Januzaj remains a part of his plans at United, and said:

"Adnan fits into what we are doing here, that is why he is on loan at a Premier League club, if he didn't fit into my plans, then we don't care about him, we don't care about where he's going, which club, which competition, which manager.
"We do care about him because I have seen him and I think he is a very talented player who has a good future at this club.
"With the squad we have here at the moment, it would have meant not many matches for Adnan and I want to give him the conditions to develop, to play and to perform well.
"He is in the right place with a manager that will play him a lot and that's what we want because we want him back."

Januzaj- whom spent the majority of last season on loan at Dortmund- looks set to go straight into Moyes' Sunderland squad for Saturday's Premier League opener at Manchester City. 

Not only will the move see the winger link up with the man who gave him his breakthrough at the club, but also fellow Academy graduates McNair and Love, who signed for a £5.5 million fee on Thursday.

Northern Ireland international McNair made his debut in September 2014 and played 27 times under Louis van Gaal.

Love, who spent time at Wigan on loan last term, played twice for the United senior side- the first of which, appropriately came against Sunderland in a 1-2 defeat on Valentine's Day this year. 

"I want to add some young players who also have a bit of experience in the Premier League and all three players have got really good potential and the opportunity to improve" said Moyes.
"I want to bring in players who are here for the long term as well as the short term and hopefully for Paddy and Donald they are here to do that whilst with Adnan we have him for the season so we hope that he will have a successful time for us." added the Scot. 

Match preview: Bournemouth v United (Sunday 1.30pm)

United travel to the South Coast in our longest away trip of the season for our Premier League opener and Jose Mourinho's first competitive match in charge. 

Last season's visit to the Vitality Stadium ended in embarrassing ignominy for the Reds but, having ended the 2015/16 campaign with a win against the Cherries, United will look for a better outcome this time around from the 504-mile round trip.

They will have to do so without record £89 million signing Paul Pogba, however, with the Frenchman banned after an accumulation of bookings with Juventus which has been carried over to the Premier League by the FA. 

United's other summer purchases- Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan- are all expected to make their competitive debuts. 

Chris Smalling is also suspended due to his sending off in the FA Cup final and subsequent one-match ban that did not include last week's Community Shield victory. 

Mourinho is expecting a difficult test for his new-look team, and said:

"They have the same manager and more or less the same players that came from the Championship and didn't change the way they play.
"They were favourites to be relegated but they stayed in the league, are a good stable team and will make a difficult match for us.
"We feel we are a candidate to win the title- if at the end of the season, somebody who is champion has been better than us then we can accept that- that is football- but in this moment Manchester United, we cannot speak differently.

"We are going to fight for the league title, that I can promise you."

This time 12 months ago Bournemouth were about to embark on a first ever Premier League campaign - a remarkable journey for a club which almost dropped into the Conference six years ago.

They will have been more than happy with a 16th-placed finish- a feat that perhaps didn't get the credit it deserved - despite lengthy injury layoffs to key players as they finished on 42 points with 11 wins to their name. 

As one of the most highly rated young bosses in the country, 38-year-old Eddie Howe was even linked with the England job earlier in the summer but stayed at the Cherries to guide them into their second top flight season. 

Referee: Andre Marriner 
Match odds: Bournemouth 7/2 Draw 13/5 United 5/6
Premier League title odds: City 9/4 United 11/4 Chelsea 5/1 Arsenal 6/1 Leicester 28/1

Monday 8 August 2016

Paul Pogba: United re-sign midfielder for world record £89 million

France international Paul Pogba said the "time was right" to return to Old Trafford after completing his world-record £89 million transfer to United.

The 23-year-old midfielder returns after four years away, having left the club for Juventus for £1.5 million in 2012.

Pogba, who signed a five-year deal, added:

"This is the right club for me to achieve everything I hope to."

Manager Jose Mourinho said the France international could be the "heart of the club for the next decade".

United will pay the Serie A champions 105m Euros for Pogba, plus 5m Euros (£4.5m) in performance-related bonuses and other costs.

