Friday 30 September 2016

Darmian's days look numbered after rapid decline

Matteo Damian enjoyed a superb start to his Old Trafford career but has suffered a spectacular slump over the past year.

Damian, sandwiched between the rested David de Gea and injured Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the directors box last night, now cannot even make the squad when United's first-choice right-back is rested for a Europa League tie.

Tim Fosu-Mensah, a teenage central midfielder who has prospered at right-back has muscled in ahead of an Italian catenaccio schooled by AC Milan and who possesses World Cup and European Championship experience.

Several of Louis van Gaal's signings have either fallen out of favour or lost all semblance of form.
Memphis can't get even get minutes in a home European tie against minnows and Morgan Schneiderlin has played five minutes of league football this term- although that's five more than some.

Jose Mourinho might say he is still getting to know his squad and their qualities, but Darmian cannot even get in the team ahead of the underwhelming and much-maligned Marcos Rojo. 
Damian might tough it out, since Fosu-Mensah could eventually revert back to midfield while Antonio Valencia has entered the last year of his contract. 

It doesn't seem likely though. 

What did for Darmian was the day in Gothenburg that Valencia suddenly discovered how to cross a ball: he claimed three assists in the pre-season win over Galatasaray and another for Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the Community Shield the following week.

The Ecuadorian quickly became a Mourinho man and his deputy, Fosu-Mensah, is the classic Jose prototype who has the three 'P's: presence, pace and power.

Like Memphis, Luke Shaw's broken leg as PSV last season had a detrimental impact on Darmian's form, even though Saw was marauding up and down the opposite flank.

Damian was culpable for both of the Dutch side's goals in our 2-1 defeat.

United had a settled back four in Darmian, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind and Shaw but, despite a commendable defensive record last term, the full-backs rarely matched the consistency of the centre-backs and the nadir for Darmian was at Arsenal in early October.

We were blitzed in 20 minutes and Darmian was hooked at half-time: later that month he was hauled off at Selhurst Park midway through the second half having been in danger of getting sent off after getting twisted inside out by Wilfried Zaha. 

Provided owner Roman Abramovich stays patient, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte is a known admirer of his compatriot with the Italian in need of rebuilding his defence
Branislav Ivanovic no longer looks the part at right-back and Darmian might struggle to start again for United so London could be calling for the Italian. 

Thursday 29 September 2016

Match report: United 1-0 Zorya Luhansk

United climbed off the bottom of Europa League Group A thanks to a Zlatan Ibrahimovic second-half header thaw saw off spirited Zorya. 

Despite a largely uninspiring performance against the Ukrainian minnows, Jose Mourinho's side earned the win they needed after Ibra nodded in substitute Wayne Rooney's mishit shot with 20 minutes to play.

United are considered to be among the favourites to go all the way in this year's competition but came into this one at the foot of the standings following a 1-0 reverse to Feyenoord in the opener.

It looked as though we would stay there as we toiled for more than hour despite dominating possession against the well-drilled and organised visitors.

But Zorya, on their European group stage debut, were undone inside two minutes of Rooney's introduction as the enterprising Tim Fosu-Mensah found the United and England captain who scuffed an untidy half- volley into the turf to tee up Ibrahimovic who bundled in.

The result lifted the Reds up to third, level on points with Feyenoord (who lost 1-0 in Fenerbahce), with the Turkish side the next opponents for us at Old Trafford on 20 October.

Zeljko Ljubenovic had an early effort blocked by Eric Bailly before the hosts went close twice in quick succession when Ibrahimovic had a shot deflected wide and Marcus Rashford then crashed against the crossbar with a stunning strike from distance. 

The recalled Marouane Fellaini should have done better with a header, Juan Mata also went close and Zorya full-back Rafael Forster stabbed wide of his own goal as the Reds upped the ante before the break.

Sergio Romero saved well from Paulinho and Oleksandr Karavaev's cross narrowly evaded the onrushing Ljubenovic in a brief spell of pressure from the revitalised visitors. 

That prompted Mourinho to introduce Rooney who made the decisive impact just moments after entering the fray when he skewed his effort into the path of Ibra who couldn't miss.

The goal- the Swede's sixth of the season since his summer signing- brought relief around Old Trafford and the hosts almost made sure of the win when Fellaini volleyed over in the dying minutes.

The away side had a late chance through Karavaev, but Romero saved comfortably and United held out to ensure a vital victory and seal a third consecutive win. 

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Zlatan Ibrahimovic 

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Match preview: United v Zorya

United manager Jose Mourinho has labelled our first ever meeting with Ukrainian outfit Zorya as a "must win" despite it only being our second Europa League group match. 

The Reds are targeting a third straight win in all competitions- following three straight defeats- but little-known Luhansk should not be underestimated as they have lost only once this season and picked up a creditable point against Fenerbahce on their group stage debut. 

That result- coupled with the Reds opening night defeat in Rotterdam to Feyenoord- has left United at the foot of the fledgling standings with ground to make up.

Zorya have been steadily making the mark on the domestic front in recent seasons and will be   wanting to make a regular impact on the overseas stage but are expected to struggle against the other European heavyweights in this group.

Mourinho made eight changes for that tie and may rotate again as he has done in the last two midweek fixtures, but his line-up looks to be a strong one as we chase our first European win of the season. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will start and Anthony Martial also looks set to feature after injury but Luke Shaw (ill) and Henrik Mkhitaryan (thigh) will not be risked while Phil Jones is again ruled out. 
Mourinho will make a late decision on whether his captain Wayne Rooney starts in the XI or on the bench following a recent back problem. 

Yuriy Vernydub's side finished fourth in their domestic league last term and are playing their European 'home' matches 400 miles away in the city of Odessa due to conflict in the east of the country. 

"To be honest I think we have to win, if we don't win we have four matches left and I would say we'd have to win all the last four matches which is difficult to do so I think that tomorrow it is very important that we win the game.
"Me and my staff have spent time watching Zorya against two difficult opponents in Dynamo Kyiv and Fenerbahce- one at home and one away- two difficult matches for them- and now I know what I see, what I watch, what I analyse.
"They will be a tough opponent and we cannot underestimate them.
"I was completely convinced to play with Wayne from the beginning but his situation has changed in the last couple of days so I am not so sure" said Mourinho. 

Form guide: United W L L L W W Zorya Luhansk L D W D W W 
Match odds: United 7/1 Draw 13/2 Zorya Luhansk 20/4
Referee: Orel Grinfeeld (Denmark)

Saturday 24 September 2016

No Rooney and no problem as Pogba silences critics

Jose Mourinho was true to his pre-match words as Wayne Rooney was dropped for a league game for the first time since Boxing Day 2015- and ended up a spectator in a transformed first half performance.

For the first 20 minutes it was much of the same from United - ponderous and slow in their build-up, but once Chris Smalling nodded in Blind's corner to put us ahead the shackles were released.

How much of a difference Rooney's absence made to our play is hard to quantify but a 4-0 lead at the break was proof enough that the change was justified. 

There was no great discord between player and club as we saw in 2013 and Rooney politely applauded back when he was sent out to warm up towards the end of the first half.
He received a glowing welcome when he came on but it won't stop the chatter surrounding Rooney- his United future is on the line.

Rooney did not get dropped for the man Mourinho signed to be his new number 10- the injured Henrik Mkhitaryan.
He was dropped because Jose had to do something to wake his team from their September slumber. 