It surpasses Gareth Bale's £85 million move to Real Madrid from Spurs in 2013 as the biggest transfer deal in the history of the sport.

The announcement was made shortly after midnight on Tuesday with a glossy video showing the player, with a red devil marked into his hair, emerging from the shadows.

Pogba, who helped France reach the Euro 2016 final, has won the Italian title in each of his four seasons at Juventus.

He is Mourinho's fourth summer signing at United, following in the footsteps of Eric Bailly, former Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan. 

It will be the first time in 20 years that an English club has paid a world-record fee, Alan Shearer's £15 million move to Newcastle from Blackburn was the last.

Pogba joined United from Le Havre in 2009 as a 16-year-old but was left frustrated having made just a handful of first-team appearances before his contract expired in 2012.

Speaking to MUTV, he added:

"I just came back to Carrington, it was like I'd just come back home.
"I went on holiday after the European Championships and then the deal was worked on when I came back."

In a series of messages to Juventus supporters, Pogba said:

"Goodbye means nothing, it is the time we spent together that matters, I will bring with me a piece of you and leave you with a little piece of you." the Frenchman said in a leaving statement.

At Mourinho's first United press conference on 5 July, he said he wanted to sign four players and had secured three.
Many believed the fourth was Pogba.

But it has taken more than a month since then for the Portuguese to get his man.

Four days later, United officially declared their interest amid rumours the player preferred a move to Real Madrid.
On Saturday, Juve boss Massimilliano Allegri summoned Pogba to training, but just a day later United announced the player would have a medical- and on Monday he arrived in Manchester.

It took until the early hours of Tuesday BST for the deal to finally be completed in a transfer of a world star in his prime with unfinished business to return home.


Sunday 7 August 2016

Paul Pogba: How does he fit into Mourinho's plan?

Paul Pogba's talent has been in evidence for years- that was why the Reds signed him from Le Havre in 2009 when he had already captained France's Under 16 team.

Now 23, he has a tendency to drift in and out of matches - he was not a consistent perfomer at Euro 2016 and did not appear to relish the deeper role given to him by coach Didier Deschamps when France lost to Portugal in the final.

Pogba is not the finished article but the promise United first identified seven years ago is showing signs of being fulfilled, more than enough to persuade the club to potentially pay such a massive fee.

It is tempting to say that if a club spend going on £100 million on a single player, the system fits around him, not the other way round, but modern football does not usually work like that.

Even the best players can struggle without a structure or if they are played out of position.

It is still a source of bewilderment to staff at United as to why Angel Di Maria was so chronically alienated by former manager Van Gaal.

The previous record signing at £59.7 million was used as a holding midfielder or wing-back by the bizarre Dutchman having begun his Old Trafford career with three goals and three assists from his favoured offensive position.

Pogba is a rarity in the modern game in that he is capable of both attack and defence, he is quick, has energy and can tackle.
Though not a prolific scorer, his average of one goal every five games suggests he will be an attacking threat.

In short, he is the kind of player United have lacked since Roy Keane left in 2005 but without the fiery temper.
Mourinho will surely put him in the centre of his midfield and set his side up from there. 

Wayne Rooney, for all his attributes, is no speed merchant.

Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Memphis Depay definitely are, making them better suited to wide positions.
If the plan is to play Henrikh Mkhitaryan wide, or deeper in midfield, there is an obvious place in the side for Rooney at number 10. 

But is that going to get the best out of the talented Armenian? Mourinho likes his central midfield to contain aggressive, athletic players such as Claude Makelele and Michael Essien in his first stint at Chelsea.

Pogba is in that mould. 

Morgan Schneiderlin and Daley Blind could work effectively alongside him.
If that happens, the uncertainty over Rooney will persist. 

That the questions and doubts are so numerous come as a result of both our fifth-placed finish and the often awful performances that contributed to it.

Until they wake from the post-Ferguson slumber, the minutely forensic analysis of United and our players will go on.

Community Shield: Leicester 1-2 United

Jose Mourinho began his reign as United manager with silverware- albeit only the Community Shield- as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a late header to beat league champions Leicester at Wembley.