What we don't know yet is whether the United and England captain is surplus to requirements permanently. 

Juan Mata, nominally playing in Rooney's usual position tucked in behind Zlatan, was bright and lively and took his goal superbly before he teed up Rashford for a tap-in, but it was in midfield that the hosts really took a grip as Leicester froze.

Rooney eventually did come on with seven minutes left replacing Rashford on the left wing. 
Where his future role now lies- if indeed at all- remains a mystery but Mourinho's decision to leave out his captain could hardly have worked out better.

United's first half performance was their best of the season so far and went hand-in-hand with Pogba's finest display since his world record £89 million summer move to Old Trafford.

Mourinho picked Ander Herrera to partner him instead of Fellaini or Carrick, and Pogba noticeably played further forward often interchanging with Juan Mata.

He had already hit two searching cross-field passes before a fine individual showreel as United scored three goals in five dazzling minutes at the end of the half.

Pogba delivered a gorgeous chipped ball over the top for Ibrahimovic, who volleyed over, had a 35-yard screamer tipped behind by Ron-Robert Zieler and sliced through a lovely disguised pass to free Antonio Valencia. 
The Frenchman played a key part in Mata's goal before he headed his first goal for the club.

For £89 million he is expected to control and dominate games and he did in a brilliant performance.
He faded a bit after the break but the game was already won.

Match report: United 4-1 Leicester City

United blew away champions Leicester with a scintillating first half showing as Paul Pogba scored his first goal for the club to move the Reds up to third in the league.

Three of the four goals came from corners as Chris Smalling headed the opener, Juan Mata curled in an excellent strike to double the lead, Marcus Rashford pounced from close range and Pogba nodded in just shy of the interval to give the team a scarcely believable 4-0 half time cushion. 

The shell-shocked visitors did improve after half-time and reduced the deficit through a goal of the season contender from Demarai Gray but it proved to be only a consolation. 

The Foxes had actually enjoyed the better of things in the opening exchanges as Danny Drinkwater had a shot blocked from a set-piece and Robert Huth headed narrowly over from a narrow angle following a counter-attack.

Former United keeper Ron-Robert Zieler did well to deny Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the other end before the hosts moved ahead on 22 minutes through an unlikely source.

Having built their title triumph around set-piece prowess at either end of the field, Leicester were surprisingly undone from a corner when Smalling met Daley Blind's inswinger to rise above three defenders and power in a header.

Minutes later and it could have been two as United started to turn the screw as first Ibrahimovic and then Rashford both went close in quick succession. 
Pogba, United's marquee summer signing was coming to the fore as his magnificent clipped pass released Ibrahimovic to fire narrowly wide before he was involved again on the half hour mark.

This time he saw a stunning 35 yarder tipped behind by Zieler, but the rampant Reds pressure finally told as we doubled the lead eight minutes shy of the interval.

Great link-up play between Pogba and Lingard saw the former find the latter whom in turn picked out Mata to turn home a superb finish on his 150th Premier League start. 

Incredibly, the lead was doubled by the break as Rashford slid home following a Blind corner and Pogba silenced his critics with a bullet header after another set-piece from the impressive Dutchman. 

The game was as good as over by the break but substitute Gray's 35 yard belter made it 4-1 before Lingard fired over and Zieler saved well from Ibrahimovic as United twice went close to a fifth.

Gray almost replicated his goal but this time David de Gea was equal to it in a low-key second half with the damage done in an impressive a 45 minutes as I can remember from a United side. 

Overall team performance: 9/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: A superb team display from the revitalised Reds but Paul Pogba gets MOTM having silenced his critics in emphatic fashion. Scored one and was heavily involved in two of the others. Magnificent. 

Friday 23 September 2016

Match preview: United v Leicester City

United welcome champions Leicester to Old Trafford on Saturday lunchtime with the Reds looking to avoid a third consecutive league defeat. 

Claudio Ranieri's side- who achieved the impossible as 5,000/1 outsiders last term- have lost both of their away games so far with an opening day defeat at Hull followed by a disappointing 4-1 reverse at Anfield.
However they did enjoy a 3-0 success in Brugge on their Champions League debut and club record signing Islam Slimani scored twice on his first Premier League appearance in last weekend's 3-0 victory against Burnley. 

Kasper Schmeichel has overcome concussion but has a muscle strain which could delay his return so former United keeper Ron-Robert Zieler may continue to deputise for the visitors. 
Marcin Wasilewski is banned after his midweek sending off against Chelsea and Nampalys Mendy will not be risked. 

United will assess the fitness of Luke Shaw (groin), Anthony Martial (head injury) who were both substituted at Watford and Henrik Mkhitaryan (thigh) is also a doubt having not featured since the derby. 

Marcus Rashford is in contention to start following impressive recent form while Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera both could keep their places after impressing in the midweek win over Northampton.

United boss Jose Mourinho hit out at the "football Einsteins" following the recent run of defeats, and said:

"We had a bad week, I know the world is full of Einsteins and I know that they tried to delete 16 years of my career and an unbelievable history for Manchester United to focus on a bad week with three bad results.
"The fans have of course been disappointed, I understand completely because I have been disappointed also but I am sure they will create a wonderful atmosphere and get behind the team like they always do, the fans here are fantastic.
"Leicester will want to come here and show their best, I have a lot of respect for Mr Ranieri and they showed us last season- which was amazing- what they can do and what they are capable of so we know it will be another difficult match." 

Leicester's solitary win in the last 16 competitive meetings came in September 2014 when the Foxes- then managed by Nigel Pearson- turned around a 3-1 deficit to emerge 5-3 winners. 
Both matches last season ended 1-1 as Bastian Schweinsteiger cancelled out Jamie Vardy's record-breaking opener  at the King Power before the latter meeting in May preceded the visitors title celebrations after Spurs drew at Chelsea two days later.

Form guide: United W W L L L W Leicester D W L W W L 
Match odds: United 6/1 Draw 7/2 Leicester 15/8 
Referee: Mike Dean (The Wirral) 

Thursday 22 September 2016

United Faithful Feature: Marcus Rashford's debut goals

Marcus Rashford clearly has a penchant for scoring on his debut or first appearance in a new competition.

This time last year he was already making a name for himself- albeit at Reserve and youth team level- scoring eight times in six games for United’s second and third string sides.

Having been named on the bench- without playing- for first team matches at Leicester and Watford, the youngster was included as a shock late inclusion in the starting line-up for a Europa League tie with Midtjylland at Old Trafford.

The rest, as they say, is history…

That night, in the absence of the hamstrung Anthony Martial, 18 year old Rashford burst on to the scene with two debut goals to help the Reds into the last 16 of the competition.

Far from being mere flashes in the pan, those two goals would be the start of an incredible run for club and country; so much so that he’s now scored more for United than any other player in the time since his fairytale debut in February.

Here, we break down Rashford’s debut strikes including his most recent in the EFL Cup win at Northampton.

Europa League (v Midtjylland, 25 February 2016)

Rashford opened his Reds account with a typical poacher’s goal, arriving into the area at the perfect moment to side-foot home a Juan Mata cut-back.
His second, a first time effort from a Guillermo Varela cross, sent Old Trafford into raptures as the Reds overcame a first leg deficit to progress into the last 16.

Premier League (v Arsenal, 28 February 2016)

Three days later, the title-chasing Gunners provided an altogether more difficult challenge, but again the 18 year old rose to meet it with another superb two-goal display.
Again Varela provided the assist and again Rashford was in the right place to tap home from close range, becoming United’s third youngest Premier League scorer in the process.
It would take just three minutes for him to find the net again, heading home Jesse Lingard’s excellent cross from ten yards.

Manchester derby (v City away, 20 March 2016)

A month later, he was at it again, this time on the biggest stage yet. Rashford produced a piece of brilliance on 16 minutes, leaving Martin Demichelis for dead before racing through  and beating Joe Hart. 
It was a moment that would decide the derby, and elevate our home grown talent to fan-favourite in the stands.

England (v Australia, 27 May 2016)

Rashford's form at club level had caught the eye of national team boss Roy Hodgson who rewarded the striker with a first England cap in May's pre-Euros friendly at the Stadium of Light.
No sooner was he out of the tunnel than on the scoresheet, volleying in after only 138 seconds to become England's youngest ever debut scorer.

England Under-21s (v Norway, 6 September 2016)

Many felt that Rashford should have figured more in England's Euro 2016 plans but he returned for 2016/17 with a new manager to impress in Sam Allardyce.
"Big Sam" was in the stands as Marcus made his England Under-21 bow last month and saw his young prospect score two goals of real quality either side of the break.
They were followed by a well-taken penalty to complete a debut Under-21 hat-trick and another day to remember.

EFL Cup (v Northampton Town, 21 September 2016)

Rashford's most recent strike in a new competition came just last night in the EFL Cup third round at League One Northampton. 
With the Reds in need of a second half goal, both he and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were introduced from the bench and United's class soon showed.
Rashford set up Ander Herrera to put the visitors ahead before himself capitalising on a goalkeeping error to make it a staggering six scoring debuts in eight scarcely believable months. 

United to host City as bitter rivals collide in EFL Cup

United's reward for getting past Northampton on Wednesday is a home tie with fierce local rivals and current holders City in the fourth round of the EFL Cup.

Jose Mourinho's side will go into the game with revenge on their minds after Pep Guardiola's team- who have won every game so far this season- emerged with victory in the league encounter at Old Trafford twelve days ago.

League matches aside, the two sides locked horns in this competition at the semi-final stage back in 2010, with United running out 4-3 aggregate winners (a late, late Rooney header sending the Reds through) on the way to lifting the trophy with victory over Villa in the final.

There was also a memorable FA Cup meeting in 2012, with United once again edging things despite a stirring City fightback that left Sir Alex's side hanging on for a 3-2 win (having been 3-0 up in the game in which Paul Scholes surprisingly came out retirement). 

The match with City- to be played at Old Trafford on Wednesday 26 October- is the penultimate match in a hectic October for the team, with trips to Anfield and Stamford Bridge sandwiched between the Europa League visit of Fenerbahce and the home league match with Burnley. 

The Manchester derby is one of a number of standout fourth round ties as Liverpool host Spurs and Chelsea travel to West Ham with the remaining 16 sides all bidding for a place in the quarter-finals. 

When the draw was made after yesterday's matches were completed, United midfielder Ander Herrera was already looking forward to the match, and said:

"I think it is a good tie for us as we can show again what we can do. 
"We as a club were very disappointed two weeks ago because we lost in front of our own fans against our local rivals.
"Now we have a chance to play against them again and I am sure it will be very different this time.
"Our fans are always behind us so we have no doubt that the atmosphere will be special."

The League Cup is traditionally an opportunity for managers to experiment and give minutes to those members of the squad in need of game time but Messrs Mourinho and Guardiola will both want to win this competition so expect to see two full strength sides going at it on 26 October. 

Bring it on!

Michael Carrick can unleash Pogba and must start regularly

Since his arrival in the summer, Jose Mourinho has been reluctant to use the 35-year-old midfield man and Carrick's start on Wednesday was his first since the Community Shield.

On this evidence, he surely has a case to force his way into his manager's plans - not least because he possesses the style and composure to bring the best from United's £89 million world record signing Paul Pogba. 

Pogba has looked restricted in his early performances and the selection of Carrick, so reliable and intelligent in possession (even chipping in with a goal at Sixfields), would allow the Frenchman freedom, to play to his strengths and give the opportunity to do damage further forward.

Carrick's experience and excellence in reading the game adds to Mourinho's options and could finally get the best out of our showpiece summer signing. 

From what we have seen so far, a Pogba-Fellaini axis looks incompatible so surely Carrick is a certainty to start against Leicester in the league on Saturday. 

He's sharper in the mind than any of his Old Trafford colleagues and is the player that can dictate and run a game from deep in the manner Fellaini simply cannot- and neither can Pogba, yet. 

He's doesn't run around or charge up and down the pitch, but his awareness, positional sense and clever use of the ball makes his a cunning and dependable presence in the middle of the park. 

At the moment Pogba is trying- and failing- to do everything himself. 

He needs to be rid of defensive responsibility- give him a free role in behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic - that is far better than a free role in front of his back four. 

It is there that Pogba will flourish. 

With Carrick and Ander Herrera impressive at Northampton and with a host of attacking options available to Mourinho, will Wayne Rooney's place against Leicester at Old Trafford at the weekend come under threat from one of his more in-form team mates?

Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were given the night off as Mourinho made nine changes from the defeat at Vicarage Road but there was no respite for Rooney. 

United's embattled skipper, who has bore the brunt of much criticism aimed at the team this term, as in the starting line-up as a striker but endured another frustrating outing.

Nothing seems to be working for our captain.

He missed a relatively straightforward header early on and, when he did hit the target after Tim Fosu-Mensah had hit the bar, he was adjudged to have been offside. 

Wednesday 21 September 2016

Match report: Northampton Town 1-3 United

United returned to winning ways and ended a three-match losing run with victory at League One Northampton and set up a tie with local rivals City in the fourth round of the EFL Cup. 

Manager Jose Mourinho could not afford any more slip-ups and it was eventually a smooth passage for the Reds, assisted by highly-rated Cobblers keeper Adam Smith who endured a nightmare evening and gifted the visitors two goals.

United started brightly and went close twice early on through captain Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young- on his first start of the season- but the Reds soon made the pressure tell. 

Smith picked up a back pass in the 17th minute and, when Rooney's resultant free-kick was blocked, the recalled Michael Carrick fired in the loose ball with aplomb.

United were then denied a second goal on the half hour when Tim Fosu-Mensah burst into the box to head Morgan Schneiderlin's diagonal ball against the bar.
Rooney was on hand to nod home the rebound and seemingly double his side's lead only to be denied by the offside flag. 

Alex Revell hauled the hosts level at the break after Daley Blind had fouled Sam Hoskins to leave the third tier side sensing an upset- but this was not a night for a shock. 

Ashley Young's dangerous cross-shot almost found its way in and Schneiderlin went close from distance before Mourinho introduced Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ashford ten minutes after the break in an attempt to go for the jugular.

Ibrahimovic nodded narrowly wide and Herrera hit the post with a 20 yarder but, just when it looked as though it would be another night of frustration, the Spanish playmaker restored the visitors lead.

Rashford collected the ball on the left and teed up Herrera who was not to be denied this time as he thumped the ball home past Smith with an excellent finish.