Jesse Lingard- who scored the final goal of the Louis van Gaal 'era' in the FA Cup final back in May- put United ahead with a superb solo goal just beyond the half hour mark.

Marouane Fellaini- whose future at the club must surely now be in doubt with the imminent arrival of Paul Pogba- let Claudio Ranieri's side back into the game when Jamie Vardy latched on to his dreadful back pass to score.

But summer signing Ibrahimovic- typically- had the last word seven minutes from time when the 34-year-old rose to meet Antonio Valencia's cross to head in beyond Kasper Schmeichel via a post. 

It took less than a minute for the United fans to start chanting their new boss's name, but it is going to take a lot longer for Mourinho to make this team his own even with his recent signings. 

The Portuguese warned this week that it would take time to revitalise the players following two years of former manager Van Gaal's regimented safety-first style, and he was right. 

Despite Lingard's fine individual effort, a continuing lack of creativity remains United's most obvious failing but the arrival of Pogba- along with Zlatan and fellow signing Henrik Mkhitaryan, will be expected to change that.

Ibrahimovic saw little of the ball in the Leicester box until he got the winner with only his second effort on goal and his partnership with Wayne Rooney is clearly still in its infancy.

At the back, Eric Bailly made a solid start to his United career but is still learning his craft in English football- he was booked for a clumsy challenge on Vardy and could easily have had another for bundling over Shinji Okazaki.

Mourinho admitted it was not "a fantastic performance" and felt his side need to be fitter.

"The first half performance was much better than the second, the team isn't fit enough yet.
"Leicester increased the pace, they had three quick players and changed the game.
"It's an important victory as you always want to start with a win, but we have a lot of work to do.
"I would not be ambitious if I said it was fantastic performance- it wasn't- but we have a trophy and that is important." 

United Faithful Man of the Match: Eric Bailly 

Pogba set for United medical ahead of £89m deal

United are on the brink of re-signing French international Paul Pogba from Juventus in a world record £89 million deal.

The Reds will pay 105 million Euros for Pogba and performance-related bonuses and other costs could see that figure rise.

The midfielder will have a medical in the next few days with the deal due to be completed this week.

The 23-year-old, who left Old Trafford for £1.5 million in 2012, is set to return for a fee that will surpass Gareth Bale's £85 million move to Real Madrid three years ago.

Pogba's imminent arrival was announced just over 90 minutes before Sunday's 2-1 Community Shield win over Leicester.

United boss Jose Mourinho said after the game that United is the "perfect club" for Pogba.

"We have everything to offer him and we know the reasons why he wants to come to us.
"He can come because he knows the club, knows the city, many of the players and he will be an important part of our project, he is perfect for us and we are perfect also for him.
"I don't think that Real were upset when they broke the ransfer record twice with Bale and then Cristiano- so it is a reason to be prou."
"Football is crazy and the market has also become crazy- what is expensive and not expensive in football?
"I don't know but I do know that he is a big talent and I am delighted to secure his services."

In four seasons at the Italian champions, Pogba- who helped France reach the Euro 2016 final- won four Serie A titles and becomes Mourinho's fourth United signing.

It is the first time in 20 years that an English club will have paid a world record fee.

Newcastle United were the last to do so when they spent a paltry £15 million signing England striker Alan Shearer from Blackburn.

Pogba joined United from French club Le Havre in 2009 as a 16-year-old but made only a handful of appearances before his contract expired in 2012.
He became frustrated by a lack of opportunities at the club and left for £1.5 million but has since developed into one of the finest midfielders in the game with a host of Europe's top clubs keeping tabs on the Frenchman. 

He has made 178 appearances for Juventus, scoring 34 goals, and helped the club to reach the 2015 Champions League final.

Having now brought in a player for each position- apart from a keeper- Mourinho will hope that he has found the final piece of his United puzzle ahead of the season's big kick-off at Bournemouth next weekend. 

Friday 5 August 2016

Community Shield preview: Leicester City v United

77 days after lifting English football's greatest domestic cup, United return to Wembley to face Premier League champions Leicester for this season's curtain raiser on Sunday. 