Rashford then turned from provider to scorer with 15 minutes to play as Smith completely mishit a clearance and allowed the teenager to roll the ball into the gaping net and put the result beyond doubt. 

Alfie Potter had a late chance to set up a frantic finale late on but the Reds comfortably held out to return to winning ways ahead of the visit of champions Leicester on Saturday.

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Ander Herrera

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Match preview: Northampton Town v United

Jose Mourinho takes his United side to the League One Cobblers looking to avoid a fourth straight defeat and a potential banana skin in the EFL Cup.

The Reds have been knocked out of this competition by lower league sides in each of the last two seasons- to MK Dons and Middlesbrough respectively- but Mourinho has won seven of his eight cup ties against sides from outside the top flight, drawing the other.

Nobody in the visitors camp will be underestimating newly-promoted Northampton, however, with the hosts having enjoyed a solid start to life in the third tier.
They sit in eleventh place in the fledgling table after eight games and their 31-game unbeaten league run only ended on Saturday with a 3-1 reverse at Chesterfield.

Rob Page's side set up the tie against United with a 4-3 penalty shootout victory over West Bromwich Albion in the second round.
Northampton have never beaten the Reds with the most recent competitive outing ending in a 3-0 FA Cup win for United in 2004.

Mourinho made eight changes for the trip to Feyenoord last Thursday and then another five alterations for the visit to Watford at the weekend, so may be inclined to shuffle his pack again for a third away match in succession. 
Michael Carrick looks set to feature for the first time this term, while younger members of the squad such as Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Axel Tuanzebe and Ro-Shaun Williams could also be involved.

Anthony Martial is a doubt after suffering a head injury in the first half at Vicarage Road and Phil Jones is out for a month with a knee injury while Luke Shaw and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are also doubtful with groin and thigh problems respectively.

Cup-tied winger Paul Anderson is the only definite absentee for the hosts having played for Bradford in an earlier round before joining the Cobblers. 

"In these games against a team from another league it is important to always show them the respect as they are always the underdog with a lot to fight for so everyone is expecting the team to win but it is more difficult than that" said Mourinho.
"It is a game at an unfamiliar stadium against unfamiliar players and a team who came up last season so we don't know what to expect and it is a cup tie so there can always be a surprise.
"We have to take the game like any other and show Northampton the respect they deserve" added the United manager. 

Form guide: Northampton D D W W W L United W W W L L L 
Match odds: Northampton 10/1 Draw 21/5 United 1/3
Referee: Stuart Attwell 

Monday 19 September 2016

Watford 3-1 United: We lacked width, a playmaker, and a plan.

For a team with some of the best players in Europe, United's performance at Vicarage Road was nowhere near the level expected. 

Watford deserve credit, of course, for breaking play up and giving a good performance themselves- but United were just not at it for long periods. 

They did not look like there was a gameplan when they came forward and despite the presence of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and first half substitute Ashley Young, we lacked width because that trio were all coming inside.

That's a good tactic if the opposition are leaving space there, but Watford didn't, they were clogging up the middle of the pitch and leaving the wide areas free.

The Hornets were playing an imbalanced version of a 4-4-2 when they had the ball that became a 4-5-1 when United were in possession.

Odion Ighalo would end up wide on the left, although he did not track back so Antonio Valencia had lots of space. 
Valencia was usually picking the ball up and running from deep so it meant that the Watford left-back Jose Holebas had time to get across and cover.

If Rashford was out there, United would have had a two-versus-one situation out on the right because Ighalo did not track back but instead Valencia looked up and saw that everyone had moved inside.

United really needed their wide men to stay high and wide because by cutting in so early they were no help to their full-backs or anyone else.

That meant there was less space for Rooney or Pogba who had nowhere to go and it became easy for Watford to defend against because the United players were all occupying the same areas of the pitch.

In recent years, we've always had someone who can open up the opponents from a deeper position- be it Michael Carrick,  Paul Scholes or Ryan Giggs when he played centrally. 

With a target man in the mould of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and runners like Rashford, this side have plenty of talents to benefit from such a playmaker but at Watford we did not have a midfielder with the required passing range.

Pogba has many strengths but is not much of a ball player, he is better when running on to things and taking people on.
Marouane Fellaini is quite disciplined and does not go wandering too much, he helped his centre-halves and kept the ball well but when you play for United you ideally need more than that.

With what he can offer and the way the game was going I was amazed that Carrick did not feature at any point as he makes things happen and instigates attacks.

It should not be panic stations at Old Trafford because there is plenty of talent and quality in the squad but it just so happens that City have hit the ground running whilst United have endured something of a bad spell.

But it is a long season and everyone is going to have a wobble at some point- even City. 

Mourinho has to do the decent thing and demote Rooney

As Juan Mata stood on the touchline waiting to come on late in United's defeat at Vicarage Road, there was widespread bemusement when Antonio Valencia's number flashed up as the one to be replaced. 

Wayne Rooney had ambled through another game where he not only failed to contribute in any way but actually hindered the efforts of his United team-mates.

The team as a whole were poor but there are no words that can be suitably used on this blog to describe how bad Rooney played. 

His decline was illustrated more vividly than ever before when Luke Shaw sprayed the ball wide for his captain- perhaps a little overhit but by no means out of Rooney's reach. 

Rooney sluggishly wandered to the ball but a woeful first touch sent it straight out of play.

Soon after, he overhit a simple five yard pass to the onrushing Marcus Ashford and then gave possession straight back to Watford after United had tried to launch a counter-attack.

It was nothing new and in fact epitomised the 30 year old's performances so far this season.

Bar fleeting moments of brilliance against Bournemouth and Hull City, which have rescued him from a public mauling, if you take away that goal against Bournemouth and assist at Hull, his performances this term have been as poor as we saw on Sunday.

Whether it has been in midfield or up front, Rooney's propensity to slow down his side's attacks have been a major problem.

Predicting it all before all of us, perhaps, was Sir Alex Ferguson, who allowed the player to move on at the end of the 2012/13 season only for Moyes- in a desperate attempt to pacify his ill-fated tenure, oversaw the signing of new five year contract for the player.

It persisted under Louis van Gaal with the Dutchman also retaining him as club captain.
There was nothing wrong with that decision, but the bewildering declaration that Rooney would play- no matter what- absolving him of any past, present and future misgivings on the pitch, was a worrying trend.

Perhaps when United were labouring under Moyes and van Gaal with a squad largely bereft of attacking ingenuity, it was overlooked.
Now, with Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic suffering from his rotten form, it is finally being thrown into the spotlight.

Rooney lacks the poise to sit deep in midfield, his short passing range is not good enough and too often it leaves United overrun in the middle of the park.
Hopeful balls to pick out Antonio Valencia down the right are not enough.

This certainly isn't a sudden, sharp drop from England's most capped player of all time but it certainly does appear to be one that has woken everyone up to how destabilising Rooney's presence can be. 

Sunday 18 September 2016

Mourinho's magic waning and Pogba's slow start continues

Following a derby defeat to City and a Europa League loss to Feyenoord, Mourinho and United have endured a rough eight days.

It is the first time that the Portuguese manager has lost three consecutive games in a season since February 2002 when he was Porto boss.

But the self proclaimed "Special One" is looking anything but at present, having lost eleven of his last 21 league games in charge of Chelsea and now United.

Mourinho made five changes to his starting line-up from the trip to Rotterdam, with Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic restored to the side but we were disorganised and ineffective, particularly in the first half.

The United boss looked unhappy with the hosts opening goal- feeling, rightly, that Anthony Martial was fouled by Miguel Britos, but he surely needs to focus on our own failings as we slipped six points behind early Premier League pacesetters City, albeit only five games into the season. 

Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and £89 million man Paul Pogba all struggled to make an impact on the match and at the back United failed to cope with Watford's energetic pressing and the quality of crosses from wing-backs Janmaat and Jose Holebas.

United did have some hope in the second half when Watford's high pressing tactics looked to have taken the energy out of them in an improved showing from the visitors, but the visitors responded to record back to back wins and their first at home. 

Pogba did have United's best effort in the first half when he hit the bar with a 25 yarder that was unlucky not to go in. 

But his qualities as an attacking midfield playmaker were wasted when he was playing so deep and so far away from the Watford goal and, after making little impact in the first five games, Mourinho has two options when it comes to utilising the Frenchman.

He must either drop the 23-year-old (which seems unthinkable given the price tag) or consider changing his system to better accommodate his record signing.

Mourinho did try this on Thursday in the Europa League when Ander Herrera started alongside Fellaini with Pogba pushed further up, but he was as equally as ineffective.

The Pogba question is just one of a number of early stumbling blocks for Jose at Old Trafford. 

The positive however, came not from Pogba, but a player who continues to surprise and delight with his fearless and direct style of play. 

Most of Mourinho's side toiled and were turgid, but the rise of Marcus Rashford continued as the 18 year old England striker scored again for his 10th goal in 23 appearances.

He started and finished the move that led to his goal and looked bright, lively and energetic throughout - the only bright spot on another disappointing outing for the team.

Match report: Watford 3-1 United

United suffered a third defeat in a week as late goals from Juan Zaniga and Troy Deeney gave Walter Mazzari's Hornets a deserved win despite Marcus Rashford's equaliser after Etienne Capoue had put the hosts ahead at half-time. 

After successive defeats to in-form sides Manchester City and Feyenoord, United boss Jose Mourinho handed Chris Smalling and Rashford their first league starts of the season in two of five changes for the trip to Hertfordshire. 

The hosts started brightly as strike partners Deeney and Odion Ighalo set about hassling the 
Reds rearguard.
Ighalo screwed an effort wide and Deeney headed narrowly off target before David De Gea had to be at his brilliant best to keep out the Watford skipper from a Daryl Janmaat cross.

Paul Pogba thumped a superb effort against the bar but, just as United threatened to up the ante, the Hornets stung the visitors with a controversial opener just beyond the half hour.

Anthony Martial had attempted to launch a counter-attack when he went under a strong challenge from Miguel Britos.
Referee Michael Oliver allowed play to continue and Janmaat raced clear down the right to cut the ball back for Capoue to finish well for his fourth of the season.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic fired wide and proved to be the catalyst as United found themselves back level after an incisive move.
The Swede played a neat one-two with Rashford and clipped the ball forward, it struck Valon Behrami on the shoulder and into the path of the teenager who thumped home from close range just past the hour mark.

Heurelho Gomes saved superbly from Ibrahimovic and Marouane Fellaini also went close with a header as United went in search of a winner but, instead, it was the hosts who hit back out of nothing with seven minutes to play.

Roberto Pererya managed to find space to pick out substitute Zuniga- who had only just come on- to sweep the ball past the helpless De Gea to restore Watford's lead.

This time there was to be no way back for United as Watford ran down the clock and added a third through Deeney, from the spot, after Zuniga had been felled by Fellaini. 

Having begun his tenure with three consecutive wins, Mourinho now finds himself having to repel the critics after three successive losses, and with a trip to Northampton in the Cup on the agenda, he will be desperate to get back on track. 

United Faithful man of the match: Marcus Rashford 

Saturday 17 September 2016

Match preview: Watford v United

Jose Mourinho will revert back to a "normal" line-up when his United side travel to Hertfordshire looking to respond from two successive defeats.

Having made eight changes for the trip to Feyenoord in the week, the Portuguese boss will restore Wayne Rooney, Antonio Valencia, Luke Shaw and Zlatan Ibrahimovic but Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan could both be doubtful. 

These two sides go into this Sunday high noon kick-off on the back of contrasting fortunes.

United are still digesting a disappointing derby defeat and a Europa League loss in the first setback of Jose Mourinho's tenure as Watford picked up their first win under new head coach Walter Mazzari with an excellent 4-2 success at West Ham last time out (having been 2-0 down late in the first half).

Captain Troy Deeney and his strike partner Odion Ighalo opened their accounts for the season in that game and hit 28 between them last term as the Hertfordshire side ended in a creditable 13th position.
However, it's free-scoring Frenchman Etienne Capoue who has proved to be their main asset in front of goal with three to his name so far for the midfielder. 

"I don't think it will be easy as I know the qualities of Watford but it is a new event, it is another match and we have to start again" said Mourinho.
"It starts from minute zero at 0-0 so I think it has nothing to do with what has happened in the previous two matches.
"But obviously when you lose matches, the mood, the feeling, is not the same but that is normal.
"I think the players are experienced players, they are good guys and I know they want to win, to work, and to make the fans happy so that is what all of have to do" added the boss. 

United secured a league double over  Watford on the Vicarage Road side's return to the top flight last term but needed two late goals to secure the points and make it eleven successive wins over the Hornets.

Bastian Schweinsteiger's injury time intervention gave the Reds a 2-1 win on our last visit here in November before a wonderful late Juan Mata free-kick proved enough to settle the Old Trafford return.

Form guide: Watford D L L L W United W W W W L L
Match odds: Watford to win 24/5 Draw 31/10 United to win 13/5 

Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)

Friday 16 September 2016

Match report: Feyenoord 1-0 United

A controversial late strike from Tonny Vilhena sent the much-changed Reds to defeat in Rotterdam in our Europa League Group A opener.

Replays appeared to show that the creator of the decisive moment- Nicolai Jorgensen- was in an offside position but play was allowed to continue and Vilhena fired home with eleven minutes remaining. 

 United manager Jose Mourinho made eight changes to the line-up with David De Gea, Eric Bailly and Paul Pogba the only players to keep their places from the derby defeat.
Early Eredivisie leaders Feyenoord came into the match in fine form, boasting a 100% record so far and, with chances at a premium at the De Kuip, the hosts went closest early on.

De Gea saved well from Steven Berghuis while Anthony Martial went close on 24 minutes when he fizzed a shot wide after neat build up play from the lively Marcus Rashford.

The Reds breathed a sigh of relief at the other end five minutes before the break when a period of pressure from Feyenoord saw Jens Toomstra lash an effort over the bar when well placed.

Ander Herrera- who had provided energy and thrust against City- powered forward immediately after the restart and chanced his luck from distance but his shot flew wide.

Thereafter the pattern of the game continued with both sides enjoying decent periods of possession without any real clear cut openings.

With Jose keen to get off to a winning start in the group, a triple change just beyond the hour mark saw Memphis, Zlatan and Ashley Young introduced in place of Rashford, Martial and Juan Mata.

That failed to spark the visitors into life, though, and it was the hosts who made the decisive breakthrough on 79 minutes- albeit in a contentious manner.