The Reds 2-1 triumph over Crystal Palace back in May will still be fresh in the minds of many as Jose Mourinho targets silverware in his first competitive match in charge of 20 time Shield winners United.

Last season could not have been a bigger contrast to Leicester's previous campaign.
Having executed a miraculous escape from relegation in 2014/15, they parted ways with boss Nigel Pearson and were again tipped as favourites for the drop.
Instead, incoming manager Claudio Ranieri moulded together an unheralded side of free transfers and journeymen players to send the fans at the King Power into dreamland and the rest is history.

Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan look set to make their official debuts - with Paul Pogba waiting in the wings - but Chris Smalling is suspended following his red card in the Cup final.

Ranieri has a fully fit squad to pick from with new signings Ahmed Musa, defender Luis Fernandez and Polish international winger Bartosz Kapustka expected to feature for the first time for the Foxes. 

Leicester have managed to keep hold of the majority of their title winners, with Riyad Mahrez and 24-goal forward Jamie Vardy staying put despite both reportedly being the subject of bids from Arsenal, but influential playmaker N'Golo Kante has signed for Chelsea. 

While still an honour in the English game, many see the Shield as nothing more than a competitive and high-profile friendly but both managers will be going all out to win Sunday's season opener. 

"I think especially for the players that were involved in last season, it must have a meaning, to play in the Community Shield you need to be a champion or you need to win the FA Cup, and they won the FA Cup so of course we are going to try and win it" explained Mourinho.
"I think we have to face it as a game, of course we can have six changes instead of three so that gives me the chance to give minutes to some players.
"We need to train, we need to play, we need minutes for the players"
"It also gives me the opportunity to play with those than cannot play 90 minutes, because they have no condition to play for 90 minutes, so it will be a little bit of everything" added the boss. 

South Yorkshire referee Craig Pawson will be the man in the middle. 

Monday 1 August 2016

United to celebrate Rooney in fundraising testimonial

Wayne Rooney's testimonial match against his former club Everton will take place on Wednesday to mark the first in a series of fundraising events by the United and England skipper.

The match will give fans a first chance to watch Jose Mourinho's new-look outfit at Old Trafford in what will be a first pre-season fixture on home turf for two years.
The FA Cup - won in dramatic style in May - will also be on display during the match.

Paying tribute to Rooney, Mourinho praised the loyalty and longevity of his captain, and said:

"Wayne is and has been England's best player for over a decade and this game will be a fitting tribute to everything he has achieved.

"I'm looking forward to what will be a very special night for us both and I'm sure the fans will make this a memorable occasion and help Wayne to raise a lot of money to help support vulnerable children and young adults."

All proceeds from the testimonial match, celebrating Wayne's 12 remarkable years with United since his then-record transfer from Everton as a teenager, will be distributed through the newly-launched Wayne Rooney Foundation to four chosen charities (the NSPCC, Claire House Children's Hospice, Alder Hey Children's Hospital and the Manchester United Foundation.)

Each has been personally selected by the man himself because of his commitment to the organisations and the children they help.
Money raised by the Foundation will enable each charity to create legacy projects providing expert help for a generation of children faced with health conditions, abuse and educational difficulties.

Rooney said:

"For me, there could not be a more special testimonial match as United and Everton are the only clubs I have ever played for as a professional and both have a place in my heart.
"I owe United and Everton everything for giving me football opportunities and through the Wayne Rooney Foundation I want to give something back and say a heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported and helped me throughout my career.
"Having a young family of my own makes me realise it's vital that every child and young person gets the opportunity to grow up surrounded by love and support to give them a chance of fulfilling their potential."

The match will provide a spectacular lift-off for a testimonial year of fundraising by The Wayne Rooney Foundation with other events set to be announced in due course. 

Wednesday's match is a 2000 GMT kick off and is the last of United's pre-season programme with attention set to turn to Sunday's domestic Community Shield curtain raiser against Premier League champions Leicester City at Wembley.