Former Aston Villa man Karim El Ahmadi picked out the run of Jorgensen who raced clear on the right as the flag stayed down and his cross fell to Vilhena who made no mistake with his finish.

Substitute Young saw a shot scrambled wide and an excellent Ibrahimovic free-kick was superbly saved by former Liverpool keeper Brad Jones as the Dutch side held out. 

A disappointing start in Europe but there's no need for panic after one game with plenty of time to recover in a group that we remain favourites to get out of. 

Zorya- United's next opponents in the Europa League- produced a creditable performance to draw 1-1 at home to Fenerbahce in the other match. 

United Faithful man of the match: Not many to choose from but Ander Herrera stood out on a disappointing night. 

Criticism is harsh and time will prove his worth for Paul Pogba

When he re-signed for the club in the summer, Paul Pogba was touted and talked up as the world class figurehead to resolve United's midfield shortcomings. 

The press couldn't do enough to say just what a brilliant signing the young Frenchman would be and how he would prove the long-term answer to United's engine room issues.

So to write him off as a waste of money after one indifferent showing against Feyenoord is laughable but that's what happens when a player comes with an £89 million price tag.

The fact he cost such a huge amount was always going to add to the pressure of signing for the biggest club in the world (he never played in a league game in his first spell at Old Trafford) but he's being unfairly targeted through no fault of his own. 

Time will prove his worth for the 23 year old.

But such is the ruthless and cut-throat nature of modern football that when you happen to be the world's most expensive player, time is not a luxury you can be given with instant results demanded. 

Pogba was singled out for criticism in a poor collective showing in Rotterdam and also received flak for his part in the derby defeat but I thought he was one of our better players on Saturday.

He made himself imposing in the midfield, was difficult to tackle and made some excellent bursts forward to pin City back but- probably because he didn't score a hat-trick with a 30 yarder or a rabona- this was not enough to spare him from the wrath.

Pogba was not signed to score a bucketload of goals or dazzle with his skill but I get the impression he is trying too hard to be something he is not by always attempting the spectacular. 

He'd be better off getting his head down and keeping things simple by sticking to the game he has honed for years.

The rest will come naturally. 

That's a formula that can be applied to Gareth Bale at Real Madrid- at the time of his move from Spurs he was the world's most costly player- and it has paid off with his rise to the upper echelons of the game alongside Neymar, Messi and Cristiano.

Pogba played out of position as a number 10 on Thursday but is better from deep with play ahead of him so he can dictate the match with his vision, range of passing and strong tackling presence.

Pogba is undoubtedly a very talented player but is not world class just yet- very few players are at his age (Cristiano didn't peak until his mid 20s) and the benefits of his move will come to fruition in the future.

Wednesday 14 September 2016

Match preview: Feyenoord v United

United manager Jose Mourinho has said he will respect the Europa League and attempt to win it ahead of our Group A opener at Feyenoord tomorrow.

The Portuguese boss admitted that Europe's second tier competition is not where United want to be, but that they want to aim to win the only major trophy missing from the club's glittering collection.

"It's not the big dream of every player but we are not in the Champions League so we have to look at it with respect.
"I think we should aim to do well in the competition and for a club of our size and dimension to do well is not to be out in the group phase.
"We want to win the tournament, tomorrow is an important match for us and we must find that motivation for every competition we are in" said Mourinho.

The boss has shuffled his pack and looks set to utilise his options at the De Kuip Stadium, with captain Wayne Rooney, Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia and Jesse Lingard among those left at home.

Marcus Rashford is likely to make a first start of the campaign while Michael Carrick, Memphis and Marcos Rojo are among those in contention to come in for the much changed Reds. 

"I think it is better to tell the players they are not coming but we are only talking about Wayne Rooney, also Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw did not travel with the team.
"They are strong positions where I have other solutions, fresh players for this game and keeping players for our league match away on Sunday" added the boss. 

This is only the third ever meeting between the two sides and United face an in-form Feyenoord who have won their first five league matches of the season having finished third in the Eredivisie last time out.

In his first season in charge in 2015/16, former Arsenal full-back Gio Van Bronckhorst led the Rotterdam outfit to silverware in the domestic cup as well as that top three finish.

Feyenoord's squad is full of experience and boasts a number of familiar faces with their captain- former Liverpool man Dirk Kuyt- top scorer last season with 23 goals.
Goalkeeper Brad Jones, a team mate of Kuyt's at Anfield, joined the club in the summer and ex Southampton loanee Eljero Elia is also among the home side's alumni. 

Form guide: Feyenoord  W W W W United W W W L
Match odds: Feyenoord 31/10 Draw 8/5 United 5/6
Referee: Jesus Gil Manzano (Esp) 

Much changed United head to Rotterdam

United captain Wayne Rooney is one of six players to miss out on a place in Jose Mourinho's 20 man squad for tomorrow's Europa League tie in Rotterdam.

The 30-year-old trained with the team on Wednesday but has been rested ahead of Sunday's league match at Watford whilst Luke Shaw, Phil Jones, Antonio Valencia, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard are also notable absentees. 

Shaw picked up a minor injury in the derby and Jones is out for a month with a knee problem but the other players are back at Carrington to prepare for the weekend at Vicarage Road. 

United get their Europa League Group A campaign under way at the De Kuip Stadium in Rotterdam on Thursday and Jose Mourinho has used the match as an opportunity to utilise his squad's strength in depth. 

The much-changed group will see several players in a battle for their first appearances of the season, with the left-back spot a particularly interesting tussle. 

Shaw's absence could mean that Chris Smalling partners Eric Bailly at the back, with previous centre-half incumbent Daley Blind moved across to full-back. 

Mourinho might be reluctant to break up the so far successful Blind-Bailly pairing, however, which means that Marcos Rojo and young defender Tim Fosu-Mensah will both be vying for their first starts of the season on the left.

Matteo Darmian will likely come in at right-back in place of  Ecuadorian Valencia whilst Mourinho has previously suggested that Marcus Rashford will make a first start of the campaign up front.

Michael Carrick- who could take the armband in Rooney's absence should he play- also looks set to feature as does Memphis who has only featured in one matchday squad this season. 

As well as a change in personnel, Jose could also alter the formation from a 4-2-3-1 to the 4-3-3 that saw a much improved second half performance against City. 

"Wayne has played every minute of every match since the start of the season and he has also played 90 minutes for England, in the summer tournament also, so I want him to be fresh for the next match." said the United manager
"In the position he plays, I have lots of solutions and there are several players who need minutes so I can do that" added the Portuguese when explaining his skipper's absence. 

The players on Wednesday afternoon's flight to the Netherlands are as follows:

Goalkeepers: De Gea, Romero, Johnstone
Defenders: Darmian, Blind, Bailly, Fosu-Mensah, Smalling, Rojo
Midfielders: Carrick, Fellaini, Herrera, Mata, Memphis, Pogba, Schneiderlin, Young
Forwards: Ibrahimovic, Martial, Rashford 

Memphis needs to shed scapegoat image and stand up and be counted

Memphis Depay has become one of the scapegoats of the Louis van Gaal era and needs a big Manchester United performance in Rotterdam.

Memphis was bound to flank his Dutch manager upon his return to PSV last year even though he had suffered an early setback in his United career two days earlier.

Memphis had been substituted in our 3-1 win over Liverpool and even seven games into the season there seemed a sense of uncertainty about the 21-year-old.

He silenced those murmurings of discontent- temporarily at least- with the opener in the Philips Stadion and looked every inch the £26.3 million man we thought we had signed.

He later fell out of favour under Van Gaal and managed only four more goals.

He has been included in the squad for the trip to the De Kuip Stadium and could make his first start of the season in Jose Mourinho's reshuffled side- and it is a chance he must grasp.

It was always going to take a monumental effort from Memphis to revive his flagging United career under Mourinho and it did not start well in July's friendly at Wigan.

He has not started since the labouring loss to Dortmund in pre-season and has made only one competitive appearance so far this season when he came on in the closing stages in the first game at Bournemouth.

Memphis rubbed some of his team mates up the wrong way with his attitude and cockiness but he was, until his FA Cup final omission, the only player to feature in all 58 matchday squads under Louis van Gaal last season.

The claim was that the United hierarchy had told Van Gaal that he must be included in the squad, regardless of form- a claim that was unsurprisingly denied.

Tom Cleverley felt that he became the scapegoat of the David Moyes 'era' and Memphis might have inherited that dishonour post-Van Gaal.

The Memphis signing is said to have been the catalyst for United's transfer strategy tweak.
We were reluctant to pay an extravagant fee for a young and unproven forward since the winger, omitted from all but one of our squads so far this season, could cost up to £31 million.

The number seven shirt is weighing heavily on Memphis young shoulders, and although he may have beefed up a bit, he needs to do as much work with the ball to potentially save his Old Trafford career.

There needs to be a reaction and he has to show what he's capable of. 

Saturday 10 September 2016

Reality check for Jose and United as City take the honours

Jose Mourinho is a perfect fit for Old Trafford but this was never going to be a quick fix after the last three years of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.

United look stronger and more physically imposing with the addition of players like Ibrahimovic, Pogba and Eric Bailly but it is up front where he has the big dilemma.

Ibrahimovic is the main man but the question is how does Jose fit in his array of attacking riches around him?

The United boss has Wayne Rooney, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial while he must also work out how to utilise Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata.

This selection looked a bit mix and match but Mourinho is a manager who specialises in finding successful solutions.
The Portuguese gave his summer signing Mkhitaryan his first start of the season in an unfamilar right-wing role and although Mourinho had always maintained the Armenian would not play 90 minutes it was no surprise when he was replaced by Marcus Rashford after a disappointing first half. 

Mourinho also put on Ander Herrera for Jesse Lingard for the second 45, but City survived an improved United showing to maintain their flawless start to the season.

This was the first setback for Jose's new-look United side, but it would be churlish to not give City credit for a simply superb first half showing that already marks them down as the team to beat this season.

The visitors were in a completely different class to Mourinho's expensively assembled outfit as they overran us in midfield, created space and chances and remained cool and composed when under pressure.

We showed them too much respect but it was a magnificent first 40 minutes of clinical passing, precision, pace and movement that did not allow United a sniff and left our midfield, including £89 million world record buy Paul Pogba, as virtual spectators. 

If control and flair put City in command during that first half, then the second was a very different approach of resolve, resilience and game management as they survived a late United bombardment. 

Guardiola stalked his technical area, micro-managing ever aspect of City's game, while Mourinho crouched and made notes as the match progressed.

United still remain very much a work in progress and this defeat will only highlight that we're yet to be the finished article under Mourinho but the season is only a month old and this setback - after three wins from four-  will hardly have the Old Trafford alarm bells ringing. 

Match report: United 1-2 City

Pep Guardiola emerged victorious from his first Premier League meeting with Jose Mourinho as Manchester City secured a fully deserved victory in a frantic Old Trafford derby.

Kevin de Bruyne's composed finish and Kelechi Iheanacho's tap in- after the outstanding Belgian had hit a post- put the visitors in complete command as they outclassed Mourinho's new-look side for much of the opening half.

The hosts were handed a lifeline just before the break when City's debutant keeper Claudio Bravo summed up his desperately uncertain display by dropping a free-kick to allow Zlatan Ibrahimovic to halve the deficit.

United mounted an aerial siege in front of the Stretford End in an improved second half showing, but City held firm to extend their 100% record and inflict a first defeat of the season on the hosts. 

Paul Pogba went close with an early sighter from 20 yards but, despite missing influential Argentine Sergio Aguero through suspension, the visitors flew out of the traps and went ahead after 15 minutes.

For all Guardiola's famed "tiki taka" style, the goal came from Aleksandar Kolarov's long punt downfield which was flicked on by Iheanacho into the path of De Bruyne who raced through and fired in a well-taken finish.

City did not allow Mourinho's side to get anywhere near them and quickly doubled their advantage nine minutes before the break with De Bruyne again at the heart of things.

The brilliant playmaker struck the post from a narrow angle but the ball fell perfectly for Iheanacho who was left with the simplest of finishes from close range.

By now, the visitors were well on top but United rallied and finally gained a foothold in the match when Bravo fumbled Antonio Valencia's set piece and Ibrahimovic was on hand to volley home three minutes before the break.

Wayne Rooney picked out the Swede to head straight at Bravo before Mourinho sent on Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera at the interval in an attempt to spark United into life.

It took Rashford less than a minute to make an impact as he found Ibrahimovic to volley over the top, and the young striker then had a goal ruled out after his shot hit Zlatan - who was standing marginally offside - on its way in.

David De Gea saved superbly from Fernandinho, Ibrahimovic volleyed wide and Rooney had a possible penalty turned down before De Bruyne again hit a post in an increasingly end to end encounter.

Despite their best efforts - and five minutes of stoppage time - United ran out of time and City deservedly held on to take the spoils (and bragging rights) in the 172nd Manchester derby.

United Faithful Man of the Match: Marouane Fellaini 

United's aerial power will be key to unsettling new look City

This Manchester derby will not define the season for either United or City but it is a chance for both sides- and the managers- to show they are a force to be reckoned with.

It is already clear that both will be in the mix for the title and both will want to put down a marker and make a statement of intent.

What adds even more spice to an already highly-charged occasion is that Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola both go into their much-anticipated first meeting in England with 100% records having each won their opening three matches.

Kelechi Iheanacho, Nolito or possibly even a rejuvenated Raheem Sterling could lead City's attack in place of the suspended Sergio Aguero but Guardiola has some other big calls to decide upon.

New goalkeeper Claudio Bravo has played in plenty of big games for Barcelona and Chile but has hardly trained and is lacking match fitness so it would be a gamble to hand him a debut in the cauldron of an Old Trafford derby.

The height and power of Zlatan Ibrahimovic will make this a big test for City's entire defence not just their goalkeeper.

United under Mourinho get the ball into the box far quicker and far more often that we were doing last season.
The reason for this is the aerial threat that we possess- not just through Ibrahimovic but also the physical prowess of Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini.
We will play the same way against City- looking to get the ball out wide and then crossing it into the box for someone to get a head on it.

Ibrahimovic has done that to perfection so far, he's great at reading the cross and timing his jump above the defence and his marker while  his power and accuracy does the rest.

The clamour for Mourinho to include in-form Marcus Rashford from the start has been growing after his debut hat-trick for the England Under 21s but, with everyone fit for Saturday, it would not surprise me if Mourinho retains him for the role of impact sub.

That first start is not far away but I don't think Mourinho will feel there's any need to change his line-up but Rashford has kept scoring and it's getting harder and harder to leave him out. 

Mourinho's United side will be quite content to sit back and try to hit City on the break and if City keep pushing their full-backs up to flood midfield then they might be open to the quick counter-attack.

We know what we're going to do when we push forward - put those balls into the box with pace - but we don't know yet if City will be able to deal with it.

Friday 9 September 2016

Jose and Pep play down rivalry ahead of maiden Manchester meeting

Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have dismissed suggestions there will be animosity between them during the match and they may well even share a glass of wine afterwards.

United host local rivals and near neighbours City at Old Trafford on Saturday (12.30pm) in one of the most eagerly anticipated all-Manchester meetings for decades.

Both United and City have new "super coaches" in Mourinho and Guardiola respectively and have started the new season with 100% winning records.

The clubs spent heavily in a record-breaking summer transfer window, with United re-signing Paul Pogba for an £89 million world record fee and City making £47.5 million John Stones the second most expensive defender in history.

Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Pogba, winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan and defender Eric Bailly were all bought in by Mourinho this summer for a combined fee of £150 million.
For their part, City spent £165 million on Stones, goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, wingers Gabriel Jesus, Nolito and Leroy Sane and midfielder Ilkay Gundogan, while allowing £100 million of talent out on loan.

Three of the five most expensive players signed by top flight clubs - Pogba, Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling - are expected to play pivotal parts in tomorrow's clash. 

Marcus Rashford and United winger Jesse Lingard are the only local lads with a chance of being involved in what is expected to be the most expensive match ever in terms of total transfer fees. 

Former Barcelona boss Guardiola suggested any personal rivalry with ex-Real manager Mourinho was "created from the media".
"We can't control that, I said it many times that I have a lot of respect for Mourinho and I always try and learn from my colleagues, and I am sure it is the same for him.
"The last period at Barcelona and Real Madrid was not easy for both of us but we have met each other at the League Managers meeting and I will accept a glass of wine afterwards if he invites me" added the Catalan. 

"City have a very good manager, they always have very good players and have bought more.
"They are what they are since I've returned to England, they are a title contender with big ambitions and you have to respect them" said Mourinho. 

Either United or City have been Premier League champions for seven of the last ten seasons.

Of the 171 previous Manchester derbies, United have won 71, City 49 with 51 draws.

Recent meetings have ebbed and flowed between the two with United taking the honours in two of the last three meetings, with one draw, but City did a painful double over us during the David Moyes season in 2013-14.

Bring it on!

Match preview: United v City

Fierce local rivals United and City go into the 172nd all-Manchester meeting on maximum points ahead of the most eagerly anticipated derby in years.

The bitter and intense nature of the rivalry on the pitch needs no introduction, but it's the men in the dugout rather than those on the pitch that have proved to be much of the focus in the build up to this one.

Saturday sees two of the most revered bosses in the current game reignite a feud that originates from their time in La Liga.
United manager Jose Mourinho, formerly of Real Madrid, and his Catalan counterpart Pep Guardiola- ex coach of Barcelona- used to lock horns in El Clasico and their relationship with each other was often less than cordial with so much at stake.

Not since 2012 and that Vincent Kompany goal (moving on...) has there been such a derby of such importance.
Although the season is still in its infancy, a win here would give the victors the chance to throw down a gauntlet and open up a three-point gap over the other with both sides boasting a 100% record so far. 

Something has to give here, however, and the absence of City's star striker Sergio Aguero through suspension arguably makes us slight favourites.
Kelechi Iheanacho is likely to start in the Argentine's absence while summer signings Leroy Sane, Ilkay Gundogan and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo all look set for their debuts for the new-look visitors. 

Mourinho has a fully squad to pick from despite doubts over several players during the international break, and the United boss said:

"I know what a derby means for everyone as I have experience many different derbies in many different cities.
"For me, it is important to be in emotional control because it is just another game against a very strong and difficult opponent.
"Sergio Aguero will not play, I have heard many people say that is good for my team but I don't think so because when he plays we know their formation and how they will play.
"He doesn't play and they have amazing options, he could decide to play with Iheanacho or Sterling as a number nine so we have to reduce the unpredictability and to do this now is more difficult.
"Everybody is available, Micki probably cannot play 90 minutes but he can help us, there are no injuries."

Marcus Rashford became the youngest scorer in the fixture's history with the winner at the Etihad in March the last time the teams met. 

Match odds: United 11/8 Draw 9/4 City 12/5
Form guide: United W W W City W W W 

Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Co.Durham)

Thursday 8 September 2016

Why United have edge over City in biggest derby for years

In 2011, Vincent Kompany scored what could be considered a title-winning goal in the Manchester derby in a 1-0 win.

Since then, the derby has not felt as heated or as decisive with the fate of the Premier League title not significantly resting on its outcome.

After derbies with two passive managers in Manuel Pellegrini and Louis van Gaal manning the dugouts, both sets of supporters find themselves with two of the most sought after bosses in the game in Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho.

Both are serial winners and are in charge of the two Premier League favourites for the championship crown, so a contest in which one can gain an early three-point advantage - on top of the existing hostilities - is absolutely pivotal.

City have scored the most goals in the league so far but United, unsurprisingly for a Mourinho team, boast the best defensive record so a superbly balanced contest should await us. 

Daley Blind is starting to hear praise from fans and media alike after being an under-rated gem for us in a now prolonged period.
He has formed a very impressive centre-back pairing with Eric Bailly who has started life in England outstandingly with man of the match showings in all but one of his games.
What Blind lacks in power, pace and strength, Bailly makes up for and the historically rash and reckless Ivorian is compensated for by the composure and coolness of the Dutchman.

It's a perfectly harmonised defensive pairing.

United should be confident in those two, alongside in-form full backs Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia in nullifying City's attacking exploits.

In a match that was billed as a battle of the world class strikers, one side losing their key forward is a blow to their chances.
As usual, Argentinian Aguero is already City's top scorer this season and, with Kelechi Iheanacho as their only other option, it will be intriguing to see what Pep Guardiola does without his main goal threat.

Perhaps he could experiment with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Nolito and Raheem Sterling as a 'false nine' meaning the United defence will have less of a focal point to deal with.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a difference maker on his own so the three aforementioned names won't strike too much fear into a typically solid and blossoming Mourinho defensive unit. 

In a contest this tightly matched, the midfield is usually where the match is won or lost.
One bamboozling run, one piece of magic to unlock a defence or perhaps in turn one key lapse in concentration from a defensive standpoint could prove key.

With a 4-2-3-1 vs 4-1-4-1, it's one going to be one five-man midfield against another.

If Guardiola does continue with the system, Mourinho's men could have the edge.
Fernandinho has been deployed as a lone holding midfielder with two creative players in front not renowned for upholding defensive duties in David Silva and de Bruyne.

For us, the guile, trickery and lung-busting energy of Paul Pogba has been somewhat surprisingly complimented by a powerfully, tactically disciplined and reborn Maroaune Fellaini.

United's midfield axis has the ability to counteract the impact of City's mesmeric passing with Fellaini and the ability to propel the team forward on the counter with Pogba.
The stark difference in height, power and physicality could prove the difference in a game which needs quick turnovers in possession and legs to drive the team forward. 

If we see the defensive assuredness and attacking fluidity we've already enjoyed this season, then we could see Jose and the Reds put down a marker and show why we won't settle for anything less than top spot this term.